Jazz's accent has changed since he made his first appearance waaaay back when. Oh well.
This chapter is a simultaneous way of moving the story forward, filling some plot holes, and turning the camera on some couples who have been in the background for a while.
Reviews are so very appreciated! The feedback for this story has been nothing but constructive and encouraging and I love receiving it! I hope you enjoy this brief but important update.
"You don't have to do this. You can still back out."
Elita smiled somewhat nervously at the golden Prime, shaking her head. "No. I need to do this. It's important to me." She vented a low sigh. "And it's been a long time coming."
"We were distracted," Sentinel reminded her gently."You've had much to worry about."
"Still no word from your father?" she queried, her spark sinking when his gaze grew dark.
"Not as of yet. Nexus and Vector Prime are with him, though, or they were when he left. I'm not worried, just...frustrated."
"And Solus? Alchemist?"
"To be honest," the Prime answered, shrugging one shoulder, "I expect you or Optimus will be the ones they contact. In any case, there's nothing we can do about them. Better to focus on the problem at hand."
Elita visibly wilted, wincing inwardly. "My mother. Remind me what she's been doing since I've been away?"
"We've yet to encounter the assassin who poisoned Optimus, thankfully," Sentinel rumbled, rubbing a hand over his chin and narrowing his optics. "Guerilla teams of gladiators continue to harass outposts and depots, yet nothing even remotely close to civilian settlements."
Elita hesitated before speaking up, churning this over in her head. "If she really wanted to do damage, why wouldn't she attack towns? Cities? She knows that you won't stand to see civilian death."
The Prime made a soft noise of assent, nodding. The femme impressed him. "I surmise that she is not prepared to engage us fully. She doesn't want to incite my wrath, as it were. We also have to consider that these are the actions of a conqueror, not a destroyer. The fact that she is leaving our infrastructure intact is evidence of the fact that she plans on ruling."
"She can't possibly expect to conquer an entire world by destroying fringe outposts. She's insane, but she's not a fool."
Sentinel's mouth fell into a grim line, and he nodded. "Precisely. She is testing our responses to small attacks while avoiding costly confrontation. I have to assume that she is saving her resources for a larger-scale operation."
"A larger-scale…" Elita trailed off, thinking, and then it hit her with a sickening sense of dread. "Iacon. She plans on attacking Iacon?"
"Most likely. And not just the outskirts this time, either. All evidence suggests that the first attack was simply a gladiatorial challenge, bloodshed for bloodshed's sake. Now that Sephirium has assumed full command of both the gladiatorial mercenaries and the Elite Guard, she will have air support, making an attack on central Iacon not only possible, but probable." His expression warmed a little, and he rested a hand on her shoulder. "Which is why it is important for us to rally the people to our cause. There can be no doubt in their minds that we will step up to protect them. We must also work to prevent the public opinion being swayed by propaganda."
"Which is where I come in." Elita straightened her back, releasing a long, low sigh to clear her intakes. The broadcast was to take place from the command center; to give her the image of authority, she would be seated in the Prime's chair. "How far should I take it?"
"As far as you feel the need. You have as much a stake in this as we do. If you choose to simply denounce her claims to Cybertron, that would be more than appropriate." Sentinel paused, ruminating, and then spoke again, more softly. "If you choose to announce an intent to claim Femmax for your own, we shall be behind you."
Elita sank a little lower in the command chair, blinking her optics rapidly. "This is madness."
Sentinel chuckled lowly, shaking his head. "I'm afraid, my dear, that this is only politics." He looked up at the sound of approaching footsteps, smiling at his anxiously waiting eldest son. "I'll leave you two for a moment. Elita, we'll begin whenever you're ready."
She nodded stiffly, watching him depart for the other end of the command terminal before looking up at Optimus. He knelt down on one knee before her, resting his hands on either side of the chair, framing her with his body.
"You can do this," he assured her in low tones, squeezing her fingers when she placed her hands over his own. "You are brilliant and articulate and confident, and you are going to do wonderfully."
"Who are you trying to reassure here?" she asked, arching an optic ridge.
He smiled, leaning in and placing a delicate kiss against her mouth. "I know of what you are capable. I haven't a worry in the world."
She shifted on the seat, dwarfed by its proportions. "This will be my first time appearing to the Cybertronian people. If I don't make a good impression…"
"You will," he said firmly, taking her face in his hands and forcing her to look at him. "How could they not love a fearless, intelligent, beautiful femme like you? You've already won over my creators. That's supposed to be the hardest part, remember?"
Elita laughed shakily, accepting a tight embrace before he got to his feet. "Your father told me he would support my claim to the throne."
"Is that what you want?"
The femme shrugged helplessly. "I don't know. Someone has to watch over Femmax. I can hardly let Mother return to power after this, and the people would never accept my father as sovereign. And I can't ask Arcee to take on that kind of responsibility."
"You wouldn't have to remain in power forever," he reminded her gently. "Just long enough to form a stable government capable of ruling in your absence." He hesitated a moment before pressing on. "You do know that I want you to stay here on Cybertron, right? With me? If it pleases you."
She snorted out a giggle, thumbing his faceplate. "It pleases me. You didn't think I planned on leaving? After everything that's happened to us? Between us?"
"I hoped not. I won't pretend to always know what you're thinking." He placed his hands on her arms, thumbs gently tracing the lines of her civilian armor. "What are you going to say?"
The Femmaxian princess, next in line for the throne, blew a gust of stale air from her intakes and shook her head. "Not sure. I guess we'll know in a moment."
"...About the future, I can say nothing with certainty. What I can say, though, with all the conviction of which I am capable, is that freedom is a right guaranteed to every being, robotic and organic alike, Femmaxian and Cybertronian, mech and femme, the moment they emerge into this world. For too long Femmax has lived under the shadow of prejudice and oppression. For too long our brothers and fathers and mates have been treated as lesser, as second-class. I intend to bond to a mech, to a Cybertronian. Of this I am not ashamed. I want to be sparkbound to the one I love. I would bring this same freedom, this same joy, to every individual on Femmax.
"It won't be easy. Femmax's present state is not solely the result of my mother's reign, but of vorns upon vorns of misunderstanding and close-mindedness, imposed by society and supported by regime. Change will be hard for many. Change is always hard. But no longer will I be treated as if I have greater value than my father or my intended simply because of the frame that houses my spark.
"I have this to say to every Femmaxian, and to every Cybertronian, now my people, one and the same. I publically denounce Empress Sephirium's hostile actions toward the people of Cybertron, and toward their Prime. I publically condemn the attempted assassination of Optimus, crown prince, and of the attempted invasion of Iacon several cycles ago. I demand that Sephirium abdicate her throne and submit herself to legal action as determined by an intergalactic court of law. Furthermore, I promise not to leave Femmax behind until order and stability have been reinstated according to the wishes of the people, and not until changes have been made that equalize the rights of Femmaxian mechs with those of femmes. No longer will Femmaxian be the galactic example of inequality and oppression. This I swear."
Jazz smiled, tossing back his third cube of high grade and patting the counter to get the bartender's attention for another. "Primus, 'm so slaggin' proud of her."
"I'm sure you are. She's an exemplary individual." Prowl accepted another cube, toasting his lover before taking a swig, wincing when it burned through his intakes. "What is this?"
"Dunno, but I'm pretty sure it could knock out a Gigantian in high enough doses." Jazz coughed, grinning over at the other mech. "So. Prowler."
The military mech lifted his arches ridges over his cube. "Jazz."
"Whaddaya wanna do tonight?" Jazz scooted his stool a little closer, waggling his optic ridges suggestively. "Kids are home, all crises have abated, my employer is involved in a hostile take-over of the planet, your employer's given you the night off…"
Prowl barely suppressed a smile, pointedly ignoring the hand massaging his thigh. "What did you have in mind?"
"Well, I've got a coupla ideas. How adventurous are ya feeling?"
"I do have a shift in the morning."
"Yeah, but not tonight." Jazz grinned widely, leaning forward to kiss his partner, but Prowl dodged, letting Jazz's mouthplates land on the side of his face. "Prowl, don't be like that…"
"A tease. Ya know I hate it."
"You love it."
"Well, yeah, just not right now," Jazz said, his tone plaintive and whining. "I've missed ya."
"I've missed you as well." Prowl smiled, placing his hand on Jazz's and brushing a thumb across his knuckles. "I'm sorry. I know things have been hectic lately."
"You're bein' stretched too thin. I know you're runnin' yourself ragged tryin' to keep Optimus safe and all, but is something else on your mind?" Jazz rotated in his seat, leaning his back against the bar, watching bots gambol around the rec center. It was quiet and sedate tonight; everyone was waiting anxiously for the fallout from Elita's first public appearance.
"There is." Prowl blew a stale sigh from his vents, cradling his chin in his palm and swirling his drink absently. "Do you remember what I told you that night in Maccadam's?"
"About your glitch?"
"That...and about my younger brother."
"Ah, yeah. Something about him coming to Iacon."
Prowl nodded morosely. "Yes. He just cleared warrior class qualifications. He's due to transfer in two orns. Smokescreen is processing him now."
Jazz considered that for a moment, mulling it over. "Smokescreen is your older brother, am I right?"
"Why didn't your creators want him for an heir? Why place that burden on the second son?"
Prowl snorted, taking a drink. "Have you ever met Smokescreen? He's hardly the picturesque model of Cybertronian nobility our creators wanted him to be. He rebelled against them in younglinghood, and they gave up on him when I came along...the same way they gave up on me when Bluestreak was sparked."
"Sounds complicated." Jazz turned back around in his seat, leaning closer to his lover and taking his hand. "And painful."
"I'm fine now, Jazz," the tactician replied gently, offering the other mech a rare, warm smile. "It was a shock at first, knowing I'd have to see him, but I can hardly blame a sparkling for the actions of his creators. I doubt we'll ever be as close as siblings might be expected to be, but I can at least forgive him for the sins he didn't commit."
Jazz grinned, nudging Prowl with his knee. "I love how mature you are. Really gets my engine revving."
"So you've never met the kid, huh?"
"Then this should be interesting." Jazz leaned in closer still, brushing his mouth across Prowl's audio receptor. "But not as interesting on what I'm plannin' on showing ya tonight…"
Against his better judgement, Prowl allowed himself to be pulled up out of his seat and led out of the rec room, even allowed a teasing kiss to be pressed to his mouth once they were in the hallway. It wasn't as if he could ever say no to Jazz.
"I sort of expected Sephirium to just live forever."
Ironhide lifted his head, wiping a hand across the back of his mouthplates and furrowing his optic ridges. "What?"
Chromia glanced downward, smiling and thumbing the audio receptor of the mech kneeling between her legs. "Sorry. I was distracted."
The warrior grunted out what she supposed was an acceptance of her apology, pushing himself up and motioning for her to move. She slid over on the berth to accommodate him, allowing herself to be pulled into an embrace right up against his hard chestplates.
"You're impossible," she sighed, rolling her optics skyward while blunt fingers probed between her thighs, intakes hitching when they slid into her valve. "I'm trying to have a conversation with you."
"I don't feel like talking," Ironhide rumbled, pressing his mouth to the side of her neck and stretching his fingers, making the femme squirm against him.
"Well, I do!"
"Let's do both," he suggested in a thick whisper, nipping the corner of her jaw and inserting another finger into her slicked valve, enjoying her breathy pants near his audio.
"I just never thought that- nnh! - I'd be helping Elita prepare for the throne. Not really." Chromia hunched her hips into his hand, groaning and biting down hard on his shoulder before going on. "She looked so grown up just now, like a proper adult. I never thought I'd see the orn when she didn't need me."
"She'll always need ya," Ironhide murmured, stroking a hand up and down her back even as his other continued to pleasure her. "More'n ever, now that she's takin' a stand against her own mother."
"She has Optimus now."
"Optimus is still a kid," the mech reminded her, and the rough bites he'd been placing against her throat turned to kisses, an unusually tender display from him. Chromia allowed herself to enjoy it, tilting her helm back and letting him explore her with his mouth. "He doesn't know what he's doin' anymore than Elita does. They'll both be needin' us."
"I suppose," Chromia agreed, and Ironhide purred when she spread her thighs for him, rolling her interface against his palm and biting down a moan. "Do you think they'll wind up bonded?"
"Do you think we will?"
The femme smiled, wrapping an arm around his neck and bracing herself against his body when his fingers pushed deeper, stretching and stroking her. She craned her neck, pressing her mouth to his audio for a devious whisper: "Make me overload in the next breem and maybe we'll discuss it."
"But you heard it, didn't you? Elita's speech? She did great."
"How could I have? I was here, doing my job. We don't all have the luxury of running around and doing nothing all orn."
Arcee huffed, sliding down the wall and wrapping her arms around her knees, glaring at the mech standing across the hall from her. Springer was standing guard outside the security hub, arms clasped behind his back, shoulders drawn and jaw set, the picture of the perfect soldier- until Arcee got back up to her feet, approached him, and kicked him hard in the shin.
"OW! Arcee! You brat, what was that for?!"
"For being a jerk," the young femme answered haughtily, turning her back on him and crossing her arms over her chest. "And for not treating me with the respect I deserve."
"Respect is earned, punk, get that through your processor," he ground out at her, rubbing his leg tenderly before straightening again, resuming his former position, but he still watched her warily out of the corner of his optic. She glanced over her shoulder, caught him watching her, and turned back away quickly. Springer sighed. "Sorry. I know it's not fair of me to treat you like a kid, you being royalty and all."
"That's not why I'm mad," she grumped, scuffing a foot against the ground.
The green mech shook his head, rubbing the back of his neck. "I don't know what you want from me, Arcee. You may have more responsibility on your shoulders than any other youngling your age, but you're a youngling all the same. I'm not known for my impressive moral track record, but even I have my limits, you know?"
"I won't be a youngling forever," she shot at him over her shoulder, trying not to let her voice betray how hurt she was, how badly she wanted him to just concede- even a little- that she mattered to him. "What then?"
Springer groaned inwardly, staring up at the ceiling. He was in seriously dangerous territory here. "Fine. How about this. You stop trying to make me your mech-friend and making me look bad in front of everyone on base, and when you are of age- I mean completely an adult- I'll take you on a date."
Arcee spun around at once, optics wide, beaming. "You mean it?"
"When you are all grown up, you hear?"
"A real date?!"
"Yes!" Springer almost toppled over as the femme launched herself into the leg she'd been kicking a breem ago, hugging him tightly. "Thanks, Spring!"
"Yeah, yeah," he said, awkwardly patting her on the back. "But lay off until then, okay? I mean, you can still hang around and junk, just…be cool, you know?"
"Cool," she repeated, stepping away from him and tucking her hands behind her back, smiling demurely up at the tall mech. "Got it."
"And no more telling bots we're madly in love, right?"
"And seriously, it's just going to be one date. I'm a busy mech, and it's not like I haven't got plenty of femmes to see."
Arcee grinned. "I'm gonna make you eat those words, you know."
Springer shifted uncomfortably, rubbing the back of his neck again. When she said it with a smile like that, he sort of believed her.
Ratchet glanced up at the vidscreen mounted on the wall of his medical bay, frowning a little as Elita stepped out of the chair and off camera, and the feed cut out. Well-spoken and articulate to be sure, but he wondered whether she had the fortitude to back up her words with action. Sephirium had more than proven that she was not a force to be trifled with, and this development within the bounds of her own family was sure to provoke a response. A violent one, if her track record was anything to go by...
The medic frowned, holding up the syringe to the light and depressing it, observing the viscosity of the clear fluid within. Samples he'd taken from Optimus immediately after he'd been bitten by the arachnoid assassin and then immediately after he'd been cured were getting him close to developing an antivenom, but it needed some work yet. Wheeljack was preoccupied with helping Starscream produce several thousand null-rays to be used in combat against the gladiators (better to immobilize a brutish enemy than go head-to-head and risk losing soldiers), so Ratchet was more or less on his own until the engineer finished up his other project.
"It's coming along?"
Ratchet didn't have to turn around to identify the query's owner. "It's better than it was. Another orn or two, perhaps, and then I can have Wheeljack make some final adjustments."
Ultra Magnus nodded, stepping into the medical bay and joining the other mech at his workbench, glancing up at the vidscreen, where a panel of High Councilors and several lower-ranked politicians were discussing Elita's message.
"What do you think?"
"We'll see," Ratchet replied neutrally, placing his antivenom in cold storage and accessing his private terminal. "Next time you see Sentinel, will you tell him that Ember is due for a check? I'd ping him, but he tends to ignore my messages if I send too many, and he's overdue as well, so I've had plenty of nagging to do…"
"I shall do so." Magnus shifted his weight from foot to foot. Ratchet's request had rather seemed like a dismissal, but he didn't quite feel like leaving yet. "I don't suppose you have plans tonight?"
"Not particularly," the medic responded. He was going through Sentinel's new maintenance specs, frowning a little as he analyzed the changes in the Prime's sparkcase due to Ember's birth. Slight, hard to see, but there. Time would tell whether they might be relevant. "I do have some backlog to catch up on."
"Can it wait?"
"I suppose, if I feel like pulling a longer shift tomorrow, or-" Ratchet paused, processing the line of inquiries for the first time, and pivoted on his heel to look at Magnus in surprise. "Are you asking me out?"
The taller mech flinched at being asked so directly, and coughed to mask his discomfort. "If it's not an inconvenience."
Ratchet stared at him for several long moments before slowly turning back to his terminal, chuckling. "I rather thought we were going to let this fling fizzle out."
"I'd prefer if we kept trying," Magnus said quietly, mentally rooting himself to the ground, even though he wanted to mumble an agreement and scamper from the room. Give him a charging Ickyak or a Decepticon hoard and he would be the first bot armed and ready to rumble, but asking his paramour out on a date? No, no thank you.
"We're busy mechs, Magnus," Ratchet sighed, skimming through a list of recent patient visits and filing them accordingly. "And let's be honest, even you have to admit that our partnership would be a little...unconventional."
The medic laughed, turning to face the other mech and leaning his weight against his terminal. "We don't really seem a good match, do we? Old, gruff, busybody soldiers with a single-minded dedication to our cause. We'd hardly be the hot couple everyone swoons over."
"I don't care about anyone else," Magnus said stubbornly. He wasn't crazy about his only love interest describing him as old and gruff, but he plowed on anyway. Ultra Magnus was nothing if not resilient. "I have feelings for you, Ratchet. I was under the impression that you shared my interest. I'd like to see where this leads."
"Even if it ends in miserable failure?"
"I would rather try and fail than cower in fear of possibilities," Magnus answered firmly. He stepped toward Ratchet, hesitating for a breath before placing his hands on the medic's face, remaining there even when the other mech seemed to want to flinch away. "I'm not asking for much, Ratch. Just a chance."
Ratchet considered, running through a list of excuses in his head, each more pitiful than the last. If he was honest with himself, he was just being cowardly, and he knew that. Surely Magnus must know it too, but the other mech had persisted this long, and...well, Ratchet liked him, as much as he'd tried to deny it for many long vorns.
He liked him, and yet…
"Now's not the time," he murmured, placing a hand on Magnus's chest and pushing him away, putting some space between them. "Sephirium's out for a war, Optimus had had too many close dodges with death, Sentinel is running himself ragged...you and I both need to stay focused."
"Focus, Magnus," the medic repeated grimly, shaking his head. "Whatever this thing is between us, it's only whimsy. We mustn't let it distract us from our duties, not at this critical a juncture. That's my final word."
And he turned away, his spark a painful constriction in his chest, and didn't waver until he heard Magnus's slow footsteps heading for the door.
"Mags," he spoke up, biting out the words around a sudden tightness in his throat, "I am sorry. For what it's worth, you made me feel younger than I've felt in eons. I'm grateful for that."
Magnus idled at the door, one hand upon the latch, and considered his words very carefully before he spoke. "I'm in love with you. I'll let you decide what that's worth."
And he left, shutting the door sharply behind him, leaving Ratchet staring emptily in his wake.