A/N: Hello everybody! Sorry to keep you waiting for so long :) Here's the next chapter! Hope all of you enjoy it! :) Please remember to leave a review, they make me so happy!

Ratchet pinched the space between his optics, sighing. Optimus' emotionally unstable state was starting to get on his nerves. Yes, he knew the mech couldn't help it, but even so – this had to stop sooner or later. The CMO vented deeply, pushing his temper down. No, he had to keep his cool. There was no way he was going to allow himself to yell at Optimus, even though the broken mech was being so absolutely childish.

"Do continue," he murmured, optics still shuttered, his servo maintaining a strong vice grip on the Cybertronian-sized clipboard, causing a dent in the brittle metal backing.

Diagonally in front of him, sitting on the king-sized berth, was a mostly-healed Ironhide, supporting a still-convalescent Optimus. The moment news of Optimus' unstable state had gotten out to the rest of the Autobots, there had been many well-wishers and busybodies barging into the medbay just to take a look at their fallen leader, and it had frightened Optimus even more, making him withdraw back into himself. Ratchet, with the help of Wheeljack, First Aid, Prowl and Jazz, had managed to chase everybody out, thankfully, and Ironhide had helped calm the whimpering Prime down.

"Well – there really isn't anything left," Ironhide finished, trying to reconstruct their month spent in exile. "We were exiled for about a full month and a week before you came to find us. Encountered hardships, everythin' I've told you about so far. The lack of consumable Energon, the rough terrain – I think I've covered it all, Ratch'."

"Yes," Ratchet nodded. "So – let's go through this again. The both of you left Iacon, made your way past the borders of Vos, and began your journey into the tundra." A nod from Ironhide, before Ratchet continued. "You were on the halfway mark to scaling the main mountains when you ran out of drinkable Energon – four or five days into your exile. There was some sort of rockslide, which caused you to be gravely injured, knocking you out for about two orns straight before you came online. By then the both of you had lost a dangerous amount of Energon, and decided to find shelter due to the extremely low temperatures and the frequent hailstorms." Ratchet set down his clipboard, rubbing his tired optics with a single servo. That was everything – but nothing seemed quite so traumatic that had Prime in such a fragile state. Perhaps – perhaps Ironhide was not telling him everything?

"About that rockslide you mentioned," Ratchet prompted, when the silence between them had grown too long, a clear sign that Ironhide was unwilling to say anything more. "First Aid tried to reconstruct a probable explanation of what you had endured during your exile when you were still in stasis lock. He theorized that there had been an avalanche – basically the same thing, more or less. I'd like to see if you can elaborate on what happened during that event." The medic kept silent, willing Ironhide to start talking.

"Yeah – I vaguely remember somethin' like that." Ironhide servo squeezed Optimus' gently, encouraging his mate to withdraw from where his helm had been buried into Ironhide's chassis. The Prime stole a shy look at Ratchet, detaching himself from Ironhide to sit beside his mate, looking mildly frightened and a hundred percent alert. "I don't really know what caused it, Ratch'. I know we heard some rumbling; the sound of sleet against stone – about halfway up the mountain. When we looked up, the rocks were already beginning to tumble down. Prime pushed me out of the way – and then something hit my helm, something hard, and then I don't…really recall anything after that, other than waking up a couple orns later, which I've mentioned to you already." He turned to Optimus, and, in a much gentler voice, asked, "Do you remember anything?"

Optimus stared blankly ahead, before nodding slightly, diverting his gaze to Ratchet slowly.

"Extrapolate, please," Ratchet murmured, keeping his optics firmly fixed on his clipboard so that Optimus wouldn't get nervous.

A full minute passed by, before Optimus finally did speak up. His rich, quiet voice filled the room, sounding as he normally did, with slight hints of a quiver every now and then. "Ironhide got hit," he murmured, just loud enough for Ratchet's finials to catch it. "I moved him to a safe site after the avalanche, and gave him an Energon transfusion. He was bleeding, very badly." Without noticing it, the young Prime's servos had started to tremble in his lap, prompting Ratchet to scribble down a side note about this…unusual habit.

"And what happened after that?" The CMO kept his voice low.

"I gave him most of my Energon, repaired him and welded the holes together. I offlined shortly after because my tanks were near critical level. When I woke up, Ironhide was in much better condition. He wasn't dying." The last sentence came out firmly, as if Prime needed reassuring that Ironhide was still here, that Ironhide wasn't dying, that his mate wouldn't leave him.

Ratchet jotted down a few notes, before looking up again. "All right, then. The next segment will be – slightly more tender for the both of you. More personal. For my part, I'll try to phrase the questions as delicate as possible, to mitigate any side effects, but please don't take any of my questions to spark."

Ironhide frowned. "If 'yer gonna tread on thin ice, 'yer might as well dance."

"All right, then. Don't blame me for asking so bluntly." The CMO's optics snapped to Optimus, the azure blue lights emitted by the sensors behind the glass playing across the room, mirrored sharply on the Prime's silver thighs and dancing across any other reflective surfaces. "Prime, 'Hide – do any of you recall any traumatic incidents during your period of exile?" He fixed both mechs with a stern glare. "The truth now. Anything at all – the slightest incident which could be deemed as fearsome, you have to tell me."

Ironhide raised his head slightly, indicating that he was deep in thought. After a while, the Weapons Specialist turned his cool gaze to the medic again. "No. Nothing of the sort."

"Prime?" To his credit, Optimus managed to shake his head slowly, not diverting his optics anywhere else, not even uttering a single panicked sound, as he felt Ratchet's gaze settle upon him. The Prime could, subconsciously, feel Ironhide's servo on his, the three most prominent digits drumming a light staccato on the metal of his wrists.

"Prime." The tone was serious now. Ironhide looked up to see that Ratchet had his optic ridges furrowed to form a disproving frown. The CMO had his mouth open – obviously to say more, but was interrupted by an internal communications link. Ratchet paused, two fingers placed up to the metal plating on his helm that served as the human equivalent of a temple. His vents shunted a sigh, answering the link with an impatient scowl. The CMO turned away, obviously intrigued by whatever the mech on the other end had to tell him, no longer interested in his patients. "What is it, Prowl?"

Optimus vented, turning into Ironhide's embrace, burying his head in the familiar metal plates. Weary baby blue optics shuttered, and the gruff Weapons Specialist could feel his sparkmate's exhales warm his protoform and his plating.

Ironhide leaned back with a sigh, resting his helm against the helmrest of the berth, listening to his mate's systems power down with a gentle hum. However this talk with Ratchet was going to go, it was not going to go well.

"And what did Ironhide say?"

"He talked to me about what happened during the exile. First Aid's tried to reconstruct the exact scenario of what happened, back when they were both in stasis lock – and I'm rather surprised to say, First Aid's theories have proved to be entirely correct when I cross-referenced with 'Hide. The mech's got a pretty sharp CPU in his helm." The resident CMO of the Autobots turned his helm to face the morning sun, rising above Iacon's borders. "The session was interrupted by your call."

"I'm sorry."

"It's fine, Prowl. Prime looked real uncomfortable anyway and I doubt he was in the mood for saying anything. When I asked them if there were any traumatic events, or of the sort, that they remembered – both of them denied it. I don't know, Prowl…it feels like Prime's hiding something. His optics told me he's telling the truth, but I don't know whether to believe it or not."

"Did you think about Jazz's theory?"

Ratchet paused, shuttering his optics to prevent Hadeen's glorious light from blinding him. "I'd completely forgotten about that."

Prowl didn't say anything to that, choosing to instead down the last fraction of the contents in his morning cube of Energon, his free servo resting on the railing of the balcony of Prowl's private quarters. Behind the two mechs, nearly fully concealed by the translucent curtains, lay a prone Jazz. The recharging mech's vocalize was emitting the human equivalent of obscenely loud snores. "The whole thing sounds a little twisted to me. Don't get me wrong – it is plausible, but if so: what can we do to get the real Optimus back?"

"The mech in the medical bay is still Optimus, Prowl," Ratchet groused, servo pressed at an uncomfortable part in his chassis. "No matter what, he's still Optimus Prime. He just needs a little time, that's all. And our help. He needs all the help he can get – mine, yours, Jazz's, but most importantly, Ironhide's." A vented sigh. "It's been a whole month since their recovery from the cavern. I suppose it'll take even longer than that to help Optimus. So – about Jazz's theory. He's saying that Primex might have taken away Optimus' state of mind?"

"Yes. I was wondering…you'd like to know about it, too. It may be an odd theory, but it's something to grasp onto at best. We can work from there." A last gulp ensured that the last of the cube's contents were poured down Prowl's throat. "I didn't believe it at first, but you have to admit – if we did see the child of Primus right there and then, in that desolate cave, what's to stop us from believing that she did steal Optimus' mental stability away?"

"You are becoming too spiritual, Prowl," Ratchet murmured, but did not say anymore. A comfortable silence fell between them, both mechs observing Hadeen's rising, appreciating the bright light of the star. A snort drew them from their reverie, and Prowl turned his helm to see Jazz stretching lazily over their shared padded berth, rubbing his groggy optics with a servo and mewling most adorably as he yawned.

"You'll be having another session, I take it?" The tactician was already halfway across the huge balcony, striding with intent to sit by his bonded's berthside and greet him as he woke up.

"That I will," Ratchet nodded.

"Interesting," Megatron murmured, a servo pressed to his olfactory sensors, concealing half his crimson optics as he regarded the femme standing a few pedes away from his throne, nervously fidgeting. The Decepticon warlord had much contempt for Airachnid – to him, she was yet another drone, yet another Vehicon. She was as useless as the whole lot of his army. The Decepticon lord had barely managed to restrain his anger when he had heard that she had been captured by the Autobots. Pathetic! The femme was lucky that she had this interesting piece of news to bring him, otherwise he would have immediately ordered Starscream thrown her out of the airlock of the Nemesis.

"You are certain of this?" Intriguing, indeed. Optimus Prime, his formidable brother, was weak and unstable? From what Airachnid had said, she had witnessed the entire footage from the consoles room at the main Autobot Base and had even brought back some recorded tapes with her as evidence. Airachnid's capture had given the Council enough proof that Optimus Prime did not give information willingly to the Decepticons, and it had enraged him at first – till he learned that his former brother had suffered traumatically during his period of exile and was currently in a very unstable state of mind. Oddly enough, Airachnid had stated, his sparkmate was doing just fine, even though they had gone through the same thing.

"Yes, my Lord."

This was a golden opportunity, Megatron mused as he drummed his fingers on the armrest of his throne. This was not going to slip away from him just like that. The time had come to break his brother once and for all, and then destroy the young Prime. After all – what was the fun in just killing his biggest enemy? Why not have some fun with the seemingly noble Autobot first? Break him into nothing more than a whimpering, begging mech, before disposing of him? Megatron's CPU was already running calculations. Optimus' death would have to be recorded for all to see. His brother's death would have to be executed right in front of Ironhide, so that he would have the pleasure of seeing his brother's sparkmate break down and beg, too. There would be a moment of soppy exchanges of their love decrees before Megatron would grow tired and simply kill the Prime. The war would be won, then. All the Council members were pathetic – with the Prime gone, the Autobots would never really have true muscle or brain. Prime did the thinking and the fighting – all the imbecilic Councilors could ever do were making unimportant decisions. More reasons as to why the Decepticons had rebelled against the Council long ago.

For this time, and for this time only, Airachnid would not be punished. This was valuable information. The Autobots were certainly keeping it a secret, for fear that it would get into Decepticon servos, but it already had, unknowing to the gullible fools. Megatron rubbed his servos against each other, mouth pressed into a tight line of concentration. This mission would require every last resource, if they were really going to give their all into capturing Prime and defeating the Autobots once and for all. Megatron allowed himself a rare smirk. His orn had started off horribly and now – it was made. Swirling the contents of his Energon cube, enjoying the nervous look that Airachnid was currently giving him, he barked a last order to the femme.

"Summon my officers. I believe we have some plotting to do."

A/N: School is going to start soon and I will not be able to update as often due to the amount of homework they are piling on us :( Do be patient with me, this story will not go unfinished. It is really enjoyable to receive reviews and favourites/follows :)