There is much we have kept from you, Sam, a robot said, standing in a graveyard.
Amid the ruins of a pyramid lay a glowing, metallic star, and twisted metallic corpses.
He was running – running over miles and miles of sand and the cramped quarters of an abandoned town that became the corridors of a temple and then a field dotted with ruins and tanks and the pyramids rising, and he never was going to make it to his goal because it kept getting farther away...
Sam, listen to me, Mikaela pleaded, as in the middle of a forest, metal bodies flashed in the sun and fell on each other like wolves, but his parents were in Paris and couldn't stop it, not even when they got to Egypt and Lennox airdropped in. Because he was dead now, and it was weird, how heaven was filled with robots and rocks, but he had to reach his goal. He had to, and so he went back to the world exploding around him, and he was almost there, almost there, almost – Sam!
Sam woke with a yelp, and then yelped again when he smacked his arm on a steering wheel.
Wait, steering wheel? "What the – ?"
Momentarily confused, and still trying to shake off the vestiges of his nightmare, it took him a minute to realize where he was, though admittedly, he was helped along enormously when a deep and disembodied voice asked, "Sam? Are you well?"
"Optimus?" Sam scrubbed at his face. "Am I awake?"
"Yes, Sam," the Autobot commander replied, and Sam sighed. Okay, he thought, breathe. Aliens – they're real. The rest, though...
"And, um, you're okay?" he asked. There was a longish pause, then:
"Is there a reason you ask?" Because there had been an alien battle recently – not even a week ago. Mission City was a bombed out warzone, and they were still right in the middle of it – a fact Sam could feel in every stiff muscle and bruise, and he hissed as he sat up. For that matter, though Optimus wasn't looking quite as dented and scraped up as he had in the immediate aftermath of the battle downtown, neither he, nor any of the Autobots were at their best. Even 'okay' was probably stretching it. He sighed.
"Stupid question," he said ruefully.
"Do you suffer memory loss?" Optimus asked after a moment, sounding concerned.
"Memory loss? No, not really, I just – dreams, you know," he said.
The truck's cab vibrated, as Optimus gave a low rumble. "That is uncertain. Even Primes do not dream very often and we have little basis for comparison with other species' dreaming."
Sam rubbed at his head, struggling with the rather acutely surreal knowledge that it was the middle of the night after a long ten days of strangeness, and he was sitting inside an alien robot, talking to it on the back of a nightmare.
"I've gotta get out of here," he muttered, and reached for the door handle.
Optimus said nothing, nor did he offer any resistance, just held still while Sam slid out of his cab and down to the ground. But one he had, and had closed the door, Optimus rolled back a yard or so. The Autobot commander's frame shuddered and then, in a flurry of sound and motion, he was transforming into his robotic mode, ending crouched before Sam on the sidewalk.
"I'm sorry, were you uncomfortable?" he asked.
"Hm? Oh, no, I was fine – you're, um, comfy." Sam cringed slightly, because God that sounded weird! "It's just... I, uh, kind of need to, you know, see you, if we're going to talk," he finished. Optimus hummed softly, cocking his head, eyes glowing in the darkness.
"I see," he said finally, in a tone that suggested otherwise.
"I mean, not always, it's just – " Sam waved a bandaged hand " – it's kind of hard to tell if I'm awake when I'm in there. In you." He sighed. "See, this is what I mean! Even just saying that – I feel like I should pinch myself or something, you know?"
This time, the Autobot commander simply shook his head. "I'm afraid not," he replied.
"Well, you are sort of metal, so I guess pinching probably wouldn't work with you guys," Sam mused. "Maybe slapping..."
"Why would we do that?"
"To tell if you're dreaming."
"You slap yourself?" Optimus sounded rather skeptical.
"No, not really, it's – don't you ever dream something that seems so real, you can't tell if you're awake, even though it's so bizarre, you've gotta be asleep?" Sam asked.
"Huh. I guess... that must be nice," Sam said, seeing in his mind the nightmare fragments of his dreams. But Optimus shook his head.
"You misunderstand. Save for Primes, Cybertronians do not dream."
Sam stared at him. "You don't?"
Which, admittedly, still sounded like something he could live with at the moment. "Still sounds nice," he said aloud.
"Are yours so unpleasant, then?" Optimus asked.
"Lately, yeah." A beat, then: "Aren't yours?"
"I haven't dreamt for several years," was the response.
"Years? Huh." Sam shook his head, at something of a loss. "So you don't... you don't ever have nightmares?"
Servos hummed and a few parts clicked as Prime shrugged. "I suppose some would qualify. But I am afraid that, Primes being the only dreamers among Cybertronians, we do not have much to say of them, and no particular term to match your 'nightmare.'"
Sam was silent awhile, digesting that. Finally, though, he said, "This one maybe wasn't so much a nightmare. I mean, yeah, there were Decepticons invading, and this really creepy girl that turned into a robot and I died, I think." A pause, then: "So did you."
"And this does not count as a nightmare?" Optimus asked, sounding as if he wanted confirmation of this point. There was also, Sam thought, something like amusement in his voice, though despite that, he felt his cheeks heat.
"I'm not saying that wouldn't be bad – because it would be," he said hastily. "But it was mostly just weird, the whole dream. It was like, everybody knew you were dead, but it was like it wasn't real to them because we were going to bring you back."
Sam shook his head. "Everything was so random, mostly. It was like, you were dead because there was more than one Allspark fragment, and there were all these really creepy Cybertronians from way back when, and Megatron was like Darth Vader to one of them, who was like the Emperor, and everybody spoke English except the guy in the sky, and there were two Jazzes. They weren't really Jazz, but at the same time, they were supposed to be, somehow. And... and I think my unconscious is kind of racist!" Sam frowned, hurrying onward. "Then Mom got high. Bumblebee was crying, and our kitchen got invaded by a million little coffee pot Cybertronians. I think Simmons was there, too, but he was like some crazy ninja spy chef, and then he turned into a movie hero, or something. There were pyramids with sun-killer weapons, and Mikaela had Miles's dog. I think M. Night Shyamalan was in there, too, like he was my weird best friend or something."
Optimus gave a thoughtful little rumble of his engine. "Interesting," he murmured. "I suppose our dreams are not so impacted by the immediate."
"You don't dream about stuff that happens?"
"Not immediately. Their events are more... removed... in time, as I recall."
"Wish mine were like that," Sam sighed, and then glanced over at the garage the Autobots were using as a base. The light was still on inside – Ratchet was up and puttering about, working on something, though Sam couldn't imagine what, now that he'd gotten Bumblebee back into one piece. His gaze fell upon the two badly scraped and dented cars parked fender to fender right outside – 'Bee and Ironhide, both in recharge. Everyone was supposed to be off shift for once, so that tomorrow, they could all be present for some kind of vaguely funereal ritual that Sam didn't truly understand, involving as it did some kind of "union" with their departed brother and comrade.
"You can't really come back, can you?" Sam found himself asking after a moment. "There's not some special key or way of using the Allspark fragments to resurrect somebody, is there?"
"Whether mechanical or wetware, life is everywhere unique as it is finite." There was a universe of regret in Prime's voice, and Sam glanced down at the pavement.
"Sorry," he said. "I really could've guessed that."
"Your conception of mechanical life is other than our own. It makes some things seem less unlikely than they are," Prime replied, without fuss. Sam just grunted, then covered his mouth as he yawned suddenly. Optimus hummed softly. "Should you not try once more to rest, Sam?"
"Probably," he admitted.
Prime stood up and took a step back, then neatly folded back down into his truck form. He swung a door open for Sam, who climbed back in. The door shut behind him as he stretched out across the seat and laced his fingers behind his head.
"Rest well," the Autobot wished him.
"Thanks." Then, because despite strange dreams and harrowing days, he couldn't quite resist: "And Optimus?"
There was a silence, then a low, rattling chuckle. "And to you."
A/N: I know, I know, it's totally cheating, but I just can't help it...