A/N: Once every two or three years, real life gets totally in my face and supersedes all else. I apologize for the horribly long wait, but at the same time, there's not much to be done for it. By way of apology, please accept the new chapter. Thank you for your patience, and please continue to grant it to me.
I can't remember now if I did or didn't send out individual thank you PMs on chapter 11. I kinda think I did, but if I didn't, then please know I that dearly appreciate your reviews!
Chapter 12: Terra Incognita
or The Unknown Land
"What the frag?" Ratchet's voice exploded across the medbay, shattering the shocked silence. He hardly knew what to think, much less how to feel. Prowl was a twin? Was twinsrecombined? And one of those said twins was Sunstreaker and Sideswipe's carrier?
Optimus and Jazz stared at him, both looking exhausted. "That's pretty much what I said," Jazz sighed. "I haven't been rechargin' too good I've been thinkin' about it so hard."
To Ratchet's left, Perceptor remained quiet, clearly deep in thought. To his right, however, Wheeljack stirred. "Why didn't Prowl tell us himself? I mean, I assume you got Prowl's permission to discuss this with us, but — "
"Of course." Prime almost sounded offended. "Prowl said he simply didn't feel up to telling the story yet again, but he felt that the three of you, as department heads, would need to know in order to answer our questions."
Ratchet struggled to work through the information dump. "I would've never guessed this was possible. The implications are stunning."
Seeming to gather himself, Perceptor nodded. "Indeed. This is most intriguing. There are many things to note here: that there's a way for one twin to survive the other's death, that this ability might have been passed on to Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, and perhaps most of all, that Prowl has retained Maverick's memories without a direct download. The metaphysics of — "
"Later," Ratchet interrupted. He glanced between the grim faces of his COs. "Do the twins know who Prowl is?"
"Yeah." Jazz shrugged faintly. "Prowl said they're doin' okay with it."
Ratchet frowned, suddenly understanding the vacant or preoccupied expressions the twins had been sporting. "I see. Well, what's your — " He halted, a long-forgotten memory rising up out of his compressed memory files to whack his processor. "Holy frag!"
Wheeljack apparently received the jolt of his shock over their bond. "What is it?"
Turning toward him, Ratchet tried to form the words. "Do you remember that youngling we helped once? Before the war? He was carrying two sparklings and collapsed just outside of the café we were dining at?"
Wheeljack snapped his fingers. "Primus, yes! I'd forgotten all about that. He said he was being chased by the PSF."
"Wait, what?" Jazz asked, straightening.
"What are the slaggin' odds?" Ratchet shook his head, his processor so blown he accidentally ignored Jazz. "So he actually lived!" Ratchet realized suddenly how the conversation during the briefing a decaorn earlier fit in. "Oh, I see. Well, this is one of the odder coincidences I've experienced."
"So you're saying you knew about this?" Optimus asked, his optics dimmed in obvious perplexity.
"Not exactly," Ratchet replied, pulling himself together. "Back before the war, Wheeljack and I rescued a rundown youngling who was toting around twin sparklings, and he said he was running from the PSF. It seems ironic that Prowl and the twins had been right under my nose all this time. When we first met Sunny and Sides, Wheeljack and I wondered if they were the sparklings we'd helped save that orn, but we'd assumed that the youngling had died. After all, the twins in the study had all been reported killed." He shook his head. "Well, never mind that. What, exactly, is your question?"
"Can Night Stalker and Maverick be separated again?" Optimus asked.
Simultaneously, Jazz spoke. "Is it physically possible for Prowl to bond?" He traded a tense glance with Prime.
Ratchet frowned. "Wait. One at a time, please." To a certain extent, he wasn't surprised by their questions. He wasn't an idiot; he saw the way they acted around Prowl.
Optimus directed his attention to Wheeljack. "That device you've been working on, the one that temporarily knocks a mech's spark out of his chest. Could it be modified to split Night Stalker and Maverick back into twins?"
Jazz nodded, clearly curious as well. "Yeah, could ya build a second body exactly like Prowl's and separate 'em?"
"Uh, I have no idea." Wheeljack sounded worried, and Ratchet could feel over their bond just how uncomfortable he felt.
Ratchet caught Prime's gaze. "Are you sure Prowl even wantsto be split back apart?"
Optimus folded his arms over his chest. "Well, we briefly discussed it. I have his permission to ask."
Wheeljack shifted from foot-to-foot, clasping and then unclasping his hands behind his back. "I'd have to severely modify or even redesign the device, and then I'd have to come up with a way to test it. Frankly, I have no idea what that would be."
Perceptor stirred. "We could work on that, but the more legitimate question might be whether Prowl can bond as is."
"Yeah, and what it'll mean if he can," Jazz mumbled.
"In other words, you're both in love with him," Ratchet said. "Let's just get that out on the table. How does he feel?"
"Maverick is in love with me." Jazz stared at the floor, his visor flaring.
Optimus' shoulders tensed faintly. "Night Stalker is in love with me."
"Ah." Ratchet pressed his fingers to the middle of his chevron, resisting a surge of exasperation. "I can research abnormal bonds, and Wheeljack and Perceptor can evaluate the spark device. But whatever you do, Prowlhas to be comfortable with it, too." He waited until they both looked at him. "More importantly, you have to ask yourself this: what if this is as good as it gets? What if Prowl can't be changed? Will you still love him? Would you still want to be with him? On top of that, if you can't bond to him, then what?"
"I know, I know." Jazz crossed his arms.
Ratchet sometimes felt like the creator of a whole horde of sparklings. "But before we talk splitting a mech in half or, say, Nucleus Bonds, maybe you both should date Prowl and make sure it works. If it doesn't, then the next step in this process is meaningless."
With a deep exhale through his vents, Optimus nodded his head. "Of course. I've already taken Prowl on a date, and Prowl is taking Jazz on one tonight."
Raising an optical ridge, Ratchet stared them both down. "Good. Glad to see you two haven't completely lost your wits. Now unless you have further questions, scoot and let us work on this." He watched with exasperated affection as his COs skedaddled.
"Primus," Wheeljack muttered once they were gone. "What a mess."
"Poor Prowl," Perceptor added.
Ratchet found that a lot of things he'd been wondering about Prowl suddenly made sense. "It's a disaster, but let's see what we can find out. Surely we can offer them something."
Despite his determination, Ratchet was concerned. It was a complex issue.
Prowl was nervous. Beyond nervous, actually. For the first time in a long while, he very much felt as young as Maverick, who he'd allowed to come forward, technically was. He'd never really imagined, never hoped enough to dream, that he'd be able to take Jazz out on a date. Just asking Jazz had set Prowl on edge, despite knowing the answer would be yes. He still remembered Jazz's small, teasing smile when he had, in fact, agreed. That little smile had warmed him to his core.
As he trailed through the hallways to Jazz's quarters, he checked himself repeatedly, ensuring that he looked perfect for his love. He felt a bit silly for being so self-conscious, especially when they'd so often seen each other dirty and banged up during missions, but Maverick insisted that Jazz was special. This night was special. Therefore, Prowl had engaged Sunstreaker's help for a wax and detailing. Even Sideswipe had helped. They'd both watched him with bright optics as he'd allowed Maverick the chance to tease them both — Sideswipe about his troublemaking, which Maverick secretly admired, and Sunstreaker for his vanity, which Maverick had to admit he shared in part.
Now, though, Prowl had reached Jazz's door and was stuck somewhere between extreme confidence ("I'll sweep him off his pedes," Maverick insisted) and extreme edginess ("Holy frag, don't let me make an idiot out of myself. I've gotta be cool for this mech!"). Stilling the mix of thoughts with some effort, Prowl buzzed the door comm.
Jazz opened the door immediately, standing just on the other side with a cocky grin that said he'd managed to hear Prowl coming. He leaned against the doorframe and propped one fist on his hip. "Heya, Prowler. You ready to wow me?" He laughed, clearly teasing. Then he froze, his entire body language shutting down. He straightened and glanced over Prowl's frame slowly.
Prowl suffered a strange moment in which he thought he might have to reboot his processor. "Huh?"Maverick asked within him, having superseded Night Stalker in their thought process. Did Jazz not like the detailing job? Surely not.
"Man, I didn't expect it to be that obvious," Jazz remarked quietly.
Realizing that Jazz was somehow referring to Maverick, Prowl took stock of his posture. His doorwings were perked up and spread more than usual, employing a bit of flare in the process. His stance was a bit wider and his chin held a touch higher. Plus, and perhaps most shocking of all, he was smiling uncontrollably. Much amused, he laughed openly. "Surprise!"
That same small smile bent Jazz's lips. "I'll say. Sexy, too."
Prowl lunged forward, grabbing Jazz in his arms and spinning so that they twirled into the room. "Don't steal my lines." He gazed into Jazz's bright visor, making out the shining optics beyond. "Sexy." He dropped a quick kiss on Jazz's lips.
Running his arms around Prowl's shoulders, Jazz returned the kiss. "Somthin' tells me this could turn into a very pleasant fight over who's the sexiest."
"One I'll be happy to win later." As much as Prowl wanted to kiss Jazz, among other things, he knew that their planned activity would take some time. They were going rock climbing. "Ready to go?"
"Yep, all my equipment's in my subspace." Jazz sounded every bit as enthusiastic as Prowl suspected he was. He had found a location Jazz hadn't tried before.
"Then let's go." Prowl released him, and with a wicked grin stepped out in the hall. "I'll race you."
"Race?" Jazz sounded positively diabolical. "Yer on!"
They barely maintained their composure long enough to reach the Ark'sentrance, and as soon as they were clear, Prowl dropped into his alt form and peeled away, kicking up plumes of dust. Jazz was right beside him, redlining his engine as they accelerated and flew across the desert, heading for the distant green of vegetation. They swerved around each other, cutting each other off and hurtling around boulders, creating a type of dance that left decorative tire tracks in their wake.
When they reached the roads, they slowed down only long enough to veer off road again, heading for the cliff Prowl had located. At first, they tried to race down the dirt road, tailgating each other, but after a while the vegetation grew too dense. They transformed into root mode and began the uphill assent, the cliff in sight over the tree tops.
As they walked, Prowl glanced sideways at Jazz, struck by what he was ultimately being entrusted with. He knew that Jazz just as often chose to pursue as he did allow others to pursue him. That balance seemed to be tied to his ultimately laidback nature, maybe even his performer's streak or sense of adventure — that desire to never do something the same way twice. And for some reason, Jazz had chosen in this case to allow Prowl to pursue him. It was a responsibility, almost a demand performance, making Prowl put himself out there and show he was genuinely interested. Had Jazz, then, sensed he had competition? Had he considered pursuing Prowl and winning his attention, or had he decided from the beginning to subtly invite attention and thereby stoke Prowl's interest?
That small smile, which seemed to have come to stay, hovered on Jazz's lips. He met his gaze. "What's on yer mind?"
Prowl felt the question could wait. Regardless of the reasons, Jazz was choosing to entrust this responsibility to him, and Prowl very much coveted this chance to demonstrate his love. "Just cherishing the night," he answered quietly, the only other honest answer he could give.
Jazz's smile widened. "It's a night worth cherishin'."
Overcome with a sudden surge of giddiness, Prowl reached out and grasped Jazz's warm hand, lacing their fingers together. Jazz responded by gently squeezing his hand in return, and they walked shoulder to shoulder the rest of the way there, not allowing even the slightest separation form between them.
When they reached their destination, Jazz gazed up the sheer cliff face, clearly estimating the difficulty. "Looks like a decent challenge." He grinned.
Prowl snorted faintly, unable to stop himself. Jazz had tried quite a few extreme sports, the most recent being skydiving. There probably wasn't much he wouldn't try. "Let's get started, then."
Since they had chosen to mimic Earth-style climbing for the sake of adventure, they accessed their subspace for the equipment, such as the ropes, nuts, draws, and harnesses, and joked with each other as they set up. Then they commenced without hesitation, finding the first several dozen feet to be effortless with easy handholds. Since they were using lead climbing, Jazz climbed up first, with Prowl belaying and feeding out the rope. Halfway through, they realized the route to the top would be lengthy, causing Jazz to lead them through several pitches through which he reached a spot and anchored, allowing Prowl to reach him and collect the nuts for reuse on their next pitch.
Despite their comms, their conversation was sparse throughout most of the climb, given the amount of concentration they were using. Prowl hardly minded, though, especially when they reached the top and he saw Jazz's beaming smile.
"That was great!" Jazz plopped down a few feet back from the ledge, resting his elbows on his knees and staring out over the valley below them. The sun was beginning to set, casting the sky into a crimson and golden halo. Behind them, just as below them, the forest fanned out, the lush greenness slowly darkening with shadows. Doves cooed to one another in the branches, and a cool breeze washed over their frames.
Prowl gazed at the way Jazz's visor glowed, the blue accenting his simple black and white color scheme. He decided he'd never known anyone more gorgeous. Joining him on the ground, Prowl sat close to his side, enough to feel the heat of his systems, and watched the sunset. "So unlike home."
"Yeah, man, it's beautiful," Jazz sighed, appreciation evident in his voice, and Prowl had to agree.
However, from inside Prowl, Maverick pressed forward again. "More interesting, too."
Jazz grinned again. "Well, I gotta admit, the explorer in me loves the new adventure. So many new things to try."
"You mean, so many new kinds of music," Prowl teased, grinning.
Jazz laughed, and their soaring mood broke into a brief wrestling match, which was half playful and half an excuse to touch each other. Still, they calmed after a few klicks and shared a quiet dinner, then lay back on the ground, clasping hands and watching the stars that were slowly revealed one by one. Prowl was aware that there were complex questions they ultimately needed to address, but he didn't mention them, letting a comfortable silence prevail. They had known each other for too long to feel awkward; they had known each other long enough to enjoy simply being together, conversation or not.
However, when Jazz turned toward him with a mischievous smile, Prowl immediately knew that their thoughts were headed to the same place, and he desperately wanted to kiss Jazz again. Finally, he was free to show his affection, free to reveal his love. He rolled onto his elbow, propping himself up, and gazed down at the one he'd secretly desired for so long. With his other hand, he reached out, tracing gentle fingertips over Jazz's face and memorizing the lines of his jaw and lips.
In truth, Prowl wanted to make love to him immediately. Just seeing the arch of Jazz's throat in the moonlight was enough to cause his frame to burn with desire. Knowing what Jazz preferred from him, Prowl's mind supplied him with tempting images: Jazz underneath him, back arched off the ground, lips parted, gasping. When the time came, he wanted to bring him pleasure, more pleasure than anyone ever had before. He wanted to show him his love in an entirely physical way, mapping out his frame with his fingertips and memorizing each curve and plane with his lips. He wanted Jazz to feel completely fused with him, filled and fulfilled, an utter unity etched in passion.
But within him, Maverick was concerned over his relative lack of experience, and it made him self-conscious. Jazz didn't lack experience, he was well aware. Would Prowl seem clumsy to him? Would he move too fast? Make a mistake?
No, he couldn't afford to doubt himself. Gathering his courage, Prowl leaned forward, his gaze caught on that perfect, arched throat, so white in the moonlight. He might not be quite ready to make love to Jazz, but he could bring him some pleasure. Carefully, he cupped Jazz's cheek in his hand and leaned down, lining up their faces so they wouldn't bump noses. Jazz was giving him that small smile once more, and Prowl felt a crash of desire as their lips met. Jazz's lips were warm and soft under his, just as warm as his cheek was under Prowl's palm. Prowl's breath caught in the back of his throat, threatening to emerge as a moan, and he shifted their angle slightly, kissing him again.
Thousands of tiny details assaulted him in that moment: the soft breeze blowing across their plating, the sweet scent of wildflowers, and the quiet sound of Jazz's vents. Prowl became hyperaware of the way Jazz's exhalations brushed his cheek, the heat of his frame against Prowl's chestplates, and most of all, those warm lips moving against his. A faint moan did escape Prowl then, and Jazz reached up, cupping his helm in his hand and pulling him closer. Jazz parted his lips, slipping out his glossa, and Prowl met the move, letting their glossa caress. The kiss was slow, languid, deep.
With some effort, Prowl broke away so he could kiss down Jazz's throat. He slipped his hand behind his neck, tilting Jazz's helm backward and baring that perfect, white expanse to his lips. Prowl kissed over the slope of Jazz's chin, taking his time, tasting the warm plating. Lingering under his jaw, Prowl felt the pulse of Jazz's systems, the rush of energon in his lines, and he stopped to suck there, drawing a gasp from him. Beautiful, he thought, enchanted. You're so beautiful. You must be stunning when you overload.
Jazz's inhalations had become shallow panting, and Prowl realized that his neck must be especially sensitive. Emboldened, he kissed up to his audio, running his glossa around it, then licked and nibbled his way back down. The panting became little, quiet moans, and the sound seemed to vibrate inside Prowl's helm. Such a gorgeous sound. Definitely something to be cherished.
By the time they parted, Prowl had climbed atop Jazz, slipping his knees between his legs, and their arms were wrapped around each other. They gazed at each other, breathless, their adoration shining in their optics.
"How long have you wanted to make love to me?" Jazz whispered, running his hand up Prowl's arm, over his shoulder, and down his backstrut.
Prowl shuddered faintly, feeling the heat bloom through his frame. "Longer than you can imagine." His other, more traditional half pushed against him, urging him to wait and not rush in.
"Part of me wants to continue." A faint frown pulled at the corners of Jazz's mouth.
Prowl was no fool. He wants to claim me as his, he deduced, noting that frown. He wants to get there first.He found he understood the impulse; Maverick specifically wished he could have been Jazz's first. "But?"
"But there are still some things I need to work out." Jazz glanced past Prowl, his gaze extending to the vast expanse of space above them. "I'm not quite ready."
And there it was: the inevitable tension of their situation. Prowl couldn't blame him for that. He couldn't imagine that anyone in history had ever experienced a situation quite like theirs. In fact, he knew for a fact they couldn't have, and it made things ridiculously complicated. "I understand," he murmured, and he did. It didn't keep him from keenly feeling that tension, though.
"Ya know, durin' all this, I had accepted the possibility of havin' to give ya up," Jazz said. "I was gonna do whatever made ya happiest. But I wasn't prepared at all for this whole 'share Prowl' thing." He shook his head. "I mean, are ya even physically able to bond?"
Prowl flinched, and more than knowing Jazz was uncomfortable, he felt genuine fear as he considered Jazz's question. "I don't know," he admitted. "Please don't worry about it. I'm on it."
"Yer on it, huh?" Jazz's humor seemed to return briefly. "It's weird hearin' ya talk that way, but I guess that's Mav." The humor passed quickly, though, leaving him seeming sad again. "Sorry, man, I know yer on top of it. It's just so complicated."
Prowl watched the interplay of emotions on Jazz's face and wondered just what he'd been thinking about since learning the truth. "Well, if a solution can be found, Ratchet, Wheeljack, and Perceptor will find it."
Jazz's visibly brought himself back under control, his frown fading as his smile returned. "Yeah, I know. And let's not think 'bout that right now. Wastes time we could spend kissin'." He tugged Prowl back down, and he went willingly, meeting Jazz's lips again.
It wasn't a perfect situation, but with Jazz in his arms, Prowl could pretend, at least for the night.
After his shift the following orn, Prowl wandered the halls for a solid breem, unsure where to go or what to do. Something about his date with Jazz bothered him. Actually, something about his date with both Jazz and Optimus bothered him, and he wasn't sure who to talk to. Normally when he had a problem, he went to one of his two best friends, but he didn't feel comfortable discussing Optimus with Jazz or Jazz with Optimus.
Realizing that his offspring might be willing to help him, Prowl headed to their quarters. He didn't want to burden them, but they were supposed to be working on being a family now. Families tackled problems together, right? Before he could rethink his decision, he buzzed their door chime.
"Come in," called a lazy voice, and the door triggered open.
Prowl stepped inside to find Sideswipe crashed on their couch, playing a specially-made version of a human game console, and Sunstreaker perched on his berth, applying a coat of wax.
"Hey, genie!" Sideswipe grinned and paused his game, tossing aside the controller. "Have a seat."
Sunstreaker groaned. "Don't call him that. Sounds too sparklingish."
Prowl smiled at them, willing to accept the term 'genie' if Sideswipe really wanted it, and joined him on the couch.
"What's up?" Sideswipe asked, peering at him with suspicion. "You've got that hassled look."
Was he that obvious? Prowl didn't intend to be. "I seem to have a problem."
"Bad date with Jazz?" Sunstreaker asked, not looking up from his leg, where he was currently rubbing his polishing cloth.
Prowl wasn't fooled, not after sharing a connection and memories with Sunstreaker. He sensed the unspoken concern there. "Not bad. Just weird." He tried to collect his thoughts. "I'm not convinced that either Jazz or Optimus is dealing too well with the idea that I'm two mechs. And although I admit that having them both date me at once and be okay with it is a lot to ask . . ." He trailed off, suddenly depressed. "I'm afraid this won't work. I need them to accept the bizarreness of the situation and work with me, but so far they're talking about things like splitting me back into twins."
Sunstreaker's optics flared bright, and he set aside his cloth. "Is that even possible?"
"I have no idea." Prowl let his doorwings slump, willing to discard his stoic mask around them. "I admit the concept is a bit scary, though, despite the fact it would let Night and Mav talk to each other again."
Sideswipe flinched. "Scary? Try terrifying."
"I can't imagine," Sunstreaker mumbled.
Prowl tried to gather his scattered thoughts. "Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe I'm not giving them enough time. I need to be patient and understanding. But . . ." He trailed off again, disturbed. "But if we focus too much on the physics of bonding or the potential problems, we can't even enjoy ourselves. We can't actually build relationships. And my logic is failing me here. I'm not sure where the balance is between being practical or realistic and letting our feelings take their natural course."
"That's heavy," Sideswipe said, squeezing his arm. "I don't even know what to say, but I guess I'd vote for 'feelings on natural course.'" He hesitated, frowning. "But wait. What does Mav think of Prime?"
"Frag, what does Night think of Jazz?" Sunstreaker added.
Prowl stared at them, confused. "What do you mean? Both Night and Mav are friends with both Optimus and Jazz."
"Well, that's good, I guess," Sideswipe ventured. "It'd be bad if Mav was irritated by Optimus or if Night didn't like Jazz."
Sunstreaker cast his brother an unreadable look, and for a moment, they just stared at each other. Prowl got the feeling a discussion was occurring over their bond.
"No, it's not that, really," Sunstreaker said aloud, then looked away.
Prowl frowned, even more perplexed. "I don't understand." What had they been discussing?
"It's just . . . well, you've got to admit this is pretty weird for us, too," Sideswipe said. "I mean, I know Night and Mav are brothers, and I know they're — you're — not supposed to be together . . . you know, like that. But you two weretogether, even if it was only once, and you had sparklings together."
"Yeah, as in us. You're our fraggin' genitors." Sunstreaker scowled at him. "Look, we get that you have to move on and all. Have real bondmates. But we've barely had time to adjust to the fact you're our genitors, and already we've got to think about step-genitors."
With a sudden flash of insight, Prowl realized that the twins were intimated by how quickly things were changing and afraid that their chance to emotionally bond with him would be lost. "I'm sorry. I'm not trying to overwhelm you." He hesitated. "You know, I'm setting aside time to go on these dates, but we need to set aside family time, too." A moment of silence followed, and Prowl knew he was being too obvious about recognizing their secret fears. "I'm quite serious. We can't become a family spontaneously. Thanks to my poor handling of things, we'll have to work at it and build a relationship on purpose. If you like."
Sunstreaker picked up his cloth and began polishing his foot, but the way Sideswipe blindly stared at his brother told Prowl that they were having a conversation over their bond.
Finally, Sideswipe nodded and looked at Prowl. "That makes sense. What are you thinking?"
Prowl smiled at them. "I'll let you choose the bonding activities. Just remember I'm not overly fond of high-grade, loud music, or parties."
Sideswipe grinned. "You forgot to exclude racing."
"Who said I don't like to race?" Prowl chuckled at their shocked expressions. Without preamble, he stood and headed to the door. "Well, thank you for letting me vent. I greatly appreciate it."
Sunstreaker looked up from his waxing and frowned, and Sideswipe jumped to his feet. "Wait, we didn't really help you."
Prowl paused at the door and shrugged faintly. "I'm not sure there's any help to be found. I don't even know if it's possible to bond with them, much less maintain a healthy relationship. For now, venting will have to suffice."
The twins didn't look to thrilled with this simple truth, but Prowl assured them that he was grateful and left to stew in his own processor a bit. Maybe a visit to Ratchet was in store later.
Few creatures in the universe were more stubborn than Sideswipe.
Unless, of course, one counted Sunstreaker.
"Let's go," Sunstreaker said, barely giving Prowl time to get to the elevator so he wouldn't see their exit. Abandoning his favorite wax on his berth, he stalked out of their room, his intentions ringing clear over their bond: they had to find a way to help Prowl.
Sideswipe didn't need to be told twice. As scared as he was of how quickly things were progressing, he wanted Prowl to be happy. Prowl had suffered far too much slag for any one, or two, mechs, and he deserved to find love. In Sideswipe's worldview, everyone deserved to find love.
They practically raced to the medbay, bursting through the doors like avenging sparks and startling Perceptor, who was bent over the main medical terminal.
"Ah, Sunstreaker, Sideswipe." Perceptor straightened and faced them, schooling his face to calmness. "How may I help you?"
Sunstreaker wasn't much for wasting time. "Ratchet!"
Perceptor jolted at his yell. "Ah, yes, he's in his office, working on a project. He — "
As though on cue, Ratchet burst from his door and stomped into the medbay proper. "What's all this yelling and bellyaching about?" He glared at the twins.
"It's about Prowl." Sideswipe decided he'd best take over before his brother lost patience. "We want to ask if it's possible for him to bond to two mechs at once. And, if necessary, let you study our sparks if you need to, you know, do research or something." He cringed faintly at the last part, although he knew Ratchet would never hurt him like the PSF had hurt Night Stalker and Maverick. And his brother.
Sunstreaker crossed his arms and stuck his nose in the air, which was as close as he was likely to get to openly agreeing.
Ratchet pondered them silently, Perceptor hovering at his side. A few moments later, Wheeljack entered as though summoned, which is exactly what Sideswipe suspected had happened. "Fine," Ratchet said. "Let's talk about twins and bonds. And I would like to run a sparkcode scan."
Sideswipe hopped up on the nearest medberth. "Okay. What do ya wanna know?"
Ratchet fingered his chin for a moment, then pulled a scanner from his subspace. "Well, I'm not entirely sure what questions I need to ask yet. So far I've been researching abnormal bonds, twins and bondmates."
"And?" At a far more sedate pace, Sunstreaker climbed onto the berth and sat beside his brother.
Ratchet slowly ran his scanner across Sideswipe's chest, paused, then repeated the process. "There are no accounts of twins successfully bonding to a single mech, although there were three such attempts. The theory was that since split spark twins are supposed to be one mech, then they counted as one mech and therefore had to bond — or could bond — to only a single other mech. Or, in a few cases, one of the rare femmes."
Sideswipe nodded. When he had first grown serious about Smokescreen, he'd done some research, albeit sloppily, of his own. "It should work, but it doesn't. They died."
"That's right." Wheeljack joined them, his audiofins flashing dimly as though he were deep in thought. "Apparently, once you're separated, even though you share the same sparkcode and spark frequency, you're granted two indelible personalities. Two bodies, two personalities, and therefore two bondmates."
Sunstreaker snorted. "Well, since I didn't fall for the same mech as Sides that seems obvious."
"Maybe." Sideswipe glanced at his brother. ::You have to admit something is weird, or we wouldn't have to share spark energy in order to live.::
::Yeah. And I still have no fraggin' idea how we'll explain that to Blue and Smokey.::Sunstreaker watched Ratchet as he scanned his chest instead.
"Maybe is right," Perceptor chimed in, folding his hands behind his back. "As Prowl's case so well proves, your sparks can't ultimately stay separated. You come into the universe as one, and you leave as one. To a certain extent, then, you areone. And yet, in every successful bonding of twins, the twins have each had their own, individual bondmates."
Ratchet nodded, subspacing his scanner again. "In both theory and practice, Night Stalker and Maverick must have their own bondmates. I say in practice because all previous twins have bonded to two bondmates. I say in theory because we've never had a situation quite like this one. Still, even combined as Prowl, Night Stalker and Maverick apparently still desire and draw two bondmates."
Swinging his legs, Sideswipe absently kicked the berth's pedestal. "So . . . Prowl really does have two sparks in his laser core, and we really are talking a four-way bond."
Ratchet sighed and leaned his hip against the berth, crossing his arms. "Here's where I get confused. I never detected, in any scan ever, the presence of two sparks in his laser core. I know what you two said you overheard Whisper telling Blackjack. And I know what you sensed when you interfaced with Prowl."
"Not like that!" Sunstreaker glared at Ratchet.
Wheeljack raised his hands in a calming fashion. "We know, we know."
Perceptor shook his head sadly. "It's so distressing how the word 'interface' has come to mean only one thing to most mechs."
"Whatever." Sunstreaker turned his glare upon the far wall.
"What I'm tryingto say," Ratchet interrupted, "is that I have to wonder if Maverick's spark is really there or if it's an echo left over in Night Stalker's."
Stunned, Sideswipe stared at him. "No way! It can't be. We could feelMaverick. And, well, Maverick is in love with Jazz."
Ratchet raised one finger. "Or Prowl himself is simply in love with two mechs at once, and unable to resolve his feelings, he explains them with what he perceives to be true."
For a moment, Sideswipe thought his processor might break. "No. No.It's more than Sunny and me feeling Maverick. Prowl told us stories of how Night and Mav shared his body at first and how the battle computer was programmed to merge them."
"Yeah." Sunstreaker frowned. "And Prowl says he's turning down the battle computer's strength to let either Mav or Night come out more. You know, when he's on dates."
"Primus!" Wheeljack shook his head.
"More pieces fit into the puzzle that is Prowl," Ratchet sighed. "I see. Prime and Jazz told me a quick, abridged version, I guess."
Sideswipe grimaced. "Well, okay. That brings us back to my question: can Prowl bond to both Optimus and Jazz at the same time. Since he's, like, two mechs in one?"
Perceptor folded his arms behind his back. "I'm not sure there's any other choice. You see, if he were a single mech, to do so would be suicide, just like the twins who tried to bond to one mech. Only Seekers can form trines, and even then, that is possible only because their sparks were altered in ancient times to do so. In all other cases, such as Nucleus Bonds, there must always be an even number of bondmates. If not, a dangerous imbalance in spark energy occurs and — "
"It's bad," Ratchet interrupted before Perceptor got too carried away. "I don't know if you're aware of this, but when one of you decides to bond, you'll both have to bond at once."
"Huh?" Sideswipe stopped kicking the berth and sat forward. "What do you mean?"
Sunstreaker's gaze was suddenly riveted to Ratchet, although he didn't say anything.
Ratchet gestured to their chests. "You already have a bond. Not a romantic one, but a bond nevertheless. If only one of you bonds, you'll create the same dangerous imbalance in spark energy. For example, if Sunny bonds to Blue, then excess spark energy will continually flow over your twin bond to you." He caught Sideswipe's gaze. "At first, it will simply make you ill. Then it will cause you seizures. Finally, it will kill you. And once it does, it will kill Sunny and Blue, too." His voice dropped. "Sound familiar?"
Sideswipe frowned. It did. It was the same progression of illness caused when his spark got out of alignment with his brother's, although it was from a vastly different cause. "Yeah, but . . ." He wasn't about to ask about twin spark merging in front of an audience, even though Prowl had assured them it was normal.
As though understanding the implied question, Ratchet shook his head, and Sideswipe suspected he still had no answer as to why such a thing was necessary. "Too many of our medical databases have been destroyed in this war."
::And wiped out by the PSF,:: Sunstreaker muttered over their bond. ::Fraggers. Would it really have hurt them to share some of that info?::
Sideswipe had to agree, but another question was bothering him. "So that means that Sunny, Blue, Smokey, and I will have a four-way bond?"
"In a sense," Wheeljack said, stepping forward. "But twin bonds are not romantic and therefore aren't counted legally. That's why nothing is ever said about it. Since Prowl is now a single mech, though, it will count as a Nucleus Bond in most mechs' optics."
"It's illegal?" Sideswipe was outraged. "It wouldn't be for Sunny and me! Why should it be any different for them?"
Wheeljack shrugged. "If it goes before the Council, I'll make an argument of exactly that kind. As far as I'm concerned, it isno different. It's not like Optimus and Jazz will be bonding to each other."
Perceptor raised one hand, thoughtfully tapping his finger against his lips. "Unless, of course, they have to literally all three — or four, I guess I should say — bond at once in order for Night Stalker to successfully connect with Optimus and Maverick to Jazz. After all, I don't see how the twins can separate sparks for the bonding process."
All four other mechs stared at Perceptor.
"Primus!" Ratchet muttered.
"Just what we need," Wheeljack sighed. "More complication."
"Jazz will be bonded to Optimus, too?" Sideswipe asked, stunned at the thought.
Sunstreaker shook his head. "Is there any other way?"
Wheeljack and Perceptor traded looks. "Well," Wheeljack said hesitantly. "We have been exploring the possibility of trying to split Maverick and Night Stalker back apart, and that's where studying you two might be helpful."
Sideswipe couldn't decide if the concept of splitting Prowl again was comforting or deeply creepy. "Whatever we can do to help." He knew Prowl wasn't entirely comfortable with the idea, and at the same time, Prowl had told them how Night Stalker and Maverick wished they could speak to each other again. Sideswipe shuddered, feeling unable to imagine a Pit lower than being having his twin bond silenced. Even a simple situation like Sunstreaker being in stasis could make his circuits crawl. When unable to fully access their bond, he always felt tense and jumpy, and the sensation it produced was akin to suffocation. A lifetime of that suffocation? No, he thought, his determination to help his genitor intensifying. Prowl deserves happiness!
"But . . ." Wheeljack trailed off.
"But what?" came a smooth baritone voice from the doorway.
Sideswipe glanced over everyone's heads, his spark giving a strange, tiny leap at hearing his genitor's voice. What had before been a painful longing in his spark had turned instead to a warm buzz. "Prowl!" Primus, he thought, still wistful. I'd do anything to be closer to him.In a sense, he feared it would be a form of self-sacrifice to help Prowl work out a relationship with Optimus and Jazz, although he believed it was the right thing to do and wanted him to be happy.
Prowl crossed the room, his arms folded tightly over his chest. "I thought I'd come hear what you have to say on the subject." He leaned his hip against the berth that Sideswipe was sitting on, his doorwing nearly brushing Sideswipe's knee, and frowned at the assembled department heads. "Seems like I've arrived just in time."
"The 'but' is that I'm worried about it," Wheeljack said. "There are just so many questions. Can Maverick's spark be extracted from your body? Put into a new one? Somehow, I doubt it since you're reconnected now. And even if I built a body based on your specs, we'd have to try to download all of your memories to it to recreate an adult, mature, intelligent mech. On top of that, Mav and Night together make up you, Prowl, our Chief Tactician and SIC. Even if Maverick could be accepted by the crew, wouldn't your skill set shift? Night Stalker or Maverick might still be the SIC, but would the other be the CT? Could one of you alone even run Prowl's battle computer? Plus there's no guarantee the split could be made permanent or that Night Stalker's spark wouldn't get damaged or lost in the process. Or Maverick's either, for that matter." He paused, his shoulders slumping. "Plus, even if I can build such a device, I have no way to safely test it."
Prowl remained deadly silent through the entire spiel, and Sideswipe watched him closely. Their genitor-sparkling bond was barely open, but even he could tell that Prowl was secretly terrified. It worried him, making him want to fight someone on Prowl's behalf. The problem was there was no one to fight. "You don't have to do this," he whispered, squeezing Prowl's arm. "No one expects you to put your life in danger."
Prowl gave him a tiny, sad smile, and he felt like his spark would break. "I know," he said quietly. He glanced back at Ratchet. "Please focus your attention on researching unusual bonds." Without another word, he turned and left.
Sideswipe watched the black and white form slip from the room, those doorwings still hanging low, and vowed to himself that he would see Prowl be happy even if he had to beat up Prime himself.
A quiet moan escaped those beautiful, beautiful lips, and Optimus felt his engine turn over. No one was as gorgeous as Prowl, and Prowl was never so gorgeous as when he was in pleasure. Optimus licked the rim of Prowl's headlight again, wanting nothing more than to bring the special mech in his arms greater and greater pleasure. He wanted to devote his life to it, trace his love over Prowl's body every night, show him just how deeply he affected him.
Optimus banished, for the moment, the thought that those nights would have to be shared with another. That he couldn't, in fact, have Prowl every night because half that time would belong to Jazz.
Shifting on Prime's lap, Prowl pressed up into his touch, his doorwings arching out behind him and trembling with building passion. The sight and feel of it made Optimus want to make love to him on the spot, but he understood — and respected — that Prowl wasn't quite ready yet. He'd be lying if he said he didn't miss interfacing, but Optimus considered it dishonorable to rush a lover. And that was why, when Prowl squeezed his shoulders, Optimus released him without complaint.
"Sorry," Prowl whispered, breathless. "I can't quite explain . . . I mean, as Night Stalker it seems that I — "
"You don't need to explain," Optimus said gently. Although he couldn't put words to it, he believed deep in his spark that interfacing was a sacred act, just shy of sparkbonding, that created a bond of its own. The idea of Prowl's being uncomfortable during such an experience was disturbing at best.
Prowl smiled up at him, love shining in his optics, and leaned into his side. After a moment of peaceful silence, he spoke again. "You picked a lovely spot."
Cherishing the feel of Prowl's warmth against his plating, Optimus returned the smile. "Yes, it definitely is." They were sitting on a wooded cliff high above the Pacific Ocean. Behind them in the forest, crickets sang a chorus of chirps and leaves tussled in the breeze, while below them the sun seemed to slowly sink into the ocean, casting a crimson glow across the horizon.
Pressing his hand to Optimus' grille, Prowl leisurely traced the slats there. "I can tell you that it's been millennia since I, as Night, felt so peaceful."
Optimus shivered, torn between warning Prowl how sensitive his grille was and letting him continue with the touches. Prowl had already discovered just how arousing lips on his finials were. However, before Prime could make up his mind, Prowl removed his hand and shifted restlessly. "What is it?" Optimus asked, concerned.
"I need to talk to you." Prowl frowned. "About the spark device and the concept of splitting me back into twins."
Leaning back against the tree, Optimus nodded. "Certainly. What's on your processor?"
Prowl's doorwings hiked up high on his back, betraying his stress. "I don't think splitting me will work. On multiple counts."
"How so?" Optimus hadn't allowed himself to consider the implications of his idea, and he realized suddenly his avoidance was creating issues. He hadto consider all the factors in any decision, perhaps especially one concerning someone he loved.
"Think about it." Prowl frowned. "If you could split us, there would be no more master tactician. Maverick is your SIC. He's the one with the ambition and desire to lead. We were Special Ops before, but if I were separate again . . ." He pursed his lips. "I would pursue a degree in psychology. Probably specifically counseling."
"That would be nice," Optimus said, imagining a quieter, softer Prowl fulfilling such a role. "Primus knows we could use a licensed one. Not to insult Smokescreen, because he does better than we have the right to expect, but he really doesn't have the credentials." He sighed, knowing it was nothing more than a daydream. "But we can't sacrifice our head tactician, either. You're what keeps us alive most orns." He watched Prowl closely. "You could just do what you're already doing. Turn down the battle computer and let Maverick or Night Stalker step forward."
Prowl frowned. "Yes, it does feel natural to be one again. But it's also true that Mav and I can't lead our own lives anymore, and we also can't talk over our bond."
"There is another option." Optimus straightened, still trying to work around the problem. "Remove the battle computer. It will return you to the way you were." He paused, reconsidering his own proposal. "No, never mind. Once again it poses the problem of losing our Chief Tactician."
"We can't," Prowl agreed, his doorwings flopping downward to lie flat on his back. "It will make me look like Prowl — I mean me — like I have a split personality and give me a half-life. I could handle it, I know, and Night and Mav would be able to talk over the bond again. But, as you say, the Chief Tactician will be lost. This means potentially more losses to the 'Cons, more deaths among the troops, and a reduction in my overall efficiency. Plus it doesn't solve the issue of you and Jazz bonding to a single mech because we will still only have one body."
Optimus nodded silently, doing his best to keep up with the swiftly changing pronouns. Prowl took turns, it seemed, referring to himself as Prowl and as Night Stalker, just depending on the flow of the conversation. It was easy for Optimus to grow confused.
"No. I can't do this." Prowl met Prime's gaze. "I can't let the Autobots lose their CT or risk a loss of efficiency. There are lives at stake here."
"I agree." Optimus sighed and looked away, glancing out over the ocean. The water was turning navy blue with the onset of night, and the waves beat rhythmically upon the shore. This really wasn't the future he'd imagined, and he had hoped to find a better solution. However, clearly that wasn't going to happen, and as good as he was at managing conflicts and generating resolutions, Optimus wasn't sure he could handle a lifetime of balancing a three-way relationship. That didn't change the fact he loved Prowl and wanted to be with him, though. He sighed again, unable to see a solution yet.
Prowl stood abruptly and walked to the edge of the cliff. "I know this is an imposition for you. I apologize for being such a bother."
Startled, Optimus realized that his sighs had been understood a bit too well. "It's not that, although I admit this is a quite a problem we have. There's much to consider."
Facing him, Prowl drew his shoulders back. "I know, but I have to admit that I'm taken aback that you've asked me to become someone else. I'm beginning to feel like you're unhappy with who I am or are not accepting who I am."
"No, not at all," Optimus immediately answered, stung. He stood as well. "I'm adjusting as quickly as I can." The frustration he secretly felt began to slip through. "But I can't adjust instantly. Do you really expect me to?" He sensed that his patience was frayed, but he couldn't quite hold back the words. "You didn't trust me with who you are, you technically saw someone behind my back, and in order to have you at all I have to share you with someone else." His growing tirade screeched to a halt as Prowl flinched and turned away. That is a selfish thought, Prime chastised himself silently. I'm ignoring who Prowl is, which is who I fell in love with. With a jolt, Optimus realized what he'd been missing this entire time, what he knew but actually wasn'taccepting: ultimately, he was in love with Prowl, not just Night Stalker alone.
Prowl's doorwings trembled faintly, and he crossed his arms, not looking Prime's way. "I realize this is not easy for you." His tone was deadly calm, low, quiet. "And I'm sorry I couldn't be perfect, handle this perfectly, be that pristine tactical officer and SIC." He turned slowly, optics narrowed and glowing fiercely. "But this is difficult for me, too. Jazz is vacillating, and you want to turn me into someone else. It feels like your love for me is slipping away or that it's conditional."
"No, I do love you!" Optimus reached out, his natural impulse as a lover taking over. He always wanted to touch: to hug, to hold, to physically comfort. "I fell in love with Prowl. Not just Night Stalker, but Prowl. The whole you."
Stepping away, Prowl avoided his touch, silently rebuffing him this time. "Then why do you want to split me apart?" His gaze fell to the ground, his voice dropping to a whisper. "Don't you see how dangerous this is? Did you stop to consider how terrifying I find this?" He met Prime's gaze again, his voice growing louder. "I don't want my spark experimented with again! I'd rather be shot dead by Megatron."
Optimus understood that his words sounded flimsy and that he'd had his revelation too late. He had so much confidence in Ratchet and Wheeljack he hadn't stopped to consider that it might scare Prowl. In fact, he'd been so focused on finding a solution to their problem that he hadn't stopped to ask Prowl how he felt. "I'm sorry. I really wasn't thinking it through. Of course you shouldn't do anything you feel uncomfortable with."
Pausing, Prowl watched his face closely, as though trying to see into him. "It's a relief to hear you say that, but . . ." He trailed off and sighed, seeming suddenly tired, almost older.
"What do youwant?" Optimus ventured, worried by Prowl's silence.
Prowl shook his head. "I don't know anymore." Even his voice sounded flat, as though most of his spark energy had been drained away. "Let's go back to base. I'm exhausted." Without waiting for a reply, he transformed and drove away.
Transforming as well, Optimus followed him, realizing that in his push to solve one problem he'd created a second one.
Standing at attention, Shockwave waited for the space bridge's elevator to open. This was perhaps the most important moment of his plan: he had to draw Megatron and Soundwave to Cybertron and trap them there. Therefore, under the guise of demonstrating a new weapon he'd designed and built, Shockwave had asked for an orn of Megatron's time. By giving said weapon a telepathic component, Shockwave had secured Soundwave's presence also.
The space bridge hummed to life, its circuits pulsing with energy. "Perfect," he congratulated himself. In just a few astroseconds they would arrive. Starscream's and his plan was proceeding beautifully.
Although he didn't trust Starscream, Shockwave knew he could 'trust' one thing: Starscream would betray Megatron. Add in the lure of bonding — Starscream had always hated Megatron for outlawing it before he could bond with his trine — and the traitor was jumping at the chance to help Shockwave overthrow Megatron. Of course, Shockwave knew Starscream would try to murder him once their coup was finished, but he also knew he could defeat the SIC easily, especially with the troops now rallying behind his call. After all, both Megatron and Starscream had been absent for four millennia, leaving Shockwave an excessive amount of time to build rapport with the troops.
All Shockwave had to do was keep Megatron and Soundwave out of the way. By trapping them on Cybertron in a specially built room, which was the room where the supposed weapon was kept, Shockwave would do just that. He knew Megatron's and Soundwave's specs well enough to build them the ideal prison.
With a swooshing sound, the spacebridge door opened, and Megatron and Soundwave stalked into the room.
"Let's not waste time," Megatron said, his voice easily filling the room. The voice of a commander.
But Shockwave had something that Megatron did not: logic. Pure, perfect logic. Where Megatron capitulated into emotional hysterics, Shockwave held fast with patience, reason, and science.
"This way, Lord Megatron," he said, smiling internally and gesturing toward the hallway. And so began the completion of a flawless plan.
And now for Earth, Prime, and the total destruction of the Autobots.