Disclaimer: I own nothing – at least nothing Transformers related.
AN: There are many things you can criticize about the first "Transformers: The Movie"(1986) and the following seasons, but Starscream's fate is one of the things that irks me the most. There are open endings and open endings and his not-quite-end was just cruel.
Immortality is only a gift if you have something to live for, but Starscream has had taken everything from him with absolutely no way out, and as cruel, petty and heartless as was in the show, even he never deserved that.
Thanks to mdnytryder for correcting and betaing and being a great help, advisor and friend in general. And thanks to Starfire201 for letting me whine, worry and procrastinate all day long XD
And, naturally, thanks to all your reviewers as well. You rock!
28/28 IV On his knees (G1 AU, post war)
Getaway, runaway, fly away
Lead me astray to dreamer's hideaway
I cannot cry 'cause the shoulder cries more
I cannot die, I, a whore for the cold world
I have but two faces
One for the world
One for God
~ Poet and the Pendelum by Nightwish ~
He had tried finding the beginning of time to nudge the first particles of the universe into a direction that would either change his horrible fate or delete his complete existence forever.
But whenever he got near this mysterious moment, he found himself halted and unable to go further. He was bound to witness the effects of the first burst of light and darkness, the birthing of thousands of planets and stars, without ever seeing the true start, the true spark of life.
For he was mortal, dead or not, and the "Beginning" was something reserved purely for the gods.
He had tried following the universe's path to its end, to face the infinite emptiness that would follow and to fling himself into blissful oblivion, along with everything else that had ever been.
But regardless how long he waited, how far he traveled, time just went on and on. Lives began and ended and he still was, without being anything at all.
And whenever he started over he just saw another reality, witnessed other possibilities until he couldn't help but admit that time was endless and he would never find rest.
For he was just a ghost, a sinner, a forgotten memento of one reality among uncounted others and why should gods have a need for endings, if they themselves existed for all eternity, creating and destroying forevermore?
Without any way to touch the "Beginning", the "Ending" or the "In-between" of a life he had once called his own – for all that it had been worthless – Starscream drifted along, reduced to nothing but a constantly aching Spark. He longed for things he had never known and was still searching for the one way that would "make it all right again" that never had been.
And one day, after eternities, he who had never believed – had never been able to believe, only to doubt – hesitantly sunk through the outer layers of Cybertron down to the very core, hoping and dreading what he would find there.
For if he could see neither "Beginning" nor "End", if there were restrictions, somebody had to be there to make them. And after making cursed dealings with a dark god himself, perhaps there was truly a divine being sleeping deep inside of Cybertron.
A being whom, if not willing to release him from his fate, would perhaps at least answer him, "Why?"
And He was there, a light brighter than anything else Starscream had ever witnessed, radiating warmth and love and life just outside of the ghost's reach, and the ghost sobbed because - So close, so close… - he had never before been more aware how completely removed from everything he was.
The translucent Seeker sank to the floor of the wide chamber, choking on the pain, the loneliness, and the desperation of his existence when all he had ever wanted was there, just out of his grasp and he would never be able to do anything about it.
"I've waited a long time for you to come." His voice was soft, gentle, everthing and nothing at once and Starscream would have cried if he could, because Primus existed and there was hope after all.
But at the same time, it meant that there was a god and he was cruel enough to curse him with this non-life.
"Why?" he choked. And it were so many whys, so many questions that had never been answered.
Primus chose to answer the most obvious of all, "Because I wait for all of my children, however long they may need to return to me. That is what a Creator does."
"But I never even believed in you." Why would Primus, a god, wait for somebody who had all his life refused to praise him, to honor him in any way.
The light brightened and Starscream felt himself be engulfed in a cocoon of love and warmth and forgiveness - and couldn't really feel anything of it.
He knew it was there, like the almost forgotten taste of Energon on his tongue, but he couldn't touch it, couldn't reach it as hard as he tried. It was there, all around him, but his Spark was cold and empty, as if an invisible barrier would separate it from all that he had ever wanted.
"Dear child, it isn't important if you believed in me or not as long as I never stopped believing in you! You are my child, my beloved Creation, and I will love you, forever."
"You love me?" Starscream felt infinitely small.
"Even after all I've done… you love me?"
"How could I not love and forgive somebody who is a part of me? You are my Creation, you came from me and return to me until you are ready to live once more.
Most of your siblings regret their choices once they reunite with their brothers and sisters in my very own Spark, once they understand the consequences of their doings and face the pain they have wrought. You chose a unique way to regret, but now, when you have finally returned to me, how could I not tell you that you were already forgiven before you even thought of doing your first wrong?"
Gentle amusement seemed to ripple through the light, sending waves of comfort and reassurance though the chamber and near Starscream's lifeless Spark.
"But if you love me, if I'm forgiven… then why?" Why those endless hours, days, vorns, eternities as a phantom, a memory, a mockery of life drifting through space and time without any hope to cling to.
"Why didn't you just let me die?"
"You weren't ready to return, my child, neither to me nor to your siblings. You were afraid of the possibility that you would end up just as alone and unwanted in death as you were in life. Even now you close yourself to everything I'm gladly willing to give you, because you are scared that I will take it away once you had a taste of it.
Let go, my child, your suffering was a result of many bad choices, deeply regretted now by those who made them. Your life has been over for a long time, and the only one who is still causing you unnecessary pain is you. Let go and let me heal you."
The light danced around him, so close and yet so far away, trying to draw him into a loving embrace to wipe away all the tears and to hold and comfort him as long as he needed and wanted. There was love, there was warmth and gentleness, affection, forgiveness, understanding, comfort, acceptance – but Starscream was so scared.
What if it was nothing but a lie?
How could Primus forgive him? How could he love him when nobody ever had before?
"Starscream. I have never asked you to believe in me in life, but I ask you now, please believe me in death. Let go and come home, my dear, poor child. We have both waited far too long for this moment."
The ghost hesitated just for a moment longer, a small eternity full of uncertainty and fear, then he believed and trusted like he had so often before, but whereas he had been disappointed in life, Primus held true and suddenly everything was light.
And it was the "Beginning" and the "End" and the "In-between" and so much more. And when countless voices welcomed him in their midst, he knew that everything would be all right this time….
Optimus Prime started when a red blur sped past his open office door.
For one moment old reflexes kicked in and he couldn't help but expect an alarm calling him to battle – then he relaxed and chuckled.
It looked like he had managed to get away again, crafty little thing that he was.
With a fond smile Optimus leaned back in his chair, basking in the feel of peace that surrounded all of Cybertron these days.
Sometimes it seemed to him as if it had been just yesterday that he had faced Megatron in battle one last time, enraged about the loss of so many dear friends and driven by the certain knowledge that he would not survive the day.
His foreboding had been proven true, he had died and Rodimus had taken over.
But while his Autobots had mourned their lost loved ones, the dark god of chaos himself had shaped Galvatron out of the remains of Optimus' eternal rival, a desecration even Megatron had never deserved.
It was a relief for Prime to know that Galvatron may have looked like Megatron, but had never shared his Spark or personality in any way or form.
The following time had been hard on both factions.
Unicron had been defeated but Galvatron had stayed, drowning further and further in his own madness.
And the Quintessons, hated shadows of a past better forgotten, when Primus' children had been forced to live as slaves instead of free as they were always meant to be, had tried to establish their cruel reign once more.
Perhaps they would have won, perhaps the Cybertronians would have defeated them once again, no one would ever know.
When the Quintessons had attempted to demoralize and gain control over the Autobot by using Optimus' corpse as a way to obtain the Matrix, Primus himself had intervened.
The god had forgone his vow to not meddle (too much) in the lives, affairs and decisions of his children and had gotten his revenge on the alien conquerors in a rather… Decepticonish way.
When the Quintessons had arrived at the Mausoleum to use the remains of Cybertron's beloved Prime for their own shady purposes, every former corpse resting in it had been alive, healthy and waiting.
The Quintessons had never stood a chance, not with Primus' "irritation" still surging through Optimus and his mechs' Sparks.
When Rodimus and the "still living" Autobots had come later to investigate, nobody could say who had been happier to see each other.
The following months of adjustment had proven hard for anybody. Old friendships had to be rebuilt, old enmities to be buried once for all (or quietly and happily reconsumed after a Sparkfelt "Glad you're back, you slagger!") and the Command structure completely overhauled and restructured.
While some of the new officers had feared for their positions and privileges, others had simply feared that the "old timers" lack of experience with the new situation would cause horrible mistakes and casualties. With lots of time and patience, both sides had learned to work together and around each other in the end, both Primes soothing bruised egos and playing referee wherever and whenever they were needed.
It almost hadn't come to that, Optimus remembered sadly.
The morning after his resurrection he had found the Matrix resting on a desk in his temporary quarters while Hot Rod couldn't be found anywhere.
The older Prime couldn't help but still feel disappointed when he remembered the faceplates of some mechs who had basically said "Good riddance" at the news.
Hot Rod may be impulsive, rash and covering his mistakes and insecurities with false bravado, but with time, experience, trust and guidance he had the makings to become somebody more than worthy of the title Prime.
In fact, those were the exact words Optimus had told Hot Rod after he had set his soldiers straight and found the young mech.
(Optimus' Spark must still have held traces of the righteous fury Primus had inspired in him, he had been a little bit… harsh when expressing what exactly he thought about those mechs' opinions and where they could go shove it. Perhaps Rodimus would have been a Prime more to their liking if they had actually given him a chance. It was either those traces of godly fury or Primus was channeling his irritation through the Matrix. It couldn't have been solely Optimus' feelings, could it? Either way, he refused to even think about apologizing for smashing their heads together and throwing them through the wall.)
After much convincing and coercing, Hot Rod had agreed to share the position of Prime with him, Optimus getting the final say in matters as the more experienced leader and acting as a mentor to Rodimus, something Optimus himself had never had.
The blue and red mech smiled as he thought about how much Rodimus' leadership style had improved since then and how few mechs still doubted his right to guard the Matrix.
The fact that even the young Prime himself had noticed the changes only helped.
Rodimus had gotten calmer, more cautious and, most importantly, more happier about his position and his future.
Optimus knew, should he die again, Cybertron and its people would be in even better hands than before.
A yellow head peeked into his office, searched the room, then disappeared again, its owner jogging down the hall.
Optimus chuckled and commanded the door to close.
He understood the need of his mechs to come and check if he really was alive again. Every "revived" mech felt this way, and they had literally adopted an open door policy because of it. But still, sometimes the Prime couldn't help but wish for a little bit more privacy. Especially now, when he knew that if their little escape artist wasn't found soon, the whole base would erupt in pandemonium.
With the "heroes of old" (Optimus couldn't help but snort. He and the othes had only been dead for a few months. How was that old, and who, in Primus' name, had come up with that moniker, anyway?) back in the fold and new hope at the intervention of their own god, the Autobots had finally defeated the Decepticons once and for all.
Some of the Cons had defected, and some of them had been brought to trial and convicted for their crimes.
But sadly, most of them had died either fighting like the true warriors they saw themselves as or, the less fortunate ones were either killed by Galvatron or starved to death on Charr before the Autobots had even gotten there.
The day Optimus and Rodimus Prime could finally declare peace on Cybertron, most of their mechs had suddenly faced a rather frightening question: What now?
So many were dead, so few left alive.
Most of Cybertron's cities were nothing but ruins, and even with a sun now in close vicinity and many solar energy conversion plants under construction, it would take vorns for Cybertron to reach the technological, economical and cultural state it had been in before the war.
And nobody even wanted to think about how long it would truly take to fill the planet with life again.
Most Autobots chose to stay in Iacon.
More specifically, in Iacon Autobot headquarters, quietly but resolutely converting it from a purely military base into one giant community living center.
Nobody ever openly said that they were scared of the prospect of living on the giant, empty planet (universe) they called their home, but the way even the fiercest rivals clung to each other showed that nobody really needed to voice that fear.
Even ambassadorial duties on Earth were always shared and taken in turns, each returning bot relaxing noticeably once he or she was back in the familiar presence of friends and former enemies.
And while it was not the easiest way to live, Optimus would never deny how reassuring - and at times nerve-grating - it was to know that all the mechs and femmes he had learned to trust and appreciate over the vorns would always be just next door.
And when finally everyone had settled down and a status quo had been achieved, true to form the twins decided to up the ante and drop the bomb.
(a few months earlier)
"They want a Sparkling," Prowl murmured flatly.
Jazz gently patted his shoulder, trying to send reassurance and calm through their bond before Prowl crashed once again. "We've already established that, Prowler. We all locked up at the thought, shared our horror visions, wanted nothing more than to refuse their request but couldn't and agreed in the end that if Primus didn't think them capable of taking care of a little one, he wouldn't grant them one. Remember, love? We're past this point already, so lighten up. Just a few more minutes and they will skulk home without a Sparkling, and they likely will never ask for one again."
Ratchet snorted where he arranged several lifeless Sparkling bodies in a half-circle around Vector Sigma, "You don't really believe that, do you?"
"Nope," Jazz cheerfully. "But a mech can hope, can't he?"
Out of the corner of his optic, Optimus saw Rodimus shake his head, clearly as wary about the idea of the twins taking care of a little life as the rest of them. They all had witnessed in the last vorns how tiring and surprisingly hard it could be to care for a Sparkling, both Vector Sigma created and sparked the natural way.
In the beginning more than one bot had asked if it wouldn't be easier to just let Vector Sigma create adult mechs and femmes instead of putting so much time and effort into a little one that would take vorns and a lot of care to grow up.
Optimus and Ratchet had sat down with every single one of them and explained them patiently and thoroughly the ups and downs of preprogrammed Cybertronians and why the practice of creating adults with the help of Vector Sigma would be outlawed from now on.
It was true that it would be much easier to just built a few thousand frames and let the supercomputer infuse them with Sparks, and then preprogram them for exactly the tasks they needed them to do.
Cybertron would be repopulated in a few vorns this way.
But the downside was that adult preprogrammed bots usually were very fixated and inflexible. Their characters and behaviors weren't the result of experiences and decisions, but of force, of programmed lines that took many repeated impulses to change.
Preprograms tended to be geniuses in the task they were programmed for, but rather mediocre in anything else, if not abysmal. Some were so "well suited" for their tasks that the unluckier ones were nothing more than drones, while the "luckier" ones had to live with serious glitches for the rest of their lives.
It was bad enough that the Autobots had been forced to create the Aerialbots and Protectobots in the war.
When Vector Sigma created them, Optimus had asked the supercomputer to leave them as much room for development as possible.
But more often then not, the Prime still felt it hadn't been enough.
They all showed flaws, accepted and loved flaws, but still flaws that may have developed later on but would probably never be overcome and lost.
Silverbolt would stay afraid of heights and Blades would stay overly aggressive.
Past mistakes couldn't be undone and they all had accepted Optimus' apologies and reasons for his actions.
But the Prime would never again allow that a Cybertronian would be denied the chance to shape themselves with their own free will and choices.
In the end, everybody had accepted the new law and more and more bots, may they be bonded and unwilling to wait until they conceived the natural way, partnerless or such unique cases like the twins and their split Spark, used Vector Sigma to gain their own Sparkling and to start a family.
Today there were nine faces eagerly waiting their turn to ask the embodiment of Primus' will for a little one.
Mirage, Hound and Trailbreaker had wanted give their little femme Youngling a sibling for some time now, but had been unable to conceive so far and were too impatient to wait any longer. A Neutral pair looked ready to bounce off the walls for joy, and a lone Neutral merchant with a somber face and guarded air about him stood a little ways off from the other bots and seemed to be having second thoughts.
And, last but not least, the twins wore gleeful expressions that made everyone who knew them want to run for cover.
Finally Ratchet was content with his arrangement and returned to First Aid's side to watch the proceedings. Catching Rodimus' optic, Optimus nodded and the younger Prime steeled himself and took a small step forward.
Suddenly all attention was on him.
Optimus could practically see his younger colleague lock up and struggle for the right words to say, clearly thinking he had to make a pompous speech about the honor and responsibility of caring for a Sparkling. He gently nudged him from behind, unseen by the others, and Rodimus calmed down, understanding the message: Keep it simple, they are as nervous as you are and don't care what you say, as long as it is short and Spark-felt.
"It's all ready now. Mirage, Hound, Trailbreaker? You may begin."
Rodimus looked at all the hopeful faces and smiled: "I wish you all the best of luck."
Well, at least it had been short. And sincere.
Ratchet snorted audibly behind him and Jazz gave a short bark of laughter. The twins smirked and turned their backs on them.
The three Caretakers-to-be stepped forward, their little femme Porcelain held securely in Mirage's arms.
"State your wish!" Boomed the golden glowing sphere above them.
By the new law and custom, prospective Caretakers were granted a wish for exactly one thing they desired most in their Sparkling, not more and not less. The decision what to wish for was unsurprisingly easy for those four.
Trailbreaker looked at his family, then to the giant multifaceted orb floating above the motionless Sparkling bodies on the ground. "We would like a Sparkling that fits to us."
Vector Sigma glowed, a sure thing that Primus approved of their request for a Sparkling and their wish, and a small pale-gold sphere detached from him, floating gently down and into the open chest cavity of one of the many Sparkling bodies.
It settled in the Spark chamber, the chest closed and some moments later, bright blue optics onlined for the first time and looked around, trying to take everything in at once. A small mouth opened and squeaked questioningly.
The Sparkling's new Caretakers lost no time and rushed to the little one, opening their Sparks wide to its searching nudges and welcoming it with love and affection.
The Sparkling squeaked again and little hands latched onto black and green plating, a cheek nuzzled blue metal and then it began to giggle as Porcelain's small curious fingers began to tickle its belly.
"That's so sickly sweet I would be afraid for my teeth if I had any," joked Rodimus quietly beside Optimus, a big silly grin on his face. Optimus chuckled and watched the happy new family walk away from Vector Sigma to a more private spot.
"Ratchet says it's another femme."
Rodimus sighed, "He scanned her?"
Optimus nodded and Rodimus sighed again, "That means I owe Arcee ten cubes of Highgrade."
The older Prime chuckled again and nodded to the next couple to go ahead.
The Neutrals wished for a Sparkling that would always be happy, and they got a little bundle of grey plating and huge yellow optics that squealed at the first sight of them and practically burrowed into their arms, apparently overjoyed to be alive and loved.
The lone merchant was the next to step forward.
He spoke so quietly to Vector Sigma, that nobody heard what he said.
But when Optimus caught a glimpse of the silent smile on the mech's haunted face and saw the way the weight of the whole world seemed to lift off those hunched shoulders when the little one purred contently in the Neutral's arms, he knew the mech had gotten exactly what he had wished for.
Finally it was the twins' turn.
Optimus couldn't help but wince when he heard a faint "They want a Sparkling" from Prowl's direction, followed by Jazz' reassuring cooing.
Sideswipe and Sunstreaker sauntered in front of Vector Sigma like they owned the place, triumphant grins firmly in place and mischief in their optics.
Optimus considered calling them back, either to spare them the disappointment or to spare Vector Sigma from being traumatized by the horror known as the twins, but decided against it. This had already gotten too far to be stopped now.
Out of the corner of his optic he saw Ratchet hide his head in his hands and First Aid ready himself to flee. By his side, Rodimus suddenly turned around and declared: "I can't watch this."
The twins acted as if they didn't notice the actions of their supposed friends and comrades and looked up to Vector Sigma.
"State your wish!"
"One wish, eh?" Sideswipe said cheekily.
He traded a look with his brother, then they both shrugged in unison. "To the pit with it!"
They opened the arms wide and grinned up at the looming presence before them: "Surprise us!"
And surprise them he did.
Later on, many bots would swear that they had felt Cybertron rumble faintly beneath them at exactly this moment and if Rodimus' faceplates were anything to go by, the Matrix in his chest had done a merry little dance at the twins' announcement.
There were more clues, like Vector Sigma flashing in countless colors for some moments, but they all hinted at one thing in Optimus Prime's opinion: Somewhere deep inside Cybertron, Primus was laughing his godly aft off.
The twins had to have gotten their… unique brand of humor from somewhere, and apparently this was the perfect opportunity to prove that Sunstreaker and Sideswipe weren't spawns of the Unmaker but Primus' very own, once and for all.
While most of the present mechs still tried to find out why the ground shook and Vector Sigma momentarily resembled a giant disco ball, a small pale blue Spark detached itself from the glowing orb high above their heads and floated lazily down to the waiting bodies.
Optimus would never be able to tell who had been more surprised to see that Primus actually granted the twins' request for a Sparkling - his officers or the twins themselves.
Prowl audibly crashed and Ratchet began cursing up a storm. (Never a good behavior around a Sparkling, even if it was one still on the verge of living, but nobody was quite brave enough to mention it.) And Sunstreaker and Sideswipe just stood there, slack-jawed, their optics wide and bright and following the little orb floating from Sparkling body to Sparkling body, obviously inspecting every single one of them and finding each of them wanting.
It began to slowly drift around, often dangerously nearing the edge of the force field Vector Sigma generated to keep the new Sparks from guttering out at their first contact with the outer world.
Rodimus was the first to get over his shock.
The young Prime winced when the only answer he got was a harsh insult from where the medic was bowed over the unmoving form of Prowl.
"Ratchet! I hate to interrupt, but you really need to take a look at this!"
He barely managed to duck the wrench sailing his way. But at least Rodimus had gotten First Aid's attention, who took one look at the little Spark flying circles above the Sparkling protoforms, gaped for one moment and then simply grabbed Ratchet's head and turned it in the right direction.
Ratchet stared in shock at the situation, then he exploded: "That's just precious. The little pitspawn isn't even online yet and it is already causing problems. Sunstreaker and Sideswipe, once this crisis is over, you're dead, you hear me? You're DEAD!"
The twins didn't react, still in a stupor of, "Primus granted us a Sparkling. He must be insane!"
Ratchet left Prowl in the care of his bondmate and hurried to the wayward Spark, scanning the row of rejected protoforms for faults or impurities that might explain the Sparkling's reluctance to inhabit them. He always brought many different protoforms to avoid a case such as this, to be prepared for the possibility that he had overlooked a malfunction in one of the bodies and to give a Sparkling the opportunity to decide how he wanted to look for a great deal of his life.
But all the inanimate Sparkling shapes before him were in perfect working order, and while they all showed the same dull grey color, their builds differed enough for a little one to decide between them and settle for one.
But apparently the little firefly from hell above him felt otherwise. It was still floating – no, zipping around now, clearly becoming agitated at the lack of a suitable body to inhabit.
"I can't find any problem with the shells, Ratchet. Why isn't it choosing one?" First Aid intently watched the Sparkling rushing from one side of the force field to the other, wincing whenever it came particularly close to breaching the invisible border and extinguishing itself.
"I'm not sure." Ratchet was running yet another scan over the still forms and over the little glowing ball causing so many problems, cursing the twins, Primus' sudden sense of humor and the little one the whole time.
The Primes had drifted closer by now, looking worriedly at the mess before them as well. If they didn't do something soon, the Sparkling surely would leave the protecting boundaries of Vector Sigma and wither away in a matter of mere seconds.
Suddenly Ratchet straightened and stared at the pale blue flicker whizzing by. "It can't be…."
He hesitated one moment longer, then his face got a determined look.
The medic picked up three of the rejected protoforms, piled them up in First Aid's arms and shoved him in the direction of a corner.
Then he turned to the twins who were still lost in their trance ("Primus is crazy. Primus is slagging crazy and gave us a Sparkling."), pulled them by their collars towards him, and looked them sternly in the astonished optics once he was sure he had their undivided attention.
He pointed to the pale blue Spark whizzing about, his other hand threateningly raising a wrench. "Do you see this? The pretty blue light going crazy up there?"
Both twins nodded mutely.
"Good, boys, very good. Now repeat with me: That's our Sparkling, it's alive, it's ours and it's our responsibility." The twins obediently mouthed along, still too dazed to do anything else. Ratchet patted their helmets condescendingly.
"Very good. And now listen carefully: Your most important responsibility is keeping your Sparkling alive. And right now it's in grave danger of extinguishing itself without knowing what it is doing. So, whatever it takes, you will keep it inside this forcefield or, Primus help me, I will make sure that you follow it to the Matrix. Slowly. Painfully! Understood?"
The twins nodded and with a little bit of friendly convincing with the wrench, began to slowly circle the forcefield, shooing the little Spark away from the edges whenever it came too close. The Primes moved to help them without being prompted and Ratchet hurried to get over to his colleague, comming Wheeljack on his way to bring some parts down to Vector Sigma, as fast as he could.
Roughly two hours later Ratchet, First Aid and the recently arrived Wheeljack approached the forcefield again, one newly modified protoform in their hands and the mangled remains of the rejected forms lying forgotten in the corner.
Optimus couldn't help but cycle a deep gust of air through his vents, the Sparkling had gotten more agitated with each minute that had passed and by now it was hard work herding it back into the safe center of the forcefield and actually keeping it there for more than a few seconds.
"Will it help?" he asked, indicating the shell in Ratchet's hands. The medic looked uncertain when he nodded, "At least I hope so. It wasn't quite easy to make the modifications work without the correct parts and I feel a little bit like that human MacGyver right now – but if I diagnosed the problem correctly, it should work. If not…."
Optimus didn't really want to think about the "if not".
Ratchet briskly entered the forcefield and lay down the new shell beside the others.
At first glance, it didn't look much different, a little bit sleeker and smaller perhaps, the feet slightly altered, but other than that, it was dull grey and lifeless and similar to the others.
When the medic stepped back and the pale blue Spark was herded carefully but resolutely towards the waiting protoforms, everyone watching stilled their systems in anticipation, not wanting to scare the little one away again.
The small orb floated above the forms for moments, than it suddenly dove into the newly added body, claiming its Spark chamber and shutting all barriers and protections in a matter of mere seconds.
The forcefield surrounding Vector Sigma extinguished.
Every bot present cycled a deep gust of air, slowly stepping nearer to the grey, unmoving bundle on the ground. Sideswipe peered, half curiously, half warily, over his brother's shoulder. "Is it alive?"
Ratchet ran a scan over the little one and nodded: "He is alive and fine. Thank Primus. But then again, it's his fault in the first place." He glared at the twins: "Or yours. Seriously, 'Surprise us…'"
The ensuing tirade was cut short when the little one suddenly onlined his optics – bright red optics.
"Oh I knew it," Ratchet grumbled while the Sparkling sat up, the wingnubs on his back hard to overlook. The medic snorted: "Surprise us, they said. Great going, idiots."
The Seekerlet stared up at him, utterly silent, huge red optics wide and strangely cautious. He made no move to reach out to any of them or to demand attention in any way.
He just sat there, examined them each in turn and stared.
Optimus couldn't help but notice that for one moment, the little mech's optics looked far too old and world weary for such a young body.
And if Rodimus' frown was anything to go by, he had either seen or felt it, too.
"Congratulations, Sunstreaker, Sideswipe. It's good to see that it won't be long until Seekers will fly in our skies again. I had already stopped hoping."
The twins' heads snapped up as Optimus addressed them, a cry for help clearly in their still-a-little-bit-dazed optics.
Apparently they had no clue what to do now, confirming the Prime's suspicion that their request had been some kind of joke right from the beginning. Well, it seemed as if Primus thought them much more responsible as they themselves did – and to be honest, Prime shared that assessment.
The Sparkling would be good for them, and they could be great Caretakers – if they would just do something already.
"Perhaps you should pick him up now before he becomes even more confused with all these new faces around and nobody claiming him as their own," Optimus prompted gently.
Sideswipe and Sunstreaker shared a look, then the yellow twin gingerly knelt down and, hesitantly at first, took the Sparkling into his arms, standing up once again.
His brother looked over his shoulder, waving nervously at the little one and attempting a shaky smile: "Uh… hello there. Looks like you're stuck with us, now. Uh… sorry for that?"
Ratchet snorted and the Sparkling just continued to stare.
Sideswipe's face fell and Sunstreaker shifted uncertainly.
Suddenly, both twins felt something touch their shared Spark, a shy nudge, barely there and ready to disappear at any sign that it wasn't welcomed.
Without really thinking about it, they reached for the small Spark calling their own life-essence, wrapping it in their shared emotions of disbelief, wonder, astonishment, awe and a barely understood, unconscious happiness that more and more seeped to the surface of their thoughts.
They had a Sparkling.
An actual, living Sparkling.
The realization finally hit them fully and both twins suddenly found themselves sitting on the ground, their knees refusing to support them at the sudden revelation, the Sparkling held firmly and safely against Sunstreaker's chest.
They had a Sparkling!
Amazement and joy filled their Sparks and flooded the tentative connection to the little Seeker in their arms, faces lighting up with big, silly grins. The Sparkling trilled in surprise at the sudden onslaught of love, acceptance and welcome directed at him, then the bond snapped fully into place and he chirruped happily, nestling even closer to the half-Spark of his new Caretaker.
Somewhere, deep inside of Cybertron, Primus smiled.
"So… thought about any names yet?"
Optimus Prime couldn't help but chuckle at the memory of the twins' faces at Ratchet's not so innocently asked question.
Not expecting to even get granted their wish, they had had no answer, and the other bots present hadn't been a real help in the matter.
Rodimus' "Surprisepackage" and "Curveball" had still been among the nicer suggestions.
Once a finally reawakened Prowl – having been informed of the drama he had missed by his bondmate – had taken one long look at the Sparkling and dryly uttered "Poetic Justice", only to smirk disconcertingly afterwards, the suggested names had quickly gone from "Karma" and "Irony" over "Payback" to such wonderful choices like "Pitspawn", "Hellraiser" and "Tweedlethree".
Finally, Prime hadn't been able to resist the twins' pleading, slightly horrified optics any longer and had stepped in. Following his instincts and Spark, he had given the Seekerlet a temporary name that had fit the Newspark a lot better than Optimus had realized at that moment.
He only hoped that when the little one was old enough to choose a designation of his own, the Seeker would no longer fit his Sparkling name.
The difficulties of finding a name for their Sparkling was just the first of many more instances to occur in which the twins suddenly found themselves in a situation that was completely new to them and could, for once, neither be handled with intimidation, sneaky cunning nor violence.
For once in their lives, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker felt completely helpless, not knowing what to do, how to act around the little being that they had wished into their lives without thinking about the consequences.
But even when they once again ended up as the butt of many good-natured jokes and ribbing or despairing over the hard task of taking care of another living being that was incredibly gifted in making their lives difficult in any way it could, Prime and every other Autobot knew that by now, that the twins would never take their wish back.
They loved their Sparkling, pampering him in any way they could and more then ready to spoil him rotten and to fulfill his every wish.
Sure, they would groan about their duties as Caretakers whenever they could, trying unsuccessfully to keep their front as merciless, sparkless, irresponsible warriors out for Energon and ready to eat cute, little Sparklings for breakfast.
But nobody who had ever witnessed their frantic searching when their little one had managed to disappear once more, could ever see them in the same light ever again.
They loved the Seekerlet deeply and would do anything for him.
Optimus was ripped from his thoughts, when something wet and cold suddenly touched his ankle.
He looked down and into the bright red optics of a little Seeker-Sparkling, who was covered head to toe in a multitude of colors. The little one stared at him for a moment, head titled to one side and optics strangely searching, then it chirped contently and smeared another streak of fingerpaint over the Prime's leg.
Optimus couldn't help but chuckle.
He reached down and gently cupped the miniscule head with one hand, caressing the tiny helmet: "Hello, Echo. Have you escaped your poor Caretakers again?"
A distracted chirrup was the only answer he got, the Sparkling far more interested in adding some red to the light blue streaks on Prime's paintjob.
"Sunstreaker will blow a gasket when he sees you in those colors again."
This time the little one reacted, peeking up at Optimus with a strangely wary look in suddenly too old optics. Covered in black, silvery white, red and blue, the Sparkling reminded the Prime more of his former life than ever before.
Optimus had suspected right from the beginning, ever since he had caught the brief glimpse of too old optics in a young face, that unlike most Sparks, this little newly created Spark still contained imprints and buried memories of a former life.
Rodimus had only confirmed this theory when he had asked for a private meeting a few weeks after that fateful day in the cave of Vector Sigma….
(a few weeks after the Seekerlet's arrival)
"You know he's not a real Sparkling, don't you, Optimus?"
Optimus looked at the worried face of his successor and sighed.
He had known that Rodimus would eventually pick up on it. It was hard to miss if you had once been attuned to the Matrix, and Rodimus even carried the relic.
Even without the obvious hints it would have been apparent that there was something special and familiar about Echo.
"He is and he is not." Optimus folded his hands in front of him and looked sorrowfully at the young mech pacing on the other side of the desk.
"He is a Sparkling and yet parts of his former personality, his former life, have managed to preserve themselves. I hope these remnants will fade over time, but right now, they still come to the surface whenever something triggers them. And unfortunately that still happens more often than not."
Optimus sighed again and Rodimus looked at him, a quick gaze full of emotions that the older mech couldn't even begin to name before the blue optics were averted.
"But I don't understand why. If the Spark wasn't ready to be reborn yet, why did Primus send him to us in the first place? Or was it a mistake, did he manage to cheat death and Primus yet again somehow?"
Rodimus suddenly stopped and stared unseeingly at the far wall. His voice became soft and hollow. "Sometimes, when I look at him, I taste clouds and condensation, Optimus. I smell heat and wind and my armor feels cold and I feel the wind on my wings and the sun on my canopy…."
The younger Prime sank into one of the comfortable chairs in front of Optimus' desk and stared blankly at his predecessor. "I don't even have these parts, Optimus."
His face turned into a mask of desperation and pain. "But that's not even the problem, I could excuse this with the knowledge that he's a Seeker – but then the Matrix starts to tingle and burn in my chest and he gets this look in his optics…. And I can't help but ask myself if he's plotting how to murder us all in our sleep in that cute little head of his. No Sparkling should have optics that cold and calculating."
Rodimus shook his head – then he suddenly let out a short bark of laughter.
"And his shenanigans whenever he's in medbay for a checkup don't help either. I'm certain if Ratchet wouldn't have threatened to dismantle the twins and leave Echo protoform-grey for all eternity, Sunstreaker would have already tried to ban the colours red, blue and white from Iacon entirely, just to make sure his precious little one doesn't end up looking like - how did he put it? – that flying nuisance with an ego the size of Jupiter and the voice that could break Cybertronian bullet-proof glass."
The young Prime sagged even further into the chair and hid his head in his hands. "I can only pray Sunstreaker and his brother never find out…. Primus."
Optimus knew that it was highly inappropriate, but he couldn't help the broad grin that threatened to find its way onto his faceplates.
While naturally sparked Sparklings chose their paint jobs while still being carried and more often than not showed a blend of their Creators' colours, Vector Sigma sparked Sparklings and mechs began their life uniformly grey, and chose their future appearance in the course of several medical checkups. They were shown a digital likeness of themselves and given the chance to colour it however they wanted.
Preprogrammed adults usually only needed one or two medbay visits to decide on their appearance.
They were painted accordingly in a matter of hours and needed only a few days for their self-repair systems to assimilate the tiny colour particles and reprogram itself to actually colour the surface of their plating in the same hue.
Sparklings needed a lot more time.
The little ones sometimes needed vorns to find a suitable paint job, changing this, darkening that, suddenly giving up on a former favored color scheme completely and quite often showing up with no less than three different paint jobs in one week, more often than not looking as if they had been in a battle with a crazy artist and lost spectacularly.
When it had been little Echo's first turn to pick a temporary paint job, his Caretakers had visibly fluffed up with pride when their tiny genius had figured out how to use the touchscreen on the first try and even recognized its purpose after a few minutes of poking, prodding and generally amusing himself with watching the shiny colors flash by.
The pride had quickly turned into looks of pure, unadulterated horror when Echo had chosen a very, very familiar paint job.
And ever since then, he hadn't stopped trying to convince his guardians to paint him in those colors whenever the opportunity presented itself, be it in other checkups or when fingerpaint was nearby….
"Perhaps there was no 'ready', Rodimus."
"Huh?" The younger Prime looked up questionably.
"You asked why Primus didn't wait until the little one was ready to be reborn, before he sent him. Perhaps this is as ready as he was ever going to get." Optimus explained with a sad smile.
"I've done some research and while I haven't found much on the matter, whenever a Spark was reborn with some of his previous memories still preserved before, there was a reason for it. Sometimes it was an almost-bondmate left behind that would be remembered, at other times it was a deep sense of duty that remained even after death and rebirth – and in some cases it was the result of some trauma, some fear the reborn bot just couldn't let go of.
But in all cases it faded after time, and I hope it won't be any different this time around."
"So, basically, if we dug around in his past, we would find something that was so profound that it carried over into this life as well? I hope you don't plan on finding out what it was, because to say that that mech had issues would be an understatement." Rodimus snorted and stood.
"Anyway, it can't be changed now. And the kid is too cute with his big red optics – and I can't believe I'm actually saying that – to hold a grudge."
Optimus smiled and leaned back. He watched as his successor walked to the door, far more relaxed than he had been before their little meeting.
The younger mech stopped and looked back curiously.
"This stays between us."
The orange Prime nodded, "Naturally. Just… I think Skyfire knows somehow. Don't ask me how he found out, but he has already called dibs on getting the teacher position once the little ones are old enough to go to school. And when the twins asked him why he thought he was good enough to teach their precious pitspawn, he just smiled at them. They snarled, they insulted, they threatened, but he just smiled, and in the end even I was creeped out and they backed off."
Rodimus Prime shook his head and shrugged helplessly. "For all it's worth, I'll talk to him and make it clear that that's not his Seeker, regardless who Echo once has been – but to be honest I don't think Skyfire really sees just a substitute in him. More like a new chance than a second chance…. But I'll speak with him."
"Thank you, Rodimus."
The younger mech nodded and turned to the door again.
This time his fingertips actually briefly touched the doorpad before he was stopped once again.
"Tell me, Rodimus, just out of curiosity, do you know what 'Starscream' actually means?"
Rodimus Prime hadn't known, but Optimus hadn't really expected him to.
After all, the meaning behind it had already been forgotten when Optimus had been young and much more innocent.
A time when a young, naïve dockworker had searched the libraries of Iacon for hours for love poems for his beautiful Ariel.
'Starscream', an ancient poet's description of a supernova, of the last flare of beauty of a dying star, the final "scream", the brilliant light of the explosion - brigther than ever before and in colors one could only dream of - that would wander through the universe endlessly to tell the tale of the star's glory and its death.
'Starscream', meaning the last moment of glory right before death, 'Swansong' in human terms and Optimus could never keep himself from smiling wistfully at the thought of what Starscream himself would have said, had he known of that term.
'Starscream', the name itself was one of the strongest reasons why Optimus believed so steadfastly that the Seeker's life had been a tragedy, because what else did the designation foretell?
'Starscream', to gain what you wished for, to achieve glory, to burn brighter than the brightest star - just to lose everything in the next moment and succumb to darkness forever.
Destined to fail….
Destined to believe he had won, just to lose in the end, lose everything….
Sometimes Optimus wondered if Starscream had known what his name meant, if the Seeker had spent his whole life fighting against fate – or if he had been lost and confused and searching for answers on why he just could never win.
The Prime couldn't help but hope for the first option.
Wet fingertips trying to reach his knee joint woke him from his musings and he couldn't help but smile down at Echo, who gazed with bright optics up at him and lifted his arms to get picked up.
Optimus obliged chuckling and the Sparkling snuggled into his chestplates and purred contently, leaving handprints of bright red and blue on the much darker paint job.
For one moment, every thought of the Seekerlet's former self were forgotten and the mech saw nothing but a Sparkling basking in the presence of a loved and loving adult, an "uncle" of some sort.
Optimus smiled and stroked the tiny wingnubs, marveling at the knowledge that one day these tiny lumps of metal and wires would develop into proud wings ready to tame the winds and soar through the skies.
A soft beep caught his attention and he opened the door to his office.
Sunstreaker, having received his summons that Echo had found his way into Prime's office once again, peeked his head in, his usual haughty, now (very badly hidden) worried scowl melting into an expression of pure relief when he caught sight of the little Seeker cradled against Optimus' chestplates.
"There you are," he stated softly, having learned very quickly (and painfully, courtesy of Ratchet), that you don't shout or yell in the presence of an easily frightened Sparkling.
Sunstreaker frowned and Optimus noticed with worry how Echo's small face seemed to close up, his optics turning cold and… no, not cold and calculating, how Rodimus had put it, but wary and as detached as the little one could make himself be. He seemed to be waiting for something bad to happen, now that Sunstreaker had found him after his little adventure.
"We searched for you everywhere…. Have you any idea how worried we were?" Sunstreaker's voice was still uncharacteristically soft as he picked the Sparkling up, holding him up above his faceplates and scrutinizing him, searching for injuries or anything else out of place. When he found nothing, he brought the motionless Seekerlet down and nuzzled it.
"Primus, I would ask you to never do that again, but I know you will, you little rascal."
He never noticed how his Sparkling suddenly relaxed, wariness and mistrust vanishing the instant Sunstreaker cuddled him close.
Echo suddenly chirruped happily and hugged his Caretaker's faceplates, smearing fingerpaint everywhere in the process, and rubbed his tiny cheek against Sunny's much larger one.
Prime smiled at the display, hesitated for a moment – and then took a picture, planning to gift it to Sideswipe next Christmas. Either that or donate it anonymously to the picture collection Jazz and others had started the day the very first Sparkling had been born.
The sight of the bubbly, happy Sparkling before him eased a lot of his worries and Prime finally thought that he understood Echo's many small oddities and disappearing acts.
The remnants of his former self drove Echo to "test" his Caretakers, forcing them again and again to prove that they wouldn't hurt him should he do something bad and that they would search for him, that they genuinely cared for him.
Prime was pretty sure that the twins had done a great job so far to convince Starscream's last sense of self that they would neither ever abandon him nor abuse him in any way. And Optimus couldn't help but notice in hindsight that the intervals between Echo's disappearances had been increasing slowly but steadily.
Given some time, they probably would cease totally, and Starscream's memories would fade away completely, leaving only a happy and loved Sparkling that was hell-bent on keeping his Caretakers from getting bored.
Sunstreaker finally noticed that he had an audience for his uncharacteristic display of affection and tenderness and gently plucked the Seekerlet from his faceplates, clearly embarrassed. "Er…. Thank you for comming me and taking care of him in the meantime, Prime."
Optimus smiled, "Anytime Sunstreaker. If you or your brother ever need a break, you know where you can find me. Elita and I would be delighted to take care of your little one for an hour or two."
The smile turned mischievous when the taller mech wiped some blue paint from the spot where once his Autobot symbol had been. "I don't even mind being his canvas. But perhaps you should try to encourage Echo to use some different colors once in a while, just for diversity's sake."
"I'm sorry, Prime."
Optimus' smile only got broader when Sunstreaker looked earnestly chagrined at the red and blue handprints on Prime's plating but didn't even notice the colorful spots on his own, or Echo, who had begun to trace the seams on the bright yellow of his Caretaker's plating with both hands, leaving bright violet-ish streaks that clashed horribly with the golden paint of his guardian.
It was amazing how Sparklings could change your priorities….
Prime couldn't resist the temptation to take another picture, this time sending it to Jazz straight away.
He was sure it would be all over the Iacon base in less than five minutes.
"Don't worry, Sunstreaker. It's just paint. It washes off easily enough."
Sunstreaker nodded and turned to take Echo to the washracks, his face melting back into his usual scowl now that his emotions had had time to settle and he remembered that he was supposed to be the big badass golden menace, the nightmare of all Decepticons, the torturer of Minibots, bane of Ratchet and brother to the resident red idiot of the base.
Said idiot could be heard in the distance, shouting through the corridors that Echo had been found, thank you all very much, and yes, he was going to put the little one on a leash now – at least if the little one was still functioning after he had crushed him in a hug, after all, the scraplet was taking right after his Dads and wasn't that just the greatest thing since the invention of Energon goodies?
A distinct clang marked the end of the yelling, and then Ratchet could be heard berating Sideswipe once again on proper behavior around a Sparkling.
Optimus leaned back, grinning like an idiot and not caring the tiniest bit, and waved at Echo who peeked over Sunstreaker's shoulder at him.
When their optics met, Optimus felt the faint sensation of a tingle in his chest, as if his Spark was still connected to the Matrix, and for the shortest moment he didn't see a multi-colored Sparkling being carried by his doting Caretaker, but a proud young Seeker, completely in black with slim, elegant lines in silver-white, electric blue and neon green forming subtle patterns on his gleaming plating and hiked up wings that could only be of Sunstreaker's design.
The vision ended a moment later and Optimus smiled, listening to the sounds of his large family all around him.
Everybody was alive and happy. Everything would be fine.
Primus had heard the screams of one of his most unfortunate children and answered, sending an echo of tragedy to the living world to be reborn in love and joy.
Everything would be all right this time around...
And it looked as if the twins didn't have to worry about Echo's paintjob after all.