Stepping stones

Chapter 6: Dealt double

Panic over takes me. "Where is Ironhide?" I demand soft as I can through my groaning as I am assisted onto the table by Ratchet and Prowl.

"He's on his way Sir…he'll be here…" Prowl assures me. "What assistance do you need Ratchet?" He's offering.

"Just stay up by his head; until Ironhide gets here I'll allow you." Ratchet replied evenly as his optics are cast down to his tools, he was busy prepping. I turn to look at Prowl who moves to stand at the head of the berth. His hand reaches down grasping onto my shoulder joint holding me still. "He'll be here Prime." I nod slowly attention going back to Ratchet. I'm desperate with the pain, and I can no longer contain it.

"There are two…" I say through gasps of my manifold and hissing vents. "Twins…Ratchet." Coiling backward I restrain a growl. Prowl is struggling against me to keep me still. Servos pressing down both my shoulders. His servos slip and he grabs the large stacks between my shoulder joints and pulls hard wrenching me back onto the table.

"Primus." Ratchet turns a new flurry of frustration ever present on his face. "FIRST AID READY A SECOND POD!" Pulling out more tools he turns to my left side. His hand pressing over a sensitive plate that shifts as if to bat him away. "Both are here yes?" I nod. "You should have told me…" He says almost sympathetically.

Before I can answer First aid appears in my periphery. "Why two?" He seems oblivious to what is going on around him.

"Its twins now do it!" Ratchet turned away tossing a wrench at the younger medic who sidestepped the toss and moved to ready the pod. Turning back to meet my gaze he sighed. "I'm going to give you something for the pain." He assures me "I will wait 30 clicks for Ironhide, but no more…they have to come out…you should have told me you thought it was twins."

I groan and nod "Apologies I thought…" I'm cut off by Ratchet's hands in the air as he looks directly at me hooking me up to as many machines as I can count.

"One is a hard carry…this is torture...that's why pods were created for hatching those that could not be carried to full term by mechs…and two you definitely cannot do. There is hardly enough room in there for one." He runs his hands over my arm and injects sedative in the first line he can. I don't fall into recharge but the pain is dulled considerably and my torso is numbed. "Fedmmes or mechs or one of each?" he asks. "Can the matrix tell you?"

"I believe they are both Femmes…" I say "Small things." Running a hand over the left side of my torso where they reside turning over and coiling against one another. "But know, the matrix has given me no read out."

"Bumblebee and Cliffjumper were the smallest mechs birthed on record on Cybertron just because it's small does not make it a femme. Just because it's small doesn't mean it will get bigger either….look at Wheelie." Ratchet smiles. "Going to have your servos full now aren't you."

I nod at this fervently while bracing my hands on the berth edges to try to drown out my own sense of disorientation. "From now on Firewalls." I mean that with my spark.

He laughs softly at me looking up to Prowl. "You bet your aft you best use Firewalls." Prowl smiles from above me and I reach up patting his servo.

"Thank you…for staying with me." It seems so hollow a gesture for something as magnanimous as this.

"I'm under orders from Ironhide not to leave your side" I feel warm because of this statement; my overprotective bond-mate has already seen to my wellbeing without even being here. "He'll be here soon he wasn't far off before we moved you…twenty miles or so…Speak of the Pit himself…he's here…" My optics dart to the door in the shadow stands a silhouette I know all too well.

"Optimus?" His voice, he moves into the room quickly and steps up to my side. "Hey." He's nervous but has a smile. He's wet dripping all over the floor. Reaching up to him I move a hand over his shoulder plates pushing off some cleansing foam he's missed.

"Quick shower?" I ask trying to laugh but coil back in discomfort.

"Covered'n mud …didn't want ta see my little one like that." He said softly he's still slightly damp and there's still some mud caked in his joints but I am glad to see him. Servos clasp together as Prowl steps out from behind him, moving away toward the door.

"Ones…"Ratchet corrected him coming around with both pods. "Apparently Prime says there are two."

Ironhide's expression is blank. "Two?" he blinks his optic shields and looks at me again "Two?" I can feel his panic. Something is wrong "Primus."

"Ironhide what is the matter?" I ask lifting my servo to him. He grasps onto it and clings. "Tell me." Prowl has left the room and is most likely headed to the bridge to let everyone know I'll be out of commission for about an orn.

He motions to Ratchet "After this is done I will tell you…focus." He stands to the side of the berth holding both my shoulders in his servos. Five weeks and six days since we bonded I look up into his optics once and he lowers his helm pressing it to mine. "I'm here." This is all I need to hear.

Ratchet nodded at me "He's right it's time open up." With a groan I force my chest open and feel Ratchet's hands along the matrix as he plugs into the small metal chamber near my spark chamber. "Initiating Labor program." I feel the file open and I'm forced forward. I lurch forward moving to one side to purge into a small receptical near by. Ratchet was ready for this. "That's normal…" he nods "Just a few moments…I'm going to pull the chamber connection pin and then we'll see who we've got."

I hear the pop and the hiss and as much feel them. The labor program forces the matrix out of the way and I grit my denta with a hiss. "I got ya." Ironhide says softly to my audio his helm pressed against mine as he looks over to watch Ratchet. I nod to him "Doing great." I want to strangle him. My servos reach up out of Ratchet's way clasping onto Ironhide's waiting servos.

"Ok Optimus….Pull in trust me it's going to hurt but they will separate." Ratchet reaches within me and I growl to keep myself from crying out. I grit my denta as the firey pain juts up my back strut. I feel the seals break and the lubricant pour out of my chassis. Pressing back against Ironhide I leverage my systems and pull the cogs around my chamber. The matrix moves and I feel two feelings of disconnection, a sucking sound and digital wails. Ironhide is smiling above me. "A mech." Ratchet says handing off the first to First Aid to be placed in the First pod. Reaching in he pulls out the second my systems grinding. "Another Mech…First aid, hurry and get me a scanner…Hurry"

First aid appeared with the scanner "Come on little one you've got a strong spark." The Medic shifts back into a chair near the berth.

Ratchet took the scanner and I watch in horror as the little limp body in his hands does not move nor cry. The scanner goes over him once more and Ratchet takes his servo and jolts some energy into the small body. I watch as the body reacts and shifts before a digital scream emits from him. I have never been so happy to hear a hatchling scream.

"There we go...Perfect." He smiles "Two for one." He smiles "Very rare indeed." Ratchet hands the smaller of the two mechs to First Aid to put into the second pod. Hooking the small body up to the monitors and system regulators he lets the body slide into the second pod next to his brother. Placing the caps on both pods, First Aid boots up their systems.

The matrix lowers back in place over my chamber and I feel my torso closing. Ratchet stands moving to my side reaching in to hold it open. "I'll over ride the panels…recharge." He looks up to me "I have to remove the cord nest they were housed in…as well as replace a few lines that have broken…recharge…you need at least a recharge cycle after this…" he coaxes motioning to Ironhide to agree with him and get me to Recharge.

"Two…by Primus two Optimus." I can't answer him right now I lower my full weight against him and groan. He looks down at me and smiles "Recharge…" His optics cast bright blue off my armor and I see him in the glint. "We'll talk soon." I hear his voice echo.

Awestruck. That's what the humans refer to as my current state. I still hold Optimus to my torso plate as his body slowly sags down into recharge he desperately needs. Ratchet is busy cleaning out his parts. "How was that?" I ask because I do not know the proper way to ask.

Ratchet doesn't look up as he removes some of the extra parts and wires. "In a word…" he smirks and glances up only a moment. "Textbook." He shifts pulling out damaged parts and drops them down into a waiting canister on the floor.

I lay Optimus' weight down and move around the table to the pods. I touch my hand against them Careful not to break the seals. The mechs float quietly. One thrashes only a moment. They settle to the sides of the pods closest to one another. I smile at this gesture.

Ratchet steps to my side "They both look like you Ironhide." he muses softly.

"I can see that." Their faces mimic mine; their raised audio finials like prime's make them look almost cat like. "Have to talk to Optimus about what to call them…" I say softly already compiling a list of suitable names for his approval. I turn to the quiet one and smile at him. I am drawn to him the most. My servo runs along the side of his pod now and he shifts to my signature. He knows I'm here. Mostly he's red, but the little black touches on his servos and stabilizers strike me.

"They are healthy." He responds slowly.

"Good." I nod and pull up a stool to sit and look at the two little ones before me.

When I online my optics he's seated beside me slick in his hands he hasn't noticed I'm awake. I watch as slick looks up at Ironhide giggling. He's got one hand in the air making a sweeping motion. "And Starscream…comes down like this …banking hard…but what he doesn't know is we have charges all along the rockface ya see…" I smile softly "And we detonate and BOOM!" she claps and chirps at him "That seeker gets his wings clipped…now he got away….but …his body and pride were dented." She clicks at him. Turning her head to me she reaches out for me. "Good morning." Ironhide turns to me his voice lowering and becoming quiet.

"How did it go?" I ask not quite remembering. I try to sit up on my own but find it difficult. Taking one arm in mine Ironhide pulls to help me shift upward. "Thank you."

"Yer welcome." He sets Slick down into my arms and she smiles at me sitting up on my chassis hands grabbing at my facial plates. "She missed you." He smiles.

"She seemed very entertained." I chuckle at him taking his servo in my own. "And the other two?"

"Right there." He points to my other side and there are the two tanks, both mechs floating quietly. Both have radiated to the side of the tank not only closest to me but closest to each other. "The one on the right …blue n black…like Slick here…thrasher…just won't settle." Ironhide leans down beside me and smiles "the other is calm as the moment before a battle…even though he's the one Ratch had to Jolt to wake up." I look between the two very different mechlings. Though identical their color schemes vary.

"They look so much like you Ironhide."

He chuckles "Yeah been hearing that from everyone." He smiles and then looks to me his smile fading. "Ratch says this isn't the first time you were sparked…I mean when we bonded I knew that but I guess I never thought to talk about it." I nod slowly but the question is still on the edge of the bond. He shrugs slowly looking down at slick, the question directed at me but his optics averted. "How long ago?" I ache from the question but I won't keep the answer from him.

"Before I became the Matrix bearer." I say softly speaking as casually as we ever have, as though we are old friends and less like lovers.

"You weren't bonded…" He sits back down beside my berth and watches me. His tone is even and clear. His calm is warming.

"No." I look up to him. "I should have told you."

"It's fine…" He trails it off into nothing as if waiting for me to say more. I know he would never force me but knowing he will live with the questions in his spark I know I must answer him. I've been keeping too much to myself and if this is a way to bridge the gap that has formed between us. Then I will do what I must to make sure we are all right.

"Sentinel." I say softly. "When the matrix was passed from him to I …" Looking down I purse my lip plates quietly. "I was not ready." I admit, voice filled with sorrow; I hated myself for what happened, this is why I fight to protect the innocent who would otherwise suffer and die. When it's not their fault, they should not have to suffer. The incident shaped who I am.

"I would not think so." He doesn't blame me; I didn't even for an astro-second think he would. "You loved him?"

"At the time yes…" I look up meeting his optics. "But things change." Pulling slick to my torso I fumble with my free servo for Ironhide's.

He nods and takes my servo in his in a firm squeeze. "Sure do." He looks down his free hand cupping Slick's helm. "You were still recharging when she had her scan." He smiles a change of subject is welcome. "She'll be getting her upgrade next week…Ratch says if we want ta change her colors we can do that then."

"No…her coloring is fine." I say looking up to him "Don't you agree?" He nods slowly "Perhaps a scheme change…"

"Flames?" Ironhide stands with a chuckle. "Like you…"

"I don't see why not…" I say lifting her up slightly she giggles touching my face. "You have never complained once about my terrestrial guise." Lifting her from my torso he smiles at her. Grasping Ironhide's servos she goes to him sliding into his waiting hands.

"No I have not." His nod is curt as he holds Slick in his arms. "You don't need flames…nah yer pretty as a nebula..." I smile as he turns to me now. "I haven't said it in a few days…" he leans down shifting Slick into the crook of his arm. "I love you." I assume he is proud of me; he sounds it.

I lean up to meet his waiting kiss and smile as our lip plates meet. "And I love you Ironhide." Slick giggles in his arms putting her small servos over her eyes. Looking to her "And I love you too Slickdrift." She giggles out the two words that she knows; our designations. I smile to her and look to Ironhide "What shall we call them?"

"The twins?" he sighed that question overwhelming him slightly. "I have no idea." His statement is curt and honest. Sitting back down on the stool again he faces me "Thought about all kinds of names but none seem right." He shrugs to me.

"What did you tell me about the first one here closest to me." I ask slowly trying to recall.

"Called him a little Trasher." He says softly "Kicken and moving all over. He's restless."

"What do you think of Trasher?" I ask a hand moving to reach out toward the pod quietly. "Not a terrible name."

"Not really no…" he laughs and shakes his head "Naming him that we are asking for trouble; you know that right?"

"I'm prepared for the consequences."

"Trasher it is…" he sighs servos moving down to Slick's torso-plate to tickle her with a smirk. "and what of the other?"

I look to the second mechling, marginally he's smaller than his brother but not by much. He's serene and calm. When he moves its as though each movement was thought out before. "He's so tranquil in his recharge." I say reaching out to touch the pod, his little body shifting to my servo. His armor has little barbs across his shoulder plates, this is a difference between him and his brother aside from their coloring.

"Call 'em Quill….Trash and Quill…" Ironhide is testing the names on his glossa and I can't tell if he likes them. "S'not bad…" he nods and it's a relief to my spark.

"Slickdrift, Quill, and Trasher." I look up to him "A good family." I say proudly.

"Our family." He corrects.

Nodding I smile letting him have his little victory. "I stand corrected."

Slickdrift Claps "Pime!" She giggles and reaches out for me and I take her back in my hands. She looks so much like her creator; I've seen his pictures. With her upgrade coming I hope to make her look less like him and more like her Sire: her true sire, Mirage.

One day I know she will want to know the truth, and go to him. I would never deny him if he wished her back, but I cannot help my love for her.

The comm. Beep draws us out of our moment.

"This is Ironhide…go ahead."

"Ironhide you are needed in the command center." Prowl.

"What's the situation?" He's talking as he slides Slick down into my arms.

"Decepticons on our doorstep. Starscream…" there's an uneasy pause.

"And?" Ironhide asked.

"Double-Dealer, they say they've come for his offspring." Panic overtakes me and Ironhide and I exchange serious looks.

"I'm on my way." Ironhide silences the comm. "You are in no condition to leave yet. I'll make sure this goes away." Reaching up I grasp at Ironhide's servo tightly.

"By civil law he has a right to her." I ache as I say this.

"I know." I can feel the pain flood off him and I open our bond fully to him and he draws closer touching her helm. "Stay with your sire." He says. "I shall return." He looks up at me and we both can feel the fear creeping into our back-struts.

Ratchet enters from his office as Ironhide backs away. "Ratchet?" I have my eyes on the door until Ironhide is out of sight.

" Yes Prime?" He asks softly.

"Get me a direct line to Ultra Magnus." I demand.

For a moment he looks at me then nods slowly. "I will have a terminal moved to you bedside." he steps forward looking at Slick "You aren't going to give her up are you?"

He'd heard the discussion with Prowl. "No not if I can help it….if this is merely a case of Civil law that lays outside the means of the war." I sigh "Than I will find a way to keep her with the Autobots, even if that means giving her back to Mirage."

"But he doesn't want her." Ratchet said quietly "And that base is not safe, full of Autobots and Maximals it's almost overrun." He shakes his head.

"He wouldn't want her with the Decepticons; no matter his fear in the matter…and it's the best place to hide her." I sound so hurt, I can't mask it in my voice as she settles down against the plates of my body; optics shuttering as she falls into peaceful recharge. "As much as it pains me to send her away." I shudder as the words roll of my vocalizer.

"I'm sure Mirage can bring her back once things are more calm Prime." Ratchet says his voice filled with understanding. He reaches out slowly "May I?" He asks.

"Of course." I say moving my hands back as my CMO lifts the small body off my chassis.

"Hello there little one." He said softly with care and peace. "I've missed you." He smiled at her but she remained in recharge pressed against his chassis as he walked around the room putting things up with one free hand. My optics twist to my side; to the twins in their pods and I struggle with myself. I struggle with what will happen next.

The story will continue on in CHOICE