The bandage comes off with a wet squelch, and the remaining goop is carefully cleaned away a moment later by a large pad of gauze.
The knee's scar is a pinkish mesh of burnt tissue, but the arm's is… reddish. Messier. Grotesque.
But, as Spike carefully bends the arm, he notices with a relieved sigh that the injury merely pulls annoyingly, instead of painfully.
"It's—It's fine. I'm fine," he answers truthfully, looking up with a big smile, and the Constructicons exchange triumphant grins, except for Hook, who glares his brothers back into seriousness.
"Now, no need to be hasty. You be good and do the recallibrating exercises your friend there suggested before you say that again. Understood?" he practically orders, glaring at the teen while pointing to an exhasperated Chip.
"Yes, sir," Spike answers with a chuckle, scratching his wrist—not the now unbandaged scar, because the Constructicons swatted him enough when he did so that they finally trained him out of that bad habit.
"Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on him," the bespectacled boy adds, once he's done rolling his eyes, and, after one more glare, Hook nods and straightens to be level with his brothers.
"Don't even think about disobeying, fleshy."
"Yeah, you can be sure we'll know."
"And no scratching!"
"For once, I have to agree with them."
The Decepticons tense at that last remark, stepping away from the humans, but Ratchet stands where he is, arms crossed against his bumper, and half glaring and half grimacing at the Constructicons.
For some tense seconds, none of the mechs move, even though they aren't behaving aggressively.
And then, the Decepticons take another step back.
"No need to check, Bot," Scrapper spits, ruffling his plating as he turns away from Ratchet, "but suit yourself."
Without even another glance, they leave.
Spike's smile falls, but he forces himself to pull it up again when the Autobot kneels in front of the group of humans.
Sparkplug rests a hand on his son's shoulder, and Carly's body makes a swaying move, as if aborting a step back, next to a tense Chip's chair, while Raoul has no shame as he glares at the Medic.
But Spike takes a deep breath and, before Ratchet asks, approaches the mech and offers the scarred arm.
"A second opinion, doc?"
Ratchet's relief, his gratefulness, is almost palpable.
In the background, the Autobots and Decepticons huddle in their respective groups, ignoring the other party completely, with the exception of those working on the Space Bridge, modifying it to self-destruct after one last voyage.
The Cybertronian abandon Earth.
The United Nations were deep in the debate about what to do when Optimus Prime and Megatron sent a conjoined message, each from their respective bases, about withdrawing from the humans' planet.
"This is our war. We will not burden you with it any more."
Jazz's message did its work.
Ratchet sits back on his heels, relaxing after his chance to personally observe Spike's injuries, and the boy can't help but look up at him apologetically.
The Autobots are losing, back on Cybertron. And, while their ideology deserves no mercy…
Ratchet answers with a small sad smile, ruffles his hair with a dactyl, and stands up.
"Take care," he whispers, before joining the other Autobots without a look back.
Sparkplug's heavy sigh is loud in the silence left after the mech.
"What happens now?" Carly whispers, her eyes following the movements of those she used to call friends, when Spike rejoins them.
"Life moves on."
They all scream and jump at the sudden voice, and the soldiers until now standing respectfully away as they bid their goodbyes lift their weapons to point at Ravage's lifted servos, Soundwave tensing threateningly even as Megatron grabs his arm—
"Hold it!" Spike shouts, hands lifted towards both parties, and, once the humans lower their guns, the Cybertronian relax and return to their careful ignorance of everyone not of their faction while observing closely even as they try not to look like they're doing it.
Ravage is the last to move, only lowering his hands when he's sure everyone else is done threatening the rest, and even then, his moves are slow, careful, choreographied.
There's enough tension as it is to add any more.
"Sheesh, keep freaking people out, why don't you," Raoul grumbles, crossing his arms in a gesture that looks almost defensive.
Ravage, in his now bipedal mode, doesn't listen to him, turning instead to Spike with a questioning cocking of his head.
"Better, yeah," he answers simply, letting the Cassette give a quick look at his arm. "How are you guys holding up?"
The Decepticon tenses, but, after a moment, deflates with a sigh, ears lowering and optics going black.
"We still function. We'll be fine," is all he says, and, even though he wants more, Spike knows that's all he'll get, especially with the Autobots around.
It doesn't stop him from engulfing the Cassette in a tight hug, and, even though the panther tenses, he immediately returns the hug, purring comfortingly even as tears come to the boy's eyes.
"It wasn't your fault," Ravage whispers in his ear. "They knew it could happen, and they wanted to do it. They wanted to change things, to make them better. You gave us the chance. No one blames you for it."
"No. It wasn't your fault."
The hug tightens, and the boy can just nod into the Cassette's shoulder.
He doubts he'll ever forgive himself, but…
For them. He can try for them.
Ravage takes a step back, and, with one last smile, moves back to his family, to where Frenzy and Rumble are sticking their tongues out at Spike while Laserbeak and Buzzsaw, also in their bipedal variants, simply wave back.
Spike lifts his hand with a smile, but the crunching of approaching pedesteps immediately distracts him.
And he looks up into Bumblebee's wary optics.
"I… I just…"
"It's okay," the teenager interrupts, not even knowing why the words come out of his mouth—
"Skyfire wouldn't have been able to adjust, to understand. The war didn't start just one orn, the Decepticons didn't gather at a sudden unprecedented call. We all had to realize things could be different before we even found the courage to act against the Senate."
"But that's exactly it, Bumblebee. You told me you'd rather not deactivate anyone, even though you were going to be Spec Ops, so I taught you to defend yourself instead. That's what choosing means."
—and his next breath becomes stuck in his throat for a moment, as he blinks the mist out of his eyes.
When next he speaks, it's with a smile on his face.
And, as the yellow mech nods, servos twitching almost nervously and lips pressed in a tight line, he knows Bumblebee understands.
He still straightens almost too formally when Optimus joins him in front of the tense humans, the soldiers fidling with their guns noisily as a warning.
No one's looked up at the Prime without fear after that evening in the desert.
Still, Optimus looks remorseful at their wariness, at the disust and the glares he's received with, almost as if he's really sad about having lost their trust.
"Don't get me wrong, Optimus. I've served under many Primes, and you're definitely my favorite: you work with passion, truly aiming for the good of Cybertron, and that's something I respect and admire. But you're almost ridiculously blind."
… Spike knows it is the truth.
No matter his ideology towards his own race, his fellow mechs. The Autobot truly thought them friends.
It doesn't mean he has any words to give to him.
After a quick look, it becomes obvious neither has Optimus, when he bows his helm, optics black, with a defeated sigh.
"I'm sorry it had to end this way."
… Okay, Optimus does have words.
"No, you're not," Sparkplug rebukes, once more clasping a protective hand over Spike's shoulder.
"You're not!" Carly explodes, gesturing sharply. "All those things you did—!"
"I will not apologize for that," Optimus cuts, optics blazing with a dangerous seriousness that immediately freezes the humans in their feet. "It had to be done, for the good of Cybertron, for the good of all Cybertronian. But I am sorry about you learning it all in such a way that—"
"We agreed to no politics, Prime," Megatron snarls, approaching calmly but firmly, with Soundwave at one side, visor burning and stance practically bristling, and, at the other—
"Prowl…" Optimus whispers, taking a step back when the Praxian's doorwings flare threateningly.
"You do not speak to me," the former Autobot hisses, blue optics almost too pale, and the brand new Decepticon brand over the slashed red sigil glaringly visible on his bumper, now lacking any and all police marks.
A string of hissing and crackling, like radio static, emits from Soundwave's side, cutting Optimus with a choked gasp, and making some Autobots sputter or recoil or shudder, even as the Decepticons wince or hoot or cackle.
Megatron stares at his Communications Officer with something quite ressembling awe.
When the hissing stops, the warlord finally shakes himself back to the present to give the Autobot leader a jerk of his chin.
Optimus almost literally steams—Spike's sure he can hear a faint whistle like that of a kettle arriving at the boiling point—but, finally, deflates.
"Farewell, my friends," he tells the humans before leaving, and, after a last, hesitant look, Bumblebee follows.
"We'll be going soon," Prowl speaks up once the other two are gone, ignoring the glares or betrayed glances from his former comrades. "You can finally be at peace again."
"As if," Raoul grouches, but he doesn't untangle from his self-hug nor look up.
"Why? Why did things have to happen this way?" Carly questions with voice thin, and, doorwings lowering, the Praxian slowly shakes his helm.
"It couldn't happen any other way. Not if we were to have a chance. He made sure of that."
"All of them did," Megatron adds, solemn, and, even as he nods, Soundwave kneels and holds a hand out towards Spike.
The boy wraps one of his own around a dactyl, and allows himself to be tugged into the safe and warm hold of the Cassette Carrier's grasp, one servo holding him while the other checks, as others before him, the scars of his arm.
"They really are better," he pouts as his limb is turned this and that way, and Soundwave answers with a subsonic chuckle, even as he lets go.
"Yeah, so they say."
"Such a whiner," Megatron chuckles, earning a glare from the teenager. "You'll be fine. You don't whine unless you're well enough to do so."
Spike rolls his eyes, but lets it slide, giving Soundwave's dactyl one last squeeze as the mech gets back to his pedes.
"You'll all be fine."
And, with those last words, the Decepticons move to the mixed group of Cybertronian making their way into the Space Bridge.
The walls close with a hiss, the sky lights up, and, as the pillar of light fades, the structure begins to rust and collapses in a couple minutes, to the uneasiness of the soldiers and dignataries sent to oversee the retreat.
"I'll miss you…" Spike whispers to the wind, the tears in his eyes finally spilling down his cheeks.
He gets no answer.
The Ark disintegrated. The Victory was destroyed.
Autobots and Decepticons left.
And Spike's world has become its regular and boring old world.
So… why does it feel like it has been flipped upside down all over again?
AN: Sorry about the wait, everyone. Life's unpredictable and messy, but I finally did it!
End of the line, kiddos. I'm going to keep reviewing my other fics before posting/updating anything, but, I've got to say, I'm proud of how this little onefic came out.
See you all next time!