First off, Merry Christmas to one and all. Secondly, sorry it took so long. It went into the far recesses of my mind while I worked through coursework piece after coursework piece, and once I was done with that, there was a week till Christmas and I was on nightshift for all of it. Trying to write more than a paragraph a day was close to impossible.
Anyway, I succeeded, and here it is, in its completed-but-unbetaed-since-my-beta-is-having-real-life-problems glory, the final chapter of Format. Enjoy.
The door of the base crumpled under the weight of Bumblebee, and he skidded to a stop, eyes locking on the entrance to the med bay, where that glorious signal emanated from.
He bolted for the door, Jazz only a few metres behind, while the others followed at a slower but still hasty pace. Ironhide hesitated at the door to allow Will out before transforming.
"Wait outside" Ironhide warned. "If he's still frightened, a human might not be the best thing for him to see."
Will nodded and stepped back. "Fine, but let me know as soon as you can."
Bumblebee entered the med bay ad froze for a brief moment, taking in the small frame huddled on the massive table, and flew to his side.
His hand lightly stroked the small chest, trying to avoid the most obvious damages. The young Autobot was a mess, the frontal part of his chest was ripped away, the remainder of his Ducati armour was mangled, and his right arm…if Ratchet didn't have to replace it in its entirety he was a far better medic than even he realised.
He heard a growl uttered behind him, closely followed by a seething hiss. He looked up to find Jazz leaning over the table, and Ratchet was beginning to circle the table, optics flashing in anger.
Seconds later, Optimus and Ironhide joined the group, their anger equally visible.
"Those malformed, primitive, backward evolved, pit spawn ingrates!" Ratchet snarled, leaning over the youngling and bringing him out of recharge.
"I only hope he was lucky enough to stay in recharge or stasis. I'd shudder to think of what this would have fel-"
He stopped abruptly as the Youngling's optics flashed online. He gave a few sluggish blinks before his optics widened, and he grabbed onto Ratchets hand.
Bumblebee winced at the raspy tone coming from the vocaliser. Was there any part of the Youngling still working anymore? His chassis tensed as he considered everything he was going to do to Simmons the next time he saw him.
But then he caught sight of the sheer relief in the youngling's optics, his small head turning to take in every Autobot there, and the anger faded from him.
Next to Bumblebee, Jazz leaned in closer, brushing a hand over the youngling's helm. "Hey little buddy. Ratchet's gonna fix you right up. You just hang tight okay?"
"How is he Ratchet?" Optimus enquired, looming over both of his men, Ironhide pacing a few feet away, sending furtive glances towards the group and the table. At the sound of his voice, the youngling tried to sit up to get a better look, only to be pushed back down by Ratchet.
"You stay still, I'm still scanning your systems," the medic snapped, and a few moments later, his engine revved in anger.
"Ratchet?" Optimus asked again, and the medic looked up, and transmitted the results to the other Autobot's privately.
-This was torture. They ignored any safety restrictions in exchange for speed. This frontal damage could have easily been avoided, but they just ripped right in. The energon lines near his spark are leaking internally, but he's been throwing himself into recharge so often its not fatal yet. But the rest of it-
He shook his head before continuing.
-Some of the outer frame is just superficial damage, but several circuits underneath have been crushed. And the arm-
Ratchet optics narrowed on the youngling's right shoulder, and unsure of what he was concentrating on, Optimus walked over, and stopped stock still at the symbol his medic was fingering.
-It was performed with a minor laser- Ratchet interrupted. -I can buff it out in a couple of hours-
All heads swung down as the youngling's voice broke off. He shook his head, and then continued with the internal messaging.
-Please don't talk over my head. I want to know what's happening. Please?-
The voice was devoid of the youngling's usually confidence, and Ratchet withdrew the finger over the Decepticon symbol, only to find it grabbed by the youngling again. Clearly he wasn't ready to give up Cybertronian contact just yet.
"Sorry Youngling. But you've been through enough. I didn't want to worry you."
Ratchet blinked. "Come again?"
"Deuce. Its my designation."
Jazz was the first to reply, giving the youngling a smirk.
"Deuce. I like it. What do you think Bee?"
Bumblebee broke off eye contact with the youngling to look at the second in command, and gave a small smile in return.
"Yeah. Deuce. It suits him."
A rough chuckle escaped the youngling, and he looked up at Bumblebee.
"You have no idea."
Ratchet sighed. "Okay, everybody out. I have a lot of work to do."
Chaos erupted and Jazz and Bumblebee leaped to their feet in anger.
"No way Ratch!"
"I'm not leaving him alone again Ratchet!"
"Both of you calm down!" Optimus snapped, and both Autobots jerked to attention. Optimus sighed, and scratched his nose before continuing.
"The two of you can wait outside while Ratchet works. He needs to concentrate, and you two hovering over him is not going to help."
"Optimus, with all due respect-"
"That's an order. Both of you."
Both shut up, and glared at him before turning their attention back to the youngling.
"Okay Deuce, we'll be right outside" Jazz began, crouching You let ol'Ratch patch you up and we'll see each other soon, alright?"
As Jazz walked off, Bumblebee took his place, and stroked Deuce's helm similar to how Jazz had earlier. "I'm glad you're okay," he said. "I swear on Primus that I wont ever let anything like this happen to you again."
For what seemed like forever, Deuce just stared up at the camaro, and a shaky smile appeared on his face. Bumblebee returned it before walking away. Ironhide followed him, hesitating at the door, turning and smiling.
"You did well runt", he said, and walked out. Optimus nodded in agreement before following his weapon specialist, not noticing the youngling drop his head, unable to look at them.
"Ratchet, I'm going to have Ironhide escort Will to Mikaela's home to explain what happened. Meanwhile, I'm going to contact Secretary Keller. There are a few things we need to discuss.
Ratchet nodded grimly, and turned to Deuce, who was shaking slightly.
Deuce shook his head. "They're wrong. I didn't do well."
Noticing the medic about to argue the contrary, Deuce jumped ahead. "I didn't. I did something really bad."
Ratchet walked closer, noting that the stress was putting a strain on the younglings systems.
"Deuce. Whatever you did, I promise we wont think any different of you."
The youngling didn't reply, and Ratchet sighed.
"We'll talk about it later. For now, lets get you into stasis and-"
Ratchet jerked as Deuce grabbed his arm, panic rippling through his frame. "No stasis! No more stasis!"
"Youngling" Ratchet began. "I cannot operate on you unless you've entered stasis. Some of your injuries are going to require complete immobility.
But Deuce continued to shake his head, clutching the yellow metal. "No stasis! No Stasis!"
The medic wilted at the obvious fear in the youngling's voice, and he could somewhat sympathise. Deuce had been sending himself into recharge so much over such a short while, only to find his situation get worse each and every time. He couldn't begrudge him for not wanting to become unconscious now that he felt safe.
Slowly kneeling by his side, Ratchet curled his arm around the small youngling and brought him closer to the edge, until he was leaning directly over the plating that covered Ratchet's spark. Deuce's optics closed, drowning in the comfort of the nearby spark. None of the Autobots had held him close to their sparks since he'd learned to talk properly.
"Deuce, I promise you'll be okay. But if it would make you feel better, I can program a temporary alert that will automatically wake you if my spark leaves your vicinity. Would that help?"
Slowly, Deuce opened his optics and looked up. He gave a small smile and a nod, before returning to leaning on the spark again.
"Okay then, lets get to work."
While Ratchet worked, Ironhide took Will to Tranquility and Jazz and Bumblebee stood guard. Optimus meanwhile, headed towards his own quarters, accessing the number of the Secretary of Defence.
And so far, it wasn't going well.
"I don't see the problem Secretary Keller," Optimus said, irritation colouring his voice. "Agent Simmons didn't just ignore the treaties, he ripped them up, set them on fire and jumped up and down on the remains. By law he should be punished accordingly."
"I agree Optimus" Keller replied. "But this is a complicated situation, not to mention sensitive. The chain of command is still trying to decide how to handle it."
"How complicated can it be? He kidnapped and tortured one of our own, and a child at that."
"A child who technically doesn't exist by most laws" Keller explained. "Not to mention isn't human and isn't technically a minor. It's hard to figure out just what to charge him with that won't attract attention but will work accordingly. Death row has already been vetoed."
"He needs to be put behind bars Keller."
"And he will be Optimus. At the moment, the chances of Simmons ever breathing free air are almost nil. If nothing else, I can promise you that."
It wasn't as specific as the leader of the Autobots would have liked, but it would have to do.
"Very well. What about the data he required."
He didn't get an answer.
He heard a sigh. "The president and several former members of Sector Seven feel that keeping a copy of whatever was found would be prudent. I have orders not to touch it until it has been duplicated."
Secretary Keller could swear he could hear metal being ripped to shreds.
"I see. Your government still doesn't feel that it can trust us. They aren't willing to break the treaties but they have no qualms about finding those who will."
"Optimus, I assure you, Simmons acted alon-"
"Perhaps" Optimus interrupted. "But your 'chain of command' seems happy to benefit from it."
John Keller sighed. "I'm sorry Optimus, but there's really nothing I can do about it. I'll have the original work sent to you as soon as I get my hands on it."
"…Then that will have to be enough for now."
Optimus Prime cut off the connection and sighed heavily. Keller had promised Simmons would be held for life, though on what charges was still being decided, but the human government was intending to keep copies of data that, should they find it fruitful enough, may convince them to try again. Optimus liked to think the best of all sentient beings, but one could change the fact that some would stop at nothing for their goals. Megatron had been enough to cement that fact in his processor.
His internal communications snapped on, and Ratchets voice came through.
-Optimus, you really have to see this-
The medics voice sounded tense, even afraid, and Optimus felt his spark tighten.
-What's wrong Ratchet? - he asked, trying to keep his reply level. -Is Deuce okay? -
Ratchet struggled to answer. -I…I really don't know. I've never seen anything like this. You really need to see it to believe it. -
-I'm on my way-
Needless to say, both Jazz and Bumblebee rounded on him as he came to the door of the med bay, and insisted on going in with him. But the three stopped dead at the sight of Ratchet leaning over their youngling, shaking his head in disbelief. Deuce's Spark Chamber was open, his life force in plain view.
"Ratchet?" Optimus began. "Tell me there's not something wrong with his spark."
By his side, Bumblebee tensed. Damage to the spark was not something a medic could easily fix. And certainly not with the facilities and lack of help Ratchet had at the moment.
Ratchet looked up, and gestured at them to come over.
"Like I said, I'm not sure."
All three came closer, and Optimus's eyes widened. It was only at Bumblebee's shocked gasp and Jazz's whispered 'Primus' that he even remembered they had followed him.
"I was checking his processor was any irregularities when I found it was working at almost twice its normal power" Ratchet explained. The Lookout Program seems to have mutated. Its now dominating a small percentage of his processor, but its isolated itself so Deuce can't access it. I couldn't understand what happened, so I decided to look at his spark to see if this had effected its core."
He gestured down at the still form, and shook his head.
"I've never seen anything like it."
Neither had Optimus. At least, not within a cybertronian. The spark was no longer a simple ball of energy, instead, the core was clearly noticeable from the outside energy, and hung in the centre of the chamber. The outer energy encompassed more than half of it, the remnants of the youngling's original spark. But now, touching the larger by only the most minute of traces, was another, smaller energy ball, hooked to the same core.
"Whatever Simmons did" Ratchet continued. "It's forced Deuce's spark to split. I didn't even know that was possible after being first created. Splitting sparks is unique, a random occurrence. You can't just split one that's perfectly stable."
"He hasn't" Jazz interrupted, pointing to the core. "There might be two of them, but there's only one core. They're fused together."
"Siamese twins" Bumblebee murmured, looking up the information while the others examined Deuce. "Human twins are sometimes born sharing parts of their body. Is it similar?"
Ratchet followed suit in searching online and nodded. "Barring the fact that Deuce was 'born' without this new spark, its similar. Though I have no idea if I should separate them. Primus, I don't even know if can separate them. I'll have to talk to Deuce once he's repaired – perhaps he can shed some light on this."
"Ratch, he might not even know this has happened" Jazz argued. "He was in a pretty bad way."
"Oh he knows" Ratchet muttered. "Or at the very least suspects. I highly doubt he picked the designation 'Deuce' shortly after this occurred solely because he liked it."
Optimus shook his head in disbelief.
"We wont get the files for some time yet, but perhaps they'll shed some light on what happened. For now, is there anything else?"
Ratchet frowned, struggling internally before coming to a decision.
"He's managed to activate a pair of dual blades in his arms recently, and one of them was coated in organic matter. Before I put him into stasis, he said he'd done a 'bad thing' earlier. I think he may have caused a fatality by accident."
Bumblebee growled. "Good."
"Quiet Bumblebee!" Optimus snapped, before turning his attention back to the medic. "Opinion?"
"If he has, its probably going to give him some issues" Ratchet explained. "You yourself told him that we try not to harm sentient creatures, even at the costs of ourselves. He's probably petrified of how we'll react. Especially if Starscream picked up on it. We have no idea what happened to him before he arrived here.
At the end of the day, all we can do is try to help him recover, and hear from him what happened.
Questioning however, had to wait. Even with Ratchets non-stop care, Deuce was kept offline for two days while the medic painstakingly went over every component, looking for abnormalities. While he worked, Bumblebee kept up his vigil outside the med bay, while Optimus requested Jazz's help in looking through the files Simmons had filled in his short time with the youngling.
Jazz started going to the firing range far more often after those reading sessions.
However, the question of the double spark was never answered. According to reports, it had already been in place before they had arrived at their base of operations.
It appeared that the only one who could answer this golden question, was Deuce.
-Wake up sleepy head-
Deuce groaned as his body was pulled from stasis. –How come you always get in the first word? –
Hax laughed. –First and last. Get used to it-
Deuce tried to reply, but found his optics activating on a crowd of Autobots, and found his attentions needed elsewhere.
"How do you feel Deuce?"
The small cybertronian wasn't entirely sure who voice the question, but a quick systems check turned up no problems, and he brought his arms into view, delighted that both were now working. He looked up with a shaky smile and nodded.
"Feel great. Good as new."
This brought a smile to their faces, but didn't quite cover up the expressions in their optics. As Optimus knelt down to eye level, Deuce braced himself.
-They know I killed a human Hax- he whispered.
-Calm down- Hax urged. –You know Optimus. Do you really think he'll damn you for it? –
-Besides- Hax continued, amusement in his voice. –I don't think that is what this is really going to be about-
Before Deuce could reply, Optimus began talking to him.
"Deuce" he said. "There are some things we need to talk about."
Deuce looked down. "I didn't mean to kill him" he whimpered.
His optics were slammed shut, so he didn't see the looks of surprise surrounding him.
"So that was your 'bad thing'" Ratchet guessed, and was proven right when a harsh nod was the reply.
Bumblebee was quick to intervene. He longed to hold him, to give him complete comfort, but was aware that this wasn't a situation where it was an option. Instead, his hand came up to stroke the youngling's helm, in slow soothing caresses.
As the soft touch, Deuce's optics slowly opened up on Bumblebee's smiling face.
"Deuce" he said. "You said yourself you didn't mean to do it. Nobody would blame you for defending yourself."
"Given the circumstances it was almost inevitable" Ironhide butted in, looking at the youngling with sympathy. "It wasn't your fault runt."
Deuce shuddered, and Bumblebee feared they hadn't gotten through to him, only to be pleasantly surprised by the youngling leaning completely onto his hand, which had still been stroking his helm. The tenseness of his figure was starting to wane.
Optimus was reluctant to interrupt the two. Bumblebee was clearly elated at having Deuce not bolt to Jazz for comfort, while Deuce appeared the most content he'd been in a while. However, the issue concerning the double spark still had to be explained.
"Deuce, that wasn't why we wanted to talk to you."
The youngling looked up in confusion, and Optimus couldn't help but wonder if Ratchet was wrong about him knowing the situation.
"Your spark" he began. "Something has happened to it, and according to the information we received, it happened before anyone did anything to you. Do you know what happened."
For a moment, Deuce looked blank, and then his optics widened.
"What did I do to it?"
Ratchet answered before Optimus could explain, eager to get a reply.
"It looks as if your spark has tried to split in two," he said. "Only they've remained together at the core. I have no idea what could have caused this, so I hoped you could explain."
Deuce visibly drooped, and pulled away from Bumblebee's hand, much to the Camaro's dismay. "I think I did it."
Every optic on him narrowed.
"What do you mean?" Optimus asked.
Deuce's optics refused to meet theirs. "When I got caught, I was…angry. I blamed the Lookout Program, they wanted me because I wasn't like you. It was still functioning after I got caught so…I…I purged it from my processor."
Bumblebee jerked back, more in shock than anything else. "You did what?"
"How did you even manage that?" Ratchet asked. "Every time I tried it appeared as if it didn't exist."
Deuce shrugged. "I just did. But when I woke up, it was still there, but different."
"Different how?" Ratchet asked.
"It's not a program now" Deuce finished. "He's a friend."
The conversation lasted hours, far longer than anyone expected, and ended with a demonstration of Hax's existence, by allowing Deuce to transfer the other mind's consciousness into Ratchet for a few moments, and then into the base's computer.
Eventually, as night began to fall, Deuce was relieved from answering questions, and at his request, Optimus allowed Jazz and Bumblebee to escort him out. It was almost upsetting that the once free spirited youngling hadn't complained about the bodyguards, but the Autobot leader had faith that Deuce would eventually return to his cocky, confident self.
When the three vanished from view, he returned to Ironhide and Ratchet, both of whom were clearly not so adjusted with these turn of events.
"He didn't speak a word about Starscream" Ironhide began when Optimus was close enough. "Whenever we tried to bring it up he changed the subject."
"It could be that he doesn't remember anything," Ratchet argued. "He's still rather shaken from all of this, it would hardly be surprising."
Ironhide shrugged. "I'm just saying that maybe we should keep a closer eye on him for now. I don't believe for a second that Starscream returned him without a scratch without some ulterior motive."
"That may be the case Ironhide" Optimus replied. "But I trust Deuce, and he will tell us when he feels ready."
He turned to the other member of his team. "What about the situation with Hax Ratchet?"
The medic sighed. "Well, he's certainly not just a program anymore, but he's definitely not a reincarnation of Sam either. He's his own 'bot, just without a body. But his existence…it makes me wonder."
"Well, he was essentially created from memory fragments, and created through an already existing spark" Ratchet began. "If I could manage to find a way to separate the two of them, he'll be the first spark created without the aid of the All Spark."
Ironhide's optics widened. "You don't think…"
Ratchets own optics burned with determination. "If I could find a way to replicate the process using memory fragments of Autobots, there may be hope for our race yet."
At the light in his medical officers optics, Optimus felt his own spark lift, and turned back in the direction the youngling had vanished in.
Perhaps there was still hope.
Jazz almost found it incredible. The lookout was where this whole nightmare had begun. Even if it held a sentimental place in his spark he'd have given it a wide berth.
And yet, Deuce had headed straight here. It appeared some things would never change.
Both he and Bumblebee transformed first, and only when both were standing tall did Deuce transform, his optics shooting glances at the road almost involuntarily while he walked closer to the edge.
-Guess we're too late for the sunset- he mused apologetically.
-It's okay- Hax replied. –They'll be other times. Just wanted to see it for myself for once, not just as memories-
Deuce sat down, happy to relax in the nightglow.
-So- he began. –Why do you like this place? You made me come here so much-
Hax laughed. –Hey, you like it too-
-But you liked it first- Deuce argued.
Hax didn't reply, and Deuce was beginning to think he wouldn't get an answer, until the voice came through in a quiet tone.
-Because to the memory fragments I was, and still have, everything important begins and ends here- he said. –Memory fragments or not, that's something I take to be true, so…I just can't keep away-
Deuce smiled. –Want to go race Jazz and Bumblebee?"
Hax snickered. –Just don't make them look too bad. We want them to agree to a rematch-
The smiled grew into a grin, and Deuce leapt to his feet, leaping past his two still-standing guardians and transforming as he hit the road.
-Race you home!- he shrieked, and hit the gas.
"Oh you are so on rookie!"
Thanks to everyone who reviewed, especially those of you who reviewed every chapter, and/or put it on alert or favourites. It meant a lot that you all enjoyed it.
Will there be a sequel? I don't know. I had considered doing one if I got enough ideas, but at this time I only have a couple of ideas and nothing that could even constitute a chapter, much less a story so I wouldn't put much hope into seeing one just yet.
This has been one of the best fan fiction communities to write in just thanks to how friendly everyone is. This is the largest fanfic I have ever written, and I have only ever once found a story so enjoyable to write, and I'm willing to bet that's because there are just so many decent people in this community, so thank you all.