I will admit to struggling ferociously with this chapter. It was a fight every step of the way, writing one paragraph, thinking of something new, deleting said paragraph, and then typing up something completely different. Some moments were written on the fly, and others have been in the making for years. There is a little bit of everything in here – some humour, some love, some Psi, some horror, some heartache, and a bucket load of foreshadowing. Half the fun is reading between the lines. =P

And because a key point to this chapter is so heavily influenced by one of my loves, I would like to thank H.P Lovecraft and his fellow writers for creating the Cthulhu Mythos. Without such a beautiful base of classic horror and cosmic gods, the would be a poorer place and this story would probably be a lot different for the story you know today. Still awesome, but different. You know how it is. =P

You know what else would have made this story a very different thing than it is today? You guys. The readers and the reviewers. You have helped make this journey possible, every joy and sorrow, life and death. Your reviews and engagement in this story has helped shape what directions the characters go, what scenes are shown, and even if a character will live or die. Your enthusiasm and insight are invaluable tools to help make the War Eternal series what it is. So, from the bottom of my heart, I must thank Starscream II, CNightJoy, Faecat, Dazja, Bluebird Soaring, TransformersLover95, Flameshield, JenEvan, Shadir, femme4jack, Phoenix51, Haag, Gamemice, star's dreams, renegadewriter8, and Nikkie2010 for all of your kindness, support, and inspiration. Thank you for helping to make this series what it is.

And, of course, shout out to Starscream II, who kindly lent her time to reading the first half of this chapter and helping me through a brain block. *hugs*

May We Never Let Go
To Meet the King in Yellow

"Oh, look at all of you! Really! This is wonderful!" Psi crowed, puffing and churning larger and larger in the air until he was a massive gaseous cloud on par with the Cybertronians. His eyes were lightning and his gaping black mouth filled with flames. He was monstrous in his delight. "To think I have missed you! Have you missed me, my darlings?"

Plasma roared overhead like a glowing beast straight out of hell; the Cybertronians' answer to whether or not they had missed him.

Psi released a piercing scream that would have made any classic horror movie diva jealous. The monstrous manifestation suddenly contracted into a shape no bigger than a bowling ball and zipped behind Mikaela's back for cover. He stayed there, gibbering and shivering, weak for energy and suddenly remembering how deep in dire straights he was.

Mikaela shrieked and attempted to jump away from the greasy, slimy thing trying to latch on to her. It was too late for her, as the Fallen already had a foothold inside her. He adhered like a barnacle, nearly choking her with his panicked stranglehold.

"I told you No!" Sam barked, this time jerking Mikaela to him from around her waist and driving the demon out with a charged kiss. The resulting flash of blue left Mikaela's lips burned, though Psi was certainly worse off. Forced out of his hiding place, he shrunk even smaller until he blinked out regular sight.

"Is he...gone?" Miles asked warily, accepting the hand offered to him to help him up from the ground where he'd fallen.

"He's not gone," Sunstreaker warned around a nasty snarl. His armour, still a shiny shade of obsidian for Mikaela's funeral, bristled angrily.

"I can hear him laughing," Elita admitted shakily, panic flickering across her expression. There was no lifetime long enough for her to forget what had happened to her while prisoner in Shockwave's captivity. The Fallen's hand in her insanity was a scar that would not be healed so easily.

In the mess of the moment, a dozen guns locked on to Psi's last known location – which, unfortunately, happened to be directly where Mikaela was standing.

Miko screamed something violent in her native language, throwing Sari behind her. She drew two guns from the cover of her open leather jacket, fearlessly pointing them at gigantic robots who happened to have much larger guns. She did not shoot, her arms shaking ever so slightly. The twitch of her trigger finger broadcasted loud and clear that she was willing to take any reason to start wasting bullets.

Sari scrambled to her hands and knees, throwing her mussed hair from her face. The whites of her eyes looked as bright as headlights, shining with a jumble of fear and confusion. Miraculously, she was the first sentient being to form the first reasonable question in what was a ridiculously bizarre situation. She turned to her bodyguard and long term confidante and demanded: "Where the hell did you get those guns!?"

Miko's lips pulled back in a sneer, never taking her eyes off the burning plasma barrels pointed right back her. "Remember that breakthrough in non-metallic nano-based super material we had a few months back? It's a wonder what a little bribery in the lab can do."

"That is completely against company policy!" Sari shrieked hysterically.

"Yeah? Fire me after I save your brown ass with the guns I got through airport security!" To the Cybertronians, Miko narrowed her gaze and braced her body as if she actually stood a chance in a physical fight with one of them. "And if you're wondering, these pretty little guns here are packing magnesium core graphene bullets. These can hurt you, and I will use them. So drop the guns or I'll drop you."

"You don't know what you're messing with, little girl," Ironhide rumbled darkly, easily looking like the biggest threat in the crowd with his devilishly horned head and massive cannons. The glow of heated plasma churning in the barrels could have been hellfire itself.

"Maybe not, but I sure as hell know I don't like giant guns being pointed at me."

Mikaela closed her eyes tight, squeezing the hand that still held hers. She took a ragged breath that burned her mouth and throat like she had been running a marathon. She smelled dirt and burning ozone, and the musky stench of the thing cowering invisibly behind her. He left a lingering feeling of cold and unease in the air. She was tired. So tired.

When her eyes opened again, Sam was watching her. Like a solid anchor in the midst of a storm, he appeared unaffected by the yelling or the guns or the fact that an evil alien manifestation of chaos was hiding in her shadow. Everything was blowing right by him like it did not matter. Every drop of his attention was focused on the woman in his sights, drinking in every detail of her from the expensive silk blouse to the scruffy jeans that suspiciously looked like an old pair he used to own.

Mikaela stared back, taking comfort in his calm, alien stare.

"I didn't think I would ever see you again. I saw you, with Nemesis... and then you weren't there... And now you're here." His eyes dipped briefly to her stung lips like he wanted to kiss her again. "You... I... There aren't any words."

Her lips barely twitched up in a wavering smile. "This isn't the Welcome Home I was expecting. Less guns would be nice? I don't know... I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting."

"Do you want them to stop?" he asked lightly, canting his head ever so slightly to the left.

"Yes, please," Mikaela all but begged, drawing him forward for a kiss on the lips that tasted like lightning and stardust. She received a shock, though not deliberately. A spark of electricity that zinged through her blood. She grinned and kissed him a little more desperately.

Please had never been said more sweetly to him. For a brief moment, Sam closed his eyes and absorbed the kiss. He felt her body against his, her skin touching his skin, and he felt her life force radiating beautifully throughout his senses. Her heartbeat and the powerful flow of her blood, the electricity that fired between her neurons, and power in her moving muscles. A part of him felt her soul in that kiss. In the same strange way that he was able to feel the Cybertronians in the back of his mind, Sam felt Mikaela in that brief fleeting moment – the shining light of her soul, the strength of her love, the tarnish of hurt and growing up hard, and the clinging hope that everything was going to be okay.

They leaned away, and Sam smiled. "Okay, I'll make them stop."

Without releasing her hand, he raised his free hand and moved it through the air in the same manner he might wipe a slate clean. Unlike previous displays of the Allspark's power, there was no flash or spark of blue light. No massive deluge of power destroying everything in its path. This was controlled and purposeful. As little as the gesture was, it had a stunning impact on the beings it had been aimed for. Gears and cogs and thousands of other moving metal parts whirred with minds of their own as control was briefly usurped from the Cybertronians, their transformed limbs returning to neutral states. Guns that were separate from themselves powered down and dropped to the earth. Energon blades depowered. Claws were sheathed, arms dropping like lead weights to their sides. Now immobilized, it was only their optics that flared in shock and outrage.

Sam turned his sights on the woman who still brandished her weapons. "Those are dangerous things you have there. I would appreciate it if you didn't threaten my friends with them," he said, laying a hand to the top of one of the guns. It disintegrated beneath his touch.

Miko flung away from him in horror. She looked as if she would draw her second gun on him, but stopped sort when Sari's hand shackled her wrist. The young heiress gripped her so hard that her manicured nails cut through the skin and made her bleed.

"Just do as he says," Sari hissed, eyeing Ambassador Witwicky with acidic suspicion. "We have no idea what the hell we are dealing with here."


"Do. It."

"Kuso." Miko stuffed her remaining weapon back into its hidden holster, though kept her employer firmly behind the shield of her body.

Sam watched her with with a small smile, amused at the antics of someone so small. Not small physically, for she was a tall woman who appeared quite capable of taking care of herself. In other ways, she was very small. It was strange to realize such a truth. Sam was now much bigger than everything around him... or, at least, the power inside him was much bigger, stretching from one side of the galaxy to the other.

He reached for her, feeling a light breeze blow through him as if he were made of dry wheat stalks instead of flesh and blood. Brittle, thin, easily blown away. Then he remembered that it wasn't fair to compare himself to other humans. He wasn't really human anymore.

"Sam," Mikaela breathed, tugging gently on his hand.

"Right, sorry," Sam murmured, dropping his free hand to his side. "You, Fallen, come out. And no games."

The air stirred, giving way to a dark smudge and the spark of glowing jewels.

"No games? That is hardly fair!" the spectre whined like nails down a chalkboard, his voice still reedy and thin with a tinny echo. "That is like telling the universe to not move, telling gods they cannot not exist! What a cruel little beastie to tell me such things!"

"You are going to behave or else," Sam warned darkly, brooking no argument.

"Oh fine. Fine. I'll sing and dance to your tune, since you play such pretty music. Your instrument is so loud, after all," lamented the Fallen, coalescing into something solid and stable. Staying within the size range of the humans, which was infinitely safer than giving the Cybertronians more to shoot at, he unfurled into a basic shape whose details firmed into place in slow succession. The end result caused Mikaela to rear back with her hackles up, hissing through bared teeth.

"You bastard," she snarled.

Sam surveyed the spectre from head to toes, turning a sickly shade of corpse grey that had nothing to do with dying and had everything to do with the sudden urge to vomit all over his feet.

Psi's expression brightened considerably, bouncing on the balls of the feet he now possessed. "I knew you would like it!"

"Change! Now!" Mikaela cried. She could still feel rancid breath against her lips from that first meeting. Coldness and dread turned her blood to sludge in her veins.

"Why? This is the best I have felt in days!" Th Fallen exclaimed merrily. "No – this is the best I have felt in eons! It's been too long since I've been so near the Allspark." Greyed hands tipped with blackened fingers ran up and down a bare grey torso scored to the bone with jagged, pulsing red gouges. Blackened lips were swiped by a pronged tongue too long for the mouth that held it. A smile full of malevolence and pointy teeth appeared.

"So you're The Fallen," Sam observed quietly, swallowing back his bile with some effort.

"Yes, I am indeed The Fallen One," Psi purred, sweeping an impressive, if not overly theatrical, bow. "I am The Beast, the Eyes in the Darkness, the Whispering Madness. I am Entropy, and I am Chaos. I am No One."

"No One, huh?" Sam breathed, frowning cautiously. Once the immediate surprise wore off, he found the absolute shock value of seeing the evil Mirror-verse version of himself wasn't so bad. After having his girlfriend come back from the dead, he had met his shock quota for the day. Nothing else could possibly surprise him anymore, not even an evil naked version of himself. "I don't think we've ever been formerly introduced. Strange, isn't it? You are responsible for so much, but I think this is the first time we've ever been face-to-face."

"Sam, be careful," Optimus warned darkly. "We don't know what his game is."

Blue eyes flicked in the Prime's direction with a bare nod. "I am being careful."

"Be as careful as you like, he can still get to you," Sideswipe warned. "It's what he does. If you can see him, if you can hear him, he can hurt you."

Sam jerked a hard nod. He had been fighting the same enemy as the rest of them for the past seven years. Just because this was the first time he was truly seeing The Fallen did not mean he suddenly forgot what the Bringer of Chaos was all about.

Psi blinked his big amber eyes, canting his head like a dog listening to a high-pitched sound. He moved in a manner that left behind smokey afterimages in the air, raising a single hand so that it hovered in front of Sam's face. He smelled musty, rotten and abandoned. It made Sam think of dark, empty attics and dank caves full of slime.

"Look at you, so paper thin," The Fallen commented airily. "There is fire inside of you, and the smoke billows, and I can feel it as I felt the power in the Old Times. I remember the darkness, and I remember the first stars to shine, and I remember the Allspark whose light shone brighter than all the stars to ever live."

Breath stuttered in Sam's chest, burning hot and smokey like real flame licking inside of him. He tasted ashes and power on his tongue.

There was madness in those amber eyes. A grin stretched so wide that it touched from ear to ear like the Cheshire cat. "I see you now. Did you know that? I can See you. What has become of that precious little veil that once shielded you from my gaze? Why, you have burned it away with that terrible power inside you! I see you. Oh, I See You. And the gods of this world can look at you and see right through you. You are a ship adrift in seas that have grown rough as they toss you through powerful tides. You hold on so desperately to the anchor of this world while a spark burns away the rope that binds you. If a wind comes, will you blow away? I think you will. Beware of the Big Bad Wolf who hides beneath the skin of a grinning sheep. So weak are your ties to this world, I might almost reach out and pluck you from the sky like stars..."

"And now I can see why we have never been formerly introduced," Sam said flatly. His hand was still clenched tightly in Mikaela's, cinching tighter until his knuckles bleached white. "Has he been like this the whole time he's been with you?"

Mikaela grimaced, feeling her stomach churn. "Essentially, yes. Well... I think he was trying harder to make sense while he was haunting me. Now I don't understand anything he's saying."

"Our ghost," Miko suddenly intoned breathlessly as puzzle pieces suddenly slammed together in her head.

"What?" Sari squeaked.

Miko brandished a pointed finger much like she would point a gun, aiming her violently violet nail at Mikaela's heart. "You've been talking to him all this time. Not an actual ghost. When you said no one-."

"I meant No One. Yes. Him. I'm sorry. I couldn't tell you," Mikaela said with a shake of her head. It took a deep breath to steady her voice. "It was easier just to let you think I was crazy. There are so many things going on right now, there was no way you would believe me if I told you the truth."

"What is he?" Miko asked, curling her lip in a sneer.

Mikaela arched a shoulder. She had never been too clear on exactly what The Fallen was supposed to be, so she said, "Would you believe he's some sort of ancient evil alien god thing?"

"This is insane," Sari breathed, her eyes wide as her fingernails gouged holes through Miko's jacket. "This is certifiably insane."

"It is insane, isn't it?" Psi trilled merrily, partially hugging himself in glee. "How impossible to think that there are things in this universe that do not exist because you do not believe in them!"

"Shut up, would you?" Mikaela snapped, leaning into Sam's shoulder, never daring to take her eyes off of No One's spectral manifestation. She turned carefully, brushing her lips to the shell of Sam's ear. "I know you've heard it all before, Sam, but seriously... this guy is completely whacked out."

In that moment, Psi reached up and placed his hands on either side of his head, slowly twisting it around and around like a corkscrew. That disturbing grin stayed as wide as a canyon. He appeared to be doing it simply because he could.

"Why is he with you? Why bring him here?" Sam wondered, pulling her close so that her warm body pressed into his side. "What the hell is going on, Mickey?"

There was silence for several seconds. Mikaela's jaw worked back and forth before she let reluctant words fall from between her lips. "He is the one who saved my life."

"Saved you?" She felt Sam's body clench tightly. His hand was so hot around hers, like trying to hold onto pure lightning.

"It shocked me, too. Believe me," Mikaela admitted honestly. "He dove in front of Hound's plasma blast to protect me. The short version of everything is that he wanted me to bring him here..." Her scowl deepened. "He wants to help us kill Nemesis."

"Is that so?" Sam replied, arching a single brow. "That's... convenient."

"Lies!" Sunstreaker snarled suddenly, bristling against the otherworldly force that held him immobile. "Whatever that beast has told you, it's all lies! He wouldn't know the truth even if a blade of it cut his head off!"

Psi grinned so that a jagged chasm opened up from ear to ear revealing metal teeth and gears. "Oh my, look at the time. It is certainly growing late in the day. Nearly time for the sun to set, don't you think? The sky must always go dark before the monsters can come out and play."

"You shut your trap!" Sideswipe bellowed. "I swear to Primus, if I ever get my hands on you I'm gonna-."

"Quiet," Sam ordered. Silence followed with ominous finality.

Psi's attention wandered back to the Allspark vessel, detailing him with lunatic eyes. "All the walls have crumbled down and Humpty Dumpty lies bleeding on the ground, a cracked open egg that No One can put back together. Your insides are all falling out. I think they taste like sweet candy. What's eating you? asks the chrysalis to the egg. The egg says nothing. It's an egg. But then it cracks open and treasure falls out."

"Does anybody understand what the hell is coming out of Evil Freak's mouth?" Miko exclaimed.

"I think I've heard enough for now," Sam sighed tiredly. The greyness of his skin was more pronounced, as was the dead sunkeness in his eyes. "You... Fallen – No One. You're only going to cause trouble until everyone calms down and can talk semi-rationally. Go away."

Just like that, Psi was gone. The only thing left was the look of shock on the afterimage of his face. Soon enough, even that was gone too.

Mikaela shivered as warm air suddenly rushed in to fill the absent space. Her fingers trembled as they curled into the sleeve of Sam's blazer. "Where did you send him?"

"I don't know. Away, I guess," Sam shrugged nonchalantly, staring at some random spot. He seemed a little unfocused.

"You're getting good at using the Allspark's power."

"I'm not fighting it anymore. Not fighting it makes it easier." He did not mention that not fighting the Allspark did not make it hurt less. In a way, even though his conscience was much lighter, it hurt a lot more to accept the impossible thing burning like an inferno inside him.

Mikaela stared at his profile, feeling her heart clench at the sight of him. After seven long years of fighting the changes happening to him, the conflict in his eyes was gone. "Things have changed since I died, huh?"

"A lot can happen in a week."

She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. "I missed you so much."

"I missed you, too." He shook his head with a wry laugh. "I can't believe you're really here."

Her smile was watery as she wrapped her arms tight around his neck. His arms curved around her back and hauled her in for a tight hug. They kissed again, though had to break apart before they accidentally drown in the tears running freely down Mikaela's cheeks. She wiped at her eyes, laughing and crying, and saw that Sam's tears were not what she expected. He wiped away the excess energon, hoping she would not notice. She raised her hand to the side of his head, careful of the wet trails on his cheeks. He flinched at first, and then leaned into the coolness of her palm – a balmy coolness compared to the heat of his skin. A tear dripped to the lapel of his blazer, burning through the fabric.

"You know, I can't even bring myself to be surprised anymore," she murmured, acknowledging the tear and choosing to kiss him on the tip of his nose anyways.

"You're one surprise I don't mind," Sam replied hoarsely, squeezing her as tightly as he could. All eyes were on them, reminding him that it was not just him who was happy to see Mikaela come back from the dead. With great reluctance, he brought Mikaela back to her feet and eased away. "I think there are other people who want to say hello. We'll talk about everything else later."

Mikaela grinned, turning to the gathering of people who had politely come to her funeral. There at the front, standing a couple of inches above the crowd, was a wonderfully familiar rough face with the darkest eyes ever set into a human skull. Tears ran down from the corners of those ebony black eyes, smearing makeup and making the roadmap of lines in her skin stand out.

"C'mere, kid," Chase called, opening her arms.

"Chase!" Mikaela cried joyously, leaping across the space that separated her from her aunt. She did not think her feet even touched the ground. One moment, she was dashing for her aunt, and the next she was being hauled up into a hug as if she were five years old again. Chase held her high and swung her around, wrapping her up in a bear hug that made her ribs rub together.

"Look at you, kid. Just fucking look at you!" Chase exclaimed, laughing and crying freely at the same time. Her large, rough hands came up to hold the sides of Mikaela's head, tangling in her hair and squeezing her skull. "You're a mess! A goddamn mess! But you never looked better!" She pasted sloppy kisses along Mikaela's cheeks, leaving wet trails behind of saliva and tears.

"I missed you, too!" Mikaela exclaimed, wrapping her arms and legs around her aunt and hugging her with all the strength in her body. She breathed in deep and was comforted by the usual smells of alcohol and human. She was surprised by the smells of perfumes and hairsprays and makeup. Her hands buried their way into Chase's hair and tugged on the ragged handfuls. "You cut your hair! And you dressed up for my funeral! There's too much perfume on you! You have no idea how much I missed you! I didn't think I could ever miss you that much!"

They were laughing and spinning around until a much bigger form barrelled into them, strong enough to sweep them both off their feet. They teetered unsteadily before toppling to the ground, clasped together between a set of arms of inhuman strength.

Mikaela stopped laughing. She wiped her tears away. The brown arms stretched around her body were terribly familiar. They shook in time to the silent sobs of the gentle giant who clung to both Banes women.

"Hound," she breathed.

He looked up at her with wide brown eyes, glassy and watery with a surprise fall of simulated tears. His lower lip trembled. She watched in fascination as he opened his mouth, seeming to draw in a mouthful of air like fish out of water, and then clamp his lips and swallow hard. His Adam's apple bobbed. A shaking hand cupped her cheek, the pad of his thumb as gentle as the brush of a butterfly's wing against her skin.

A croaking noise came from him.

"It's okay," Mikaela assured, leaning down to kiss the hologram of the alien who had adopted her as his own daughter. His cheek was warm like human skin, smelling of soap and faintly of new cars. "I'm okay, Hound. I'm here. I told you everything was going to be okay. Remember? Everything is okay now."

The hand on her cheek steadied, drawing her down. Mikaela let herself be tucked into an encompassing embrace. She was folded up like a small child and brought down so that her head rested beneath Hound's chin. He held her tight, kissing the crown of her head. He was still the best hugger in the world, even as he rocked her back and forth.

He mumbled something softly.

Mikaela leaned away, peering up into glassy brown eyes. "What was that?"

"I didn't kill you," he breathed, and then looked over Mikaela's head to the second Banes woman still trapped in the vice grip of his arms. "I didn't kill her."

"No, you didn't. You didn't, Hound," Chase agreed warmly, levering up on her knees to peer over Mikaela's head. There was light shining in the hologram's eyes. A stunned smile wavering weakly on his lips, hovering between elation and tears. There was hope again, if even only a little bit. It was the new found hope in Hound's eyes that inspired Chase's next move, grasping Hound's chin in a strong hand and tipping his head up to capture his lips in an open-mouthed kiss.

Mikaela wriggled out from between them, stunned and breathless. "Okay, urgh, stop that."

Chase cast her a sidelong glance, peeling her grinning mouth away from Hound's. "Don't you have other people who are happy you're not dead? Go bother them."

"She's not dead," Hound sighed, laying his head to Chase's shoulder.

Mikaela's smile wavered, her heart aching. She saw the brokenness that filled the once lively bot. It was going to take a while before Hound was back to himself. She took a step back, and then another. "Yeah, it's a big funeral. Lots of people to see. You -um, take care of him."

Chase gave a jerk of her head to shoo her niece off, keeping a comforting hand around Hound's shoulders while he leaned heavily into her body. He looked ready to sleep for a thousand years.

Sam welcomed Mikaela back into his arms, unable to get enough of her.

"How... how did Hound get back here?" she murmured into his ear.

Tension lit his body, making his arms clench around her. "Bumblebee traded his life." He held her even tighter when she gasped and tried to jerk away. "Bee did what he thought was best. I don't like it either... I hate it, actually, but Bumblebee has always been too noble for his own good. Nemesis wanted him, so he traded his life for Hound's and to give us time. I would have stopped him, but I only woke up two nights ago."

Her fists clenched into his shirt, pinching his skin.

"I told you a lot can change in a week," he sighed.

"Damn it," she cursed. "Just... damn it. He shouldn't have done that."

"We're going to get him back. There's no way we're going to leave Bee stranded with Nemesis. If The Fallen is actually willing to help us, then maybe we have a shot..."

"But if not?"

"Then I don't know." Sam offered a half-smile and a hapless shrug. He turned Mikaela loose so that she could be welcomed into the waiting arms of the crowd. She disappeared amongst them, swallowed by their hugs and kisses. Her lips were smiling, though her eyes stayed haunted. He turned away from the scene, eyeing the unmoved statues still held immobile by his command.

He had forgotten about them.

"You can move now," he said, watching as a collective breath of air was drawn and shoulders sagged with the release of tension. Their paint shifted, regaining their usual colours.

"I didn't know you could do that, Sam," Wheeljack commented, rotating his shoulders. He looked nervous, as did several others. As much as they accepted the idea of the Allspark being inside of him, it seemed that they were not so comfortable in discovering the power he held over them as the Allspark.

"I didn't know I could do it either. I just wanted something to happen, so it happened," replied the human. "It was weird."

Ratchet cast him a narrowed look, a scowl marring his features. "You certainly aren't afraid to use the Allspark's powers anymore. Are you sure you're alright, Sam?"

"I just got Mikaela back. Why wouldn't I be alright?" Sam hedged with a quick shrug, looking away.

Ratchet grumbled, pursing his mouthplates. If he had further comments, he did not voice them.

Elita One trembled where she stood, and then collapsed to her knees with her arms wrapped tightly around her chest. The confinement had been too much. There had been no cage, but to be trapped within her own frame was just as terrible, just as terrifying. She shook like a leaf, garnering many worried glances from the humans who still congregated around Mikaela. Optimus swooped in only a moment later, taking his sparkmate into his arms and bringing her close.

Beyond the human range of hearing, he shushed her and murmured sweet comforts in hopes of calming the raging terror that spiked through their bond. It was but a small boon that she allowed him to touch her. Only moments ago, Elita One had been so strong, so proud, come so far from the hollowed out haunted creature that had escaped from Shockwave's clutches. Now thanks to a power that was supposed to be wielded in their favour, a power that could save them, she was reduced to that scared little heap of scrap metal again.

Sam could hear the sweet nothings the Prime murmured. He felt the heat of the accusing glares that lasered through his core. Guilt churned deeply in the pit of his stomach. So it seemed giving into the Allspark wasn't such a good idea after all.

Overhead, a cloud passed in front of the sun.

"Isn't this a heartwarming scene? And to think, I came here to offer my condolences."

From the darkened tear that appeared midair stepped a familiar form, dark through and through from the shadowed paint straight down to the oozing, festering black spark trapped deep within its frame. Feet touched down in the dirt, inspiring bruises in the earth the colour of rot. Power radiated from him like heat waves in the air, feeling not as hot or cold but of crawling, pinching, slimy things that skittered and wriggled and clung in the dark, slicking and sliding through the crevices of armour and squirming into the open ears, eyes, noses, and mouths of watching humans. This was power not native to their universe, but festered from a Dead place where light had never shone.

Optics the colour of freshly congealed blood moved slowly over the assembled crowd, finally coming to rest on the semi-obscured form of Mikaela as she pressed back into the forest of arms and bodies attempting to shield her. Those blood red optics narrowed.

"Nemesis," Ironhide rumbled like dark thunder.

A smile devoid of any warmth curved along the line of the Dark Prime's mouthplates. There was rage hidden behind the shine of his optics, leashed in the rigid set of his frame. "Clearly my condolences are no longer needed."

"Shit, who is this clown?" Miko hissed, pressing her employer back into the crowd of people. Her gun was out again, aimed for Nemesis's spark.

Mikaela reached out with a single hand to grip Miko's sleeve, trying to drag the gun down before she got herself killed. "He's the one I told you about. The one who almost killed me. So if you were smart, you'd stop trying to shoot everything that moves!"

"He- he's the one?" Sari choked a tad too loudly.

"Shhhhh," Miles hissed, pressing a hand down on the top of the heiress's head to shrink her into the crowd. "Just keep your head down. Keep quiet. This is bad news."

The humans around them shifted uneasily, not yet sure what to do. The majority of them had not been there to see what Nemesis had done to Mikaela through Hound. Most of them had not ever seen Nemesis Prime in his full glory, now finding themselves disturbed and disarmed by his frightening resemblance to Optimus Prime. Agent Simmons, blessed by his paranoia, grasped at a small weapon concealed within the folds of his sombre jacket. He was among the few to have been armed for the occasion, most others only dressed for a funeral. They were exposed, vulnerable. Most were civilian agents of the EDC or less, lacking in any form of defensive training or knowledge of warfare. Tiny little Annabelle was buried into the backs of her mother's legs, shivering from a coldness inside her that she did not understand. The rivers of her tears felt like ice running down her cheeks.

Miko's face contorted into an ugly mask, the look someone wore when they were between horror and rage. She kept Nemesis firmly in her crosshairs. She was not overly fond of guns compared to other methods, but her trigger finger itched desperately. "I thought you said he was a terrorist!"

"He is a terrorist," Mikaela hissed. "Just heavy on the terror."

"You flatter me, Mikaela. Really. I wish I had equal compliments to you, but you will find that there are few words for someone who is, understandably, supposed to be ashes in the wind," Nemesis drawled menacingly.

"Go fuck yourself," Mikaela spat. "You don't scare me anymore."

"Scare you? My dear, terror is but one of the many talents I have. I could show you a thousand others." The corners of his deceptively handsome mouthplates curved wider as his gaze travelled through the collected organics until it landed on the one inorganic thing among them. "Isn't that right, Hound? I showed you many of my tricks. We learned a lot together."

True fear reflected in Hound's dark eyes. Fear that scored him hollow inside and left a gaping cold wound filled with festering memories that paralysed him from the inside out. The ghosts of pain and anguish played across his emotive face. It was incomprehensible fear borne of unspeakable acts committed against his person. The seams of his mouth pried open, gasping a broken noise that sounded too much like someone had reached inside his chest and wrenched out the heart he did not have. The edges of his hologram pixelated, followed by a brief, piercing screech as his hologram shattered.

Chase jolted to catch the falling holo-emitter before it touched the ground. She clenched her fist around it and tucked it to her chest. The look in her eyes was a cross between rage and fear.

"Well, I supposed that is one individual who is not happy to see me," Nemesis commented.

"You are not welcome here, Nemesis," Optimus stated, bring himself to his full powerful height. They were a perfect match, the light Prime and the dark.

"Perhaps it is the fact that I am unwelcome that draws me to this place," Nemesis chuckled, though not a drop of warmth was felt in the mirthless noise.

"It will be that same unwelcome that drives you from here," Optimus returned. "We are not afraid of you. What power you think you have, or what fear you think you can inspire, we will still force you from this place."

There was a pause, during which Nemesis appeared to consider the Prime's words.

"Well, alright, we can have it your way," he eventually said, amusement lighting his gaze. "Come, Prime, try to force me to leave. We shall see who comes out on top." A hand was extended, curving it up to beckon to his opponent. His tone suggested a level of nonchalance that broadcasted how unconcerned he was for himself, while his smirk taunted how badly Optimus Prime would lose if he chose to accept the invitation.

Not even Optimus Prime was fool enough to walk into such a trap.

"I can stop you," Sam announced, stepping forward proudly. He powered up until the air danced hot and electric. His shadow burned away from the dirt, light sweeping across his skin like the dancing reflection of light on water, making him appear surreal under the glinting white light of the winter desert sun.

"Can you?" Nemesis wondered, canting his head.

"I'm stronger than you are." His chin tilted high, chest out. His fists clenched tightly, though not tight enough to stop the slight tremble in the bones.

"You are the Allspark," Nemesis shrugged. "But brute strength is not everything." His gaze glinted like sunlight off of pools of blood. "You are still a tool, Sam. You are not meant to wield yourself."

"I've been doing a good job of it so far."

"That simply goes to show how truly little you know about the power inside you," Nemesis tsked lightly, even shaking his head. "If you really were in as great of control of the Allspark as you seem to think you are, you would have attacked me by now. All of you would have attacked by now, secure in the knowledge that you are protected by this little human with a great big destiny sitting on his shoulders. I would dead by now. None of you have made a move, because you know there is no guarantee you will win." He inclined his head to Sam. "You make the Allspark weak."

Electric blue flashed from jewel bright depths of Sam's eyes.

"Think about it. Do you really want to fight me, Sam? If so, I will fight you and you will lose, but you can be content that I did not take your power without a fight," Nemesis said evenly, taking a step forward, kneeling to the dirt. "But... if you knew what I really am, who I really am, you might think better of it."

"Sam, don't listen to him," Mikaela hissed. "He's worse than The Fallen. I don't know what this guy is, but he's connected to some bad shit. Just don't listen to him!"

"Mickey, shut up!" Chase snarled, grabbing the girl by the back of her collar and jerking her back into the crowd. No way was she giving Nemesis a second shot at her family just as she got them all back.

Sam shook his head, not taking his eyes away from the Dark Prime. "Who are you, then? Why would knowing you making me think better about helping you? You nearly killed my girlfriend, and you did worse to Hound. You took Bumblebee away from me."

"Necessary evils to get your attention, though I can admit that I did enjoy my time with them."

"You are not helping your case."

"Then here is something that might interest you. I can save you, Sam," Nemesis said evenly. "You are dying. You know this. You feel it. But what if the burning could be stopped? What if your soul could be saved?"

"That's not possible," Sam spat bitterly.

"Really? And who told you that?"

Sam looked away, reluctant to admit who... what... had told him of his condition.

Nemesis pressed on with his irritating smirk, as if he could read Sam's mind and knew exactly who his informer was. "As I said, the Allspark is only a tool. It was never meant to be sentient, and definitely never meant to be an organic mortal. If someone were to wield you correctly, you could be spared. Where I am from, I am god of unimaginable power. I can wield your power without ending your life. I can stop that burn from spreading inside you. I can bring you to life again."

Temptation shone in Sam's eyes, desperation and a panicked hunger. He might have accepted that he was now the Allspark, he knew he was going to die, but that did not stop the very human reaction to hope. Even with the thinnest thread of hope to hold on to, he wanted to be human again. That desire nearly burned worse than his slow death creeping up on him.

"That's... a very generous offer," Sam gritted out, his expression collapsing into grief. "I can't accept it, though. Not through you. Not after everything you have done. I'd rather die than let you win. I'll kill you before I let you use the Allspark's power to hurt other people."

"You still cling to this world as if it matters. I can't say that I am not disappointed," Nemesis sighed with a dismissive shake of his head. He pushed to his full height, once again blotting out the sun. "Perhaps a friend of yours can convince you otherwise? He is eager to see you, Sam. He has missed you in the days that he has been with me."

"Bumblebee," Sam croaked on chapped lips.

"Bumblebee. Yes. That is what you call him in this world, isn't it? Where we are from, he is called something much different. Let us not waste anymore time, shall we? I shall bring your Bumblebee to you, and he shall bring you to me." Nemesis stepped aside, using the blade of his hand to cut a swath through the air. A cold wind whistled from the trailing threads of reality, bringing with it a sense of the vast emptiness of the void that stretched unseen behind the comforting illusion of the world they knew.

Were it not for the Allspark's power keeping the darkness at bay, humans would have choked from the sudden vacuum in the air.

Nemesis extended a hand into the dark hole, catching another small hand as it was offered. Yellow armour backed a dark gunmetal grey hand. It was the wrong shade of yellow, though. Dirty in a way that went deeper than physical condition. It was an ugly hand, twisted and perverse in all the ways that it was and was not Bumblebee's hand.

"Come," said Nemesis, drawing the creature into the light. "Come show them your true self."

For the longest half a second in the history of the world, that hand did not move. There was reluctance in the way it was held rigid in the air.

"Let them see the truth," Nemesis coaxed, tightening his fingers around Bumblebee's hand and guiding him into the light of day from whatever dark spot he had been waiting.

Into the light stepped someone who was not Bumblebee.

The effect of the wrong colour yellow armour carried over the rest of the frame, its colour garish and mottled to a degree that it was hard to look upon it without a throbbing sense burgeoning from between the eyes. There was darkness that emanated hollowly from within the black, empty insides that clashed with the brightness of the sickly yellow paint. Bumblebee's frame had shifted in such a way that he was still the same even when all the details looked different in an undefinable way. His horns were sharper now, curved back like real horns. The lines of his frame glinted like blades. The contours of his once-round faceplate had been stretched and contorted into frightening funhouse shapes. Red light shone from optics so cold, they would have only belonged to someone dead inside.

Sam heard the rushing of his blood in his ears, the beat of his heart seeming to vibrate through his ribs. He wanted to call out, to reach for his brother, to draw Bumblebee back into the fold, but for all his power, Sam abruptly felt small and powerless. He looked into those red optics and was struck with the hopelessness that he had somehow failed.

"Shall I leave you all to get reacquainted? I look forward to hearing from you again, Sam. I have a feeling our next meeting will be much different." Nemesis inclined his head politely, turning to leave.

His gentlemanly exit was halted by a sudden screech. Roulette ripped away from her fellow Cybertronians with murder blazing in her optics. Despite screams to stop, she barrelled forward with a charged energon blade aimed straight for the Dark Prime's spark.

"This is for Carnéval, you bastard!"

Nemesis Prime watched her come, his canted head as much reaction as he gave the charging femme. She was close enough to gouge his blood red optics out when his hand came up, nearly too fast for the eye to see. The air was rent with the wretched sounds of metal screeching. Nemesis's fist disappeared into the gaping, jagged hole taking up too much space in Roulette's chest.

Roulette swayed, rage iced into something new – first shock, followed by realization, and then fear. Her piercing red optics stared down at the fist in her chest. She could feel an impossibly cold hand wrapped around her spark. It hurt. It hurt so much.

"Roulette, no! No!" Sideswipe screamed, held back by the lightning fast reflexes of his brother and Prowl.

"I can feel your fear," Nemesis murmured, meeting Roulette's gaze for the final moments of her life. His fist tightened slowly, savouring the flare of heat, the desperate flutter of panicked energy. He absorbed it, felt the power of it. Almost too quick, the spark burst. Its energy flowed over him with a sweet bouquet of her final horror, pain, and regret. He watched the optics go dark, the frame turn limp. Like flicking a piece of dirt from him, he let her frame fall to the ground. "And now I can't feel you at all."

He took his leave of the scene, trusting the hell he just unleashed could be handled by his brother.

Bumblebee blinked down at the corpse with distant recognition, either able to recognize the bot herself or simply recognize that she was now a corpse. Then he looked down at his own clawed hands, flexing them slowly. Joints popped and cracked one by one.

"I was fragile like that once," he commented in a voice that was no longer the sweet, young voice of Bumblebee. "She was stupid. She shouldn't have attacked. Wasn't she listening? Nemesis could kill anyone here." There was silence as he still stared down at his hands. "I can kill anyone here."

"Bumblebee," Sam called hoarsely, daring a step toward the figure. He felt the twist in the air, the wrongness of it as lightwaves bent away from Bumblebee and the air avoided blowing against him. The warm, fluttering place in the back of Sam's mind reserved for Bumblebee's presence remained dark and cold.

"Sam," Elita called shakily from behind the wall of her sparkmate. "That's not Bumblebee anymore."

A brief stricken scream exploded from Sideswipe just as he managed to rip away from the hands that held him. Blind and stupid and wrapped up in a rage, he barrelled toward the perverse thing that did not look like Bumblebee, did not sound like Bumblebee, but would likely feel good to hurt. He wanted to give as much pain as he felt, and instant gratification of revenge.

Like a switch had been flipped, the eerie calmness of Bumblebee's presence shattered. He darted forward, meeting Sideswipe dead on. They clashed loudly, Sideswipe's Cybertronian curses loudest of all. Bumblebee gave no sign that he recognized the playful, scheming, joking bot of his youth; there was no flash in his dead optics that said he remembered the deadly fighter, the mech who had taught him to weave in and out of battle, wielding blades, and taking cheap shots whenever the opportunity arose.

Optimus's voice bellowed over the din. "Sam! Get the humans into the house! Protect them!"

The demand brooked no argument. Sam turned on his heel, burning a swath of sizzled air as he raised his arms and shouted for people to MOVE! His heart hurt, his lungs burned, the blood in his ears roared, and his mind was dizzy and confused. His mouth moved, shouting words he did not quite understand. It spurred the humans into movement, running for the back door of the dusty house. Annabelle was swept into her father's arms as they ran. Her screams were piercing.

Mikaela reached for Sam as he drew near, taking his hand in hers. The instant their skin touched, her face contorted in sudden pain. Power seared up her palm, burning the flesh. Sam did not notice. He did not let go.

Outside, the fight continued with both opponents lost in their own frenzy.

Sideswipe was cast into the anguish of loss; he did not love Roulette, but now he would never know if he ever could. She had been an opportunity to get away from the same old routine of loneliness that had haunted him for a lifetime. She had been wild and raw, raunchy enough to try anything once. Sideswipe had thrived in taking advantage of her, getting lost in her fire. Now she was gone, with her absence ripping a gaping hole full of bitter 'what ifs' inside of him.

Bumblebee appeared absorbed within himself, awed by the power of his punch as he ripped off part of Sideswipe's battlemask in a single blow. Delighted by the sharpness of his blade as he pierced the red mech's armour, summoning forth a scream on the tide of hot blue energon. He found glee in the powerful, throbbing roar as malevolence concentrated at his fingertips and released in one hot burst. It was both alien to him and familiar. Now that he was no longer trapped within the thin, brittle shell that the Autobots had called Bumblebee... Now that he was free of that mortal thing he had been caged inside... Everything was new to discover.

Or – more accurately – everything was new to rediscover.

Their hands locked. Sharp feet dug into the ground. Sideswipe had the advantage of weighing more, though Bumblebee's lower centre of gravity kept him firmly dug into the ground. Sideswipe's face twisted and contorted in a myriad of expressions. The armour of his hands was buckling under Bumblebee's augmented strength. The thing that was not Bumblebee watched the play of emotional anguish across his opponent's faceplate.

"I can feel it," he mused calmly, cocking his head.

"Feel what, you sparkless fragger," Sideswipe spat furiously.

Bumblebee chuckled absently. "I forgot what it's like to feel another's pain. There's power in it, seeping into me and making me strong. It's been so long." His fingers tightened, crushing Sideswipe's hands until the mech's knees buckled from the intense pain. "I am so hungry..."

Sideswipe realized what Bumblebee was planning a split second before the yellow bot wrenched to the side, driving Sideswipe's arms down and nearly out of their sockets. A surprised snarl fell from the red mech's mouthplates. Unable to find his footing, Sideswipe had no defence when his frame was jerked up so hard his feet caught air. The grip on his hands changed, wrapping tight around just one arm.

"This will be a good start, won't it? A nice appetizer." The thing that was not Bumblebee mused coldly, meeting Sideswipe's gaze with a hungry stare.

Horror erupted through the red mech, scrambling to brace himself for what was about to happen. Too fast for him to shut his neural circuits down in time, he watched in morbid fascination was Bumblebee's foot came up and rammed him with immeasurable force dead center of his chest. For an instant, he was flying through the air, weightless, free, until he came to the end of his short leash; there was resistance for a moment, a metallic scream as metal wrenched at his shoulder, and then his frame was flying free of his arm.

The air was suddenly full of pieces of him. A macabre firework of blue and grey and red. Droplets of energon appeared frozen in the air, arcing between shoulder and the arm that was no longer attached. Gears, bolts, shards of metal exploded outward with the force. Wires and cables twisted and turned as they spilled out. So many wires and cables, it seemed surreal that that much had once fit inside him. Bumblebee's forearm blade severed the wires in a fury of sparks, cutting away Sideswipe's connection to a limb he had already said goodbye to.

Static screeched from his vocal processor. Noise of other sorts erupted through the air, too numerous and echoing for Sideswipe to pinpoint where they were from. Not from him, he mused. Others were screaming. Cursing. The ground caught him hard, rolling and rolling until there was gold in his vision. Not that perverse shade of ungodly yellow that Bumblebee now wore. There was gold in his vision, glossy and bright. Sunstreaker. There were other colours, too. Green and white for Wheeljack. Silver for Tungsten. Chartreuse and an unsmiling faceplate, one that inspired instant guilt and comfort at the same time.

"Ratchet," Sideswipe croaked.

"Don't talk," ordered the medic, hands flying with self-assured ease to assess the extent of the damage. It was not the worst he had ever seen, especially not on the twins, but it was made worse for the fact that it had been Bumblebee who inflicted the injuries. "You half-bit. You idiot! What were you thinking?"

Sideswipe shuttered his optics, bracing himself against the screaming misery he now found himself in. He knew without looking that the gentle hand on his forehead was Sunstreaker. He was syphoning off as much of the pain as he could; he could do nothing for the physical damages, but pain to the spark was a speciality of theirs, though easing it instead of causing it was foreign. Sideswipe felt his brother's regret that their bond wasn't stronger.

"Amazing," Bumblebee commented, swinging Sideswipe's severed arm idly. He did not appear to feel his injuries, even the shattered optic which now oozed a sludgy black tar down his deformed faceplate. "Twins. I can feed from both of you at the same time – two power sources, but it's only one... spark? Spark. Isn't that what your kind call them?" Meaning, of course, that he was no longer one of their kind. "I like this feeling. If I hurt both of you, it would be twice the fun."

Optimus stepped before his fallen Autobot, shielding Sideswipe from any further abuse. The Prime's optics, normally so unfathomable, were overflowing with a thousand different horrors. What Nemesis had brought before them was somehow Bumblebee, and yet it was not Bumblebee. The spark signature was gone, the frame was mutated, but still... Optimus still saw the tiny bright spark he had held in his hands eons ago, innocent and warm in its first moments of life.

Bumblebee stared back at the Prime blankly, an utter lack of recognition on his faceplate. He might as well have been staring at a complete stranger. Air currents throbbed around him, flickering dark like shadows manifesting in the air. There was no warmth in his presence, no innocence.

"Do you know who I am?" Prime breathed.

Bumblebee canted his head. "You are Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots."

"And you are Bumblebee, scout and beloved member of the Autobots."

Yellow horns glinted in the hollow light. "I still hold Bumblebee's memories, they are my memories now, but Bumblebee is not me. I know who you are, but I hold no love for you."

"What has Nemesis done to you?" Prime lamented sadly.

"Done to me?" Bumblebee repeated with a frown. "Ah, you think he tortured poor little Bumblebee into becoming this? Well, don't worry. He did me a kindness unmatched in all the mortal life I was damned to live in this universe. He made me remember what I am, where I am from. What you see here is what Bumblebee was supposed to be all along."

"You are Autobot Scout Bumblebee. You are from Cybertron, but you now call Earth your home. That is who you are," Optimus stated powerfully. "Partner and brother to the human Sam Witwicky, family and friend to nearly every Autobot on Earth. You were raised by us, loved by us, brought to life by the effort of the Matrix and my spark-"

"Brought to life?!" Bumblebee suddenly shrieked, sending off a shockwave of power that knocked the Prime back a step. "You think you brought me to life? How dare you! How dare you presume your actions were so great and noble! You ripped a hole into my world! You dragged me out, wiped me of all my memories, and caged me in a tiny prison from which I could not escape!"

Optimus's mouthplates parted, though no sound escaped.

Bumblebee continued to rant, growing in power and volume until even loose dirt long the ground trembled. "Did any of you ever wonder why Bumblebee had such affinity for battle? It was not just cleverness that made it so easy for him to assimilate into the most horrific sides of life. Why is it none of you ever saw how he embraced war, fighting, and murder? Were you all just too stupid and blind to see that there was something terribly wrong with a youngling who knew how to lie before he knew how to tell the truth?"

"That is enough, Bumblebee!" Jazz roared furiously.

Bumblebee rounded on the blind saboteur, fire sparking in his one good optic. Literal fire sparked in the shattered one. "You! You are the worst of them all, aren't you? Jazz! The great and powerful Jazz, the one who sees more than everyone else." A sneer dripped from the words like poison. "The one who sees more than he should, but never knows exactly what he's looking at! You saw what I was and you never breathed a word!"

Flashing optics shot to the saboteur, who did not flinch nor back down.

"Obviously your memory is faulty, 'cause Ah didn't see nothing but what was there. Ah saw a youngling who was lost," he gritted out between clenched mouthplates. His frame tensed, fists clenched and feet braced apart, ready for battle. "Bumblebee came ta meh long ago, scared and desperate ta find out who he was. Ah cracked the firewall inside his head ta see what Optimus Prime didn't want seen; Ah saw what the Prime had done ta bring Bumblebee ta life. But that's it. And I never said a word because there was nothing ta say and no one ta say it ta. It wasn't mah secret ta tell."

"No!" Bumblebee howled. "That is not all you saw! You saw me inside Bumblebee's mind! You saw me trapped and helpless, but all you did was raise the firewall again and made it stronger than it was before! You made my cage impenetrable!"

Jazz cut a violent gesture through the air. "All Ah saw was darkness inside that youngling's head, and he didn't need ta know it was there. Ah know what that sort of darkness does ta a bot! Ah did him a favour!"

"It was me in that darkness. You left me to rot!" Bumblebee lunged with a roar, aiming for the saboteur's spark.

Blind as he was, Jazz was not blinded by emotion like Sideswipe had been. He was prepared for the attack, spinning on his heel to avoid the lunge and driving his elbow down into Bumblebee's back to send the bot sprawling into the dirt. And then the saboteur was on top of the minibot, brawling it out like animals. Bumblebee had lost his composure, though kept the godlike strength. Jazz lost one of his horns, his headlights smashed out of his chest. In return, Bumblebee's faceplate was gouged by furious claws. One of his doorwings was ripped away with extreme prejudice.

When a clawed, yellow hand came too close to driving up and under Jazz's chestplate, Prowl joined the fray. He was calculated in his attacks, not as hellbent as his lover was on causing their opponent injury. Jazz too easily accepted that this creature was no longer Bumblebee, freeing him from guilt or compromise in battle. Prowl was more discerning, holding the defensive rather than offensive, making sure Jazz remained largely unharmed while the saboteur laid their opponent out.

Both were taken by surprise by the furious blast of hot power that shot them into the air, away from Bumblebee. They landed on their backs, scrambling to find purchase in the dirt. Before they even sat up, a second wave of attackers was already on Bumblebee. Rage flared freely in Sunstreaker's optics as he engaged with the minibot, barely making room for Arcee and Bluestreak as they circled, trying to pin their supposed friend down.

Bumblebee only became stronger as rage mounted against him. Like a thirsty man in the desert, he drank it up, absorbed it into his being, and made it a part of himself. Rage inside him built in a crescendo, hot waves of fury and broiling power. Along with it came joy and freedom. He cried out, the same battle cry that had howled from his mouthplates the day he had fought Sunstreaker in the competition and let the blackened darkness flow through him like molten lava. That had been only a small crack in the cage that had let his true self out. Now the cage was wide open and he had free run of the whole frame.

A second wave of power threw Sunstreaker away, tumbling him until he nearly bowled right through Ratchet's crouched figure. The medic spat a new litany curses, soaked in Sideswipe's energon and now drawn to Sunstreaker's mangled shape before he succumbed to the pulsing wound opened in his neck.

Arcee yelped as her arm was grabbed, wrenching her off her feet to be pressed fully against Bumblebee's frame.

"I remember the things Bumblebee felt," he sneered. "He thought he loved you, as if he were capable of it. What a stupid little creature you are. You waited so long to say anything. So cautious. So weak. Now you lost your chance at ever having anything. You are always losing out on something, aren't you?"

Arcee's expression collapsed in grief, just before the air shattered with her scream. Bumblebee's arms tightened like a vice to crush her. Her lower half went limp. Bluestreak swore, charging in to save the femme. He was tossed away as Arcee's frame came whistling through the air like a projectile, hitting his front and sending him straight through the back porch of the Banes' house and landing in the kitchen.

"Frag!" Ironhide bellowed.

"The humans!" Optimus shouted, launching into battle.

Under the arms of the larger mechs, Prowl and Jazz caught their second wind and rushed back into battle. The four of them combined proved to be some match for the mighty little minibot. Like whirling dervishes, they spun through the air, whipping up dust and debris. Fists and feet flew. Blades and blackened air singed with power.

Optimus managed to pin one of Bumblebee's arms, Ironhide kneeling on the other. Jazz had cut the tension wires in the backs of the bot's legs, stealing his ability to walk or kick. Hobbled, he still fought like a wild thing - arching, writhing, screaming curses vile enough to charbroil paint. Tension lit the air as another surge of power built, readying to be released.

A burst of blue light acted like a needle to a balloon, popping the tension and releasing it as a deflated sigh.

Bumblebee stiffened, gasping for the first time as if in pain.

A human man stood at his feet, looking down the length of Bumblebee's body with sorrow darkening his glowing blue eyes.

"Sam! I told you to protect the humans!" Optimus roared.

"They are protected. They're safe down in Hound's apartments," Sam replied plainly. "This was more important. I had to come."

"Sam." For the first time, there was a flicker of more than just dead emptiness in Bumblebee's optics.

Sam said nothing as he walked down the line of Bumblebee's legs, stepping up on his thigh and continuing to walk down his frame until he crouched on the edge of his brother's chest. Blue sparks licked from the soles of Sam's feet. Beneath him, Bumblebee trembled, paralysed to the spot.

A tiny human hand extended, reaching out, brushing down Bumblebee's twisted, alien faceplate. He sought the connection that had once filled the void between them. His palm came away stained with filth.

"You sacrificed yourself for me," Sam murmured. "Look what's happened to you. I should have been able to protect my own brother better than this. I am so sorry."

"Don't be sorry. There's nothing to be sorry for," Bumblebee rumbled, every word as harsh as the monster now riding inside him. "Everything is so clear now. Nemesis made me see it. I know who my true brother is."

Sam nodded sadly.

"He took me back, Sam," murmured the yellow bot. "All the way back to the beginning."

A harsh breath of air sucked in between Sam's lips. He held it, turning his mouth into one long, thin line. Finally, he let the air out in a hiss.

"Who are you?"

"I am the King in Yellow."

"That's not a name," Sam admonished with a shake of his head. "What do we call you now, if you're not Bumblebee anymore?"

Ruby optics blinked, focusing like lasers. His mouthplates shifted, cracking opening, emitting a searing scream. Instantly, everything living thing in the vicinity recoiled voilently. Hands to their audios or ears, deafened by the ungodly noise. Sam fell from his perch, landing badly on his shoulder and sending off a mild surge of blue light upon impact.

The ground turned black beneath Bumblebee's frame, sinking inward like tar until it swallowed him whole. That was all it took for him to disappear. His scream cut off abruptly, not even an echo in the air in the aftermath.

Bumblebee was gone, and the thing now inside him had returned to Nemesis.