The direct sequel to Family Matters and following on from Equilibrium and Provenance, this is a continuation of this series but with a bit of a change. I hope you enjoy it. Again, I'll try to write this in such a way as it can be read on its own, but it'd be lovely if you'd look over the preceeding stories if you haven't already.


Chapter One

It had surprised the humans to discover that the humanoid machines did not sleep quietly. Even in their deepest states of recharge, the Autobots didn't fall silent and unmoving with dormant systems as expected. Celebrating Forge's birth, there had been a party that had made the one three months ago seem like a simple gathering, and a lot of bots had ended up slipping into recharge outside amongst the soldiers. For many of the humans, it had been the first time they'd seen the Autobots 'sleeping'.

They fidgeted, minutely and slowly, to ease weight off of parts bearing too much weight for too long or in response to the activity of their processors. Optics remained shuttered or dark, not necessarily both, but the tiny plates twitched not unlike the human's REM state.

They 'breathed' too, through their primary vents as well as the micro-vents littering their bodies beneath armour and joints, and this was their most telling unconscious behaviour. Slumber was a soft note caught between a drone and the rumble of tyres on asphalt, periodically hitched with clicks and shunts. On the rare occasions when they were in flux, whether with dreams or nightmares, the temperature of the air sighed out from their vents had the potential to rise exponentially, be it in pleasure or agitation.

Not programmed as a soldier like the vast majority of those at the Base, Tempest fluxed almost nightly though rarely unpleasantly. His spark, formed from Prime and the leader of the Decepticon faction, had a strong sense of self-security woven into it, though his conscious confidence was yet to match it. Tempest's dreams were of wind rippling across his wings, of taking his new half-brother out into the world and showing him its life, of dizzying acrobatics alongside his guardian, all of which left his vents warm and singing quietly. The gentle note chorused against the deeper, hollow drone of the other two Seekers who still recharged in their large shared quarters. Starscream, who now spent his nights with Ratchet, did not often hum such a peaceful note.

The scarred Seeker sat hunched on the edge of the shared berth, an elbow on his knee and hand covering his optics. His chassis felt thick and sore, full of steady and unending activity as materials from his body were harvested and reprocessed. Though the pain and discomfort was fitting, he felt: an insubstantial price to pay for new life. And perhaps penance, the small part of his processor that had defected to Ratchet's opinions added.

Starscream glanced behind him at that, regarding the other mech who'd already slipped into deep recharge. The coming sparkling had been a part of their lives for only a week but already they were both invested, though they hadn't told anyone. After much thought and spark-searching, he'd decided that it was something he wished to do but in his own way. He didn't want attention or special treatment, and amidst the Autobots that necessitated simply not telling anyone. Ratchet was respecting that wish and keeping a close-optic in the existing private sphere of their personal life, which was also the only place he'd let the drain show. Though he'd been spared nausea so far, the weariness was proto-form deep and regardless of the nightmares. The decision to lay down to much-needed recharge himself was a wary one.

Before long, the Seeker slept and fluxed out of something beyond a deep malfunction in his processor as he lay flat alongside the curled medic. For centuries it kept him awake most nights, left him needing distractions at all hours, and made his moods fragile during particularly trying spells of insomnia and fluxes. The air from his vents heated the surrounding metal to temperatures in accordance with battle-readiness, hot waves synchronised with the twitches in his wing plates and fingers. It wasn't enough to wake Ratchet in itself, but it had long been enough to concern the medic to observe should he not be the first to slip into recharge or arise first.

Unconsciously, the medic shifted to brush a hand down Starscream's hand as they both recharged, responding to a particularly sharp twitch through the Seeker's long body. The touch worked to soothe momentarily, to remind his systems of the world outside of his processor where all was dark and still and not to be concerned about. The flux didn't let him go, though, seizing upon the data most frequently treaded in the small hours. Starscream's vents gave a shaky exhale, systems knowing what was coming, and his hand dumbly touched upon Ratchet's in the dark.

The largest nursery on Cybertron was full of cries before we broke inside. The explosion required to get past the perimeter woke the majority of them, though Soundwave had made it appear that they were crying over nothing. No distress signal, no summons for emergency services left the compound though we'd waited at the doorway, watchful, just in case. With an acknowledging grunt to Soundwave, Megatron had cast his optics over us before pushing through the doorway and leading our party inside.

He hadn't disclosed what we were doing, but the size of our assembled group indicated that it would be something atypical, and possibly exceptional. Too big for a raiding party and too small for a full attack, he'd also chosen based on rank. It was too early to know that this was more than an exercise to embolden us. Only in retrospect could I diagnose that this was a means to desensitise us, harden us, and to test us, though a sign of it had appeared when we learned that we were to attack a relatively new nursery.

It had been over a century since I'd last seen a youngling, let alone a sparkling, and their shrieks had crawled across my audios as we'd stepped inside. The war between the Decepticons and the Autobots had reached a point where it was no longer safe to have them the hard way – the soft-sparked way reliant on time and energy. Sparkling cases were simply offered to the All Spark for life, and raised here until their processors had developed enough for an older frame. I could see them in cots through the windows on either side of me.

"Starscream." Megatron had stopped a few paces behind me, the rest of the Decepticons brought for the occasion flanking him. "The newsparks, and don't waste ammunition."

I'd given a nod to acknowledge the instruction before I moved to the other side of the compound. It was another test of my willingness for cruelty, another reaffirming of my reputation as his terror in the sky for those who would oppose him. He'd always given me the most heinous tasks, and then on occasion told me to do it with my bare hands. Whilst he led the Decepticons to kill the majority of the sparklings whom were old enough to run, I'd moved to strike upon the ones whom were only days old.

The nursery carers were not built for combat, programmed to respond quickly and chaotically to terror. I went through them systematically, crumpled their spark casings and then left the remains in their chassis, clearing the area before I turned my attention to the sparklings. Inside covered cots with spinning mobiles, lined in neat, clean rows, the newsparks had squirmed and chirped oblivious to me.

By the shared light of our optics I'd moved in on the first cot. The latches opened easily to my touch and the mechling inside squawked at me. I'd placed my hand over his chassis, his thin neck inside the curve of my thumb, and the heat from his spark had felt unnaturally warm to my palm. His optics had met mine as I clenched my fist in quick spasm, too fast for him to cry out. The remaining newsparks had chirped and squirmed unaware of what had happened, and what was going to happen.

Megatron had wanted us to gather the bodies in the central hall to make as macabre a scene as possible for the Autobots to find. I could hear the Decepticons herding adults and sparklings alike down the corridors, severing and obliterating limbs that raised against them on the retreat. Secluded in my room of infants, I decided to kill them all first and gather up the scraps to take out afterwards.

Starscream snapped awake in as much that his optics opened and his vents jerked, his body otherwise still. It was enough to rouse Ratchet, though, who shifted to sit up next to the Seeker on the berth. Dim red optics flickered to his before shuttering with a sigh, clawed fingers coming up to press the gap between. "Don't start."

The medic raised a brow, his face a picture of arch concern. He knew perfectly well that Starscream was not a bot who needed coddling, but there were extremes of suffering where he still felt the Seeker was due some support. Nightmares in themselves were harmless – often caused by bad code or microscopic corrosion. They were the result of a processor unable to full disengage into recharge, trapped into circling painful and poignant moments. Looking down at the stoically reclined Seeker, Ratchet spoke very mindful of his tone. "If you'd just talk about it-"

He rolled his optics with a bright flash, irritation ringing out clear. "Frag's sake, Ratch', everyone gets nightmares."

Ratchet cocked his head, the plates about his optics shifting together fractionally. "Not everyone was a Decepticon."

Shifting wing plates warned of mounting agitation, laying mechanical credence to the saying of ruffling ones feathers. Starscream snapped his gaze away to some unspecified point on the ceiling, bringing a hand up to rub the back of his neck. "Skywarp and Thundercracker were. Go spoon them."

Ordinarily he'd have rolled his optics at the dripping sarcasm, but that now-familiar shadow in the Seeker's red glow gave Ratchet pause. Though it hadn't surprised him that Starscream had nightmares, their intensity and frequency had left him concerned. He'd never known a bot like it, but then he'd never spent so much time with a Decepticon defector being assailed by guilt before, let alone with a just-about-admitted-to-it-partner one. Not to mention that the Seeker needed rest now more than ever, and would continue to do so for the next seven weeks.

"They're not carrying," he reminded softly, mindful of the amount of pride he was dealing with, "If you'd let me, I could run a close scan of your processor and see what adjustments I can make."

"Like I hadn't already done that," Starscream snapped, sitting up and swinging his legs off the edge of the berth, his back to the other mech. Long silence dragged between them, thick but in the presence of masters at waiting others out. It made no difference, thus one of them had to make the conscious decision to bow. Tired, feeling vaguely sick and still actively trying to naturalise himself to Ratchet's non-professional care, Starscream flickered a glance to the waiting medic and sighed. His voice, though still irritated and defensive, was tempered with resignation. "It's not as easy as a fluxing chip. It's in my spark."

Brows raised in surprise, Ratchet couldn't help but grimace. Truly then this was not a problem that could be easily solved, or even repressed. "I'm sorry." Starscream remained still and silent, giving no sign he'd heard the utterance. Ratchet ran a hand across a thick wing, relieved when the Seeker didn't jerk, and offered a compassionate smile. "Are you going to go kill a few hours in the rec room? Take your processor off it?"

Considering that for a moment, Starscream ultimately shook his head and shifted to lie back on the berth, hooking one ankle across the other. "No. Tempest's training with Ironhide and Prime's mired in bureaucracy today, so I'm sparkling-sitting. Any recharge is still recharge, and Forge can be a handful."

"If you're sure," Ratchet murmured, hesitating a moment before shifting back down onto his side. Starscream tracked his movements peripherally before his vents sighed an exhale and his optics shuttered. The smaller mech watched him for a few more seconds, noting the heated systems with twinge of worry, before laying a hand over the curved chassis and dimming his own optics. The warm vibration of activity beneath his fingers, the presence of their infant spark, soon led him into uneasy recharge.


Optics remaining shuttered though he was still far from recharge, Optimus felt out an appropriate spare energon line from beneath his chassis and offered the extended end out to the sparkling nestled in the space between their bodies. Forge seized the thin tube in both hands and clamped onto the end though didn't try to draw energon out. Instead, he began to alternatively chirp and bite down hard on the tip in a random pattern. Optimus drew it back with a soft, admonishing rumble.

"That's for energon, not for chewing," he murmured, optics opening to slits to regard the wide-awake sparkling. The mech couldn't help but sigh. "You're not at all tired, are you?"

Forge beamed. "Ba!" Clumsily sitting up, the sparkling swung a black hand towards his Sire before toppling back to lie against Ironhide's chassis, chirping a giggle.

Ironhide shifted a little, one hand sliding up to cup the sparkling who immediately began to mouth his fingers amidst warbling sounds. The glow of the broad mech's optics joined the other points of azure light in the room, his vents grumbling as his systems awoke. "I'll take 'im around for a bit. See if he drops off."

A whine from the big engine signalled that Optimus was already moving, sitting with a hand rubbing his optics. He made an effort to make his voice sound more relaxed than he felt. "It's alright, I was awake anyway."

Before the tall mech could lift him up, Forge found himself cuddled close into Ironhide's dark chassis. His optics narrowed fractionally with scrutiny, fixed on his sparkmate. "Uh huh. All the more reason why you should stay here and get some recharge whilst I walk around with the little'un. You've been more or less awake for, what? Three days now?"

Optimus tilted his hand from going to lift Forge away from the mech's chassis to cup his face, running his thumb down a rounded metal cheek. "I'm fine, 'Hide. These meetings are just occupying my processor."

A rattled sigh as Ironhide shifted onto his back, the sparkling chirping a laugh as he was spun up to sit on the mech's stomach. "Can't believe you agreed to those, or that they even asked you so soon after having him. Primus, it's barely been a month. Don't they get that having a sparkling is hard, or do they just not care?"

Unseen in the dim light, Optimus's mouth quirked in a grimace. The meetings were above NEST, with names that he didn't recognise being thrown around. Most disconcerting was that he couldn't find any information on some of them. "I fear that it's the sparklings that they want to talk about."

Something stirred in the dark mech's engine that conveyed what he was feeling to his sparkmate better than any verbal response: a low, tight sound of unease and protective aggression. Unconsciously his fingers tightened around Forge. "Why in the Pit would they want to know about sparklings?"

Optics shuttered in a long 'blink' as he sighed, shaking his head. "I'm not sure, but they asked if it was possible for me to bring one of them. It seems a bit more than innocent curiosity. Perhaps it's as simple as their unease with us actively building a populous on their planet. I don't know." His gaze returned to Ironhide's, resolved and frank. "Whatever it is, I'm not taking Forge or Tempest."

"Fragging right, you're not," Ironhide grumbled, shifting to sit up now that he was awake. Forge began to clamber in his lap, and he passed the sparkling across to the mech he was reaching for, mercifully breaking the atmosphere. "Look, I'll ask Pest or Screamer about taking Forge for tonight. It might help you get some rest, and Primus knows Screamer'll take good care of him."

Despite himself Optimus smiled a little. His spark weighed heavy, and very little of it was about these upcoming meetings, much less anything he'd told Ironhide. Just the thought of sharing what was truly troubling him made his circuits ache. Ultimately he shook his head, forcing a thin smile. "Sparklings do seem to take an easy liking to him."

"It's downright weird," Ironhide rumbled, running blunt fingers across his son's stomach with a warm smile. "If we went back out into space and managed to find the most vicious, savage and violent species this universe had to offer, their kids would probably still like that damn Seeker."

A chuckle of agreement as Optimus attempted to settle Forge against him, the sparkling apparently far more interested in grabbing at the seams of his armour and giving experimental tugs. Ironhide nodded to him with a frown, his tone softly urging. "Let me take him. He's wide awake and you're tired." A half shrug. "Besides, you birthed him. Not fair for you to keep taking the strain."

"As thoughtful as that is," Optimus began, leaning forwards to lay a soft, appreciative kiss, "I wouldn't mind a walk either. Perhaps it'll help both of us to sleep. Get some recharge – you'll need it for Tempest tomorrow."

"Ah yes, mechling's first combat lesson," Ironhide drawled, watching the tall mech slide off the berth to his feet and start towards the door. "Should be interesting."

He'd walked for an hour before relenting to himself and calling Ratchet. It had been one ping, tentative even, and he'd already decided that he wouldn't comm. again if it was ignored. Of course, the medic had answered, and of course, he'd been ready to meet him in the Medbay before he'd finished apologising for getting him up at such an hour. Once there, though, Optimus had resolved to curbing his anxieties for good.

"There has to be something, Ratchet. Please, look again."

The medic shifted with narrowed optics, uneasy and disturbed by this turn of events. Prime's energy field had caught his attention with its bitter greyness before he'd come through the doors of the Medbay carrying his newest sparkling, and an hour later everything about his frame was still tense and troubled.

Resettling the month-old sparkling against his hip, mindlessly offering a miniature electronic screwdriver to Forge's hands to quiet his chirps, Ratchet shook his head helplessly at the seated mech. "I've run two close scans of your systems, Optimus, and aside from a need to be recharging instead of here talking to me I can't find anything wrong." When the blue optics shuttered and a hand moved to press the space between them, he cocked his head and broached, "If you told me what it is you're so concerned about, I might be able to find and diagnose it."

Powerful vents rattled with a sigh that was almost successfully repressed and Optimus shook his head, gaze finally rising to meet the other mech's. "I can't. It's bad enough that I'm even here and got you up for this."

Mouth quirking in a grimace, Ratchet considered the sparkling attempting to eat the screwdriver and moved to sit next to the other mech on the berth, ignoring his apparent surprise. "Optimus," he began softly, watching how the mech's eyes slid to the sparkling though his hands remained still in his lap. "You've just had a sparkling, seem to have barely been recharging, the humans are harassing you to make the Autobots worth the financial drain they claim we are, and the Decepticons have gone from quiet to silent which means they're probably up to something. You're tired, anxious and a parent to a newspark all over again."

A shunt of air and the tall mech smiled a little, though it was humourless. "I don't have some kind of postnatal depression, Ratchet. There's just something wrong."

Ratchet repressed the urge to roll his optics, stroking his thumb down Forge's back. "Why do you think there's something wrong with you?" he asked evenly, praying for patience at this hour. With Starscream fluxing he was loathe to leave the Seeker for too long should he online and find himself alone in the vestigial grips of a nightmare, and though Starscream in no way needed protection at this stage, the instinct to be a vigilant guardian to the carrying mech was circuit-deep.

It seemed a considered effort for Optimus to meet his optics, and his expression was solemn. "There has to be something wrong with me, otherwise there's something wrong with him." The blue lights darkened as they regarded the sparkling, the small plates around them tightening. "And he's perfect."

At the tone Ratchet felt an echoing ache in his spark at the weight apparent in Prime's. Nodding slightly, he adjusted Forge to face him and rested his splayed hand across the small chassis with shuttered optics. The benefit of the sparkling's small size was that a full, close scan could be completed within seconds from one contact point, and he diligently combed through every system detail and spark pulse for any kind of abnormality. Finding none, he opened his optics and looked to the anxious parent again. "He's fine. Just like you said: perfect." His tone hardened, wielding the weight of a medic whose concern had now been truly roused. "What is it that you feel, Prime?"

Pinned by stare and tone, Optimus only hesitated a moment before finally speaking in rolling baritone. "It is rather what I don't feel," he replied in a voice thick with shame. "I have not felt the pull towards him that I do with Tempest. In my spark I know that I love him, but there's something missing."

Ratchet nodded slightly, more in acknowledgement of the response than understanding of it. The admission was clearly one that pained the mech to make, and that made the fact that he had no answers to offer potently troubling. "Does Ironhide know about this?" he asked as a kind of stall whilst his processor whirred, combing through every known difficulty experienced with new sparklings.

As expected, Optimus shook his head. "No, I would not trouble him with this, and he has not spoken of a similar… difficulty. I've managed not to let my feelings filter across our bond, where they would only serve to upset him."

Holding out the sparkling, Ratchet watched as the mech took him against his chassis with scrutinizing scanners. Everything registered as entirely normal – synchronising spark pulses, readiness in the auxiliary energon lines should Forge want to eat, and a natural soothing warmth in surface plates. A model Sire, and yet there was mingled fear and shame in the bright optics lurking at the edges of unconditional love. Though every sparkling was different, it wouldn't explain what was apparently happening here.

Ratchet ran a finger thoughtfully against his neck. "You say that it's the 'pull' you felt for Tempest that is missing?" A nod, and he made a thoughtful sound. "Does that pull still exist now, or did it go when he adopted the adult frame?"

"I still feel it," Optimus replied softly, a large hand coming to cup the sparkling's back as his thumb was hugged. "I assumed it was part of having a sparkling."

"Perhaps," Ratchet murmured, metal schluchting as his finger continued contemplative lines down his throat. A thought occurred and he activated his comm., though made the communication aloud for his patient's sake. "Tempest, I need you in the Medbay." Optimus straightened to protest but he held up a hand, activating his speakers.

Tempest's voice when it came was wide-awake and thick with worry. I'll be right there. Is everything okay?

"I'm just confirming that. Ratchet, out." Estimating the Harrier transformer to be a few minutes away, Ratchet slid off the berth and ran a hand across his face. "I suspect this is linked to Tempest's parentage," he began slowly, aware that he was treading on potentially volatile ground. Already the other's lines had tensed, optics hardening as he went on. "His conception was as violent as his birth, and seeded by a powerful creator whom you had no affection for. Forge has come into being from the complete opposite of circumstance, and this discrepancy in feeling you're experiencing may simply be your spark's acknowledgement of that."

"My son is not tainted," Optimus replied flatly, his voice edged with warning.

Ratchet held up his hands, repressing a grimace. "I didn't say that, nor did I mean to imply as such, but it can't be denied that they are wholly different sparklings. Forge has been born from a sparkbond, and Tempest came from Megatron's attempt to make a weapon to use against you."

Optimus had stood without thought, his presence seeming to fill the expansive room to its walls as his stare bore down on the medic. It had taken months for him to convince Tempest that he did not bear evil within him because of where he came from, and that he would be no less loved than Forge. To hear Ratchet speaking like this sent a very cold lance through his spark, and not all of it was anger.

Before he could retaliate, though, the Medbay doors hissed open to admit the youngest Seeker. Tempest stalled a few steps inside, optics widening at his Sire's aggressive display and Ratchet's stoicism as he held his ground. "Uh, what's going on? Sire? Is Forge okay?"

The medic looked between the pair, optics brightening as he brought his scanners to the fore. He looked up to the taller mech before taking the sparkling back, resting the small body atop his hip and against his chassis. "Go to him, Prime."

Optics narrowing fractionally for a split second, Optimus broke the stare and crossed the room to where Tempest was lingering anxiously. Resting a hand on a broad shoulder, he sighed at the gentle pressure in his chassis that was absent towards his newest sparkling. "I'm sorry to have concerned and brought you down here, Tempest, but I don't think there's anything you need to worry about."

"Not worry, per say," Ratchet interjected slowly, optics flickering as he moved towards the pair with a furrowed brow. He ran a closer scan this time, not trying for discretion as the thin light danced out from his chassis in a scrutinizing sweep that confirmed his theory now that he knew what he was looking for. "That pull isn't coming from you, Prime. It's coming from the Matrix."

Processor momentarily tripping over itself, Optimus initially found that he could do no more than blink at that statement. The Matrix had never displayed any activity towards matters that he'd class as personal – it never had any business to. Why it was suddenly interested concerned him, though there was a creeping knowing in the back of his processor that he knew what this was about. Aloud, he simply asked, "What does that mean?"

"It means," Ratchet began as the scanner deactivated and his optics returned to normal, leaving a vague expression of shock behind, "That the Matrix has recognized Tempest as a Prime. Or at least a future one."

A thick silence encompassed the room for long moments until Tempest took a step back, holding up both hands. "No. No, that can't be right. I'm younger than Captain Lennox's toddler, for Pit's sake."

His processor harking back to how he'd felt upon finding out that he was a Prime, Optimus approached just enough to offer a comforting proximity but not so much as to crowd and panic the young mech. "It's alright, Tempest. This doesn't change who you are."

"Just what I'm going to do," the Harrier bit back, bloody optics flashing as his body curled inwards defensively. "I can't be a Prime."

Optimus didn't need the instinctual bond to tell him that his son was spiralling into hysteria, and with good reason. He'd been a good deal older when he took on the title and its associated responsibilities from Sentinel Prime, with some life experience and confidence dulling the edge of the fear he'd felt in the face of such responsibility. The Seeker before him should still have been in his sparkling case and living with the ignorance of innocence. It wasn't safe, but it was what should have been. He couldn't imagine what the youngster was thinking and feeling right now.

Motioning towards a berth, Optimus raised a hand, his tone imploring. "Tempest, please. Sit down."

"What does this even mean?" Tempest asked with a rising pitch, the instruction unheard. He looked between both mechs with wide optics, vents warming anxiously though with an edge of blossoming anger. "Is this about bringing together the factions again? That I'm supposed to be some kind of symbol of unity?"

Suppressing a sigh, Optimus's voice was solemn and weighted. If this was truly the case, and Tempest was a Prime in the making, then he had a right to know that there would be hardship in his future - hardship that he would be doing everything in his power to spare him from, fate or no. "I do not know what your destiny is, my son, but throughout the history of our people the Primes typically are asked to make greater sacrifices than most."

This was all too much coming too fast, and Tempest felt that he couldn't grasp any of it. "Like you? Like the Primes in Egypt in that tomb?" Another step back, closer to the door. "Because I'm a Prime I'm going to die?"

The Medbay doors hissing open momentarily snapped all their attention away, watching as Starscream strode inside with darkened optics and a grim expression. He stopped a little way into the room, looking over the assembled mechs before his gaze settled on Tempest.

"What're you doing here, Scree?"

The combined energy field in this room crawls into mine, and the guardian bond is cold and prickling against my processor. If I'd managed at least half a full cycle of the recharge I'd needed it wouldn't be getting under my plates so much. I touch my helm with a grimace, refocusing against the onslaught of fear and anger and speak directly to Tempest. I want this to come uncluttered from him as it seems to be about him. "I'm your guardian. I can feel when you've so much as scraped your knee and whatever's going on now is giving me a processor ache, so fess up with it."

Tempest twists back to Prime and Ratchet, who's holding Forge to his side with a hand curved over his audios. Not a good sign. The features of my charge twist, anguished. "Sire says I'm a Prime, and I'll probably die because of it."

I cock my head, taking a second to process that. Another Prime. Curiously the point doesn't surprise me as much as it ought to have – certainly nowhere near the degree to which it's affected Tempest. It had occurred to me when the plan to make Prime conceive was drawn up that a bot with Optimus as its Sire could be an empowered part of the Prime lineage, but such a mingling with so different a spark as Megatron's had made it far-fetched in my view. Apparently my first instinct had been correct, and now we must deal with the fallout of that fact being abruptly realised.

To his credit, Prime doesn't shy from the truth of that statement. "No one knows how they will return to the All Spark, but if things continue as they are then we may still expect to die in the war." Another step forward, impressively silent in a show of gentleness towards Tempest. "That may not be your sacrifice, though. You have already lost your sparklinghood, been forced by my decision to be ungraded into an adult frame far too young to protect you."

"It was the right decision, Prime," Ratchet chimes in, firm and measured. His gaze flickers to me, silently asking if I'm alright before returning to Tempest at my curt nod.

The bond isn't sensitive enough to pick out emotion, let alone thought, but the swell of freshly burning pressure in my chassis underlines the young Seeker's torn expression. "No, this isn't right. This isn't me. It can't be," Tempest utters rapidly, taking more steps away from his Sire towards the door. He looks between us all, his optics almost black. "How can a rape-spark be a Prime?"

My plates turn suddenly cold at the phrase and Prime flinches as if burned, optics darkening as Ratchet puts a hand to his arm. It's me who moves to Tempest first, grasping his shoulder and turning him to face me. I don't care how sharply my voice comes, hissing between my dentals. "Do not speak of yourself like that."

His optics flash vermillion and he twists out of my grip. "It's true though, isn't it?"

Peripherally I see Prime's hand twitch and I note how he suddenly looks cold and wearied. He steps away from Ratchet, the hand raised in an imploring gesture as much as reassuring. "Tempest, please-"

A shrill crackle that doesn't translate as the near-hysterical sparkling shows his age. Moving for the door without taking his flickering gaze off us, as if afraid we'll shoot him in the back, Tempest's voice is verging on a cry. "No, I don't want to be this. Any of this."

When Tempest disappears through the doorway, closely followed by the sounds of transformation as he gets into the yard and flies off, Prime wastes no time in following. Ratchet retakes his arm in as much a sign of support as restraint, his other hand still cradling across Forge's audios on his hip. His voice comes solemn and flat. "You know as well as I do that you won't be able to follow him."

"I'll go talk to him," I assure softly, already moving though I pause at the doorway. "Only thing that can catch a Seeker on the run is another Seeker. I'll bring him back, Prime." I make brief optic contact with Ratchet. I'm fine to follow him, and someone needs to deal with his Sire.

Ratchet nods almost imperceptibly, glancing up at the taller mech. You're right. Be safe.

Prime is unaware of our silent exchange, his optics dark and focus turned inwards. "Thank you. Keep me informed."

I give him a curt nod before stepping out after Tempest, the first stages of transformation already running. Outside, I complete the change on the move and take to the brightening sky.

Tempest didn't bolt as far as I'd expected, heading in the direction of the cavern we'd taken shelter in after running from Blackout but landing hundreds of miles short. The costal field where the dead femmes struck ground hasn't changed at all in the weeks since we were here. The swarming populous of this planet have a habit of packing themselves into certain confined spaces and leaving entire expanses of land entirely ignored. Their stupidity will be to our favour, though, when Prime begins negotiations for us to establish a colony here and get out of the hangers and warehouses.

My errant charge is sitting at the edge of Elita's landing crater, dangling his legs over the blackened earth turned slick with rain. Water runs off his lowered helm in thick ropes and drips into his lap, his chin resting in his hands. His optics are dark and brooding, not looking to acknowledge me as I sit beside him. It's only when I hold out a pair of rust sticks that he looks up at me with a cracked smile.

"Thanks Scree."

He takes one and I, mindlessly, begin eating the other, feeling as though some unconscious itch has been scratched. So it begins, apparently.

It only takes a few minutes of raindrop-broken silence for him to sit back with a sigh. His mouth pulls into a grimace. "Is Sire mad at me?"

"You upset him, but he's not angry," I reply evenly, offering out another ruststick from the compartment in my arm as a kind of reward for speaking. It also gives me an excuse to eat another, I'm sickened to note. I'm beginning to understand why Prime and Luna were so damn happy when I started making these. Now that Jolt is our resident rust-stick factory, I'll have to find a way to put in an order without rousing anyone's suspicion.

Tempest chews the sweet carbon rod quietly, staring into the deepening puddle in the crater. "I got scared," he murmurs, brows pulling together tightly in guilt.

"It's alright to be afraid sometimes." I brush a hand across his wing, drawing his attention back to me. "But running when you're scared makes you believe that it truly need running from, which only makes it harder to confront when you finally stop." He nods a little though still looks sceptical and anxious. This would be when someone else would embrace him, but that's not in my circuits. I half-shrug instead. "Your Sire would have sat with you and talked through everything you wanted, no matter how irrational your feelings."

He rubs a hand across the back of his neck, something I believe he's picked up from Ironhide. "It just felt too huge," he begins slowly, his gaze sliding back downwards to the wet crater. "I mean, me as a Prime? I'm not up to that."

I can't help a smirked smile. "How'd you think he felt?"

His lines twitch with surprise and he looks at me with cautious surprise. "Really?" I nod a little and he smiles, posture relaxing though he's clearly still troubled.

I touch my helm again, rubbing my fingers in slow circles as if it might ease off the processor ache that's bloomed from being this overclocked and wound up. I won't be able to recharge until I've confronted Tempest on the ugliest point he made, though. Mindful not to cloud my tone with emotion, I speak softly to his profile. "Where did you hear that phrase?"

The young Seeker doesn't look at me, asking quietly, "What phrase?"

He won't hear me say it and I let some of my irritation filter through. "You know what I mean."

A short shrug, depressed and resigned as the silence drags out. Finally he rubs his neck again as he murmurs, "I overheard Wheelie talking to Skywarp about me."

My vents rumble as I straighten, the nul ray in my arm warming as my hands tighten into fists. "Someone's going to get slagged."

Tempest snorts a bitter laugh. "Actually 'Warp got pretty angry with him already. Drop-kicked the little guy into the wall."

I look up the term and nod with thick satisfaction, though it won't stop me from having a 'word' myself. "Good. I'd have expected nothing less." He fidgets and I touch his wing again, though this time maintain the contact as he meets my gaze. "I don't want to hear you call yourself anything like that again, understand?"

His mouth quirks downwards, optics dark. "It's true though."

"Not from how your Sire sees things," I tell him, my grip firming on his wing. "It was unusual circumstance, yes, but you were wanted, not imposed. He fought to keep you, have you and raise you, and he'll fight for you until the day he cannot any longer." Now it's my turn to shift a little, though Tempest likely won't read any more into it than comfort. I'm not good at this, but for him I'll try. "Measure yourself against the love and devotion he shows you, not the rumours and insinuations of your conception. It matters only as much as you and Prime think on it, and as far as I know, he doesn't. He sees you as only his son, and now as someone who has the potential to follow in his footsteps and do some honourable things with their life."

Apparently I've encouraged him as he suddenly leans into my side, his wing slotting comfortable against my own with unconscious manipulation. More than once someone has commented that their breadth seems cumbersome, but they're no less a part of us than our hands. We know how to place them comfortably, and Tempest has very tellingly moved so that my wing lies over his as a shield. His vents sigh hot against my side, drying my plates. "I don't know if I'll be able to. I don't think I have it in me to be a Prime."

With him this close there isn't anywhere to put my arm except for across his shoulders, so that's what I end up doing. It feels awkward but he doesn't seem to notice, resting his jaw on my hand against his shoulder. "Remember that you're still very young. A blip of a thing. Your Sire is centuries old and didn't become the mech he is overnight. No one will expect you to act upon this role for a long time. Until then, you'll grow, you'll learn, and you'll choose."

His hands play and fidget in his lap, fingers that can produce claws from their blunt tips wringing about each other. "But what if I choose wrong? What if I'm not good enough to be a Prime?"

It really should be his Sire talking to him, not me, but unknowingly and definitely without meaning to, Prime still exudes that 'regal leader' aura to his own son. It's just how he's made, and in heightened states of anxiety like this it can make him seem unapproachable, which isn't a word you could otherwise coherently apply to him. That being said, Tempest is still not two Earth cycles old and most species' kids don't talk to their parents at all.

I rub a thumb across a thick panel bearing deep scratches, drawing his optics up to mine. "Being Prime is as much who you are already as something you'll become, and the qualities are a blessing. Everyone would look up to your Sire even if he weren't Prime for his loyalty, dignity and wisdom, which are a handful of the defining characteristics of his title. But you are still free to choose what you do with your life." More softly, I add: "Just look at the Fallen."

Tempest gives a shallow nod, unsure but starting to come around. "I guess."

"Ultimately, 'Prime' is just a word. Most of what was associated with it in terms of tradition and office was lost with Cybertron. What it means now is protection – of comrades, family and those who cannot protect themselves." I offer a smile to one of the few beings I ever would. "You're a good spark, so that will always come naturally to you. The rest you'll work out with me and your Sire. You'll be okay."

He smiles a little, a warm rush from his vents marking a relieved sigh. "Thanks Scree."

I nod to accept the unnecessary platitude, then freeze when he curls his body even more firmly against mine. I think that… Yes. I'm being hugged sideways. If it were anyone but him or Ratchet I'd have taken their head off by now. After a pause I rest my hand on his back, trying to relax into the embrace with shuttered optics. I really am no good at this, and it's only occasionally that I wish I was better.

Oblivious, Tempest speaks softly into my aching chassis. "You should be someone's Sire."

A "hn" escapes me before I can catch it, and I give an unseen, bemused smile over his head.

"No really," he insists as he pulls away from me and sits up. His optics are steady on mine, and he seems absolutely intent on making me understand this. "You've been like a creator to me since I can remember. You should have a sparkling of your own to love and look after like that."

In the face of his seriousness I can't help a thin smile and quirked brow. Without conscious thought my thumb brushes down my chassis, over the busily working parts beneath. "Funny how you say that."

"Funny how?" Tempest is no fool, glancing along me with scrutinizing optics. The grin ultimately starts on the right of his mouth and peels up and across. "Really?"

I nod with a vague hope that he won't hug me again. I think I've reached my limit for today. "One week in, but we're keeping it quiet, so no telling Prime."

His shoulders sag a little but the broad grin remains, optics bright. "Aw, but Scree – he'll think it's great."

Rolling my optics and pushing up off my knee, I stand with folded arms to let the downpour wash off some of the mud. "No, he'll restrict my duties, stop me patrolling and tell you to leave me alone so I can 'rest'." I spit the last word. I hate that word. One week into this and I already want to corporealise that word and shove it down Ratchet's throat.

Tempest stands and bumps his arm against mine, all the anxiety and anger that was there before completely displaced by unencumbered joy. It must be nice to feel such a pleasant thing so completely. "And if it's a secret it's more special, right Scree?" My silence speaks volumes but my narrowed optics speak louder. He marshals his smile with raised, defence-stance hands. "Okay, I won't tell, but I'm really happy for you guys. I think you'll both do great with her."

I blink. "Her?"

He has the gall to wink, stepping closer to me and sweeping a hand over my chassis without actually touching it. "Seeker, Scree, and Forge felt different."

Now that he's said it I can feel it too – a tartness in the small energy field that signals a more compact body. It's not the first time that another Seeker's perceptiveness has struck me as mildly annoying as well as impressive, but it's the first time Tempest's done it to me. Usually it's Thundercracker. Usually he's right to do it.

I nod towards the Base. "Come on: wouldn't be responsible of me to let you stay out here whilst your Sire paces and worries about you."

"And you need to tune-up on your parenting," Tempest replies smartly, disregarding the mud on his body as he steps back to transform and perform a vertical take off.

I watch him hover for a moment before moving to turn into my alt mode with room to take off. I comm. Ratchet on the way back to notify him of our return, and to say that in a breach of character I couldn't go a week without letting the secret out to someone. Apparently this sparkling is already changing me, and it's going to be debateable if it's for the better.