Déjà vu Epilogue
A Transformers Prime Fanfic
"Optimus?" June Darby walked up to where the Autobot leader stood at the main base computer, "may I have a word with you?"
"Of course Mrs. Darby." The Autobot knelt in front of the woman and she was struck by his resemblance to some armored knight of old, eager to perform some task for his chosen lady. She smiled tiredly at the fantasy.
"It's about Jack," the mother began carefully. "Something has been wrong with him since he got back. He is healing fine physically, but something is tormenting him within." She hesitated, wondering, not for the first time, whether she was doing the right thing in coming to the Prime for help. After all, what could they truly know of human emotion? Optimus was waiting patiently for her to continue.
"He won't talk to me about what happened…" June shuddered as her mother's soul imagined what her son must have gone through, "…in the Gladiator Pits. Not that that is so strange I suppose. I can't relate to that, to what he must have gone through. But you, you know." June looked up into the Autobot's compassionate blue optics. He never let her feel as if she was imposing, no matter what she requested of him. She knew his duties were many and vital, but the Prime always gave her the impression that hers was the most important problem he had to deal with, and there was nothing else he'd rather be doing.
"I was wondering if you could have a talk with Jack. Try and get him to open up about what happened to him." June finished.
Optimus cocked his head to one side and stared down at her seriously.
"I too, have noticed the change in your son." He confirmed. "Such a reaction to facing the brutality he did in the Pits is only natural. The first time one ends a spark, even in self defense is, painful." Optimus said gravely.
The human felt her body tense. She had surmised what must have happened, but to hear it stated. She felt tears welling up, the tears her son had yet to cry, but fought them back.
"I would gladly do anything in my power to assist Jack," continued Prime. "If you think that my speaking to him will help I will. He is not the first warrior I have helped through the aftermath of his first Blood Victory."
"Jack's not a warrior," June insisted, "He's still just a boy, my boy."
Optimus looked down at her with compassion. He understood well the urge, the need, to protect the young and innocent, and it was strong in this human.
"Jack is hurting. I will do what I can to ease his pain June Darby. But you must realize that your son may well choose the path of a warrior. It is not an easy path, and not mastered in a solarcycle. It will no doubt lead him through times of hardship and suffering. But I have seen his strength, and he is able."
The human nodded and turned quickly to leave. She knew she would have to cross that bridge, but for now she only wanted to focus on healing the pain she had seen in her son's eyes.
"What's the matter nerd? Can't see? Do you need these?" a lanky redheaded boy held a pair of glasses over his head and taunted and smaller boy, to the amusement of a few watching lackeys. Rafael Esquivel slowly got up off his knees. Vince smirked and was about to push him down again, when he found himself staring into two intense grey eyes. The smirk dropped off of the bully's face and he took a quick step back.
"Give him back his glasses, please, Vince." Jackson Darby requested in a deadly calm voice. Vince held the item in question loosely in one hand and glanced nervously at his friends. The desire to maintain his rep was warring with his survival instinct. He shook a little and reminded himself that this was only wimpy Jack after all, the guy who had backed out of street racing after one night. The logic sounded good, but there was something different about Darby now, something dangerous. The faint bruises from the mysterious bike accident seemed to add ferocity to his face. But as is often the case with young males of any species, the desire to establish a dominant social position trumped common sense. Vince sneered at Jack and tossed the glasses into the air causally.
"What? Can't sissy boy there handle his own problems? I know, why don't we take him out back by the dumpsters and see if he bruises as easily as you d…uhck." Suddenly Vince's head was ringing with pain and for some reason he couldn't breathe too well. When his mind cleared 'wimpy' Jack Darby was pinning him to the lockers with one arm across his chest and a bandaged hand at the redhead's throat. The dark haired boy was calmly and coldly explaining why Vince was, never, going to bother Rafael again. It was as much shock at the violence from the normally peaceful Jack that kept Vince pinned to the locker as it was from Jack's own strength.
"Mr. Darby! Is there a problem here?" Mrs. Ravenclaw, the tall Paiute librarian walked around the corner and stared in shock at the scene in front of her. The florescent lights caught on the silver strands in her waist length black braid that lay against her plain floral print cotton dress, and reflected off her round bifocals. Jack glanced at her, and down at the pleading look on Raf's face and slowly stepped away from the bully.
"No Mrs. Ravenclaw, we don't have any problem," he said utterly calm as he carefully slipped Raf's glasses out of Vince's limp hand, "Do we Vince?"
"No, no. No problem at all," the bully muttered as he slid off after his vanished "friends".
Jack mutely handed the smaller boy his glasses back and bent to help him collect the scattered contents of his backpack. The librarian shifted her armful of books and frowned down at the scene. It was perfectly clear what had just happened here. If it had been anyone else she would have hauled him down to the principal's office on the spot. But the concept of having to punish a "good kid" like Jack, epically for defending a friend from a bully, was a foreign concept to most of the school faculty. Her musings were cut short by the sound of running feet.
"Jack!" Miko came pounding down the hall and slid to a stop in front of the boys, ignoring the frown from the librarian. "Your ride is here." She announced breathlessly.
"My ride?" Jack asked in confusion.
"Yeah! You know; your ride to that doctor's appointment?" the slim Asian girl said rolling her eyes in an exaggerated manner, for the benefit of Mrs. Ravenclaw. "The one your mom scheduled 'cuz you fell off your bike? Well he's here and waiting for you out by the back door. Oh, and you forgot your permission slip too. Here Ms. 'Claw." Miko shoved a folded piece of notebook paper at the now glowering librarian.
"It is Mrs. Ravenclaw, Miss Nakadai." She glared at the girl. "Everything seems to be in order here Jack, I'll get this to the principle." She gave him her best grandmother smile, "Just remember, call the hall monitor if that happens again," she reminded him firmly, waving in the direction Vince had disappeared in. Jack nodded silently and slung his backpack over his shoulder. He said goodbye to his friends and walked quickly towards the back doors of the school.
Miko had said 'he' was here to give Jack a ride. Had Ratchet come to pick him up for more scans? Jack was beginning to feel a profound sympathy for Raf. The medibot meant well but it was no fun being the focus of his obsession. So it was with mingled feelings of relief and dread that he saw the red and blue semi parked behind the school. It was really a good thing that Jasper was the kind of town where a semi parked by the high school raised no eyebrows. He walked over to the truck and jumped lightly onto the running board. The door opened under his hand and he slid into the driver's seat.
Jack glanced down once at the lights on Optimus's dash, blinking steadily along with the Prime's life force, then assumed a driving position without speaking. The act had become second nature now. The seatbelt reached out and gently wrapped around his shoulders and waist. The human didn't say a word as the semi's engine rumbled to life and the steering wheel began to move under his hands. He wasn't surprised when, instead of turning into the ally where they usually activated the groundbridge back to base, the Autobot leader headed out into the desert.
As soon as they were clear of the town Jack let go of the steering wheel and slumped down in the seat. He rubbed his hands together nervously and gazed out the windshield blankly. Seconds became minutes became an hour as the dry Nevada mountains rolled by. Optimus turned onto the flats of the Veterans Memorial Highway. Jack watched the green off ramp sign shrink in the side mirror. It made him wonder. What did veterans think of such things? Did they want to be reminded of the wars they'd fought, of what they'd done? Or did it only stir the old pain? Jack waited for Optimus to start the conversation, dread mounting with every mile, but the Prime remained silent. Finally he couldn't stand it.
"Mom sent you. Didn't she?" He demanded of the blinking lights. "Well I don't need to 'talk about it'. What happened, happened. It's over. I'm home. I'm fine."He slammed his narrow shoulders into the seat behind him and folded his arms over his chest. He was determined to stay silent now. The glaring white light of the noonday flats seared into his eyes. He blinked back tears. The eighteen wheeler rolled on silently.
"I don't need to talk about it!" Jack said from between clenched teeth. He leaned forward until the tension in the seatbelt resisted and rested his forehead on the steering wheel. His stomach was churning with emotion and he held it tightly with his good arm.
The seatbelt tightened just a bit around his shoulders; a gentle hug. Cool air breathed lightly by his hot forehead and stirred his sweaty hair softly. Jack was shaking now. Something within him demanded justice, punishment for his crimes. His mistakes had caused Raf harm. There was innocent energon on the hands he had rubbed raw with washing. This kindness, the gentle compassion that was radiating all around him was piercing him to the quick.
"Please, I don't want to talk about it." Jack begged. He was afraid he was going to throw up. More miles rolled by under the eighteen wheels. A lonely gas station hove into view and Jack put his hands back on the wheel. To his surprise Optimus pulled into the station. The Autobot stopped next to a pay phone and his door opened, but the seatbelt stayed around him. Jack stared blankly at the faded blue phone booth. Outside a dust devil danced to the rolling purr of Optimus's engine. He glanced at the silent flickering lights. The message was clear. He was welcome to speak, or free to leave.
The human reached out with a shaking hand and undid the seatbelt. It slid back to its holder with a soft whir. He gripped the hand hold tightly and slipped his legs onto the running board. The hot Nevada wind rolled over him and the desert sun beat mercilessly down on his skin. His head hung down. Time seemed to stop. He didn't know how long he stood there on the patient Autobot, but he heard a voice whisper weakly, "I didn't want to kill him." It took him a moment to realize that he had spoken. Jack slumped back against the driver's seat and tried to climb back in, but his vision was blurring. The seatbelt gently wrapped around his waist and helped him back into place. Optimus pulled back onto the highway and headed south.
Jack took a deep ragged breath and started from the beginning. He gripped the seatbelt seeming to pull strength out of it. The human held nothing back. How he had insisted on running from Ratchet. How much he had doubted Hunter at first, his joy at seeing Iacon under the sunrise, the terror of the Pits. His voice cracked and broke as he described the fight. All the while the eighteen wheeler rolled on silently, letting the boy pour his heart out. At some point Jack realized he was rambling, his story had become nearly incoherent. He jerked to a stop and just sat there gasping. For the first time the Prime spoke up.
"Speak as much as you need to Jackson."
The human began again, the words tumbling out; half confession, half pure emotional catharsis. Finally he drifted to a finish. It was dark now. He had no idea how long he'd been talking, no idea where they were. Stars blinked tiredly over a pitch black desert. Cold air blew in through an open window. He felt light headed and dizzy. His stomach was growling.
It was not the way of the leader of the Autobots to mince words, and when he spoke he went straight to the heart of what was plaguing the boy.
"Jack, was this the creature you defeated in the fight?" A holographic image suddenly resolved before the human. Jack recoiled in horror from the small breadbox bot, as if a ghost had materialized in the cab. He nodded mutely.
"I do not wish to trivialize what you experienced Jackson Darby," Optimus rumbled gently, "but this creature is not sentient. It is but a cleaning drone, with less intelligence than one of your Earth canines, and no spark."
The human let out a small cry as something released inside of him. He slumped against the seatbelt in relief. He was shaking hard now. Optimus pulled off the road and rolled to a stop.
"But does it really matter?" Jack asked, staring out into the black void beyond the comforting glow of the semi's cab. "I mean, I'm glad that a person didn't die, that I'm not technically a, a murderer. But at the time I thought that it was alive, and I still went through with it." Jack began scratching at his throat where the little bot's energon had spilled down his chest. Optimus could see from the red streaks the led down under the boy's shirt that this had become a habit. The seatbelt reached up and looped around the humans wrist and gently but firmly pulled his hand down into his lap. Jack grasped the buckle in both hands and stared down at the red Autobot faction on it.
"Why?" Optimus asked softly.
"Because I would have died along with Raf if I didn't." Jack said in confusion. He'd already gone over that.
"Many times, far too many times, during this long war I have slain creatures cybernetic and organic for that same reason. Their energon stains my hands."
"I know, but this wasn't war. This was for, entertainment. That bot didn't want to be there any more than I did. I didn't scrap a con I just knocked some innocent bot offline." Jack protested. His neck was itching again but the belt held his hands firmly down. A small diagram appeared before him.
"It's a cerebro chip," Jack said in confusion. Ratchet had shown some to him before. They were like ganglions in the human nervous system.
"Yes. This model was developed at the start of the war, by Megatron." Optimus said. There was pain in his voice Jack had never heard before and the human instinctively reached out to rest a comforting hand on the dash. "He brought it before the council for approval. Its function was simple. Any Cybertronian implanted with it would be forced to obey the commands of the one who held the controller. I refused to even consider its use and the council ordered all destroyed. I trusted my brother to obey orders. Later I learned that he had begun mass production. To this day I do not know how many of his unwilling minions I slew. Cybertronians innocent of any ill will, forced into a war they wanted no part in."
"Does it always hurt his bad?" Jacks asked in agony.
"Yes, But you will find ways to handle the pain over time." Optimus replied frankly.
The two were silent for a while, just sitting there, each sharing the other's pain.
"Jack," the Prime finally said, "I know that you feel you failed Rafael. You were responsible for his safety, and he was put in grave danger."
Jack winced painfully at the words.
"However," The Autobot continued, "You brought him home. At the end of any mission, that has always been my measure of success. How many of my soldiers make it back. Not only that," he continued, "you managed to protect him well."
Jack tried to open his mouth to protest but the belt tightened firmly around his hands.
"Who bears the scars?" asked Optimus, "the scars of the acid rain of Cybertron, the scars of combat from the pits, the scars of watching an innocent die?"
The human stared out the window silently.
"Jack, you did make mistakes. You should have called for my assistance when the small organic appeared for one., but you were forced into a position of leadership with no training, in a world, a situation that was alien to you in every way. In those same circumstances I did far worse."
Jack looked at the dashboard in obvious disbelief.
"When I was appointed Prime, I was completely unprepared. I was a data recorder, a 'geek' I believe the human term is. I cannot list the number of good bots who died because of my inexperience. Well do I know that there is little comfort for the pain you are feeling now Jack. But know this," The cool metal clasp of the seatbelt reached up and caressed the human's cheek. "You are not alone."
"Nor were you other efforts there wasted." Continued the Prime. "'When thos you trust have chosen the wrong path, it may be necessary to break with the. Watch your brothers carefully.'" Quoted the Prime .
"You got our message," Jack gasped. He had nearly forgotten his and Raf's plan to warn the Autobot leader.
"Indeed. Rafael gave it to 'Hunter', to be delivered as soon as he heard of a Prime named Optimus. I realized who it was meant for not long before Megatron and I parted ways. It helped me make the decision."
"You are young and inexperienced. But time and training will soon correct that. You care for those you protect, putting their needs always before your own. That is the very spark of what this means." Optimus shone the Autobot symbol on his windshield. "Were you an Autobot under my command, I would not hesitate to send out others under your leadership."
Something burst within Jack. He pulled his knees up to his forehead and began to sob. Optimus waited patiently as the bitter emotions flowed out of the human. When they began to subside, the Autobot opened a compartment inside his cab containing water and food and urged the boy to partake. Jack gulped down some water but couldn't keep his eyes open long enough to eat. The water bottle fell unheeded to the floor of Optimus's cab as the Autobot gently lowered the boy into a sleeping position.
The uninhibited song of a canyon wren rang through the snow cold air and woke the human the next morning. He was wrapped in a blanket and curled up in the palms of Optimus's hands. Sometime during the night the Autobot had transformed and was sitting cross-legged, tucked in under a rocky overhang. He was staring off into the east. Jack followed his gaze and together they watched the sunrise. The light burst out into the mackerel sky and spilled down into gorge below. The rocks glowed with a thousand golden tones. Trees just beginning to turn for the fall caught the light and flung it back to the sky. Something in Jack's soul seemed to come alive for the first time ever as he sat, awestruck. 'There must be a God,' ran through his mind.
A nagging whisper in the back of his mind demanded his attention his attention.
"This is the Grand Canyon."
"So we're at least ten hours from home."
"Ratchet doesn't want to use the groundbridge for anything except emergencies until he gets the new program fully calibrated."
"I am going to be so late for school."
"Your mother has called the officials at your school to inform them you feel unable to attend due to your accident." The Prime informed him.
Jack relaxed back into the hands supporting him and enjoyed the rest of the sunrise.
June Darby sat across the table from her son at dinner that night. He was smiling again, but distracted. He still hadn't discussed what had happened with her, but she could sense he was at peace with himself. The mother was content to let it rest as a secret known only to him and Optimus. Finally the young man set down his fork and looked up at his mother.
"Mom? I need to talk to you about something."
"Anything Jack," She smiled and gave her son her full attention.
"What we have with the Autobots now is wonderful, but like you say the only constant in life is change."
June nodded and waited for her son to continue.
"Someday soon this is all going to go public. The military will have to start working openly with the Autobots. When that happens, I want to be ready."
"Ready how Jack?"
"I want to be an asset. Not just a civilian who is occasionally useful."
"Mom, I want to apply to West Point."