Sideswipe cupped his hand around his sparkling's tiny helm as Prowler sucked on the feeding line extending from his wrist. Energon, refined slightly through Sideswipe's systems to a less potent form and pre-mixed with the ore additives, flowed from Sideswipe's tanks to their young creation. Prowler's optics were dimming, and for the second time, Prowler drifted back into recharge in near mid-suck. His lips popped off of Sideswipe's feeding line with a tiny, sleepy gasp.

Sunstreaker smiled at his brother as Sideswipe retracted his feeding line and secured the previously concealed panel in his wrist. Sideswipe had been overjoyed when he returned from his exceedingly quick washdown the day prior just in time for Prowler's first feeding. Sunstreaker hadn't ingested enough energon that morning to fuel Prowler, and it fell to Sideswipe to be the first to feed their sparkling. Sideswipe sat next to Sunstreaker, cuddled close with Prowler in both of their arms, when Prowler first fastened on to Sideswipe's feeding line. Energon flowed, and his optics fixed on both of his parent's faces with wide, curious wonder.

Sideswipe didn't have enough energon to fuel Prowler throughout the night, though, and Ratchet had to spike the little sparkling with an energon line for his first fitful night of recharge. Prowler didn't like that at all, and both Sunstreaker and Sideswipe rushed to refuel themselves as quickly as possible. All three had squeezed themselves onto one large medberth, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker bracketing Prowler on either side before the family fell into an exhausted recharge. Prowler was online and off throughout the night, and then he was up early, crying for another tiny tankful of energon. Sideswipe pulled out Ratchet's spike line and then Sunstreaker had his turn at feeding Prowler for the first time.

Sideswipe ran his hand down Prowler's bundled body. They wrapped him in a bundle of blankets, nestling his body into a compact roll that kept both his body warm and engine humming.

"I can't believe we're parents," Sideswipe whispered. His voice was soft, but still echoed around the empty, early-morning medbay.

Sunstreaker gently tickled his fingers across his tiny creation's check. Prowler twitched in recharge, and his mouth reflexively opened, as if he was ready to feed once more. Sunstreaker's hand drifted down, his fingers lacing with Sideswipe's on top of Prowler. "He's perfect," Sunstreaker whispered, echoing Sideswipe's words of the day prior.

Sideswipe squeezed his brother's hand. "How are you feeling?" he asked after a moment.

"I'm doing better." Emergence was hard on the body, and his own strength had been his undoing. Still, as Sunstreaker stared down at Prowler's perfect little body and tiny, recharging faceplates, he didn't mind the pain one bit.

Silence. Only the sound of Prowler's breathy vents filling the medbay. Sideswipe and Sunstreaker's hands stayed locked together over their sparkling. Finally, Sunstreaker spoke again. "It wasn't our fault," Sunstreaker breathed. "It wasn't us."

Sideswipe frowned. "What?"

"It wasn't us." Sunstreaker finally met his brother's gaze. Sideswipe gasped, seeing every tiny, perfect crystalline structure of his brother's cobalt optics, refracting from a depth he hadn't seen in years. "We didn't do anything to make our creators leave us. It wasn't us that made them abandon us."

Sideswipe held his breath. Sunstreaker nurtured a deep hurt over their lifelong abandonment, and it was something that Sideswipe had always known about but had never truly been able to experience. Sunstreaker kept that part of his spark deeply locked away, buried and unseen, even from his brother. Sideswipe hadn't ever given much thought to their creators, but Sunstreaker had always, always carried that hurt deep within his soul.

"How can you abandon this?" Sunstreaker's helm dipped down, motioning to Prowler. "He's perfect. He's entirely innocent." Sunstreaker paused, his lips working slowly, though no sounds came out. Finally, his vocalizer onlined again. "So were we," he choked out. "It wasn't our fault."

Sideswipe smiled. "No, Sunny, it wasn't our fault." He cupped his brother's cheek, running his fingers over his jaw. "It never was," he whispered, then pressed a delicate kiss to Sunstreaker's lips. .

The medbay doors hissed open, echoing throughout the early morning stillness. Sideswipe broke their kiss and twisted, glancing over his shoulder.

Prowl strode toward them, three cubes of energon balanced in his hands, along with his customary handful of data pads. "Good morning," Prowl called out. "How was your night?"

"We all did great," Sideswipe answered with a smile. Prowler stirred but didn't wake, and he nuzzled against Sunstreaker's plating. Sunstreaker pulled Prowler's helm up into the crook of his neck, resting his chin on the top of the bundle.

Prowl passed Sideswipe two cubes, one for each brother, and waited as Sideswipe mixed their additives. "He looks like you, Sideswipe," Prowl said, quirking his optic ridges at the red twin.

Sideswipe brightened instantly. "You think so?" His optics traced over Prowler's features.

Prowl nodded. Prowler's helm was shaped much like Sideswipe's, and tiny proto-audial horns were just barely visible. He certainly didn't have Sunstreaker's exotic helm finials or crest, nor any of the shaping that came with Sunstreaker's unusual helm.

"I think he has Sunny's chin though." Sunstreaker frowned and looked down, inspecting Prowler's chin for himself. "See?" Sideswipe motioned.

"I don't see it," Sunstreaker grunted. Prowler remained oblivious to the inspections, still in his peaceful recharge.

Prowl nodded, faintly seeing tiny traces of Sunstreaker's strikingly sharp jaw line. Prowler had the softness of a sparkling, but his jaw was shaped in just such a way that Prowl could faintly see the similarity. He smiled, letting the tranquility of the morning and the new family settle into his spark. "Prime is on his way back to the Ark."

Tension thrummed through the air, tranquility broken. Twins gazes of shock and surprise flicked to Prowl. Sideswipe spoke first, his optics flashing with trepidation. "He's coming… now?"

Prowl nodded. "He wants to see your sparkling as soon as possible."

Sideswipe and Sunstreaker shared an uneasy glance. They were happy together, and with themselves, Ratchet, Prowl, and even Wheeljack and Jazz. There were few mechs on the Ark that they could feel comfortable around, and only four that they could trust. They had no idea how Prime was going to react to their sparkling and their relationship. He was their commanding officer, their Prime, their leader, and they had lied to him for the entire duration of their service.

"When?" Sideswipe finally asked, turning back to Prowl.

"He lands later this morning. Everything will be fine."

Sideswipe and Sunstreaker shared an uneasy look. Sunstreaker tucked his chin down around Prowler's helm and Sideswipe rested his hand over Prowler's back in a tender, protective gesture.

Jazz sighed and stretched his shoulders. The morning sun was rising across the painted desert, and all the striations and geological layers were illuminated in brilliant washes of golds, taupes, and reds. Morning dew was just about to evaporate, but for the moment, the morning was chilly, wet, and silent. Jazz sighed again, smiling.

A small dust cloud slowly rose distance. Jazz picked out the size and shape of the cloud, and knew instantly who was on their way. He grinned and settled in to wait.

Several minutes later, a small family car pulled up to the Ark. Two familiar humans clambered out, Spike and Sparkplug each sliding around the car to the front. They shuffled their feet for a moment.

"How's it going?" Jazz called out, a happy, friendly lilt to his voice.

"Good." Sparkplug rubbed at the back of his neck, glancing down before looking up again. Spike was staring wide-eyed at Jazz, seemingly debating what to say. "So… we heard about the twins," Sparkplug finally said.

Jazz nodded. Prime released a short statement after Prowl had commed their leader with the news, and the whole world now knew that the Autobots had a new sparkling on board. Sideswipe's reckless race back from Portland to the Ark the day prior had hit the news as well, and Sideswipe was pretty quickly identified as one of the parents. Bumblebee privately confided to his human friends the twins' condition, and the revelation had stunned the humans for more than one reason.

"How are they doing?" Spike finally asked.

"Good." Jazz kept smiling at the humans. They had found out all at once that not only did the giant alien robots have sparklings amongst each other, but that giant alien robot brothers were having a sparkling together. It was a lot to take in.

"That's good," Sparkplug said, nodding and looking away. Spike continued to stare at Jazz, and Jazz could practically see Spike thinking about the various mechs and potential partnerships among the crew. "We got something for them," Sparkplug finally blurted out, looking back at Jazz. "I don't really understand what's going on," Sparkplug began.

"Join the crew!" Jazz quipped, smiling wide.

Sparkplug grunted. "Yeah, well, we wanted to commemorate the occasion… no matter how weird it may be." He grinned. Spike scampered away and came back with a soft stuffed plushie in his hands.

Sparkplug spoke again, softer this time. "I was told this is the ultimate in kids toys these days."

Jazz lifted the plushie, which was large by human standards, and came face to face with a stuffed replica of Optimus Prime. He laughed out loud, rolling peals of laughter flowing out of his vocalizer. "Man, this is great!"

Spike and Sparkplug beamed. Sparkplug pulled Spike close to his side, gripping him around the shoulder. "I remember when Spike here came home. I don't know what parenting is like for you guys, but for me, it was the best thing that ever happened. I wish them luck, I really do. It's going to be a wild ride."

Jazz nodded at the humans, his smile turning soft. "Thanks, man. I know they're going to appreciate this." Spike and Sparkplug smiled back up at him, and for the moment, the discomfort over the unusual situation was forgotten.

Wheeljack sidled into Ratchet's office silently, slipping past the recharging twins ensconced around Prowler's tiny, bundled body on one of the medberths.

"Good morning." Ratchet slid the office doors shut, leaving the recharging family to rest in peace.

"That," Wheeljack grunted as he collapsed into the chairs in front of Ratchet's desk. "Was really gross."

Ratchet stared at Wheeljack for three seconds before bursting into loud peals of laughter. His helm tipped back as he collapsed himself, settling into his desk chair and relaxing. "C'mon, 'Jack, that went great. It couldn't have gone better."

"Aside from Sunstreaker's shrieking and the general grossness of it all?" Wheeljack took a long draught from his energon cube.

Ratchet shook his helm. "Sunstreaker came in too late to offline his pain sensors. The meds would have hurt him and Prowler."

"This is Sunstreaker." Wheeljack pointed at the twin in question. "He's walked into the medbay carrying his own detached limbs before."

Ratchet shook his helm. "Aside from a little bit of pain, he's the proud parent of a new sparkling with Sideswipe."

Wheeljack grumbled good naturedly. "You did great," Wheeljack said after they leaned back in their chairs. "I know you were nervous about the whole thing."

"I was fragging scared out of my bolts," Ratchet breathed. "I've never delivered a sparkling before. I was nearly as obsessive as Sideswipe, reading those data pads."

"I know." Wheeljack thought back to their coffee table, berthside table, and the floor around the foot of their berth. Data pads on sparklings littered the decking, and he tripped over them nearly every day. "But it all paid off. You did great."

Ratchet smiled. "I couldn't have done this without you."

"I didn't do anything helpful," Wheeljack snorted. "I just stayed out of the way and passed you your tools."

"You did everything," Ratchet said, meaning everything that Wheeljack did for him, and all of the support that Ratchet had relied on throughout the entire experience.

"I nearly dropped Prowler," Wheeljack protested. "He's a wiggler!"

"He just missed Sunstreaker." Ratchet smiled. "He's adorable."

Wheeljack was silent for a long moment. "Well, yeah. He is cute." Wheeljack's audial fins flashed. "Did you see that name coming?"

Ratchet shook his helm.

A small cry from Prowler broke the tender mood. Ratchet leaned around, trying to see the twins from his vantage point at the desk.

Wheeljack beat Ratchet to his feet. "I'll go see," he pronounced, dropping his cube to Ratchet's desk surface. Ratchet stared at him, his mouth dropping open. "I need practice with this sparkling stuff." Wheeljack's optics twinkled as he flashed Ratchet a quick wink before striding across the medbay to the twins and Prowler.

Optimus Prime rose from his alt mode outside the Ark, breathing in the sweet scents of home. Red dust, aged steel, and the tangy scent of far-off pine filled his nostrils. It was different, so much so, from Cybertron, but it was the closest thing they had to a home now. It was infinitely better than Washington DC and New York City on any day. Every day.

Prowl and Jazz strode forward, meeting their leader with happy smiles. "Sir," Prowl said, his one simple word seeming to convey a full spectrum of welcome and fidelity.

"We missed ya!" Jazz piped up, still grinning wide as he relaxed into a comfortable slouch, his hands braced on his hips.

Prime retracted his blast mask. "It's good to be home."

They moved through the Ark slowly, stopping to chat with every mech that they passed, though they seemed to pass by them all. Happy conversation bounced throughout the corridors, and Prime saw a few data pads quietly changing hands.

Finally, Prowl extricated Prime from the gathering crew, pulling him down the corridor with Jazz toward the medbay. Prowl caught a few snippets of conversation as they pulled away, and one brightly squealed cry of delight from a quickly-hushed Fireflight. "He's cute!" was all Prowl was able to make out, before the young Aerialbot was silenced.

Prowl cast a quizzical look at Jazz as they followed after Prime. Jazz ducked his helm and leaned close. "I might have shown a few pics of Prowler to a few mechs…."

Prowl quickly shushed Jazz, flashing a quick glance forward. His gaze turned chastising. "Sunstreaker and Sideswipe didn't authorize that."

"The crew is excited for them. It's weird, yeah, and they're still not totally sure about the whole relationship thing, but this is the first sparkling, Prowl. It's the first of the next generation." Jazz's voice was low, pitched so only Prowl could hear.

Prime glanced over his shoulder, catching sight of his two formerly quarrelsome senior officers leaning together conspiratorially. "Everything alright?"

"Sir." Prowl straightened, his doorwings twitching. Jazz grinned, still eyeing Prowl with a small, sly grin. After a moment, Prowl relented and smiled back.

In no time at all they were outside of the medbay. Prime gripped his hands together, inhaling deeply as Prowl unlocked the medbay doors for their entry. Jazz scooted too-close behind Prowl, pressing in between his doorwings as he craned to see inside.

Sideswipe and Sunstreaker turned as one. Sunstreaker was still reclining back on the medberth, propped up against the terminal behind him and cradling Prowler. Sideswipe sat on the edge of the medberth, hitched up right next to Sunstreaker and leaning over their sparkling. Their gazes sharpened, staring at the trio of officers - and most importantly at Prime - as they entered the medbay.

Ratchet and Wheeljack joined the officers and Prime as they headed to Sunstreaker's berth. Prowl was once again beaming, unable to contain himself or his fluttering doorwings as he gazed at his namesake. Jazz linked his arm through a surprised Prowl's elbow as they stopped at Sunstreaker's side.

"Welcome back, Prime," Ratchet said softly, adjusting the static blanket covering the lower half of Sunstreaker's body.

Sunstreaker shot Ratchet a quick look, his optics shining and dark, nervous with anticipation.

"Sideswipe, Sunstreaker," Prime began, looking at each twin in turn. "Congratulations." He broke into a wide smile as he gazed at them both. "Despite everything that has occurred, you have brought a healthy new life into our new world."

Sideswipe relaxed visibly, his shoulder weakening as his backstruts slumped. "Thank you, sir," he whispered, his vocalizer weak. He tried to continue, but failed.

Sunstreaker's gaze flashed to his brother, fixing on Sideswipe's crumbling expression. Sideswipe had always held Prime in high esteem, and had always wanted to make their leader proud. Living a lie had been agony for both of them, but having to face up to that lie to the face of their admired Prime was almost as tough. Sunstreaker reached out and grasped his brother's hand, squeezing tight.

Prime watched it all silently. The mood in the medbay had shifted, and the energetic excitement had turned apprehensive. "I am sorry for all the pain that has been felt, both now and throughout the long years of this situation," Prime began, trying to catch Sideswipe's optics once more. He finally reached out and placed one of his large hands on Sideswipe's shoulder, squeezing briefly. "I have always been proud of you both. I am still proud of you both. While we cannot forget the unusual and painful circumstances of this event, I know in the deepest part of my spark that you both are prime examples of the best sort of Autobot. I have never wavered from or doubted that conviction. Ever."

Silence stretched out in the medbay as Sideswipe turned burning optics up to Prime. His lips wavered, trembling under the impact of Prime's words and the emotions unfolding within his spark. Acceptance was pouring in, pouring in from the single mech he had most admired his entire life. Sideswipe gripped down fiercely on Sunstreaker's hand, gathering strength from his brother. "Thank you," Sideswipe whispered again, offering up a faint, wavering smile. "Thank you, Optimus. I…"

Prime squeezed his shoulder again and smiled, forestalling any further comments. "This is a happy day. Let's focus on the good." Sideswipe nodded quickly. "May I see your sparkling?" Prime's gaze shifted to Sunstreaker.

Sunstreaker nodded and gently passed Prowler to Sideswipe, who dropped a quick kiss to his forehelm before passing him along to Prime. Prime accepted the small bundle within his giant hands with a small, barely audibly sigh. He drew Prowler close to his, holding his breath.

"He is an absolute delight." Prime spoke gently. His hand rose, cupping Prowler's small, bundled body. "What is his name?"

Smiles broke out around the medbay, and Jazz elbowed Prowl. "Prowl sorta forgot to mention that one to you, Prime," Jazz teased. Prowl threw Jazz a dirty sidelong scowl, though it was edged with warmth.

Prime chuckled aloud at Prowl and Jazz, locked arm in arm and smiling. He never thought he'd ever see his two officers so friendly toward one another. "Oh?"

Sideswipe beamed at Prowl and motioned for him to continue. Sunstreaker remained silent and Ratchet and Wheeljack were likewise no help to the SIC. Prowl sighed, his doorwings arching high. "His name," he began, "is Prowler."

Prime froze for an astrosecond. He laughed, then peered down at Prowler. "Well, Prowler," he said, placing the same teasing emphasis on the name that Prowl had the day before. "Your parents named you after an incredible mech."

"That's what I said," Jazz muttered, just loud enough for everyone to hear. This time, Prowl shot him an unreadable - though undoubtedly happy - look. "Oh, I almost forgot." Jazz reached into his subspace and pulled out the plushie Spike and Sparkplug had dropped off. "This is from Spike and Sparkplug. It's the hottest new kids toy for humans." Jazz waggled the Prime plushie in front of Sideswipe. Sideswipe burst out laughing.

Prowl shook his helm. Jazz beamed back at him, and once again, Prowl had to smile in return.

Finally, Prowler began to protest the absence of his parents, and his small cry caught everyone's attention. Sideswipe stood, taking Prowler as Prime handed him over. Sideswipe smiled down at his sparkling and Prowler stopped his small cries, entranced with his parent. Sideswipe settled down next to Sunstreaker on the medberth, tucking Prowler in between them. Prowler made a small noise, a coo of satisfaction, and wiggled before rolling into Sunstreaker's plating.

Everyone was smiling. Wheeljack's arm snaked around Ratchet's hips. Ratchet stubbornly kept up his tough-mech exterior, keeping his arms folded, though a small smile stretched across his faceplates. Jazz and Prowl stood together, sharing small smiles with each other as they watched Prowl's namesake and the twins.

Prime soaked it all in, his spark expanding with the swell of change that had occurred in the time he had been gone. So much was different, and yet, beneath it all, everything was still the same. They were all still Autobots, all still a crew, a team, and a family. Now, their family had increased by one, and Prime had a spark-deep feeling that it was only the first of many.

The Decepticons were still out there and still a threat, but for now, life was continuing to march forward in happy, joyous ways.

Sideswipe leaned his forehelm against the side of Sunstreaker's audial, gazing down at Prowler. Sideswipe nuzzled his brother's helm, then dropped a light kiss to his cheek. "I love you, Sunny," Sideswipe breathed, pitched too low for anyone else to hear.

Their gazes met, and as Prowler curled into their shared hold, a tender warmth bloomed across their sparks. This was their life, together, and their future.

Nothing would ever divide them again.

~ finis