Time-wise, this is a bit odd. It begins during the course of ROTF and thus contains spoilerage, but the Sam/Optimus dialogue skips about a bit.
This is a bit different for me, eh! I'll admit this angsty business is a first, and I apologise for not having some lulz for you. Hopefully I will do soon, but this is my offering for now! The muse takes you where it takes you, and I've sat on this for quite a while now. I think it will remain a one-shot, but I do have one or two ideas that could be stoked up.
So treat me as a noob; please tell me how I do- and merry Christmas! C;
Optimus feels Megatron return to life.
Deep in his spark the void is perfectly filled so abruptly that he gasps, optics widening, unsure of what is happening- and everything that is Megatron returns to him, blazing and raging and consuming and so horridly (beautifully) familiar that he nearly chokes (on what? He does not breathe). It takes him a moment to gather his whirling processor, his rejoicing spark- for now it is alive again- and he thinks, thinks. There is no doubt that his brother is returned; no imagining is potent or vivid enough to scorch him like this.
One does not come back from the dead without a miracle.
The Allspark, then. It has been misused.
And Optimus bows his helm, overwhelmed by his own torrents of grief and shame, for again he is to blame. The Autobots should have kept the shard, regardless of diplomatic transactions of (misplaced) faith.
Logic. It is too late now for regret. Logic is required now.
Either he is completely mad or Megatron has been restored by the stolen Allspark shard. He will assume the latter for now because Ratchet is giving him a concernedly filthy look, and he isn't particularly enthused about the idea of having his processor checked over.
He looks to the sky, facemask drawing over his features with deliberate nonchalance. (He must think, and he cannot think with disturbance.)
If Megatron is alive then this means that the war will return full force.
If Megatron is alive then that means Optimus will see him again.
Optimus knows it is foolish and hopeless (a youngling's dream), but he cannot let Megatron go. For all that he has done, for all that he has yet to do, Optimus loves Megatron. This is why he resents his position as leader, the assumption that he is to defeat his polar. The yin cannot survive without the yang. The half cannot survive without that which makes it whole.
Optimus had tried to hate him; it would have been easier then. Megatron had simply laughed and ordered him to cease such pretence of strength if he could do no better.
Megatron considered hate a strength. Hate sustained you most certainly, perhaps gave the impression of a greater power but it did not let you live. It consumed you; a parasite; slowly poisoned your mind until it blazed up within your core and destroyed you, be it with or without one's knowledge and wholly out of one's control.
Did Megatron hate him-? (Did he want to know?)
This war has raged for so so long that Optimus fears the end of it will never come now. He is tired, so tired of battle.
This is not to say that he will not fight, but he cannot see an end.
Take off the snake's head, Sam had suggested once. (It was more akin to a hydra.)
And that guilty conflict returns, the once which Optimus cannot win. He has tried to deny the fact that if Megatron dies then the Decepticons will falter because surely another will simply succeed him (Starscream, Soundwave, Shockwave- did it ever end?).
He cannot deny that it will be a fantastic blow to the Decepticons and a mighty 'success' for the Autobots, for his brother is not just a leader but an icon- a living legend. How, how could it be that they had both battled for so long- lost so many comrades and foes and old friends- and yet neither had been killed when they were such high-priority targets?
Perhaps Optimus and Megatron were simply better guarded than other soldiers; this is a perfectly logical explanation for their survival.
True, but frequently both will isolate themselves or be unavoidably alone in battle, and yet neither had died.
Perhaps they were too powerful to be killed by any Cybertronian but the other.
Optimus doubts this very much; he has been wounded near fatally before by near countless Decepticons. 'Countless' perhaps is a slight exaggeration, but the fact remains that he is painfully mortal and is reminded of it often. Megatron is another matter; no sane Autobot would approach him alone unless compelled by desperation or sacrificial courage.
He had always harboured that tiny guilty hope that Megatron could be saved. No matter what the fallen Lord High Protector had done, if Megatron had not killed him, then his brother remained somewhere within that changed body.
So he did not know what to think when Megatron killed him. (That didn't seem like an expressive enough word, somehow. He had been ripped open, his life-force brutally obliterated-)
Admittedly, there hadn't been much time to think- only enough time to realise that everything had been for nothing and that he hadn't done enough and that his brother had- won? Was it a victory?
As he crashes to the floor, his very world smashes into the ground with him and fractures into irreparable shards with thought overwhelming him.
Could it have been that neither had dared to cross the boundary of life and death before or had simply (albeit subconsciously or not) not wanted to?
But oh, Earth had tilted the balance somehow- Samuel Witwicky had tilted the balance somehow. Optimus has turned an innocent child into a killer because he himself did not possess the strength to take that meteoric life, but Sam had not rested on it.
'I just did it,' the boy had said during one of their many deeper conversations. 'Didn't really think about it.'
It is just as well, for he had thought for any length of time then Prime knows that they would not be having a conversation at all. In a way Optimus is grateful that his burden has been taken (no, was. It is very much returned now), but he cannot forgive himself for Sam's involvement. Ridiculously, it would be easy to resent the boy for his apparent lack of respect for the life he had taken. He had tried to explain but words- and words usually came easily for Optimus- failed. 'He was still a being with hopes and fears, Sam.'
'But he wasn't a good guy,' the boy replies with his earnest simplicity. 'It wasn't a good life, Optimus. He was evil.'
It was so simple like that, so easy without any attachments to the devil.
A silent Optimus isn't sure why he feels angry, and he only realises that his fists are clenched when an unsure and tiny (oh so tiny) voice penetrates his building resentment.
'Did- did I do the right thing?'
And just like that, his rage is nothing. It is dispelled, vanishing so quickly that he is left empty, despairing for a moment- almost defeated.
'You did what you thought was right,' Optimus replies softly after a moment. 'And you saved so many lives.'
'But you don't think I was right, do you?' Sam is almost certain of this. 'You think I should have- Allsparked you instead.'
Optimus is silent because there is nothing he can say.
'He is my brother, Sam.'
'He's a jerk,' the boy adds defensively, then- 'and I'd do it again.'
'Sam,' Prime reprimands kindly, unable to repress a slight smile at the human's indignant tone (but they are casually discussing killing. Why smile?).
'It's true!' cries Sam, seeing that his current argument isn't quite persuasive enough. 'You- you are so much more than he is.'
'I am what he is,' Optimus denies gently. 'I share his fate.'
'Well, it's too bad he doesn't share yours. Just look at how different you are!'
This is the problem. Where Optimus sees similarities, others see divergence, even contrast.
'If I were what you say I am, I would have helped him. I would have known he was- changing. I was too late, Sam. I looked too late.'
'Sometimes we're so focused on our enemies, we forget to watch our friends,' Sam replies after a moment.
Optimus remembers being surprised by this wisdom, this unexpected yet too true word-capture, but the boy must have noticed.
'James Bond,' he admits with a half-grin. 'Can't take credit.'
But does this lack of thought and care mean that Sam does not consider Megatron a sentience- and does he believe that he has no emotion? Does he consider the Autobots in this detached way too?
No, he can't. Merely watching the boy with Bumblebee is proof of this: there is a comradeship, an unspoken love between the two that transcends metal and mammal, something eternal and beautiful and precious. This is what the Autobots treasure; this is what they fight for. But they should have a complementary leader who can guide with goodness and strength, one who can blaze a path with the most fiercely defended morals.
Yet Optimus worries. In the midst of all the death, there must be hope; there must always be hope.
They are still there, the Autobots are still fighting for all those who cannot fight, for those treasured simple ideals.
But there is so much loss and strife, and is it worth it? And is it wrong that sometimes Optimus is so consumed by his rage that he loses himself, loses his mercy; his integrity?
For the bitterness and hatred rises, swells within him- and he does not choke, no, that comes afterwards with the realisation of his splintering psyche- and he is ablaze.
(The boy is determined to prove their dissimilarities.)
'Right, fine.' Sam concentrates suddenly, the focus visible through his furrowed brow and vacant intense stare into nothingness. 'Whatsisface.'
Optimus blinks at him.
'Guy who follows Megatron around!' Sam says as if it is obvious.
And it oddly is. 'Starscream?'
'That's the one.' Sam nods triumphantly. 'See, you don't beat up your friends- not that those too looked much like friends- but you don't beat up your underlings or your friends.'
'I don't have underlings,' Prime replies indignantly.
'See!' Sam shouts triumphantly, pumping the air with a fist.
'W-well,' Optimus splutters momentarily (most undignified), '…Starscream and Megatron have a special relationship.'
'I bet they do,' Sam agrees. 'One of them must be mentally retarded and need a carer or something. Hell, maybe they're both retarded.'
'But-' Optimus isn't quite sure why he's defending them and allows a small smile. 'Perhaps you're right.'
'Did you think about how it would have been?' Sam asks suddenly. 'Think if you died and he had lived- how would it have been? I sure as hell wouldn't be here, and I bet no humans would be here except for some kinda fun.'
And suddenly but too late Optimus knows sickeningly without doubt that the boy will suffer for it- this unwittingly brave and selfless child who had been hurled into a war neither of his design nor of his world. Megatron- and all that name means- has been thwarted by this mere mortal, this boy barely old enough to even imagine the horrors that Cybertron and its children have suffered.
It is inconceivable, almost laughable if death were ever amusing.
Whatever glorious or impassioned termination Megatron had mused upon for himself in passing, Optimus is sure that he had never even conceived the thought that he would be snatched from this life by a mammal's unpredictable play.
Sam Witwicky is more than a mammal just as Optimus is more than a robot, but he knows that his brother would not see it that way. No, it is a travesty, unthinkable that he could have been killed by such an insignificant whisper of life (yet so alive, so very alive) and so it must be resolved, dealt with personally.
If Megatron is lucky then nobody will know the true nature of his demise.
Well, unless Prime's Autobots pass on the facts, the story, the legend, the whispered rumours and the Decepticons catch the tail-end and decide for themselves.
Only three Decepticons survived that first fateful battle on Earth, and Optimus doubts that they will speak of it. Barricade is too loyal to Megatron, Starscream (if he hadn't spread poison during the mech's temporary death-how can death be temporary?) would most likely be persuaded to hold silence depending on his loyalties that orn, and Megatron himself would be most unlikely to decry it.
'Well, just so you know- if you can't bring yourself to kill him, I'll do it for you. I'm a trained assassin.'
The sorrow and guilt overwhelms Optimus when he realises that Sam is only half-joking.
'You should see me on Assassin's Creed,' Sam adds, nodding knowingly.
The boy is not an insect. The boy is a true friend and comrade.
Optimus has been missing this.
He has so many allies and friends and mechs he would lay himself down for without a second thought among the Autobots, but perhaps he has found what he wasn't searching for now.
The boy is a brother, and not out of allegiance or spark.
Prime has brothers among the Autobots but he has known them for so long that he thinks nothing of it- but this, this is something different. He has known the boy for barely two years yet the two aliens complement each other in a way so uncanny they seem destined.
If Megatron believes that he can return and simply take Sam away on a vengeful whim then he is mistaken.
'Some souls just- just aren't meant to be saved,' Sam proposes in an unusually soft manner. 'And you can't torture yourself over their wrongdoings.'
'Look,' Sam says firmly, and his convinced simplicity is so charmingly Sam. 'Megatron isn't who he was, however he was back in the day, alright? He's different.'
This is undeniably true, but-
'He's dangerous!' Sam adds almost pleadingly. 'He hurts people and likes it.'
Optimus bows his helm slightly then in guilt; it is easy to forget that the boy has personally and literally suffered by Megatron's hand too. They are kin in this respect; joined by suffering. Sam is inexplicably intertwined with this war now- and not even just the war, but with Cybertronians themselves- and this gives him a wisdom and weight far beyond his tender years.
'Come on, man,' Sam prompts after a minute. 'Don't go quiet on me. We're talking it out. You won't offend me.'
'Whilst you see a menace I can still see my brother,' Optimus replies softly. 'Underneath it all, he remains.'
'Then maybe it's your responsibility to help him,' Sam says, but it is obvious and unsurprising that he is still slightly confused. 'He's- he's insane, Optimus.'
Prime knows that this could well be true. Maybe the boy is right again, and in some twisted and unhappy way it is his duty to-
'Almost to help,' Sam finishes. 'Because nobody else can or will.'
In many ways Optimus is alone, as alone as his elder brother.
The burden of leadership is theirs; always had been. Perhaps this is one of the many unhappy roots of it all; too much too soon.
Optimus has undoubtedly engendered turmoil on the same levels as his brother. The long-dead choices he has made tear at him, somehow still very much alive and ready to haunt him.
One particular resolution chills him the most- his self-created chaos. The most spectacular and unorthodox action he could have possibly taken still burns his spark, and although he is sure he made the right decision, he knows how many thought him mad. They still do. How long he had torn himself apart over that single resolution; the jettison of the Allspark. The idea had come to him fleetingly at first, immediately dismissed as insanity. Cybertron would burn. Countless waves of his people would die. And then it returned insistently, and there was wisdom in it. New life could be borne elsewhere, far from this hell.
The decisions that leaders must make are never easy.
Optimus does not want pity (he does not deserve it), but it is torture to knowingly send comrades to their death.
The bravest of sparks was sent on a suicidemission with a mere handful of soldiers- and he knew the odds, that courageous little mech. He listened to his Prime, believed whole-heartedly in everything he said, and willingly would have sacrificed himself. Yet Bumblebee lived; without doubt he is held beloved by Primus, and Optimus could weep for it: there is some joy in this universe. But how he wishes he could give the young Cybertronian peace.
'What happened to 'bee's voice?' Sam asks quietly.
'He hasn't told you himself?' Optimus isn't sure if he should speak of it if the scout hasn't done so.
'Says he can't; too complicated for radio clips.' The boy is glancing up at him now hopefully.
'Bumblebee was prepared to forfeit his life for my judgement,' he eventually responds. 'I sent him into battle knowing survival was improbable. He knew it too,' he adds suddenly, desperate for the boy to know that he isn't cowardly enough to have hidden the knowledge. 'He was true to his beliefs, to the Autobots.'
'To you,' Sam adds.
It hurts to admit it; it is justified but feels like blame. 'To me. He did not lose his life, but he lost his vocal processor.'
'Lost?' The human wrinkles his nose, a sign of confusion. 'Like he just dropped it?'
Oh, it is a naïve soul. 'It was torn out.'
'What the hell?' Sam demands, springing up abruptly as if he has to combat this past threat and touching his own throat briefly in horror. 'I hope you got the bastard!'
'You got him,' Optimus says even more quietly, mortified.
'Come on, Optimus- and you can't bring yourself to even dislike him? That's brutal!'
Prime is silent, overwhelmed by his self-indulgent grief and shame. Oh, he knows Megatron's cruelty and Bumblebee's gentleness. Why can't he hate his brother for such malice? Megatron will not regret Bumblebee's unjust torture, nor will he have thought twice on it- yet still there is something there which prevents the Autobot from despising him.
'I haven't even seen the beginning of what he can do,' Sam suddenly whispers, sitting back down heavily.
'I'm sorry,' Optimus says. It is all he can say; all he can ever say until he is strong enough to do something about it.
'Why are you sorry?'
How can Optimus tell the poor boy that his actions have only made his people and Earth a more significant target? The long fallen Lord High Protector will have sealed a menace upon his existence until he is no more.
And now Optimus is dying, fading too fast to even do anything at all. Oh, how the mighty fall, fall, fall. He is falling now, too exhausted and lifeless to resist this seductive oblivion that calls to him. It does not call sweetly, but it promises an end.
Battle is draining. Battle is confusion, chaos, destruction.
But battle is nothing compared to war. War is wearisome, so wearisome. To maintain such a level of alertness, to be wary of everything and nothing, ready at any moment. The only constant is your allies until they are ripped away from you and become vivid memories, then too soon mere ghosts which fade into the ever-mounting mass of casualties. Battle is fleeting; war is forever. Battle is physical; it is the aftermath that leaves the scars and those memories you cannot escape or deny, those split-second choices you may relive and relive until you are sick of your very being. There are rare times in battle when there is a pause, a relative peace when nobody is trying to end you and you have a moment of a moment to try and gather your shattered self as your brothers and once-kin still clash and die around you, and in this odd moment, this fraction of a fraction of an astrosecond, you are almost not there; you are separate from the chaos; this battered aching body is not yours, and this shattering agony is not your pain, and those explosions are not smashing around you, and there is a pure moment of silence in the chaos. Is this what death feels like? If you do not return to the anarchy with haste then you will be lost; this splintering of your psyche will be your end. This momentary confusion is too common- and your enemies know nothing else if not to take advantage of a weakness. Optimus is guilty of contemplating to stay too long in this silence, to at last have somebody take his life.
Why hasn't it been his turn? What cruel agony is this, that he must he watch his loyalists and friends die whilst he lives? It is simple enough to say that they died for what they believed in, that they sacrificed themselves for the greater good. It is not so easy to think that when they gasp and shake and bleed and depart this life in your arms, when you are the last thing they see, to feel them leave and to eventually have to let them go.
It is his time at last, and it is not as he had imagined. To die swiftly is one thing. To have moments before death is torment. It is all-consuming, this knowledge that he will die and never see and talk with those he loves again, never watch a sunrise or see his home, never know again peace and that soon he will be gone and there is not enough time for anything, barely enough time to even realise that this is the end. What does it mean to die? It destroys him as he shudders internally, finally able to empathise with all those who had passed before him- and a selfish fleeting bubble within him yearns for somebody to hold him gently, to tell him that it would all be fine and that Primus is lovingly calling for one of his most treasured children to return to him. Focus, focus; the boy.
(There is no such comfort here.)
'Run,' he cries with just a whisper, and he cannot tell Sam how sorry he is. He thinks he may have sensed his Autobots approaching, but who can tell if they will reach the boy in time?
'And you know what? I mean it, Optimus. If it came to a choice between you and Megatron, there is no choice- and before you mumble on, remember your Autobots. They fight for you and they love you for a reason. They don't think you betrayed Megatron or wronged him. How would they feel if you just died because he got you first? No, no- that came out wrong.' Sam thinks quickly. 'If you die, the Autobots die. That's how I see it.'
Is all lost, then? Is that how things truly are?
'I cannot hate him,' Optimus nearly begs. 'I cannot do it. And if I cannot resent him and still love him, how can I take his life?'
He isn't sure why he is telling this youngling so much, but he almost is unable to stop himself. Sam is close enough to him to appreciate most of what he says, yet distant enough to not judge him badly. How can he tell his Autobots that he cannot kill Megatron? No, he is burdening Sam because there is nobody else.
'I guess I understand,' Sam says slowly, working things over mentally. 'I don't have a brother or anything, but- but I guess I know- well, I can imagine it would be the same with any strong- bond.' He waves his hands about emphatically. 'But if you absolutely had to, would you?'
Optimus has considered the question for an eternity now and had thought he had known the answer. Now he is certain.
'I would,' he whispers.
And everything is cold.