Warning: Character death

Galvatron lowered his smoking cannon. "Worthless slag," he growled, and turned away. He ignited his thrusters and took off from the small planet's surface, not even sparing another glance at the three dead mechs.

Rumble was useless. He had been hit in the legs by one of Galvatron's wilder shots, and was trying to drag himself over to where Soundwave lay. Ratbat was fluttering helplessly against the ground, screeching out his anger and grief. Buzzsaw was torn between trying to comfort his little brother and staring in shock.

That left Frenzy as the only one to take charge.

It wasn't fair! Sure, Galvatron was crazy, but why would he murder some of his most loyal soldiers?

Frenzy realized the answer to that as he looked numbly down at the bodies. Because Galvatron was not Megatron. He might have been rebuilt from Megatron, but he wasn't the one Soundwave and the Cassetticons had served faithfully for all those millions of years. Soundwave had done his best, but Galvatron just wasn't interested in subtle tactics like espionage. There was no reason for them to be valuable to him.

And now Frenzy was the only one of his surviving brothers who could still think straight, though he figured that was probably just because the awful truth hadn't sunk in yet.

He had to do something. He wasn't a medic, but all of them knew how to do basic repairs. Maybe the hollow feeling in his spark from the broken connections was wrong, and one of them could still be saved.

Soundwave was first. Frenzy scrambled up onto his creator's grey chest, careful to avoid the gaping hole through the center. No good. He could see all the way into Soundwave's empty spark chamber, which had cracked open. A sob ripped out from his vocalizer, but he forced himself not to break down yet. There were still his brothers to check.

He slid down to the ground and collapsed on his knees beside Ravage. The feline had been shot twice, once in his chest and then again through his head. Heads weren't important. Heads could be rebuilt. The only important thing was his spark ...

The panel just behind Ravage's front legs was coated with his own fluids. Frenzy traced his fingers around the edges, but had a hard time finding the clasps. Ah, there. He had to force the panel open, because the hydraulics weren't working. It really shouldn't have surprised him that the insides were dark and dead.

Lazerbeak was lying next to Ravage, and Frenzy couldn't hold back his sobs anymore as he turned to look. Lazerbeak with his pretty bright colors was cold and grey now.

Rumble finally reached them, and clamped his arms tightly around Frenzy's waist. The purple twin was already shaking with grief himself. Buzzsaw had given up and caught Ratbat's wing with his beak, dragging the smallest Cassetticon over to where the twins were. He dumped Ratbat on Frenzy's lap before settling against Rumble's back.

The four brothers curled up together against Soundwave's cold side, trying to comfort each other as best they could. Staying close together was the only thing that mattered.

Sometime later, Frenzy forced himself to move.

He stroked the lifeless metal under his hand as he sat up, dislodging Rumble, who had been slumped across his chest. Rumble growled in protest and curled around Ratbat.

Normally, Frenzy wouldn't touch a dead mech for anything. But Ravage wasn't just any dead mech. It was easy to forget how morbid this was, pulling the empty shells of Lazerbeak and Ravage into a Cassetticon-pile like they used to do back when they were ...

Frenzy trailed his fingers along the sleek armor beside him again, careful to avoid looking at Ravage's shattered head. He glanced over to find Buzzsaw with his wings draped across Lazerbeak's body.

He was starting to feel really sick. Maybe it was the shock wearing off and making him realize that their little family would never be whole again, or maybe it was the dread of knowing that he was going to have to be the leader now. At least until they got Rumble's legs fixed, which they couldn't do unless they found supplies somewhere.

Frenzy hated being in charge and having to make important decisions. Rumble was the one who liked doing that.

"We can't stay here," he finally said. Rumble just groaned and ignored him. Buzzsaw's optics lit up, and he raised his head a little to look at Frenzy.

"We'll be in trouble if anyone finds us. We gotta move." It was the other Decepticons who posed the greatest danger to them now, especially since Galvatron himself had executed the Boss for supposedly being a traitor. Soundwave had been the only one protecting them from any of the others who might have considered the Cassetticons easy targets. Now, there were no Decepticons left who would raise a servo to keep them from being slaughtered. For fun.

Buzzsaw cocked his head curiously. Where?

"I dunno. Somewhere off this rock."

Ratbat chirped angrily, peeking out between Rumble's arms.

"Yeah, I know, I don't wanna leave 'em either. But what are we gonna do? We can't take 'em with us."

"I ain't leavin'," came Rumble's muffled voice.

Frenzy gently smacked the back of his twin's helmet. "And what are we gonna do when we run outta energy, huh? We gotta find fuel, at least."

Buzzsaw flapped his wings. Are we supposed to just fly all the way to another planet?

"I hadn't gotten that far yet," Frenzy grumbled, settling back against Soundwave's side. "I just have a feelin' that we gotta go hide somewhere."

As it turned out, leaving the planet was easier than they thought. It wasn't long before the Cassetticons heard the droning of a ship's engines coming toward them.

The sudden burst of fear that they would be found and hurt finally made the brothers move. Buzzsaw scooped Rumble up in his claws and Frenzy carried Ratbat as they dashed for cover behind a ridge nearby.

Frenzy couldn't believe their luck as he watched a brightly-colored shuttle with a huge Autobot insignia touch down for a landing.

"Now's our chance!" he hissed. "We'll hide somewhere in there, and the Autobots'll never find us!"

The others looked doubtful at first, but finally agreed. Once the three unfamiliar Autobots had climbed out of the ship it was all too easy to sneak on board, even with Rumble's injuries. That was what they had been created for, after all. In the cargo hold they found some big empty crates, and climbed into one to hide.

Heavy footsteps warned the Cassetticons that their unwitting hosts were back. The Autobots' conversation made them stare in surprise at each other, their tiny red optics giving off the only light in their hiding spot.

"Where should we put these guys?"

"I don't know, I just don't want to touch them anymore. This is disgusting."

"Stop being a prissy-bot. They may be Decepticons, but they deserve a decent burial. They should be laid to rest in the Decepticon shrine on Cybertron."

"But we're not going to Cybertron! Earth is in the opposite direction."

"Then we'll take 'em to Earth and let Command deal with 'em. Optimus Prime always did have a weakness for being 'honorable' to the enemy."

Ratbat was shivering with excitement, but managed to keep quiet until the Autobots had gone. They're bringing the others! We don't have to leave them!

"Autobots are all a buncha suckers," Rumble chuckled, patting Ratbat on the head.

Frenzy was lost in thought, since something the Autobot said had struck a chord. Optimus Prime, alive? Some of the other Decepticons had brought back rumors about him being resurrected, but Frenzy hadn't been sure he believed them. Until he saw Prime with his own optics, he still wouldn't be sure.

But it brought to mind something Prime had told him years ago. "My programming is to care about every living being..."

Rumble was right, of course. Autobots were suckers. Especially about cute little things that needed their protection. A plan was beginning to form in Frenzy's processor, and for the first time he actually felt confident being the leader.

"Hey, listen! When we get to Earth, we should go find Optimus Prime."

Dead silence greeted him for a long moment, before all three of the others burst out with varying reactions.

"Are you slaggin' kidding?" from Rumble. Ratbat squeaked nervously in agreement.

Buzzsaw nudged Frenzy with his beak to get his attention. Are you sure that's a good idea?

"Yeah, I know it sounds crazy, but that's the best chance we got. He told me one time that – that if we ever wanted to leave the Decepticons, he would let us join the Autobots. And we sure ain't goin' back to Galvatron after this, are we?"

"He prob'ly just toldja that 'cause he knew you were a soft-sparked idiot and you'd believe it."

"You weren't there, Rumble! He said he cared about everyone, 'Bots and 'Cons. If we want someone to watch out fer us, then Prime's the best choice!"

"Slaggit, Frenzy, we don't need anyone to watch out fer us! We'll be fine on our own!"

Buzzsaw pushed his way in between them. Be quiet, or they might hear you!

The twins scooted angrily apart to sit on opposite sides of the crate, glaring at each other in the dark.

"At least I have a plan," Frenzy whispered.

"Doesn't matter, anyway," Rumble muttered back. "Optimus Prime's dead."

"But Scourge said –"

"Scourge didn't even know Prime when he was alive. That orange slagger is the Prime now, end of story."

Soundwave never said anything about it, Buzzsaw pointed out.

Ratbat was on edge from the tension he could feel between his brothers. Unable to decide who to side with, he was huddled with Buzzsaw in the very center of the crate.

I was on that mission too, he volunteered. I remember the Autobots went to find his body, but after that I stayed inside Soundwave so I don't know. And then there was the Hate Plague, and Soundwave couldn't remember much that happened after that.

Silence fell over them for awhile. Frenzy was trying to come up with another argument for tracking down Optimus Prime, dead or alive, when he heard Ratbat's soft clicks of sorrow from thinking about their creator.

"Hey, it's ok," he said, leaning forward to touch his youngest brother. Ratbat all but tackled him, clicking louder, and Buzzsaw didn't wait long before joining them in another Cassetticon-pile.

Rumble held out for about five astroseconds before he gave up and joined them too.

"Sorry," he said, patting Ratbat's wing and leaning against Frenzy's shoulder. "We really shouldn't be fightin', huh?"

"Yeah," Frenzy agreed. They sat together in silence, listening to the hum of the ship's engines.

Only after he felt Ratbat drift into recharge did Frenzy turn his head to look down at Rumble. "Can we at least go see if Prime is alive or not? I mean, what else do we hafta do on Earth?"

"Sure," Rumble finally agreed, slipping into recharge himself.

Frenzy settled in to watch over the others on the long flight back to that miserable organic planet.

They waited motionlessly inside the crate as they listened to the clatter of mechs unloading the shuttle at Autobot City. Apparently none of the new Autobots recognized the Boss, because never once did they hear Soundwave's name spoken, even though the workers who climbed in to carry him, Ravage, and Lazerbeak out kept swearing and shouting about the "dead Decepticons."

Finally the doors to the cargo hold slammed shut, and the ship fell silent again. Frenzy carefully pushed Ratbat off his lap, and sat up to lift the top of the crate. He climbed out and then grabbed Rumble's arms, pulling his twin over the side with a boost from Buzzsaw. The four slipped from the hold into the passenger section of the shuttle, found that the Autobots had left the main hatch standing wide open, and dashed across the deserted loading docks.

The best way to start their stakeout, they had decided, was to find a good vantage point. Rumble remembered seeing a mountain right next to the city, which would work perfectly. With luck, Frenzy could sneak into the city and steal enough supplies to repair Rumble's legs. By then they should be able to find out if the rumors about Optimus Prime were true or not.

Buzzsaw was flying ahead of the others, carrying Rumble again, when he suddenly dropped to the ground near the top of the mountain. Frenzy and Ratbat dashed forward worriedly. They could barely believe their optics when they saw who was sitting on the overlook right in front of them.

Frenzy crept forward, unable to stop himself. "Prime?" he asked, hesitantly. "Ya really are alive."

The old Autobot leader turned his head slowly, noticing the Cassetticons for the first time. He didn't react, just sat there staring down at them with dull optics. Something was very wrong with this picture.

"Frenzy." When he spoke, his deep voice sounded just as flat as his expression. "What are you doing here?"

"Lookin' fer you," burst out before he could stop it. Frenzy scowled to himself, but when Prime didn't say anything he decided to continue. Rumble apparently wasn't going to stop him now that they had found Prime.

"Galvatron went after Soundwave, and now he's—"

Optimus glanced over at the other three Cassetticons, who were pressing close against each other and staring at the ground.

"Soundwave was killed?" There was a hint of emotion in Prime's voice now. Sounded like sympathy, which was more usual for the big guy. He seemed to be accepting the news distractedly, though, like he was in a daze or something. Frenzy wondered for a moment if Prime was in pain, and then quickly buried the thought because that was just the sappy type of stuff that Rumble mocked him about.

"I remembered what ya said about yer offer, if I wanted ta join ya. Not like we wanna be Autobots or nothin', but we ain't 'Cons anymore. An' I was wonderin', maybe ... if yer medic could fix Rumble? He's hurt real bad, and there's nowhere else ta go."

That's it, Frenzy. Pull that "helpless little youngling" act, with the big optics and the shaky voice and the sniffling. Most of the Autobots were huge suckers for that one.

The Optimus Prime he remembered from that long decade of battle on Earth would have surrendered in an instant. He would be wrapped around Frenzy's servo by now, mistaking the show of weakness for "conscience" or something, and the Cassetticons would find themselves with the most annoyingly attentive protector ever. They might have to endure some nagging to become Autobots, but it would be worth it in exchange for fuel and a safe place to stay.

The only problem with that plan, Frenzy realized as he met a blank stare, was that this was definitely not the same Prime. He only looked confused.

"Did I say that?" he finally mused, thinking deeply. "Yes, I suppose I must have."

"You don't remember?" Frenzy nearly whined. Whatever happened to "we would be glad to have you join us"?

"I'm sorry, it's difficult for me to remember many things." The blue optics narrowed a little, in what was probably supposed to be a smile. "Dying seems to have taken a lot out of me."

That was so not funny. Frenzy glared up at him.

Prime sat back and waved a hand vaguely toward the city below them. "You don't have to be Autobots to get medical aid. Just go down there and ask for it."

"And we won't get shot?" Frenzy asked suspiciously.

"The war's over."

All of the Cassetticons stared at him, shocked by that statement – and even more shocked by the way he said it, like it didn't matter all that much.

"We're rebuilding Cybertron, and encouraging any Decepticons willing to make a truce to join us as equals. If you wish to stay in Autobot City, then you can help with the integration here."

It was like a computer reciting a speech. This was Prime's life-long goal, and he didn't seem to care that he had finally accomplished it.

For some reason, that made Frenzy furious.

More of the Decepticons than Megatron had ever suspected used to admire Optimus Prime. He was a mech focused on one noble goal, and determined that everyone, whether friend or enemy, would live to see Cybertron at peace again. No Decepticon would ever admit it, but some of them actually wouldn't have minded seeing the Autobots win, or following Prime.

But now ...

Frenzy was desperately curious to find out what had happened that ended the war while he and his brothers were stuck on that distant planet. Prime hadn't mentioned Galvatron's fate, and if the insane tyrant was still out there somewhere, it wasn't much of a victory for the Autobots. More like the war had just dragged out too long and faded away. Not a satisfying thought at all.

More importantly, though: if Prime was able to wander off and sit up here staring at nothing in the middle of the day, it could only mean that he wasn't as important in the running of things as he used to be.

What was the point of making a truce with the Autobots if their only leader worth following wasn't the leader anymore?

The red Cassetticon stalked over and sat down right next to Prime, dwarfed beside him.

"What's wrong with ya, Prime?" he accused, glaring straight up. The angle hurt his neck struts, but he didn't move.

Almost absently, the Autobot reached down and scooped Frenzy up with one big hand, lifting him onto a raised knee joint. It was a horribly patronizing action, but Frenzy decided not to complain because his new perch made it easier for him to catch Prime's optics.

"I don't know what's wrong," came the answer. "And I'm only 'Prime' in name, now. The wisdom of the Matrix is gone."

"What does that hafta do with anything?"

"It's what made me who I am. Who I was, I mean. Without its guidance, I feel as if I no longer have a purpose here." He cycled his vents in a weary sigh. "I should not have been reactivated. Hot Rod and the others meant well, but my life ended long ago."

Frenzy clenched his fists as outrage bubbled up inside him. Apparently, he was going to have to tap into his "soft-sparked" side and pay Prime back for that conversation in the Autobot brig so long ago.

"You want a purpose, huh? Then just look over there, Prime!" He pointed over to his brothers. "Rumble's hurt bad, he prob'ly won't make it if he doesn't get help. And lookit Ratbat, he's so little all he can do is cry 'cause half his family's gone!"

I am not! Ratbat squeaked angrily, hitting Buzzsaw and Rumble as he flapped his wings in protest.

"We watched our creator and our brothers get murdered, 'cause Soundwave decided he would rather desert to protect us than send us on a suicide mission like Galvatron ordered! How much of a purpose do ya think we got left?"

Prime stared at him. "Soundwave was your creator? I thought he was only your host..."

"Yeah." Frenzy could feel the pain coming back, but forced it down. First, he had to finish knocking some sense into Prime. Then he could crawl into a hole and cry some more.

"I'm sorry."

"Are ya? 'Cause ya don't look very sorry. Ya look like yer sittin' here just feelin' sorry for yourself 'cause yer precious Matrix is broken, while we're over here needin' help. Ain't that your purpose, to help anyone who needs it?"

Prime was speechless. The old sharpness of his optics was returning, and he slowly straightened up a little where he sat.

Frenzy had run out of things to rant about, and he looked away, slightly embarrassed by his outburst. A moment later he felt a huge hand rest on his shoulders and glanced up again.

"Thank you, Frenzy," Prime said. The familiar warmth was coming back into his voice, and from the way the plating around his optics moved, it was obvious that he was really smiling now. "That's exactly what it means to be an Autobot. I'd forgotten that, somehow. Thanks for reminding me."

"That ain't quite what I meant to do," Frenzy grumbled.

"Are you sure you don't want to become an Autobot?" Prime teased. "You already sound like one."

"Shut up," the Cassetticon scowled. He finally shook the hand off his shoulders and slid down Prime's leg to the ground. Now that Prime seemed almost back to normal, there were more important matters to think about.

The Autobot rose to his feet, servos whirring and joints creaking as he stood. Whatever Frenzy was planning to say next died in his vocalizer, halted by the realization that Prime suddenly seemed a lot older than he used to. It wasn't just his optics playing tricks on him – the commander was definitely missing his former graceful, controlled movements. He almost seemed ... vulnerable, even discreetly stretching as if sitting on the ground had made him feel stiff, before he met Frenzy's optics once more.

"Now, Rumble needs to get to the med bay, doesn't he? I think I can help with that."

It wasn't the same old Prime who bent to pick up the purple twin, but Frenzy decided that he was a lot closer than the zombie they had seen at first.

Maybe if he bossed Prime around some more, he could get him back to his old self. That sure sounded like a lot of fun.

Frenzy grinned as he watched Buzzsaw and Ratbat flutter up to perch confidently on Prime's shoulders, and then had to run to keep up with the long strides as they all made their way back down the mountain.