TITLE: Confidential
SERIES: Imperfection Deviation-based, on probation whether it'll make it officially into the AU
AUTHOR: Macx
RATING: PG-13
DISCLAIMER: None of the characters belong to me, sadly. They are owned by people with a lot more money :)
FEEDBACK: Loved

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The Pacific Northwest.

Famous for its mountains, parks, forest and… its weather.

Today was such a day. It had been the whole week, actually, and forecasts didn't show any signs of things getting better.

The rain was coming down in sheets, drowning everything as it washed over the landscape of forest and mountains. The rain had started the night before and hadn't let up in the morning. It had maybe just gotten worse. Those people who didn't have to be out and about stayed home. Those who had to drive did so very carefully, headlights on, windshield wipers on max, crawling along the roads.

A vehicle was heading down a forest access road closed for normal traffic and usually used by the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. It drove a lot faster than was safe, but the traction of the huge wheels was far beyond what a human-built vehicle should be able to achieve. Especially a large truck, though without trailer. Mud flew up from the huge wheels, clinging to the red and blue paint job that was slightly more roguish than the normal wood-hauling transporters. Red flames on a metallic blue stood out, despite the dirt splattered over the wet exterior.

Optimus Prime scanned the road up ahead and found he was only one more mile from the meeting point. Rain was still coming down in sheets, forming thick droplets through the roof of trees, splashing down on the red and blue truck. The temperatures were just above freezing, though the last morning had brought frost. Mist clung to the leaves and bark, a cottony veil that obscured human sight, though not a mechanoid one. His sensors were very much aware of what was around him, though he ignored the many small life forms scattering through the trees.

He slowed down just as he rolled into a clearing that had turned into a mud bath due to the rain, but he didn't care. He scanned once more, satisfied that he was alone, then sent the signal.

It took barely a human second for the reply to come in, and he transformed, waiting.

The shadow that walked out of the trees several seconds later was slightly smaller than him and he noticed that the other mech had changed from his last known appearance once again. Prime took in the wings on his back that belied how slender the other usually was. They sat like an appendage on his whole back, consisting of two roughly triangular structures, which gave him another clue that the last transformation had changed into a new camouflage. As usual he had chosen an aerial form, which was preferred to a ground transformation, though Optimus remembered their very first meeting, so long ago, when Cybertron had still prospered – a time called The Golden Age – and the mech had had a ground vehicle transformation. That had lasted a century or two, then he had finally taken on what was now his identity: an aerial combat fighter.

"Prime," the mech said and respectfully bowed his head.

"I'm glad you contacted me," Optimus replied.

It had been such a relief to know he had survived. Too much had happened and Optimus had known that the decisions his operative had had to make had been terrible ones.

It got him a humorless mile and the optics flared briefly. "You didn't really think they got me, right?"

Prime didn't smile. The matter was too serious to feel any humor. While contact between them was scarce, sometimes not for long years, he had glimpsed the mech throughout the past millennia, and then on Earth. Their confrontation on this planet had been more than a glimpse, it had been a vicious fight and humans had died.

The flyer shrugged almost carelessly, wings twitching a little. "I got away after the final battle. I kept a low profile. I probably should have gotten out of hiding sooner, with what Soundwave was up to."

Optimus sighed. "I doubt you could have done anything."

"Hey, I'm good at what I do, right?"

It got him a little smile. "Yes, you are. You always were."

Part and parcel of being that good was a large amount of ruthlessness, mixed with slight insanity. Optimus was aware of the changes within the mech, what had to be done to make him who he was today. He mourned the loss of human life, but to work among the ranks of the Decepticons, this one had to become more than a camouflaged spy. He had to be the enemy and behave like the enemy, and the enemy didn't care about the 'insects', as they called them. Caring about a human would kill him.

"So I might have been able to throw a few obstacles into Soundwave's way. He recruited enough Seekers for me to interfere." The flyer leaned against a thick tree. "Skywarp and Thundercracker contacted me, told me what happened. There's unrest among those Soundwave commands. I can work with that."

Optimus nodded. "You have free reign, as always."

Because the past was proof enough.

"I'll keep my audios on the ground. With Megatron's death and now Cybertron's disappearance, many Decepticons have given up in a way. Not enough to follow you," he grinned more, "but enough for me to push them away from Soundwave, Earth and all the rave about a new empire."

Prime grimaced.

"And Soundwave isn't Megatron. Too logical. That gets into his way. He won't just leave, though. He might try and get Lennox again."

"I know. We are all aware of that danger."

"Then protect him."

"You know we will."

The red optics narrowed, water dripping down the dark gray armor. "Soundwave was close once already, Optimus. He won't give up. He lost Cybertron, he lost troops to that mistake, he will strike. Lennox is his ticket to command. The others fear him because of his abilities, but he isn't a born leader like Megatron. The fear is different. Soundwave commands respect, but not the blind devotion Megatron did. With Lennox he will get followers."

"Will isn't defenseless. Things have changed since the last attempt."

There was a little rattle, then a shrug. "If you say so."

Prime studied the other's features. "What do you know?"

"Rumors," was the reply. "After Soundwave botched up his plan and the Decepticon forces are once again scattered, rumors came up. Razorclaw and his Predacons are looking somewhere else for a job. They don't care about Earth. Soundwave's payment will tide them over till the next idiot hires them. But Thundercracker thinks Soundwave might have an ace up his sleeve."

Optimus rumbled softly. "In what way?"

"Pretenders."

The rumble turned into a soft hiss.

"Yeah, I know. Soundwave has a penchant for digging up unsavory tech."

'Unsavory' was a mild term for it, Prime thought darkly. The technology had been a side-product of a science team's exploration into the Cybertronian ability of camouflage and trans-scanning. The idea had been to enable the mechs to even blend in among organic life-forms, creating a powerful symbiotic, living carapace; a living full-body armor. The Lord Protector of Cybertron at the time, Galvatron, had rejected the concept as unnatural and repulsive. Both cases where the technology had been implemented had ended in disaster. The two volunteers had turned insane and destructive, and had, after a rampaging spree, ended in a coma.

"I don't know if it's true, Optimus. I'll keep my sensors peeled."

"Thank you," the Autobot leader replied, still shocked over the possibility that Soundwave would revive the Pretender project.

It got him a nod.

"There have been changes among our ranks you need to be aware of, too," Optimus told his operative. "Changes that might mean I'll have to share our knowledge."

The optics flared crimson now, the face twisting in alarm. "What?" The flyer pushed away from the trees, water sloshing off his chassis. There was no mistaking the alarm in his voice.

And Prime told him. About touching Will Lennox's core energy, about sharing his spark with the hybrid, about discovering the genetic matrix that was on the human's back, about the Primes, about the Dynasty of Primes… about Rodimus Prime.

It got him a hiss and the flyer paced. His feet squished in the muddy water and Optimus briefly looked toward the slate gray sky. There was no sign of the rain letting up.

"You once said that only you can know about me, that should you be permanently off-lined the knowledge will be available to only one other, one by your choice!"

"Yes."

Because this wasn't something anyone else could simply know. This was Prime's best-kept secret; this was what had saved countless of his men in the millennia past. This was his guilt, the shadow resting across his spark, his conscience weighing on him. This one mech had played a key position in past battles, had carefully operated within Decepticon ranks, and he had been vital throughout the war.

In a way he was a Pretender, just of a different kind. Camouflaged as a Decepticon while he wasn't really one, never had been. Perfectly assimilated among the ranks of the enemy, so much part of them, so high-profile, so hated by the Autobots… he was who he pretended to be and would act accordingly even if it meant his death one day.

"Now you want to tell the new Prime?" the flyer challenged, pulling Optimus back from that line of thought.

"Things have changed," the Autobot leader said calmly.

"I haven't!" he yelled, voice rising. "And you haven't either, Optimus! You can't do this! It will destroy everything!"

"I have changed, my friend. The moment the Allspark was triggered by Sam, our kind was bound to change. Your mission has been achieved. Megatron is dead. You could return, assume your old identity once more. No one would be the wiser…"

It got him a sneer. "You don't believe that for a minute, now do you? I'm too valuable to let my cover die! Soundwave tolerates me enough that I can get intel there, too. I can get the Seekers on my side, lead thWem away. I can command troops and forge them into a new breed of mechs, get them to shed the Decepticon mantle!"

He paced back and forth.

"As for rejoining the Autobots…" He stopped, the crimson optics suddenly dimming. "You and I know it will be impossible. I'm the rogue element, right? This has been my life for almost as long as I can remember. I'll never be able to get back to being just one of the Autobots. Never."

Silence, optics boring into optics. Then,

"It's your decision, Prime. I bow to it."

The words were harsh, almost spat, and they grated. Optimus knew what kind of turmoil he had started inside the other. He was talking to the only undercover operative who had survived from the day the war had started until now, who was so deep undercover, only Prime knew. What had started as a brief assignment had become his life. Every move had been designed to throw obstacles into Megatron's path, unsettle his plans, divide the Decepticon troops. The operative had been vital in delaying the discovery of the Allspark's location, but he could only ever do so much without blowing his well-honed cover.

Prime didn't know if his spy even remembered who he had been before, what his life had been before. In his mind he had started to call him Wraith, for no apparent reason. Maybe because it was so far from his real name, so far from his cover, that even if someone might get a whiff of the matter, Wraith would never be connected to anyone else. Wraith was neutral. Wraith meant nothing. He was a ghost, a non-corporeal name. He was a specter that moved among the Decepticons so openly and so highly placed…

The operation had started out as a way to keep an eye on Megatron, be aware of moves, save lives. It had been in the beginning of the differences between the Prime and the Lord Protector. Optimus had needed someone on the inside and Wraith had been the one. Out of many different operatives he had chosen this one. Wraith had been called something else back then, but this individual had had to die. A new identity had been created, had been lived, and information had been fed to the right mechs. Wraith had proven to be infinitely more adaptable than Optimus had ever dreamed of; he had even sometimes fooled the Prime himself. Soon it had become a balancing act, walking a very fine line, and matters could have tumbled out of control. They hadn't. At least not completely.

Wraith had been unable to prevent the war, had had to stand by, play his role, and watch their planet get torn to pieces. He had never stepped outsides his assigned role, he had never been anyone else, had never acted out of character. Underneath the surface persona lay a mind of steel, his core programming so well protected, not even a Decepticon medic could crack that last shield. The true persona was well-guarded.

It had been Ratchet who had designed and executed the re-design. Prime still remembered the fight the medic had put up over it, but in the end he had yielded to Optimus' wishes, and those of the one who would go undercover. Create a new persona. Lower his inhibitions to kill if necessary. A new past, a new name, but no erased memories. All just packed away, accessible, but no longer the Autobot of before.

What had he done?

It had been on Optimus' mind again and again throughout the past millennia. The two of them had faced each other so often before, dealing out blows, injuring each other… and his undercover operative had had to even off-line former comrades. Even then he had only injured them enough to be close to the brink of permanent shutdown. But he hadn't been able to safe those to fall into Megatron's hands – at least not without blowing his own cover. His foremost order was to never, under any circumstances, break cover. He would aim any weapon at Prime and fire, but the one last safety measure put in by Ratchet would prevent him from killing his commanding officer. He could cripple, debilitate and even push the Autobot leader into total shutdown to preserve his spark, but never kill him.

But only Prime, not one of the others. That was up to Wraith's measure of control, up to him to decide. He would have to watch Autobots being tortured, torn apart and killed, and he would have to stay in character. Ratchet had surpassed himself in making that possible.

There had never been an execution, never been a deliberate kill. As long as the undercover could pull it off, he wouldn't kill an Autobot. He had made it far among the Decepticon ranks, had been able to sabotage Megatron without looking like an Autobot spy, had suffered for it at the hands of the Decepticon leader, but Megatron had never rid himself of this nuisance. The undercover was that good, that skilled, that… insane in his new persona. And he had made it to Earth. He had been unable to stop Megatron's revival or Frenzy finding the Allspark. But he had done his best. Delay, confuse, scatter, hinder…

"Things are… different," Prime finally said, breaking the silence that had only been interrupted by the whooshing sound of the falling rain.

"No," the flyer objected. "Nothing has changed and nothing ever will as long as there are mechs like Soundwave or Shockwave who want to continue what Megatron did! The war isn't over, Prime. Only the battle ended. The fighting goes on. There are still two major, opposing factions. Cybertron died, maybe it was obliterated because of Soundwave's foolishness, but they continue fighting. Earth will remain a focus point!"

"I agree."

"My job hasn't changed either. If you reveal this information… it will leak, Prime. Should you tell your co-leader, his behavior to me will change. You can't get Ratchet to put a restriction program on him. That's no longer possible."

Optimus knew that. Ratchet's memories had been completely erased. It had been the medics idea on how to do that without making the memories recoverable. Stored on a special partition inside his mind, Ratchet had programmed the erasure himself, then had had his own body destroy the partition.

He would never remember.

Prime's spark felt heavy once more, like so many times before when he had pondered this particular operative; the only one he knew of still among the enemy.

"Rehabilitating me won't be easy," had been the mech's joke when they had parted on Cybertron after the deed had been done.

Now, so much time later, it was close to impossible. His operative had saved many, many lives, but he was also the only one who knew that. Him and Prime.

"You'll risk everything, Optimus," the flyer insisted, voice imploring. "Everything! Tell someone now and I'll be dead in a century or two. Things get out. You know it, I know it! Remember Wisp?"

He did. Painfully. Wisp's undercover operation had been known to Ironhide, Ratchet, Prowl and Jazz, too. Soundwave's spies had intercepted something on the network and Wisp had paid with his existence. He had been terminated.

The Autobot leader approached the smaller mech, face grave. "This is insanity."

He only got a careless smile in return. "We knew this might be deep. Just be glad I'm still around to give you intel and hold the maniacs at bay."

Prime didn't smile once more. "I am. Very glad. I just wish it didn't have to be this way."

"But it is. I chose this assignment. You made it clear that it might be for the rest of my existence. You have my word I'll protect the two hybrid humans to the best of my abilities. The Allspark and Cybertron are gone, but I know we can survive."

Prime nodded. "We can and we will. One day what you have done, what you are doing, will be honored."

Another smile, this time humorless and dark. "If the survival of our kind means I will play this role till the day one of you finally gets me, then so be it. You know it's enough for me."
Optimus' spark constricted once more. He laid a heavy hand on the flyer's slender shoulder. "Take care."

"I lived to see Megatron die. I can handle myself. I might have to lay lower than usual for a while. When we meet again, business as usual." The grin was back, the red optics reflecting the dark humor. "See you around, Prime."

The flyer stepped back and launched himself into the rainy, slate gray sky. He transformed into his jet form and disappeared.

Prime kept his optics on the sky, softly sighing to himself.

One day, he promised himself. One day he would rehabilitate him. One day the work of this mech would be known, would be honored. One day this war would really be over and his talents wouldn't be needed any more.

One day.

"See you around, Starscream," he whispered.

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Author's Note (purposefully after the story):
This story is based on a challenge or LJ entry I once read (and forgot where I found it! Wah!) about Starscream being an undercover operative for Optimus Prime. I think it was months ago and this idea came to me just now. I ignore all pre-movie novels and comics. This is set in my AU! Only the movie #1 counts. References to movie #2 are made, but the plot of the film never happened. I just took what fit in my 'verse and warped it a little to make it work.

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...waits for the shock to settle and the screams to come...