The New Year’s party was in full swing – fizzy drinks, loud music, lots of friends, all the siblings, funny hats – when between one hip-wiggle and the next, Jazz slid senseless to the floor.
Twin paths opened between the youngster and Ratchet and First Aid, followed closely by Barricade.
“Ratch,” Jazz mumbled, optics blinking online as he was thoroughly scanned, “m’okay. Hey, Aid. Think I jus’ sorta…”
“Passed out,” Ratchet said. “Yes, we noticed. Hold still.” Jazz tried to sit up in First Aid’s arms, but fell back, optics dim, dark. First Aid stood and ran him to the medical nook.
They transferred Jazz to the main base once Ratchet determined it was safe to move him; First Aid, Barricade and Thundercracker going with, while Hoist, Quig, Dion, the Aunties, Frenzy, Beachcomber and Perceptor stayed at the Retribution to reassure the hatchlings and younglings, and keep the now somewhat subdued party going. (Starscream took charge of the youngest clutch by introducing them to Simon Says.)
“I thought he was past this,” Ratchet sighed. “I thought his frame had finally grown large enough to properly house his spark.” Or something. The physical signs were all so vague, mimicking a dozen other syndromes that were themselves difficult to diagnose; but if Ratchet had been pinned in a corner and forced to define what he thought was wrong, it would have to be something handwavy about Jazz’s spark and the physical world needing to get reacquainted, and it not going entirely well.
“So did I,” First Aid said. Jazz seemed to be stable now, just strangely weary in a way the dancing earlier couldn’t explain. Most of the time he was a sturdy enough third instar, if small. It was easy to forget that he seemed to be reliving the vorn of intense care needed during his first embodiment. Sleepy optics blinked online, and First Aid smiled at him.
First Aid stroked his little helm. “He’s in Detroit with Optimus, dearspark, do you…?”
“I’ll get him,” Thundercracker said, wheeling from the room.
Prowl strode in, plating cold, smelling faintly of ozone from the high, fast flight clamped to Thundercracker’s dorsal hull. He went directly to Jazz’s side, sitting on the edge of the medical berth, leaning down to caress Jazz’s helm. “I’m here, bitlet.”
“Prowl?” Jazz grasped Prowl’s hand in both his talons, pressing it to his cheekplate.
“Mmhmm. Giving Ratchet a hard time again, are you?”
“S’my job,” Jazz murmured. “Can you stay?”
“I can, as a matter of fact.” Prowl did a large percentage of his work remotely anyway, and Red Alert had rescheduled a handful of other things already.
“Your hands are cold,” Jazz said, optics lighting brighter to match his grin. Prowl shifted his engine into a higher gear to get his circulation going more efficiently. Not revving, simply a steady hum. Third instar Jazz had no business trying to tease him with remembered intimacies from before.
“Sorry about that,” Prowl said, which was not the answer he had used to give. He tried to pull his hand away, but Jazz kept a firm grip, subsiding a little, optics dimming sleepily.
“Here, Prowl.” First Aid brought him a thin but warm quilt, made from scraps of hatchling snowsuits that had become too worn to hand down. Smiling, Prowl lay down on the berth, curling around Jazz’s small frame, and let First Aid tuck them in.
By the next morning – delighted to wake up with Prowl still there – Jazz seemed to be fine. The hatchlings watched parades on TV, played in the snow with the growing lot of human children they were allowed, ate special sparkly energon goodies. Jazz got up to get more to share with Prowl and again lost consciousness – though this time Ironhide was close enough to catch him.
Perceptor scanned him on the spot, conferred with Ratchet, and Jazz was rushed into surgery.
Waiting was hard. Jazz had survived his first vorn last life around, he should be fine, even if the fainting was alarming, right? Barricade’s processor ran this around in circles. He should probably go back to help wrangle and reassure the other hatchlings in any case. Soon. First Aid would comm him when they knew anything. Just a few more minutes. Maybe the wind would die down and the drive back to the Retribution would be less exciting. Or maybe he should go now, when the drive would take some concentration and would therefore be distracting. Or he could end up sliding into a ditch. Not that that would damage him but it would be embarrassing. So, yeah, he’d wait here just a little longer.
The minute First Aid commed everyone to let them know that the surgery was over and things looked good – somehow the linkages from Jazz’s spark chamber had malfunctioned, misformed in subtle ways Ratchet didn’t have an explanation for – Prowl, in his habitual posture resembling parade rest, turned and strode down the corridor. Off to resume his duties, Barricade supposed, though the sound of his footsteps halted after a few seconds. Thundercracker bolted after him like his afterburner was lit. Huh. Weird.
The way the corridors were angled, Barricade only had to slant one accessory optic slightly… Oh.
Oh. Too late. He had already seen too much. Again. Prowl, one hand braced against the wall, the other pressed to his chestplates, venting hard and uneven. Murmuring something Barricade couldn’t quite hear. Thundercracker stooped to curl talons around his helm tenderly, and Prowl lifted his face into a kiss, letting Thundercracker draw him down the corridor toward the living quarters.
What the actual slag, as Slingshot would say. How long had that been going on? And why hadn’t he noticed? Thundercracker wasn’t shy. Ah…Prowl. Because Prowl. That’s why. Shy wasn’t the right word. Prowl was Praxian to his spark chamber. Privacy, self-control, Praxian notions of politeness, which were not the same as human notions of prudishness.
He’d have supposed Thundercracker would have preferred someone more passionate, more…Seekerly. Oh well. To each their own, Barricade thought, shrugging. To tolerate and coexist…
“I ca—” Prowl stifled the word. It was selfish, and worse, untrue. He could and he would.
I know, Thundercracker said over tight-beam. Prowl leaned into their kiss fervently, eager for the distraction. Thundercracker understood and tugged on his hands. My quarters are closer.
The moment the door closed behind them, Prowl jumped him. Thundercracker grinned and rolled them onto his berth, pinning the smaller mech beneath him, mantling his wings – mine and protect you at once – their chests thus in heated proximity. They opened their link from both sides, and there they were, just like in the beginning when it was an abyss of sorrow, and clawing desperately for comfort, and the shock of what they had collectively done, seen from alien eyes. Terrible and beautiful, and they held each other so tightly their armor creaked.
Thundercracker bared his spark first, as he had that first time, to prove his fearlessness; and he had thought the Autobot would lie pale and gentle, until Prowl had burned him down to ash with fire and stirred him to life again, blazing. Prowl had revealed himself slowly, plate by plate, lock by lock, every tiny movement and command-string deliberate, making of it a complex process…no, a dance, and Thundercracker was from Vos and Vosians knew dancing.
Now, Prowl matched him, fervor and haste, though he preferred a leisurely cuddle, if for no other reason than that there was so seldom time for it. Tonight, however, they both wanted the blaze of each other, the reassurance of bright, living stars.
Life to life, memories swirled around their cores, drawn close enough almost to touch, an intimate embrace within an embrace. Waves of being flowed between them, heightened by the link between their minds, rising strong and beautiful, stunning and unrelenting, their shared gravity a pull they used to increase their velocity, spinning faster and faster until the speed of desire was reached. They held it, and held, and held, longer, until their frames cried out, unable to endure the splendor of their sparks. Only then did they draw away slightly from each other, only then did they become separate beings.
Thundercracker sighed happily, curled around his little Praxian. Every time they did this is was like the first time, discovering new wonders in Prowl’s mind and spark. The first time had been after they’d both realized how much they were enjoying helping each other wash the harder-to-reach bits of their frames. They thought they’d been discreet, but apparently Optimus had gone looking for Prowl at some point and stuck his head in the wash-racks. And without a word left. Neither Prowl nor Thundercracker had noticed, which should have been more disturbing than it was.
Later, Galvatron and Prime had taken them by the hands, taken them aside, and blessed them, glad for them, encouraged them to rediscover all the shapes of friendship and love, to encourage them all, show those who would come to follow their road, their skytrail, to let those shapes transform into new ones, ever curious, and bind them – all the closer for the horror of the rift that was only now beginning to heal.
Once they had left the August Presences, both Prowl’s and Thundercracker’s doors/wings were so low with embarrassment it was a wonder they didn’t strain something.
“I believe the local idiom is, ‘Let us never speak of this again,’” Prowl had said. And they didn’t.
Thundercracker smiled, though, remembering, and traced the lines of Prowl’s face. Prowl’s optics dimmed, and he blinked once, twice, slow, slower, and slipped into recharge, chest armor still parted, spark still glowing soft and blue in the dark. Thundercracker thought he had never loved anyone else quite so overwhelmingly, so fiercely in that moment. Not like this. Because of everything; not just the shared loss and care and games of chess and go and 5D and Towers, because of who they were here at the end of a war that had nearly destroyed everything, and great hope had brought them together, strange things to be coped with and somehow understood, and the sheer weirdness of hatchlings, and not pretending they both didn’t need comfort and help and a warm frame to recharge next to at least now and then, and maybe Thundercracker could see if Prowl was willing to move in, Prowl was hardly ever in his own tiny, spare room anyway, it would be a more efficient use of resources and Prowl would approve.
Thundercracker, loving him, almost laughing helplessly in the grip of that love, shook him slightly. “Prowl. Prowl…close up, love, close up before you set the curtains on fire.”
Prowl shifted, grimacing slightly – they had a window but the panes were electro-opaqued, there were no curtains – but his chest sighed and shifted and settled itself closed again and Thundercracker rolled them over, arranging his wings comfortably, with Prowl strutless draped over his chest, and let himself fall into recharge as well.
“Well?” Thundercracker asked, the next day, waggling an optic ridge. “You gonna ask or not?” Prowl was in the medbay, waiting by Jazz’s berthside for the hatchling to come out of recharge. Barricade and TC had returned to the Retribution. Hoist and Quig and the Aunties had things well in hand, but the Horde liked to have Barricade around, especially if something unpleasant had happened. Ultra Magnus and Silverbolt had led the morning’s snow games with determined enthusiasm, such that everyone was now down for much-needed naps.
“None of my business, commander,” Barricade said, refilling his cube. It wasn’t that hard to figure out. TC had lost his trinemates and was lonely. Prowl was…attractive. And Prime’s 2IC. Beauty and power, just what Seekers liked.
Thundercracker bared his dental components. “‘Commander,’ eh? Fine. If the subject’s too scary…”
“That’s not it,” Barricade growled. “I mean…Prowl? Really?” How much fun could it possibly be to try to get close to someone who could predict what you were going to say before you could even cue up your vocalizer? The mech was always calculating. Barricade felt tired just thinking about it.
“If he was a Decepticon, he’d kill me for showing you this.” A file appeared in Barricade’s comms queue. “But he’s not. And he doesn’t want you to continue to be so…leery of him.”
Barricade stiffened at the implied alteration in word choice. He wasn’t afraid of Prowl! Ok, slag yeah he steered a wide berth, but that was only sensible. He accepted the file, and after spearing a sideways glare at Thundercracker, opened it.
Streetwise’s helm went up – staring into the steel beam framework of the upper floors of the abandoned car factory. The whine of a high-powered plasma rifle sounded loud in the sudden silence. Thundercracker followed his gaze to find the muzzle of that rifle, and a pair of steely blue optics, pointed directly at him.
“Prowl, don’t!” First Aid wrapped himself around Thundercracker’s helm and canopy. Prowl’s gun wound down several settings but remained pointed at the hinge of Thundercracker’s mandible. TC glowered at him between First Aid’s fingers.
“Explain,” Prowl said.
“The war’s over,” Hot Spot said quickly. “Megatron and Sentinel Prime are dead. There’s nothing to fight over, and very few of us left. Thundercracker came in response to Optimus’ transmission, just like – we’re guessing – you did. First Aid’s just gotten him repaired, please don’t shoot him.”
Hot Spot edged between First Aid and Prowl, at which point Prowl bent his elbow sharply and retracted his gun. Thundercracker glared around Hot Spot’s waist. How dare they think he needed protection from…! Prowl. Well. All right. They’d probably just saved his life. How hadn’t he heard the fragging mech up there?
“Optimus didn’t answer my ping,” Prowl said. He stepped off the beam where he’d been perched, landing lightly. First Aid climbed down off Thundercracker and approached.
“No. He’s in stasis, recovering. Sentinel…Sentinel damaged him fairly extensively in Chicago.” In more than one way, but some things were easier to repair than others.
“Chicago.” Prowl angled his helm slightly, trying out the alien word.
“Wait, don’t connect yet,” First Aid said, clasping Prowl’s arm. “There’s…”
“…we should…” Groove faltered.
“We’re so sorry, sir.” Streetwise took it in both hands. “Jazz was deactivated during the battle of Mission City.”
Thundercracker knew that look. He understood it. It was the look of a mech who had just been stabbed in the spark chamber. He’d worn it himself, a time or two, though the stark, mortal rawness of it was disconcerting on Prowl’s usually unperturbable face.
And then Prowl locked it down. Coiled it up and shoved it under something dreadful and heavy. First Aid didn’t let go, but leaned back a little, startled and worried. Hot Spot reached back for Thundercracker’s hand and held it tightly.
“He and the humans kept Megatron from the Allspark long enough for Optimus to arrive,” Streetwise continued. And then a lot of things had happened all at once, and a lot more had happened since that they also needed to tell him, but Prowl was already furiously assimilating the human internet, doing that thing he did that built a comprehensible whole out of billions of seemingly unconnected parts. The Protectobots watched, waited. Thundercracker stayed where he was. Prowl’s lip components flattened into a hard line.
“Prowl,” First Aid began. “It…isn’t good to bury—”
“Don’t,” Prowl whispered. First Aid recoiled slightly, as if he’d been slapped. Thundercracker wanted to punch Prowl into the stratosphere. How dare he pretend he wasn’t hurt, that he didn’t need time to process everything and recover? They were all hurt, all suffering. No war’s ending came without cost, but they had nearly wiped themselves out, hurling their last remnants against a species that fought back with a fierce tenacity that was almost terrifying. None of the Cybertronian survivors were entirely whole, not even these youngsters.
“I must go to Prime,” Prowl said.
Streetwise nodded. He wanted to tell Prowl to be careful, but that felt…traitorous. Optimus would be glad to see him, Streetwise was fairly sure. Optimus had been glad to see them, after all, even if he had also been angry at their disobeying him. Prowl was smart, and canny, and he had known Optimus a long time. It would be all right.
Barricade closed the file, blinking himself into the present. “Prowl and Jazz? Seriously?” How had that even worked? Easier to focus on that, rather than the way that look on Prowl’s face wouldn’t leave his processor. That armor wasn’t impenetrable after all.
TC grinned. “You’re asking me that?”
Oh. Starscream, Thundercracker, Skywarp; very different personalities there too, but they’d long been acknowledged one of the most effective trines in Cybertronian history. “How did Prowl find you guys, anyway?”
Thundercracker crossed his arms. Changing the subject, was it? Very well. “Streetwise. Kid snuck a bit of code into the satellite network. All it did was ping him if Prowl made inquisitive noises at it. He and Prowl set up the code a long time ago, just between them.”
Of course they had. Barricade huffed air through his vents. “Fine. Whatever. Thanks, I guess.”
“Don’t pretend to be so aloof and impartial. You’re not ‘safe’, now, either. Two Dreads lying low and First Aid goes out to all these school programs…”
“Blades shadows him!” Barricade protested.
“From how high? How long would it take him to get to the ground? How long would missiles take? How long between the time he sees the enemy and the enemy gets to your unarmed little medic? Dreads don’t take captives.”
“It’s worth it, though,” Thundercracker said, leaning down. “Loving people. Even if they tear out your spark.”
“I know it is.”