With the posting of this chapter, I am now officially on vacation. I am off to Halifax, where I will soon be hopping on a plane and heading off to England! Three weeks to spend with my best friend, having adventures and turning her home country upside down! Don't miss me too much. =P
Hot Rod's brief bastardization of English: I briefly entertained the notion of turning him into a chav, which is, as I have been told, a breed of subhuman vagabonds who slouch around certain parts of England and are much hated by everyone. I figured, eh, why the hell not? Make Roddy even more hateable. It's fun. The phonetic representation of his accent was done by Atsadific (incidentally, the person I am going to go see in England). If anyone requires a 'translation' of what Hot Rod is saying, I will send along some dialogue that is less... convoluted. If the extra effort to understand him makes you hate him more, then I consider my job done. =P
To all the fantastic readers who have been keeping me going with their doses of love, enthusiasm, and encouragement: I might possibly be a little bit in love with each and every one of you. Thank you so much for your kind words and continued support for the story. Thank you to Gamemice, Dazja, Flameshield, Poiseninja, star's dreams, and Jen Evan, Shadir, CnightJoy, femme4jack, Faecat, Haag, Phoenix51, and Berlyium! You are all fantastic beyond words and I appreciate your attention to my stumble stories.
May We Never Let Go
To be Immortal
Early morning sunlight streamed through the window, warming Sam's face. He laid on his side and stared out the window, listening with half an ear to the soft rasping of his fingers over the cotton sheets. Rasp, rasp as he drew insensible patterns. The sky was greyish blue, and there were clouds in the far distance of a pale smokelike grey. Maybe there would be rain later? Reddish-brown land stretched out underneath the sky, craggy and jagged, dotted with dark browns and scraggly green growth. The perpetually parched visage of the desert.
The familiarity of home, and yet it all felt so very distant. Like it was another world. Like it wasn't Sam's world anymore.
Sam stared out and wondered if this was another dream. He couldn't be sure what was real anymore.
A cool breeze seeped in through the thin crack of the windowsill, caressing over his hot skin. He could barely feel it. The heat he radiated was too much, creating its own kind of breeze. Any relief that could be found in a cool breeze was negated by his own hot aura. Sam was surprised that the air around him did not bend and flex with heatwaves.
His skin felt too tight, dry and crinkling like old parchment. Beneath the crackling husk, he itched like a swarm of insects was crawling and biting through his body. A buzzing in his ears like the activity of ten thousand bees. There was no point in scratching an itch that was not physical, so he didn't bother. A moment of nausea passed over him, dizziness assaulting him in a hard wave. Sam squeezed his eyes shut and lowered his head until his forehead rested deeply in the cradle of the pillow. Power crawled up the back of his throat, threatening to spill out.
The door creaked open. A woman stood there, her dark hair a cascading waterfall around her face and shoulders. She was beautiful. So beautiful. Too perfect to harm with the horrible power trapped inside his body. Oh gods, so beautiful that it nearly hurt for him to look upon her.
"Are you okay?" Mikaela wondered, giving an involuntary shiver. He could see the hair on her arms standing on end. Blue sparks flickered in the air like fireflies, whirling gently as if caught in some sort of whirlpool. He was at the epicentre of it, curled on his side like an animal in pain.
A groan escaped his lips before words came. He lifted a finger for a spare moment to gather himself, gulping down air in hopes of keeping down what threatened to come up.
Mikaela bit her lip anxiously, shifting as the electric air snapped along her skin. "I heard you...grunting."
Sam huffed, relaxing when control came back into his grasp. Not complete control, but enough to put reins on the hurricane. The air calmed, his body uncurling to its full length. After a time, he managed to say "Sorry."
Mikaela continued to watch him.
He closed his eyes, breathing deep. "Everything is okay now. Just a... passing moment. They come and go."
"They happen more often now, don't they? Those passing moments," she said knowingly, watching him with her sharp eyes like she could see everything inside of him.
"They do, but I won't hurt you. I promise."
"I know. I'm not scared of you, Sam." Her lips curved into a small, shaky smile. Her hands moved nervously, playing with the hem of the same rumpled blouse she had been wearing yesterday. The light in her eyes was dim, careful. She took a cautious step into the room, and Sam could have sworn he felt her heart beating. No, she wasn't scared. She just didn't know what to do with him.
"So?" Sam prompted, offering a crooked smile that did not quite meet his alien eyes.
"Good morning," Mikaela murmured, her voice husky in the early hours.
"Morning," Sam murmured back, and then cleared his throat. "Did you sleep out there?"
Mikaela looked out into the rest of the apartment, tilting her head. She turned back to Sam with a slightly confused look on her face. That hapless shrug made her look so cute, it made him want to open up his arms and fold her up to his chest. Sam did not dare follow through with the sudden urge. He didn't know if he would burn her.
"I fell asleep at the table," she said in a bemused tone.
Sam pushed himself up, finding that his shirt was gone. His shoes, too. And socks. He didn't remember taking them off. Did he accidentally burn them off in his sleep? If so, he was lucky he didn't set the bed on fire. Was this an Incredible Hulk thing, where he got to keep his pants?
"That couldn't have been comfortable," he commented. "The table... I've fallen asleep at it before- woke up with a crick in my neck."
"I wouldn't know. I woke up on the couch," Mikaela replied with a small laugh. She came closer to the bed, pausing a moment when she felt Sam's heat against her skin. Hesitation, and then she propped her hip on the mattress and sat down. Sam tried to wriggle away without her noticing, only to jerk to a halt when he felt her hand on his. He gasped at the coolness of her skin. So cool, like a splash of fresh water.
"That doesn't... hurt?" he asked, staring at the point where their skin touched.
"What?" Mikaela glanced down, pursed her lips, and then shook her head. "Oh. No. It's... hot, but it doesn't hurt. It's still you, just a little feverish." She swung her legs up, scooting close to Sam's side. She sighed as she eased back against the headboard, her shoulder brushing his, comforted in the embrace of heat wrapping around her. "See? Nothing bad is happening."
Sam raised an eyebrow, as if waiting for something bad to happen. Then he remembered the devil's words, why he always had something bad happening to him: because you won't let anything good happen to you. So this time, Sam just accepted the good. He was not going to hurt Mikaela. He settled back against the headboard with his girlfriend, taking relief in her presence.
"How-" His voice cracked, so he cleared his throat. "How did you wake up on the couch if you fell asleep at the table?"
Mikaela's smile was a strange one, somewhere between amused wonderment and absolute disbelief. "You wouldn't believe me, even if I told you."
"You'd be surprised," Sam replied.
Mikaela had no intention of mentioning her nighttime visitors, so instead she asked, "Did you rest well? You were asleep by the time I dropped you on the pillow, and I don't think you moved an inch after that." She brought her knees up and wrapped her arms around her shins. So close, Sam could smell the exotic perfume coming from her. Pungent smells he thought he remembered from a bazaar in Egypt.
"I had a strange dream," Sam admitted, easing back to the headboard and lacing his fingers together in his lap.
"What was it about?"
"I don't really know." It was an honest enough answer.
Mikaela leaned to the side, inching closer to his body. Sam watched her out of the corner of his eye, struck anew by how incredibly beautiful she was. Even with the deep shadows under her eyes and her hair askew, Mikaela was so beautiful it made his heart ache. When she brushed her cheek to his shoulder, the mere touch of her soft skin was a fresh balm. For the first time in what felt like forever, Sam did not feel like he was slowly burning alive from the inside.
She brought her head flush to his shoulder, snuggling into his side. "You've calmed down since last night."
"Huh?" Sam glanced down at himself, and then understood what she meant. Allspark energy. "Oh. Right. Sorry for hurting you last night."
"It didn't hurt," Mikaela replied. "I mean... it did hurt, but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle." She paused, taking a deep breath before letting it out and sagging deeper into Sam's body. He lifted his arm and wrapped it around her, cautiously at first and then more securely when she didn't struggle to get away. Sam brushed his lips to her temple, taking in a deep breath of her scent and rubbing his cheek into her hair.
"It hurts you, doesn't it? All that Allspark energy," she murmured.
"It does. It hurts a lot," Sam confirmed, not bothering to lie anymore. There was no need. His secret was out, everyone knew he was on the short list for lifers. It felt good to say something about it so openly, especially to the woman who he never thought he was going to see again. If he was going to have a second chance, he'd make the most of it – no matter how short that chance might be.
"I'm sorry it hurts," she murmured.
Sam sighed, tipping his head back. "For some reason, it doesn't hurt as much with you here."
A light flush of colour appeared across Mikaela's cheeks. Her face turned, her lips brushing his chest over a glowing glyph on his skin. Right above his heart. Her breath was warm and damp. "You're dying."
Silence, and then she asked, "How long do you have left?"
Mikaela hugged her knees tighter. "Was there any point in me coming back?"
Sam dragged her close, right up into his lap, so he could crush her to his chest. "Of course there was. If not for me, then your family. Chase needs you, Hound needs you. There are so many people here that love you. I love you. So much. I should have told you that before you left."
"I love you, too," Mikaela sighed.
"At least I get to die knowing that you're alright. It killed me inside when I thought Nemesis had killed you." Her hair tickled his nose and cheeks when he buried his face in the dark locks. He resisted the tears that threatened, knowing he'd burn her terribly if he cried. "I... went crazy. Lost control. I don't ever want to feel like that again. "
She leaned away and peered up at him with narrowed eyes. "What did you do?"
His smile was sheepish as he said, "I... freaked out. Mickey, I couldn't lose you. I just couldn't handle it. I let loose so much of the Allspark's energy that any Cybertronian near me was knocked out. I blew out most of the windows on base. Optimus was unconscious for days. I think I might have crashed a satellite, too... or Miles could have been making a joke."
Her sweet honey eyes gazed up at him widely, hope simmering there. "You love me that much?"
Sam suddenly laughed, kissing her on the lips. "Of course I love you that much."
"Then I am flattered that you went crazy when you thought I died." She snuggled into him sweetly, hugging him tight.
Sam laughed again, shaking his head. "You're flattered by that?"
"Well duh," she said matter-of-factly. "It's not every day your boyfriend is so traumatized by your death that he unleashes one of the most powerful forces in the universe, accidentally takes out some of the most powerful robotic alien warriors on the planet, and possibly took out a satellite."
"You little psycho," Sam admonished fondly. His smile faded, and his arms tightened around her lithe body. "We never should have fought. It was such a stupid fight! I'm so sorry for all the things I said. I didn't mean any of it, Mikaela. You know I value you as my partner and as a contributor to this war, you just contribute in different ways."
"I'm sorry about the things I said, too," Mikaela sighed. "I was just frustrated and desperate to get you to open up to me. You've been getting more and more distant... and I guess I know why now." She made a low sound in the back of her throat. "You should have talked to me instead of bottling everything up."
"Lesson learned." His right hand stroked up and down her arm, relishing the sweet softness of her body cuddled so close to him. The morning was so quiet. He didn't want it to end. He just wanted to sit on his bed with the woman he loved until the day he died... which, incidentally, could be tomorrow.
Mikaela made a contented noise, shimmying to his touch. She stretched out, urging him to lay with her. They rucked up the sheets, and then cuddled beneath them. Her arms came around his chest, keeping him close. Her cool skin felt nice against the unnatural heat of his fevered flesh. The tips of her fingers traced the glowing glyphs on his skin, making his nerves sing. Being touched had never felt so good. Even when she touched the most wasted places on his body, across his ribs and down his spine where his bones showed through in sharp relief, her touch still felt good.
Her eyes grew wet as she realized the physical extent of what the Allspark was doing to him. But then she told herself that she had already cried, and crying did not solve anything. Sam dying was inevitable, but he did not have to die quietly. Her jaw flexed, teeth gritting in a hard scowl. Anger flashed in her eyes.
"Sam, if you're going to die soon, will you kill Nemesis before you go?"
"Yes," he answered automatically.
Her arms cinched tighter around him. "Make it hurt, okay?"
He hugged her back, and the whirling alien symbols on his body briefly flashed bright. "I will. I promise." Even if it's the last thing I do.
"Good. And if you could throw in a cheap shot at The Fallen, I wouldn't argue against it."
Now he glanced down at the top of her head, brow quirked. "He saved your life."
"He's an asshole, and he's evil."
She took in a deep breath, smelling Sam and power and something alien that had no flavour or name. Her skin prickled again, electrified. Her eyes glinted with blue light as she peered up at him. "What about Bumblebee?"
To this, Sam's heart did a weak flip in his chest. He swallowed reflexively, and could have sworn that he tasted the grit of the desert on his tongue. In his mind's eye, he saw a flickering yellow figure standing on a rock in the middle of a lost desert. Something that wasn't truly real waiting for someone powerful to make a dream into reality.
"I'm going to do my best to get him back, Mickey," Sam vowed.
She ducked her head, averting her eyes. "What if you can't? I saw what Nemesis really is." Her body was wracked with a powerful shudder. "You don't know what it's like to be in the dark with him. I was there with him. It- he...Whatever he is... it's bad. If Bumblebee is really like that, too. Sam, if Bumblebee is a god..."
"Don't think things like that," Sam chastised. "You know who Bumblebee really is. So what if he was once some evil god thing from another universe? The Bumblebee we know is good and kind and he's part of our family. That's the bot we're fighting to get back."
"Right," Mikaela said after a pause. "We'll get him back." She didn't sound convinced.
They laid quietly in bed for a long time. Though both of them were still exhausted, they stayed awake. Faced with death so recently, and knowing they would be faced again with it again soon, they had no desire to close their eyes. This was no time to waste precious moments in sleep. They could sleep when they were dead.
It was that very thought process that prompted Mikaela into doing what she did next. Untangling her arms from around her boyfriend, she pushed up above him. Her hair tumbled down, tickling her arms and curtaining around them. In the slight shade, Sam's eyes glittered like stars. No whites or irises or pupils, just a pure, jewel-bright blue that drew her in like a moth to a flame. His face was gaunt, the bones of his cheeks and around his eyes standing out. The shadows were deep. All over his skin, the tracery of the Allspark's sigils shone through, whirling and curling with otherworldly grace. These were secrets on Sam's skin, the Allspark's knowledge and power, burning its way through his body.
Sam no longer looked human. He was actually quite frightening to behold. Mikaela's heart flip-flopped in her chest. No matter his looks, he was still her Sam.
She cupped his face. His cheeks were hot under her palms. Sam revelled in the coolness of her skin.
"Marry me, Sam," she suddenly said.
He stared up at her like he had suddenly forgotten how to understand English.
Mikaela grinned at him, loving him so much for just being Sam. "Just breathe. And say yes."
"What?" Sam croaked, finally remembering English. There was mild panic on his face. Awe. Fear. And trembling hope.
"Marry me, Sam!" Mikaela exclaimed laughingly, shaking him.
"I thought I was supposed to ask you," he said haplessly, head flopping.
"It's the 21st century, Sam. Get with the program," Mikaela laughed, pressing his cheeks fondly. "Marry me. Today. Right now. I don't care. I might not have you for long, but I damn well want to be able to call you my husband for however long I have."
"Okay," Sam agreed. It felt like the only appropriate response.
"Yeah, definitely okay. I mean yes. Yes, I will marry you." He glanced to the side, to the nightstand on his side of the bed. "I had a ring for you. I was going to ask you... soon... maybe. I kept putting it off. And then I thought you died." He paused, and a smile crept onto his face that was dazed and bemused. "And then you asked me to marry you."
Mikaela released his face and scrambled eagerly to the side, jerking open the top drawer and rifling through until she found a little velvet box. The ring inside was just a thin gold band. No diamonds or other stones, no embellishments whatsoever. Nothing that Mikaela could easily lose if she wore the ring while she worked. She held the precious loop of metal between two trembling fingers, turning it around and around until the etched words inside caught her eye.
Just like how Sam used to look before the Allspark had bled through, the ring was plain on the outside. Unextraordinary enough to be easily overlooked. It was on the inside where the most extraordinary qualities were hidden.
A sniffle took her by surprise. She pressed her hand to her mouth, eyes suddenly watering.
"This is beautiful, Sam," she whispered.
He might have blushed, but Sam suspected that it only made him look bluer. His eyes averted to the sheets, and he shrugged haplessly. "You don't think it's tacky?"
"No, I think it's wonderful." She leaned over and kissed him. A heartfelt, trembling kiss. Then she leaned away and stuffed the ring on her finger proudly. It shone in the morning light. "And now it's mine."
Sam grinned, liking the way his ring looked on his girlfri- er, new fiancé's finger. "Good. So it's official. We're engaged." His eyes burned, and then tears welled up, and energon overflowed. In the next moment, he smelled burning cotton and pillow stuffing. "Shit," he cursed, grabbing the pillow and throwing it to the floor. His teardrop burned through the stuffing, setting it aflame and leaving it smouldering. "That wasn't supposed to happen."
"At least you didn't set the bed on fire," Mikaela said, getting up to open a window and dispel the smoke. She paused to hold out her hand and admire her shiny new accessory. When she could finally tear her eyes away, she arched a brow at Sam. "Let's hope you don't cry when we have sex. I know we can scorch the sheets on a good night, but I would prefer not to do it literally."
Sam's head swung around to her like it was on a swivel. "You want to have sex?"
Hands propped on her hips, Mikaela said, "Generally speaking, that's what couples do, Sam."
"With me?" He indicated himself as if that it were a necessary visual aide.
Mikaela's dark brow arched imperiously, her stubborn chin jerking up. "Yes, you, Sam. Is this about how you look? Because I don't care how you look. I've never cared. I love you, blue and all."
"But, sex? Like... now?" His voice cracked, and was that mild panic in his tone? It was nice to know that the same old high-strung Sam was in there somewhere.
Her eyes rolled in exasperation. "You are starting to ruin the moment, Sam."
"I know, but this is kind of sudden," Sam reasoned, backing away when his girlfriend advanced. The mattress bounced as she crawled back on. She stretched out her legs so they laid on either side of his, bracketing him in. She sat astride him like she meant to win the rodeo. Her hands came down on his shoulders and held him in place.
Sam really meant to resist. He did. It just did not translate into any noticeable movement in his body.
"You know what's sudden, Sam? Dying. I died, and you're going to die." Mikaela threw her hands up. "Hell, everybody could die tomorrow! Right now, I just want to live a little bit. I want to feel alive with you." She kissed him with force, pressing her lips to his until he thought he had memorized every little line of her mouth. Her teeth nipped his bottom lip, tugging gently. Her short, sharp nails scored the back of his neck where she clutched him.
Admitting to himself that he was really interested in living, Sam still took Mikaela by the shoulders and held her at arm's length. Or tried to. He forgot how wriggly she could be when she wanted to be.
"Mikaela. Wait. Listen to me," Sam begged, his eyes crossing when her strong thighs clamped along his flanks and pressed her hot body into his. Wow. Yes. Wait. No, no, he had Important Things to say. Damn it. "Mikaela, think about this," he warned.
"Think about what, Sam?" was the disgruntled reply while Mikaela adjusted her seat astride him. Her fingers traced the lines of his body, bringing cool relief with every touch...and yet setting fires of their own. "I am a little busy here."
Sam gritted back the groan that threatened to escape. His fingers clenched on her thighs. "If my tears are blue, and my blood is blue, what is stopping other things from, you know, being blue?"
"What do you mea- Oh." Her eyes cut sharply downward, staring at his lap in a mix of horror and morbid curiosity. "That could be a deal breaker."
She bit her bottom lip. "Wear a condom?"
"Right, because peeling melted latex off my man-parts is something I am really looking forward to."
That particular visual left quite the impression in both their minds. Mikaela caught herself before she laughed out loud, then she caught Sam's eye and burst out laughing anyways. She laughed harder at Sam's increased horror, because he honestly thought she would have been soberly on his side when considering the extreme unpleasantness of having a tube of latex melted and adhered to any part of his body.
Thankfully, Sam found the humour in it a moment later. He laughed, feeling like it had been forever since he had done so.
"So I guess sex is out of the question," Mikaela breathed, wiping at her eyes from the tears of laughter that had welled there. "You know, that really sucks, because I was honestly looking forward to having my way with you."
"Thank god I'm going to die soon, because going the rest of my life without sex would suck," Sam said without thinking.
"Ouch," Mikaela grimaced.
"Sorry," Sam sighed. "Gallows humour is not for everyone."
She smiled weakly. "Everyone's a comedian when they're on death row." Mikaela leaned over and kissed him again, wrapping her hand around the back of his neck to hold him close. It was a sad kiss, a consoling one. The kind of meeting of the mouths that made hearts break rather than make them beat faster. Mikaela was doing her best to keep her sorrow and fear for the future at bay, but Sam felt it like energy currents in the air.
He wanted to take that fear and sorrow away, even if it was only for a moment.
"Hey, I have an idea," Sam murmured, a shaky smile appearing on his chapped lips. He carefully unwrapped Mikaela's hand from around his neck, holding it between his own. Unable to help himself, he kissed her knuckles, eliciting a soft laugh. Sam's sudden excitement summoned a small welling of power to snap, crackle, pop inside him like tiny fireworks.
"What kind of idea?" Mikaela wondered, noting the changes in her boyfriend. It was entrancing to watch him power up.
"I can marry us right here, right now." Excitement bubbled up higher, lifting his smile.
"How?" Mikaela laughed, Sam's excitement catching. She scooted closer on the bed until their knees bumped, and Sam's glow touched her skin like a soft caress. "Did you become an ordained priest while I was gone?"
"I'm the most powerful living being in the universe right now. I think I can do anything... within reason," Sam replied, lifting one hand to stare down at the flashing blue patterns across his palm. "It won't be a traditional wedding. No white dress or a church. I don't even know if it will work-."
"Do it," Mikaela said, waving away all the things that meant nothing to her. She would have liked to have had a dress and a church and all the other typical wedding things, but they were all easily sacrificed in the face of having a chance to be with Sam. Just a single day would be worth it. "Marry us right here, right now, if you can."
"Hold on tight," he said, grinning. "I have no idea what kind of ride this is going to be."
Sam clenched his hands tight until the heat was nearly burning. He closed his eyes, the light behind the lids so bright that his veins stood out like black snakes slithering beneath his skin. His chest expanded on a deep breath, the sigils on his body appearing to breathe with him. The reins on the hurricane loosened. Sam felt himself growing outward, power expanding through the air in a rush. He felt the molecules of the air and the vibration of energy along his skin. Where his hand connected with Mikaela's, he felt himself falling into her. With a moment of concentration, he was flowing through her blood, filling her body, feeling the tingling of her nerve ending, and electricity of her thoughts and essence.
At her gasp, his eyes snapped open. She was lit up as he was, alive with alien inscriptions. Like a circuit being completed, the bright lines on Sam's hands had bled over to Mikaela's, swirling up her arms, across her body. She became part of the power flow.
"Shhh, it's okay." He tugged her close, so they shared their breaths. Their fingers entwined tightly, laced with miniature strings of blue lightening. The hair on their arms stood up. Mikaela's heart raced so strongly that its beat seemed to boom in the room, ricocheting off the walls. What laid in Sam's chest did not beat so much as it pulsed, sending out rings of rippling power. Somehow, the shadows came to life. They were dancing, watching what was happening.
The air thinned, and reality became like a curtain being pulled back.
For the of briefest moments, Sam's lungs were filled with the strange, flavourless sweetness he only tasted in his dreams. From the corners of his eyes, he saw the air ripple. As if from a great distance, he heard his name being called. So many voices beckoning to him, familiar to him in only the way a memory of a past life could be. The Allspark inside of him surged in awareness. Sam saw amber gazes watching him, as distant as the stars but so much older.
'Sam,' they whispered, beckoning as they had done for years.
'Not yet,' he murmured back.
And then they were gone.
It was just him and Mikaela in the room.
Reality snapped back into focus, somehow sharper and more real than either of them had ever seen it.
Sam brought Mikaela close so that their chests touched. His lips brushed hers in a ghost of a kiss. Lightning seared between their mouths.
"Ready?" he asked, his voice sounding like it was not his own.
"Ready," Mikaela breathed in amazement.
It took Sam a moment to find the right words to say. The right words were important, to make what came next worth it.
"I, Samuel James Witwicky, ambassador of Earth and Vessel of the Allspark, give what is left of my soul to you, Mikaela Isadora Banes."
Mikaela's eyes shot wide, lips parting on a gasp. Her red, red blood suddenly soaked the front of her shirt. The skin that touched Sam's was burning away at the point of contact. She didn't cry out, even when the smell of burnt flesh seared her nostrils. Pressure pushed in on her sternum, like that of a blunt needle trying to find its way in through her bones. Instead of shrieking, she gritted her teeth and met his eyes stubbornly. Light flew between them, flashes of pure lightning.
"I, Mikaela Isadora Banes, um... a mechanic of Earth, give all my love and all my soul to you, Samuel James Witwicky."
Sam grunted when the thin, sallow skin on his sternum burned inward. There was hardly any muscle left, and if either of them looked down they would have seen bone. Blue energon overflowed, yet failed to ignite. It evaporated into the air, becoming incandescent mist. Both he and his very human wife-to-be breathed it in, let it fill their lungs, feeling the zing of pure energy lance through their nerves.
"With the power vested in me by the most powerful artefact in the universe, I now pronounce us husband and wife." He grinned at her, and even his teeth were glowing. "You may now kiss the husband."
Mikaela threw herself at him, taking him to the mattress with a cry of joy. Their lips clashed with fervent emotion. It was not just the flavours of their mouths they tasted. It was the pure essence of each other. Evanescent, powerful, and full of love. Their eyes slid shut, revelling in their first kiss as husband and wife. Mikaela held him so tight that her nails cut into his skin, would leave bruises behind. Sam held her just as tightly, crushing her in his arms.
When they could bear to be parted, they did so with delighted gasps.
Mikaela tilted her face back to the ceiling, her appearance returned to its very human visage. Her eyes squeezed shut tightly, the look on her face could only be described as ecstasy. "Sam, I can still feel you."
Sam scrambled to regain his wits. He didn't feel exhausted from pulling a stunt like that, even though he should be reeling from it. Instead, he felt blissfully energized. He felt better than he had in ages.
"I can feel you, too," he managed to mumble through clumsy lips, his brain still dazzled.
They lay together for stunned seconds. With the retreat of his power, Sam's skin healed over without a mark. Mikaela was not so gifted. Her blood still flowed from the open wound between her breasts, slowly running down to her abdomen, soaking into her blouse. Now that Sam could see it clearly, the laceration looked like a little star burst. Maybe it was his eyes playing tricks on him, but in the centre of the bloody wound, a pinpoint of light glowed star-bright blue. Clotted blood hid it a moment later.
"Did you just do what I think you just did?" Mikaela asked breathlessly.
"Yeah, I think I did," Sam replied, stunned that it had worked.
"So," Hot Rod intoned a touch too loudly in the tense silence of the hangar, "Optimus Prime is going to be down there?"
A few faceplates grimaced at the mentioning of the Prime. Too long of being at war with the Autobots had trained many Decepticons with an ingrained dislike for Optimus. Though they claimed to be Neo-Decepticons now, hardly enough time had passed since they had hated the Prime on principle. Their loyalty to Megatron long eroded, many simply had festering wounds of resentment toward the Prime for allowing the war to happen in the first place, for allowing it to go on so long.
Much to some Autobots' shame, they too felt a telltale pang of reluctance in their sparks. Despite shame, they could not shake their lingering resentment over how easily their Prime had abandoned them for the Allspark so long ago. They knew all the reasons, all the excuses, but they had lived the reality of the downward spiral of the war after Optimus had left. It was hard not to feel burned.
Hot Rod did not cue in on the shifting atmosphere. As always, he was absorbed in his own thoughts, easily claiming title of 'The Least Affected Bot of the War' seemingly because trauma flowed out as easily as it flowed in. To him, unknown adventure was looming on the horizon, and the great Optimus Prime was waiting for them down on Earth.
A tall, dark figure stepped out from the crowd and faced Hot Rod with his chin lifted, chest out.
"Yeah, Optimus-fragging-Prime is going to be down there. You planning on getting his autograph?" Wildrider sneered, backed up by the sneers of most of his gestalt team.
Dead End did not sneer. He stared at the looming hangar doors with something akin to tightly reined excitement glittering in his gaze.
Hot Rod immediately bristled, the sound of his engine revving pinging off the cavernous walls. A hand clamped around his mouthplates before words had a chance to escape.
"Let's hope he has Ironhide with him, and Ironhide gives you a proper welcoming," Springer shot back with a sneer of his own, yanking Hot Rod back into the safety of his shadow. He and his Wreckers were allowed to give the impetuous little lugnut a hard time, but no one else. Especially not Decepticons.
"That old rust bucket?" Breakdown laughed meanly. "He's so old, I bet he couldn't hit the broadside of this ship- Ow!"
A small bolt pinged violently off the side of the Stunticon's head, skipped several times along the floor, before rolling out of sight in the forest of shifting legs. Kup lowered his throwing arm back to his side and gave a haughty rev of his engine.
"What was that about old rust buckets hitting the broadside of things?" he asked.
Motormaster rolled his optics and reached out to cuff his fellow teammate upside the head. Breakdown cursed, but quickly subsided under the hard stare of the much larger mech. As much as Motormaster normally would have looked forward to a fight, and it would have been a mass brawl if a fight broke out in this enclosed space with so many bots on edge, he was in no mood for one now. To the old Autobot, he inclined his head. "Better?"
Kup shrugged. "It works."
Above them, the ship's comm system crackled to life. Autobot and Neo-Decepticon alike rolled their optics as they anticipated the high-pitched drawl of the Neo-Decepticon commander.
"There are cameras in there," Starscream's voice announced imperiously, "and I can see you."
"Good for you!" someone shouted pugnaciously, his identity shielded by so many bots. Laughter rang off the walls.
Starscream cut in before anyone else had the bright idea to start a shouting match.
"We need to present a united front, a powerful force in the face of the Prime and whatever else is waiting for us on the planet," the Seeker urged, clearly speaking through gritted mouthplates. "So stop your ridiculous bickering! We are about to land, and if any one of you embarrass me, so help me, I will hurt you."
The comm snapped off before anyone else could come up with a genius retort.
Hot Rod swung out from behind Springer and pointed at the Stunticons. "I bet he was talking to you."
That was, of course, the only catalyst anyone needed to start a ruckus.
By the time the Birds of Paradise's landing struts touched down, there was very little to be heard over the shrieks and shouting that rang off the walls. Nevermind the groaning struts that had not touched solid ground in far too long, or the bulkheads that shifted ominously as they became reacquainted with planetary gravity; the rocking of the ship as it positioned itself only seemed to aggravate the roiling mass of bots whose collective maturity had apparently regressed several eons.
Starscream entered the hangar alongside his trine, his two advisory companions Acid Storm and Sunstorm, followed closely by Jetfire and Ultra Magnus. The cameras had not done the scene justice.
"Oh my Primus," Sunstorm breathed, more exasperated than shocked.
"Oh, yeah, because Primus has anything to do with this," Acid Storm snorted.
Starscream felt heat crawl up the back of his neck, one part frustration and one part embarrassment. He sent a furtive glance toward Ultra Magnus, wary of what the Autobot might think of the devolvement. Luckily, he appeared as chagrined as Starscream over the absolute lack of discipline their people possessed.
Amidst the studied absence of order, the loudest members of the Stunticons were shouting abuse at the loudest members of the Wreckers. Neo-Decepticons and Autobots were alternately holding them back and egging them on. Warnings not to fight were screamed on top of urgings to start a faction rumble.
The Seekers in the crowd, those who easily stood the tallest, were on top of the rowdiest of the crowd, their loyalties clearly in Starscream's favour, doing their best to inspire calm through violence. Smaller Autobots, those who remembered what 'respectability' meant and recalled that they were about to meet the Prime after eons of separation, grabbed members of their faction and shook them until sense rattled back into empty craniums.
Aside from alternately restraining and urging the Stunticons and Wreckers to be at each other's throats, the others left them to their own devices – as much entertainment for the rest of them as they were a release for all the built-up tension.
Not far from the epicentre was Hot Rod on the ground, being sat upon by Kup, who was unsuccessfully trying to bridle the bratling's mouthplates. Between the old bot's muffling fingers, Hot Rod shouted incendiary challenges. His brightly painted arms flailed wildly, gesturing rudely to anyone who would look at him.
After taking a moment to stare at the ignorant bratling, Starscream then turned to Jetfire. "For the life of me, I cannot see why you defected from my side to yours. Certainly not for the intelligence."
Jetfire inclined his head, humour overtaking his brief dismay. "My friend, I would not want to quibble about the intelligence at this moment. There does not seem enough in the room to claim much for either faction."
Starscream surprised himself with a laugh, but then blinked when the air shifted at his side and he suddenly realized there was a short Stunticon standing at his shoulder. He suppressed the shudder that rose up immediately. Dead End blinked up at him, his stare as intense as it always was when he gazed upon the undying leader of the Neo-Decepticons.
"It's not their fault," Dead End said vaguely, barely able to be heard above the noise. "It's been a while since any of us have been so near Him. Some bots are more susceptible to the touch than others."
He wandered away directly after, wading through the madness as if in a storm that did not touch him. The seas of mauling frames parted for him unconsciously, never looking his way and yet severing away so as never to touch him. A wave of shouting, punching, kicking bots swelled and crashed, causing the dark little omen to disappear into the chaos.
Skywarp audibly shuddered, rubbing his hands to his arms as if cold. He kicked Starscream in the shin. "He's your pet. What did he mean?"
"He's not my pet, and I don't know," Starscream replied, shoving his trine mate away before he could be kicked again. "Sunstorm, do you have an idea? You are the scholar in matters of... unusual circumstances."
It was then that they noticed how shaken Sunstorm suddenly appeared, his blue optics paled to nearly ice white. "Oh," breathed the golden Seeker, more to himself than anyone. "I hadn't thought of that..." Without conscious direction, his hands delved into his subspace pocket and withdrew a small, beaten rectangle of metal, its markings worn away from vorns of attention.
Acid Storm noted the appearance of the charm, aware of its meaning. Its appearance did not bode well.
Starscream drew a step out of the hangar, more concerned with his fellow Seeker than with the unruliness of everyone else. "Sunstorm, what is it?"
"I never imagined... Primus, you can actually feel it if you try looking for it..." Sunstorm's thumb turned absent circles on the old charm. As if reciting an old verse from memory, he murmured, "We fly in the shadow of the Unmaker, and in His shadow dwells the Bringer of Chaos."
"Bringer of Chaos?" Skywarp wondered.
"The Fallen," Ultra Magnus intoned gravely. "Is this a trap? Has he possessed one of us and caused this to happen?"
"No, no, not a trap. Not a purposeful one, anyways." Sunstorm sighed, giving himself a good shake. "We have been away from the font of poison for a long time, so perhaps the effect is stronger for our absence, but this-," he gestured to the continuing brawl, "is what the effect of the Fallen has on us just being near. I've read old accounts claiming The Fallen spreads madness wherever he goes. I always assumed that meant he simply drove Cybertronians mad by personal contact, but what if he radiates chaos, able to infect by mere proximity..."
"I am inclined to believe the theory, since the evidence is fairly screaming it," Jetfire said.
"There is merit to it," Acid Storm agreed carefully. "A personally generated psychometric field would be enough to induce such behaviours. Although, I would caution against immediately assuming supernatural origin, despite whatever Dead End says. We stuck a bunch of high-strung warriors from two warring factions in an enclosed space and expected them to get along. I say our expectations were too high."
Starscream's faceplate hardened. "We're not about to be defeated when we haven't even set foot on proper soil, not by supernatural means and I refuse to be brought down by our own foolishness." He turned to Thundercracker. "How rusty do you think your psychometric field generator is?"
Catching on to his meaning quickly, Thundercracker gave a curt shrug. "Bit rusty. There's a lot of them out there, but they're distracted, so they won't be able to guard against it." He paused, a bit sheepish. "I'll have to sit down afterwards."
"Whatever you need, just do it." To the rest, Starscream ushered them back into the hall. "This will be over soon enough." The door closed behind them just as Thundercracker was transforming into his alt mode, the melody of it lost beneath the tide.
Ultra Magnus regarded Starscream grimly, recalling one of Thundercracker's more devastating abilities. Though he was a brutal fighter in hand-to-hand combat, it was his psychological attacks that had made him a terrifying force; equipped with a psychometric field generator, Thundercracker was capable of inducing debilitating fear in anyone unlucky enough to get caught in the field.
"Using fear to rule, Starscream? That sounds an awful lot like your predecessor," said the Autobot commander.
"Megatron's mistake was in its application. Too much, and you're a tyrant. Too little, and you are Optimus Prime."
Only the Seekers snickered at that one.
Through the reinforced door, there came the thunderous boom of Thundercracker's namesake – enough to startle combatants apart and make them vulnerable to the next stage of attack. The metal protected those in the hall from the brunt of the psychometric field, though not all of its affects. Their minds raced, seemingly for no reason, and their sparks picked up at an odd tempo. Nothing compared to the unfortunate creatures in the line of direct fire.
A moment later, the frisson in the air dissipated. There came the melodious sound of Cybertronian transformation. The door hissed open, and Thundercracker stood there with his hand braced on the wall. He weaved slightly on his feet, clearly woozy.
"There," he said hoarsely, motioning to the now quiet hangar. "Got everyone's attention."
Skywarp rushed forward to catch his brother before he fell flat on his faceplate.
Starscream clapped Thundercracker on the shoulder gratefully. "I can always count on you for a job well done."
Perhaps too well done, as it now appeared that every Cybertronian present was thoroughly and unspeakably traumatized. Mouthplates agog, optics staring blanking, the scene was nothing but a jumble of frames belonging to a collection of disturbingly comatose creatures.
But, at least they weren't fighting.
"Optimus is wondering what the hold up is," Ultra Magnus intoned, hand to the side of his head. "I imagine that they are wary of an attack."
"Assure them that we are only getting ourselves together," Starscream replied, crouching down to take select bots by the scruff and shake them until their faculties returned.
Unsurprisingly, Hot Rod was the first to shake off the trauma. He sat up and looked around, optics goggling at the seeming devastation. "Whoa," he breathed. "What happened? Did anyone else hear a really loud boom? Like, it was right in the room. Was I the only one who heard it?" He steadied his head with his hands. "I don't think I remember anything after that. Are we still on Earth?"
"Would you mute it!?" snapped Wildrider, seeming to snap from his vegetative state simply to yell at the other bot.
Soon after, all of the downed warriors were able to gather their wits and make themselves presentable. At long last, the hangar doors were opened and their ramp lowered. Earth's atmosphere rushed in with a vengeance, washing over them refreshingly. Sunlight poured in, shockingly bright and rich compared to the stark utilitarian whiteness of artificial lighting; warmth came with it, and the exotic scents of an organic planet.
From outside, a gravelled voice boomed, "Quit preening! We don't got all orn!"
Hot Rod aimed a triumphant grin in Wildrider's direction. "Ha! Looks like Prime brought Ironhide!"
Starscream crossed his optics. "It was too much to ask for a dignified entrance, wasn't it?"
"You are with the wrong group of bots if you wanted that," Ultra Magnus said, gesturing to the open hatch. "Come, they're waiting for us."
Upon reaching the verge, Starscream blinked at the bright glare of the open sky until his optics adjusted. A moving shadow at his shoulder informed him that Dead End was waiting at the verge, squinting into the bright morning light with a look of distaste wrinkling his faceplate. Without a word, he backed off. Creature of darkness that he was, he would wait for his time to come out.
"Hey! Hey! Wait for me!" Hot Rod crowed, jogging up to be a part of the small group, despite being completely uninvited. Starscream followed Ultra Magnus's example of bracing himself for the upstart's company but otherwise ignoring him. Acid Storm brushed against his commander's side, leaning up with an arch look.
"There's plenty of room on this planet for accidents to happen," he muttered. "Poisoned energon, for one."
"No accidents, orchestrated or otherwise," Starscream hissed back, keeping his gaze dead ahead on the waiting Autobots on the ground. He jolted forward when Hot Rod tripped and hit him in the back.
"Sorry! Sorry!" the Autobot said cheerfully, failing to recommend any of the proper respect he should have shown to a superior mech. Indeed, ever since Starscream had vouched to keep him on the ship rather than cart him straight back to Beta Zen, Hot Rod had gotten it into his head that the Seeker must have liked him in some fashion.
Growling, Starscream straightened his stance and walked faster to be out of reach of the menace. "Acid Storm."
"Keep your poisons on hand."
"Of course." Acid Storm smirked, backing off to be a part of the flanking Seekers who followed their commander down the ramp. He, Sunstorm, Thundercracker, and Skywarp were as impressive as always. The Autobots, appearing lacking with only Ultra Magus and Jetfire coming out, hardly compared.
Optimus Prime awaited them directly. A small party of Autobots had accompanied him, all of them distinguished in the Autobot army. Ironhide looked the same as ever, a titanic mech wider than he was tall; his arms were transformed into the threatening forms of his canons, the barrels already glowing with plasma. The expression on the old bot's face rivalled that of black storm clouds. Not far from him was his sparkmate, the disturbingly vicious Chromia. She clearly stood guard over Elita One, angled so that her shoulder stuck over in front of the smaller femme and that most of her armoured frame covered the Prime's sparkmate. Her flame blue optics promised hurt to anyone who dared step out of line with the Prime's sparkmate.
Starscream's gaze flickered over the rose-plated creature, that elusive and enigmatic Elita One, catching her optic and keeping it for longer than necessary. Her gaze was familiar, in that it was as shrewd as he recalled it to be in the past. She inclined her head, and he did so in return.
"Took ya long enough. Trouble in Paradise, Screamer?" teased an accented voice, prompting the Seekers to search for the source.
Starscream found the speaker lurking at the side of the ramp, propped near the bottom. Silver armour glinted in the play of light and shadow, the form familiar despite its adjustments to accommodate Earth. The flared horns were ever the same, as was the crystal visor – though it was dark and foreboding rather than the usual bright, rich blue that Starscream remembered. That smirking expression was one that few could ever forget. Once a Decepticon, Jazz had been the bane of Starscream's existence for all the power the saboteur had commanded seemingly effortlessly; conversely, the moment he had defected into the Autobot ranks, Starscream had liked him much more, because his departure had left a power vacuum he had been happy to fill.
Looking at him now, all Starscream could see was the two dead halves of the silver minibot flung far apart by Megatron's hand. A supposed-to-be-dead mech, much like himself.
"Nothing we couldn't handle," Starscream replied a tad too late to be completely suave, subtly scuffing dirt at the saboteur as he passed.
"Let's best discuss those matters when we are all settled," Ultra Magnus suggested magnanimously, opening his arms wide to his old friend awaiting him.
Optimus was equally eager and informal, mirroring Ultra Magnus's gesture. They wrapped their arms around each other in a tight embrace. They laughed warmly, whaling welcoming slaps upon each other's backs.
"It has been too long, Optimus," Ultra Magnus said, backing away so that it was only the Prime's forearm that he grasped.
"That is entirely my fault, I suspect," Optimus replied. "I have been away for too long, and this planet inadvertently became my home."
"I can see the appeal, I think," Ultra Magnus replied, casting a curious glance around. Their surroundings were not lush and green, nor were they dry and brown. It was a moderate mix of both, where the fields of an alpaca and llama farmer met with the government owned swaths of desert. The sky was blue, and the horizon hinted at craggy shapes in the distance. Not the most attractive introduction to the planet, though not the worst. It was quiet, though, and the novelty of being on an organic planet where everything was so small was intriguing.
Jetfire was looking to the sky with an eager optic, as were the other Seekers standing in formation with him.
"The skies look nice," he commented.
"Really nice," Skywarp added longingly.
Optimus cast them a warm smile. To his credit, it did not look forced. "You are welcome to go for a flight after this meeting of ours is done and the most pertinent matters settled."
The Seekers could not disguise their eagerness for a chance to stretch their wings.
All became aware of a low, animal grunting noise coming from somewhere of the vicinity of their feet. Looking down around their ankles, a human in a dark suit was standing there, one hand on his hip and the other making pointed gestures to the pushing match happening at the top of the ship's ramp, bots squabbling to be the first to get out. The more that bots pushed and shoved, the more the short human grunted and squawked.
Optimus expertly switched to English for the human. "Everything is alright, Agent Simmons."
"There's got to be several dozen of them in there!" Agent Simmons griped, his cheeks flushed beneath their tan. "Probably all armed to the hilt, with bad attitudes to match! I should have upped security in the area." He whipped out a walkie talkie attached at his belt and began muttering orders into it. Once done, he aimed a beady-eyed glare up at Starscream, who in return felt the urge to step on the tiny man. "I got my eye on you, NBE."
"I can use acronyms too," Starscream sneered. "SOB."
Hot Rod perked up, his optics flashing in delight. "Whoa! The World Wide Web is full uv stuff!" His exclamation was in imperfect English, marked with a distinct lower-class accent. "Humans sure like videos of domesticay-ed feline compan-yans!"
One dark brow winged up sharply on Simmons' face. "Great, so he's British white trash?" To himself, he muttered, "I can't decide if that's better or worse than the Pontiac that thinks it's a black guy."
"There is also a lot of... copulating on the World Wide Web," Thundercracker intoned in disgust, likewise in English, though of a more centralized American accent. His voice was deep and booming like a roll of thunder.
"Ya learn ta filter that out," Jazz snorted, pushing away from the ramp. "And Ah heard that crack on mah accent, Simmons."
"And what are you going to do about it?" Simmons snorted, his expression so pinched that he appeared constipated. "Look, for your sanity and mine, all of you can stay the hell off the internet. None of that shit is for you. There is sensitive information on there, and I don't trust a single one of you to stay out of it. For that matter, I don't like a single one of you."
Thundercracker crouched, his massive frame looming threateningly over the human. "You are annoying."
Agent Simmons jerked his chin up, not an ounce of fear showing. "You are a guest on this planet." His beady stare narrowed to dark slits. "I let you land only because Elita One vouched for your leader, who, by the way, looks like a kindergartener fingerpainted all over him."
Starscream immediately bristled, gridding himself against saying some very choice words to the meat monkey.
Hot Rod did not possess the tact to keep his mouthplates shut. He immediately consulted the reference, pointing and laughing. "It's true, bruv! Yuh look like you were fingah-pain-id!"
Elita One hid her laughter. No one else did.
Optimus quickly cut in before someone forgot themselves and squished Agent Simmons. As much as any Cybertronian daydreamed about doing it, the reality would have caused too many problems. Least of which, Elita One would have been upset to lose her friend. Optimus motioned to Starscream, politely – if awkwardly – inviting him into his close circle for a brief welcoming exchange. The importance of their presence on Earth prompted Starscream to drop his ire in order to deal with the Prime. The formality of the matter had Starscream's trine closing in, not wanting to embarrass their brother with their poor manners.
Simmons huffed, straightened his jacket jerkily, and marched off.
More Autobots and Neo-Decepticons came down the ramp, spreading out steadily in all directions. The majority were wary, but some were trusting enough to simply be curious of their new surroundings. They humoured Simmons as he came around reading them the riot act, warning each and every single one of them that he was the law and if he heard of any one of bothering the locals, he would evict them from the planet. It was a cute sentiment coming from a creature no taller than some of their ankles.
After Simmons would pass on to the next unlucky collection of Cybertronians, those who had already suffered his company sat down – in either their bipedal or alt mode – and basked in the bright, hot morning sun that beamed down cheerily from above. It had been so long since many of them had been on an actual planet, even one that was thusly under seige as Earth allegedly was, that they could not help feel relief to have solid ground beneath their feet. Genuine sunlight felt good on their armour, and the receptors on their outer armour still receptive to solar radiation for energy activated eagerly to absorb the free energy in abundance.
Simmons was less than impressed with the Cybertronians, discovering that not only ex-Decepticons had landed on his precious planet, but they were lazy ex-Decepticons.
Kup came to the top of the ramp and grinned the moment he spied old friends. "Ironhide, Chromia, ya old gun turrets!" He came stomping down, with bots giving him a wide berth. He was short for a mech, easily dwarfed by Ironhide as the weapons specialist engulfed him in a brutal hug. Chromia dragged Elita One along behind her so that she could greet Kup in good conscience.
"How have you been?" Chromia asked of the old mech.
"Braving the wilds," Kup replied wryly, tilting his head toward the Seekers. "Strangest experience of my life, I gotta tell ya. Scarier still than the time I was taken hostage in Polyhex by a clip of young upstart 'Cons..." He trailed off briefly, shaking himself of a story that threatened to spill out. He grinned wide. "Half the time, I was expectin' ta wake up and have one of their null rays in my faceplate. Turns out, Seekers ain't half bad when they're tryin' ta impress."
Ironhide eyed the Seekers from underneath the heavy overhang of his optic ridges. "I don't trust them. Not a single one."
"You and me both, big guy," Simmons muttered as he marched by.
Elita One aimed a blithe smile down to her human friend, nudging him along with her foot. "That is enough out of you, Reginald. Don't play to Ironhide's prejudices – you'll only encourage him." To Ironhide, her smile turned playfully chastising. "And Ironhide, when will you learn to trust me? I vouch for Starscream fully, and by extension I vouch for his Neo-Decepticons."
One of her tiny hands was engulfed in the weapons specialist's massive paw. Ironhide's expression was a rare unguarded look of affection. "Dearspark, I love you dearly, and I would lay down my life for you, but you have always been a tricky femme with a devious mind. Only a fool would trust you when you are plotting something."
"Flatterer," Elita One laughed.
"Kup!" Hot Rod exclaimed, rushing over. "Kup, look mate, it's an organic laff form! An' it fliez, ool on its own, wivout en-jins!" He stuck out his hand, whereupon a single outstretched finger was a tiny butterfly delicately flexing its wings. "Ah know yuh told me dere were planits wiv laff forms like vis, buh look how smawl i' is! It's so deli-cut, Ah miyt kill i' if Ah move too fahst."
"Oh, don't hurt it," Elita One cooed, her long, thin fingers presented to the butterfly to tempt it to perch on her. It came readily, and she cradled it fondly.
"Wot a pri'ee lih-ul fing i' is," Hot Rod said, but the way his gaze travelled down Elita One's frame, it was not clear exactly which life form he was referring to.
Kup reached out and put a stop to that right quick with a waspish slap to the back of his ward's head.
"Wot was 'at for?!" Hot Rod exclaimed, clutching his offended cranium.
"That accent makes me want to hit you. Change it."
Immediately afterward, Hot Rod assumed a general North American English accent, of a central middle-class and unassuming lilt – one that wouldn't have him assaulted if he used it.
Starscream surveyed the scene with a keen optic, glad to see that the earlier chaos aboard his ship did not carry over. He saw the Stunticons disembarking, minus one of their lot, and even they looked to be on their best behaviour. There were no words to describe the amount of relief Starscream felt that he was not going to be immediately humiliated in front of the bots he meant to make a truce with.
A light rev from Optimus had Starscream quickly looking back around.
"Nothing amiss?" the Prime enquired in Cybertronian, seeing as Simmons was far enough away that it wouldn't be considered impolite to speak over his head in another language.
"No, no, not at all," Starscream rushed to assure, trying not to sound... quite as weaselling as he used to. "There was a bit of a scuffle when we landed, but nothing more than the bots letting off a bit of steam."
"If it is any consolation, Hot Rod started it," Ultra Magnus intoned humouredly.
Optimus arched an optic ridge.
Ultra Magnus smiled warmly. "I don't think you have ever had the pleasure of being formally introduced. Hot Rod is... well, you really have to meet him to believe he's real. In all honestly, it seems as if the war went in one audio and out the other, for as much as he has been affected. He has his charms, but he will test even your patience, Prime."
"He sounds like an interesting bot," Optimus chuckled.
"Only if 'interesting' is a euphuism for 'youthful little bratling who still does not know his place,'" Starscream snorted.
"Hey! Hey! Did I hear my name?" Hot Rod exclaimed, bounding over. "I came up with my English designation! Ironhide suggested I look through the World Wide Web and select a designation which best suited my personality and personal abilities." He drew in a drag of air, puffing up proudly. "Hot Rod. I think I'll call myself Hot Rod! That's a good one, isn't it? Flashy but classic, powerful, striking, but a little bit sassy. It's perfect for me!"
Optimus immediately turned to Ultra Magnus. "I see what you mean by 'interesting.'"
Hot Rod's bright gaze alighted on Optimus, considerably growing wider and brighter. "You're Optimus Prime!"
"Last time I checked, yes," Optimus replied amusedly, not remembering the last time someone greeted him with such excitement. Most bots were too jaded by now.
"It's – oh wow, it's a real honour! I've always wanted to meet you. I... I've heard so much about you! I mean – you're the Prime! The Prime!" He rushed forward, hand extended, but at the last minute appeared to decide that that was a total faux pas. He halted, stared at his hand in horror, and then swung his whole upper body down in a deep bow that was more panicked than respectful. He jerked up, suddenly at a loss as to what to do. "I – um – er..."
"Finally, he is at a loss for words," Starscream sighed airily.
Optimus inclined his head to the stammering Autobot, charmed by his quirks. "Hot Rod, is it?"
Otimpus's smile widened. "I can say it is absolutely my pleasure to meet you. I look forward to working with you here on Earth." He extended his hand, needing to take up Hot Rod's limp hand when it remained stunned at his side. He gave it a single brief squeeze, then released it.
Hot Rod would never wash that hand again.
"You've done it now, Prime," Kup laughed gruffly, clapping his charge on the shoulder. "He's completely starstruck."
Hot Rod looked to his mentor dazedly. "He touched my hand, Kup. My hand..."
Jazz, nearly forgotten in the shadows, jerked up as he received a transmission. His impassive mask faltered for all but a moment, showing a brief hint of concern. A frown flashed before it was gone a second later. It was all too quick for anyone to catch, so his following mask careful disinterest was believed by all... with the exception of Elita One, who shot him a measuring frown, though, in his blindness, Jazz failed to see it.
"Something came up on base," the saboteur announced glibly.
"Oh?" Optimus intoned.
Jazz offered a handsome grin. "It's nothing, Prime. Ya know the usual stuff – Wheeljack blew something up, the Twins got in a scrap, some human poked his nose where it doesn't belong. Prowl's just asking that Ah get back ta help him sort it out. He doesn't want things ta be in 'utter chaos' – his words, not mine - when everyone else gets there."
Ultra Magnus's mouthplates twitched. "Some things truly do not change."
"No, they don't," Optimus chuckled.
Jazz dismissed the comments with a flick of his hand. He needed to get back as soon as possible. Prowl's transmission had been anything but calm, and 'utter chaos' had been the key word for something much worse. "Everything looks like it's all under control here, so Ah think Ah'm gonna swing back and check things out."
Elita One stepped out from the shadow of much taller bots, an affable smile pasted on her faceplate. "Why don't you take Hot Rod with you? He looks eager to see our home, and he can keep you company on the drive."
Jazz very nearly lost his perfected mask. It took a moment, but the woodenness of his expression smoothed over into one of more natural teasing as he turned to the youngest bot in their midst – the one he had been itching to do something nasty to. "How about it, Hot Rod? Wanna go for a drive?"
Jazz's own personal fame, and perhaps his infamy, made sure Hot Rod was sufficiently starstruck.
"Yeah," the youngster breathed. "I'll go with you." He folded down into his alt mode, revving dimly as he waited for Jazz to show him the way.
Jazz kept his fake smile until the moment he transformed, collapsing into his sleek chosen alt mode. At least in that form, he could be as pissed as he wanted to be and did not need to worry about fixing his expression. With a brief flash of his lights, he turned and made his way to the pothole-strewn dirt road that winded its way through the llama farm that would lead him to the highway. Hot Rod gave a jaunty whistle as he crawled along behind, his Cybertronian alt mode looking strange and obscene against the natural greens and browns of Earth.
Elita One watched them go until they were out of sight. She hoped Hot Rod would make it to base in one piece, and that Jazz did not decide to leave him in a ditch somewhere.
And while Elita One watched them, Starscream watched her. Her smile wavered for a moment, the look in her eyes turning to a distant point beyond the horizon, as if she were seeing something that no one else could see. But then she tipped her head, raising one delicately sculpted audio dial into the air, making Starscream reconsider his previous thought; she looked like she could hear something no one else could hear. A strange thought indeed, though hardly surprising after everything else Starscream had seen in such a short time since he had last been to this planet.
Optimus likewise noted Elita One's distant expression. He laid a gentle hand to the side of her arm. "Dearspark...?"
She blinked, immediately retuning her attention to the small group. Her smile was a touch too wide to be completely believable. "Well," she said, clapping her hands together, "I think we should get the preliminaries out of the way, don't you think?"
"Yes, of course," Ultra Magnus readily agreed, then deferred to Optimus. "Is there a place set up for us?"
"No, no, this is completely informal at the moment," Optimus said, a tad sheepishly. "There is a bit of an issue on this planet of finding appropriately sized spaces for us. Standing outdoors is really our only option until we get back to base, where we can move below ground."
"We can take a short walk away from this place," Kup suggested, shaking out his stiff legs. "Joints are feeling the strain of natural gravity again. Need a bit of a walk to shake them out." He decided their direction by stumping off, kicking his legs out every couple of steps to give them a surreptitious jolt.
Starscream eyed the old bot's back with a mild frown, but then sighed and followed after everyone else. His Seekers followed along behind, silently keeping a vigilant optic open for any sign of danger.
Elita One, her legs the shortest of the group, gracefully glided alongside Chromia, leaning up to murmur in the other femme's audio. Chromia paused, nodded, and then dug something out from subspace to hand over without a second thought. Elita One accepted the object, tucking into her own personal subspace pocket without Starscream catching sight of what it was.
From behind him, Starscream could hear Skywarp absently saying, "I think I'm going to like it here. The skies are so open – it's nothing like Chaar."
"Don't get used to it," Acid Storm warned. "Who knows how long we're going to stay?" In a lower voice, he murmured, "Or if the planet is even going to be here for long..."
That was a sobering thought, one that reminded Starscream of his mission. The reason that brought him back to Earth in the first place.
As if reading his thoughts, Kup suddenly intoned, "This is an awfully quiet planet for a place supposedly under seige."
Truthfully, their current surroundings were the epitome of a peaceful oasis, though perhaps maybe not the most attractive scenery to their inorganic tastes. The day was bright and quiet. The only sounds to be heard were of the wind over the grass and dirt, the low drone of insects, and the skittering of animals startled away by the several tons of giant alien robots passing by. One would never know that Unicron loomed large and dangerous somewhere close by, and The Fallen somewhere supposedly even closer.
"You haven't been here long enough," Chromia replied with a snort. "Give it time."
"This looks like a good enough place to stop," Optimus said, looking back at the looming ship they had left behind. The Birds of Paradise was so huge that it still took up a considerable amount of air space, despite their little group having moved off a decent way. It was a warship of impressive dimensions. The bots who continued to sun themselves in the dirt were little more than dark smudges.
Agent Simmons was thankfully out of sight.
"Where do we start?" Ultra Magnus wondered.
Starscream placed his hands to his hips, optic ridges raising toward the Prime. "You show us yours and we'll show you ours?"
"Fair enough," said the Prime, honouring the proposition by immediately divulging the bare facts of a series of events almost too fantastical to believe. Starting with the events of Mission City eight years prior, to the dumping of the tyrant's corpse in the ocean and his subsequent resurrection a year later. The more terrifying revelation that Megatron was not simply Megatron, but something much, much worse. The Fallen's looming presence above Earth, unseen but certainly felt; the monster's near-constant harassment of every living being. And now, Nemesis and their recent revelations concerning Bumblebee.
"Unicron has not been seen for several years?" Sunstorm wondered carefully.
Acid Storm shot his partner an acidic look. "Don't you dare make a prophetic remark about that."
"He has not seen directly on this planet, though his presence has been felt," Optimus said above Acid Storm's remark. "We believe he is responsible for the disappearance of a planetoid called Pluto in this solar system. It disappeared several months ago."
"He Who Devours Worlds. Worlds are what he takes sustenance from, especially worlds that support life," the Seeker murmured soberly. "I am surprised he has not attempted to devour this world yet."
"He tried once. The damages still remain, as you will shortly see when we drive back to base," Elita One intoned. "Sam... the Allspark... prevented Unicron from devouring much. For the time that Unicron and the Fallen have been here, they have been stealing energy from all possible sources. We believe that they have been trying to revive the Unmaker to full capacity, though without the pure power of the Allspark, their efforts have been slow and costly."
"And now you have these new contenders in Nemesis and... Bumblebee," Ultra Magnus said, stumbling on the last designation. "You say that it appears that Nemesis has broken away from working with the Fallen? That he and Bumblebee are working from their own angle?"
"Yes," Optimus confirmed.
"We have never known much about Bumblebee's origins," Jetfire said, not knowing that he had been involved in Bumblebee's creation. He had been selected by Prime to go with him on the possibly foolhardy mission, but for Bumblebee's protection, Optimus had asked that all those who had been involved in the experiment delete their memories of it.
"I knew Bumblebee," Kup said gruffly. "He was a good bot. A good warrior. I don't see him as some monster from another universe, or whatever it is he's supposed to be now."
Jetfire shifted his weight, looking as if he were sorting through catalogues of our information in his head. During the Golden Age, he had been a specialist of sparks. He had studied the nature of the source of life for all Cybertronians, and had even studied the unique case of the Twins when they had been young. Precisely the reason Optimus had chosen him to assist with Bumblebee's creation.
"It is... possible," said the jet. "It is widely accepted that there are alternate universes that exist alongside ours. A part of my studies was looking into the formation of sparks, where the energy comes from and how it forms into the lives that we know. Some of the hypotheses included that sparks were drawn from other universes through the Allspark, and the Matrix simply transmogrified them into a form useable to us. Considering Bumblebee's origin, the corruption in the process could easily have created a perversion of the source energy. Instead of pulling from whatever well of energy-"
"Well of Sparks," Sunstorm corrected.
"Well of Sparks," Jetfire amended. "Instead of pulling from that, the attempt was redirected to somewhere else, somewhere where whatever Bumblebee is had been waiting for some opportunity to be pulled through. If we come from a place known as the 'Well of Allsparks', then Bumblebee could very well be from the place we collectively refer to as the 'Pit.'"
"And if he's supposed to be some kind of pit-hound, what was he doing being himself all this time?" Kup challenged.
"I didn't say he was a pit-hound. I am not even saying he's from the Pit, or even if the Pit exists-"
"It does," Sunstorm intoned.
Acid Storm stomped on his foot.
"But," Jetfire emphasized, "when we are dealing with the possibility of alternate universes on top of the possibility of world-devouring gods, I think it best to keep our options open. It looks like the field is open for anything that is possible." He shot a quick glance at Starscream. "And perhaps for a few things that are impossible."
"This just gets better and better," Starscream snorted.
Ironhide rumbled deeply, crossing his arms over his very broad chest. "Like you are much of an improvement to the situation."
"As a matter of fact, I am," Starscream countered, bringing himself up to his full height so that he towered over the Autobot. "With me and my bots on this planet, your chances of getting through this mess alive have just risen from zero."
Deep blue optics narrowed into slits. "And what have you got that we don't?"
"Something a lot better than a pair of cannons and no clue how to deal with a god."
Elita cleared her vents, stepping between them with a soft hand to each of their chests, gently pressing them apart. Her smile was reassuring as she turned to Ironhide. "Starscream has brought something that none of us have. A few things, I think, but one of particular use to us."
She dropped her hands from their chests, going into subspace to withdraw a small hilt. It was black, compact, made for the hands of a femme. She activated it without hesitation, extending the energon blade confidently. Then she turned to Starscream, her optics searching his. Hidden in the crystalline blue depths, there was a haunting uncertainty, an unwillingness to move forward even as she shifted her feet for a better stance.
"Isn't that right, Starscream?"
"Yes, that's right." Starscream braced himself for what he knew was coming. It was going to hurt, but it was the best proof he had and he was willing to accept it if Elita One was the one serving the blow. She was his sponsor, after all, the one who had invited him to the planet. How she knew of his condition was a matter he planned to bring up with her the moment he managed to get her alone. "Go ahead."
Her nod was barely disenable.
The blade sang for a moment, followed by the dull thud of the blade pressing through a slate in his armour and Elita One's fist around the hilt of the dagger banging into his front. She was short, looking so delicate and small as she stood in his shadow with an energon blade plunged into the core of his sparkcase. Starscream could feel the fire that raced through his frame, the sudden burning and horror and disgust to see his own death laid out before him and knowing it wasn't going to end like this.
His Seekers stirred behind him, shocked by the sudden action. Starscream's own lack of reaction helped to stay them from any retaliation.
Ultra Magnus and Jetfire gasped, rearing away. They were aware of Starscream's unusual quirk, but it was still shocking to see it in action.
But the reactions that Starscream focused on were the Autobots who happened to know nothing about him. Their gasps, surprised exclamations. Optimus reached for his mate, trying to draw her back. Starscream felt the sudden jerk on the blade in his chest, grunting with discomfort.
"All right, Elita, I think they get the point." As calmly as he could, Starscream reached up and wrapped his hand around the slightly trembling appendage wrapped loosely around the hilt. He tightened his grip, dislodging the killing blow. Its exit was thankfully smooth, sliding out of his frame with a new swath of fire raging up his neural circuits. He felt air rush into the hole, unexpectedly cool against his innards. His spark churned in discomfort, though pulsing as steadily as ever.
Once free of Starscream's touch, Elita One dropped the blade and tucked her hand to her chest.
"So, you see, I bring something to this battle that no one else possesses," said the Seeker, wiping his hand down his front as energon began to ooze forth. "What better way to fight a god that brings death than with a bot who cannot die?"