Greetings! Long time no update, right? Sorry to have been AWOL for so long. Lots of things have happened over the last few months. Probably the biggest news I have this update (and one of the reasons I've been so distracted from writing the last few months) is that I recently got engaged. Date's been set for next May, so that means wedding planning had begun. (dum dum dum)

Thanks to everyone who's been so patient waiting for a new chapter! So without further ado:

Chapter Thirty-Three: Home

Optimus flipped through a stack of data pads, his optics scanning the heading of each one. They had arrived earlier that morning from the High Council. It had been a deca-cycle and a half since Starfall's wing surgery and the days had settled into a quiet, if not boring, routine for the Prime family.

No longer plagued by crippling pain, Starfall spent the orns quietly laying on his berth either reading, watching the tele-consol, or napping. Ratchet still hadn't deemed Starfall ready for visitors, and Optimus had to agree. Starfall seemed to be gaining more strength with each passing each day, but he was still weak and recovering from his ordeal. His new wings were extremely tender and would begin to ache if he laid in one position for too long. His color nanites were slowing spreading across his body to fill in the scratches and weld marks that littered his frame, but he still had a grayish tinge to his armor. His wings were still nothing more than naked gray panes of metal. He would need a complete round of bodywork before he looked like his old self again.

Optimus glanced across the room towards his son. Starfall lay on his side watching a children's program on the tele-consol. Ironhide lounged in a chair beside his berth. They were both watching the screen. Although it wasn't Ironhide's first choice of entertainment, the older mech seemed happy watching whatever Starfall wanted. As long as he was within arm's reach of his son, Ironhide seemed at peace. Occasionally their shared chuckles at whatever was happening onscreen would break the rhythmic background chirp of the monitors attached to the little seeker.

True to their word, neither Optimus and Ironhide had returned home since their son's admission. But while Optimus would occasionally let himself be dragged away for a few joors to hold a press conference or take an emergency call from a senator, Ironhide remained immoveable from their son's side. Optimus never hated his position as Prime more than when he had to leave him sparkmate and son for those short spans of time to tend to official business. He kept telling himself that he had ignored his duties for almost two deca-cycles. With Starfall on the road to recovery though, Optimus knew he wouldn't be able to put off returning to his duties at the High Council for much longer. Once Starfall was released from Ratchet's care Optimus would have to entrust Ironhide with overseeing the rest of their son's recovery. He wasn't looking forward to that day. The thought of leaving Starfall for any extended period of time made Optimus's spark clench with a mild rush of anxiety. After everything that had happened, Optimus would be happy to never let his son out of his sight again.

Optimus halfheartedly looked through the stack of data pads one more time. A number of them were pending trade bills with Vos while the rest looked like bills concerning new legislation concerning minority models and hate-related crimes. Optimus vented a heavy sigh. He really wasn't interested in reading any of them right now. He quietly set the stack aside on a small table Ratchet had had moved to their room. They instantly blended in to the other stacks of data pads that were piled on it.

Apparently, knowledge of Starfall's love of reading was more widespread than Optimus had ever realized. Over the last deca-cycle Starfall had received dozens of data pads as get-well gifts from friends and acquaintances. A number of teachers from Starfall's school had sent some to the hospital as well. One had even been sent from the school's administrator, Catalyst. Several old comrades from the Great War who Optimus would have once bet money still held vicious grudges towards anyone with a seeker frame had sent small get-well gifts to Starfall. The biggest collection of data pads, however, had come from Convoy's father, Burnout. It was a set of ten data pads filled with old legends and sparkling tales. A note had been attached to it from Convoy wishing Starfall a hasty recovery. Starfall had the note propped up on the table beside his berth. Looking over the stacks of data pads piled around the room Optimus realized he probably wouldn't have to buy Starfall any new stories until he graduated from the academy.

A small knock at the door startled Optimus out of his thoughts. Without anything else to warn those inside of impending visitors, Ratchet and Lightningstrike strode into the room with the confidence that only came from someone who was in charge of running a hospital.

"Good morning," Ratchet announced to the room.

This was all part of the daily routine. Ratchet and Lightningstrike checked on Starfall no less than three times an orn. Although most of Optimus's attention had been attuned to his son over the last deca-cycle, he had begun to notice little things between the two medics that made him suspect Ratchet and Lightningstrike were becoming more than just colleagues. The two probably didn't even realize it themselves yet, but Optimus could see something forming between them. During the war, Ratchet had never liked to directly work with anyone else. Maybe it was because his skills just set him so far ahead of everyone else that he didn't trust anyone else to share his patient load, or maybe it was because the older mech just liked his space, but Ratchet always operated solo. Lightningstrike was the first medic Optimus had ever known Ratchet to work so closely with for such a long period of time. He wondered if maybe it was because Lightningstrike was so close to Ratchet in personality and temperament that they got along so well.

"Good morning," Starfall politely greeted the two. Ironhide switched off the tele-consol and moved out of the way as Ratchet and Lightningstrike came up on either side of Starfall's berth. He came to stand beside Optimus's chair. Optimus sent a small pulse of affection out to his sparkmate across their bond. He didn't know how he would have gotten through the last nightmarish deca-cycle if he hadn't had Ironhide there with him. The other mech replied by resting a hand on Optimus's shoulder joint and gently squeezing. Together, they watched Lightningstrike and Ratchet begin their examination.

"How are you feeling today?" Lightningstrike asked as she helped Starfall pull himself into a sitting position. The little seeker winched at the movement.

"Okay."

"Wings still sore?" Lightningstrike asked as she began gently probing the bases of Starfall's new wings.

"Yea. But only if someone touches them or if I lay in one place for too long."

Lightningstrike nodded thoughtfully. "Can you move them for me?"

Starfall nodded. His facial plates scrunched into a wince as he willed his wings to shakily wag up and down for the female medic's inspection. His wings moved jerkily and without much range of motion, but the fact that Starfall was able to make his new appendages respond to his commands was encouraging to Optimus.

"That's good. You can stop now," Lightningstrike said. She glanced across the berth to Ratchet. "Starfall's wings appear to have fully integrated with his protoform. He'll still need physical therapy before he can fly, but considering the amount of damage he sustained barely two deca-cycles ago, he's made a remarkable recovery so far."

Ratchet scanned a data pad with Starfall's medical chart on it. "I'd have to agree. Starfall's vitals are strong and despite the remaining cosmetic damage to his frame he's recovered well so far."

"Do yeh think Star's gonna hafta stay here much longer?" Ironhide asked. Optimus felt his sparkmate's thrill of hope at the medic's words. Optimus would have been lying if he said he didn't share Ironhide's hope. The stress of staying with Starfall in the hospital was beginning to take its toll on both of them. Neither of them had gotten a full night's recharge since Starfall's kidnapping. Optimus would send a prayer of thanks to Primus when his family was finally able to go home and relax without wondering when Ratchet and Lightningstrike would be making their next round or them needing constant guards at the door to keep out nosy reporters from invading their son's recovery room.

Lightningstrike and Ratchet shared a considering look. Ratchet consulted Starfall's medical charts again. He hummed thoughtfully as he scanned his notes. "Given Starfall's improvement over the last few orns, I'd say he could safely be discharged within the next orn or two. He'd still need regular checkups to monitor the rest of his recovery, but there's really nothing I see that requires him to remain here. Any pain he might have could be managed at home with neural serum pills."

"That would be wonderful, Ratchet," Optimus said, a smile spreading underneath his battle mask. Relief flowed between Ironhide and Optimus across their bond.

Starfall also seemed excited at the prospect of going home. His wings perked above his shoulder joints. His optics flashed a brighter shade of turquoise. "Will I be able to go back to school soon too? I miss my friends."

Ratchet frowned and set Starfall's medical chart down on the edge of the berth. "I wouldn't get too ahead of yourself, Star. You're still going to need a lot of recovery time before you're ready to go back to school. You've been on a berth for the last deca-cycle. I think you're going to be surprised by how quickly you're going to get tired once you get up and try to move around. You're feeling better but you're not fully recovered yet."

"Oh…" Starfall murmured. He looked down at the berth between his legs. His face sagged with disappointment. "Okay."

Optimus's spark clenched with sympathy. Despite his rocky start when he first started at the academy, Starfall had come to enjoy school and looked forward to seeing his fellow classmates everyday. "We'll talk to the school about setting something up where you can tele-conference in to your classes from home. That way you won't fall too far behind and you can talk to your friends."

Starfall visibly perked up. "Yea?"

Optimus nodded. "If you need anything brought to you from school, I'm sure Convoy would be happy to do so for you too."

A smile – probably the first true one Optimus had seen on Starfall since his son was admitted to the hospital – spread across his dented face.

"Ah guess this brings up the point of how we're gonna get Star outta here," Ironhide spoke up. He crossed his arms across his chest and leveled a serious look at Ratchet. "The front of the hospital's still crawlin' with reporters. How we suppose ta get him outta here without gettin' mobbed? Don't suppose yeh have some kinda super secret exit out the back?"

Optimus frowned. Ironhide was right. Even though he had given several press conferences now from the front lobby of the hospital announcing that Starfall was recovering, the press still wanted video feed of the Prime's son for themselves. The last thing Optimus wanted was his son's privacy invaded anymore than it had already been. The videos of Starfall being carried out in Ironhide's arms was still a common sight on the evening newsfeeds. Except now instead of breaking news those videos were being used as propaganda for the politicians and advocacy groups lobbying for new legislation that protected minority models from hate attacks.

Ratchet vented a sigh. "There are back exits you could use, but I can't guarantee the press won't catch wind that something's going on and catch up to you before you could drive away. I actually wouldn't be surprised if they have mechs standing watch at all the exits waiting for you right now."

Ironhide glanced down at Optimus. "We could call Jazz an' Prowl ta get Enforcers ta help hold back the crowd."

"That wouldn't hold them back for long," Optimus frowned. "They would only follow us to our domicile then."

"Too bad you don't fly," Lightningstrike shrugged. "Then you could just fly Starfall out of here without anyone being the wiser. As far as I know, there aren't any reporters on the roof. That was how I got past them when I first arrived."

Optimus froze in his seat, an idea instantly forming in his head. He stared at Lightningstrike, feeling almost stupid he hadn't thought of something so simplistic himself. "That's it," he said. He looked up at Ironhide, elation seeping across their bond. "I know who can help us get Star home."

oooooo

The orn had come. Optimus could hardly believe it was here. Today he and Ironhide would finally be able to take Starfall home. It reminded Optimus of the way it had felt immediately after the Great War. In the days after Megatron's defeat, Optimus had logically known that the war was over and that they didn't have to fight anymore, but he couldn't seem to make himself believe it was actually true. For months afterwards, Optimus would walk into the Ark's control room and catch himself just as he was about to demand a sit-rep on Decepticon troop movements before he remembered that there were no more Decepticons to fight. It had taken time to adjust. He suspected the same would be true for bringing Starfall home. He had been looking forward to this for so long the thought of finally being able to sleep on his own berth in the privacy of his own home almost felt too strange to actually comprehend.

The Matrix-Bearer had been distracted the entire time Ratchet handed him forms to sign to officially release Starfall from the hospital's care. His thoughts were mostly focused on successfully sneaking his son pass the mob of reporters stationed in front of the hospital. He knew their plan would work, but a small knot of anxiety still twisted the bottom of his fuel tank. It was the same kind of nervousness he got every time he was about to go into battle. After everything Starfall had gone through he didn't want anything to disrupt his son's discharge. All he wanted was to quietly get his son home where he could rest without anymore scrutiny or harassment from reporters, politicians, or news crews. Starfall didn't need to be the focus of their society's politics anymore than he had already been.

Ratchet, Lightningstrike, Prowl and Jazz were gathered in Starfall's room with Optimus. Ironhide had gone to meet the integral member of their plan. Starfall was resting on the berth, his new wings tightly bandaged in bio-metallic wraps to protect them during his journey home. They were still sensitive and easily prone to pain. Ratchet and Lightningstrike had removed the IC lines and monitor patches from Starfall's frame. Optimus had gotten so used to seeing him with them, Starfall looked almost naked without them. Jazz was leaning over the edge of the berth with his elbows propped on the side rail. The former saboteur was making small talk with Starfall. Despite the high dose of painkillers Ratchet and Lightningstrike had given him in preparation for his move, Starfall was fairly alert and responded to Jazz's questions with smiles and polite responses. He was almost as excited to go home as Optimus was.

Optimus's attention was ripped away from his son as Prowl once again demanded his attention.

"You, Ratchet, Lightningstrike and I will go to the front lobby of the hospital," the black and white mech said. His tone was so authoritative and direct Optimus felt like they were back on Earth listening to the rundown of one of Prowl's battle plans. "I've already leaked word to the media that you will be giving a short press conference to give a status update on Starfall's recovery, so most of the reporters should be there when we go down. I have Enforcers already stationed to control the crowd and give us an opening to leave after the press conference. The story is that we're escorting you to the Senate for a meeting with one of the senators. Jazz is to escort Ironhide out the back of the hospital so no one gets too suspicious about both of you leaving at the same time. Several more Enforcers are stationed there to hold back any reporters that aren't in the lobby."

Jazz caught his sparkmate's optic. "Should be able ta make a clean getaway. I had some of my mechs scout the back area of the hospital an' they haven't seen any reporters snoopin' around there."

"Yet," Prowl sternly qualified. "Ever since Starfall was admitted into the hospital, the media has become a pack of sparkeaters trying to get a scoop. That's why I've had so many of my officers set up a perimeter around the hospital. As soon as someone catches Ironhide trying to go out the back of the hospital with an Enforcer escort, word's going to get out that something's up and the media is going to come running. We want to try and keep attention focused on Optimus in the front as much as possible."

"Even if someone does catch me an' Jazz sneakin' out, they're not gonna find out where Star is 'til he's already long gone," a new voice announced from the door. The others looked over as Ironhide strode into the room with a determined look on his facial plates. "Ah'm sure we can shake off anyone that tries ta follow us too."

"I'd almost like a reporter ta try an' chase us," Jazz grinned. His optics flashed devilishly behind his visor. "It'd give me an excuse ta arrest one of 'em for stalking and harassment."

"Let's try to keep this operation as quiet and clean as possible," Prowl scowled disapprovingly.

"I suppose this is where I come in?" another voice spoke up. Skyfire stood just behind Ironhide in the doorway, dwarfing the former weapons specialist. Ironhide had gone to meet Skyfire on the roof and bring him down to Starfall's room. Optimus had called Skyfire the evening before to ask for his help. As the only flier they knew who Optimus and Ironhide trusted to care for Starfall in their absence and who had a preexisting familiarity with their domicile's location, Skyfire had been the only one capable of spiriting Starfall away from the hospital without anyone noticing.

"Skyfire," Optimus said, stepping towards the scientist. He gratefully clasped the larger mech's hand. "Thank you for coming. We appreciate it."

"It's the least I could do," Skyfire humbly shaking his head at Optimus's thanks. "I am more than happy to help you get Starfall safely home."

Prowl once again demanded the attention of the room, still in full command mode. "You," he pointed to Skyfire, "will transport Starfall back to Optimus and Ironhide's domicile. As a flier, you'll be able to get Starfall home faster without any reporters able to follow you."

"The roof's access door into the building is unlocked," Optimus said to Skyfire. "You just need the access code for our domicile."

"Already gave it to 'im," Ironhide said. "We're ready ta move." Optimus could feel his sparkmate's anxiousness to get their plan underway. He was as ready to go home as Optimus was – probably even more.

Prowl nodded. "Once we're sure we're clear of reporters, Jazz and I will escort each of you, respectively, to your domicile. Any questions?"

Lightningstrike thoughtfully crossed her arms and shifted her weight between her pedes. Her wings gracefully dipped behind her with her movements. "Are we going to have to do this every time Starfall needs to come to the hospital for a check up?"

"Hopefully not," Prowl said. "But until we're sure the media's not going to mob Starfall every time he goes outside, that may be a possibility."

"Until then, let's focus on the task at hand," Optimus suggested. He glanced at the chronometer on the far wall. It was five klicks until Prowl's arranged press conference. "Shall we get moving?"

There was collective agreement from everyone in the room.

"Take care, mini-mech," Jazz said, shooting Starfall an encouraging grin. He held one hand out to Starfall, palm upwards. "Feel better."

Starfall clapped Jazz's outstretched hand. "I will," he smiled back. A large dent in the side of his facial plate – one of the lasting testaments of Crosshair's attack - made his smile lopsided and crooked.

Ironhide stepped up to the side of the berth. "Listen ta Skyfire, okay? Yer dad an' ah'll be home soon."

"Okay."

Ironhide hesitated a moment before leaning over and pulling Starfall against him for a quick, desperate one-armed hug. Optimus felt a rush of emotions overwhelm him from Ironhide's side of their bond. Ironhide didn't want to leave Starfall. The feeling was tinged with the slightest hint of panic, as if the older mech couldn't shake the irrational fear that if he let their son out of sight he'd never see him again. Optimus understood his sparkmate's fear. They thought they'd lost their son for not even a day, but the effects on both Optimus and Ironhide were going to be long lasting.

Finally, Ironhide released Starfall and turned quickly for the door. The edges of his optics were suspiciously fuzzed with static. Jazz followed after him.

Skyfire stepped up to the side of Starfall's berth. "Ready to go, Star?"

"Yea!" Starfall raised both arms to Skyfire as the scientist stooped to lift him off the berth. Perched in the bend of Skyfire's elbow, Starfall leaned against the giant mech's front. His bandaged wings hung loose from his backstruts. With how much neural serum Ratchet and Lightningstrike had him on, he didn't have much feeling in his wings. Seeing the way Skyfire gently hugged the little seeker close, always mindful of his new wings, Optimus was reassured that Skyfire was the best mech to transport Starfall home. There was no one else he trusted with his son. The gentle giant would keep Starfall safe.

Out of the corner of his optic, Optimus saw Prowl meaningfully motion with his chin towards the chronometer, then the door. It was time to go.
"I will see you at home," Optimus said, fighting his own reluctance to leave.

"Bye, dad," Starfall smiled, unaware of his father's emotional turmoil. He glanced up at Skyfire. "Are we gonna fly all the way home?"

"Yes we are," Skyfire nodded. "Or rather, I will be doing the flying while you relax in my cockpit." Casting Optimus a parting nod, Skyfire turned towards the door with Starfall perched comfortably in the crook of his elbow.

"Can I look out the window?"

"Of course you can. If you'd like we can even take a more scenic route home. The weather is beautiful and I know how much you like to enjoy being in the air on nice days."

"Can we? I haven't seen the sky for so long!"

Optimus heard no more of Starfall and Skyfire's conversation. They had disappeared around the door and were lost to sight.

"Shall we go?" Prowl briskly asked. "The press conference is suppose to start in three klicks."

"Yes," Optimus nodded. There was no more time for stalling. Let the political circus begin.

A short elevator ride later brought Optimus, Prowl, Ratchet, and Lightningstrike to the front lobby of the hospital. As the group exited the lift, they were immediately met by a wall of flashing lights and a cacophony of voices. The lobby was a large, airy atrium. The assembled crowd of reporters took up at least a third of the room. Half a dozen Enforcers formed a barrier between Optimus and the others and the jostling pack of journalists.

Prowl gently touched Optimus's elbow and pointed towards a small podium that had been erected against the near wall. A simple blue cloth with the hospital's name in Cybertronian glyphs on it created a backdrop. The flashes of light and shouted questions followed Optimus as he strode towards the podium and took position behind it. Prowl took position two steps behind him just off his left shoulder. Ratchet and Lightningstrike stood off to his other side.

"Thank you all for coming today," Optimus said with a raised hand to the crowd. The flash of cameras continued but the chaotic din of the reporters subsided into anticipatory silence. Microphones appeared and were thrust in his direction. At this point in his Primacy, Optimus slipped almost effortlessly into his role as Matrix-bearer – taking on an imposing aura of confidence that seemed to radiate across the room. "My time with you here this morning must, unfortunately, be brief. I must return to the Senate Tower and attend to several pressing matters of State. I firstly want to thank everyone for their continued interest in my son's recovery. It has been a difficult time for both myself and my sparkmate since our son's attack almost two deca-cycles ago. Starfall is recovering comfortably and we hope to be able to have him home soon. I wish to personally thank Iacon General's Head Medic, Ratchet, and Vos's visiting Head Medic, Lightningstrike, for their skills and tireless dedication to my son's recovery. Starfall's attack has brought a number of issues to the forefront of our society – issues of minority model rights, hate crimes, and the protection of our progeny against those who wish them harm. I am working with the High Council now to address these and countless other issues. I open the floor now to any questions you might have for me."

A roar of questions and waving arms immediately answered him.

Optimus scanned the crowd of jostling reporters. He recognized one journalist from past press conferences and pointed towards the brightly painted teal and yellow femme standing towards the far right of the crowd. "Yes. You."

The din immediately died down. The singled journalist eagerly leaned forward as more camera lights flashed from the edges of the lobby. "Prime, as you've said, the attack against your son by a former Autobot has raised concerns among minority models about model-based hate crimes towards them. What actions are being taken against Crosshairs for his crimes? Also, what can other minority models expect from law enforcement for similar hate crimes perpetrated against them in the future?"

"Crosshairs has pleaded guilty to kidnapping, abuse of a minor, attempted murder, and criminal targeting of a minority model. His sentence is still to be determined by judge of the High Court, but he is facing a maximum sentence of life in prison."

Prowl took the opportunity to step up beside Optimus at the podium. Optimus willingly let Prowl lend his professional commentary to the Q&A. As Head Enforcer, this question directly concerned his professional office.

"Crosshairs is expected to receive the highest punishment allowable by the law," Prowl answered into the microphone. "He is scheduled to appear before a judge within the next deca-cycle. I personally will be testifying at his sentencing hearing. As for what other minority models can expect from law enforcement in the future: we are here to protect them. Model-based hate crimes will not be tolerated. All bots, regardless of their model, are protected under the law. I am making it a personal pledge that all bots will be protected in Iacon and all other cities. The violence the Prime's son suffered at the hands of a hate-filled mech will not go unpunished, nor will any other attack of the like."

"Thank you," Optimus whispered to Prowl as he stepped back.

"Prime!" another journalist called out. "Both the Senate and High Council are discussing new legislation that would impose stronger punishments on those convicted of hate crimes. Will you be personally championing for such legislation?"

"As the father of a child who was viciously attacked because of his model, I will always champion for legislation that is meant to protect those who face prejudice in our society. But I recognize my bias in this particular situation. Such legislation if pushed by myself might appear like a knee-jerk reaction to what happened to Starfall. Any change in legislation must be made with a clear head and done with the will of the people backing it. A number of senators and council members are working on this proposed legislation. As elected representatives of the people, it is their duty to enact new laws. Not the Prime's. While I will not be directly involved in the voting process, I will be keeping a close optic on the proceedings."

Another reporter towards the back of the room raised his hand. Optimus pointed to him.

"Sir, there are rumors that the Vosian Emirate is directly aiding in the rehabilitation of your son's injuries. Is that true?"

Optimus nodded. "That is true. Lady Slipstream offered immediate assistance when news of Starfall's injuries reached Vos. It was her and her son, Representative Cloudbreaker of the High Council, that arranged for Head Medic Lightningstrike to come to Iacon and assist Iacon General's staff in my son's repairs. My sparkmate and I are grateful beyond words for Vos's assistance in our time of need."

"Does that mean we can expect greater influence from Vos in High Council matters in the future?" another journalist called out.

"The Vosian Emirate has expressed her desire to integrate her city back into intra-world politics. The rest of Cybertron has much to gain from Vos returning to the High Council. I hope to welcome Lady Slipstream to Iacon soon."

Somewhere behind him, Prowl softly cleared his throat line. It was his sign to start wrapping things up.

"Thank you all for your time this morning, but I must leave to attend to matters at the Senate. Head Medics Ratchet and Lightningstrike will remain to answer any medical-related questions you might still have about my son's recovery. Thank you."

Prowl was instantly by Optimus's side. Taking Optimus by the elbow, the police mech expertly steered him towards the door on the other side of the room. Two other Enforcers formed a barrier between them as several journalists surged forward and shouted for one last comment from the Matrix-bearer. Optimus ignored them and allowed Prowl to lead him out into the transformation lot. If he stopped to answer any more questions he would become trapped and never be able to make a getaway. Before the doors closed behind them, Optimus heard the reporters turn their attention towards Ratchet and Lightningstrike. They seemed eager to get the medics' perspective on Starfall's recovery for that evening's news feeds.

"That went well," Prowl said as they quickly strode away from the hospital into open space. The two Enforcers that helped them escape the lobby followed after them. They were to help Prowl act as Optimus's escort home.

"It did," Optimus agreed.

Prowl transformed down into his vehicle mode. "Let's get out of here. Ratchet and Lightningstrike will only keep them distracted for so long. A few reporters might try to follow after us. While you were talking Jazz comm-ed me to say he and Ironhide had just left. It didn't look like anyone noticed them leaving."

"That is excellent news," Optimus said, transforming into his own alt-mode. With Prowl and the other two Enforcers taking position around him, they headed for the exit that would take them to the street.

ooooooo

As it happened, Optimus and Prowl caught up to Jazz and Ironhide just as they were pulling into the transformation lot of Optimus and Ironhide's apartment tower. The drive there had been uneventful and smooth. No reporters had followed either group back to their home.

"Need us ta come up with ya?" Jazz asked as they all transformed into their root forms in front of the entrance.

"Nah," Ironhide said, shaking his helm. "We're good now. Thanks fer all yer help sneakin' outta there."

"It was no problem," Prowl said. "We'll probably use this plan, or something similar, whenever Starfall needs to go back to the hospital for a check up."

"Let's worry about that when the time actually comes," Optimus suggested with a tired sigh. "For right now, I just want to relax with my family."

Jazz smiled understandingly. "I hear ya, mech. Take care. Call us if ya guys need anything."

With that, the two couples parted ways. Optimus and Ironhide were silent the entire way up to their penthouse. They were too physically and mentally exhausted to talk. At this point, after everything they had gone through together, there were no more words left to say. They just let their sparkbond yawn wide and let their exhausted elation to finally be home flow back and forth across their bond.

Reaching their domicile, Optimus keyed the door open. He and Ironhide went in. On the far side of the living area Skyfire stood looking out the bank of floor-to-ceiling windows that made up that side of the room.

"Welcome home," he greeted them.

"Any problems gettin' here?" Ironhide asked.

The giant mech shook his helm. "No. Star actually fell asleep halfway here. He was so excited to finally be out of the hospital, but he didn't last long once we were in the air. He seems easily tired."

"Ratchet warned us that would probably be the case until Star built his strength up," Optimus nodded. He glanced around the otherwise empty living area. "Where is Star?"

"I put him down in his room."

Without a word, Ironhide turned and disappeared down the hallway to Starfall's room. Optimus doubted his sparkmate would truly begin to relax until he was sure Starfall was resting comfortably for himself. Across their bond, he felt a rush of relief from Ironhide. He seemed pleased with whatever he saw. Starfall must be sleeping peacefully.

"How can we thank you for getting Star back home?" Optimus said, glancing back at Skyfire.

"It was no problem. Really," Skyfire insisted. "I'm just glad I was of some help. Star has a long recovery ahead of him. Let me know when Ratchet and Lightningstrike give Star the go ahead to begin flying again. I will take him up so you don't have to worry about him hurting himself."

"Thank you," Optimus once again said. "We are in your debt."

Skyfire shook his head. "I'll be on my way now so you and Ironhide can relax. I'm sure you're both tired and want some time alone. Call me if you need anything."

"We will," Optimus promised as he walked with Skyfire to the door. As he closed the door behind Skyfire, Optimus vented a heavy sigh. It was so good to be home. He stood there in the foyer for a moment to collect his thoughts. It still didn't feel real.

For a second Optimus wasn't sure what he wanted to do first. His initial instinct was to follow his sparkmate into Starfall's room and check on their son. But something told him if he went in he wouldn't leave again for some time. There were things that needed done before he could truly relax. He hadn't been home for almost two deca-cycles. No one at the Senate or High Council was expecting him to really return to his duties for at least another orn or two. But that didn't mean there weren't messages that might have been left on his private line from someone with urgent business. From what Ironhide had told him, their voicemail was probably close to full, if it wasn't already from people calling about Starfall. Optimus vented another sigh. The work of a Prime was never done…

Slipping into his office, Optimus took a seat at his desk in front of the vid-com. He turned it on and accessed the video messages. As expected, there were close to a hundred messages waiting to be watched. He hit play and listened to the first one. It had been left early the evening of Starfall's kidnapping by a senator expressing her condolences for Starfall's death. Optimus quickly hit 'delete' and moved on to the next. Although he knew Starfall was resting comfortably on the other side of the domicile right at that moment under his father's watchful gaze, Starfall's near-death was still a little too raw for Optimus to listen to condolence messages about it just yet. That was a dark time he had no desire to ever revisit.

He quickly scanned the first several dozen messages, deleting all the ones that had been left concerning Starfall's apparent death. Optimus did, however, make a mental note of all the people – senators, politicians, business mechs, and old war comrades - that had left messages so he could thank them for their thoughts later even though such sentiments were no longer needed. It was the only polite thing to do.

Towards the end of the list of messages Optimus played one that made him pause and watch the message all the way through. He almost didn't quite know what to make of the message when he first saw Sunstreaker's face appear on the vid-com screen.

"Hey, Optimus. Sunstreaker here. So, uh… just heard on the news feed that your son's doing alright. Glad to hear he's gonna make it. I know you and Ironhide are probably at the hospital right now and probably won't get this for awhile, but I wanted to let you know I'm sorry to hear about what happened to the kid and wanted to try and help you guys out. Starfall looked pretty beat up from what Sideswipe and I saw on the newsfeeds. I know Ratchet's not that into doing cosmetic work, so he's probably going to let Starfall go home looking like scrap. If you guys are interested, bring Starfall into my studio and I'll get him fixed up with a new paintjob. Kid's probably going to need one if what they're saying on the news feed is even half true. … Anyway, let me know if you want to bring Starfall in. My contact number's embedded in the message. Talk to you later."

Optimus sat for a moment of stunned silence staring at the screen. Sunstreaker was the last bot he would have ever expected to get such a message from. The twins were vehemently opposed to sharing the same exhaust space with anyone of a seeker build. They'd been that way ever since the beginning of the war. He still remembered them at the anniversary party and the dark, suspicious looks they'd sent Starfall all night long. Neither had come up to say hello to Optimus or Starfall the entire evening.

For a moment, Optimus wondered if Sunstreaker didn't have some kind of ulterior motive for offering to help Starfall. Surely he wouldn't try to do anything to hurt Starfall, would he?

No, Optimus sternly told himself. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe might have never liked seekers after the war, but neither of them were heartless. Sunstreaker had sounded sincere in wanting to help Starfall in his message. Optimus didn't believe there was anything sinister behind it.

Perhaps, Optimus thought being a rush of optimism, there was still hope for their society if someone like Sunstreaker was willing to put aside his old prejudices to help a seeker child. Maybe it was a sign they really were on the cusp of a new Golden Age.

To Be Continued…