By the Pyramid
by K. Stonham
released 11th December 2011

Sam was counted among the walking wounded. But he was. Walking, that is. And since he couldn't really do much at the moment, being neither a medic nor a military-man-in-charge, he and his parents and Mikaela, followed by Bumblebee and Wheelie, who insisted he could keep up with the bigger 'bot, hiked slowly back to the pyramids. Or what was left of the one, anyway. His mother gazed up at the rubble of one of the Wonders of the Ancient World and cussed quietly. "I didn't even get to see it before they wrecked it!"

"Judy, just be grateful we're still here to see it," his dad admonished, having gotten the story from Sam about just what was hidden inside the tons of stone that formed the pyramid.

Hidden, kind of like the Cube had been by another, no less impressive, human architectural feat. And then there was that carved stone monument in Petra... Sam suddenly wondered how many of the world's sites of antiquity hid remnants of the Transformers' presence. And just how ticked off his mom's side of the family was going to be about his involvement in wrecking the ones he had so far.

Very, was his main conclusion, and he hoped they never found out he'd been involved at all.

Heavy footsteps, a far heavier tread than Bumblebee's, came across the sand toward them. He knew without looking that it was Optimus Prime. Ratchet and Ironhide were the only ones who approached the Autobot leader's mass, and even if one hadn't been repairing the other at the moment, they both walked differently anyway.

It didn't even occur to Sam to wonder that he could tell the aliens apart by simple gait.

Something in the stone and metal and endless sand debris by the Great Sphinx caught Sam's eye, glinting with the patina of old silver, whispering blue and gold energy-

It was the shard, the one that had caused him so much trouble and started this entire mess. For a second he considered just leaving it there. No one else would notice it or know what it was, and it wouldn't be long before the sands buried it altogether, for all eternity.

As recent events revealed, though, nothing stayed buried forever, and he bent to pick it up with his good hand. No need for tongs or proxy; whatever it had done to him had already been done, and somehow he didn't think there was anything further it could change.

"Sam?" Mikaela asked. He opened his hand, showing it to her. Her mouth opened as she stared at it.

Not that far away, Optimus Prime knelt in the sand, going on one knee to lean in closer, looking at the tiny fragment of metal. "Is that...?" he asked, optics widening.

"Shard of the Cube," Sam answered. He grimaced. "Hopefully the last one."

"What will you do with it?" Optimus asked.

Sam supposed it was his responsibility. He thought about it for a moment. He probably should give it back to the Autobots, but the Earth's governments probably would insist it be put in their care. Look how well that had gone last time. And even if the Autobots did manage to keep it themselves... heck, Wheelie was the only one with hands small enough to hold the thing. Optimus couldn't even grasp it. Maybe Sam could just toss it into his glove compartment when he was in truck form or something, but somehow that sounded like an exceptionally bad idea, an object of that power inside someone's body. Taking it back to his dorm room wasn't an option either... one jar, and the whole room of electronics, not to mention the soda machine in the other room, would go mini-Decepticon.

"Earth's governments wanted it in human hands, right?" he asked, looking up into blue optics.

The Prime nodded. "I believe so."

Sam smirked and dug into his pocket for the small metal canister that had stayed in there since the Smithsonian. Flicking the top open, he placed the shard inside and snapped it closed. "Human hands," he repeated, and turned to the one person he trusted most on the planet. "Mikaela, will you hold onto this? Keep it safe?"

"Sam..." Her eyes flicked from him to Optimus. Whatever she saw in the Prime's countenance seemed to steady her, though, because she nodded. "All right," she said, taking a breath and turning back to Sam. She held out her hand and he gave the canister to her. Small, metal, innocuous. "I'll hang onto this until someone needs it."

"Thanks," Sam said, and Optimus nodded, standing, walking closer to the ancient structure that had hidden a weapon of planetary destruction. Sam trailed along, following.

Glinting silver, now slagged and warped so that it didn't look quite so much like the Crystal Cathedral, still poked out of the wrecked casing stones atop Khafre's Pyramid. Sam wondered what the Egyptian government would do with it. Cover it up, try to reconstruct their biggest archaeological tourist draw atop the alien machine? Or would they fall prey to the greed that drove humanity, and try to study the wrecked remains, extrapolate weaponry from something humans weren't ready for yet?

God, he hoped not.

Optimus picked his way carefully through the litter, stones that had been standing atop one another for four and a half thousand years now scattered about like a human child's blocks. He was no less solicitous of metal, of the scraps of human planes and tanks and helicopters, of the wreckage of the Decepticons that had formed Devastator, and, perhaps most touchingly, of the remains of Jetfire. The ex-Decepticon who had ripped his own spark out to give Optimus the chance to face the Fallen and save Sam's planet.

Jetfire had said something about his parts giving Optimus a power he'd never known. An old mech's delusion, Sam wondered, or something more? Jetfire could have meant flight... but as easily as Optimus had shrugged off the mech's wings and weaponry, somehow it didn't seem right. Optimus wasn't that careless. If Jetfire had given something more to him... he was keeping it close for now.

The Autobot leader was definitely searching for something, though, his optics scanning the sand, gaze sweeping back and forth. What was he-

"The Matrix," Sam said softly. Optimus turned to look at him and he smiled up at the robot, knowing he was right, feeling the smile pull at the too-tight burned skin on his cheek. "That's what you're looking for."

Optimus slowly nodded. "Yes, Sam." He hesitated, then spoke more softly. "They told me I should keep hold of it."

"They? You mean-" You mean those old guys, who didn't look a thing like you, but felt like you, in that wind-swept place between heartbeats, Sam wanted to ask, but didn't. "They talked to you too?" he asked instead.

"Indeed." Optimus looked briefly up at the clouded sky, then back to Sam. "We had much to discuss," he admitted.

"They told you about this," Sam guessed, knowing he was right. "About him. About the Fallen."

"Among other things." There was an old sadness to Optimus' voice and Sam wondered what else his ancestors might have told the last Prime. There was a lot he wanted to ask, to know... but he didn't. If Optimus wanted to tell him, the Prime knew he was willing to listen now. At least Sam hoped he did.

"Can I help you look?" he asked instead.

A flicker of surprise, then Optimus smiled slowly, like the sun finally stealing out from behind the clouds on an overcast June day. "I'd be grateful," he said, kneeling again, holding out a hand for Sam to climb onto. Which he did, and was deposited on the giant's shoulder. It had been a long time since Sam had last held this vantage point, but his hands and feet remembered where to grasp for surety, and somehow Optimus wasn't as burningly hot as one would have expected for a metal robot who'd been under the scorching Egyptian sun for hours now.

And it wasn't like a pair of human eyes were going to be that much help, probably, in finding a foot-long object in among all this rubble where advanced alien optics failed, but to a certain extent that wasn't the point. The point, Sam guessed, was making the offer and doing the best he could. And not shirking again the position he held, standing between the human race and the robotic one. Lennox and his team did that too, but they were bound by the rules of the military and by everything their training had done. Be All That You Can Be, and all that. Sam, on the other hand, was just a kid from Pasadena who'd had the luck, good or bad, to land in an alien war because of some ancestral artifacts. And that had changed him, definitely for the better by now. And if all he had going for him (other than having the knowledge of the Allspark stuck in his head) was a smart mouth and a quick mind... he was still going to use what he had.

A shine of silver, bright new silver, caught his attention at the same time as Optimus moved his head toward it. "That it, you think?" Sam asked, pointing with his bandaged hand.

"Let us see," Optimus replied, and crossed the few strides between them and the shining object.

It was indeed the Matrix, and it looked as tiny in Optimus' hand as the shard had in Sam's. "So... what're you going to do with it?" he asked.

Optimus laughed, a low, gentle sound. "I have no idea," he confessed, and tucked it away somewhere near his right hip. Did Transformers have pockets? They weren't that big on Stuff that Sam had seen. At least not stuff that wasn't part of their bodies already. Not at all like most humans. Maybe they'd had Stuff, once upon a time back on Cybertron, but had to be different for a long time now.

"Do you miss it?" he found himself asking. "Cybertron, I mean."

"Every moment of every day, Sam," Optimus answered. "But Earth is not a bad place to be, and we have our ties here. Friends... history. Our own forgotten past."

"Yeah." Funny that his alien friends had their own roots on his planet. Maybe it could be like a second homeworld for them, but he wasn't sure if saying something like that would be insensitive or not. "Thank you, by the way."

"What for?" Optimus' tone implied that he didn't see anything for which he needed to be thanked.

"Saving my planet."

There was a long moment's silence, and Sam wondered if he had actually struck Optimus, who both Ratchet and Ironhide swore was a great orator, speechless. "You're welcome," Optimus Prime replied finally, and his tone could in no way be described as anything other than humble.

And Sam wondered what was wrong with his own species that no one, apparently, thanked Optimus for what he did for them.

A/N: Simulacra compliant, but also, I hope, capable of being taken as a stand-alone story that probably fits relatively well in canon. Well, until 3 comes out, that is. That line near the beginning about Sam's mom's family being pissed about archaeological destruction is based on a canon in my head about a certain other role Shia played wherein libraries and archaeological treasures alike got destroyed. Let's just say he's his own grandson. ^_^;;