He'd barely gotten a chance to know Jazz, so it hadn't hurt this much when he'd seen the first lieutenant's body torn into two silvery pieces, cradled gently first in Ironhide's arms, then in Optimus'. The deaths of hundreds of soldiers in Qatar hadn't registered at all. And the humans who'd died in Mission City, horrible as it sounded even to think it to himself, hadn't made him feel more than kind of sad and a little numb. Even though he'd seen the bodies with his own eyes, he hadn't known any of them.

Staring at the battered yellow armor/car shell, splattered with luminous blue fluid that he shouldn't ever touch, green wetness that was coolant, and dark honey-colored oil, all Sam could think was It wasn't supposed to be this way.

Stardust: Ashes to Ashes
by K. Stonham
released 5th February 2008

To say the Autobots "recycled" their dead made it sound horrible. But as Ratchet pointed out, with his version of tact and gentleness that was too often the latter and too seldom the former, it was no more and no less than what nature did with organic bodies. Whether buried or burned, eventually the human body was reduced to component chemicals which fertilized the ground, made plants grow, and those plants fed animals which in turn humans devoured.

Sam couldn't eat dinner after that explanation. Or much of breakfast, which was cereal and milk. Or lunch.

It was only Ironhide's blunt reminder that Bumblebee had valued his life that made him eat again, even though the food now all tasted like ash.

He couldn't watch, let alone help, as Ratchet salvaged what he could from Bumblebee's body. He knew it was their way, and that what was left wasn't Bumblebee, but Sam just... couldn't. He couldn't even watch or handle Mikaela going into Ratchet's workshop to help. He knew she was hurting too, and that it was a prime sign of being a Bad Boyfriend to shut her out, but he couldn't help it. He spent days instead at the overlook, running his fingers through scarce, dry tufts of grass, trying not to think or remember or feel. Some days Ironhide sat with him there, or Optimus. Wordlessly. Watching the skies.

They were waiting for more Autobots to come, he knew that. He wondered if, when they did, someone else would be assigned to guard him. How he'd take it. If it would ever be the same. If he would ever be the same.

Long, hot summer days and Bumblebee should have been there, enjoying the sun...

But he wasn't.

"Sam," Optimus said one day, Sam thought it was a Friday, quietly. Sam blinked, looking up at the not-really-a-Peterbilt that shared the hillside with him. "Do you know where all matter originates?"

Sam shook his head.

"Everything we are comes from the fusion that occurs in the heart of stars," the Autobot leader said. "Every molecule on Earth. You. The grass. The tree. Me. All of Cybertron as well."

"And?" Sam asked.

"We're all related in that way," Optimus observed. "It's... something that gives comfort sometimes. To think that we all came from the same place, no matter our different customs, beliefs... or forms."

Sam was quiet for a minute, then asked, "What happens to the dead?"

"Science decrees that human or mechanoid, we're nothing more than a collection of electronic impulses within our bodies, and that once disrupted, our selves are lost forever, erased from the universe as if we never were. Save for the echoes our presence has left, that is." The flame-painted truck sounded at ease with this.

"And religion?" Sam had to ask.

"They're not always different things," Optimus replied placidly. "But... we believe that the spark, what you would call the soul, goes to a matrix within the AllSpark."

"And with the AllSpark destroyed?"

"Who knows?" Prime asked rhetorically. "We believe in eventual reincarnation for our sparks. Perhaps now we will be reincarnated as members of your species."

Sam looked down at his fingers where they twined in the grass. "Do you think Bumblebee would've liked to come back as a human?" he asked.

"He saw so much potential in you," Optimus said. "I think he would like it very, very much."

"Stardust, huh?" Sam asked softly , and felt broken things inside him start to heal just a little. "I hope you're right. Because it's really not fair for him to be lost forever." The grass blurred, and so did his hand and suddenly there was water running down his face and dripping onto his shirt. He heard the unmistakable sound of transformation, and a metal hand, so surprisingly gentle for its size and construction, curled around his back. "I'm sorry," Sam whispered raggedly. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"There was nothing you could have done, Sam," Optimus said quietly, probably also thinking of the black-and-white cop car who had attacked them out of the blue and was now interred with the others in the "Decepticon Graveyard" that the Marianas Trench had become. "It was Bumblebee's choice, and he was honored to the end to be your protector... and your friend."

Finally giving up fully to misery, Sam wrapped his arms around a giant metal thumb and bawled like a child for the memory of sky blue optics, a teasing radio, and someone who had been willing to die for him.

Author's Notes

Years of touch-typing really pays off when your eyes are so blurry with tears you can't see the keyboard. Parts two and three to come in the next few days.