Title: What You Need


Rating: T

Pairing/Characters: Ironhide/Optimus, Sam/Mikaela, Ratchet, ensemble

Summary: An answer to a prompt on the LJ kink meme, asking for Optimus to sire Matrix-worthy sparklings with another mech from the original cast.

'Verse: movie

Warnings: slash, plug-n-play, sparksex, mpreg

Author's Notes: Many of the birth concepts here are from asher119's story, Unintended, the concepts are laid out in The_Science_to_Transformers under her profile here on FFN. I also used concepts from chibirisuchan's story, Aeos. Both authors kindly gave me permission to use their concepts; any mistakes are solely mine and not theirs. You should go read their stories – both authors are fantastic and much better writers than I am.

"You need to get 'faced."

Optimus Prime gave a short bark of laughter, an abrupt exhalation of atmosphere through his vents, punctuating his reaction to Ironhide's terse comment.

"No, old friend, I need to be smarter about Megatron's plans. There must be something I can do better." Optimus dug through the data pads littering his desk, searching for Trailbreaker's latest analysis of Megatron's actions.

Ironhide moved from the doorway where he was fulfilling his duty as the Prime's bodyguard and laid his hand on Optimus' shoulder.

"Stop. Optimus, stop."

The Prime froze, his head dropping down. Ironhide tugged him back, maneuvering him until he could wrap his arms around him. The Prime resisted for a few seconds, then abruptly wrapped his arms around Ironhide and held him tightly.

After a breem, Ironhide moved his hands, stroking along Optimus' back plates. The Prime leaned into the touches, but when Ironhide moved to a side seam and stroked, Optimus pulled back.

"No." Optimus grasped Ironhide's hands and pulled them together, placing their entwined hands on his chest.

Ironhide tilted his head back slightly to look up at Optimus. "Why not? Are you saving yourself for Elita One?"

Optimus shook his head sadly, "No, Ironhide. That's not the reason."

Ironhide stepped forward and pressed himself against Optimus and asked, "Why not, then? I want it, Optimus, and you need it."

Optimus took a moment to compose himself, his thumbs stroking along Ironhide's hands. "I…do you know what the Matrix wants?"

Bewildered, Ironhide said, "No, I don't."

Optimus smiled sadly, "It wants more Primes. Or, at least, more Prime-worthy mechs."

"Alright." Ironhide waited for the other cog to break.

Optimus sighed, "Any mech it deems worthy it will force a sparkling upon, a Prime-worthy sparkling. I would not wish that on any mech, especially not in a war situation."

Ironhide absorbed the startling news in silence before stepping back. "I understand. I'm sorry I overstepped my bounds, Prime."

Optimus released him, the mantle of leadership cloaking him again, straightening his shoulders and deepening his voice. "Of course, old friend. Now, let's get back to business."

Ironhide shook his head. "No, you really do need to rest. At the very least, you need to take time to defrag your processor and recharge your systems. I insist."

Optimus paused; overwhelmed by their recent defeat, by the blow to the head he'd taken, by the injuries acquired in the most recent foray for energon and decided, "You're right. Thank you, Ironhide."

Ironhide dipped his head in a slight bow. "Just doing my duty, Prime."

Optimus replied, "You always take care of me, and I appreciate it. Thank you."

Ironhide nodded and took up his post at the Prime's door, sliding into his role as bodyguard. "You're welcome, Optimus. Get some recharge, now. We need you."

Optimus nodded and entered his small recharge chamber, closing the door behind him and sinking into a deep recharge as soon as he was horizontal.

Ironhide pondered the concept of the Matrix of Leadership having that much of a say in the making of Primes. He'd always thought that Primes were chosen at random, the mech chosen then reformatted to bear the demands of leadership. He'd never thought that there was enough of an independent entity to have its own ideas what would make a good Prime, much less enough intelligence for it to force a sparkling on a mech during interfacing. He shivered at the thought.

"C'mon, Optimus. We're almost there, just a couple of steps more." Ironhide urged Optimus through the doorway. Optimus leaned on him, his systems still recovering from the hit he'd taken from Megatron's cannon and the resulting surgery Ratchet had to perform on him. Ironhide coaxed him onto the berth, helping him get his legs up and covering him with the light blanket Ratchet had sent so his systems could concentrate on self-repair rather than on keeping his body at optimal temperature. Ironhide locked the door and dimmed the lights in the outer room, then came into the berth room, gazing down at his Prime for a long time before lying down next to him, plastering himself along Optimus' back plates. He initiated a light recharge for himself, draping his arm over Optimus in a protective gesture.

Optimus came out of recharge warm, refreshed and unexpectedly comfortable. He wondered why he was hearing the soft exhalations of another mech, but his processor was foggy and he couldn't figure out why. He simply snuggled closer and let his processor drift, allowing it to initiate at its own pace rather than forcing a boot-up.

Optimus sank back into recharge, feeling safe and comforted.

When he finally came out of recharge, the wonderful warmth was gone and he was alone in his berth. He rolled onto his back, deciding that it must have been processor ghosts remembering when he was a youngling and one of his creators would cuddle with him.

A faint noise came from the front room of his small suite, the room he used as an office away from his office. He rolled his helm that way, unsurprised when Ironhide's form filled the doorway, a warmed cube of energon in his hands.

"You're out of recharge. Good. Drink this." Ironhide brought over the cube, sitting on the edge of the berth and holding it until Optimus could get himself in a position to drink it. Optimus took the cube once he was upright and sipped at it, making a face at the unusual taste.

"It's got some compounds that will help your self-repair systems. Ratchet brought it over for you."

"How is Ratchet?" Optimus queried him, remembering that his CMO had still been elbow deep in a mech's innards when he'd sent Optimus from the medbay.

"He's tired. They just finished the most critically wounded, and he's off to get a few joors of recharge before continuing. Hoist is in charge of the medbay and Spanner's coming up from Iacon to help out. Ratchet's got procedures in-place and they're doing well."

Optimus grunted, thinking about what came next. The Autobots had won this skirmish, despite his wounds, and he wanted to consolidate their progress. He finished the cube and moved to set it aside. Ironhide intercepted it and took the cube away, returning quickly.

"To the office? Prowl's already worked up the tactical situation, and Jazz is back." Ironhide reported.

Optimus nodded and moved off the berth, staggering a little bit. Ironhide moved quickly, offering his shoulder as a support that Optimus gladly took advantage of, clasping his shoulder until his gyros could stabilize. Once he was stable he moved out, Ironhide trailing closely behind.

Slowly, Ironhide worked his way into Optimus' life. He brought cubes of energon when Optimus was low on fuel, he would polish the grime from Optimus' back plates while Optimus went over data pads at his desk, he'd nag Optimus into recharging when the duties of leadership would cause Optimus to ignore the warnings of low charge. He also was a stalwart support during battles, staying near but not too near, always ready to lead a company of mechs out to try and accomplish Optimus' goals. He became such a presence, quiet and solid, that unconsciously Optimus always expected him to be near, missing him fiercely when he had to send Ironhide out to other outposts. But the times when Optimus truly appreciated Ironhide's support was during the worst duty a leader could have, the touring of the wounded after a battle.

"You did well today, Scut. Without your team, the battle would have been lost." Optimus said, crouching down beside a blunt, heavy mech.

"Half my team was lost," was Scut's weary reply.

"Yes, I know. I'm sorry," Optimus rumbled quietly, "is there anything I can do to help?"

Scut peered up at him, a broken energon line in his helm obscuring one optic. Optimus hastily dug in his subspace for a clean cloth, gently wiping the energon away.

"Yeah, there is. There's a new team in, right? The scientists rescued from Polyhex Academy, right?"

"Yes, that is correct." Optimus replied.

"I've heard there's a guy there that's a genius with explosives. I want access to him. If we could have put those charges in sooner, or from further away, I wouldn't have lost so many guys. Having the ability to coordinate with other teams would have helped, too." Scut summed up his opinion quickly. He was badly damaged, but by now, Optimus was pretty good at figuring out Ratchet's triage system, and Scut was in the section of mechs that were badly damaged but repairable, just not critical. Optimus had already made his way through the mechs that, in the medical team's opinion, were too far gone to save. That was always his first duty and the most difficult. Now he was going through everyone else, seeking out key mechs and getting their first impressions, which he would act upon before they were even out of the medbay. This type of hands-on interaction had already led to a very tight unit, everyone feeling like they were a person to their own leader, not just a faceless, nameless cog in the ever grinding military machine the Autobots were becoming.

"Those are good ideas, Scut. We'll address them quickly." Optimus looked over his shoulder. Ironhide had a data pad and was already finished inputting the new information into it. The data was shared with a few select mechs on Optimus' team – Prowl, Jazz, Ironhide himself, Ratchet, and Perceptor. Each of those mechs would share down their chain of command and relay up the chain the ideas generated by their teams. Optimus attended team meetings as often as he could given the time constraints of his own duties.

They continued moving through the rows of stretchers, Optimus speaking a few words to every single mech, while Ironhide used his datapad to communicate ideas to the command team.

When he finally finished his tour, Optimus straightened up slowly, joints and servos creaking as they were unkinked from a crouching position. Ironhide quietly put a hand under Optimus' elbow, unobtrusively giving his leader support and transmitting an update at the same time. Nodding at the contents of the transmission, Optimus moved to speak with one of the medics, a new mech unknown to him. He introduced himself and asked a couple of quick questions before sending the medic back to his duties. Ironhide hid a grin at the starstruck expression on the medic's face before following Optimus out of the room.

Once out of sight, Optimus sagged against the wall.

"So many, 'Hide. How many will I send to be killed before we win this war?"

Ironhide didn't answer the rhetorical question, simply clasping Optimus' shoulder and letting his presence sooth the Prime.

Optimus didn't wallow. He stood up and continued moving, Ironhide a steady follower at his shoulder.

Their next battle was worse. Megatron did not take his defeat lightly and his army was savage in their attacks. Megatron himself was targeting Optimus Prime, and finally, Ironhide stepped in front of the Prime, absorbing Megatron's shot with his own body. Optimus screamed in fury as his bodyguard dropped, and Prowl caught a glimpse of the shock Megatron displayed briefly as Optimus savagely attacked, doing his best to rend Megatron into his component parts in response. Megatron had his experience in the gladiator pits, but Optimus attacked with raw power and all the endless joors of training he'd undergone, smashing his way through Megatron's defense and putting the Decepticon leader into a defensive position. Megatron finally caught hold of Optimus' arm plating, but the Autobot leader pulled away, ripping the plating himself and ignoring the pain, using Megatron's surprise to continue his attack. He finally called a retreat when Optimus caught one of his abdominal plates, tearing it from his protoform and causing energon to spray out of a torn line. Optimus howled in glee, his fingers hooking to attack the vulnerable spot. Megatron snarled and struck a savage blow to Optimus' neck cables, causing him to reel back and allowing Megatron to disengage.

Panting atmosphere to cool himself, Optimus staggered over to Ironhide. Ratchet was already there, plating detached and elbow deep in Ironhide as two other mechs worked to get Ironhide on a stretcher. Optimus was shocked to see a glimmer of blue-white light under Ratchet's arms; Ironhide's spark casing had been breached by the shot from Megatron's cannon. Stunned, Optimus fell back as Ironhide was rushed to surgery under Ratchet's guidance.

Later, after the battle wound down, Optimus did his customary tour of the wounded, but his time, he desperately missed Ironhide's steady presence. Prowl had stepped forward to do this duty with him, but it wasn't the same. Prowl competently kept track of the ideas and thoughts, but he didn't step forward and sooth an upset mech as Ironhide would do, relieving Optimus of that time spent. This time, Optimus had to do that himself, and he found it even more wearing than just talking with other mechs. One of the less wounded mechs finally made his way over and took over the soothing, allowing Optimus to continue his tour.

At the end, Optimus stood and surveyed the wounded. There were fewer than usual, evidence of the relative shortness of this particular battle. The newer medic, Throttle, came over to give Optimus an update on the wounded in surgery.

"…and Ironhide is the most badly wounded. Ratchet is working on him and has managed to stabilize his spark, so I expect he'll be done soon. Was there anything else, Prime?"

"No, thank you, Throttle. I appreciate the update." Optimus nodded and took his leave, quietly moving out into the hallway. Once he was around the corner, he sagged against the wall.

"Optimus?" Prowl queried.

Startled, Optimus jerked away from the wall, looking at his second with wide optics. He had forgotten that it wasn't Ironhide, who would have quietly waited until Optimus had partitioned the memories away, ever accessible but set aside to mourn the dead later, when he didn't have to focus on the living.

"Give me…give me a breem, Prowl." Optimus stammered out.

"Of course, Prime." Prowl moved back smoothly, leaning against the wall and plunging himself into the intricacies of his datapad.

Optimus returned to his task, missing the calm, unquestioning presence of Ironhide.

Two cycles later, Ratchet was ready to release Ironhide.

"Now, you go straight to your quarters and recharge. I don't want you doing anything for the next cycle, and you'll be on light duty for ten cycles after that. Do you hear me, Ironhide?"

"Yeah, Ratch, I hear ya." Ironhide eased himself to his pedes prior to making his slow way out of the medbay.

"I'll be sure he follows your orders, Ratchet." Optimus' rumble was a surprise to both Ratchet and Ironhide, and they both turned to stare at him. He stepped forward and offered an arm to Ironhide.

"Shall we, old friend?"

Ironhide gazed up at Optimus, seeing only calm certainty. He clasped Optimus' arm and accepted the support.

Optimus didn't take him to his own quarters, instead escorting Ironhide to the Prime's quarters and putting him in his own berth. Ironhide protested. Optimus' response startled him and caused him to be quiet.

"You don't recharge in there, anyway. You recharge on the floor in front of my door. The only time you're in a berth is when you're with me after I've been wounded. So don't be ridiculous. Lie down and get some recharge. I'll join you after I've finished this analysis from Prowl." Optimus retrieved a datapad from the front room and settled on the berth, his back propped against the wall.

Ironhide lay there for a breem, the only sound the click of Optimus' finger against the buttons on the datapad. He drifted into a light recharge under the blanket, stirring when Optimus finally set the pad aside and slid down on the berth. Ironhide felt himself wrapped in warm arms, spooned by a big body and safe. The lights in the room faded to complete darkness, and Ironhide followed them down, heading into a deep, healing recharge.

He awoke joors later, still cocooned in Optimus' arms. He savoured the feeling as he ran diagnostics and allowed his processor a slow boot-up. He finally on-lined his optics to see Optimus looking at him, a serious expression on his face. He gave him a small quirk of his lip plates and Optimus frowned at him.

"Don't scare me like that again."

Ironhide defended himself without heat. "You are more important than I am. I will always take the shot for you, Optimus."

Optimus shuttered his optics and murmured, "I wish you wouldn't."

Ironhide snorted, "On this, we'll have to agree to disagree, because I'm not changing my processor on this topic."

"Alright. Now, let me get you some energon. Ratchet's already stopped by with the supplements."

Optimus moved off the berth, leaving Ironhide still wrapped in the light blanket. He felt overly warm, though, and discarded it before Optimus returned with a cube of energon and the tubule of supplements.

"Thanks, Optimus," Ironhide said, sitting up and taking the cube before deftly adding the supplements and swirling the cube to dissolve the nutrients. He gulped it quickly so he wouldn't taste the bitterness that came from these supplements.

"Ah, I wondered. They taste terrible. I'll have to learn how to drink it like that." Optimus commented as he watched.

Ironhide made a face as he lowered the cube. "They work, so it's worth the taste."

"I suppose." Optimus stood and offered his hand, helping Ironhide stand. "You're not supposed to do anything this cycle, so will you come with me and just sit in my office?"

"Yeah, I will." Ironhide responded, stepping forward. Optimus took the hint and led the way out of his chambers, heading for the main portion of the base.

When Ironhide was sent off for a quarter vorn to help at Altihex, Optimus missed him with a spark-deep ache. He watched some of his officers enter relationships with others and the good ones, the best ones, made each member stronger. For the first time, he rued the cycle he'd taken on the mantle of leadership by accepting the Matrix. Forcing back those regrets, he focused on being the best leader he could be. But he ached to share his burden as others were doing.

Ironhide returned to a smile and an arm clasp from Optimus before resuming his unobtrusive presence by Optimus' side.

They never spoke of what they thought, but the next time they moved, Ironhide refused quarters and moved his small pack of supplies into a corner of Optimus' front room. They continued as they had for vorns, Ironhide moving quietly and serenely in Optimus' wake.

Optimus heard the gossip, that Ironhide was his lover. He'd open his mouth plates to refute it, but always close them again. The gossip didn't seem to bother Ironhide at all, and what could Optimus say? So he let it be and tried to emulate Ironhide's blithe disregard.

Then came the terrible decision to send the Allspark into a wormhole and the aftermath – Bumblebee unable to speak, Optimus regretting his decision, Ironhide, Ratchet and Jazz scattered all over the galaxy and Megatron having followed the Allspark into the wormhole.

When Ironhide, Jazz and Ratchet finally made their way back to Cybertron, Optimus' face plates lit up for a moment. He controlled his expression, clasping arms with each of them, but that night he pulled Ironhide into a hard hug, burying his face in Ironhide's neck and just staying there for a long time. Ironhide wrapped his arms around Optimus and just clung.

After Ironhide's absence, Optimus gave up all pretense of not being in love with Ironhide. He couldn't protect him, though, from the war that still raged between the Autobots and the Decepticons. Word came of a possible location of the Allspark, and Optimus assembled a team. He was going to leave Ironhide behind so he couldn't be accused of favoritism, but Ironhide argued eloquently for a place on the team in front of the entire command team. It was acknowledged that he was the best heavy weapons mech possible, and if they were going to send the best with Optimus from all the other specialties, they should send Ironhide.

So Ironhide went. The team was Optimus, Jazz, Ironhide, Ratchet and Bumblebee.

Their team made its way through space on the Ark, one of several small ships sent to various points in the universe to try and find the Allspark. They had drawn the most likely prospect, but they continued to check leads as they made their way through space. They clashed with the Nemesis under the command of Starscream, and the two ships danced through the universe, each trying to avoid the other.

Finally, they found the planet they were looking for and were surprised to find a sentient species inhabiting the planet. They watched from a planet further out in the system before carefully moving the Ark closer until it was hidden behind the planet's moon. They found Cybertronian glyphs scanned in as image captures in the systems of the government of one of the dominant nations on the planet. Optimus and Ratchet argued that this did not mean that the Allspark was here, while Jazz argued loudly that there was no way any species could make this up without a go-by, and the Allspark must be here. Ironhide watched the two sides carefully, but Jazz was able to sway Optimus to his way of thinking.

After their discussion, Bumblebee made his way down in his role as scout and began to track the few leads they had found. He started with Archibald Witwicky and began to trace the man's descendents, tracking each branch of the family to see if they had been the ones to inherit the effects of the man that had obviously seen the Allspark. Bumblebee was uncertain what the ice man was, but he sent up progress reports, quick bursts of compressed data that kept the team updated.

Jazz wanted to continue to research, but Optimus argued that they had an obligation to not interfere with any sentient species, and mining their information systems was interference. Jazz sulked, but did as ordered.

They waited. It took three planetary revolutions around their star for Bumblebee to finally find the branch of the family that had inherited Archibald Witwicky's personal effects. The youngest member of the family, Samuel James Witwicky, was trying to sell the items and Bumblebee had to move quickly. Optimus tight-beamed him to act as Sam's guardian, because they had just picked up the energy signature of the Nemesis, and things were about to get dicey.

Throughout the entire episode, Ironhide stayed close to Optimus, doing his best to give his support and help Optimus stay focused.

"Cycles of just sitting around, and now the 'Cons show up." Jazz grumbled. They were locking the Ark down and shielding her, preparing to make their way down to the planet's surface. Jazz was leaving some very clever traps for any 'Con that might try to break into the Ark's mainframe, while Ironhide and Ratchet were rigging physical traps to try and stop any mech from being able to access the Ark's computer system.

Finally ready, they made their way out the airlock and cycled the door shut, then watched silently as the ship winked out of existence behind the most powerful shields they could put up. As a group, they made their way around the moon, waiting for Bumblebee's signal to aim themselves for a landing.

Meeting Sam and Mikaela was, in Ironhide's opinion, quite interesting. Sam seemed to have no fear of a being five times taller than he was, and treated Optimus as an equal. The discovery that the ice man was Megatron was a shock to everyone, as was the discovery that the humans had the Allspark in the same place as Megatron. The rest of the team was already on their way, due to Optimus' reading of the glyphs on the glasses Sam had dropped, but Bumblebee's data burst had them moving at speeds human vehicles could never have matched.

The entire Mission City episode was hard on Ironhide, first because of Optimus' threat to merge the Allspark with his own spark, and secondly because Optimus ordered him to stay with Sam and the cube while Optimus covered their retreat. Ironhide's spark clenched with dread until he finally saw Optimus again, whole and unharmed. Ratchet just gave him a look that Ironhide ignored.

Jazz's death was a blow to all of them, but especially Optimus, although he hid it for the humans. Afterward, hidden in a hanger on Nellis AFB, Optimus curled in Ironhide's arms and mourned his lively lieutenant. Ratchet fixed his body, and they put him in a trailer and buried him at sea, the rest of the team watching in silence as the silvery trailer disappeared into the depths of the water.

For a while, Ironhide thought that Optimus was recovering until more Decepticons arrived on Earth, brought not only by Optimus' call, but by someone called the Fallen. Megatron's resurrection was a surprise, and Ratchet offered tentative hope that the same could be done for Jazz.

Then came the battle in the forest and Optimus was pierced through the spark trying to save Sam. After getting the young man to safety, Ironhide returned to his fallen leader and mourned deeply the loss of their Prime and his love.

Sam offered them hope, and they seized it. Ironhide was furious at the humans' treatment of their Prime's body and was ready to go on a rampage. Only his training as a soldier allowed him the restraint he needed, and Captain Lennox came through for them, figuring out how to get Sam, the Matrix of Leadership, and Optimus together again. He had always thought the Matrix was a figurative thing, something that Primes were given access to somehow. He'd never thought it was an actual artifact, but Sam used it to bring Optimus back, and Ironhide could feel his spark swelling in response as Optimus came out of the stasis and awoke, the piece of the Matrix in his spark responding to the entire object in a manner most satisfactory to Ironhide.

Afterward, they retreated to the base they shared with the humans on Diego Garcia. They had been given a corner of the main hanger to live in, but Ratchet had quickly negotiated for a hanger of their own, smaller than the main one but still large enough for them all to transform to their root modes. Given the hanger, they quickly made quarters for themselves and a medbay for Ratchet. Ironhide shared quarters with Optimus again, no mech questioning the arrangement. Ironhide stayed close to Optimus, but tried not to hover.

An Earth week after the events in Egypt, Optimus came back to their hanger after another fruitless call with the humans in charge. He was tired, discouraged, and aching. He still had pain from his encounter with Megatron in the forest, and while he'd fought well in the desert, Ratchet was still repairing his body and chewing him out for neglecting his own well-being.

Optimus sighed and Ironhide stepped forward, reassuring Ratchet that he would make sure that Optimus got a full recharge cycle in. Ratchet gave him another look, which Ironhide returned with as much innocence as he could muster.

Ratchet nodded. "Fine. What you need, Prime, is a good 'face and a long recharge. I know it's too much to hope for the interface, but do try for the recharge, hm?"

Optimus wearily agreed. "Yes, Ratchet."

Ratchet left them, Ironhide and Optimus were in the main room of the hanger, but everyone else was gone, either in their quarters or out with the humans.

Ironhide looked at Optimus and told him, "Ratchet's right. C'mon, Optimus."

Optimus stopped him with touch to his arm. "I…"

Ironhide froze, his spark leaping momentarily. "You…?"

"I do want to interface. With you."

Ironhide couldn't stop himself from moving into Optimus' arms. "Yes."

Optimus moved back slightly. "I can't do a spark merge. The Matrix of Leadership is even stronger now that the fragment I've carried for so long has been recharged by contact with the entire thing. I don't even know if we can do a data exchange without sparking, but I want to try."

"No sparks. Fair enough. Come with me, Optimus." Ironhide took Optimus' hand and led them back to their shared quarters.

They entered their quarters; Ironhide radiated calm patience while Optimus felt tingles throughout his frame. After vorns, he would get to touch. He drew in a deep volume of air, seeking to cool his rapidly heating body.

Ironhide turned before the doorway to the berth room and smiled a little quirk of his lip plates. Optimus strode through the room, barely remembering to send the lock command to his door. He entered the berth room on Ironhide's heels.

Ironhide turned and put a hand on his chest. "Wait."

Optimus reined himself in, standing, his fingers clenched so hard the metal creaked.

Ironhide reached up and stroked along the center of Optimus' face mask. "I want to see your face."

Optimus released the face mask, which clicked back into his helm. Ironhide just looked for a long time, his optics searching Optimus' face as if seeking something. He reached up, his blunt fingers sliding against Optimus' cheek plates, his thumb sliding over his lip plates. Optimus nuzzled the thumb, a smile blooming across his lips as Ironhide had to draw in his own deep inhalation of air. Optimus bent down to Ironhide, pressing his lip plates to Ironhide's, as he'd seen Sam do with Mikaela. After a few moments, he drew back and grinned down at Ironhide.

"I don't see the attraction of such activity."

"Me, either," Ironhide rumbled, "so let's do it our way instead of imitating another species."

Optimus laughed and agreed. "Yes." He began stroking the heavy armor over Ironhide's shoulders. In response, Ironhide increased the sensitivity of the nodes under the armor, which he normally dampened to almost nothing. It allowed him to take a lot of damage without slowing him down, although it drove Ratchet incoherent with rage when Ironhide showed up so damaged he was almost in stasis. Ironhide groaned as Optimus' touch spread through him like a finger touching water, the ripples of arousal starting at one point and spreading throughout his body, then bouncing back and increasing in frequency with each touch and glide of Optimus' hands.

Gasping, Ironhide fumbled his hands onto Optimus' body and began his own exploration. This new terrestrial disguise of Optimus' offered many places for Ironhide to explore. The windows that covered his spark, the stacks jutting from his shoulders, the structures that made up his arms and legs…Ironhide sought out sensitive spots and wrung his own gasps back from Optimus. Optimus in return slid one hand down to Ironhide's hip and began exploring the massive cables and plates that anchored Ironhide against the recoil of his own guns.

Too soon, Ironhide's legs felt as if they would buckle under him, and he took a step back from Optimus. Optimus reached for him, then restrained himself, and Ironhide stumbled to the berth and sprawled on it, glad to not have to hold himself up any longer.

Optimus followed him down onto the berth and resumed stroking. Ironhide returned the attentions, finding that the grillwork that made up the center of Optimus' torso was extremely sensitive, but caused Optimus to clench his torso cables tighter, for fear of releasing his spark. Ironhide shifted his attention to Optimus' shoulders, and then moved to his back, honoring their agreement to keep this to a tactile and data exchange interface, rather than a spark merge.

Optimus, meanwhile, was exploring Ironhide's shoulders. His cannons were partially hidden in his forearms, but his upper arms did not have the bulk of the cannons, and Optimus delved into the structures of his arms, fingering cables and squeezing tubing, pulling groans from Ironhide's vocalizer. Optimus moved, tracing the wheel wells and sensors of the panels that arched over the joint of Ironhide's shoulder.

Ironhide was tracing the panels that moved and formed Optimus' back, discovering sensor under the panels that wrung moans from Optimus. He moved down to the deceptively fragile-looking structures of Optimus' hips, moving his fingers and brushing against sensors and cables, enjoying the feel of coiled power inherent in Optimus' build.

They were both panting for cooler air, their internal temperatures rising as their arousal warmed them internally. Optimus shifted and clicked open the panels on either side of his torso, pulling a data cable out and hovering over Ironhide's torso.

Ironhide clicked open his own panels, but could only cling. The problem with keeping his sensitivity so low for so long was that when he did feel, it swamped his processor and he was barely hanging onto his own sentience instead of drowning in the feel of Optimus next to him, with him. He'd longed for this feeling for so long…he applied firewalls and regained some of his processor.

Optimus had plugged in one cable to Ironhide and withdrawn Ironhide's cable, plugging it into himself. He repeated his actions on the other side and they passed handshake protocols to each other.

Once established, the connection allowed the tactile touches to echo not only in their body, but in the body connected to them. Optimus went past the wheel well on Ironhide's shoulder and sought out the joint itself, stroking along the cables of Ironhide's protoform and wringing moans from both their vocalizers as the sensation echoed over the connection.

Ironhide returned the favor, delving into the panels on Optimus' back and pressing one of the sensor nodes he'd found, and Optimus found himself drowning in the sensations swamping his body and his processor.

Arousal built and echoed, cascading through both of them until circuits tripped and electricity flashed through their bodies. Optimus collapsed on Ironhide, venting hard to cool his body. They were still connected, and Optimus basked in the feel of their connected processors. He kept himself from going anywhere in Ironhide's mind, not wishing to intrude on his friend's mind. Ironhide came back to himself and opened his optics, staring up at Optimus with an odd expression until he tugged Optimus to a certain place in his mind. He laid open his feelings for Optimus, his love, his admiration, his respect and most of all, his longing of vorns for a sparkling of Optimus', a connection that could never be denied between them, a concrete sign of love. All this, because Ironhide loved Optimus. Not Prime, no, not the leader, but the mech. It had started with respect, grown into admiration and turned into love, where it had stayed for vorns, growing deeper and richer as time passed. Now, Ironhide could not imagine his life without Optimus in it. He was willing to abide by Optimus' strictures and keep their connection shallow, but he longed, spark-deep, for the true intimacy of spark merging. He had done so ever since their conversation of vorns ago, when Optimus had explained why he never was intimate with anyone. The idea of belonging so deeply to Optimus had grown in Ironhide since then, and knowing that he couldn't be the cause of Optimus turning his back on his own principles, he had suppressed that longing and done his best to simply be an integral part of Optimus' life. Now that they were connected, Ironhide wanted Optimus to know, to understand, that should Optimus ever change his processor about sparklings, Ironhide would be the first to give himself as a carrier, all for love, the Matrix be consigned to the Pit. Prime-worthy or not, Ironhide longed for a sparkling from Optimus.

Optimus bathed in the love and wrapped Ironhide in his own love. He was still afraid, still hesitant to force a sparkling on another, but this…wasn't forcing, was it? Not if someone longed for it this deeply. He couldn't force a merge on someone because a sparkling would result, but if someone were to offer themselves, would he refuse them?

In response to his thoughts, which he belated realized Ironhide could read, Ironhide's chest plates shifted. Optimus lifted himself a bit and the plates slid under each other, shifting over to Ironhide's sides and exposing his spark.

Optimus' spark leaped in his chest and he stared hard into Ironhide's optics. Ironhide gazed back, calm and resolute. Optimus bowed his head, overwhelmed by the trust and love in Ironhide's optics. He argued with himself, going over all the reasons he had decided to never spark merge, to never perpetuate the fallacies he saw in the Matrix's dictate to create Prime-reading sparklings as part of its survival, and all this was blown away by Ironhide's simple 'I want this'.

Optimus broke. His chest plates slid out of the way and his spark leapt forward, met by Ironhide's. They tangled together, merging into each other until there was no difference between the blue-white of Optimus' spark and the more silvery spark belonging to Ironhide. A rich silver blue color coalesced between them and they found themselves one being, one processor, contained in the combined spark between them and two bodies so close to each other.

Ironhide overloaded first, his deepest wish fulfilled as the Matrix particles held within Optimus' spark enabled routines within his body that he didn't know he had. Sparkling ready protocols were turned on, protective routines were bumped up the priority list (not that they were very far down, but now they were at the top), unused power lines to his spark casing were turned on and readied, and a small spark began to spin in the center of the joined sparks. Optimus overloaded with a shout, the excess energy shunted into the new spark and it spun itself off from the fiery sun of its creators and began its own wobbly spin.

Ironhide's spark retreated into its casing, pulling the newspark with it. The tiny golden spark nestled close to the silvery one, protected and cherished. Ironhide's chest plates remained open, showing his spark to Optimus.

Optimus' spark also pulled back, his optics on the newspark he had created with his lover. Ironhide's satisfaction and happiness threaded its way into his processor, and with a start, he realized that they had merged so deeply that they now had a connection.

"Bond mates?" queried Optimus in awe. "I thought…I didn't believe that could happen! I thought it was a myth!"

Ironhide's thoughts thrummed through him. A spark-deep knowledge of the rightness of this, a possessiveness of the part of Optimus that he saw and no-one else knew, a tickling of old stories from Kup and most of all, a deep contentment. His processor slid down to recharge, his body overwhelmed by the overloads and the continuing rearranging going on in his body and processor as sparkling protocols were initiated.

Tiredly, Optimus unplugged the unnecessary cables and let them retract. He lowered himself over Ironhide, their sparks dancing between them as he also slid into recharge.

Ratchet used his medical override to open the Prime's door. The President of the United States of America was a busy man, and he was going to be on the line to talk to Optimus Prime about the next steps they would be taking to protect Earth from the Decepticons. Ratchet had gotten a call from Captain Lennox, warning him that Optimus would be wanted for the call in about twenty minutes.

He wasn't expecting what he found. He'd heard the rumors for vorns about the Prime and his bodyguard, but he knew that neither of them had interfaced with each other. Now, it seemed, that barrier had been lifted. Optimus was sprawled over Ironhide, both with their chest plates open and their sparks entwined.

Feeling hesitant, but unable to come up with a better plan since neither of them had been answering their comms for the past two hours, Ratchet laid a hand on Optimus' shoulder, then stepped back quickly and flattened himself to the door.

He'd been wise. Optimus was on his feet, a sword out and ready to go, while Ironhide was on his feet, cannons powering up before Ratchet had even reached the door. Both sets of chest plates slid closed.

They both blinked their optics at him, and Ratchet rumbled, "Uh, Prime? You have a call with the President in fifteen minutes." He deliberately looked down, shocked to have seen either spark and stunned to realize that with between their two bodies, there were three sparks involved.

Optimus straightened and the sword slid away. Ironhide powered down his cannons.

"I had best go, then. Ratchet, if you would please check Ironhide for any…ill effects, I would appreciate it."

"Yes, Prime." Ratchet said, and stepped away from the door as Optimus strode toward it and let himself out.

Ratchet looked up at Ironhide, who didn't flinch away from the level look.

"Right. Open up and let me see." Ratchet moved toward the warrior and was unsurprised to find that Ironhide retreated until he was against the wall. Ratchet stopped and raised his hands in surrender, stepping back slightly.

Ironhide shuddered and forced his chest plates to open. Cautiously, Ratchet took one step toward Ironhide, then peered at his spark.

The new spark danced across the surface of Ironhide's spark, the gold offset beautifully by the silver of Ironhide.

"Active little guy, isn't he?" Ratchet commented, straightening. Ironhide's chest plates swiftly moved, closing off the pair of sparks from Ratchet's perusal.

Ratchet was quiet for a long time, then he moved forward and offer a medical cable to Ironhide.

Ironhide took the cable and plugged it into his chest socket, giving Ratchet the deepest scan rights.

Ratchet went through the protocols, ran checks on Ironhide's spark chamber, and withdrew.

"You finally got your wish." Ratchet commented as he respooled his cable.

Ironhide's satisfaction was momentary, but Ratchet knew it was deeply felt. 'Hide had waited a very long time for this, and he'd finally accomplished what many thought was impossilble. "Yes."

"Congratulations. You have a healthy newspark and all your protocols initiated correctly. We'll go over what else you need to know this afternoon. Right now, you're supposed to be somewhere else."

Ironhide nodded and left. Ratchet vented deeply. This was going to open a whole new container of spoolworms.

The Autobots met with Lennox's team for a debrief after the President's call was finalized. Decepticon activity had been spotted in Siberia, and the Russians were asking for help.

"…given that Sideswipe is still in California, dealing with that situation, I'd like to round the team out with Ironhide." Lennox concluded.

Optimus jerked up and looked at Ironhide.

::I don't think…::

::Prime, there's no reason he can't go. He's not far enough along for this to be a worry.:: Ratchet broke into the comm line.

::I want to go.:: Ironhide stated. ::I'll be careful.::

Optimus nodded quickly and responded to Lennox. "That sounds like a good team for this area. I take it that the transport waiting outside is for this mission?"

"Yeah, it is. We have a series of refuelers that will allow us to get there without having to land. It will be a long flight, but I want us to get there ASAP. The liaison isn't spooked, but the military guys with him were, and it takes a hell of a lot to spook a Russian army colonel."

"Good luck to you all." Optimus said, and watched as they loaded up in the plane and took off.

Ratchet came up behind him.

::You have to let him do this.::

::I know. I just never thought I'd be in this position, and I'm afraid of what will happen to him when he's out of my sight.:: Optimus replied.

Ratchet let his amusement color his transmission. ::Ironhide regularly takes on entire squadrons of Decepticons by himself. Being newsparked doesn't make him less of a warrior. In the midst of your happiness, do not lessen who he is.::

Optimus froze momentarily, shock flitting through his systems. He was, wasn't he? Ironhide had moved in his mind from warrior to carrier, from protector to protected. But he wasn't. He was Ironhide, one of the most fierce warriors in the Autobot faction, feared by Decepticons that had never met him. Optimus rearranged his thinking about Ironhide. Yes, the sparkling was worthy of protection, but Ironhide was a massive mech, well-armored and capable of taking enormous amounts of damage. Their sparkling was safe until he would detach from Ironhide's spark. Optimus needed to have faith in his friend.

He nodded at Ratchet, who marched off, satisfied to have made his point with the Prime.

Ironhide found the long plane ride ideal, since his body was undergoing some enormous changes and recharge sounded like the best idea. He was vaguely aware that the NEST team was strapping him down, but he was already going under before they left the ground.

As Ironhide recharged, his body continued to initiate sparkling protocols, routing extra energon to Ironhide's spark chamber and making sure he couldn't turn off sensor nodes around the spark chamber, so he could feel if something went wrong in his spark chamber.

Hours later, Ironhide came out of recharge groggy, but he forced his processor to focus as they circled the drop zone. Their plane would land, but it was hours away and Lennox saw no reason to delay their arrival by coming in on Russia's bad roads. So they would drop out and meet the enemy as quickly as possible.

Ironhide started a diagnostic as the human portion of the team donned parachutes. He and Longarm were the two bots chosen to go this time, and they readied themselves just as their human teammates were doing.

At the signal, Ironhide and Longarm rolled out of the back of the cargo plane, followed quickly by the humans. After falling a sufficient distance, they both changed to root mode and deployed their own parachutes. Ironhide's diagnostic finished before they landed, and he accepted the results. His energy levels were at 85% with all systems optimal. He readied himself for the coming fight.

Landing, Ironhide rolled with the pull of the chute, then deployed a small but very sharp knife and severed the lines, then rolled to the side just as a shot spattered where he had been. Grinning wickedly, Ironhide continued his motion, snapping off a shot when he could.

Longarm had landed on the other side of the Decepticon, and between them, they herded the mech away from whatever he'd been working on, eventually driving him off.

Ironhide was pleased. His systems seemed to be running better than normal; he was avoiding the 'Con's shots and getting in hits of his own. The NEST team came to look at whatever it was the 'Con had been working on after the two Autobots drove him away.

"It looks like some kind of machine to extract something. Y'know, kind of like a pump? It looks weird, though." Master Sergeant Epps said.

"So it does," agreed Longarm.

"Why? What could the 'Cons be trying up here?" Lennox asked.

"There are hydrocarbon resources up here," Longarm commented, "but why would the 'Cons try to extract them here rather than someplace easier?"

Ironhide busied himself taking image captures of the device and sending them back to base. Skids acknowledged the captures and set to analyzing them. Ironhide made a mental note to double-check whatever results Skids came up with, just to be sure his analysis was solid and hadn't been influenced too much by Mudflap's ideas.

Longarm finished his field check of the device and said, "Well, we can't melt it to slag easily – the well's been drilled deep enough to hit hydrocarbons, and we'd start a fire that would be a problem for the humans."

"So what can we do?" Epps asked.

Ironhide and Longarm exchanged a look, then set themselves on either side of the device. Ironhide fired up his cannon, changing the settings to emit a sonic pulse that disrupted the valves and internal structures of the mechanism. He was careful to not overheat anything, but by the time he was done, the machine was unusable.

While the Autobots took care of that, Lennox called his report in.

"Nothing left for us to do right now. Let's roll!" Lennox said after terminating his call.

Ironhide and Longarm folded themselves into vehicle form and the human portion piled in for the drive to the Russian airstrip. They saw no Decepticons, and neither Autobot could detect any presence as they reached their transport and loaded up for the return trip to Diego Garcia.

Optimus was waiting for them. His optics lit with relief at the sight of Ironhide, but that was the only sign he allowed himself. He turned his attention to Major Lennox as Ratchet stepped forward and snagged Ironhide for a checkup.

Ratchet waited patiently for Ironhide to allow him past his firewalls. It took a few moments; Ironhide's base programming had to be overcome to allow an intruder in. Ratchet was patient and let Ironhide set the pace until he was finally able to let Ratchet plug in and then begin his scan.

The microassembly processes had not yet started, but Ironhide's gestation chamber had already on-lined and started its demands on his body. Ratchet passed him a file full of information on the processes that would be occurring in his body.

Ratchet unplugged from Ironhide and told him, "You're going to need more fuel. Your body will generate more heat, and you'll need to recharge more often. Any questions?"

Ironhide said, "No, not right now." He was already browsing through the data file Ratchet had sent him.

Ratchet told him, "Ask when they come up, then. Now, go get some recharge and I'll finish updating Optimus."

Ironhide nodded and headed out to the quarters he shared with Optimus.

He awoke from recharge to find Optimus curled along his back, his hand splayed over Ironhide's gestation chamber. Muzzily, Ironhide brought his hand up and also laid it over the chamber. He could feel the heat, and his systems informed him of the eighty seven microassembly processes that had been queued up and the fifteen that had been initialized. He was getting a low fuel warning, which is what had pulled him from his recharge.

"There's energon on the floor for you." Optimus' rumbling voice told him.

Ironhide leanded over the edge of the berth. Sure enough, there was a large container sitting on the floor. He grabbed it and sat up, opening the container and guzzling the first part of the liquid inside. As soon as the fuel hit his tank, the conversion processes began; within five minutes, another three microassembly processes initialized.

Optimus also sat up, watching Ironhide carefully.

"I'm fine, Optimus. This is just…you have to get everything started up and it takes a lot of energy." Ironhide told him between drinking the rest of the energon at a more sedate pace.

"I know, I've just never seen the whole process this closely. I find it fascinating." Optimus said.

Ironhide finished off the energon and could feel recharge dragging at his systems. "I need recharge," he mumbled as he slid down on the berth, his processor off-lining as soon as he was horizontal.

Optimus was a little surprised at the speed with which Ironhide dropped off-line, but recovered and made himself comfortable next to the large black mech sprawled on the berth. He was smiling as he went back into recharge.

Optimus cornered Ratchet the next morning.

"I know you've told Ironhide what will happen; please share that information with me."

Ratchet nodded. "Sure, Optimus. Have a seat." He indicated a stool, and Optimus dragged it over and seated himself.

"OK. Ironhide is going to need a lot more recharge for the next few days. As few as three, as many as six and during that time, all the microassembly processes will be queued up and initialized. These processes are how the youngling's body is built – first the frame, then the processors, then the cabling, and finally the tubing. Ironhide's a big mech, so his gestation chamber has plenty of room for all this. Some processes will turn on, like the frame building, and will be done quickly and then shut down. Others, like the processor building, start right away and go up until emergence. The need for extra recharge is just until Ironhide's processor can prioritize his body's need for fuel with the demands of gestation; once a balance has been struck, Ironhide will be back to normal until he's almost done carrying."

Optimus nodded, telling Ratchet, "Please continue."

Ratchet said, "He will need to consume a lot more fuel. The assembly processes will burn through his normal allotment very quickly and will start to scavenge his systems if enough fuel and materials are not provided. He'll need supplemental metals and minerals along with the fuel, he'll need extra coolant and the ability to change coolant more often since the microassembly processes generate a tremendous amount of heat, which is another concern. Having our human allies around Ironhide at this point could be detrimental to them – he's always going to be so warm that there is a danger of them burning their skin when they touch him."

"How severe a burn?" Optimus asked.

"Second degree for the adults, possible third degree for the children. He'll have to be very careful around them." Ratchet answered. He then continued, "Other than that, Ironhide should be able to continue going out on missions for the next four months. The last month, I'd prefer if he didn't, and I will order that he doesn't about two weeks before emergence. That's when the sparkling starts detaching from Ironhide's spark and traveling down to the frame through the sparkline, and any disruptions at that time could mean the newspark gutters out before reaching his frame."

"We don't want that," Optimus said, "we want a healthy sparkling."

"Yes, you do. So, any questions?"

"Emergence." Optimus said, "How does that work?"

Ratchet chuckled. "For Ironhide, it means his abdominal armour moves to the side and electrical impulses push the gestation chamber through his protoform until it's at the surface. The gestation chamber then dilates open and the sparkling frame is pushed out. After the frame emerges, the fluids that cushioned the frame are expelled and the gestation chamber starts shrinking and reabsorbing into Ironhide's body. Then the armour slides back into place, and he'll be sore for a couple of days as his protoform heals."

Optimus nodded his thanks to Ratchet as he absorbed this information. "Thank you, Ratchet. I'll go work out a different duty schedule for the next week so Ironhide can stay on base and recharge."

Ratchet cautioned him. "When he's feeling himself again, he will want to go out and there's no reason he has to stay here."

"I know." Optimus agreed.

"Alright then, off you go. Come to me with any other questions you have." Ratchet made shooing motions with his hands, sending Optimus out into the brilliant sunlight of a tropical day. Smiling, Optimus left to attend to the duties of his day.

For the next five days, Ironhide recharged. He'd wake up when his body would internally blare at him that he was low on fuel, and a container was always waiting for him on the floor near the head of the berth. He'd have just enough time to consume most of the fuel before recharge would drag him under. Occasionally, he'd wake up to find Optimus cuddled next to him, but just as often he'd wake up and be alone.

On the sixth day, he woke up and alarms were not screaming at him. He lay there, running a diagnostic and enjoying the simple feeling of waking up and feeling well.

His sparkling's frame was being built right now, and his abdominal plates bulged a little, although it would be difficult for someone to notice, since the bumpers of his terrestrial disguise had merely changed their shape slightly. The bulge covered his gestation chamber, which had expanded to allow the internal tools room to work on constructing his youngling.

The gestation chamber was unique to Cybertronians. It was made of overlapping plates that could expand or contract as needed. Usually, it was extremely small, but once a mech was sparked, it began to expand to allow the sparkling's frame to be built and grow. It could contract if need be during times of great stress or danger, shielding the entire mechanism within the adult body. Ironhide's heavy armour would be more than adequate protection from all but a direct blow. His gestation chamber would sometimes be larger and sometimes smaller, depending upon which processes were occurring at the time and how much room they needed to work.

He laid his hand over his abdomen, feeling the heat as his systems absorbed the fuel and necessary minerals from his body's own processes to build the healthiest youngling possible. The microassembly process going on now was his sparkling's frame, and the heat was intense as frame components were forged and assembled. The heat radiated off his body was much more than usual, given the black color of his external armour and the radiant heat from the planet's primary star; he would have to be careful around their human allies for a while, until the heat went back to a more normal range.

He sat up, a muffled groan escaping as his body readjusted to being upright after days of being horizontal.

Optimus chuckled at him as he entered the room. "You've been out for a while, my friend."

Ironhide grinned back at him as he hooked his fingers under the armour shielding Optimus' spark and pulled him closer. "C'mear, you."

Optimus allowed himself to be pulled on top of Ironhide, who laid back as he pulled Optimus down.

"Ironhide, I don't think…"

"What do you have to do for the next hour?" Ironhide asked.

"Nothing." Optimus answered.

"Right, and I'm off the duty roster, and I want you." Ironhide delved his fingers into Optimus' sides, seeking and finding sensitive spot under the armour plates. Optimus groaned and began his own exploration, finding that Ironhide's body had new areas of sensitivity, the changes wrought internally having some external expression. Tactile contact was overwhelming Ironide's processors and he reached for Optimus through their new spark bond, pouring his arousal and feelings into the bond and sending them to Optimus.

Optimus groaned, his hands clenching on whatever he was holding, and Ironhide's new sensitivity was so high it was enough to push him over the edge, pulling Optimus with him. They held each other as overload stormed through their bodies and processors.

The ticking of cooling metal echoed through their quarters. Ironhide finally removed his hands from Optimus' chest, and Optimus unclenched his hands and laid them beside Ironhide's shoulders on the berth.

"Well, that didn't take long." Optimus grumbled.

"No, it didn't. Want to go again?" Ironhide grumbled back at him.

Surprised, Optimus reared back slightly and looked down at Ironhide. "I thought…but wasn't that enough?"

Ironhide reached and hooked his fingers back into Optimus chest, pulling him down again. "No, it wasn't. I wanted it to last a lot longer than that. Get down here."

Laughing, Optimus followed the coaxing of Ironhide's fingers and allowed himself to be pulled back down, but this time, he slid down Ironhide's body and began exploring his legs and feet, avoiding the ultrasensitive trunk of Ironhide's body.

In retaliation, Ironhide twisted himself so he could reach Optimus' legs, starting with the knees. Optimus' knees never looked like they could hold his frame up, but the coils of the inner and outer edges were more than adequate to hold Optimus' massive frame and to absorb heavy blows. Ironhide had always been fascinated with Optimus' legs and took this opportunity to delve into the structures and find how sensitive they were. He found that the back of the patellar plates had some feeling, but it was the back of Optimus' knees that reacted the most.

Meanwhile, Optimus was exploring Ironhide's legs, finding that his ankles had intricate structures that had feeling, although the covering armour plates were massive enough that they were difficult to reach. Optimus solved that by stroking at a plate until Ironhide would shift it away; Optimus would then delve his fingers into the space left behind and find what he stroke.

In this manner, they worked each other back up to arousal until Optimus shifted and lowered himself over Ironhide, popping open the ports on either side of his chest and extracting cables to plug himself into Ironhde. 'Hide matched him, and they fumbled a little as they exchanged cables and plugged into each other.

Optimus shifted over Ironhide, and the greater sensitivity echoed through Ironhide's processors and through the cables to Optimus, who responded by repeating the motion. Neither of them lasted long, and later, Ironhide couldn't have told who went over first. All he knew was that he fell headlong into overload, Optimus' sheer joy at having this connection with him flavouring the entire encounter and adding to his pleasure as he fell through his overload and right into recharge.

When Ironhide awoke from recharge, his cables had been tucked back into their compartments, a container of energon was resting on the floor, and he felt happy.

The next four months continued like that, with Ironhide taking every opportunity to drag Optimus to the berth and build their new relationship encounter by encounter.

Ironhide would wait around as Optimus had his teleconferences with the humans, usually disguising his interest by working on his cannons. Lennox twigged onto what was going on sooner than any other human, and helped disguise Ironhide's interest by sending Graham or Epps over to confer with Ironhide as necessary while Optimus was busy. As soon as Optimus was done and details had been finalized, Lennox would wave him off and watch as first Optimus, then Ironhide, would disappear for a couple of hours.

"No, not there. Feel here." Ironhide took Optimus' hand and moved it to another spot on his abdomen.

"Ah! I feel him!" Optimus rubbed over the spot, the sparkling on the other side pulsing a weak electrical charge back at him.

Ironhide was lucky, as the carrier. He could communicate with the sparkling on a very basic level, mere basic emotions, but at least he had that connection. Optimus did not, and was fascinated by the whole experience. He noticed immediately when Ironhide's abdomen expanded or contracted, knowing that each episode signaled another stage in the sparkling's development. Ironhide shared all he could during their frequent interfaces, but the times when Optimus could really connect to the sparkling was during spark merges. Ratchet had cautioned them that as Ironhide got closer to the time for emergence, they would be unable to spark merge, since that could interfere with the newspark going down the sparkline to the gestation chamber and merging with its new frame nestled therein.

Groaning, Ironhide pulled at Optimus, the feel of his hand over his abdomen setting off waves of arousal. Optimus had gently teased Ironhide about this overwhelming need to interface, but then had reassured him that he thoroughly enjoyed it himself. Ironhide had grumped at him that he was probably too old to be this insatiable, but he was not going to fight his base programming on this matter.

"Optimus…" Ironhide moaned, burying his face in Optimus' neck.

In answer, Optimus gently helped Ironhide lay out on the berth, then began his favorite activity of mapping all the sensitive spots Ironhide had. This was actually quite difficult, since Ironhide still turned down the sensors over most of his body and only on-lined them in the berth with Optimus. Today, Optimus was focusing on Ironhide's back, specifically on the structures of his hips. Ironhide lay on his side, letting Optimus kneel over him and explore, letting the arousal he felt build slowly. Their connection was deepening with every encounter, and Ironhide knew that if he let his spark's energy field pulse out, it would connect to Optimus' and build his arousal at the same time.

As a prelude, this arrangement worked out well. Optimus was kneeling in front of Ironhide and leaning over him to explore his hip, leg and back, giving Ironhide access to his own legs, and Ironhide took advantage of the opportunity, working his fingers into crevices in Optimus' thighs and stroking as many of the sensors as he could reach.

Meanwhile, Optimus was exploring the tire that made up the outer part of Ironhide's hip and finding that there was an area of sensors under the tire that hadn't been off-lined. He began stroking his fingers over the sensors, wringing a moan from Ironhide's vocalizer and notching 'Hide's arousal higher. In retaliation, Ironhide pulsed his arousal through his spark field and flared it through his armour, sending electrical pulses through Optimus' own armour and thus, to his spark. They were both eager, and each stroke and pulse/return pulse continued to spiral their mutual arousal higher and higher, until Ironhide groaned and rolled onto his back, pulling Optimus down on top of him. By now, they moved smoothly to connect themselves to each other, Ironhide sighing when the connection was forged and dropping most of his firewalls, letting Optimus in.

Optimus traveled along known pathways in Ironhide's processor, searching for the connection with their sparkling. The newspark was always glad to greet Optimus, joy and love pulsing over the pathways and swirling around both his creators, causing Optimus to light up with joy and respond with his own love and happiness. Ironhide basked in the joy, adding his own to the mix. They stayed like this for some time, staving off their mutual overloads to enjoy the simple presence of their sparkling for a time.

Finally their newspark fell into his version of recharge, and Optimus worked on bringing Ironhide back to the edge of overload as Ironhide reciprocated, a few tweaks of sensors and a couple of electrical pulses later, they both fell into and over each other, tumbling into their overloads and then into a short recharge, joy and satisfaction winding throughout their processors.

"Bring it!" snarled Ironhide at Starscream as the jetformer did his best to rip into Ironhide's armour. Ironhide swung his arm around and let loose a round from his cannon at point-blank range, blowing a hole in the trailing edge of Starscream's wing armour. His protective protocols were making his reactions faster, and he was inflicting a lot of damage on Starscream.

The Decepticon shrieked and flipped over Ironhide, landing on the other side of him. Ironhide was expecting the move and had already whirled around, both cannons firing as soon as he had a target.

Enraged, Starscream closed in, both wings smoking and riddled with holes. He managed to catch a hold of one of the waist guards on Ironhide and pulled, ripping off a plate of armour and exposing Ironhide's gestation chamber, gleaming silvery-grey through the rent in Ironhide's side.

Ironhide roared and slugged him hard, knocking him back a distance. He put his hand to the tear, feeling his gestation chamber through the ragged opening. His abdominal dermal plating had increased its sensitivity and that had fragging hurt! He quickly fingered the wound, making sure any metal that was jagged was not pointing inward toward the chamber where it could damage the newspark's frame.

Starscream was staring at him in shock. "You're sparking. I didn't think that was possible!" He dropped the piece of Ironhide's armor.

Ironhide merely snarled at him as Starscream rose to his feet shakily. "The Fallen…he said it wasn't possible any more, that's why we had to go with hatchlings, only they're all dying."

Ironhide slowly rose from his crouch, but his cannons never wavered from their fix on Starscream. "You should know better than to trust that misbegotten liar of an ex-Prime, Starscream."

Starscream was shaking his head and backing away. "All my hatchlings, dying due to lack of energon, and the Autobots are sparking. I hate you!" He flipped up, changing into his jet form and leaving, rocketing high into the sky and leaving a contrail as he aimed for the stars.

Ironhide shook his head and flipped on his internal comm. ::Ironhide to Autobots. Be wary of Starscream; I set him off without meaning to do so.::

::Should I ask why?":: Ratchet's voice came back over the comm.

Ironhide shrugged, knowing that his voice would reflect the motion in some indefinable way. ::He kinda lost it when he realized I was sparking and his hatchlings died from lack of energon.::

A long silence echoed over the comm lines. ::You're sparking?:: Sideswipe's voice finally came over the line, just as Jolt's voice over laid it with, ::The Decepticons have hatchlings?::

::Yeah, I am. Focus, Sideswipe. Starscream's got a grudge, you all need to be aware and be cautious. Jolt, I have no further information beyond what he said.::

Mudflap's voice summed up how everyone was feeling, though. ::You best get back to base. You have some 'splainin' to do, 'Hide.::

Ironhide merely growled and closed the comm line, only to be pinged on a private line by Ratchet. ::Yes, do get back to base. This was your last mission out, you're confined to Diego Garcia for the next month.::

Ironhide grumbled to himself, but replied, ::Yes, Ratchet.::

Ironhide went to Ratchet's medbay as soon as they landed at Diego Garcia. He had ridden back in root mode, unwilling to transform with a tear in his side and risk the newspark's form. Ratchet took one look at him and started muttering to himself. Ironhide waited patiently for Ratchet to gather his supplies, then handed him the panel that had been torn off by Starscream.

"Good, I won't have to manufacture a part. This, however, isn't going to be pleasant, since I can't off-line the sensors. I need you to tell me if you feel any discomfort or, Primus forbid, pain so I can figure out what's wrong." Ratchet took the panel and dunked it into a tub of cleanser, then used an air hose to clean out the attached lines that had been forcibly detached with the panel.

Ironhide braced himself, raising his arm to get it out of Ratchet's way as the medic started to repair him. He looked up as Optimus came through the doors.

"He's fine, Prime. You can come back when he's repaired." Ratchet didn't even straighten from his work as he threw the comment over his shoulder at Optimus.

Optimus looked at Ironhide, who nodded. Optimus backed out of the medbay quietly. Ironhide returned his attention to what Ratchet was doing, concentrating on his internals and giving Ratchet the feedback necessary to facilitate his repairs.

Later, in their quarters, Optimus went over the fresh welds, carefully laving them with his glossa and driving Ironhide crazy as he writhed under Optimus' ministrations. Growling, he reached down and hooked his arm over those glorious legs and pulled Optimus around so he could explore more of structures around Optimus' knees and lower legs, stroking the sensors tucked between the armor plating and wringing moans from Optimus' vocalizer. Ironhide moved to Optimus' knees, fascinated by the intricate structures that formed Optimus' joints. By this time, they were so in tune with each other that it didn't take long for them to push each other to the point of overload with tactile manipulation and flaring of their spark's energy fields. They didn't get the chance to connect their cables to each other before Ironhide cried out and felt the wave of his overload race through him, the flaring of energy enough to pull Optimus into his own overload.

Afterward, they lay there, blue crackles of electrical discharge still dancing over their plating. Optimus levered himself up over Ironhide and said, "Let me see. Please?"

Ironhide shifted until he was flat on his back, then unlocked his chest plates and spiraled open his spark chamber.

The newspark danced around his spark, a blueish-gold bundle of pure energy in orbit around Ironhide's silvery spark. Optimus reached out and stroked over Ironhide's spark and was met by tendrils of energy clinging to his fingers and returning the caresses. Fascinated, Optimus continued to stroke his fingers gently over Ironhide's spark, watching as the newspark danced around the point of contact before returning to its merry orbit.

"Optimus…" Ironhide's groan was almost unintelligible. He was communicating at a basic level with Optimus through their bond, a thrum of want, want, want hitting Optimus hard. Optimus answered his groan with one of his own but resisted the pull of attraction. Finally, Ironhide hooked a hand into his chest plate and pulled.

"Gimme your spark, please! It's not like you can spark me again, so please, give to me!" Ironhide's fervent wish echoed on several levels within Optimus' processor.

Optimus answered him by parting his chest plates, and allowing his spark to emerge, to answer the call of Ironhide's own spark. The sparks lept together, tangling themselves and merging, wringing gasps from both mechs at the depth of feeling that shot through them as their very beings became one.

This time, Optimus overloaded first, unable to resist not only the arousal, but the feelings echoing through from Ironhide. His weapons master was spark-deep thrilled with having a newspark, even though he'd now have to stand aside and watch everyone else fight. Ironhide was also basking in the spark-deep feeling of wellness that permeated his entire body, and that feeling was threaded through every thread in his processor. Ironhide was happy, and his happiness gave Optimus great joy.

A few weeks later, Ironhide onlined alone. He rolled over in the berth and found a container of energon that Optimus had left for him. Puzzled, he checked his comm queue and found a message from Optimus. Ironhide opened the message and found that Optimus had left for Washington DC and would be back in a week's time. Sighing, he consumed the energon and got out of the berth.

It was still dark, and Ironhide was suffering from taut cables and stiff plates from his repair job, so he headed out of his quarters to take a walk along the beach while the sun was still down and the satellites that circled this planet would be less likely to pick him up.

Moving quietly along the corridor, Ironhide headed for the main door of the hanger the Autobots had been given for their own use, waving to Jolt, who had guard duty, as he passed by.

Quietly exiting the hanger, Ironhide headed down to the beach and began walking. The tiny shifting grains made him stretch out his toes for balance, thus helping stretch out the stiffness. He flared his plating to catch the cool breezes coming off the ocean at this time of day, enjoying the way his body was reacting and revealing in the feeling of wellness.

Ironhide was not so deeply within himself that he missed the small form under a tree, staring out over the expanse of water. He walked in that direction, then crouched down and murmured, "Mikaela?"

Mikaela turned her head and looked at Ironhide, then returned her gaze to the ocean.

Worried, Ironhide crouched lower.

Mikaela flapped a hand at him. "I'm fine. I just miss Sam. This is a hell of a time for him to go to Washington."

Puzzled, Ironhide asked, "Why?"

Exasperated, Mikaela turned her body toward him and growled out, "Because the baby could come at any time, and where the hell is he? Playing footsie with the politicians. He's too nice and he won't say 'no' when Optimus asks him. Argh! I just want him here and not there."

"Baby?" Ironhide wanted to know.

"Argh!" Mikaela pushed herself up, gladly using Ironhide's finger when he offered it. She put her hands on her abdomen, and Ironhide finally recognized that it was distended in a way it hadn't been when he'd last seen her. She placed her hands on the mound and told him, "This is a baby, a little person that Sam and I created together. He'll be born very soon, and we'll get to meet him. I'm just tired of my husband going all over the world when I need him here!" She huffed and reseated herself carefully.

Ironhide looked her over carefully. "How does the baby come out?"

Mikaela laughed and gently thunked her head back against the tree, then resettled and began to give him the birds and bees lecture, as she called it. Ironhide was in turn fascinated and horrified. She finally wound down her lecture and sighed.

"Has Ratchet had a chance to fix your electrical problem?" Mikaela asked Ironhide after letting him absorb her information for a few moments.

"Electrical problem?" Ironhide asked, cocking his head down at her.

"Yeah, Bee mentioned something about you sparking, and I thought it must be the kind of repair that Ratchet lets your self-repair systems take care of, but Bee refuses to answer if it's been taken care of."

Ironhide chuckled, then laughed, mirth shaking his entire frame. Mikaela looked offended until Ironhide finally got his mirth under control and told her, "It's not that kind of sparking, Mikaela."

She waited for him to elaborate, but when he didn't, she asked, "What kind of sparking is it, then?"

Ironhide grinned down at her, "It's the same kind of sparking you're doing. The creation of new life from two creators."

Mikaela looked at him and her jaw dropped. "Wait, you're pregnant?"

Ironhide shook his head, "No, I'm sparking. You're pregnant."

"Pft, what's the difference?" Mikaela scoffed.

So Ironhide explained that the Cybertronian reproduction was mechanical, while human reproduction was organic. Human fetus went through stages, just as Cybertronian sparklings did, but beyond that the entire process was different. Human young went through stages where they looked like the young of different animals through the evolutionary scale, while Cybertronian young were built by a small assembly plant within the adult's body, so they built to the size they would be when they emerged, while the human fetus started very small and gradually got larger until it was large enough to be born.

A Cybertronian sparkling could survive almost as soon emergence was over, while human young needed an adult to care for them for the first few years. Sparklings got their initial programming from their creator's processor, and could download more if the adult was still around, but initial programming was the basis of their entire personality, while the human child was molded by any adult around them, not just their progenitor. Both arrived with personalities matrices already in place.

Ironhide's sparkling would be a ground-based mech, since the flying mechs of Cybertron reproduced in a very different way, laying eggs and letting their young emerge from the shells after the eggs emerged from the adult's body. Flyers also produced more than one young in the same clutch, while grounders generally emerged one youngling sans shells. Shells only occurred in ground mechs when they were under severe stress and the young could not fully form in the gestation chamber because the mech was stressed somehow and deliberately kept their gestation chamber clenched and small to protect it better.

Mikaela whistled at that information, "So, you could have an egg or a youngling, and you just don't know?"

Ironhide shook his head, "No, I haven't been stressed, so I know my sparkling will emerge in root mode with no egg. But if I'd been actively fighting the Decepticons this past month, I'm pretty sure the assembly process would have shelled the sparkling."

"Good thing you were confined to base, then." Mikaela told him.

"Yes, a very good thing." Ironhide agreed.

They sat and compared differences, complained about the extra fuel and food necessary for growing healthy young, until the sun rose and the day started to get hot, then Ironhide transformed under the cover of the trees and gave Mikaela a ride back to the private room she shared with Sam.

Four days later, Ironhide met Mikaela in the medbay. She was clutching her stomach, while Ironhide had a hitch in his step and visible crackles of energy dancing over his body. Ratchet looked at both of them in turn, then pointed to a berth for Mikaela and the corner for Ironhide.

Mikaela told Ratchet, "I want to walk, not lie down. It feels better."

Ratchet told her, "You do what you need to do, then. I'm calling Dr. Jones-Laidlaw, though."

Mikaela growled at him, "You're in charge, though, Ratchet. I'll be damned if I want to deliver this baby the Army way."

"Yes, ma'am," agreed Ratchet, opening a comm line to the doctor and another to Optimus.

Ironhide, meanwhile, had tucked himself in the corner and was leaning against two walls, crouched down as the electrical charge worked through his body, pushing the gestation chamber through his protoform. Ironhide rode the pain stoically, clenching his internal cabling when it seemed to be the right thing to do, but otherwise, just letting his body dictate his actions.

Mikaela was doing much the same thing, walking around the medbay. Ratchet had warned her not to touch Ironhide, as the electrical charge would be enough to hurt her, but otherwise, she had the run of the medbay. She walked, sometimes stopping to allow the muscle contractions to do their work, but otherwise, she walked, letting her body guide what she did.

The doctor fussed at Ratchet that Mikaela needed to be in a berth, that walking was not how the Army delivered babies. Ratchet bent down low and told him, "In my medbay, the patient knows their body best and gets to tell me how they want to do this. If you can't abide by my rules in my medbay, you may excuse yourself." He straightened and moved over to Ironhide, crouching down in front of him and laying two fingers on Ironhide's chestplates. He nodded to himself, then stood and turned to Mikaela, scanning her as she walked along one wall, then made a note on a datapad before returning to his inventory, new supplies scattered along one counter that he was checking off before putting the supplies away in cabinets.

Three hours later, Ironhide bent forward and put his hands on the floor, grunting as he changed position. Mikaela was crouched down, hanging onto a bar set into the wall for her by Ratchet about ten minutes previously.

Ratchet flung up his hands and checked on Ironhide first. The gestation chamber had pushed through Ironhide's protoform and was exposed, cracks showing in the structure where the chamber would iris open. Ratchet nodded and went to check on Mikaela.

She was pushing with her contractions and screaming at the doctor that was trying to coax her into the berth.

"…Mrs. Witwicky, it will be easier for us to monitor you if you are on the berth."

Mikaela screamed, "I don't care! This is what I want, you go away!"

Ratchet interposed himself easily. "Mikaela, you're doing fine, keep working with the contractions. Dr. Jones-Laidlaw, I don't need her on the berth to monitor her."

Dr. Jones-Laidlaw snapped, "Then why do you have me here?"

"Because the humans asked me to allow a human doctor to monitor any patients I was treating. If you wish to excuse yourself, I won't stop you." Ratchet told him. He gently laid a finger against Mikaela's back and she moaned.

"Oh, yeah, right there. That feels great, Ratchet. Don't stop."

The doctor's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. "What are you doing?"

"Using sonic pulses to ease the tension of the back muscles. She needs her abdominals to clench, but not her back. She is beginning to tear muscles back here." Ratchet replied.

"She's in back labor," Dr. Jones-Laidlaw announced, "she needs an epidural to control the pain."

"No, I don't!" howled Mikaela. "Don't you dare, Ratchet!"

Ratchet soothed her. "I won't, Mikaela. You're doing great, keep pushing."

The doctor stomped over and asked, sarcasm dripping from his voice, "How do you plan on catching the kid from that position?"

Ratchet merely looked at him, "I'll worry about that when the time comes. She's completely effaced and dilated, and it's merely a matter of working with her body at this point." He continued the sonic massage of her back as Mikaela bore down with her contractions.

Meanwhile, Ironhide was doing his own bearing down. The gestation chamber was almost completely opened, and he shifted position so gravity was pulling the sparkling straight down. The sparkling's body dropped down, Ironhide automatically reaching for him with one hand. A thin film covered the sparkling's body, and Ironhide was not surprised when a small blade deployed from the wrist that had reached for the sparkling, tearing through the film and releasing the sparkling into his hand. He pulled the sparkling up, tucking him next to his chest as the gestation chamber gave one last heave and expelled all the fluids that had cushioned the sparkling's body while it was being built. The sparkling was coughing out the fluids that had filled all his vents and tubes, and as the fluid was cleared out and air drawn in, his body started humming with power and unused systems started on-lining.

Ratchet was there, shoving a bundle of toweling under Ironhide to absorb the fluids and handing a section of toweling to Ironhide to use on the sparkling. Ironhide could feel the assembly tools tucking themselves back into the sides of the chamber as it began to fold itself down to its pre-sparkling size. With a few clicks, it closed itself and began to shrink back into his protoform.

His attention was caught by his sparkling, who was clicking at him. He gently touched his sparkling's face, and the tiny optics came on, growing stronger as more power was fed to them. He began to wipe off the sparkling's frame, getting the excess moisture away from the tiny plates and allowing the sparkling to be warmer than it would be if it continued to be wet.

The sparkling curled into him, clinging to the armour plates over his chest. Ironhide clicked reassurance, moving himself so he was leaning back against the walls.

A cry from the other side of the medbay announced the arrival of Mikaela's baby. Ratchet had also placed toweling under her and helped the baby gently slip down. Ratchet cut and cauterized the umbilical cord as Mikaela bore down once more to deliver the placenta. The doctor stepped forward and used a hand suctioning device to clear the baby's nasal passages, and after the placenta was delivered, the doctor placed it in a tray to examine it while Ratchet assisted Mikaela and the baby to the berth so she could rest. Once she was settled, Ratchet came over to check on Ironhide.

He hadn't paid much attention to Mikaela, having been absorbed in his own body's processes and then enraptured by his sparkling who was tucked close to Ironhide's neck, clicking as he explored Ironhide's plating.

Ratchet waited patiently until Ironhide could stand to move the sparkling away from his big body slightly. A quick scan and Ratchet pronounced him a healthy little mech.

The medbay doors slid open, admitting Optimus and Sam. Sam ran over to Mikaela while Optimus made his way over to Ratchet and Ironhide. Crouching down himself, he rested a hand on Ironhide's shoulder and exchanged a smile with him.

Ratchet clapped him on the shoulder, muttered, "Congratulations," and made his way back to the human contingent of the medbay, leaving them alone for a few moments.

Ironhide handed over the sparkling carefully, his optics watchful as Optimus adjusted his hold and pulled the small form close to his chest. The sparkling began to cry as he was removed from the spark he knew, and Optimus released a small spark pulse toward the tiny form. The crying abruptly ceased as the sparkling recognized the other spark and curled toward it and thus, toward Optimus. Ironhide grinned at Optimus.

"Congratulations, Optimus."

Optimus huffed at him, "Congratulations to you, Ironhide. He's beautiful."

Ironhide gently stroked the sparkling's helm and agreed, "Yeah, he is."

Optimus reached for Ironhide, wrapping a hand around his neck and pulling their forehelms together as they curled together over their sparkling, a family at last.

The end!