Author's note: I'm heading out of town tomorrow to go camping for three days and I have a very narrow window of time to post. The chapter is ready to go, and if I don't put it up now, I won't have a chance again until Wednesday. I'M SO SORRY, but I don't have time to answer reviews tonight. :( Please know that I eagerly read each and every one. Reviews are love from readers and chapters are love from authors. :)

As expected, Ratchet was furious when he got his hands on me. "Most 'bots have the good sense to put their arms back on after they get cut off!"

"Look more closely at the struts," I calmly told him. Sentinel had pried my arm off, twisting the metal to ensure I wouldn't be able to simply reattach it myself like I could with a clean cut.

He harrumphed and set to work.

My injury and its resulting repair were complicated enough that Ratchet forbade me from transforming for at least 24 hours. As night fell, I found a relatively-undamaged parking garage and stretched out on the top floor, staring up at the stars. It reminded me of the days after the Battle of Giza, when I would lie out on the flight deck of our aircraft carrier at night and talk with Sam. It was then that he first learned the significance of the Matrix of Leadership and of the name of Prime. It was also then that he learned of our bond and came to accept it.

I needed rest, but I didn't power down for a long time. My brother-bond with Sam didn't disappear while he slept and I recharged. If our thoughts were in sync enough, we could meet in a common dream-space. It had become habit to share bond-dreams when we were in close enough proximity, but he hadn't joined me in our dreams the night before the Xantium was destroyed. It had seemed unusual then, but now it was deeply troubling.

The human Prime had fought side-by-side with me today, but we hadn't spoken yet as brothers. Between my repairs, the reunion between Sam and Carly, and his exhaustion, we simply didn't have the time before he found a quiet corner and fell asleep. I knew well that the storms of war left many kinds of devastation in their wake, not all of them physical. Every last mech and femme I'd been clan-bound to had been extinguished and, before the Matrix was restored to us, I had been alone in my spark for millennia. Sam was human and short-lived. I'd always known I would lose him, but the possibility that our kinship could be cut even shorter made my spark ache. How much damage had this battle done to our bond?

Sentinel had called me the bravest of the Autobots, but it took all my courage that night just to power down into recharge.

I stood on the end of the aircraft carrier's flight deck, looking into the morning light and the cool breeze rising off the ocean. This was where we usually met in our bond dreams, but I was alone here now. I could have gone elsewhere in my thoughts – reliving memories from Cybertron or planning the changes we would introduce in the Autobot Alliance Act that I was sure the nations of Earth would wish to renew – but I needed to be here even if Sam didn't join me. Healing our bond was my first priority now. He didn't make me wait long, though.

I felt him seconds before I heard him quietly say, "Hey."

"Sam," I greeted him.

He stood beside me, his feelings muted like mine, only a flicker of amusement slipping through. I had a good guess as to what it was about. We were the same stature in these bond dreams, standing eye-to-optic. It was interesting to me but not funny like it was to him.

"So..." he began, then trailed off.

The rift between us loomed large.


"Your arm's better?"

"Ratchet repaired me, yes. Usually Cybertronian amputations are more a means to slow down one's opponents than to kill them outright. I cut off Starscream's arm in our forest battle, but that didn't impair him for long."

"True," he murmured.

Deciding it was better to begin this conversation now, I cautiously let him feel how pleased I was that he joined me here.

Sam studied me for a moment and then blinked, his head jerking back. Surprise and disbelief flooded the bond. "Really?"

When he continued to stare at me, I said, "I don't understand the question."

He didn't explain, instead rolling his eyes. "Is that what the avoiding me and muting the bond is about? Tell me we're not going to go through all this again."

I blinked in my own surprise. "Through all this?"

"Yes," he answered, giving me a mock glare. "All this panicking and freaking out because you're worried I'll break the bond like Megatron did. I thought we moved beyond that a couple of years ago."

My chin jutted out defiantly. "Primes do not 'freak out.'"

He snorted, but there was teasing behind it. "I freak out all the time, or at least that's what Carly says, but she also says it's sexy, so I don't know if she's the best one to ask. And while you're at it, stop putting little quotation marks around my human expressions. I can hear them in your tone of voice and I'm not going anywhere, just like you didn't, so you'd better start expanding your vocabulary."

The warmth of his affection enveloped me – a hug of the heart, he'd called it. Especially after the trials of the last two days, it was a place of precious calm in the midst of the storms of war. He added, "You're going to have to try a lot harder than that to get rid of me."

The unexpected love of my brother made me braver. "I'm sorry, Sam."

More seriously, he answered, "I started it. I didn't let you in when I should have. I just was...really scared that if you knew Soundwave had Carly that you'd do something to let them know and she'd get killed. Looking back, that was pretty stupid. I should have had more faith in you."

I had no answer to that. I was too stunned.

He nudged me with his elbow. "Come on." Turning to face me, he rested his hands on my shoulders. It was an invitation, letting me step out of this shared dream-space and into his own mind and memories.

It was an act of tremendous, undeserved trust. I rested my helm against his forehead.

Abruptly we were on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. I stood before my towering brother with a Decepticon drone on my wrist. Time hung, suspended, while we flew back through human memories to Dylan and Soundwave and Carly. Then we were pulled forward again, to this moment when we had both betrayed each other.

"I know there's a plan," I stuttered in Sam's place, clenching my teeth against the pain. But even worse than the 'con torturing me was the gut-wrenching fear that something bad would happen to Carly or the Autobots because of me.

My brother answered, "There is no plan."

I didn't believe that, not for a second, but the words lifted a heavy burden from my soul.

Then our joined minds were racing forward through the Autobot's short flight on the Xantium, the feigned severing of our bond, and the very-human nightmare that followed. My brother was dead, parts scattered on the ocean floor, and I was wandering the cold water, looking for them. It was a graveyard of shipwrecks and Cybertronian corpses and I had to scrounge for the parts. I spent the whole night doing it. I had found almost all of them – one piece was missing. I couldn't bury him without it. My brother wouldn't be at peace unless I could find his whole body. Just one piece, and I could let him go. One piece, but I couldn't figure out which piece it was. He was hurting, I could feel it, and if I could just find this onemystery piece, he would be okay. And I would be okay, too...

With a flicker of intuition, we shifted perspective, remembering the Autobot's heartbreaking cross-country trek to the moment the Decepticon scout ship was shot down. Again he towered over me – a delusion, a ghost, a miracle. "We will kill them all."

A surge of fierce confidence filled me, and only the fierce part came from him. I could actually do this now. I could save Carly! He told me what he needed in that not-question way of his, and I eagerly jumped into this battle that had become sharply personal a couple of days ago.

After that bird-brain flying 'con tossed me out of Dylan's penthouse and off the building, my brother tightened up on the bond. I assumed it was an Autobot battle-protocol thing. I was sensing a lot more in the way of Prime than brother from him and I realized he was right. We both needed to be soldiers now.

Abruptly we were back on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier, no longer sharing memories. Sam rubbed the temples of his forehead like he was trying to stave off a headache. "Slag, Optimus, why did you do that to yourself?"

"Do what?"

"Carry around the weight of the world like that."

My wry amusement rippled over the bond. "Because the weight of twoworlds – and the life of my brother – were on my shoulders."

He sobered a little. "Yeah, but this…Even for you, Mr. Responsibility, this is over the top. We have one rough spot and you think I'm going to turn 'con and stab my brother in the back?"

I shrugged in a borrowed human gesture. "It would not be the first time."

"No," he corrected softly as my memories settled more clearly in his mind. "That's right, it wasthe first time that someone actually clan-bound to you betrayed you. Megatron broadsided you, but I deceived you for the enemy. Kinda."

Quoting him, I said, "I started it. I called you a mere friend, and I made you believe our bond was broken. Worse, I knew you were ensnared by the Decepticons and I walked away."

"And came back!" he retorted. "And in time to kick butt andhelp me rescue Carly."

I realized with a mixture of disappointment and relief that, no matter what I said, he was not going to let me apologize, but only because he felt no apology was necessary. Stubborn Prime.

"Look," he said, "the War is over – you can leave all this baggage behind. Earth's saved, we're both okay, and the worst of the Decepticons' Big Bads are dead..."

I couldn't help the flicker of pain when he described Sentinel and Megatron that way. He was right, but they were my mentor and my brother.

His warm affection flooded the bond again to wrap securely around my spark, enveloping me in the calm amid the tempest. "Sorry. I didn't realize Sentinel turning 'con rattled you so much, though I guess I should have. I just…didn't think of him as your Prime. You've always been the Prime to me, you know? And Ironhide…" He gave me a half-hearted smile, though grief flickered over the bond. "Seeing things through your optics always gives me a few thousand years more in perspective."

That was the most precious potential of any bond – knowing and being known. "You understand."

"Yeah." Sam pulled us both into his imagination. He was clasping my forearm, the same drone Decepticon watch binding our wrists together. "I understand. And I forgive you – but only if you forgive me."

He was being easier on me than he should have been, but I answered, "Agreed."

He huffed a laugh. "And for the record, I'm not breaking the bond, especially now that I get what it costs both you and me, and I'm not just talking about the whole scarring the spark thing. You're myonly brother, too."

Abruptly he imagined us in the basement of his ancestral home on opposite sides of a foosball table. We had come here before – several times – to simply enjoy each other's company while sharing dreams. Foosball, ping pong, basketball, bowling – it was a novel thing, being my brother's smaller stature and able to enjoy these little human distractions.

"I'd miss out on this. What other Autobot's aft can I kick at foosball?" he lightly joked, gesturing at the game table.

I understood what Sam was doing, and even though it was premature for me to move on, I couldn't resist his invitation to set aside the weight of two worlds. If Earth was safe enough for me to recharge, it was safe enough for me to indulge in this. I also didn't want to pass up this opportunity to heal our bond. My race was ancient compared to my brother's and far more enduring, but we were also a dying race. Humans were young, vibrant with life, and – above all – resilient. I had much to learn from them, especially from this unexpectedly-wise messenger boy of a Prime. The bond I shared with my brother made me wiser…and stronger.

Puffing out my chassis plates, I said, "I'd like to see you try."

"Bring it," he taunted with a grin.

I grasped the handles of the foosball paddles, crouching down a little in challenge and drinking in his playful mood to let it lighten my own. "If you insist."

My brother barked out a laugh at that, and he eagerly placed the ball on the table. Somewhere during our "best two out of three" games and before our round of air hockey, the rift between us was bridged. His happiness echoed in my own spark, washing it clean.