It figures that there'd be some kind of meltdown here juuuuust when I was ready to post this. *laughs* But, now that I can log in again, I can post this. :)

Of all the chapters of this "story," I guess this one in its last third or so gives the most hints of some Things To Come…but probably not in any really obvious way. *laughs* Suffice it to say that the concept of "genetic memory" fascinates me, and I actually think that the general concept, "fantasy-ized," could be especially applicable to robotic lifeforms. So, such a concept plays a heavy part in future events of this 'verse, and its first appearance, in a way, is here.

I should also mention that this chapter references something set up in another little story of mine, specifically one of the "100 Dinobots" series, specifically the one written for the "Pet" prompt. It's very briefly referenced at the end of "What Goes Around," actually, but is more directly referenced here. In any case, in that little story, I set up the notion that Grimlock, as part of his general (over)protective nature as I see it, has sort of taken it upon himself to protect and give refuge to wildlife, specifically individual animals directly affected by the Autobot/Decepticon conflict and, more generally, species that humans have caused to become endangered. Why? Well, for one thing, because doing so annoys the holy living hell out of Optimus Prime, which is one of Grimlock's main life ambitions. :) So, that's where one bit in this chapter came from, which might make no sense to you if you haven't read that little story o' mine. But now you don't have to read it, if you haven't done so/don't want to. ;)

Other than that…Thornwitch, your wish is apparently my command. :) Well, OK, so this was already the next chapter of the "story" before you said anything, but it just amused me that you were wishing to see Wheeljack and Ratchet when they were, indeed, next up. I *heart* them. Totally. On many different levels.

Finally, some review replies are below for those who might wish to read them. But first, the story. :)

Wheeljack was cursing quietly but fiercely. He was lying on his back, buried chest-deep into and underneath the guts of a diagnostic computer that was an integrated component of one of the medical berths. Various bits and pieces of the computer as well as chunks of the berth itself were scattered haphazardly in a wide and messy arc around him; they'd landed wherever he'd blindly and with increasing frustration tossed them. He was trying to track down a glitch that First Aid had reported to him, and the procedure was proving far more difficult, not to mention infuriating, than he'd thought possible, and that in turn had prompted his spate of rare-for-him cursing. So when he heard the medbay doors parting, Wheeljack almost welcomed the interruption, and he scooted out from the suffocating embrace of the recalcitrant berth with something that approached alacrity.

Still, he was surprised, almost flabbergasted, by what he saw.

"What're you doing here?" he asked, truly bewildered, of Ratchet.

Ratchet just gave him A Look.

"Unless someone else has finally gone 'round the bend and decided that they want the damned place," he grumbled, "this is still my medbay."

"Well, yeah," Wheeljack responded, "but—"

"I needed some stuff," Ratchet interrupted, although he didn't seem in any kind of hurry to set about gathering any "stuff." He just stood there, glancing around the medbay with an odd, perhaps relieved, expression on his face. Wheeljack gazed at him searchingly for a moment, narrow-eyed and speculative.

"And you couldn't have just sent for it or something?" he eventually asked. "You had to come pick it up in person?"

Ratchet smirked at him and said, simply, "Respectively, no and yes."

Wheeljack just shook his head in response, not for the first time wishing that he could roll his eyes like the humans could. He'd become, over the years, certain that the ability would be very useful when it came to dealing with Ratchet, in particular.

"Whatever," he said dismissively. He made a move to go back to his utterly exasperating repair job, but Ratchet chose that moment to heave a long sigh and then to hitch himself up onto the berth next to the one that Wheeljack was so industriously ripping apart.

"Actually," he quietly confessed as he did so, with definite relief in his voice, "I just needed a break from the Den of Iniquity."

Wheeljack, amused, leaned back against the mostly-dismantled base of the berth behind him.

"Really now?" he asked lightly as he canted his face upward in order to meet Ratchet's gaze. "'Cuz the word around here seems to be that the Constructicons are set to gain a seventh member any day now."

"Hah!" Ratchet scoffed. And then he grumbled, "Y'know, Starscream's much-too-big mouth in combination with Swoop's much-too-strong penchant for gossiping is a serious threat to the universe's sanity."

Wheeljack snickered.

"Besides," Ratchet continued, "purple and seizure-inducing lime green? Seriously, who the hell thought that that was a good idea?"

Wheeljack made a vague gesture at their surroundings and answered, "Maybe the same person who thought that floor-to-ceiling orange was a good idea."

Ratchet grunted in agreement, and then there was a stretch of comfortable, companionable silence between them. Wheeljack was just about to go back to addressing the medberth's sundry issues when Ratchet spoke up again, this time saying with studied and very careful mildness, "So. How're the kids?"

Wheeljack gave Ratchet a measuring look for a moment, deeply suspecting that he was really only asking after one kid in particular. Still, he answered, "Well, he won't admit it, but Snarl's sort of despondent because his sparring partner's off having 'fun' at the Den of Iniquity. So he's been shooting stuff and trying to pick fights without actually saying anything, so guess how much success he's having?"

Ratchet snorted.

"And Sludge…is Sludge," Wheeljack continued. "He seems to be channeling his inner Michelangelo because he's decided that the ceiling in the Control Room is in desperate need of a makeover. He just marched in there the other day and went to work."

Ratchet chortled at that.

"Would've liked to have seen Prowl's face," he commented.

"Mmm," Wheeljack agreed with a nod. "Didn't see it myself, but Bluestreak told me that Jazz told him that Ironhide told him that it was quite the Kodak moment. Especially once Optimus decided and then announced that a makeover was a smashing idea."

"Poor Prowl," Ratchet commented, chuckling merrily and not even trying to hold back a not-very-sympathetic grin.

"One does tend to wonder how he manages to stay sane around here," Wheeljack lightly agreed with a nod. Then he added, "Oh, and Grimlock acquired another orphan a few days ago."

"Oh, Primus," Ratchet responded. "What now?" When Wheeljack just gave him a merry look in response, he wearily amended, "Tell me it wasn't an elephant."

Wheeljack snickered and answered, "No, but he does so enjoy holding that notion over Optimus's head. No, it was a bird. A big, ugly vulture or something. It has a mangled wing, but Swoop's gone just slightly maternal over it, and she's insisting that the thing's gonna fly again if it kills her. So Grim's got a partner in crime with this one…"

"And Swoop?" Ratchet prompted a few moments after Wheeljack's voice trailed off.

Wheeljack gave him an uncertain look.

"Well, you've talked to her practically every day," he pointed out.

"Yes, I have," Ratchet answered with a nod. "But she doesn't really say anything, and over the comm it's hard to read between the lines. I'm…worried about her," he admitted, and such admissions from him were few and far between.

"Mmm," Wheeljack murmured in agreement, suddenly realizing that needing a break from Decepticon Headquarters likely wasn't the only reason for Ratchet's sudden and unannounced visit. When he said nothing else, though, Ratchet heaved an impatient sigh.

"So?" he prompted.

"Well, physically she's fine," Wheeljack reported after a moment of thought, opting to address the aspect that he could address most confidently. "I mean, she gets tired easily and often, but I'm thinking that that's normal. Cold seems to be bothering her more than usual, though, and I don't know what's with that…but that's not what you want to know, is it?" he asked when he noticed the somewhat impatient look on Ratchet's face.

"No," Ratchet answered quietly.

Wheeljack sighed. He picked up a piece of the diagnostic computer that happened to be lying on the floor within arm's reach and idly toyed with it, the better not to look Ratchet in the face as he spoke.

"I really don't know what to tell you, Ratch," Wheeljack confessed. "I can only say that you're not the only one who's worried. I'm worried. Grimlock's in full-on mama bear mode over her, so watch out. Prowl's expressed some concern for her here and there. I even get the sense that Optimus is worried about her, from the odd way that he looks at her sometimes." Ratchet snorted at that as Wheeljack continued, "She covers up whatever she's feeling with the snark thing – and I can't imagine who she got that tendency from – but I'm pretty sure that things bother her way more than she lets on and that she's having some…difficulties. But even if that's so, she won't talk about it. At least, not with me. Not with us," he finished bitterly, and then he tossed the piece of the computer he'd been playing with aside.

"Thundercracker," Ratchet guessed flatly.

"Mmm," Wheeljack wordlessly grumbled as he met Ratchet's troubled gaze. Then he added, "First Starscream, now him. Is it wrong of me to be…I dunno…insanely jealous, maybe? And resentful. Not to mention really, really worried about the whole…thing," he finished, making a vague waving gesture in the air.

Ratchet grimaced.

"Well, even if it's wrong," he answered, "I'm jealous, resentful, and really worried right there with you, 'Jack."

"You didn't screw up on those tests, did you?" Wheeljack asked. "I mean, you're positive that he really is her…her…"

"Yes, he is," Ratchet answered as Wheeljack sputtered helplessly. "I ran the tests four times just to be sure that I didn't screw up."

"And that sort of thing can't be…faked, maybe?" Wheeljack asked.

Ratchet smiled at him almost patronizingly.

"No," he answered firmly. "And even if it could be, what on Earth would he gain by doing so?"

Wheeljack sighed and then buried his face in his hands.

"Nothing," he admitted grudgingly. "Besides driving you and me crazy, that is."

"Pfft," Ratchet scoffed. "You're already crazy."

"Said the kettle to the pot," Wheeljack peevishly amended, lifting his head to give Ratchet an annoyed glare.

Ratchet frowned at him…but he didn't argue the point. Instead, he sighed and said, "Really, when all is said and done, I suppose that we have reason to be thankful to him." When Wheeljack only blinked in response, befuddled and perhaps a bit scandalized, Ratchet quietly added, "If it weren't for what he did, she wouldn't be who she is…and she wouldn't be ours."

Wheeljack blinked again and then faintly murmured, "I suppose so." He paused to consider the implications of what Ratchet had said, and then he shook his head as he decided, "Nope. Still jealous, resentful, and worried."

Ratchet chuckled quietly and said, "Me, too. So…Where is she?"

"Right now?" Wheeljack asked. At Ratchet's nod, he blinked, thought for a moment, and then answered, "Well, it's almost 1300, so she's probably napping."

And then Swoop walked into the medbay.

"Or not," Wheeljack amended mildly.

Swoop stopped in her tracks as she took in the tableau before her, and then she gave Ratchet a look and asked, unwittingly echoing Wheeljack, "What're you doing here?"

Ratchet made an exasperated noise and countered, "I live here."

"Really?" Swoop responded mildly. "Could've fooled me."

Ratchet emitted another exasperated noise and reminded her, "I've not even been gone two weeks."

"Mmmm," Swoop responded. "Feels more like two years."

"Time flies when you're having fun," Wheeljack quipped.

Swoop gave him an amused look and then moved toward the berth that Ratchet was sitting on. She climbed up onto it and then wordlessly and unceremoniously snuggled up to Ratchet, wrapping herself around him and heaving a very contented sigh once she'd settled herself.

Wheeljack and Ratchet exchanged a surprised look; Swoop had always been of a more tactile bent and had even been accused by a number of individuals, including Starscream, of being downright cuddly. Usually when she felt a need to be cuddly, she sought out a brother or Wheeljack as an outlet, mostly because she knew that Ratchet, like Slag, wasn't the cuddly sort, that cuddliness tended to make him uncomfortable more than anything else. At the moment, she didn't seem to care, and Ratchet seemed to understand her need. Wheeljack found it all deeply amusing.

Swoop, meanwhile, murmured at Ratchet as if in explanation, "Missed you."

Ratchet smiled affectionately and murmured back, "Missed you, too, Wingnut."

"How long can you stay?" she asked quietly.

Ratchet sighed and answered, "Not long, I'm afraid. The big powwow's scheduled to happen soon, once they either find or give up looking for the Combaticons. And I just have this crazy feeling that there'll be bloodshed."

Swoop grimaced unhappily and murmured, "Mmm."

"But in the meantime…" Ratchet said. "How're you doing, Swoop?"

Swoop looked up at him then, frowning at him questioningly at the change of subject. The first thing that she thought to say was simply to tell him the truth, and she almost started to blurt out thoughtless words, as usual. She stopped herself only when it occurred to her that she couldn't quite put all of it into words, especially not on such short notice.

Some things would have been easy to explain, to articulate, because some things that were bothering her were obvious and, more importantly, understandable. Much of it had to do with making the adjustment, the transition, from one sort of existence to an entirely different and far more daunting sort of existence. Some of it had to do with a natural fear and anxiety surrounding her impending motherhood. Some of it had to do with her unease at the new way that most of those around her were starting to treat her and her increasing feelings of isolation, of different-ness, because of it. It was a completely new sort of isolation and different-ness than that which she had always felt, just because she was a Dinobot, and she didn't know how to handle it yet.

Those things, Swoop knew, were all understandable. Clear. Easily comprehensible. They all made sense and because of that, she could deal with them all, would deal with them all, given time to do so. She just had to remind herself constantly that this was all new and that she had to give herself some slack. She knew that things would improve and become more comfortable as time went on and she settled more firmly into her new role in life.

But other things that were troubling her made no sense to Swoop at all, and they only seemed to be making increasingly less sense as time went on. Those things existed under the surface, not entirely in her conscious mind, but they were definitely there. They came to her mostly when she was exhausted but yet couldn't settle into recharge, usually because of the tumult going on inside of her body as her son developed. At those times, she tended to drift in a thick, cloying fog that wasn't quite sleep but that also wasn't quite wakefulness. It was a state in which conscious and subconscious tended to collide and then messily half-merge. In such a state, that which was buried tended to emerge for a while, and it could be examined during that time, until it was re-interred beneath the trials and tribulations of everyday, waking, conscious life.

Swoop had come to believe that what she experienced at those times were memories. What was troubling was that, if she was correct, they were memories that quite obviously weren't her own. They were strange recollections of things that, from what little context she could discern, had obviously happened well before she had existed even the first time around and, in some cases, that had occurred in places where she had never been. It was mostly a collection of vague, phantom sensory input. There were sequences of visual images, some clear and some grossly distorted. There were stray smells and sounds and even some tactile input. And, just within the last few days, voices had started to come to her, too. They murmured and whispered at her, with a level of urgency that slightly increased each time that she experienced them. Although she usually couldn't catch the words – or, when she could catch them, the words were merely gibberish to her – she knew with a strange and disquieting certainty that they were trying to tell her something, perhaps to warn her about something. Something, she was certain, that was very important.

But what? More than that, Swoop wondered how she could be certain that she wasn't simply going crazy, cracking under the strain of her situation and having wild, fevered hallucinations as a result. And even if she wasn't going crazy, how, she wondered, was she supposed to put any of what she was experiencing into words? She couldn't. She hadn't. Not to anyone. And she found that she couldn't do so now, either, not even for the benefit of the two individuals who, apart from her Dinobot brothers, knew her best and cared about her the most.

So she said instead, determined to convince herself, if no one else, that it was true, "I'm fine."

And then it was Ratchet who was wishing for the eye-rolling ability.

"Sweet Primus, Swoop," he said exasperatedly, "please don't start emulating Prowl. Bad enough that Slag does it."

"I'm not," Swoop insisted, scowling and pulling away from Ratchet. "I really am fine."

She might have convinced someone who didn't know her well. As it was, there was a slight, only barely detectable tremor in her voice that Wheeljack nevertheless easily picked up on and that set off warning bells in his processors. In response to it, he hauled himself up onto his knees and then laid a comforting hand on Swoop's leg. Once he did so, he could feel the tension coiling within her, and that, along with the tremor in her voice, completely belied her assertion that she was fine.

"Little Bit," Wheeljack said quietly, reassuringly, "you've been through…a lot. I mean, I can't even imagine it. Your life's been turned upside-down, and it's perfectly natural to be…overwhelmed. Upset. Afraid. We just want to help, that's all. Talk to us, please."

Swoop blinked down at Wheeljack's face, taking in the naked and deep concern that was radiating from every inch of him. Concern from Wheeljack wasn't unusual. He had always been protective of her and her brothers, perhaps even overprotective, but that wasn't necessarily surprising given what had happened early on in their lives. Swoop knew that his normal protectiveness was now, quite understandably, ramped up a few more notches where she was concerned. And Swoop didn't like worrying him, most of all didn't like hurting him. Unbidden, something that she'd said to Thundercracker not even twenty-four hours before suddenly came back to her. She'd told Thundercracker that not talking to Skywarp was hurting Skywarp, and the irony of her words was not lost upon her now, for the same could easily be said to her about not talking, at least not really talking, to Wheeljack. Or to Ratchet.

So, Swoop pulled in a huge, steadying breath, and she murmured to Wheeljack, almost too softly to hear, "It's hard. Everything. It's just…so hard now." Her voice started shaking then, in earnest, and she found herself confessing, "And…And on top of everything else, I think I'm going crazy. I think…I…Oh, Primus help me."

And that was all that Wheeljack needed to hear. He wrapped his arms around her, pulled her gently off the berth that she'd been sitting on, and then gathered her against him. He cradled her, rocking her like the child that she still was in so many ways. She clung to him gratefully in return, and Wheeljack held her, offering her comfort and reassurance, whispering to her, encouraging her to talk, to just let it all out, telling her that doing so would make her feel better.

Ratchet watched Swoop shaking in Wheeljack's arms. He listened to what Swoop said and listened to Wheeljack crooning comfortingly to her in response, reassuring her that she wasn't losing her mind.

And he murmured, more to himself than to either of them, "Yeah. Think I'll stay for a day or five."

Now, as promised/threatened, review replies. Apologies for length, as usual. Feel free to skip, if you're uninterested in my blather.

Lily Avalon (who also left a review for "What Goes Around"): I'm really glad that you stuck with and ended up enjoying that story. (As well as this one, so far; I love the concept of "storyteller TC," too. :) ) I agree that jumping right in makes the story more difficult…but really, that's kind of how I wanted it. AUs, in my opinion, can get totally bogged down in initial exposition. It's sort of the nature of the beast, necessary in order to set things up, but I wanted to avoid that as much as possible. Or at least I wanted to incorporate the necessary exposition seamlessly into the narrative as much as possible. It's a risk, of course; I'm sure lots of people become confused and lose interest before they can get into it, even though the story does have some "non-integrated" exposition, in its prologue. Looking at the story's statistics, the first non-prologue chapter does get the most hits…but it's hard to know if that's because people lost interest or if they were only interested in the "sex" in the first place. *laughs*

In any case, if I can corrupt people with new OTPs, then that makes me very happy. These two are certainly one of mine, now…although I think you're totally right in that it only works in this context. Especially for me, actually, since I'm generally not a fan of cross-faction stuff. (Other than Starscream/Skyfire, I suppose…but to me that's not really cross-faction.) And for me it was (and continues to be) something of a challenge to write romance-but-not-really-romance. My natural tendency is to err on the side of mush, with all sorts of mushy build-up to eventual gushy proclamations of undying love and such. That doesn't really work for this 'verse because the situation is not…well, normal. :) But that, too, makes this fun for me to write.

Vivienne Grainger, to whom I still owe a PM despite your protests otherwise: You know, it's a fine line to walk, with Starscream. It's a challenge to change him yet keep him recognizably "himself." I mean, it's an AU; I could turn him into someone who ballet dances and randomly spouts love poetry, if I want to. But even though it's an obvious AU where some things, including the entire backstory, are very different, one of my "goals," I guess, is to keep it at least tenuously grounded in the "real" universe. Especially in the sense of creating and injecting what I think are logical reasons for the things that intrigue me about the "real" universe, and even to justify those things that make no sense to me.

I mean, just the fact that Megatron is usually portrayed as "evil because he's evil" doesn't sit well with me. That's fairytale stuff. Or at best comic book stuff. And while I know the canon has some comic book roots, of course, it still doesn't sit well with me. So, I gave Megatron an actual cause. A quasi-noble and legitimate one, even, but one that went astray over time. Then there's Thundercracker's doubts. I always wondered why he hung around if he really had such things. I mean, I didn't see him as "going noble" and switching sides so much as just one day standing up and saying, "Screw you all!" and then taking off on his own. So, again, I gave him a reason to stay. Several of them, actually. And an upcoming biggie is addressing the relationship between Megatron and Starscream. I've always thought that Screamer would not have the position that he has unless there had been some hefty mutual respect and trust between him and Megatron at some point in time. Something obviously went wrong along the way, and now I can explore that within the context of this 'verse. And then…Then there's Optimus Prime. And Alpha Trion. Heeheeheeheeheehee… OK, I'll stop manically giggling like Tarantulas now…

But anyway…Yeah, fine line to walk. I want to change some aspects of Starscream, for various reasons, but it has to be done carefully, I think, in order to keep him believable and recognizable along the way. Fortunately, the thing with Swoop gives me quite a bit of latitude. *laughs* And the first step, as you mentioned, is to add a bit of transparency and introspection to him…and then to shock the hell out of others with it.

Thornwitch: Gosh,I'm so glad that you appreciate characterization. :) Because really, I consider it the only thing that I do well. I have difficulty coming up with huge, plotty stories that aren't…Well, stupid. The one for this 'verse is probably the least-stupid one (I hope!) that I've ever come up with. But I love, love, love to dig into and pick apart the mind and motivations of a character who intrigues me for whatever reason. In fact, that's the very reason that I'm a Transformers fan. I'm really not "into" robots or science fiction in general. For me, Transformers simply has a boatload of otherwise barely-defined characters who have these intriguing little built-in "hooks" to them, and that's what draws me in and makes it so that I can't walk away even when I try to. Plus, it has dinosaurs of a sort. ;)

And yeah, for all that this Swoop in this 'verse is essentially a child in many ways, a curious mix of strength and vulnerability, I want her and Starscream to have a "grown-up" kind of relationship because it isn't something you often see in fanfic, and not just TF fanfic. Particularly, it seems to me that you don't often see it with Starscream, where he's often either dominated/brutalized, willingly or otherwise (or, sometimes, being a brutalizer himself), or he's being taken care of by someone who's trying to make his issues all better. (Which isn't a judgment or a criticism, mind you; I've done both, at the same time, myself. *laughs*) I just wanted a bit of "now for something completely different" here. Essentially, I've always had this fangirlish desire to turn Starscream into something of a complex but issue-less mature-grown-up "alpha male" without giving him his fondest wish (i.e. being "leader of the Decepticons," because having isn't nearly as fun as wanting) and without turning him into a tyrant in his own turn. Indulging that desire was, of course, one of the driving forces behind the creation of this 'verse.

And then there's Thundercracker, yes. Over the years, he eventually eclipsed Starscream and became my favorite character, and I just love playing with him in all sorts of different ways. The "dad thing" did indeed grow out of a desire to give him a logical, concrete reason for his nebulous canonical "doubts," but it grew from there to have all sorts of intriguing possibilities. If nothing else, it creates potential conflict between him and…Well, many characters, actually, and conflict is, IMO, always good. :)

Ebony Kain: "Shotgun Thundercracker" is a fun image, isn't it? *laughs* If I was better at drawing, I'd draw it. Poor TC. He finds what he's long been looking for, only to discover that he has to share her with a bunch of other people in different ways. And the Dinobots…Well, if I were Starscream, I'd be afraid. Very afraid. *laughs*