Red Alert's gaze moved from the monitor screen to Optimus Prime. "Well?"

Prime forced himself to answer in an even tone. "Well what, Red Alert?"

"I'm sure you have some sort of explanation for this," the security officer said shortly.

"You're more familiar with the quirks of our base's security systems than I am," Prime replied. "I don't know how you expect me to know what caused this sort of malfunction."

"I just find it awfully suspicious, is all," Red Alert replied. "Suspicious that every time that sparkling's been left by himself for the past week or so, there's been a rather convenient camera glitch."

"Are you accusing Optimus of sabotaging our base's security?" Ratchet demanded, narrowing his optics.

"I'm only suggesting that Prime might know something about this," Red Alert replied. "Seeing as he and Metronix are practically attached at the hip."

Ratchet scowled darkly, and the other officers present exchanged worried looks. They had answered Red Alert's summons to the control room expecting to learn about some sort of security breach. There had been a breach, all right – but not one any of them had expected. They had all listened in shock as the security officer had shown them how, at times when Metronix had been left by himself or managed to sneak away from his caretakers for a minute, the cameras in that area had quit working. Sometimes they came back online after a few minutes, but more often they remained offline until Red Alert or Grapple could fix them. Red Alert had even shown them a power cable he'd collected from one of the damaged cams, which someone had severed quite cleanly.

"Someone wants to hide something regarding the sparkling from us," Prowl noted.

"Thank ya, Cap'n Obvious," Ironhide grumbled.

Jazz shrugged. "Ain't th' first time we've had t' deal with this. Soundie's cassettes like to sneak in an' trash our cameras so we don't catch 'em doin' mischief. Maybe one of them's t' blame."

"You think Soundwave could be attempting to capture Metronix?" asked Prime, dread building in his fuel tank.

"Could be," Jazz replied. "That or just collectin' info. He's Megatron's number two – makes sense that he'd wanna keep an optic on 'im even in this state."

"Or maybe the problem is closer to home," Red Alert insisted. "Maybe someone wants to hide information regarding the sparkling…"

"Red Alert, think of what you're doing!" Ratchet snapped. "Are you prepared to accuse Optimus Prime of treason against the Autobots?"

"Just because he's the Prime doesn't mean he's infallible," Red Alert replied. "And no, not deliberate treason… but what if Metronix started showing signs of turning back into Megatron? And what if Prime wanted to hide that fact from us? It makes sense that he'd tamper with the security cameras to protect the sparkling."

Prime clenched his fists, anger searing through his chassis at the accusation. "I would sooner tear out my spark with my bare hands than cause harm to the Autobots."

Prowl gave Prime an odd look, as if not quite believing him. "Under normal circumstances, no… but mechs have been known to do strange things to protect those they care about."

"Aw, c'mon, Prowl!" Jazz protested. "This is Prime we're talkin' 'bout! He's always been straight with us. If anythin' were goin' screwy with Metronix, he'd let us know."

"Would he?" Ironhide cut in, a look of disgust on his face. "Maybe at th' beginnin' of this whole mess he would've… but I'm not so sure anymore."

All optics were on the old warrior now. Prime's first instinct was to order Ironhide to stay quiet, but he held his vocalizer with great effort. He'd known Ironhide didn't like Metronix and still considered him dangerous, but to know one of his closest friends no longer trusted him because of the sparkling left his internals feeling as if they were encased in ice.

"Don't tell me you're buying into this nonsense too, Ironhide," Ratchet barked. "Yes, Prime's fond of the sparkling, but I hardly think he would endanger the Autobot cause for Metronix's sake."

"Oh yeah?" Ironhide retorted. "Megatron's got Prime wrapped 'round his finger! Don't tell me y'all ain't seen it! Nonsense, y' call it, Ratch… but I've been watchin' that lil' scraplet, and it ain't nonsense that he's got half th' 'Bots fussin' over 'im like he's some kinda pet. It ain't nonsense that Prime's jumpin' t' his defense whenever anyone so much as looks at 'im funny. An' yeah… yeah, I think Prime would be tryin' t' hide th' evidence if he started turnin' back inta Megatron. 'Cause he's too wrapped up in playin' Daddy t' worry about th' safety of th' Autobots!"

Prime just stared at Ironhide, too shocked and angry to formulate a response. Prowl, sensing his anger, seized that moment of silence to step into the conversation.

"Some of what you say has merit, Ironhide," he said calmly. "Yes, Prime has become attached to the sparkling. Yes, his opinions are slightly biased because of that attachment. And yes, I agree that he needs to be extremely careful that he doesn't neglect his duties as Prime because of Metronix. But suggesting that he would stoop so low as to tamper with our security system to protect him is illogical to the point of ridiculousness." He turned to Red Alert. "Bring up the schematics of the Ark, and point out where the damaged cameras have been found."

Red Alert complied, activating a hologram that showed a cross-section of the Ark. Several points on the holo glowed red, indicating the locations of the cams in question. Prowl studied the holo for a long moment, faceplates set in a look of concentration.

"Well?" Ratchet demanded. "Find what you were looking for?"

Prowl nodded. "All the cameras that have suffered sabotage have one thing in common – they're easily accessible through the ventilation system." He touched a control, and the ventilation shafts glowed yellow. "And judging by the number of times Sideswipe has attempted to sneak about the base through the vents and gotten his sorry chassis stuck, I would say it's safe to assume that Optimus Prime, being larger than Sideswipe, couldn't be tampering with the cameras in that manner. The most logical answer is that yes, we have a cassette infestation."

"Prime could be havin' one o' Blaster's cassettes-" Ironhide began, determined to have his say.

"Primus almighty!" Jazz barked, throwing his hands up in frustration. "You're outta your processor, 'Hide! Prime ain't doin' it! An' neither are Blaster's cassettes!"

"How do YOU know?" Ironhide demanded. "Ya been keepin' tabs on th' cassettes twenty-four-seven?"

"No, but I know Blaster, an' he wouldn't let his cassettes do anythin' dirty for anyone, even Prime," Jazz countered, clenching his jaw in rare anger. "For Pit's sake, quit lookin' for reasons t' pin this on Prime!"

"Am I th' only one in this base NOT so stuck on the sparklin' that I can't see th' truth?" Ironhide retorted. "He's Megatron, an' if he's showin' any inclination t' grow up an' get his memory back-"

"Enough!" Prime shouted, putting all his anger into that one word. The room went dead silent, and every mech fixed their optics on him in surprise. Ironhide's mouth still hung open, as if he were prepared to launch into a tirade at the first opportunity, but Prime pressed on before he could do so.

"Enough out of all of you," Prime snapped, finally giving in to his frustration and anger. "I am appalled that any of you would think that I would jeopardize the Autobot cause for any reason! I am the Prime, and I am fully aware of my duties and responsibilities toward the Autobots, toward Cybertron, and toward making our homeworld safe again. I know what Megatron was capable of and what atrocities he committed against our world and others… perhaps better than anyone else here. Believe me, if I thought for a moment that Metronix would return to his old self, I would take immediate action."

Ironhide snorted in disbelief. Ratchet jabbed an elbow into his side to shut him up.

"But as the Prime, I am not only committed to serving the Autobots, but to protecting all sentient life. Freedom is the right of all sentient beings… not simply the Autobots, but anything capable of thinking and feeling for themselves. And that includes Metronix. Yes, he was once Megatron, but his memories of his former life are gone. Ratchet and Wheeljack have done countless scans on the sparkling, and he's shown no sign of changing back. I fully believe that Megatron is gone for good, and that Metronix will remain as he is until the time comes for his adult upgrade. So even if I was capable of such treasonous acts as sabotaging our security systems, why would I feel the need to do so?"

Jazz nodded slowly, a slow smile crossing his faceplate in agreement. Ironhide just glared, while Ratchet relaxed slightly at Prime's words. Red Alert wore a look of dawning comprehension, as if Prime's words had only just occurred to him. Prowl looked somewhat doubtful, but he held his vocalizer.

"If any of you still has doubts about Metronix, bring them to me privately. Until then… if I hear another baseless accusation from anyone, there will be consequences. Am I understood?"

"Yes, sir," Red Alert replied, sounding stung. "But there remains the fact that sabotage is happening – not saying it's you, of course. What are we going to do about it?"

"We're going to take the necessary action against it, of course," Prowl replied. "I want all cameras moved to locations where they can't be accessed via the ventilation shafts, and grates within the ducts themselves to restrict an intruder's movements without blocking air flow. I know, it won't stop a determined cassette, but it will at least slow them down. And from now on I want regular scanner sweeps of the ventilation system. If a cassette is responsible for this, we'll catch them."

Red Alert actually smiled at the order. "What I've been wanting for cycles, Prowl sir! Thank Primus, someone's finally taking my suggestions seriously!"

Prowl only nodded at the security officer before turning to Prime. "And you, Prime… I suggest you talk to Metronix. If something is happening with him during these security glitches, it's quite probable that he would know."

Prime sighed, a little annoyed that he and Metronix weren't being let completely off the hook, but nodded. This whole situation concerned the sparkling's safety as well as the base's security, and if something was happening to him during those camera glitches, he had to find out what it was. It could be harmless… but he couldn't take chances either.

"I will," he promised.

Prowl nodded. "Everyone's dismissed."

Ironhide gave a wordless growl of exasperation and stormed out. Ratched followed after him with a groan of dismay at the red mech's antics, while Jazz moved to Red Alert's side to look over the Ark schematics with him. Once he was sure the others were either gone or occupied, Prowl turned back to Prime and spoke in a low voice.

"I mean it, Prime," he said urgently. "We have to know what's going on with Metronix. The fact that this only happens when Metronix is alone is very worrying. Talk to him and get to the bottom of this… and report it to the officers."

"I fully intend to," Prime assured him.

"Optimus… I mean it," Prowl insisted. "Even if it's bad news, you have to let us know."

The accusation in his second-in-command's tone stung. "You know I would never keep secrets from the Autobots."

Prowl raised an optic ridge. "Not long ago you were ready to withhold information from the Autobot Council to protect Metronix. Given that evidence, I do think it is possible that you would keep secrets from your officers if you thought it would protect the sparkling."

If his earlier accusation stung, those words actually cut into his spark. Had he really lost the trust of his officers so quickly? Was his attachment to Metronix alienating him from his own troops? Prowl wasn't given to mincing words, so his blunt assessment of the situation was rather harsh… but it was honest, and Prime knew it only hurt because it was the truth.

"I will, Prowl," he replied, more quietly than he'd intended. "I promise you that. From here on out, no more secrets."

Prowl's gaze didn't soften. "Even if it means possible action against Metronix?"

Prime had to force himself to say his next words. "Yes. But promise me one thing, Prowl. If the officers decide to take action against him… be gentle. Megatron or not, he is still a sparkling."

The ensuing silence was agony for Prime… and Prowl's eventual answer a relief. "I will do what I can, Prime. If it's necessary to take action, I will ensure it's not needlessly cruel. I can't promise anything more than that."

Prime sighed in relief. "Thank you."

Prowl nodded. "Go talk to him. The sooner we can get to the bottom of this, the better."

Prime's thoughts were a whirl as he left the control room, heading for the rec room at a brisk pace. Whatever was happening, he hoped to Primus it was simply Soundwave's cassettes making mischief, and not someone trying to conceal something more sinister. He wanted this situation resolved without harm to either the Autobots or Metronix. The real question, the one he worried over the most, would be whether he got what he wanted in the end.

If Prime knew where Metronix was at that exact moment – not in the rec room with Hound like he was supposed to be, but hiding in a supply closet with Ravage for company – he would have quickly realized he had far more to worry about than possible Autobot action against the sparkling.

"There's a guy that can teleport?" Metronix asked, optics bright with awe. "That's so cool!"

Skywarp isn't exactly known for using his powers for useful purposes, Ravage replied, looking up from grooming a paw. Still, one can't deny that it's a powerful ability.

"Your friends sound awesome," he said enviously. "I wish I was that cool."

Don't put yourself down, little one, Ravage advised. You have the potential to be just as… cool… as my comrades, if you but put your CPU to it.

Metronix nodded eagerly, then looked down at the lightboard picture he was assembling. He had been trying to create a picture of Soundwave based on Ravage's descriptions of him, but all he'd managed to come up with was a blue-and-white blob with stumpy arms and legs. He sighed and began pulling out the pegs. Maybe he could talk Ravage into letting him see Soundwave for himself sometime, so he could get a better idea of what he looked like.

Then again, Metronix wished he could meet all of Ravage's friends. They all sounded so awesome! Thundercracker, with his ability to make sonic booms and his superior flying skills… Skywarp, the teleporter with a crazy sense of humor… Soundwave, telepathic and a master of sound attacks… the Constructicons, expert builders and with the ability to merge into a huge mech called Devastator… they all sounded so cool! Sure, there were Autobots with cool abilities, like the Dinobots and Mirage and Hound, but he never saw them actually do anything with them. If only he could see these guys for himself.

"Why don't your friends ever come here?" asked Metronix. "Or does Daddy not like them too?"

Your father is… uncomfortable with our abilities, Ravage explained. We are stronger than Autobots, with better abilities, and for that reason he doesn't trust us. Maybe he's jealous. Or maybe he simply fears that with us around, the Autobots would choose to follow us instead of him. I really don't know; I'm not inside his CPU. But the fact remains that so long as you live here, I cannot show them to you.

"Awww," Metronix whined. "Not fair."

Ravage cocked his head to one side. There is a way, though. I cannot bring my friends here… but you could come with me to meet them.

Metronix's optics went wide. "Really?"

Really. It's something of a long journey, but we could make it easily. All you'd have to do is follow me out. I'd make sure we didn't get caught, and then I could take you to our hideout. And you would finally get to see Soundwave and the others up close. Wouldn't that be fun?

"Yeah!" he exclaimed, grinning brightly. But then a thought occurred to him, and his grin faded away. "But if I go, Daddy'll get worried."

Ravage pinned his ears back. And if he does worry? It's not like you'd be leaving forever, right? We could visit my friends and then come right back.

"But I might get in trouble. I'm not supposed to go off by myself. I could get in trouble right now!"

But you're not by yourself – you're with me. Your father just worries that something bad might happen to you if you wander off. But I would protect you. His optics seemed to get larger, as if he were trying to pull an innocent face. You can trust me, Metronix, right?

Metronix nodded, but he still had his doubts. He hadn't been outside the base except for a few trips to the landing platform since… well, since Daddy had found him out in the forest. He couldn't remember anything but a few fragments before that, but what little he did remember – frightening images of explosions and flames, screams, and a sense of terrifying evil – didn't exactly make him want to leave the security of the Ark anytime soon. And more than anything, he didn't want to make Daddy upset.

"I don't wanna go right now," he said at last. "Maybe later."

Ravage slumped a bit, optics narrowing, but he recovered from his disappointment quickly. Perhaps another time, then. When you're ready, not before. He nudged Spotty toward Metronix with his nose. I have to go. As always, it was pleasant visiting with you.

"See you tomorrow?"

If I can find the time. Be good, Metronix. And he went to the open ventilation grate and vanished.

Metronix sighed and picked up Spotty and the lightboard, tucking them both under one arm. He wished he could bring Ravage out in the open and play with him. He thought the Dinobots might like him, and maybe Steeljaw would like having a playmate. But Ravage insisted they stay hidden, saying that Daddy would be mad if he ever found out. Metronix didn't understand why Daddy would be so against Ravage staying at the base – he was harmless, and he kept Metronix company.

He ducked out of the closet and peered up and down the hall before hurrying back toward the rec room. Hound would realize he was gone by now, and probably be looking for him. The green mech was pretty easygoing and hard to get angry, but he didn't want to push his luck.

He scooted around a corner, then squeaked in fright and ducked back behind the corner as two mechs suddenly emerged from a set of heavy doors. He knew these mechs, and while the one had never done anything to hurt Metronix, he was still grouchy enough that he didn't want anything to do with him. The other was nice enough, he supposed, but so funny-looking that Metronix had a hard time not giggling whenever he saw him.

"I'm tellin' ya, those 'Cons have been far too quiet for my liking," Brawn complained, fiddling with something on his rifle as they walked on by. "They're up to no good."

"And that's different how?" gurgled Seaspray, looking up from the harpoon gun he was carrying.

"Well, up to something worse than they usually are," Brawn amended. "Wish something would happen soon. It would at least be more interesting than these pointless weapons drills we have to go through."

"I'd prefer it stayed quiet," Seaspray replied. "It's nice getting a break from the fighting."

"I'm tellin' ya, Seaspray, it's the calm before the storm…"

Metronix waited until their voices had faded before peering around the corner again. No one else was coming out of that room… but the doors were still open. Brawn and Seaspray had been so caught up in their conversation that they'd forgotten to shut them.

A sudden, irresistible urge to look seized Metronix, and all thought of getting back to Hound fled his CPU. He crept quietly to the doors and peered inside, wondering what he might find. He'd seen these doors before, but they were always locked. What was so secret in here? He'd been warned not to go inside rooms without asking, but curiosity overrode any warnings.

"Wow," he whispered. The room was packed with weapons – guns and rifles of every shape and size, swords and axes and knives in just as wide a variety as the guns, missiles for those mechs outfitted to fire them, and other objects Metronix couldn't identify but that still looked impressive to his young optics. Most of the weaponry was neatly arranged in racks along the walls, though a few guns were lying on a bench in the center of the room, some in pieces. And a thick smell of smoke and oil hung in the air, tickling something in the very back of his CPU as if stirring a memory…

He shook his head and stepped into the room, optics wide. He had seen most of the adults carrying guns at one point or another, but Daddy had always admonished him not to play with them, and he was never allowed a toy one for himself. Naturally, the forbidden nature of these objects only made them all the more alluring to him. He just wanted to touch one… just once, to see what it was like. It wasn't going to jump up and bite him, was it?

A large rifle, almost big enough to be a cannon, sat in a rack on one wall, and Metronix recognized it as Daddy's – he had kept it in their room for a short time before Red Alert had demanded it be moved. He decided that one was as good as any to hold, and was making his way toward it when something else caught his optic.

"Oooooh…" He stopped in his tracks, awestruck. A large black cannon was tucked into one corner of the room, partially hidden behind a stack of ammo boxes. It didn't look nearly as new or shiny as Daddy's rifle – it was scratched and dented, and dried mud still clung to the barrel. But the sheer size of it was impressive enough that he left the rifle alone and headed over to investigate it. It was almost big enough for Ravage to crawl into!

He grabbed the barrel of the cannon and tried tugging it out into the open. It was extremely heavy, and he was only able to scoot it a few feet before giving up. He figured he could get a good look at it right here. He walked around the cannon, poking and studying every detail, even sticking his head into the barrel to see if there was anything interesting inside.

Idly he wondered why he hadn't seen anyone carrying this weapon. Was it too big for them? It was so huge only Grimlock, Skyfire, and possibly Daddy could use it without falling over. But still, it looked awesome and powerful enough that he didn't understand why they didn't take it with them when they fought. If he was allowed outside to fight with the grownups, he would have taken it in a sparkbeat! He could just imagine himself carrying it… or maybe clipping it to his arm and carrying it that way, marching into battle and kicking serious aft…

"Whoa." He shook his head again, a little unsettled by how quickly that image had sprung to his CPU. It was almost as if the memory of him in battle, taller and stronger and with this cannon fixed to his arm, was already there, and just waiting for this moment to show up. And now that it was in his memory banks for good, he wasn't sure how well he liked it.

He tried to push it out of his memory banks and returned to his study of the cannon. He wondered if he could make it go off. There didn't seem to be a trigger of any kind. But there was a button of sorts on the side… maybe if he were to push it…

"There you are!" Hound exclaimed, stepping into the doorway at that moment. "I've been looking all over for you, little guy. You know better than to run-" His voice cut off mid-sentence, and his optics went wide with horror. "Metronix, don't touch that-"

His warning came an instant too late. Metronix's hand had landed on the firing stud, and before the scout's warning could sink in he'd pressed it.

Ironhide had been expecting this moment from the very beginning, so he wasn't particularly surprised when alarms suddenly went off throughout the base.

Shots fired in the armory! came Hound's cry over the radio. Shot's fired! I'm hit!

Dread flooded Ironhide's spark with a sudden chill, and he pulled his gun and charged for the armory. Slag it all, he'd told everyone this had been coming! He knew Hound had been in charge of watching Metronix today while Prime was busy, though why the scout had been stupid enough to take him into the armory was anyone's guess. And while Hound hadn't identified the shooter, Ironhide knew full well only one thing could have happened – Megatron had returned to his normal self, or at least regained his memory, and had attacked the first Autobot he had seen.

Everyone had chosen to ignore his warnings, and now they were paying the price. Ironhide only hoped he could get there in time to stop Megatron from killing Hound, and that he would be able to do what needed to be done.

His worst fears were realized as he burst into the armory. Hound lay near the door, clutching his side and scrambling to get to his feet even as smoke and fluids poured from his ragged wound. Brawn and Seaspray were doing their best to help, Seaspray grabbing Hound by the arm and tugging him toward the door while Brawn tried to get close enough to the sparkling to knock the cannon away from him. Blasts of plasma fire kept erupting from the weapon, driving Brawn back and making him curse virulently at every near miss.

It was Megatron's cannon, Ironhide realized… and Metronix clutched it tightly, despite the weapon being so big he couldn't even wrap his arms all the way around it. He wore a look of utter terror on his faceplate, and every blast of the cannon made him scream piercingly.

"Shut it off, kid!" Brawn shouted. "For the love of Primus, turn the blasted thing off!"

"I can't!" Metronix cried. "It's stuck on!"

"He must have jammed the firing stud!" Hound called out, wincing as he fell to his knees.

Ironhide gave a snarl of exasperation and stormed toward the sparkling. Jammed the firing stud? More likely he had the weapon on automatic fire. Everyone was still so determined to see Metronix as an innocent that they'd believe anything. Slag, they'd probably call it an accident if he cut their throats in cold oil. If anything was to be done to stop the rampage, it was up to him.

Metronix screamed in mingled pain and fear as Ironhide swatted him away from the weapon. Disregarding him for the moment, Ironhide raised his foot and stomped on the cannon. There was a flash and a horrific crackle of energy as the power cells shattered at the blow, then the constant barrage of fire cut off. He stomped on it twice more for good measure, denting the barrel into a V-shape and ensuring it could never be fired again.

Once he was sure Megatron's cannon was out of commission he looked up. The armory was unexpectedly full of mechs and noise at the moment. Ratchet had ducked in during the chaos and was yelling at Hound to sit down and stay down so he could look over his injuries. Brawn was bellowing at Seaspray, insisting that the boat-former had left the door open, while Seaspray shouted back that it had to have been Brawn who neglected to lock up after they'd left. Everyone was ignoring the sparkling completely, never thinking that he could easily grab another weapon and continue where he'd left off.

It was up to Ironhide, it looked like, to ensure this didn't happen again.

Metronix huddled in the far corner of the armory, keening and venting quickly in panic. Scratches and dents marred his chestplate where Ironhide had struck him, and his optics were wild with terror like those of a cornered animal. For a moment, Ironhide thought that perhaps this truly had been an accident, and that the sparkling was just as terrified at what he'd done as everyone else…

He shook his head, clenching his jaw in a grim scowl. No time to get soft-sparked. Metronix had almost killed Hound, and if Ironhide hadn't stopped him there was no telling how many mechs he would have slaughtered before everyone had finally woken up to the fact that they had the Great Slagmaker in their midst.

He closed the gap between himself and Metronix, and as the sparkling watched in terror he raised his gun, placing the muzzle to the silver mech's helm.

When Optimus entered the rec room and found no trace of Hound and Metronix, he was concerned but not yet alarmed. It would be like Hound to take the sparkling outside for a walk and try to teach him to appreciate nature. Granted, the scout was usually good about radioing Prime and asking permission for those sorts of things, but Prime was willing to make an allowance for a slip of the memory.

Before he could ping Hound and ask where he and the sparkling were, though, the alarms sounded… and Hound's frantic voice over the radio came as a blow to the fuel tanks.

Oh no… Metronix, please don't be hurt! He took off at a dead run, startling Silverbolt when he rounded a corner too suddenly and sending a cluster of minibots scattering out of his path. Decepticons must have infiltrated the base and gotten into the armory, and Hound must have taken fire trying to protect the sparkling. That had to be it… and as terrible as it seemed, he prayed that was the case. He wouldn't consider that the unthinkable had occurred, and Metronix had reverted to Megatron…

He entered the armory to find the room in chaos… and a sight that nearly made his fuel pump stop. Ironhide stood over Metronix, a gun held to the trembling sparkling's helm, a cold glint to his optics that bespoke his intentions all too well.


He didn't remember leaping across the room, nor did he remember the impact. One moment he was standing in the doorway, staring in horror, and the next he was on the floor, one knee planted in the red warrior's back and his arms clamping the mech's neck in a headlock. The gun skittered across the floor to come to rest at a stunned Seaspray's feet.

"What in the Pit…" Ratchet got out before his voice failed him.

"Gerroff!" Ironhide roared, thrashing to break free. "Get the frag offa me!"

"Seaspray, get Prowl!" Prime barked. "Tell him to bring cuffs, possibly other restraints, and a transformation lock!" He glanced up to see the minibot staring at him in utter shock. "Now!"

"Uh… yes sir!" Seaspray hurried off.

Metronix finally seemed to snap out of his petrified state, and he curled up in a ball, crying loudly. Prime desperately wanted to go over to him and hug him tightly, to assure him that everything would be all right, but he didn't dare let go of the mech in his grip. Instead he tightened his hold, eliciting a curse from the red warrior.

"Ironhide, you have precisely thirty astroseconds to explain what in the Pit you were doing, and you had better hope to Primus that it's enough to convince me not to deactivate you here and now!" he snarled, the sheer rage in his voice making every mech in the room flinch.

"I was doin' what shoulda been done t' start with!" Ironhide snapped. "Doin' what had t' be done t' protect th' Autobots! 'Cause no one else would!"

"You were going to shoot an innocent sparkling!" Prime growled.

"I was takin' down a killer!" Ironhide retorted. "He opened fire on Autobots, Prime! He shot Hound and woulda shot others if I hadn't stopped 'im! I was makin' sure it wouldn't happen again!"

"It was an accident," Hound protested, raising his hand. "He wandered off, and I found him in the armory playing with a weapon. Before I could stop him he got it to go off, and the firing stud jammed. It's my own fault, sir…"

"Just as much Seaspray's fault as anyone's," Brawn cut in. "He left the door open after we came in to grab our weapons." He hesitated. "Or maybe I did… I don't remember…"

"That ain't th' problem!" Ironhide insisted. "Are y'all too blind t' see? Megatron remembered which weapon was his, and he used it t' shoot Autobots! Ya wanted proof that he was turnin' back inta Megatron? There's yer proof! Wake up an' smell th' high grade already-"

"That – is – ENOUGH!" Prime roared.

Prowl entered the room at that moment, followed closely by Jazz. Jazz immediately pushed past the Datsun and rushed to the corner, scooping up Metronix and doing his best to console the terrified sparkling. Prowl took a moment to study everything – the wounded scout in the corner, the ruined cannon, the crying sparkling, and the mech currently in Prime's grip. Prime could almost see him piecing together what had happened in his CPU, and he desperately hoped Prowl wouldn't draw the wrong conclusion altogether.

"You want me to take Ironhide to the brig?" Prowl asked, optics narrowing as they rested on the Nissan.

"Yes," Prime replied, his voice quieter but no less hard. "Lock him in his robot mode and place him in solitary confinement. We'll decide what to do with him once Hound is stabilized and we're sure no harm has come to Metronix."

"Yes sir."

"Y'all're makin' a huge mistake!" Ironhide bellowed, fighting to break free even as Prowl closed the energy cuffs around his wrists. "That sparklin'll be th' death of us! He's done it once, he'll do it again! An' next time we won't get off so lightly!"

"Save it for the disciplinary hearing," Prowl said coldly, dragging him out of the armory.

Once Prowl and Ironhide had gone, Prime immediately turned to Jazz, who was still holding Metronix and murmuring soothing words in his audial. Metronix was still sobbing and shaking, but he no longer seemed hysterical.

"Is he…" began Prime.

"Not hurt," Jazz replied, "but he feels pretty overheated. Might wanna have a medic look 'im over."

"I'll do it," Ratchet volunteered. "Let me get Hound to the medbay first and have First Aid take over his repairs. For now, though… I think he needs his father."

Jazz nodded, and carefully transferred the sparkling to Prime's arms. Prime hushed him gently and rubbed his back, letting him curl up against him and cry himself out. He winced a bit at how warm Metronix felt, and a flash of anger seared through him when he saw the dents in his chestplate and realized what Ironhide must have done to him before drawing his gun. How anyone could be this cruel to a sparkling, he couldn't begin to fathom.

"D-Daddy…" sobbed Metronix. "Don't let go… don't leave…"

"I won't," he murmured. "I promise, little one. I'm here to protect you."

Metronix seemed to take comfort in that fact, and though his grip on Prime didn't relax, he finally stopped shaking. Prime continued to talk soothingly to him as he carried him out of the armory and toward the medbay. Inside, though, his rage simmered. If Metronix took any permanent harm from this experience, physical or mental, he would ensure Ironhide paid for it.