Don't mind me. I am just breaking a bunch of personal rules by writing and posting a song fic. Partially inspired by the song, I was mostly inspired by the character who the song most reflects... which does not exactly absolve me of the heinous crime of writing a half-assed song fic, but still... Roll with it, people. =P
Also, for those of you who are interested, the song I am using in this fic is called "Invincible" by Hedley.
Earth was a planet where a song existed for everyone.
Music itself was a novel thing for the Cybertronians who found themselves calling Earth home. Cybertron had nowhere near the diversity of music that Earth so proudly boasted. Most of their music, which was now eons out of date given that war was a poor time for the leisure of making music, was merely electronic compilations of mathematics and sound pleasant to their audios. Popular information hubs, like the one Blaster used to run from in orbit around the planet, once imported music from other worlds for the exotic spice of the sounds, but those tunes were long dead along with the planets who once hosted them. More recent planets they had come in contact with had music of their own, but none so diverse or fascinating as Earth's.
Earth's great variety of music was, perhaps, due in part to the one quality of the planet that kept it so firmly in place as a backwater planet to be watched carefully by intergalactic peace coalitions: Earth was home to great and terrible divisions. While the diversity itself was not the problem, the endless fighting among division lines was enough to keep most alien species on guard when approaching the planet. It was that same diversity, the thousands of cultures, and millions of subcultures, that gave birth to music of all kinds to reflect all sides of life, to touch billions of different lives in countless different ways. Music that dated back thousands of years, which was the blink of an eye to many species, and yet enough for Earth to accumulate its music like a field of wild flowers in an endless summer.
It was that same music that the Cybertronians came to depend upon as a form of catharsis for themselves when they lacked all other venues. Earthly music became a means to expel their thoughts, feelings, and a need to simply be understood through lyrics that read like stories of their lives - instead of letting the bile build up inside themselves, festering like a gangrenous wound that would someday rot them away. They were a species that was broken and dying, hardened like steel by war, hollowed out by loss, and sicked to their sparks from what felt like an endless tide of bad news.
The music... oh, the music brought back a piece of themselves they thought they had lost. Melodies and lyrics reminded them of times long past or forgotten. Earth and its endless tunes acted as seeds for the Cybertronians, burrowing deep and fruiting new sides of themselves that were allowed to grow and flourish without the taint of war to poison and pervert it.
Earth might have seemed like a backwater mud pit to most of the universe. Alright, it really was a backwater mud pit compared to many of the advanced worlds out there. But... being an out of the way, reasonably quiet, mildly primitive planet was not necessarily a bad thing, especially for the Cybertronian refugees calling it home. To them, Earth was the first decent break any of them had received in a long time.
The music was a serendipitous bonus.
The more the Cybertronians listened to the music, the more each one found a calling for themselves. They found a genre that spoke to them. A tune that resonated inside their minds. Lyrics that came to live inside their sparkcases. Even to the most deadened warriors, they could live outside themselves again through the life in the songs. Maybe the music couldn't heal them all the way... there was likely nothing in existence that could take away the spark-deep scars of their ruined lives... but it gave them hope that maybe they could be different from the things they had become.
It was why Karaoke Night had become so integrally important to so many Cybertronians. Of the dozens of scattered small groups living across all the continents and countries of Earth, there was scarcely a group that did not celebrate in some way the gift that was singing their sparks out. It was not enough for them to just listen to the music. They needed to sing it, to make it a part of themselves, in order to reap the most of what those precious words and melodies could offer them. A Cybertronian's most basic instinct was to mimic and impersonate; there was no better way for them to bring a song into themselves than by doing what comes naturally to the majority of their species – imitating the song, and then making it their own. Sure, it wasn't quite like trans-scaning a shiny new alt mode and hunkering down on a nice new set of wheels, but it could be argued that the benefits of finding that one perfect song and performing it for the emotional release it could bring were as equal in freedom as racing down an open road toward an endless horizon.
Occasionally, the Cybertronians sang amongst humans as a means of camaraderie. Humans themselves had occasions when they gathered in large numbers to cheer and laugh while witnessing the musical attempts of their friends on stage. It could be said that the Cybertronians possessed friends among the humans, and as such they were invited along for karaoke every once in a while. Though singing with humans had its merits, the downfalls of being discovered as a robot in disguise and subsequently nailed with the curious (and often accusing) stares of bystanders was enough to make the experience uncomfortable.
Mostly though, the Cybertronians just sang among themselves. It was the companionship of a fellow species that made the experience of singing for them mean a whole lot more than what it meant to sing for strangers. Regardless of one's own opinions of their fellow bots, fighting for so long alongside them had made them a form of family. There were so few of their species left, everyone knew each other's story. There were no secrets about the lives of the Autobots, Decepticons, or Neutrals. Every joy, and every misery that outweighed those joys, was intimately known.
When a bot sang for his or her fellow lost causes, they sang for an audience who knew what story was being told, what demons were being expelled, just by the tune of the song, the lyrics of the story being sung.
Karaoke Night had become a night special to many bots. The mixture of comedy and catharsis was healing. Togetherness with others was as fragile and fleeting as any good moment in life happened to be.
There was solace even for the ones who never sang.
It had long been accepted that Sunstreaker did not perform on Karaoke Night, nor did he ever perform at any other venue. He did not sing for his comrades, nor did he sing in private. Sideswipe had never heard his brother sing, though it was not for lack of trying. It was not that Sunstreaker did not like the music of Earth. In fact, there were quite a few tunes which caught his fancy – though he was not likely to admit this upon pain of death. The matter had more to do with getting up on a stage and exposing himself in the same way Sideswipe gleefully did with abandon when he bounded up onto Nebula II's stage and belted out Bon Jovi songs.
Sunstreaker was content to simply sit in a dark corner on nights like these. He would listen to others, but keep his own pain to himself. That had been the way of things for such a long time that he did not think he could be any other way. Minus the listening to others. He had locked himself away so deep down that even if there was a song for him, it probably wouldn't have been able to get out.
The others accepted Sunstreaker's refusal to sing. It was not like the musical therapy was mandatory. The fact that he chose to lurk in the far back of the room, in semi-contact with fellows of his own species and faction, showed remarkable progress from the brooding introvert on a hair-trigger he had once been. If it never came to pass that Sunstreaker got up on stage with a song of his own, no one would have been surprised.
Which is why, on a night that was like any other, a hushed silence fell as Sunstreaker rose from his seat and made his way to the stage.
Blaster was startled enough to fail to adjust the lighting as the golden bot came to the centre. A sidelong glance snapped the microbot into actions, swivelling and dimming lights so that they no longer blinded the new presence on stage. As soon as the glare died down, a sea of curious blue optics came into focus. There was no need to whisper, since everything could be sent through a stealthy text or inter-cranial message, but it was clear that speculation was running rampant as bots shifted nearer to one another, exchanging glances, shrugging shoulders, leaning forward with obvious interest.
Sunstreaker shuddered a quiet sigh out his vents, feeling the vibration of nervousness work its way down his spinal column. It had been a long time since he had felt nervous about anything. It had been a long time since he had felt anything about anything, really. In truth, he wasn't really sure why he was up on stage. He felt out of place, like an abstract painting with no meaning hung up on display for the scrutiny of intimate strangers. If he weren't so against the concept of running away, he would have turned on his heel and disappeared from the gathering.
Too late now.
The microphone, which was more like a prop than anything else, felt cool and strange beneath his fingers as he grasped the long pole of it.
"I... don't know what I'm doing up here," he admitted with complete honesty.
"We have no idea what you're doing up there either," Wheeljack laughed warmly, not meaning any offence.
Sunstreaker did his best not to scowl.
His optics roamed over the crowd of familiar faceplates. These were warriors who he had fought beside for eons. For most of that time, they had barely tolerated his presence. Sunstreaker understood why; he had been a monster. A literal one, the kind he had feared and been awed by as a youngling – the kind that killed mindlessly, gave no care for life or love. Life in the gladiatorial circuits had turned him into little more than a sparkless killing machine, thrust into a war that would only worsen his already shattered sense of morality. It was no wonder that for the majority of Sunstreaker's Autobot career, there were few Autobots willing to get close to him aside from a one night stand of being used up and tossed away. Likewise, Sunstreaker had seen little use in a bot of holier than thou Autobots, except as tools for his own vendettas as he attempted to kill himself by killing others.
The Autobots weren't tools anymore. Sunstreaker was no longer a monster.
Sideswipe was standing up in the back of the room, recognizable by the flash of his red armour. Sunstreaker would have known it was him even without the hint. He would always know his brother.
The sight of his twin gave him an odd sense of encouragement.
"So, I guess I'm supposed to sing," Sunstreaker said, looking down that the microphone-prop clutched a little too tightly in his fist.
"That's the general idea," Ironhide grumbled deeply, only to be promptly whacked by Chromia and given a violent, "Shhhhhhhhh!"
"You have a song in mind?" Blaster wondered from his station where he manned the controls of Nebula II.
Sunstreaker nodded, quickly sending along his song selection. The microbot perked up as he received the file, suddenly smiling and nodding.
"Good choice," he said, getting busy at the controls.
Sunstreaker turned back to his expectant audience. He cleared his vents, feeling his spark patter gently against the insides of his sparkcase. He couldn't believe what he was about to do. Open himself up like a can of worms and let everything squirm out. He needed it, though. He needed an opportunity to get his song out.
Sometimes you just needed to let festering wounds air out.
"You all know me," he said bluntly, meeting several eyes and doing his best not to stare accusingly. "A lot of you in this room knew Sideswipe and I before the war. You know who we were before things changed, and some of you were there to watch what happened to us when we did change..."
He looked down, then back up, seeing so many expressions shifting.
"Even if you didn't know us, you know what we became when the war started and we joined the Autobots. I doubt a single one of you believed that Sideswipe and I belonged on your side. We weren't Autobot material, and honestly we didn't want to be Autobots. We just wanted to kill Decepticons."
Sideswipe shuttered his optics, nodding to himself at the back of the room.
"On more than one occasion, I was told I was better off dead... And there was a part of me that always agreed, even if I never said it."
Ratchet suddenly drew in a sharp intake of air, looking away from the stage. If there was an Autobot in the room who had thought Sunstreaker was better off dead, it had been him. He had held actual hatred for them for the longest time. That time was past, but the ghosts of it still haunted between them.
"I'm pretty sure some of you took pot shots at me on the battlefield just hoping that I would go down..."
There came the ring of metal on metal as Chromia hit Ironhide again.
Sunstreaker laughed quietly, and so did a few others.
"Things are different now. Coming to Earth gave Sideswipe and I the chance we needed to change. You've all noticed that there's nothing all that special about this planet, and yet... it has a way of getting to us. Maybe it's the people, or maybe it's something else. I don't know... The thing I do know is that I'm different from the bot I used to be. For the first time in a long time, I can look up at a sunrise and feel its warmth. It's not so dark outside anymore."
His voice cracked, trailing off into an awkward silence. He revved quietly, almost losing his nerve. It took longer than he cared to admit to bring his voice back. Bots still watched him, more interested than they were before. Some of their expressions were almost encouraging. It was enough for Sunstreaker to keep going.
"I... we... will probably never be able to go back to who we were before the war, or to whatever we were before other bad things happened in our lives to mess us up. It's kind of sad to think that I'll never be able to go back to being that naive little painter – I miss that life sometimes, but I think that part of me died a long time ago." He sighed, scrubbing a hand over his faceplate. He didn't want to get so melancholy. Damn it! He just wanted to say a few words without it getting complicated!
"I just wanted to say that I think Earth has given us... me... a second chance. If I didn't come here, I don't think I ever would have been able to break out of the downward spiral I was riding. Coming here gave me my life back... or, uh- it gave me a new life. Starting a new life on Earth gave me a reason to keep living and maybe be a better bot. So, I guess I just wanted to say thanks for putting up with me for so long... and not shooting me in the head when I probably deserved to be put down-."
From the speakers came the first chords of a lone piano.
"I guess that's my cue to start singing," Sunstreaker breathed. "I think you'll understand the song when you hear it. If not... well, I tried. I've never done this before, and don't count on me ever doing this again. This is probably going to be a one off, and then you'll have to put up with Sideswipe from now on."
"I'm not that bad," Sideswipe countered amidst good-natured chuckles.
Chairs shifted along the floor, inching closer. Interest lit their glowing gazes. Sideswipe had weaselled his way closer to the stage, an expression on his faceplate that Sunstreaker could not name. The music came a little louder as Blaster adjusted everything, bringing it to the forefront of attention.
Sunstreaker shuttered his optics for a moment and drew in a cool drag of air. He held it, let it go, and opened his mouthplates to let the song out in his first wavering words.
"Took a long hard look at my life... Lost my way while I was fighting the tide. A big black cloud, stormy skies – followed me while I was living a lie."
He could see optics flashing as bots searched for the song. Sunstreaker watched them carefully, seeing the way their expressions shifted as they discovered the right song. The brief frown as they scanned through the lyrics. In the end, there was the dawning realization of exactly why Sunstreaker had chosen this song. It might have been a little too mainstream for the golden mech's tastes, but the lyrics were... they were him.
"So heartless, so selfish, so in darkness; when all your nights are starless, and you're running out of hope... But I found the strength inside to see – Found the better part of me. And I'll never let it go..."
His optics wandered to Sideswipe, smiling down at the one bright spot in his world that had kept him going for so long. Even when they had both given up on life, for some reason Sideswipe had wanted to die a little less than Suntreaker did. He held on to hope a little harder. Sideswipe had always been the better half of their duo.
The chorus crashed over the speakers like a tide breaking against the shore.
"I've come a long, long way! I've made a lot of mistakes! But I'm breathin', breathin' – That's right, and I mean it, mean it!" Sunstreaker sang, his voice still wavering on nerves. "This time I'm a little run down! I've been living out loud! I could beat it, beat it! That's right, 'cause I'm feeling, feeling – Invincible!"
Sideswipe met his brother's gaze and could only grin proudly. He knew exactly how far Sunstreaker had come from those dark orns. Every stumbled step, every agonized struggle to get away from the darkness. It was Sunstreaker's time to shine like his namesake – he shone as bright as a sun as he put his spark behind the words.
"When you're gone for a day, on your own- Tear your spark out just to find your way home-."
There was trilling laughter as bots heard his slurring to change 'heart' to the more relatable term 'spark'.
"I've been so high... I've sunk so low... I've come so far, with nothing to show for it – Mistaken, I got so good at taking. But now I'm tired of taking, this story's getting old. So I found the strength inside to see - found a better part of me, and I'll never let it go."
Growing in courage, Sunstreaker burst into the chorus a second time with as much vigour behind the words as he could muster. His voice cracker and he lost the tune of the song, mashing the timing, but none of that seemed to matter. Sunstreaker searched as many optics as he could see from the stage, seeing if any of them knew that he was singing about them. In some ways, they had served as his anchor. Despite every horrible thing he ever did to them, the Autobots had still hung on to him and Sideswipe instead of setting them adrift in the tides of war.
A flash of blue.
A dawning expression.
The cast of an awed smile.
They knew the silly little Earth song with its too mainstream tune and its hauntingly appropriate lyrics was as much for them as it was for Sunstreaker.
As the chorus trailed off and the next set of lyrics began, Sunstreaker was surprised as the microphone prop was tugged out of his hands. His vision was overtaken in red as an arm slung out from the side and wrapped around his shoulders, nearly jerking him from his feet. Sideswipe was there, somehow having managed to jump the stage without Sunstreaker noticing. Now he was grinning, nearly beaming with the mix of merriment and pride that shone from his bright optics.
"I love you," he said so that just Sunstreaker could hear. A split second later, he turned to the crowd and sang the next words with a surprisingly good pseudo-falsetto that he no doubt had needed to reset his vocal processor for:
"I'm not the only one who crashed into the sun and lived to fight another day!"
Sunstreaker shoved him away, even while Sideswipe laughed at the fitting lyrics. His own voice was much more lovely as he caught the next lines of the stanza: "Like a super nova, that old life is over; I'm here to stay-!"
"Now I'm gonna be – Invincible!" They exclaimed together, with the rest of the room raising a cheer over the energetic exclamation.
The rest of the song didn't matter anymore.
...but even if it didn't matter, Sunstreaker still would have preferred if his brother had gotten off the stage and let him finish with an ounce of dignity.
Unfortunately, Karaoke Night had never been about upholding silly little things like dignity; Sideswipe was the king of Karaoke Nights if not for his singing abilities but for his stunning ability to disregard what little shreds of dignity he had left in order to sing his poor little spark out. His arm stayed firmly planted around Sunstreaker, both support and an anchor, as they played off of one another and allowed the song to be enriched by the tangle of their voices.
There was clapping even before the song was finished.
Bots were standing up, even if the performance really wasn't worth a standing ovation. It was the thought that counted, wasn't it? The meaning behind the song was what had impressed the crowd, had touched them and impressed upon them the changes in their fellow Autobot that most of them had noticed but had failed to take the time to appreciate.
Were it not for a silly little song and a lot of courage, it was likely no one would ever learn of Sunstreaker's own views of himself – beyond the usual superficial ones.
Sunstreaker himself took his bows while the applause went on. Flustered and suddenly very embarrassed over what he had done, he tried to escape off the stage, only to be trapped by Sideswipe. The red twin guided them both into several more bows, each one more exaggerated than the last.
Despite the raging need to punch Sideswipe, Sunstreaker... enjoyed the applause. Amusement was palpable through the ovation, leaving him warm and accomplished inside. It made him feel... well, not invincible, since that would simply be too cliché for such a perfect moment. In fact, beyond the warmth and strength suddenly infused into his being, he was also a bit lightheaded and nauseous from the experience. He suspected those feelings were not normally associated with invincibility.
Those things aside, Earth and its strange music did have its upsides. For one, the positive feedback was rather nice. Much better than the feedback he was normally accustomed to receiving. There was room for possible reconsideration on his earlier stipulation that this would be his one and only performance. For another, Earth (and it's music) did something for Sunstreaker that a thousand other things had not been able to – it made him feel like his old self, like all the parts he had lot were dead and long gone.
Even better, it made him feel a lot like his new (and improved) self.
And, okay, maybe he did feel a little invincible.