"The wounds... are fatal." Perceptor announced the fateful diagnosis to those gathered by Optimus Prime.

"Nooo!" Daniel cried out and threw himself across Prime's chest, sobbing. The Autobots who'd survived the battle waited somberly as Optimus Prime gathered the last of his strength to do what had to be done.

The Autobots who had not survived the battle also waited, intangible to the living, silently observing. As Prowl had put it, Prime knows we're here, but he doesn't need any distractions right now. The Matrix is the only thing keeping him alive now, and he's about to give it up. He's got things to do and say before he runs out of the strength to do so.

Prowl stood respectfully aside from the other angel, the Transmetal Angel, who stood beside Optimus Prime. Long, brown, clawed fingers lightly caressed the hilt of a sword as the Angel of Death bided patiently.

You and yours have done well, Prowl, Death told him, inclining his head toward the former Autobot tactician. This day I have not claimed Mirage, Trailbreaker, Hot Rod, Red Alert, Sideswipe, Hound, Bluestreak, Blitzwing, nor many another.

Red Alert? But he was only struck by null-rays! He would not have died!

Do not be so sure, Ratchet! Had you not been in the repair bay, they would not have brought him there, because First Aid would have been too overwhelmed with the grievously wounded--and Red Alert would have been at the gates when Devastator broke through. He would have fallen to the Constructicons' fire.

Ah don't recall us doin' much of anything ta help Blitzwing!

You made him more alert, more cautious than his wont. Death smiled that deadly needle-toothed smile. Thus, he dodged instead of taking Prime's shot through his... lasercore, as you call it. In that, you have done far better than you yet know. He nodded toward the dying Prime. I tarry only for him--no more Autobots will fall here. Other work awaits me in space and on Cybertron. He raised his sword of whirling metal in salute to Prowl.

What was needful to say, was said, and the Matrix passed to Ultra Magnus, and, in time, to its true bearer, Rodimus Prime. His strength finally spent, Optimus, Prime no longer, departed the broken body that could no longer sustain the bright, fierce spark within.

Death touched him and Optimus awoke from the dream of mortality.

# # #

Prowl kept his promise to Carly, and gave her a breakneck ride across the fields to Autobot City that she never forgot. It wasn't until many hours afterwards that Carly realized he had been doing his best to outrun the search and rescue team coming back from the crashed shuttle, and the grim news that they carried. As it was, he just barely beat them into the city.

After he let Carly out at the command center, Prowl transformed to robot mode. He knelt down and held Carly's hand--only to be surprised by her heartfelt hug.

"Thank you, Prowl! Thank you so very much!"

"Carly... there's something I need to say before you go." He hesitated, looking down at the brown-haired woman. "Goodbye, Carly. It's been good to know you and Spike and Daniel; say goodbye to them for me. And please say goodbye to them for Prime and Ironhide and Wheeljack and Ratchet and Brawn and Huffer and Windcharger, too."

"You're going back to Cybertron?" Carly asked, still smiling.

"Not... exactly." Prowl glanced at the somber procession now approaching the wrecked city gate. "But I can't stay, and it'll be a long time before we meet again. Go on upstairs; Daniel needs you now."

Carly nodded mutely and ran upstairs to meet and comfort her grief-stricken son, never noticing that Prowl simply vanished from sight. It would be another hour before she learned the bad news.

# # #

There was no time for grief, or sorting things out; the dead had barely been found and the first awkward questions asked when Unicron struck Moonbase One. There would be no real chance to compare notes until weeks later, when time had blurred memories and reason edited out the events that didn't fit. It would be years before anyone besides Astrotrain got a chance to compare notes with Blitzwing, and no one living ever did hear Thundercracker's story.

Red Alert tasked himself with leading the impromptu search and rescue team investigating the downed shuttle. He knew it would be bad, and he knew he had to hold steady, be an example for the rest of them: Inferno, Hoist, and Springer. He failed. To be fair, Red Alert didn't lose his composure until they pulled the wreckage of Ratchet out of the smashed bridge.

Inferno didn't help one bit when he said, "Well, now I know why Ratchet was so annoyed about yer complainin' that you weren't dead."

Fortunately, Hoist was busy bracing the shattered hull so that recovery could proceed without further hazard, and noticed neither Red Alert's discomfiture nor Inferno's comment. Springer was too busy looking at Prowl's body with a strange expression on his face to notice, either. His expression conveyed the same sort of disbelief that was written on Red Alert's face as he looked at Ratchet's blasted shell.

# # #

First Aid looked at Arcee and the burden she carried in disbelief. "Wheeljack is dead? But how? He and Ratchet were helping me here just a few hours ago..."

Arcee looked back at him, equally disbelieving. "That's impossible! Wheeljack has been dead since the very start of the battle. I pulled his body out of the gun turret myself!"

Things didn't get any better for First Aid when Ratchet's body was brought in with the others from the shuttle. It was some small comfort to him that everyone still occupying repair tables was just as shocked and surprised and confused as he was.

# # #

The first suspicion tickled Carly's mind when she learned Prime was dead. As she held and comforted Daniel as he grieved for those he'd seen die--sobbing for Optimus and Wheeljack and Windcharger, she remembered with foreboding that Prowl had included himself with them in his goodbye to her.

Perceptor had been surprised at Carly's calm when he broke the news to her an hour later. She nodded as tears escaped each eye. "Let me be the one to break it to Daniel," she told him firmly.

As the red Autobot slowly proceeded to the next target of his grim news, Carly lifted her head and smiled lovingly at him--and at others she could only hope saw her. "2:07 am. I understand now. Thank you, Prowl," she whispered. "Thank you all."

# # #

Hours and hours later, just before Starscream's ill-fated coronation, Blitzwing turned to Astrotrain and said quietly, "I hate to admit it, but I owe Starscream some thanks. Now I don't have to explain to Megatron just why I ignored orders to take down that gun tower."

"Out of curiosity, what was your official reason going to be? I'm sure it wasn't going to be, 'Because a pair of dead Autobots asked me to'," Astrotrain said sardonically.

"I hope you'll help me come up with one, since you have to corroborate it. Starscream might ask the same embarrassing question." A very short while later, Blitzwing changed his mind as he watched the late Decepticon leader's ashes collapse into a heap. "Nope, I won't need to explain it to Starscream, either."

# # #

Kup remembered, of course--he'd seen enough strange things in his long life to know that what should be isn't always what is. That, and ignoring what is because it wasn't what you expected could get you killed. Kup was profoundly grateful that the unexpected seemed to have been busy keeping them from getting killed, for once.

He'd have stories to tell about the Battle of Autobot City, in time. Tales of heroism and desperation, life and death, small miracles and stubborn survival. For now, the grief was too fresh and raw; he wasn't ready to tell these stories, and the other Autobots wouldn't be ready to hear them. Though, perhaps, in one of those long deep space runs when Grimlock grew restless and bored, he'd tell the Dinobots.

Grimlock would appreciate a good ghost story. Especially one with Wheeljack in it.

- FIN -

Author's Notes: Like a lot of other Transfans, I was a bit bummed out when most of my favorite characters got wiped in TFTM (and the ones that didn't, seemed to have retired). Fortunately, my favorite bad boy managed to resurrect himself in the course of Season 3, but I rather missed Ratchet, Wheeljack & Co. More so after reading so many lovely fanfics about them.

Others have written lovely fics bringing the dead Autobots back to life (that's you, Lady Straya ;-) ). I don't want to trespass on their ground, and it's not quite my bent anyway. I bring the bad boys back and insist they get their act together--just ask Raditz--and Starscream already fixed himself (he still needs to get his act together, but that's another story). Why would I want to drag the good guys out of heaven?

Still, we miss those good guys, and others have written a lot of stories about them from the point of view of the grieving survivors. Some very good and moving stories. That's not my bent, either. I can't angst for more than paragraph or so without having some joker come up and try to paint the brooding angster in dazzle camouflage. Or having something blow up nearby. Or demons crawl out of the woodwork and try to eat people. Again, just ask Raditz about that. Every time he curled up to angst, the crap hit the fan. I think I have this authorial attitude that if you have time to angst, you have time to deal with a 900-lb alien predator that wants to eat you.

So I decided to look at things from the dead guys' point of view--and take a poke at/follow some conventions of ghost and angel folklore. In such stories, no one ever asks embarrassing questions like "Fred, I thought you were 9000 miles away, what the heck are you doing here?". As you may have noticed, Ratchet gets to duck that question a lot.

I also made my own explanation for "Why does no one in Season 3 seem to mourn for or even mention the guys who died?". The usual explanation in fanfiction is that they did, offstage--and as mentioned above, there's a lot of lovely stories showing those offstage moments. In my reality, there was offstage grieving, but it was ameliorated by the knowledge that their dead friends weren't all that gone after all.

For everything else bizarre, I blame Terry Pratchett and/or Joss Whedon for corrupting me at a tender age.