At the behest of Phoenix13 comes the third instalment of the 'Tempest' saga, with upcoming mpreg and sparkling cuteness. I've tried to write this so that I can be read as a stand-alone without reading 'Equilibrium' or 'Provenance', as well as a direct continuation of both. This first chapter is a bit of scene-setting.

Updates for this won't necessarily be speedy as it'll be a side-project to other writing.

I hope you enjoy this yarn. There are a few twists already planned for down the line.


Family Matters

Chapter One

As Prime in charge of one of the surviving handfuls of their race on an alien world caught up in their civil war, there were very few duties left to him that he could deem pleasant. But with the Decepticons quiet and a greater peace than they had experienced in years settling over the Base, happy occasions were beginning to arrive once more.

"When is the sparkling due?" Optimus asked, a soft smile gracing his features.

"Seven weeks from now," Ratchet replied, scanning through the notes before setting the pad aside. "So far everything looks good. Luna's adapted well and Bluestreak's very pleased with himself."

"So I can see," Optimus hummed as he looked across the Medbay from Ratchet's workbench to where the pair were talking quietly beside a berth.

Luna was slighter than most of the femmes he'd met, not built as a soldier. She was designed for administrative work, with a fast processor tucked beneath her pastel yellow helm. Though only landing with a very flustered Red Alert four months ago, she and Bluestreak had immediately hit it off and were now having a family. He did everything fast, it seemed.

He crossed to them both and spoke with genuine warmth. "Congratulations to you both. It's been too long since I've had the pleasure of welcoming a new life."

The pale lemon femme shrunk a little with a shy smile, far less used to the Prime's presence than Bluestreak was. He grinned broadly and slipped his arm about her shoulders. "Thank you, Sir." He shifted his weight. "We were wondering, uh, if you didn't mind, but it's okay if not because it's such an old tradition and you're my Commander, but if you'd possibly-"

"I'd be pleased and honoured to bless your child," Optimus cut in with a raised hand, breaking off the apologetic tirade before the sharpshooter had a chance to talk himself out of actually asking.

Luna beamed and finally raised her optics to meet his, bringing her slim hands that had been resting high on her abdomen to her sides.

Optimus knelt, as tradition dictated, and placed his fingertips over that cherished point. "May Primus watch over this new spark, and permit it to receive as much joy as it brings to its creators."

Standing, he clasped Bluestreak's hand with a final utterance of congratulations before watching the pair leave. Ratchet came to his side. "That was a good thing you just did."

Optimus shook his head fractionally. "A pleasant duty I am privileged with far too infrequently." With a soft sigh of mingled regret and satisfaction, he made to leave but found Ratchet's grip fixing like a steel clamp around his arm.

"Service time, Prime," the medic smirked, not letting go as he steered the mech backwards onto the berth. "Actually, your service was due two years ago, so it's definitely time I got my tools on you."

"So you used their good news to lure me down here?" It came as a statement devoid of surprise.

Ratchet gave an affirmative grunt as magnifying lenses slid over his optics. He watched the tall mech lie flat, resigned to his fate whilst bearing the first of his deep scanners on him. Given this world's high percentage of water, not to mention the granules of hard sand that found places to hide inside armour for weeks at a time, he had massively reduced the time between services. Though not concerned, he'd been particularly keen to get Prime back on a berth for a full service since Tempest had been born. It took an hour to assess everything from spark casing to hydraulic dampeners, as well to carry out the basic wear-and-tear maintenance that Prime couldn't do himself.

Optimus allowed his mind to wander over living arrangements whilst the medic worked, trying to determine which of the larger quarters he could move the growing family to would be the most sparkling-friendly. Not near Wheeljack's corner – too many semi-intelligent gadgets taken to escaping out into the corridor. The Twins still declined to have their own rooms and so would be keeping their large joint quarters. Next sure to the spacious quarters the Seekers had all moved into, perhaps. Tempest would probably like the close company of another sparkling, and Starscream was a particularly watchful bot where the young were concerned.

"Alright, you're all done," Ratchet announced, moving back to log the newest system scans with the computer. "Looks like your repair systems have covered the last scuffs and tears from Tempest."

"There's been no discomfort for many months," Optimus affirmed as he moved to sit on the edge of the berth, fidgeting as the fresh lines and seals the medic had installed warmed up.

"So are you planning on coming in here plugged again anytime soon?" Though Ratchet had asked it lightly, his expression as he regarded Prime from the work bench was serious. "It seems you may have started a trend, and now that you and Ironhide are bonded and you've already done it once before…"

Optimus shifted his shoulder in a vague shrug, face mask sliding into place. "I don't know. We've not discussed it."

Ratchet hummed thoughtfully, surprised to hear that admission. The double edged sword of a spark bond was that it was impossible to hide any significant thoughts or feelings, so both mechs must have been keeping the idea of creating their own sparklings far from the forefront of their minds.

Everyone on the Base knew that Optimus adored Tempest, and that before the war had destroyed Cybertron Ironhide had planned to settle and have a family with Chromia. It was unusual for both mechs to be acting so coy on a subject, but then, Ratchet reminded himself, they could both be legendary at thick headedness when they wanted to be. "Where is Ironhide now? He's longer overdue for a full service than any bot here."

"But he never complains," Optimus replied with a smile. Ratchet's ongoing efforts to teach the weapon's specialist that he needed more than self-maintenance were quietly entertaining. He'd give Ironhide another year before he put his foot down and ordered him to the Medbay. If the dark mech was in need of significant repair, he'd have spotted it already.

He raised a hand before Ratchet could begin grousing. "And he's off-base at present. Refreshing Prowl, Bumblebee and Arcee on aerial targeting."

"Wisely leaving the more bloodthirsty bots out of it," Ratchet commented, folding his arms. The soldiers more inclined to the frontline remained sharp in firing at everything hostile within range, whilst those usually tasked with the infiltration or rescue work in a mission only tended to fire close range. Refresher courses were something to do, particularly in quiet spells.

Standing from the berth, Optimus waited for the nod that he was free to go. "If you're satisfied here, I'm going to look into moving Luna and Bluestreak to more spacious quarters."

Ratchet nodded and waved him off. "Fine, fine, but tell Ironhide when you see him that I'm having his aft in here sooner rather than later."

Optimus suppressed a smile behind the mask, making for the door. "I'll be sure to pass it along."


A spiral fracture in his left leg and months of extensive physical therapy had kept Captain Lennox on medical leave and away from the Autobot's base since the morning of the enormous battle at the nuclear power plant that had delivered the injury. He'd kept in touch via phone and email with Optimus from the hospital some three hundred miles away, but there hadn't been anything significant to discuss. Decepticon activity was at an all time low, with such an ongoing peace rendering speculations on future movements from Megatron impossible and the bulk of Prime's communications filled with gossip about the handful of new arrivals and what everyone was getting up to.

When he'd asked Optimus why he didn't think that Megatron was amassing his forces, or worry that an enormous strike was lurking from the Decepticons, Prime had cryptically assured the soldier that though he was always vigilant of the next confrontation, he was aware that there had been a huge destabilising within the enemy ranks that would be keeping Megatron unbalanced and internally occupied for a while. Beyond that, the Autobot leader had declined to elaborate.

It was on this point that Lennox now traversed the huge corridors in search of Prime for. The Base had grown and taken on more of a feeling of permanence since he'd last visited. With few humans entering regularly, the joined hangers and extensions truly felt like the Autobot's home now in his mind. The basic layout hadn't changed, though, and when Prime's office turned up empty Lennox went to the rec room as the next logical place to check.

There were three mechs inside, none of them the towering Peterbuilt. Sideswipe and Hot Rod were playing a loud game of alien cards at the hand-made steel table, and an unfamiliar blue-grey mech sat on the oversized sofa watching a nature documentary on penguins. Noting the red optics of the enthralled bot, Lennox took a moment to watch him from the doorway before approaching.

Prime had told him about the handful of defected Decepticons who'd filtered into the Base, joining Wheelie though with more significant presences. Starscream had been a particular surprise, though Optimus spoke with something like pride of how he was settling in amongst and as an Autobot. The arrival of the two other Seekers, Skywarp and Thundercracker, had come as less of a surprised, though Lennox continued to be acutely suspicious of the mini exodus from Megatron's ranks.

There were a handful of other Decepticons who'd defected whom he'd never seen in combat before, and he guessed that this one watching penguins cartwheeling through freezing surf was one of them. Coming about the sofa, he offered a smile. "Mornin'. I'm Captain Will Lennox. I don't believe we've met."

The bot smiled back, fixing him with bright optics. "We have not." He sat forward and extended his index finger to the human. "My name is Tempest."

Grinning at the gesture, Lennox cupped the finger in his hand and went with the brief make-do handshake. Surreptitiously he looked over the big mech trying to discern his alt form. Though Tempest was less angular than Starscream, the wide plates across his back and shoulders suggested a plane. The enormous cannon not-quite tucked away on the right shoulder further suggested a fighter.

"Good to meet you, Tempest. I'm sorry, but I've been keeping apprised of the Decepticons who've switched sides and I couldn't remember your name."

Tempest frowned a little at that, and was briefly distracted by the swimming penguins on the screen before bringing his attention back to Lennox. "I've never been a Decepticon." He offered a slight shrug. "I'm classed as a sparkling. That may be why you haven't heard of me."

Lennox arched a brow at that. He knew that 'sparkling' was the Cybertronian word for a baby, and he struggled to connect that with the eloquent being in front of him. "Kinda big for a, uh, sparkling aren't you?"

Tempest replied tearing his gaze away from the television. "It was deemed safest for me to be upgraded as soon as possible. My Sire is Prime."

That made sense, Lennox concluded around a surprised cough. He really couldn't see the resemblance, though the voice bore Optimus's careful stresses. "You're Optimus's son?" A confirming nod. "Wow. I've gotta say I'm surprised he didn't mention that. I didn't know that he was even seeing someone. Guess the big guy keeps his private life very private."

Tempest shifted a little at that with downcast optics, clearly uncertain as to what to say. Lennox reminded himself that this large machine was actually a great deal younger than any of the bots he'd met before. Under a year old, he guessed. He couldn't imagine not noticing Prime's son being 'onlined' whilst he was still an active visitor to the base.

"Uh, listen, do you know where Optimus – your Sire – is now? Got a few things I need to catch up with him on coming back on duty an' all."

Tempest's expression brightened. "He went to the Medbay to see Bluestreak and Luna, but that was over an hour ago and he hasn't come back yet. He may still be there."

Lennox nodded. "I'll check it out, thanks. Nice meeting you, Tempest. I'll see you around." When he looked back at the mech from the doorway, he saw that Tempest was resting his head in his hands, elbows on his knees and utterly enraptured by the documentary. With his bright optics and small flickering smile, Lennox decided that he did seem to be a child.


Though Ratchet didn't press his query about Ironhide and myself having sparklings, the topic weighs heavily on my processor as I leave the Medbay. Truthfully, I'm content with the sparkling I already have, but the production of a new life is a tempting notion. I remember that before the war entered an unprecedented intensity, before our homeworld was destroyed, Ironhide spoke of being a creator with Chromia when a more peaceful life returned. Centuries passed, our world gone and the femme absent from his life, I wonder if having his own sparklings is another part of his previously planned life he's left behind. To broach the topic could potentially only bring unnecessary pain. I'm happy with just having Tempest, and if Ironhide still wants sparklings then he will speak of it in his own time.

So engrossed in my thoughts, I don't noticed Lennox until he is a few steps from being at risk from my feet and he calls up to me.

"Captain Lennox, it is good to see you again." I kneel as I speak, noting the edge of puzzlement in his expression. "Are you fully recovered from your injuries?"

"Yeah, clean bill. I can get back to running around with NEST." He rubs the back of his neck in an indication that he is composing his words. "I just met Tempest."

Ah. I realise from his arched brow that I also said that aloud. "Forgive me for not telling you about my sparkling, Captain. I was, concerned, with how his presence would be received by the humans."

"Is that 'concern' based on the reason why he's got red eyes?"

A low sound issues unconsciously through my vents but I force my gaze to remain on his. "Yes."

Now he frowns, not understanding. "You've been involved with a Decepticon?" he asks quietly despite our solitude in the corridor. Indeed, I would not have allowed this conversation if my sensors detected any other presence. Fortunately, the corridor leading to the Medbay is usually deserted.

To Lennox's query I shutter my optics momentarily, brushing over the small plates. "No, never. I'm sparkbound to Ironhide." At his confused frown, I add, "Married in spark."

His face gives way to a grin though he is still confused, shaking his head. "Christ, Optimus, what –didn't- happen whilst I was away?"

My optics drift downwards as my processor turns inwards. I think of Tempest being forced to adopt an adult frame; of the Seekers scraping off their Decepticon insignia to receive the Autobot symbol; of Megatron's ongoing threat to take back 'our' sparkling.

Lennox's small hand rapping on my leg draws my attention back out. He frowns at me with soft creases. "Come on, Optimus, talk to me."

After rescanning the vicinity again, I resolved myself with a sigh. "Tempest's second creator was Megatron. He seeded an infant spark against my spark chamber whilst I was injured." I press on as his face registers shock. "Megatron hoped to bring Tempest to the Decepticon side as a powerful mech whom I would hesitate to fire upon. Fortunately his plan did not come to fruition, but even after carrying him I remained, anxious, that the human authorities would not see beyond his parentage and respond with hostility."

He nods a little, drawing his lower lip into his mouth in thought. "I see. Wow. That's, one hell of a busy year."

I smile a little, eased. "Indeed."

"And this is what you were talking about when you said that the Decepticon ranks had been destabilized?"

"Yes. Tempest's origins and refusal to switch faction have resolved the mechs under Megatron's ranks whom were already disillusioned to set down arms. With such an internal struggle, Megatron cannot afford to persist against us on a large scale. It isn't peace, but it's a substantial change in our favour, and the closest we have come in millennia."

A soft sound before Lennox grins and shakes his head. "Sure been a lot changed around here. I mean, you and Ironhide I didn't see coming, for a start. I'd always figured you for Arcee."

I cannot help but chuckle at that. "No, I believe Arcee is enamoured elsewhere. I didn't foresee a relationship with Ironhide, though I'm glad it has come about."

Another slow nod and, curiously, he points at me. "And you carried Tempest? As in –pregnant- carried?"

The human fixation with this fact is most strange. "Yes. Though mechs are not optimally designed to and rarely do so, we can bear sparklings." I stand when I hear my finial crack, a 'ping' from Ironhide telling me that he has returned to the Base. "I believe Ironhide would also like to see you, Captain. He should be putting training drones back into storage shortly."

Lennox takes a few awkward steps back to see up to my face, clearly encumbered by his weakened leg. "Thanks, I'll do that."

I extend my hand a little in gesture. "Would you prefer to be taken to him and spare your leg discomfort?"

He shakes his head and pats the effected thigh with a grimace. "No, doc says I've got to keep walking on it."

A familiar advisement. "Your doctor sounds like Ratchet."

"All medics are of the same breed," he tells me, turning to make his way back down the corridor to the yard. "Unsympathetic sadists creative in their torture."

I laugh, following him to return to the rec room where I have left my sparkling watching television. "Then perhaps our species aren't so different after all, Captain."


Lennox first caught sight of Ironhide crossing the yard to the huge storage lockers, Arcee, Bumblebee and Prowl trooping past him towards the shower block. They gave Lennox a wave but clearly were the worse for wear from the weapon specialist's training. He saw that there were generously flecked red and liberally sprayed with mud, explaining their keenness to get the muck showered off.

"Paintballs," Ironhide announced loudly as Lennox approached. "Wanted to try something other than soft lasers."

"Bit more of an incentive not to get hit if you've got to wear it afterwards," Lennox agreed, stopping to watch the mech unload the red spheres from several compartments on his body along with two small training drones.

Resealing the locks and affixing the big lock in place, Ironhide fixed the soldier with a grin and shifted to sit on his haunches against the structure. "How're you, Will? Is your leg sufficiently healed to return to duty?"

"Pretty much," he replied easily, also sitting against the locked. "Few pins and a couple of scars, otherwise it's as good as new."

A grunt and the mech's optics flickered as he ran a quick scan, ultimately satisfied with the readings. "Are Sarah and Annabel healthy?" he asked, recalling that such a question about family was customary following an extended absence.

Lennox grinned and automatically reached for his wallet, producing the latest photographs. "Oh yeah, the girls are great. Look how big Anna's grown."

A slight nod. "She has increased in size significantly. You must be proud of her physical development."

The human nodded, lingering on the photos for a few more seconds before tucking them back into his wallet and back pocket. He thought of the new knowledge of the dark mech's relationship, and the fact that the bots didn't seem to need both a feminine and a masculine to make a baby. "You ever think about having kids, 'Hide?"

Ironhide ran a hand across his jaw, hydraulics hissing out tension. It had been a very productive but also enjoyable training session, and it had left him in easy spirits. Sitting with Lennox again now in the sun, he understood what humans meant when they said that it felt like no time had passed at all. "Yeah, a whole bunch of them back when the war wasn't really a war, yet. That was with Chromia."

Trying and failing to remember if he'd heard the name before, Lennox shook his head. "Chromia?"

The mech's optics narrowed on something in the distance, watching something that was too far away for human eyes to see. "A femme back on Cybertron. Feisty bot, and pit of a crack shot. She stayed behind with Elita, her commander, and others to fight whilst Optimus led us in search of the All Spark." He idly thumbed a deep notch in his chassis, an old scar. "I've not heard about her since. I'm not certain that she's even alive."

"Sorry to hear that."

Ironhide shrugged, still watching something on the horizon. "It doesn't matter now."

Lennox smirked with a sidelong look. "Yeah, I heard about you and the big guy. Congrats, 'Hide. I think you do each other justice."

A rumbled sound of content agreement. "I believe so."

They fell into an easy silence, soaking the sun's warmth as they watched the three newly-clean bots reappear and cross the yard towards the rec room. Finally, Lennox broached with a considered lightness, "I met Tempest."

Ironhide glanced down to him. "What did you think of him?"

The soldier reflected on the image the bot on the sofa, clearly enthralled by the penguin documentary but politely dragging his attention away to speak to him. "He's nice. Big, though."

A barked laugh. "Yeah, for his age he should be smaller than you, but with things the way they were… He's a good spark. Bit quiet, but he's still very young."

"I wish I'd known about him sooner," Lennox admitted.

Ironhide shifted his weight a little with a frown. "Optimus was keen for discretion about the whole thing. Slag, I doubt you'd have been able to tell from looking at him even near the end. He didn't let a lot show, even when he was really struggling."

Lennox nodded, curiosity getting the better of him as he tried to imagine the huge mech whilst essentially pregnant. Certainly no officials had noticed anything out of the ordinary, aside from a note mentioning how the Autobot leader was finally delegating to Prowl a little more. "How'd he do it?" he blurted suddenly. "I mean, where did it grow?"

Ironhide tapped his chassis. "Tight fit, and Ratchet had to get creative making space, but it works. Femmes carry 'em lower where they're designed to."

A slow nod and Lennox followed the mechs stare to where he could just make out three grey spots in the sky. There was also an engine drone on the edge of his hearing. "Do you think you might have kids with him?"

His faceplates quirked before Ironhide stood, resting his hands on his hips. "I don't know. He's got Tempest, so…"

Lennox got to his feet as well and decided to drop it before this turned into a potentially awkward conversation. This was the most personal chat he'd ever had with the grizzled mech. It seemed that being with Optimus had mellowed him.

The vibration of jet engines had increased to a roar now as the three Seekers swept about overhead to come in to land in the yard. Lennox watched the lead plane with an uneasy grimace. "It's gonna take me a while to get used to that."

"You will eventually," Ironhide assured gruffly, watching the red-speckled mechs transform. Starscream was comparatively clean, though he'd more than pulled his weight playing target. "They're alright bots. Skywarp can be a pain in the aft, but Thundercracker's level headed and Starscream's changed a bit. Gets on with Tempest like a rig on fire."

Lennox arched a brow. "Seriously?"

A firm nod. "Appointed himself as a guardian before he came online, and he takes it seriously. It's the only reason Tempest has a plane alt form when both his creators were ground-based."

Before Lennox could utter more than a surprised sound, Starscream began to approach whilst the two more heavily paint-spattered Seekers headed for the shower block.

"This slag had better come off," Starscream barked, though there didn't seem to be any real anger in his tone. Lennox couldn't help but take a step back, though.

"Oh quit preening, Screamer. If the water doesn't shift it I've got some plasma cannons that'll do the job." Ironhide smirked. "Might lighten you up a bit, though, and you already sail off with every errant breeze as is."

Starscream quirked an unkind smile before his optics ran over Lennox. Quickly dismissing the human, he looked back to the broad mech. "You still going to the dance tonight?"

"Are you?"

"Yes."

Ironhide arched a brow. "Then you can bet your undersized aft on it." He nodded to the shower block. "Go get washed off. You look like you've flown into a field of bovines."

A nod before the Seeker moved away. "I'll see you tonight, gun monkey."

"Later birdstrike," Ironhide called back, turning to make his way across to the rec room.

Lennox shouted to pause him. "I'm gonna say 'hi' to 'Bee then I'm gonna head home. I that that's been about all the weirdness I can take for today."

Ironhide smiled and folded his arms, regarding the human. "You should stick around for the dance. Not been one for a while so it'll be a good show."

"I take it this is the military kind of dance, not the High School one?" Lennox guessed, idly wondering if it was purely coincidence that had led the bots to pick up the term.

"It's a good way to siphon off tension, gets bots to bond, and it's a lot of fun," Ironhide grinned outright. "Usually turns into a bit of a party afterwards, too, so it's a good night."

"Sounds it," Lennox agreed, grinning himself at the idea of the awesome spectacle of these beings scrapping hand to hand but without the element of danger. "I'll tell Epps it's happening. Sure he'd hate to miss out."

Ironhide grunted before looking back to the rec room. "I'm gonna look in on Optimus and Tempest. I'll see you tonight. Nineteen hundred start."

"I'll look forward to it."


When Optimus had sat down on the sofa, Tempest had automatically shifted to half-lie in his Sire's lap, his head resting just beneath the comforting pulse of his spark as he watched the polar bear documentary that had just started. With one hand draped over his sparkling, the Autobot leader used the other to thumb through data pads on the arm of the sofa.

Ironhide tapped Tempest's leg to move before he sat down, receiving both limbs from the mech's curled body straight into his lap. Not wanting to disturb the enthralled sparkling, he brushed Optimus's mind through the bond. :You know, one day I'm going to weld that hatch shut.:

Optimus smiled, gathering the pads and slotting them into said hatch on his shoulder where he kept the reports he accumulated on-foot during the morning. :Did you see Captain Lennox?:

:Yeah, he found me in the yard before the Seekers finally turned up.:

A sidelong look and an arched brow. :I thought you were taking the new drones out for training?:

Ironhide's mouth flickered in a smile. :You know as well as I do that the best things for aerial target training are aerial bots.;

A beat. :You took the paintballs, didn't you?: It wasn't a question.

The dark mech smirked outright. :Screamer wasn't best pleased.:

:I'm not surprised.:

:He cooled off when I said he could fire them back, though. Probably be keen to follow up on it tonight.:

Optimus rumbled a knowing sound to that, running his hand down Tempest's shoulder. Despite his best efforts the sparkling was beginning to doze off, and Optimus wanted to keep him awake so he'd recharge through the evening. When Tempest had fidgeted and refocused on the television, he looked to his sparkmate. :Luna's carrying. I found out this morning.:

Ironhdie grinned at the news, resting his head back on the sofa. :I'll bet Bluestreak hasn't shut up about it yet. Surprised he hasn't gotten on the comm.:

:I think he's planning to announced it tonight. He seems to be taking Luna's lead on it, and she's comparatively quiet.: A long silence as Ironhide half-watched the documentary and Optimus considered his thoughts. Finally, he added, :Ratchet asked if we were planning on having a sparkling.:

Ironhide turned to meet his stare, optics bright and serious. :What did you say?:

:Only that we hadn't discussed it.:

The dark mech nodded a little at that, returning his gaze to the television though he wasn't watching it. There was a long enough pause for his sparkmate to conclude that the topic was closed before he suddenly said, :I'd like about four.:

There was a bubbling sensation across the bond as Optimus laughed silently. :It's not like a drinks dispenser. Unless you're nominating yourself?:

Ironhide quirked a smile at him. :I hear the first one's the hardest, and the rest get easier.:

Both mechs semi-watched the documentary with Tempest for several minutes before Optimus looked across again. :You really want a sparkling?:

Ironhide's shoulder jerked in a shrug. :With you, yeah.:

A nod and a slow warm smile. :I guess we've got some decisions to make. We can talk about it later.:

:Sounds good.: A thought occurred and Ironhide fixed the taller mech with a serious look. :Discount anything I say about it tonight on High Grade, alright?:

Optimus arranged his features into an expression of utmost, serene seriousness. :That depends entirely on what you say.:

Ironhide 'harrumphed' and looked back at the television pointedly, his thumbs running unconscious circles on the sparkling's ankles in his lap.