A/N: Look, an update! If anyone is still following this story, you have my eternal thanks and my promise I do have every intention of completing it. Life, however, has its own way of screwing up the best plans though. So I promise to keep up as best as I can. I hope this chapter does not dissapoint.
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Please do not sue. This is purely for fun.
I was wearing the dark green dress that Charlotte and I had purchased together.
It wasn't appropriate for climbing through the wooded areas near the campus, nor were the muted gold-toned pumps I wore on my feet. Neither was appropriate for my meeting with the great Optimus Prime, to say the least! But they made me feel good. Charlotte had said that the outfit, along with a simple golden chain around my neck and little gold hoops in my earlobes, made me look "empowered." And wasn't I supposed to feel powerful when facing the one mech in the universe that scared me more than death?
Decepticons wanted to feel powerful all the time. It was why they scavenged armor pieces and fitted them over their chasis until they looked like nightmares come to life. Fear was power to them. Fear was their 'hot chocolate,' making their processors light up with pleasure. Charlotte's power was sunlight and fabric, scented sprays and laughter. And hair of all things. I would be unkind to my friend if I did not mention the time she spent working on her hair to feel "empowered."
I had sat before the vanity in our shared room and let Charlotte play with my hair until she had styled it to perfection. She assumed I was going to meet a 'hot date' tonight, and the fact that I would not tell her who I was meeting only served to confirm this in her mind. I did not have the spark to tell her that I was possibly walking to my death tonight, that this might be the last time in this life that we would ever speak. So I let her do what she loved to do and made my holoform smile and giggle at all the right moments.
Charlotte hugged me tightly before shoving me out the door, making me promise to tell her all about the fun when I got back.
I cried all the way to the edge of campus, and then I cried that long five mile walk through the woods to the appointed meeting place. Several times I had thought to flee, to simply start running and never look back. The images of Hound stopped me, however. I wasn't going to repay his kindness with treachery. I had promised to come to the clearing tonight. I had promised to meet with Optimus Prime. And if this was the last action I would ever take of my own free will, then I would take it as an honorable and loyal Cybertronian.
All I had in this world was my spark, my friendship with Charlotte, and my word. Those would have to be enough.
He was taller than I had imagined, standing in the center of the clearing as if the trees themselves had made room for him. Optimus Prime, the last true leader of our kind, was lit only by the light of the stars and the thrum of his own power. I felt that power as I made my way through the trees and into the clearing, arms wrapped around myself to stop the shaking. I wanted to cry as I approached, to fall to my knees and weep and beg forgiveness. I was willing to crawl to him, slither on my chasis if he wished it, just to stay in his presence.
His power was warmth and welcome. Like 'Bee's spark had been, only about a hundred times stronger. It was so unlike the others I had known, so unlike Megatron and his razor-sharp hatred and circuit-paralyzing cold. I wanted to live in that warmth, to bask in it. And I was ready to do anything to achieve that, even tell him the dreaded truth…
It was the rustle of that human-made dark green fabric that snapped me back into reality. I was half-way to my knees, and the thought of Charlotte's disappointment if I came back with dirt rubbed into the dress was more than I could bear. Her smile rose up from my memory banks, her laughter and kindness pushing back against the inviting warmth of leadership that poured from Optimus Prime like a torrent. I knew that if I joined the Autobots now, I would have to leave Charlotte behind. I could not trade her friendship, even for the warm protection of Autobot command.
That made me stand up straight again, and for the first time in my life, I did not feel alone. I did not shed my holoform. And that simple human dress felt more powerful to me than any armor in the known universe.
Optimus seemed to notice the change in me, those blue optics spinning as they regarded my tiny holoform. "You are Zoe," he said.
"I am, my Prime," I answered formally, bowing my head. "Thank you. I am honored."
Optimus blinked once, twice. "Honored?"
"That you would use my designation, my Prime. I am Zoe. It is my name, the one I wish to keep."
He was silent a moment, contemplating my words. It made me like him more. Made me feel less and less like a drone. "Then I welcome you, Zoe," he finally replied. "I am Optimus Prime. You do not need to use the title."
I nodded, feeling my new-found courage starting to dissipate. This was not going as expected. It was going better than expected, and that wasn't something I was accustomed to. Where were the questions, the interrogations? Where were the demands for loyalty, the branding iron that would forever imprint the Autobot emblem upon my form? And what about the tithes of parts and energon, the slavery as I was placed into service? It was all the things the Decepticons feared from the Autobots, all the things I had been programmed to loathe since my creation.
"Thank you, Optimus. I… I am honored," I muttered again, keeping my head bowed.
Shifted to the left and right let me know that Hound and 'Bee were nearby, circling towards me. I could already pick out the warmth of their energy, tiny and nearly insubstantial compared to the ocean that was Optimus, but still there. Still distinguishable. Still offering their help and support and trying to keep me from becoming afraid. Optimus noticed them as well, holding up one hand that stalled them. And then he knelt down, this giant of power and strength. Humbly knelt down to be on eye-level with me, or as close to it as his massive frame could manage.
I jumped back before I could stop myself, my holoform flickering as my anxiety built up. What was he doing? He was a leader, a Prime! He shouldn't be lowering himself for anyone or anything. Megatron certainly wouldn't have done that, not for any living thing in the universe. Or nonliving for that matter.
"Be calm," Optimus said gently. "I know you are afraid. I know that Hound and Bumblebee have reassured you that I mean you no harm. Why do you fear?"
"Because I am unused to such kindness," I managed truthfully, bluntly. "You should not lower yourself to my level. I am but a humble… being. I do not deserve such honor."
He remained where he was, tilting his head slightly from side to side. "I hold no honor over you, Zoe. I serve the good that is our race, nothing more. I would help you, if you would let me."
It was my turn to tilt my head to the side, to stare at this magnificent mech with wonder and curiosity. "Why?"
"Because freedom is the right of all sentient life."
"And you see me as sentient? You really do?" I couldn't help but gape at him, at the absurdity of the conversation. He could crush me without a flutter of an optic guard, and yet he called me as an equal. My confusion rose. "Why? Why would you want to help me? No one else has ever wanted to help me, except—"
I cut off before I said her name aloud. I wasn't going to give her up to the Autobots, not until I was certain that this wasn't a ploy of some kind.
My spark fluttered painfully in its casing, my hands rising to cover it protectively. "Except Hound and 'Bee." I finished. It wasn't exactly a lie.
"Then let us alter that plan for you, Zoe. I offer you the protection of the Autobots for as long as you wish it," he answered, rising back to his full height. "I have seen the protectiveness in your spark, and the willingness to come here because you have given your word. Regardless of your fear, you kept your word of honor to Hound and Bumblebee. If only for that reason alone, I would welcome you."
"But you had other reasons," I persisted, stepping closer to him. That last statement had been too open-ended, and my paranoia would not let it go.
"Yes. Hound and Bumblebee have spoken highly of you, young Zoe. They have also spoken of your past. I would offer you respite from that. The sins of the war that destroyed our home no longer apply to you. Whole generations have been lost, too many to hold to past anger. The question now rests in your hands. Will you stay with us?"
It was a damn good question. And probably the most important one I would ever answer.