Brian swore as Sam disappeared into the wall, fixated on something none of the rest of them could perceive. There were times when the kid's special status as the favored of the Allspark was extremely handy-- but there were also times like this, when it was highly inconvenient to everyone in the immediate vicinity.
"I'm going in after him," he said, exchanging a speaking glance with Dom, then hurried over to the opening cut in the stone and climbed up and over the exposed metal bones.
Once inside, he could see that the hidden space was bigger than he would have thought; the ancient Primes had to have been head and shoulders above even Optimus, and there were several of them buried there, just as Jetfire had explained. He couldn't imagine why anyone would just give up like that when they had to know their enemy would find them eventually-- but maybe there was something more to this place than just a tomb. He just hoped there weren't any traps, accidental or otherwise, that would harm a human; he remembered the stories of what had happened to Sam's great-great-grandfather in the Arctic.
Not that he'd let that stop him. "Sam!" he called as he climbed further in. "Hold up!"
Somewhere up ahead, a light flickered; Brian slowed his scrambling as he neared it and caught his breath at the sight of what had to be the Matrix. The ancient artefact was an elegant openwork metallic shape, about as long as his forearm but narrow enough to wrap a hand around, with a curving point at either end; a light glimmered at its center, like a Spark caught in a net of silver wire. It was lying on the flattened form of an enormous Cybertronian palm that nearly dwarfed the teenager standing next to it.
Sam looked up as Brian approached, a strangely distant expression on his face. "It's beautiful, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but maybe we ought to let one of the Autobots handle it," Brian replied, cautiously inching closer. "If it belongs to anyone, it's gotta belong to Optimus, right?"
"He'd never fit in here," Sam replied, shaking his head and glancing back down at the Matrix. "None of them would, not without tearing the whole place down. It's got to be us."
"Us?" Brian replied curiously. They were both standing within arm's length of it now; Brian couldn't feel whatever it was Sam was picking up on, but the hair was standing up on his arms, and he knew better than to think it was as harmless as it was pretty. "Don't you mean you? You're the one they like to call a Prime."
Sam snorted at that. "And I'd still be stuck on base if it wasn't for your training. Look, I'm not completely stupid; I know I'm reacting kind of weird. You handle Cybertronian tech even better than I do; I don't think it'll hurt you, and I think we'll both feel better if you help."
He could almost hear Dom's voice in the back of his mind, serving as the voice of his common sense: shitty call, O'Conner. But it wasn't like he had much of a choice, here. "Depends on how this goes," he joked, then let out a breath. "On three?"
Before they got any further than that, though, a series of explosions sounded from outside; they both glanced up, startled out of their cautious tableau, and glanced toward the entry hole. It was impossible to see much beyond the narrow beam of sunlight shining through, but the big shadows moving across it in a hurry told their own story.
"Starscream!" a deep metallic voice shouted from outside, supporting that conclusion; the Decepticons had caught up to them, sooner than they'd hoped. Having Optimus with them must have sped up recognition; he'd have been easy to pick out from overhead photos, if the 'cons had hacked into government satellites.
"You cannot hide them for long, Prime!" the alien jet screeched back, followed by the sound of heavy weapons fire.
"Three," they both said together, reaching for the Matrix, and turned as one toward the door.
It felt like it looked, cool and bluntly edged metal; it also felt like it vibed, energy crackling against his palm like static electricity. Brian shuddered as they moved, hoping it would stay quiescent long enough for he and Sam to get it outside, but given the rising sounds of the battle--
He only heard the missile as it hit, threading through both the door and the hole in the wall to impact on the Primes' bones.
"I got a feeling," he remembered Dom saying, the words flashing through his mind as the world winked out.
Dom, Brian thought, flashing on his family's faces; Jesse. And then he thought no more.
Somewhere, somewhen, Brian opened his eyes again, with no idea how much time had passed. His hands were empty; the open sky was thronged with bronze clouds, and he was surrounded by towering metal forms more alien in appearance than any 'bot he'd ever encountered.
Around them, he realized, as Sam stepped forward to join him. "Where-- where are we? Are we dead?" the teenager asked, head tilted up toward the optics of the beings looming over them.
One of the beings shifted in response, speaking in a voice as big as the landscape. "We have been watching you for a long, long time."
"Watching me? ...Because of the Allspark?" Sam blurted, eyes wide.
A second gigantic Cybertronian turned its optics toward Brian, ignoring Sam's question as his brother had the first. "You have fought for our people with courage and with sacrifice: the virtues of a leader. This has always been Samuel's path, should he choose it, since his ancestor's path crossed ours; but you have walked it as though it was also your own, and so earned the right to an equal share in our secret."
Brian swallowed through a throat gone dry. This was a Prime speaking; they were all Primes, the ones whose bodies they'd just been scurrying over moments before. Their Sparks had stuck around somehow, on some plane separate from their corpses, the real trap in their tomb.
"The Matrix of Leadership is not found, it is earned," a third Prime intoned. "Be aware; though it can be used to active ancient artefacts, or reignite a Spark that wishes to return, it may be better used in your hands to cleanse one from the corrupting touch of one who was once among our number."
"Go now," the first Prime said again, nodding to them, "and take up your destiny, young brothers."
"Brothers?!" he heard Sam blurt--
And then Brian was blinking his eyes open a second time, sprawled on the twisted shapes of the Primes' corpses.
"BRIAN!" he heard someone screaming-- Dom? Monica? Both? Their voices mixed with others, calling Sam's name, and from the stinging pain all along his side and the obvious damage all around them from the missile's impact, it was easy to guess why.
"WE'RE HERE! Fucking Starscream," Sam rasped, sitting slowly up beside him. Sam's hand was still clenched around the Matrix, too; he looked down at it, then up at Brian, face pale under the soot and blood from their ordeal. "Is it just my imagination, or were those guys saying...."
"Megatron," Brian nodded wearily as he climbed to his feet. He let go of the Matrix as he moved, remembering all the times he'd heard Optimus speak of Megatron as a brother; not in the sense of lineage, but in the sense of one who'd shared burdens with him for a time, then betrayed his trust in a way that cut to the quick even millennia later. He knew that story on a personal level, from the other side; if he hadn't been able to reconnect with Rome in Miami, he had no doubt his oldest friend would still be singing a similar tune. If the Fallen had been behind Megatron's sudden face-heel turn, not his own informed choice....
"Later," Sam shook his head, then waggled the hand holding the Matrix. "Hey, do you..."
"No, take it," Brian replied, shaking his tingling palm. "We can talk more about it later."
"Sure thing," Sam nodded. He stuffed it in his waistband like something out of an action movie, then raised a skeptical eyebrow in Brian's direction. "Brother."
He shuddered at that, shunting the thought away for later, then started moving again toward the sounds of battle. "WE'RE COMING OUT!"
It was harder, climbing back down, than it had been climbing in; besides the damage done to the inside of the tomb, the damage done to them hadn't been completely repaired by whatever the Primes had done to revive them. The room outside had been damaged too, after all Ratchet's care; though at least the fresco still survived, propped whole against the wall.
Mikaela hurried forward as Brian emerged, reaching a hand up to him. She was the only one still there; Dom had apparently gone outside with the others. "God! You look awful. We were afraid you'd both been killed."
"Not quite yet," Brian said, with a wry curve of mouth. "We got it."
"The Matrix?" Her eyes went round at sight of it she helped Sam down next. "Wow. Is that....?"
"Yep," Sam nodded, then frowned as he glanced toward the doorway. "You know. We thought they were talking about Megatron, and maybe they were, but what if...."
"They? Sam, what's going on?" Mikaela asked again, brow furrowed.
Outside in the bright desert sun, Starscream was holding his own against Optimus, Bee, and Ratchet in melee battle, with several lower-ranking Decepticons backing him up. Belle and Bestia were holding back for lack of equally strong armor, firing ranged weapons; the other three humans stood with them, firing sabot rounds, though human-sized weapons did little damage at that distance. Megatron wasn't there, and nor was the Fallen, but there was no telling how long that situation would last, tipping the scales irreversibly in the bad guys' favor. Brian hadn't forgotten the lesson of the battle in the forest, and he doubted the others had, either.
"You think maybe Starscream...?" Brian threw a glance Sam's way. He wasn't sure what 'cleanse' meant, but if it served as even a minor distraction....
Sam nodded. "Someone has to have been pulling the strings, interacting with the big boss since Megatron went down. Someone who had to have already met him, for the Fallen to accept the arrangement. Seems like pretty good odds to me."
"And how do you expect to get it to him?"
"Cross that bridge when we get there. You guys like to say ride or die, right?" Sam grinned cheekily at him, then pressed a swift kiss to Mikaela's mouth and threw himself out of the frying pan into the fire.
"Ride or die." Brian shook his head and hurried after him, cursing under his breath as he went.
The next several minutes were a crazed montage of dodging between Cybertronian feet, shouting at friends and enemies alike, and one very shocked Starscream shrieking in indignation and taking off into the sky seconds after Sam reached him. Whatever the Matrix had done wasn't immediately evident, but it had done something, and that something tipped the balance immediately back in their direction.
Optimus gave Sam a long look at that intervention-- then turned toward Brian, inclining his head in a gesture of respect that Brian didn't really want to think about, either. He'd never asked for that kind of recognition, just the power to protect his family. Though possibly, that was what had gotten him into this situation in the first place...
Possibly, it was what had always gotten him into these kinds of situations, Brian admitted wryly.
The remaining minions were easily mopped up after that, and the second the last one was down, Dom tackled him, touching his bloodstained shirt with shaking hands.
"Brian," he said, lowly. "Didn't I tell you to watch your ass? When that missile hit...."
"Yeah, well," Brian clutched him back. "Not sure what I could've done different. But luckily the old Primes were looking out for us today."
"Never again," Dom growled, pulling him in to rest their foreheads together. "You hear me, Bri? Don't care what I gotta do, you're not leaving me behind again."
Brian remembered that echoing, enormous voice saying young brothers-- and ignored it, leaning into his partner's warmth. Whatever fate had in store for 'Brian Prime' could wait. "I hear you."
Behind them, he could hear Mikaela and Sam having a similar conversation, and Hobbs and Monica, talking in low voices. Could hear the vibrations of the 'bots stomping around, dealing with the Decepticon wrecks; could see the shadow of Bestia looming over them, sheltering them both with her body.
Megatron was still out there; so was the Fallen; and the rest of NEST was on their way to join them. But here, in this moment, he was alive; Dom was alive; and the key to saving the world was in their grasp.
Brian pressed his mouth against Dom's, and seized the moment.