Family Matters

Chapter 14

The regular human visitors to the Base had been lingering since rumour of Prime's extending stay in the Medbay got around that afternoon, and the rec room had turned into a kind of waiting room. Bumblebee, Sideswipe and Prowl were watching an American football game and discussing tactics, whilst Magnus sat in the large chair Optimus tended to use with half an optic on the match. Skywarp and Arcee were playing cards, and Bluechrome and Luna were curled against one another on the sofa. Sitting at the human sized table to one side, Sam, Mikaela, Lennox and Epps drank coffee and spoke over the burbling din of mixed English and Cybertronian.

"How do you reckon it's going?" Sam asked, looking to Lennox automatically as the only one out of the four of them with a child. "I haven't heard any screaming."

"Don't reckon the boss bot's the type to scream," Epps murmured across the lip of his coffee mug.

"I don't think he'd necessarily have a choice," Mikaela replied with a grimace, though paused thoughtfully. "He could mute his vocal processor I suppose."

The fell into silence again, idly taking in the activity in the room. Skywarp and Arcee had been worth watching lately, with what appeared to be a deepening friendship beginning to morph into something no one had unexpected. It was little give-aways – the odd touch to a shoulder or wing; always seeming to have their first Cubes of the day in each others' company; smiles at inside jokes.

Lennox took a sip of coffee and lingered the liquid on his tongue, thinking back to those rationed drinks of warm water in the desert, sitting inside a cavern with the injured Prime awaiting rescue. Even bleeding and exhausted, the mech had somehow still given off a regal air.

Optimus had hardly spoken during the day they had spent waiting, and then only to offer words of reassurance to Sam and Mikaela. Lennox could tell he was occupied with worry for his unborn and unmoving sparkling, and for the Autobots all suffering from the necrosis back at the Base. He cared for the bots in his charge more than any military commander the soldier had ever known, and regardless of the elevating status of being a Prime. He cared for them like family – like a father.

Looking across the room, Lennox's gaze flickered between Bumblebee and Sideswipe as he recalled that nightmarish period where Optimus had been dead. Ironhide had wanted to leave – a reaction he better understood now that he knew that the scarred mech had loved Optimus more than anyone had known for centuries. Ratchet had convinced him to remain, citing their Prime's wishes, but no one was certain of what Optimus would have done if he were still there to guide them. It was as if he was a figure larger than themselves and beyond their understanding in his patience, bravery and devotion. The Prime symbolised the best of them, and it had only humbled him into deeper compassion. They couldn't ask for a better role model, a higher standard of integrity to live up to.

Fatherhood suited Optimus, Lennox concluded with a soft smile, because there needed to be more like him in the universe. That, and it brought the mech such unabashed joy. Now he was as excited to see Optimus again as he was the new sparkling, and was doubly glad that he was in the best possible care to deliver. The alternative didn't bear thinking about.

Lennox broke the silence softly, drawing the others' eyes to him. "I really thought we'd be doing this in the desert." There was a shared look of bemusement and mutual relief. "Sure as hell glad that things are in Ratchet's hands and not ours."

"And Ironhide's there too," Sam added, glancing towards the door again. They'd all been door-watching for the last three hours, greeting every bot who'd come in with an unconscious sigh.

Lennox made a soft sound of agreement. "I missed Annabel being born. I'm really glad 'Hide's there to see his son come into the world."

Sam looked to Mikaela thoughtfully. "I thought you said Ratchet was going to let you assist? Part of your medic training or something."

"He did, and Optimus was fine with it." Her shoulder twitched in a shrug. "Ironhide was a bit leery, though, and I didn't want to push it. But if the options were to do it on my own with Optimus hurt in the middle of the Sahara, or to wait in the rec room whilst he delivered in the Medbay, I'd take this every time. Besides," she paused with a look between both of the femmes in the room with a smile, each captivating the attention of the two mechs sitting with them. "I'm sure I'll get my chance to help deliver a sparkling sometime."

Everyone looked up when the doors opened, half expecting another stray bot to stop in and all getting to their feet when it was one of the mechs they'd been waiting for. Ironhide's expression when he'd shared the news of their coming sparkling was nothing close to the beaming grin he bore as he carried Forge into the busy rec room. "Will, come look what I got."

Bumblebee punched Magnus in the arm with an excited warble, a response that puzzled the big mech, as the humans gathered at the dark mech's feet. Ironhide kneeled and held out the wide eyed sparkling in cupped hands.

"Oh, he's adorable!" Mikaela crooned, offering out a hand and grinning when it was gently batted at.

"What, no rocket launchers came with?" Sam asked, grinning though with a flutter of unease at Mikaela's apparently renewed broodiness. He had to admit, though, that the sparkling was as cute as any little metallic being could be.

Lennox watched with a warm knowing of the fatherly pride that the scarred mech was exuding. "What's his name, Hide?"

Withdrawing the sparkling back into his chassis when the new shadows of the crowding Autobots made the sparkling chirp anxiously, Ironhide answered without looking up. "This is Forge."

Lennox nodded as Sam issued a short laugh. "Hey, that's clever."

Ironhide nodded fractionally, rising to his feet so that the bots could see better. "Me and Optimus were tossing between that and Colt. Said I could choose when I saw 'im."

"How's the big guy doing?" Epps called up, watching as Magnus ran an appreciative thumb down Forge's cheek.

"Alright, though he'll be resting up on a berth for a while yet," Ironhide replied before meeting Magnus's optics. "He did good. Textbook, apparently. If you can get past Ratch' he'd probably like a visitor."

Nodding his thanks with a soft smile, Magnus gave the sparkling a final warm glance before weaving out of the room. Bluestreak and Luna came about from behind the weapons specialist and gazed upon the new arrival with bright optics. Their hands found one another in a tender grip, the yellow femme leaning into the taller mech as she opened an internal comm.. I want to try again.

The marksman arched a brow and looked down. Yeah? So soon?

She smiled. And you're the one who always wants to do things straight away. Her optics wandered back across to the chirping sparkling, her lips plates arcing upwards a little more. I want to hold her, Blue.

A short, certain nod and he squeezed her hand. Can't wait. A beat before his processor whirred into the speed of his namesake. But first you'll need a full service check from Ratchet, and we'll ask Prime about taking the time off duty, make sure Wheeljack's not making anything really scary, and anything else we can think of to make it as safe and comfortable as possible.

Ironhide glanced about the room again, frowning at an absent face. "Where's Pest?"

"Thundercracker took him out earlier to keep him occupied," Prowl answered as he leaned in towards the sparkling, his slight features lifting with a smile. "Something about seeing penguins, I believe. I've already them, and they'll be back sometime this evening."

A grin and Ironhide bounced the sparkling a little, earning a flurry of chirps. "Hear that, Forge? Few hours and you'll be meeting your big brother."

Starscream was cleaning the used equipment at the workbench with a distracted processor, though his sharp hands still worked efficiently. He listened to the medic's approaching footsteps from where he had been with Optimus behind the metal screen at the end of the Medbay, not looking up from his task when Ratchet stopped at his side. "How's he doing?"

Taking up the first drip line that had been wrecked mid-'contraction' from the tray of cleanser, Ratchet began wringing it out with gentle hands. "He's gone into recharge at last, thank Primus. I've replaced the torn lines, but the dent in the Matrix is just going to have to stay there. Other than that, he's doing well." A slanted smile. "Pit, I'd go so far as to say he's good at this."

The Seeker shook his head a little, draining the used cleanser down the workbench's sink whilst Ratchet wound the drip around his hand. "I don't understand how anyone would want to go through all that, let alone twice."

"Instinctive imperative to reproduce," Ratchet replied with a shrug. "Physically actualising an expression of unconditional love, not to mention the fact that we class as an endangered species now. It almost a duty to have children." He suppressed a smirk, though a lone brow arched. "I hear Seeker sparklings are particularly adorable."

Starscream froze, and it was only the mercy of his hands being empty that meant he didn't drop anything. He fixed the smirking medic with a hard glare. "That's not even marginally funny."

"I'd beg to differ," Ratchet replied through a soft chuckle.

The Seeker folded his arms with a sigh, briefly touching his shuttered optics. "I suppose the secret's out about us now," he announced in an unapologetically wild change of topic. "And the old fragger didn't so much as threaten to offline me, distracted though he was. Prime's likely given us his blessing, unless he's had a personality transplant."

Ratchet hummed in agreement. "Thundercracker's pretty content with our, situation, too."

Starscream's optics narrowed fractionally. "You talked to Thundercracker about me?"

The medic frowned a little. "No. I put up an ad for advice on the communal notice board in the rec room. Right next to the Do Not list and the match fixtures. Sideswipe supplied some particularly colourful interfacing advice."

A withering look, though there was the ghost of a smile. "You're a pain in the aft."

"Something we have in common," Ratchet replied with a laugh through his vents, returning his gaze to the equipment as he tidied it away. They fell into companionable silence until finally the medic rested his hands on the now cleared workbench and regarded the Seeker thoughtfully. The question had been nagging at the back of his processor all afternoon, and up until now there hadn't been time to ask it. "How come Thundercracker took Tempest out and not you? I thought you didn't mind the cold."

"I don't, but I wanted to help with Prime." Starscream rolled one angular shoulder in a shrug, mouth twitching in a smile. "And it'd do Thundercracker good to do something fun."

Ratchet nodded slightly at the assessment of the overly serious Seeker, optics brightening as his processor followed an unconscious tangent. His processor drew connections with such speed that they sometimes preceded his conscious knowing of them. Unbidden came the image of Starscream's clawed fingers curled around the newborn's body, gently but without any timidity, his wrists bent to tip Forge slightly and protectively into his chassis. It reminded him of how the Seeker laid a hand on Tempest's shoulder when speaking to him, and how before he was moved into an adult frame the sparkling could often be found in Starscream's arms in the rec room. Starscream had always been closeby when someone was sparklingsitting, and then frequently the sole occupant of Tempest's attention.

He gave the Seeker a sidelong look, watching him inputting details for Forge's file into the computer. "What is it with you and sparklings?"

Bloody optics flickered in a surprised blink, the tiny plates of their shutters whirring in the quiet room. They fixed, narrowed with confusion, on the medic. "What?"

"Your affinity for them," Ratchet expanded, his voice soft though he knew Optimus couldn't hear them. His point wasn't immediately picked up and he cocked his head, lifting a brow. "The sole reason you defected from the Decepticons was to protect Tempest, and that was before he was even born."

Starscream shook his head with a soft exhale, returning his attention to the screen. "I defected from the Decepticons because I was tired of Megatron, and figured that his offspring could be a rallying point to stop the war." Another shrug, and his mouth quirked with a grimace. "Turns out I was wrong."

"It's early days yet," Ratchet replied quietly, his brow still furrowed in scrutiny. Though it was true that they'd been expecting more Decepticons to turn to their side once Tempest's existence and lineage was known, no one was laying blame for the small numbers. A beat passed before he pressed on. "And defecting didn't necessitate you tying your spark to Tempest's."

Starscream's gaze remained fixed on his task, not deviating to give the prying medic so much as a flicker of attention. "It was the only way I could prove to Prime that I meant it and that he could trust me," he uttered softly, evenly, though his darkening optics betrayed his apparent nonchalance.

Idly, Ratchet slid his hand beneath the bench and pulled across a stool, moving to sit on it. Atop the bench, his hands mated in an X of interwoven, complicated fingers. "You'd have earned his trust either way."

A derisive snort jerked Starscream's frame. "Probably. He's too soft-sparked for his own good sometimes."

Abruptly the medic found clarity, and on some level Ratchet swore he actually heard his processor spit out the answer to his unconsciously fuelled inquiry. Starscream wasn't protective of Tempest: he was devoted, and wholesparkedly so. The guardian bond didn't necessitate or bring about love, but it was clearly there. It was obvious how happy Tempest's decision to be a Seeker had made Starscream, and the old mech took great pride and satisfaction in tutoring the sparkling on flight. Tempest couldn't desire a more proficient teacher.

Amongst the Decepticons, Starscream had been the most skilled and feared. Megatron, though a fearsome opponent, was almost always preoccupied with Prime, so a bot had only to keep out of the way to be relatively safe from him. Starscream, however, had fired upon anyone and anything with a ferocity that was at times bewildering. He took measure of his opponents and worked out how to get through their defences without hesitation, fear or remorse. It was a rare combination in someone so intelligent, Ratchet had long ago extrapolated. Starscream was no blunt tool, but neither was he particular about his assignments. He would do things that could turn any bot's tanks, faction aside. It had been obvious at the Cybertronian nursery, millennia ago, which individual had murdered the youngest sparklings. And without a shot fired. In an unprecedented act of cruelty, he had killed them with his bare hands and taken the savagery of the entire attack that had left the Autobots reeling to depths Ratchet hadn't thought possible.

This was the mech that often shared his berth, had shared his spark, and yet it didn't match any more. Amongst them Starscream had mellowed, but more than that, he'd come to care, and thus to fear. He feared that he cared too much, and he feared losing this new life. And he felt remorse, perhaps for the first time, for thousands of years worth of misdeeds. He would ever admit to it, but the greatest evidence of it was found in how he treated sparklings.

Ratchet wasn't entirely sure why he was so interested in the Seeker's psychological relationship with sparklings, or what that meant. He could only assume that it was because they were, for all intents and purposes, involved now. Or perhaps it was simply curiosity towards a side of Starscream that exceptionally few had been privileged to see.

Glancing across to the screen where Starscream had held Prime's newborn, he spoke to the Seeker's lowered stare, mindful of how personal the ground he was treading was. "You're repenting."

Starscream turned on him as if struck. "Oh for frag's sake, Hatchet, not every facet of my behaviour has some deeper ulterior motive. Believe it or not I like sparklings, and I also happen to like the idea of us not dying out as a species after this now ultimately pointless war has driven us to the brink, so protecting sparklings has particular importance."

Ratchet cocked his head, optics bright with thought. "Do you want, sparklings, yourself?"

The scoff was so expected that it bordered on cliché. Laced with bitterness. "Yeah, 'cause I'm really the Sire type."

Ratchet couldn't help but smile a little sadly at the self-depreciation. "You treat Tempest like he's your own."

A long pause, and Starscream's reply came softly. "It's the guardian bond."

"That necessitates protection, not love," Ratchet interjected with a raised hand, feeling something like admiration blossom in his chassis. "I'd go so far as to say that you wish you were his creator and not Megatron."

Starscream's gaze remained on the screen, unseeing, but his voice hardened with defensiveness. "His parentage is irrelevant."

Now it was Ratchet's turn to scoff. "Yeah right. I'll bet that you'll be fond of Forge as well."

The Seeker finally straightened and shot the shorter mech an arch look. "I'm not issuing another guardianship."

"No one thought you would," Ratchet affirmed with a slanted, though serious, smile.

A 'hn' of acknowledgement and they lapsed back into silence. Finishing with the computer, Starscream turned to rest back against the workbench with folded arms. He regarded the medic evenly. "So what about you?"

Ratchet blinked, embarrassingly lost. "What about me?"

A half shrug though his expression remained fixed. There was a trace of a smile behind the intensity and cool, analytical caution though. "Do you want sparklings?"

Ratchet shifted a little and touched the back of his helm. "I'd not given it much thought to be honest, but maybe. If we'll be moving to Deniad to repopulate the species in the future as Prime has suggested, then it'd be outright negligent not to have children. But I don't know if I want one right away. I mean, not with you." His optics widened comically on the waiting Seeker. "I mean, I wouldn't mind, but it's not-"

Starscream held up a hand with a smirk, optics bright with not-quite condescension. "Good to know where you stand."

Rising from the stool, Ratchet stood mirroring Starscream's stance. He forced hot air out through his vents as a precursor to breaking the silence, and consequently the topic. "So, what now?"

A step forward put Starscream's hand on the medic's arm, steering him towards the door. "We let sleeping mech's lie, and grab a few cubes of High Grade to celebrate."

Magnus found it unnaturally easy to slip past Ratchet unnoticed across the Medbay, the medic apparently engrossed in whatever he was talking to Starscream about. He found Optimus in recharge and made to leave, though paused when azure optics flickered on and fixed him with a smile.

Matching the expression though without the deep weariness, Magnus moved to sit on the edge of the berth as the long body shifted to make room. "How're you feeling?"

"Likely far better than Ratchet's implying," Optimus replied with a wry look past the screen. "I shan't be wanting a clash with Megatron for a few days, but I'm fine."

"I saw Forge." Magnus bowed his head a little, almost grinning. "He's perfect."

A breathed laugh through his vents and Optimus smiled at the remark. "I made him myself."

Magnus nodded, finding it oddly easy to sink into the warmly personal conversation. It was a strangeness to see and speak to his commander and Prime as a Sire – to two sparklings, no less. Centuries of conflict and death made new life as surprising as it was precious, though Magnus felt that it suited Optimus as if he'd been meant to do it all along.

Thinking of the dark little mech, all smiles and bright-optic curiosity, replayed his brief meeting with Forge in his processor. "He looks a lot like Ironhide."

A liquid-warm smile and Optimus sat himself up a little, though with a wince. "Which he's most pleased of. As am I."

"It suits him," Magnus continued thoughtfully. "And you. When you'd said it before, I never truly believed that you didn't want sparklings."

"I didn't want the danger they would be in, but I've come to understand that perfect circumstances do not exist. Not with the war. Family is something to fight for and to take comfort in. Having brought two sparklings into being, now, I feels an almost selfish thing to do. It's fulfilling." His gaze lowered fractionally, processor threatening to turn inwards onto something he'd been trying hard not to think about today. "I didn't know that before, when I was with Elita."

"I'm sorry about her, Optimus," Magnus rumbled, also bowing his head, "and Chromia."

A ragged sigh and Optimus touched his shuttered optics. His words felt like a guilty admission that he would admit to very few. "Truthfully it hasn't quite registered yet. Everything happened so fast. Now I grieve and celebrate simultaneously, just as Ironhide does."

It was a reasonable mixture of emotions given the circumstances, Magnus mused, though he could tell that Optimus didn't think so. Certainly he felt guilty that he wasn't entirely consumed with grief over the loss of the femme whom had almost been his sparkmate, but he couldn't help but feel anything but joy for the safe arrival of his sparkling with Ironhide. Doubtless it would take some time to work through the sickly mix. "Is there anything I can do?"

Optimus smiled a little, knowing how well Magnus knew him and appreciating the subtlety of his offer. "Thank you, but I think it is a matter of time passing now."

Magnus gave a short nod, his voice strengthening. "We'll honour their memory, just as we have honoured all of those we have lost."

A soft sound of agreement and Optimus allowed only a few moments of silence before he spoke again. It was something he was anxious to know about in both meanings of the word. "Did you see Bluestreak and Luna?"

Magnus had no trouble seeing the motivation behind that question either. "They were becoming rapidly enamoured with Forge in the rec room." His voice softened and dropped, the plates of his face tightening. "Slagging awful thing they've been through."

"I cannot imagine it. Selfishly, I don't want to," Optimus replied softly, pressing a hand into his side as parts continued to shunt back into place with aching slowness. It would be a few days before Ratchet replaced the systems he'd removed, and then this discomfort would start all over again.

"That's not selfish. That's being a parent," came the dry remark, and Magnus slid off the berth to his feet. Touching a hand to his commander's arm, he offered a smile. "Come now. Ratchet'll have my head if I keep you from resting like you need to."

A rumbled laugh as Optimus shifted fractionally, seeking a remotely comfortable position. "I suspect that Starscream is keeping him preoccupied for now."

It took a moment for him to realise what the tall mech was insinuating, but the smile at his shocked reaction confirmed it to truth. Magnus shook his head, pinching the space between his shuttered optics. "Just when I thought I'd gotten used to this definition of 'normal.'" He waved a hand as if dismissing the thought from himself as much as Optimus. "Anyway: Recharge."

"Have Ironhide bring Forge back," Optimus replied flatly, resting his hands across his midsection. "Then I'll recharge properly."

Magnus tipped his head, optics bright. "Newborn separation anxiety?"

Optimus smiled a little, weariness becoming more pronounced with every passing second. He suddenly wasn't sure he'd be able to stave off sleep until Ironhide came back. "Something like that."

I come out of recharge feeling heavy and warm, apparently with only the minimum of rest my systems needed having been met as everything still aches and moves sluggishly. The lights are all off in the Medbay, but three pairs of optics cast a watery light across the berth. I sense Ironhide before I see him, slumped in a thick chair with his heels up on the berth and rumbling softly in recharge. Forge squirms with as much energy as his optics are bright in his miniature berth at my feet, reaching up for the third figure watching him with red light.

"You can hold him," I tell my son, mindful of Ironhide though he still shifts at the sound of my voice. I open a comm. channel to offer reassurance. He won't break.

Tempest shifts his weight a little, watching me, before regarding the sparkling again. Finally he slips his hands into the small berth, earning a lyrical burst of sound from Forge. Though clearly nervous, Tempest does a fair job of settling him against his chassis and comes to stand beside me. His half brother begins to chirp intently as I sit up, and Tempest touches on the internal comm. again. I think he's hungry.

Already extending an energon line from my chassis, I take Forge as he is offered and put the tip against his mouth. He latches hard, drinking readily as his fists curl against his small chest.

Tempest makes a soft sound, shaking his head. I can't believe I was ever that small.

I arch a brow at him. Actually, you were a fair bit bigger than this. Looking back to the feeding sparkling, I run a thumb down his cheek and he sighs into my plates. If it weren't for Megatron, you'd still be that size.

The Seeker comes to sit on the edge of the berth, facing me. Is Forge going to be upgraded like I was?

I'm glad for the dark that disguises my grimace. He speaks so casually of one of the most traumatic things that can be done to a sparkling, and has handled it better than I could have hoped. Not if it can be helped. I don't wish to set a precedent now that bots are deciding to have families.

There is much that needs to be worked out on that front. Already some unease has filtered through to me about our populous increasing on the humans' planet, and we have done little to 'earn our keep' recently as the Decepticons have fallen quiet. Change is on the horizon, and I fear that I will not be able to negotiate all of it in our best interest. Before I would have bowed to the humans' wishes – left if they had asked it. We'd all become used to such a life. But with the likelihood of having carrying femmes amongst us, perhaps even mechs, I would be wary to go anywhere off-planet.

A tugging sensation at my hip draws me from my thoughts, my eldest lifting up the drip line demonstrably. Isn't this a little counterproductive?

He has a point, unwilling as I am to admit it. Technically meeting Forge's feeding requirements is why Ironhide is here, but I don't want to disturb him when he's not long been in recharge himself. Would you like to do it?

Tempest blinks. Can I?

A nod and I withdraw my line, gently passing Forge into his arms. For an adult bot, you can share energon from any auxiliary line, I tell him as he listens intently. But sparklings need the most filtered energon we can give them, so you need to use one of the lines that feeds into the base of your spark chamber.

He frowns, concentrating, and there comes the hiss of a seal breaking as the line shifts downwards. I hook it between thumb and forefinger for him, gently drawing the thin tube out from beneath his chest plates. Taking the end, he offers it to Forge himself and breaths a laugh when the sparkling latches hungrily. Wow.

I think that about surmises it, I agree with my own soft laugh. He should settle again in a few minutes. For the first few weeks of their lives, all sparklings are interested in is eating and sleeping.

Tempest glances up at me with a grin, his body curling instinctively about the small body. So no taking him for joy rides in my cockpit yet?

Not for a while. I nod to my sleeping sparkmate. When you can convince Ironhide to let you take him for a flight, he's old enough to go.

He smiles a little with understanding. 'Hide's going to be worse than Scree when it comes to being protective, isn't he?

A thousand times so.

We lapse into a comfortable silence broken only by the soft hum of our vents and Forge clicking happily about the energon line. After a few minutes he quiets and his optics dim, the feeding line ultimately slipping from his mouth. Tempest shows no sign of moving, however, smiling down at the slumbering mech. Already he loves him, and it swells my spark.

You can put him back to berth if you want to. It's late, and you've done a lot of flying today. No response, and I touch his elbow. Did you enjoy seeing the penguins with Thundercracker?

Hm? He looks up, expression remaining lost for a moment before he simply smiles and nods. Oh yeah, it was good. We got mobbed after we landed. A small shift and his optics dim on me, tentative. Would it be alright if I, I mean, can I look after him for a bit? You're really tired, Sire.

There's a pang of anxiety at the prospect of the newborn being taken away from me again, but I trust Tempest implicitly to care for him. And they should bond. I'd like that Tempest, thank you. I know he'll be in good hands.

Getting to his feet, he seems to hug Forge into his chassis, instinctively drawing him up close to his spark. Thanks, Sire. Rest well. I'll bring him back in a few hours – I promise.

I watch him leave, and Ironhide seems to wait until we are alone in the Medbay again before opening his optics. Weary and preoccupied as I am, I'd missed him slipping out of recharge whenever it had happened. "Good that 'Pest's so taken with him already."

Lying back again, I cover his hand with my own when he puts it on my arm. "I didn't realise you were awake."

He grumbles a little, rubbing his optics. "I'd say I was conscious more than awake, so Primus knows how you're doing. Feels like thick slag on the bond."

"Just wait until we've had a week of night feedings," I remark dryly. "Then we'll see how tired we both are."

"And the nightly walks," he replies with a grin I hear as much as see. "Don't forget those."

I sigh and rub my optics, the anticipated weariness somehow stacking on the existing ache. "And you want four of them, you say."

A rumbled laugh as he sinks into the chair, evidently as close to sliding back into recharge as I am. "We'll see how we get on. It's a lot, and you…" He trails off with a waved hand though I know from the slither of emotions trickling through the bond what he is getting at. He doesn't want to carry himself but he wants more sparklings, a combination he feels guilty about.

Resting a hand across my chassis, hot from where parts are still readjusting themselves, I rub my fingers against the throbbing ache. "There's no rush, though I must admit that it's addictive."

His optics brighten in surprise, frowning at me in deep scrutiny. "Yeah?"

I fidget on the berth a little, attempting to move with my transforming parts as I had in labour. Regardless of the discomfort, I cannot help but smile. "Creating our children… The pain seems negligible now. It feels almost selfish."

"That's the last word I'd ever apply t'ya, Optimus," he tells me, his hand tightening in a squeeze. "I'm selfish for not doing enough, and…" I dimly hear :slag it: across the bond as he shakes his head, optics narrowing. It takes a moment for him to compose the words and say them aloud. "I can't thank you enough for what you've given me."

"Given us," I correct softly, reaching out to trace his helm and watching as he sighs into my palm. "We're a family, 'Hide."

He breaths acknowledgement, gratitude, thanks, love and subtle excitement in one warm exhale through his vents, speaking better with the simple movement of air than the articulation of his thoughts. My sparkmate is a mech to listen to to converse with – most of what he says takes place in near-silence.

"So," he grunts, breaking us out of the moment and rubbing his thumb against my arm. "Ratchet and Screamer, eh?" A dry glance to me and I don't even attempt to hide my smile. He shakes his head. "You already knew."

"I'm Prime. It's my business to know," I reply with a shrug, shifting again at the burning prickle building in my chassis as the roots of umbilical lines begin to dissolve back into my systems. "And Ratchet was worried enough to talk to me. I told him that the Seeker who lives here with is not the same one as the one we spent centuries fighting. He's changed, and all for the better."

A rumbled sound of agreement before a heavy, resigned exhale. "Pit, they match each other. Can't understand half of what they're saying sometimes, and they're as glitched as each other. 'bout time the cranky slagger had something to be happy about."

If it weren't for the bond assuring me of the genuineness of that statement, I'd have assumed sarcasm where none existed. Of all the bots on this Base, it was Ironhide whom I'd expected to find fault with our most notorious Decepticon defector being romantically involved with our medic. He and Starscream had surpassed civility long ago, much to my relief, but working together to treat the necrosis has apparently brought them into friendship. Admittedly a barbed one rooted in insult, but he sincerely is happy for them.

I could tell him how glad I am of this development, of his full acceptance of Starscream amongst us as Tempest's guardian and the partner of one of our oldest friends. I could thank him for being understanding despite every reason not to be, and for setting aside eons of grudges to start anew. Instead, because I'm tired and sore, I murmur, "You're as soft sparked as I am."

A half smile, bordering on a smirk, and he sits forward to touch my jaw. He replies against my mouth, optics shuttered and spark warm and close to my chassis. "Don't go tellin' everyone."

Cupping his helm, I rest our foreheads together with thick contentedness flowing through my systems. "From seeing you with our son, I think everyone already knows." Anything more I could have said as a gentle gibe is lost against his mouth, a thick wave of feeling flooding through the bond as current crackles between our glossa. 'I love you' seems somehow insubstantial now, but I send it across anyway on a tide of the same feeling. His rough purr against my lips confirms receipt, and I idly wonder if this berth is big enough for us both to recharge on.

If you'd like to carry on reading, the sequel 'Pitch' is just a few clicks away. As always, please leave a little comment in a review – it's nice just to hear that people enjoyed the story.