Author's note: MASSIVE spoilers for Kinship and The Tie That Binds in this one. You'd probably understand this story okay without having read those, but it gives away quite a bit of what's covered in those two stories. You've been given fair warning. :) Hope you enjoy!
I frantically called for Sam. He was here somewhere in this forest, hiding from Megatron and the others while I battled them.
Behind me, Megatron growled. "You're so weak!"
My spark exploded in pain and I was falling, falling with one last thought flickering through failing processors. "Sam, run."
Vaguely I knew my frame hit something. The Earth. My home. Dizzily, I slipped away from 'home.' I spun wildly into space, weightless as a cometary form. But that form had never felt like this, disoriented and terrifyingly adrift.
Gentle arms caught me, drawing me into an embrace. Her embrace. I was home. I was whole. She swelled around me, drawing me into the pull of a blessedly-familiar gravity, and I surrendered to her spark before I could even think her name.
She rose up to meet me with delight and eagerness, greeting me as her profound half as she invited me in.
I lost myself in her layers of kindness and strength, wrapping myself up in her comforting affection so sweet it made my very being ache for joy. I sank deeper into her devotion, reaching to her core to take hold of the valiant half of my spark.
A new Self kindled in our merging, a synergy of sparks I'd despaired of ever experiencing again. Valiant and profound became so much more – enduring strength and timeless wisdom. The Self rode a crescendo of energies, hovering in an eternal sliver of time before brilliant warmth sang through us, washing clean the grime and pain of death.
My systems hummed to life, purring like a cybercat. A moment of fleeting anxiety made me reach for my mate across our bond, but I relaxed back into sated ease when I sensed her, my valiant half, curled up against my frame.
We were cuddled on the wide berth of our second home, the first being a cramped set of rooms with ceilings so low I had to duck to pass through the door. It was the best we could get on short notice after bonding. These quarters were much better, and we spent many happy cycles here.
Elita felt my mental touch, of course, and whispered, "You're online."
"No thanks to you," I playfully rumbled, reaching for her physically this time to pull her up onto my chassis. "I had the oddest...dream, I suppose. Though..." I trailed off, trying to make sense of the dark, strange images that flitted through my processors. Except my processors weren't quite...there.
"It wasn't a dream," she murmured, warm sympathy pouring from her spark into our bond. Sensing my confusion, she added, "We wore these frames for a long time, and old habits of the mind and spark die hard. Like you."
The memories – spark memories, I now recognized – became clearer, and I also recalled the pain I'd felt knowing she'd been extinguished. "We are dead, then."
"We are in the Well of All Sparks," she corrected, amusement drifting from her spark. "Does it feel like death to you?"
I clung to that amusement, that sense of her after the seemingly endless separation, and caressed her helm, cradling it to my chassis. "It's not what I expected, no." A sudden thought occurred to me, sending guilt racing across our bond. "I was not here to...ease the transition for you."
"Corona is here," she languidly said, tracing idle patterns on my frame. "Her bond anchored me. Moonracer and Beta Five and Alpha Trion are also here. I've had a chance to really know Sunset and Fortron, too. It's not the same, of course, but I have been surrounded by kin and friends this entire time." She lifted her helm, smiling with a sparkle in her optics. "Speaking of friends, Jazz is being utterly impossible. Even your brothers don't know what to do with him. You'll have to work some time for him into your schedule."
"Schedule? I didn't realize there would be an agenda."
"Only for you, spark of mine."
And then her other comment registered. "My former brother is still alive. Or rather, is alive again."
"He did not trouble us here," she assured me, sensing my worry. "He had repudiated every bond that could anchor him. I meant your brother Primes. We have much to tell you, Optimus, and of all the sparks ever ignited, you're the only one who has to hurry to learn it all."
"I do not understand."
Heavy-sparked, she admitted, "I know." Instantly we were standing in front of the Temple at Simfur. Six primeval beings were assembled behind Elita in a semicircle, and I recognized them as femmes by the castings that they wore. Each silver disk, including Elita's, was inscribed with the same glyph as the one on my helm.
"You must part with her here for a while," the largest of the ancient femmes said. "This test is for you alone. "
Behind me the doors to the Temple opened and I turned to see another ancient being in the doorway, this time a mech. I recognized him from his many depictions in art and shuttered my optics in an astounded blink. Alpha Prime.
"Well met, Optimus. I am your kin and, if you will have me, your clan leader."
Stunned for a moment, I finally said, "I will gladly follow you, if you will have me. I am called Prime as a title rather than as a clan name. I accepted it as a sign of honor from those who followed me. I meant no disrespect or presumption."
The ancient Prime nodded in grave acceptance. "You are kin in more than name only. Whether you deserve the title of Prime is the purpose of our test. If you enter here, you will bring upon yourself grief and responsibilities that you cannot now imagine. You will also bring upon yourself and many others great joy and hope. It is your choice."
Warily, I asked, "Who would they be?"
"All those who have already had joy and hope in you in life."
I glanced back at Elita and felt her bittersweet encouragement.
"If you remain here with her," the ancient femme said, "you will set aside the responsibilities and name of Prime forever."
I couldn't deny the thought was tempting, but I reached out for my mate, knowing this choice was not mine alone. "Elita?"
Across our bond, she enveloped me in her solemn affection. She knew as surely as I did how tempted I was, as well as how I would deeply regret taking the easier path. "You have always been a Prime to me. Prove it to yourself."
Taking hold of her affection and confidence, I turned and nodded to the Ancient Prime, and Alpha gestured me forward through the darkened doorway. As I crossed the threshold, I lost all sense of Elita; I was alone in my spark again. I glanced back, but the door was already shut behind me. She seemed to know more than me about this test, though, and I trusted her. My choice was made, and I would see it through.