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Winter Prompts 2017

Chapter Text

“When is Bumblebee coming back, again?” Barricade removed a hatchling pedal component from his mouth for the third time in five minutes.

“Not till Tuesday,” Blades said. Five days more of fourteen second-instar hatchlings shut inside the Retribution because of snow almost up to the top deck, and, more to the point, sub-freezing temperatures. Play-doh kept them occupied for only so long. Optimus was in Beijing, giving speeches, or they’d lobby to have him in for storytimes.

Gasket, Leeway, Pingback and Starshine were trying to climb on each other to reach the door controls. Barricade wasn’t sure if he should just watch, since it didn’t look like they were going to succeed in getting it open – they didn’t know the lock sequence anyway, did they? – or if there should be a distraction sooner rather than later when they figured out that what they were trying now didn’t work and they moved on to trying other things. He went over and leaned on the wall next to them. Now he could catch Starshine if he fell. Gasket and Pingback were disagreeing about who should be the very bottom and kept trying to put their pedal components on each other. Leeway was on their shoulders, and sometimes helms or faces, with his arms around Starshine’s hip gimbals, and the whole construction teetered alarmingly.

“Up?” said Starshine, talons fanning out over the wall several important centispans below the lock panel. “Out?”

“No, you can’t go out,” Barricade said. “It’s cold, remember? Winter.”

“Cows?” Leeway asked hopefully, around Starshine’s aft.

“You’d have to go outside to see the cows,” Thundercracker said from the blocks table. “It’s too cold.” The adults could carry them with engines revved hot enough to keep them warm for the short trip to the barn, the hatchlings clinging tightly, but Thundercracker knew, even after only a few months as a caretaker, that it was too risky. Second instar hatchlings wouldn’t stay latched. They were too active and inquisitive and someone would make a break for it and go bounding off on their own and the drifts were deep. And to be honest, Thundercracker didn’t want to go out in the freezing wind without a truly compelling reason.

“Hey, beeps,” called Beachcomber from the napping area, with its plethora of tough but smooshable bean bag chairs and pillows. “If you come on over here we can learn a new song, hey?”

Starshine jumped, Barricade caught him, and helped Leeway get down, then all four galloped over to Beachcomber, along with Fulcrum, who abandoned blocks in favor of singing. Barricade grinned. Thank Primus for Beachcomber.

“Snowsuits,” Sarah said. “That’s what they need. I’ll ask Mom to help, and maybe she can get some of her Dorcas society friends to pitch in, too.” Telling the ladies about fourteen orphans who needed winter clothes wouldn’t be, strictly speaking, a lie. Sarah was already building a pattern in her head, though, and the proportions were going to be…odd. Fourteen chimpanzee babies? Not completely plausible. Optimus still didn’t want the hatchlings on the news, and Sarah didn’t blame him one bit.

Perceptor blinked. “Snowsuits! Of course! Brilliant!” Hoist was also nodding, and had that slightly abstracted air that meant he was planning something. Sarah lofted a brow at him. If Hoist could sew… She liked the idea of the Dorcas ladies helping, but it didn’t sit entirely right that they’d have to lie about whom the effort would be for. They needed the suits ASAP, so they couldn’t just wait until it was deemed safe to introduce the hatchlings to humanity at large.

“The material will need to be light, flexible and insulating,” Perceptor said, leaning close to Hoist. “Durable enough to withstand talons and heavy wear.” He straightened slightly, blinking. “I’m afraid I keep thinking in terms of armor, and that is not…”

“No,” Hoist agreed.

“Snowsuits,” Sarah said, waving a hand at the air – the internet. “Do an image search. With hoods! Oh…and little pom-poms!” She might have actually squeed. Out loud. In front of the robots. Will must never know. “And Velcro. We’re going to need lots of Velcro.”

“All your talons,” Barricade explained. “No, inside the mitten. Inside. Inside. Yes, like that. Now the other one.” The hatchlings were lined up – more or less – to be outfitted for their first excursion into the snow on purpose. For fun.

After some research, they’d settled on both high quality polyester and thin wool, in layers, for the snowsuits, these being used for humans’ cold-weather gear, with outer poly shells in neon brights, for ease of retrieving from various places of hatchling interest. Sarah had sketched out the basic pattern, Hoist made suggestions, Sarah drew the finals, and Hoist cut great stacks of the pieces out with a cutting beam that looked suspiciously like a simple laser, although the fabric bore no scorched edges. Hoist had watched Sarah and Phyllis sew the first couple of suits and then set about concocting a way to do it as well, by hand rather than machine, though the difference in this case was debatable and complicated and led to discussions about sentience and life forces and souls and slavery that Sarah hadn’t been entirely prepared for and actually got rather heated once Perceptor butted in.

“No. Capes,” Thundercracker had muttered under his breath, from the sidelines. Bumblebee leaned on his knees and wheezed.

Sarah and Phyllis also knitted little caps and mittens, in a rainbow of variegated yarns. The long pointy tasseled hoods on the suits were adorable, but Sarah had always hated wearing hoods, so she wanted the hatchlings to have options. And indeed now some of the hatchlings were protesting, or whining or sulking. The adults were sympathetic – clothing was an alien concept for the most part (again debatable and complicated) – but remained firm. If the hatchlings wanted to go outside in winter they had to wear snowsuits.

“Keep that on, please, my dear,” Perceptor entreated Gasket. “I know, it is strange. The hood goes, yes…watch Annabelle.” Annabelle was modelling her own new snowsuit to demonstrate the idea. “Let me tie it this time, and you can do it next. Will that be satisfactory?”

“Satisfactory!” Ducky caroled, bouncing up and down as Frenzy tried to get his pedes stuffed into the leggings. Frenzy decided to time his own bouncing to Ducky’s and thereby succeeded.

It took another fifteen minutes or so to get everyone outfitted, but at last Barricade stood beside the door, hand on the lock. “Everyone ready?”

“Yes!”

“Open!”

“Out out out!”

“Slag yeah, c’mon!”

“Mooo!”

Barricade keyed the lock and the door irised open. The day was clear and bright – and less bitterly cold than the previous week.

The hatchlings stampeded for the ramp, buzzing and whooping in glee; Escape Velocity flung off one mitten, and Noggin’s hat slid down over his optics. The first handful of them bounded two steps into the snow and stopped dead – the rest piling up behind them. Silence.

The adults crowded the doorway, watching.

Toolkit whimpered, spun around and tried to push through the rest of his brothers to get back inside. Worried meeps sounded around him, starting to build, until Barricade came out and picked Toolkit up, holding him close, walking with him out into the wide, white world.

“It’s all right. Come on.” Starshine jumped and latched onto his leg as he went by, and the other twelve hatchlings followed them down the ramp. The adults had been out earlier to clear the deepest drifts around the Retribution, so the ground around the main play areas was only a few feet deep. A coverlet to cool a Cybertronian’s toes, though the hatchlings soon learned to go in a line, creating their own trench from Barricade-footprint to footprint.

Barricade placed Toolkit on top of the climbing dodecahedron and helped several others up out of the snow, where they could look around and decide what to do.

Pingback straggled, closely followed by Hoist, but not out of anxiety. Pingback, wobbly as he was, stepped very carefully, a slow smile of delight growing on his face with each soft crmmpt of pede into snow.

crmmpt…crmmmmpt…crmmptcrmmptcrmmppptt! Pingback giggled, bouncing around, leaping and rolling, stopping now and then to grab handfuls and mash them, just to hear the sound. Soon all the hatchlings had joined him, or scrambled off to explore this new stuff superimposed on their familiar playground. Fulcrum and Toolkit, with help from Perceptor, built a rather lumpy but recognizable snowbot, though Barricade wasn’t sure where they’d gotten the idea to give it glasses – a bit of supplement wire bent into shape by Perceptor. Some hatchlings made snow-angels with Annabelle; some burrowed into drifts and made tunnels; some tried to excavate their merry-go-round, whose axle had frozen. Beachcomber got down and exvented hot air on it until it thawed, but the hatchlings had already abandoned an old familiar favorite for new games – Frenzy had found a couple of short, bowed wooden planks somewhere and was showing them how to sled downhill. Hoist stationed himself at the bottom to divert anyone approaching tree trunks too closely.

Thundercracker scooped up a big handful of snow and eyeballed Barricade. Barricade was about to do the same, but paused. The thought passed back and forth between them. No. The hatchlings might discover snowball fights on their own – and maybe someone should brief Sarah so she could talk to Annabelle – but until then, let the battlefields lie in the past, even in play. Thundercracker instead molded more globes and built his own little snowbot, adding wings to his.

At last the afternoon turned golden, and the hatchlings were shivering and tired and some had gotten snow down their necks despite the Velcro, and it was time to count pedes, divide by two, and bring everyone inside for hot energon and stories before recharge.

“Aww, Ducky,” Sarah said, holding the hatchling’s hands before pulling the somewhat worse-for-wear mittens off. “Your talons came through.” Maybe knitted mittens weren’t a good idea. Looking around, Sarah saw that most of the hatchlings’ little claws were poking through, some more completely than others. Only Fulcrum’s thumbs were sticking out, while Gasket’s mittens were actually unravelling, a multicolored sort of fringe flipping around as he waved his hands about in excitement.

“Their servos do not appear to be adversely affected,” Perceptor observed. Their metal was chilled, certainly, but with their bodies insulated, their little sparks did seem to be providing enough heat to circulate. “Perhaps ‘fingerless’ gloves will suffice, for those who need replacements?”

“Or longer sleeves with thumb-holes,” Sarah said. The suits weren’t going to last any longer than human children’s clothing did with rough wear, they’d have to make more anyway. “Learning as we go,” she added, grinning.

Chapter Text

Couch. Thundercracker stared at it. A borrowed concept, out of place on a Decepticon vessel, though the dissonance didn’t bother him as much as it would have not long ago. It looked comfortable when First Aid or the others sat on it, but none of them had proper wings. He might as well try it out, though, and if it wasn’t suitable he just wouldn’t use it.

Huh. The seat was firm, but the back conformed to his shape remarkably well while providing support. He angled his wings up and down, wriggling his shoulders. Not bad. The only drawback was that the tarsal joint in his legs butted into the seat base. Extending his pedes a bit solved the problem. He scooched his aft a little more forward, letting his wings and shoulders sink into the cushions. The armrest on his right was perhaps of a height for frametypes somewhat differently proportioned, but he grabbed a pillow – another alien idea – from the other end of the couch and stuffed it under his elbow. There. Very nice, actually. He tipped his helm back and found it cradled at the right height. He could get used to this.

Coddling. Encouraged weakness and laziness. Starscream wouldn’t approve. Well. He had a few years yet before he had to worry about that. He shuttered his optics.

When he unshuttered them, close to an hour of local time later, Bravespark, Cade Jr., Birdy Boo, Noggin, Escape Velocity, Starshine, Gasket and Trajectory were cuddled up around his neck and chest, chirring softly in recharge. He could hear Barricade and Hoist bathing another set of hatchlings in the wash tubs on the other side of a partition.

He petted the hatchlings gingerly, not used to their fragility quite yet. He should get up and…do…something. Help, he thought, and not get caught lounging around but now he was trapped. (A traitorous part of his processor reminded him that hatchlings would cling automatically if he stood. Nope, he was definitely trapped.) Besides, it was stormy and cold outside – he could hear the wind and sleet blasting the hull – and nice and warm and relatively quiet inside. He was about to shutter his optics again when he heard the front airlock cycle open. Slag.

Aaaaaaaand it was Prowl. Fantastic. Prime’s chief Strategist and sometime military police head; and all-around sparkless fragger. Supposedly. Thundercracker had seen him when he’d learned that Jazz had been killed, though. Not sparkless.

Prowl seemed to be intent on something and about to walk past Thundercracker without comment, but he halted in mid-stride, turning – mostly at the waist – to take in the scene. Prowl scanned him lightly, and Thundercracker watched his expression evolve…softening, optic color deepening to match his spark spectrum, focus going wide, mouthplates relaxing, field whirling slow and enthralled, door wings wafting forward very slightly.

Grounder models should not be that attractive. Thundercracker caught and held Prowl’s gaze; relaxed, unchallenging, accompanied by the chirring of sleeping hatchlings. He let the color of his optics deepen, and the corner of his mouth quirked in a microscopic grin.

Prowl tossed his head minutely in a silent laugh, orbital shutters crinkling, door wings fluttering, his return smile bright enough to run a large space station, and then continued on his way.

Oof! thought Thundercracker. Oh slag. No. Nope. Time for recharge. Maybe all winter. That would be best, yes.

Chapter Text

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.

“Where’s Prowl?”

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.

Yes.

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.”

“Shut up!”

“It’s worth it, though,” Thundercracker said, leaning down. “Loving people. Even if they tear out your spark.”

“I know it is.”

Chapter Text

“C’mon, beeps,” Beachcomber called. “Seaspray, Blaster, you too. Let’s get inside and warmed up – Hoist has something special for us!”

Snowsuits were doffed and hung up on their pegs to dry, hats and mittens likewise. The hatchlings and younglings were all collected and brought inside to sit at a long, low plank fashioned into a table. There were cushions for the human guests, and the table was covered in a multitude of bright cloths; red, green, gold, blue, silver. The youngest clutch patted and peeked under them curiously.

Hoist came out of a back room bearing a tray the size of a big truck tire, balanced carefully with dozens of little plates – a plate for each hatchling, youngling, adult and guest – with a sparkling array of goodies arranged on each. Energon goodies for the Cybertronians, and amazing, tiny petit-fours for the humans. Everyone’s food allergies and preferences had been taken into account, so each plate was slightly different from all the others. (The plates themselves were sturdy aluminum, since paper plates were a non-starter between hatchling talons and the unfortunate and unexpectedly vigorous chemical reaction between paper and energon.)

“Wait,” Dion whispered to Marshmallow, one of the first instars. “Wait until everyone has their plate, and then you can eat yours, all right?” Roderick, nee Gasket, and the rest of Barricade’s original Horde, looked on in sympathy. It would have been very hard for them at that age to have held back from eating everything in reach. This latest clutch of Optimus’ – spawned rather before Ratchet had been fully satisfied with the extent of Optimus’ repairs – were sweet, amenable little hatchies, though, and Marshmallow folded her talons in her lap, quivering slightly in excitement.

“Bon appétit!” Hoist said, once everyone had been served, and there was a chorus of “itadakimasu!” as they all fell to in their different ways. Pipes stuffed as many goodies in his mouth as would fit, and almost laughed and sprayed Ultra Magnus with energon bits when the latter glared at him. Mirage daintily sampled each goodie one corner at a time, shuttering his optics and savoring each layer of flavor as they melted. Thundercracker and Barricade shared an eyeroll at Autobot luxury, but they ate their goodies with undisguised relish.

Midway through the feast, Prowl came in, sidling past the seated participants to report to Optimus. He paused beside Thundercracker, leaning over the Seeker’s shoulder as if to listen to something whispered in his audio. Barricade caught only the end of the gesture, fast as it was, but Thundercracker popped something into Prowl’s mouth. The 2IC straightened immediately and continued on his way. Jazz and Starscream hadn’t been looking in their direction, Barricade noted, or there would have been screeching and/or pouting. Calculated, the whole maneuver.

But it was cute, too, Barricade thought. Who had used to…? Oh Primus, he hadn’t thought of Radial in millennia. A friend from his University days, who liked to feed people like that. Cybertronians didn’t really have an instinctive tradition of sharing food between lovers, or between parent and child, as humans did, not exactly. But Radial had just liked to do it, and Barricade suddenly missed him terribly. He wished he had someone close who wanted to feed him like that…

A touch at his forearm brought him out of his reverie. Ultra Magnus, helping a first instar, Dot Matrix, climb to Barricade’s shoulder.

“Bzee?” Dot queried, holding out a slightly gnawed goodie. “Eee?”

“That’s for you, Dot,” Barricade said gently. “I have my own… Are you sure? Okay, okay…” He opened his mouth and let Dot place the glowing blue nugget inside. His spark glowed so warm he knew it must be shining out his optics. “Thank you, Dot,” he rumbled. “That was very kind of you to share.”

Chapter Text

“What do you see?” Barricade wasn’t sure what prompted him to ask the question aloud. Longest night of the year, clear skies, with a not inconsiderable chunk of the universe spread above them. Stars, planets, all the weird things out there. More likely than not he wouldn’t understand the Seeker’s answer. Jetfire was in love with physics again. In love with the stars. First Aid had said that of all of Galvatron’s first clutch, Jetfire and Jazz were enjoying their second hatchling-hood the most, but Jetfire was nearing his last molt and was getting…restless.

Jetfire blew superheated steam from his helm vents. “Just a protoplanetary disk,” he said. “We were to leave those alone, tag ‘em for future reference. But they’re pretty.”

“HL Tauri?”

“Hum. Yes, as a matter of fact.”

“That is a particularly nice one.” Barricade huffed a little at Jetfire’s surprise. Just because he’d spent the last several thousand years as a hatchling caretaker didn’t mean he didn’t know anything about other stuff.

“Want to see it up close?”

“…Not at this exact second……..” Barricade felt a chill in his spark. Had Jetfire’s teleportation systems matured already? Jetfire narrowed his optics, and his face took on an abstracted, calculating cast, and there was a rising hum of systems spooling up…

An abrupt, thunderous WHOOSH! and the sharp, warped whine of the universe twisted hard then released – and Jetfire vanished!

Reappearing directly behind Barricade! Even halfway prepared for it, Barricade jumped a little, spinning around as Jetfire gave a jubilant whoop and bounced about, waving his long arms and shouting. (Barricade, Jetfire knew, had no idea how much harder short jumps were than respectably long ones; curving your trajectory tight and precise in the wild, hot turbulence of otherspace, and then pinning your landing. Long jaunts were fairly easy, especially if you weren’t picky about your exit coordinates, aside from not inside something else, which was actually hard-coded and autonomic anyway.)

Oh Primus. Barricade shuttered his optics. “Please be careful.” Was it any use? Jetfire wasn’t Hot Rod, or Air Raid, or Skywarp, so maybe. Skywarp, oh Pit, Skywarp was going to have fits until he got his own systems running, please Primus let Starscream be able to keep him out of disaster…

Jetfire lanced a scan through him; nothing like First Aid’s gentle medical scans, this was a harsh, actinic probe, meant for vast distances or peering into the depths of gas giants, almost knocking Barricade back a step. Jetfire loomed over him.

“I’ve been knocking around the universe since before the stars were born whose deaths created the metals that make up your body,” he said, grinning. This was – probably – an exaggeration.

“Not in that body you haven’t,” Barricade snapped, and Jetfire cackled, capering about. Again the rush of collapsing airspace, and there bang! was Jetfire, 30 meters away, optics alight. Here! There! Near! Far! The echoes overlapping into a staccato roar that shook the trees at the edge of the field. Until finally Jetfire appeared, wobbled, fell over still laughing, kicking his broad feet in the air. Barricade hurried over, calling First Aid.

“All right?” he asked the big jet, laying a hand on an outflung arm. Jetfire’s fingers curled up around Barricade’s wrist.

“Wooooaaaah! That knocks the old rust right out!” Jetfire exulted, fans running high. “Finally! Feel like meself again.”

“Good, but don’t overdo it your first day.” Barricade knew that feeling, though, of a body not right for a long time, and then at last getting back to full function. Not that his two years alone with the surviving Fallen hatchlings was a fair comparison, really. Jetfire had endured seven thousand years of growing up all over again – he was indeed among the hatched rather than Allspark-kindled – with a spark that remembered a universe full of wonders and horrors. Adult minds in children’s bodies, and hadn’t that caused six kinds of merry havoc over the vorns.

“Aww, ye called the doc on me. That’s low.” Jetfire didn’t get up, though, even as First Aid rolled to a stop and transformed, followed closely by two jets landing lightly – and wisely behind him.

“I wish you had waited,” First Aid murmured, scanning thoroughly, but also placing a hand on Jetfire’s chest, above his spark. “I know it’s hard, though. How do you feel?”

“A little solar wind outta my sails,” Jetfire said fondly. “Other than that, I’m all right.” He rolled onto his side, the hand curled around Barricade’s wrist sliding up to clasp his shoulder. “Bear.” He stood, staggered, braced himself willingly enough on Barricade and First Aid’s shoulders (as the two jets fluttered about, both trying to get in the way in closer to help,) then stood firmly, rolling his shoulder gimbals and stretching out his long hands. “Recovery rate 87.3 percent of nominal! Not bad, not bad…”

Silverbolt wrapped his arms around Jetfire from behind, resting his helm on Jetfire’s shoulder. They were nearly of a height, and would be, once Silverbolt’s growth caught up. They were the same general frametype, though Silverbolt tended to favor bright armor to Jetfire’s dark.

“What are you doing?” Starscream blustered, climbing Jetfire’s front, putting his arms proprietarily around Jetfire’s neck. “You can’t leave yet.”

“Soon, Jetling,” Jetfire said, nuzzling Starscream’s forehelm.

“I’m not a jetling, I’m your commanding officer.” Starscream’s pedes dangled a good two spans off the ground.

“Yes, sir,” Jetfire murmured. “Give me a course, Commander.”

“Not yet, slaggit!” Starscream sunk his claws in, not to be dislodged by anything so trivial as physics.

“Soon, though,” Jetfire said, optics gentle. “Soon.”