Chapter 1: New Year's Eve
Optimus didn’t tell his team that, on Christmas Eve, he had bowed for one brief moment to loneliness and fragile hope, reaching out a single tentative overture of peace to the most bloodthirsty genocidal tyrant their species had ever produced.
He didn’t tell them that, for that one brief moment, Megatron had reached back.
Optimus dreaded the possibility that by succumbing to temptation he had crippled his own effectiveness; that – should the time come and the opportunity arise – he would be unable to strike the final, critical, decisive blow and end Megatron’s reign of destruction forever …
… On the other hand, he had been no more willing or able to strike that blow in all the eons since the war began, so maybe it was a moot point.
Christmas had come and gone, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah with it – the Cybertronians were fascinated by the myriad ways in which humanity as a whole pushed back against the darkness with light and love and life-in-death, concepts alien in their execution and yet so perfectly familiar in their underlying purpose. Optimus noted with interest that the lights stayed up even as the Christmas decorations came down. It made sense, he supposed; although the winter solstice had passed and the days were once again lengthening, it was still midwinter. Sunset still came shockingly early, and the night was still long, and the tiny twinkling lights festooning the town’s dark and quiet streets were still obscurely comforting. He found himself more than once detouring up that little dirt road to the overlook and pausing to enjoy the view, and carefully did not think about the reasons behind it.
Optimus had thought that the holidays were behind them, so he was mildly astonished when talk began amongst the humans about one more midwinter festival yet to come – New Year’s Day, preceded by the (apparently far more significant) New Year’s Eve.
As with Christmas, it seemed that traditional observations – while thematically similar – could vary significantly in the details, particularly when the observers being questioned were below the local legal age for the consumption of alcohol.
To the members of Team Prime, this made even less sense than usual.
Raf struggled to explain. “New Year’s Eve is basically just an excuse to party, for most people. It’s nice, I guess, to make a big deal of a new start and a new year; people like the idea of a clean slate.”
“They tend to make a lot of resolutions to do new stuff or, like, exercise more, or whatever,” Miko chimed in from her vantage point on Bulkhead’s shoulder, “and then usually only stick with ‘em for a couple weeks.”
“Yeah, New Year’s Eve tends to be a … kind of a couple’s thing.” Jack scrupulously did not look anywhere near his mother or Agent Fowler. “People throw parties, drink a lot of champagne, kiss at midnight …”
“Why midnight?” asked Bulkhead.
“Why kissing?” asked Smokescreen.
“Midnight because that’s technically when the new year starts,” said Raf. “Kissing because, uh …” He looked somewhat helplessly at Jack, who looked like he desperately wanted to be somewhere else.
“Kissing because of the, uh, couple’s thing.” Jack’s ears were pink, and apparently the floor between his feet had become unexpectedly fascinating, but he doggedly pushed himself through the tortuously embarrassing explanation. “I guess there’s a tradition about starting the year out the way you want it to go, so, y’know, couples in love want to stay in love, that sort of thing.”
“Oh yeah! And then some places really like to start off with a bang,” added Miko gleefully. “With fireworks!”
Wheeljack popped his head into the room. “What was that about starting with a bang?”
Optimus resigned himself to a temporary increase in the number – if not the intensity – of local explosions, since blowing things up was Wheeljack’s primary reason for getting out of bed on any normal day. A festival – even a human one – with a significant focus on explosions for purely entertainment purposes was simply too great an opportunity to miss.
The New Year’s Eve party was well on track to being even louder than the Christmas one. Miko’s CD player was currently engaged in a volume war with the bank of wall monitors, each of which was displaying a different city’s broadcast celebration; the kids were resolutely ignoring Jack’s mom and Agent Fowler, who were well into the champagne and clearly only a few steps from some mortifying display of public affection; and someone (Miko) had found and installed (Bulkhead) a disco ball.
Optimus took a quick survey of the area – and of the disturbingly extensive collection of fireworks that Wheeljack had assembled – and beat a strategic retreat.
The night was crisp and clear as only the high desert in midwinter could be, and the overlook above Jasper was far enough from the town’s lights that the sky was endless and black and stippled with stars, the galactic arm visible as dark striations against a pale wash of light.
Optimus sank down on his hydraulics with a small, satisfied sigh of relief. It was so quiet up here; so still and peaceful … starting the new year in stillness and calm sounded like a frankly fantastic plan, all things considered; it was missing only one small thing to make it ideal.
Quickly, before he could talk himself out of it, Optimus hailed a comm frequency that he had only used once in the last four million years.
The comm line hummed, and then went silent – the open, anticipatory silence of an indrawn breath.
“I can’t believe you actually called me again.” Megatron sounded almost amused at the prospect.
“Would you prefer that I hadn’t?”
“I didn’t say that,” and though that deep harsh voice could never properly be referred to as welcoming, there was no particular menace in it either. “I assume this has something to do with yet another ridiculous organic festival?”
“Mm.” Optimus rocked briefly on his wheels and thought of new beginnings, of light pushing back against the darkness. “It is New Year’s Eve.”
“So I have heard.” Some of the amusement had dropped in favor of stern disapproval. “Apparently there is some requirement of osculatory interaction at local midnight. And something about dropping balls.”
Optimus took a moment to parse that. “The ball dropping is mostly an entertaining way to count down the last few seconds,” he explained, opting to put aside for now all thoughts of osculatory interaction as it might apply to Megatron. “New York City, for example, is currently hosting an enormous party for the occasion.”
Megatron hummed thoughtfully to himself. “A pity I didn’t know about this event with enough advance notice to put together an appropriate response,” and while his words intimated menace there was a lurking note of humor in that rasping voice that put Optimus strangely at ease. “A huge gathering of witnesses and a ready-made countdown? What a wasted opportunity.” He tsk'ed. "Pity."
“Megatron,” Optimus chided.
“Optimus,” Megatron replied, and the lurking humor had come out of hiding and was actively grinning at him now.
There was a long moment of silence over the comm line, warm and companionable in a way that Optimus had thought lost forever, and his spark expanded in his chest. It felt almost like hope.
The long silence was broken by Megatron clearing his throat. “I’m waiting,” he said.
“For what? Optimus replied, bewildered.
“You didn’t explain the kissing,” said Megatron. He sounded mildly put out.
Optimus struggled to keep out of his voice the laughter that wanted so desperately to rise within him like bubbles in the humans’ champagne. “Oh, pardon my lapse. Yes, I have been told that kissing at midnight is customary.”
There was a pause. “Why?” asked Megatron, sounding as baffled as Optimus had ever heard him. “What possible connection could there be between midnight and kissing?”
The urge to laugh abruptly faded to be replaced by an all-too-familiar ache. Optimus found it necessary to reset his vocalizer. “The humans say that you should start the new year as you mean to go on.”
“And?” Megatron demanded impatiently.
Optimus reset his vocalizer again. “And I am doing just that.”
“How so?” The impatience was replaced, even if only briefly, with genuine curiosity; and Optimus smiled to hear it.
“I am looking up at the stars, and having a pleasant conversation with you. If the following year could bring more such moments, I would count myself very fortunate indeed.”
There was a long silence on the other end of the comm channel, broken only by a faint whisper of sound that might – just might – be a deep, slightly shaky invent.
“I confess,” Megatron replied after a long moment, and if his deep hoarse voice was a little raspier than usual, Optimus wisely chose not to remark upon it; “I would have to count myself fortunate as well.”
Chapter 2: Valentine's Day
Another opportunity to redress old grievances arrives in the form of a holiday intended for lovers ...
... so I was going to hold off on posting this until Valentine's Day was actually here, but I got impatient. Oh well.
The wheel of the year ground slowly through winter.
To hear the children complain, the pace of that grinding was tortuously slow; with the bright lure of the winter holidays behind them and the bleak, iron grip of deep winter hard upon them, they were eager for spring – for the weather to break, for the sun to return (metaphorically, anyway; being in the high desert, Jasper was treated to far more brilliant blue-skied frigid days than overcast or snowy ones).
Despite the complaints – loudest, of course, from Miko – it appeared that their ever-resourceful species had developed a wide variety and frankly impressive number of diversionary festivals to while away the dark months of the year between solstice and equinox.
February arrived, and with it a bewildering profusion of red and pink shapes – some sort of sixth-order algebraic curve – accompanied in some instances by winged human infants armed with primitive ranged weaponry.
June Darby nearly aspirated an entire cup of coffee when Optimus asked her about that particular decorative motif. That alone was a significant improvement in response over those of the children, whose explanations ranged from indifferent (Raf, shrugging) through inexplicably mortified (Jack, blushing scarlet and fleeing the vicinity) to outright rude (Miko, who Optimus suspected was not supposed to know either those words or those gestures at her age). Fortunately, once June stopped coughing, she was able to give him a basic understanding of the holiday, its purpose and traditions; and in doing so, gave him a terrible idea.
A terrible, overwhelmingly tempting idea ...
“And to what insipid organic holiday do I owe the pleasure this time?”
Optimus schooled himself not to laugh, less for fear that he’d accidentally insult Megatron than for fear that doing so would merely encourage new heights of bantering. “Valentine’s Day.”
Megatron groaned. “Oh, that. Primus save me, if I catch Knock Out and Breakdown in a compromising position one more time today, I will be forced to eject them both into space.”
“But wouldn’t that leave you without a medic?”
“We would make do,” said Megatron dourly. “Better to train up one of the Eradicons to the job than suffer through yet another loudly-narrated round of enthusiastic clanging against the nearest bulkhead.”
Later, Optimus would blame some sort of previously undiagnosed processor damage for the fact that he sputtered out a laugh and asked, “Do you remember when we –“
The resoundingly awkward silence that crashed down made it perfectly clear that yes, Megatron did remember; and so did Optimus.
Vividly, in fact.
The dust and oil-laden smoke of the arena was still clinging to Megatron’s armor, his opponent’s energon still splattered across him from thigh to shoulder; the air in Kaon was always cold, so close to the planet’s pole, and their vents were steaming, and vapor rose in curling sheets from Megatron’s hot plating as he held Orion effortlessly against the wall; down in the catacombs below the arena floor, and they could still hear the screams and chanting of the crowd, the screech of weapons and armor colliding, the thunder of a million feet stamping above them …
None of it mattered. They had each other, now, in this fleeting stolen moment; they had each other’s heat and ardor and the promise of eternity if they could just hold onto it …
Optimus remembered as vividly as if four million years didn’t stand between them. He remembered feeling Megatron’s spark throbbing in time with his own, separated by their plating but resonating through every circuit and cable, through every atom of their bodies.
He remembered the taste of energon, remembered being able to tell that it was Megatron’s and not his long-forgotten opponent’s; remembered sucking gently on Megatron’s lower lip and tugging just a little, just enough to make Megatron chuff amusement at him and shove him harder against the wall, one massive thigh sliding up between Optimus’s legs …
In the cold February air, steam was rising from his vents just as it had all those eons ago in the Pit below Kaon. His engine was throbbing in time with his spark, core temperature rising, and Optimus gasped in the cold air and struggled to pull himself together even as he heard Megatron’s shaky exhalation across the comm line.
“I remember,” said Megatron, and his voice was low and rasping in a way Optimus had not heard in millennia. “Like it was yesterday, I remember.” He drew in a breath, its tremor audible over the comm line, and then blew it out again in a rush. “I miss you.”
“And I you,” said Optimus, and he didn’t try to hide the thickness in his voice, the effect of mingled arousal and grief. “I wish …”
“The past cannot be changed, Prime.” There was a warning note there, one that Optimus did not dare ignore – these stolen conversations were too brief and too precious to risk.
“No,” he acknowledged, and didn’t push further into that old hurt. “But the future might be.”
There was a long silence from Megatron, and Optimus began to fear that he had pushed too far in spite of everything.
Then, finally, just as despair began to set in deep, there was a sigh.
“Ever the optimist.”
“It does go with the name,” said Optimus, who was feeling slightly giddy with relief.
Megatron laughed. “I suppose it does at that.” He was silent for a moment, and then, “Very well. Happy Valentine’s Day, Optimus,” and for the briefest moment his voice was warm with humor and genuine affection.
Optimus breathed out a sigh, fragile and near inaudible unless one happened to be listening for it. “Happy Valentine’s Day, my—“ he swallowed, hard, and tried again, “—my friend.”
“Sentiment,” Megatron scoffed.
“Always,” said Optimus, and knew Megatron could hear his smile.
Chapter 3: St. Patrick's Day
Green beer, bagpipes, grievances aired, bridges ... well. Not burned, at least.
I have been wrestling with this chapter for over a month now. I have no idea if it's good, hangs together, or contains any semblance of logical plot structure, to say nothing of characterization. I am casting it upon the waves of public consumption anyway, god help me.
The wheel of the year creaked grudgingly through the last throes of winter. In a frustrating progression of incremental improvement and dramatic backslides, the weather warmed and the days lengthened until spring no longer seemed an unattainable fantasy and the wind, even in the desert, was freighted with the scent of wet earth and new growth.
Harbinger of spring or not, however, everyone – human and Cybertronian alike – was in full agreement that the sheer quantity of mud currently present was frankly gratuitous. Couple that with the ability of this particular consistency of mud to dry and harden to nigh-impermeability before a mech could finish patrolling and remove it in any reasonable fashion, and it was perhaps unsurprising that certain tempers had begun to fray.
June’s laughing explanation of the local use of said gratuitously abundant material to construct buildings capable of lasting centuries had not measurably improved the situation, particularly when said situation involved Ratchet using a small pneumatic jackhammer to remove an otherwise immovable clay buildup from Optimus’s wheel wells. Optimus tried to bear this with his usual calm stoicism, which was at least a marked improvement over Wheeljack’s profanity and Smokescreen’s tragic whimpering.
Fortunately, Wheeljack had stopped swearing when Jack and Raf arrived, and had become engrossed in an engineering discussion regarding the bewildering contraption Raf was carrying.
“It’s a leprechaun trap,” Raf explained brightly. “I mean, obviously leprechauns aren’t real, but my teacher thought it was a fun opportunity for a contest. Not a lot of St. Patrick’s Day traditions for kids, after all; most people just use it as an opportunity to get drunk.”
“How is that different from other human holidays?” Smokescreen asked with genuine confusion.
Jack and Raf exchanged a look. “Uh …” said Jack. “Y’know, I think you’d really have to ask my mom or Agent Fowler about that one. I guess beer is a traditional Irish thing?”
“Beer seems to be a traditional human thing in general,” Arcee drawled, eliciting a laugh from everyone; and then Wheeljack started asking Raf about the leprechaun trap – what was a leprechaun, what kind of bait would they prefer, why would you trap one in the first place – and the conversation devolved into a combined cultural symposium and engineering design meeting. Optimus suspected, with mingled amusement and alarm, that Raf’s leprechaun trap was going to end up being significantly more weaponized than its original specs perhaps required.
The meeting of minds was interrupted briefly by the late return of Bulkhead with Miko; she had earned herself an after-school detention when a classmate pinched her – “She’s not wearing green,” said Jack, as though that explained anything – and she had laid him out with a right hook in response. Bulkhead was clearly torn between gentle admonishment and glowing pride in his little Wrecker. Wheeljack had no such compunctions, was overtly congratulatory, and had in fact requested a step-by-step reenactment of the exchange with Bulkhead taking the role of the ill-fated classmate and Wheeljack himself in the role of Miko.
Optimus decided that this was a fine time to go out for a drive.
The overlook was lovely tonight. New leaves were shyly uncurling on the scrubby little bushes dotting the hillside, and the last warm rays of sun gilded them brightly against the growing shadows.
“Yet another inexplicable holiday, I presume?” Megatron said over the shared comm channel.
“Saint Patrick’s Day,” said Optimus.
Megatron grunted, unimpressed. “I assumed it must be something of the sort; Soundwave tells me that the population of Boston has decided to deliberately turn their municipal water supply green. These creatures are completely illogical, Prime; are you so certain you wish to preserve them?”
“It’s a harmless, biodegradable dye,” Optimus said, choosing to focus on the less-contentious part of that question, “and is intended as a celebratory gesture. Logic is no more the point than it is in any of their other festivals.”
Megatron hummed thoughtfully. “I’m not actually convinced that’s true, particularly given that so many of their festivals correspond to astronomical timekeeping and primitive agriculture. However,” he added, cutting off Optimus’s intent to interject in the humans’ defense, “I am forced to admit that it’s an improvement over all the times they’ve turned their water supply green through malicious negligence.”
“It’s good to hear that we can agree on one thing, at least,” Optimus said, trying to sound stern and failing utterly.
“Yes, isn’t it?” Megatron agreed dryly. “One utterly trivial, insignificant, meaningless thing.”
“You’re repeating yourself,” Optimus pointed out. “And trivial though it may be … we have to start somewhere.”
There was a moment of silence across the comm link that drew tendrils of shuddering frost through Optimus’s spark, dreading confirmation that this time he had pushed too far too quickly.
Then, “Still hoping for some sort of reconciliation, Prime?” Megatron’s voice was a little distant, a little cool; but Optimus knew perfectly well that anger or outright rejection would have been communicated much more directly.
“Always.” It was said lightly. They both knew it was anything but.
Megatron sighed as though dealing with optimistic Primes was a terrible burden beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations. “Well. Primus knows stranger things have happened;” and then, as Optimus struggled to keep his wayward spark from leaping out of its containment in an excess of shock and giddy hope, there was a garbled burst of static and feedback across the link that nearly masked Megatron’s resonant growl. “… for example, this spectacle in Boston. What the frag are these creatures doing?”
“… um,” said Optimus, whose language processing modules were still de-prioritized until spark containment had been stabilized. “What?”
“Soundwave has decided, for some impenetrable reason—“ there was a pointed silence that almost certainly corresponded to a similarly pointed glare being directed at the mech in question “—to inflict upon the command deck a high-definition playback of surveillance footage of the populace of Boston. They appear to be …” He paused. “Are they dancing?”
“Probably?” Optimus ventured.
“In the street?”
“It … would not surprise me?”
“That is an obscene amount of green,” said Megatron, sounding offended.
“Everything.” Yes: definitely offended. “There are humans walking and running and dancing where they shouldn’t be, and they have bedecked what appear to be some sort of hauling vehicles with streamers and other nonsense.”
“It sounds rather like Polyhex,” said Optimus nostalgically.
“Polyhex,” Megatron replied stiffly, “was never this green.”
Optimus lost the battle he’d been fighting with his composure, and burst out laughing.
“Also, I refuse to believe that this is music,” Megatron grumbled over the background of Optimus’s mirth. “It sounds like Shockwave sitting on a cow.”
Optimus was thoroughly relieved to be in vehicle mode rather than standing. He was likewise relieved that his vehicle mode possessed parking brakes, and that he had engaged them. He might otherwise have had to explain to Ratchet how he’d fallen down the escarpment into a gully full of barrel cactus, an ordeal that would have improved matters for absolutely no one.
Megatron hummed thoughtfully. “I would estimate that some eighty percent of this crowd is intoxicated.”
Optimus reset his vocalizer to clear the wheezing noise his helpless laughter had produced. “I’ve been told that is seen as the point by some participants.”
“Not by all?” It was mostly an idle question, but Optimus decided to follow through on it.
“I have also heard this particular festival described as a celebration of recognizing one’s cultural heritage in a strange new place; one that was initially unwelcoming and inimical but which has become home after all.” Optimus chuckled. “I admit that it’s a sentiment with no small amount of personal resonance.”
Sudden silence crackled across the comm link, cold and distant, and the icy dread that had briefly flirted with Optimus’s spark had returned to seize him in an adamantine grip.
“How charming. So, have you found a welcome here, Prime?” Megatron’s voice was low and harsh with bitterness. “Have you found a new home among these organic vermin, is that why you continue to fight against your own people?” His voice rose with the rage building inside him. “If Cybertron is no longer your home, then why do you continue to fight me?”
Optimus felt as though his entire core had been ripped from his body in one savage blow, the transition from joy to horror too fast and too cruel for words or breath.
“No,” he whispered, and his voice shook; and he couldn’t take the time to reset his vocalizer because he needed to answer Megatron right now, “no, no … Megatron, that’s not …” Static obscured his voice but he struggled on, desperate to answer, to explain. “This is not my home, this will never be my home! It’s true we have been welcomed by a handful of humans, but not all of them; and we will fight to defend them when your actions threaten them; but this is not my home! You have no idea,” and his voice dropped almost to silence. “You have no idea how desperately I want to go home.”
The silence between them now was ragged with tearing invents, the faint whine of stressed systems and struggling fans.
When finally Megatron spoke again, there was a note underlying the deep rasp of his voice that, in another mech, might have been grief. In another mech, it might even have been shame.
“Don’t wish so desperately for home, Optimus.” He was quiet a moment as though collecting himself; a thing in all the long years of war that Optimus could never recall Megatron needing to do. “Cybertron cannot be our home anymore. You’ve not been there, not seen it, but I have. There’s … Optimus, there’s nothing left.”
“That’s not true,” Optimus said, soft and hoarse and grieving; and then, as he said it, he saw the truth of the words through the reflexive denial, and some of the strength returned to his voice. “That’s not true. There is something left – we are left. All of us who remain. Cybertron can be our home again because it is we, all of us, as a people, who would make it so. There is still hope for us, Megatron.”
The comm line was so silent that Optimus genuinely thought that Megatron had disconnected; and then a deep weary sigh echoed across the distance.
“Ever the optimist?”
Optimus choked, vents stuttering, and then laughed a little. “Of course. Hence the name.”
A low, thoughtful hum resonated across the comm link. “You know, of course, that hope is merely a tool to be used against you.”
“I certainly agree that hope is a tool to be used,” said Optimus. “How it is used, and by whom, does not change its usefulness as a tool.”
Megatron sighed, but it was as amused as it was weary, and Optimus allowed himself to believe that there was affection in there as well. “It appears we agree on two things, then. A banner day indeed.”
“Yes, well.” Optimus reset his vocalizer, which was trying to develop an odd choking sound. “We have to start somewhere.”
Chapter 4: Easter Sunday
In which far too many Peeps are eaten, and Optimus revisits some pleasant memories.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The wheel of the seasons rolled on, gaining momentum as, with one final vindictive gasp, winter finally ceded the field to spring. Life returned to the high desert in an undignified rush as if trying to make up for time lost to winter’s petty delaying tactics; everything green seemed to produce new foliage at an astonishing rate, blossoms hovered coyly on branches that only last week had been bare and grey, and birds clamored their enthusiastic suit from every available perch.
A far more significant measure of improvement, as far as the Cybertronians were concerned, was the reduction in quantity of mud.
The bewildering iconography of St. Patrick’s Day was behind them, supplanted by a profusion of rabbits and chicks and eggs; and while this certainly made sense as a reflection of what was going on outside, Optimus was firmly of the conviction that rabbits and chicks, regardless of species or subtype, did not naturally display coloration in pastels without human intervention. (Eggs, on the other hand, appeared to be a very different matter. June had showed him a sampling of eggs from the local farmer’s market, shells an astonishing rainbow of hues. The sheer variety demonstrated by organic reproduction, even constrained to a single domesticated avian species, was simultaneously impressive and exhausting.)
The children were eagerly anticipating Easter for a variety of reasons. Raf, whose family was Catholic, was nearly at the end of his tether after an entire Lenten season without chocolate, and Miko was both impressed with his restraint and appalled at his choice of abstention.
“Who gives up chocolate?” she demanded, aghast. “Why didn’t you give up something like cabbage or liver or … I dunno, those gross pickled carrots my parents keep trying to make me eat?”
To Raf’s credit, he was able to keep his temper and produce a cogent defense even without the benefit of chocolate. “If I give up something I don’t like, then it isn’t a sacrifice,” he explained patiently. “The point is to make a little sacrifice in honor of the big sacrifice that was made for our sins.”
“You don’t have any sins,” Miko retorted dryly. “You’re seriously the least sinful person I’ve ever met, you don’t have a single black mark in any book, secular or divine.”
Raf looked tired; this was definitely not the first time he’d had this conversation. It wasn’t even the first time he’d had this conversation with Miko. “Not personal sins, but technically we all have sins because –“
Miko cut him off with an exaggerated eye roll and a one-armed hug. “I know, I know. You’ve told me; and, y’know, it’s not like we don’t have Christianity in Japan, even though my family kind of mixes it with Shinto, which gets really interesting sometimes … But seriously,” and she punctuated her remark with a fraternal poke in the ribs, “you’re so good, Raf. Go ahead and eat your chocolate, you deserve it.”
Raf pinked adorably around the ears, but shook his head. “I can wait until Sunday.” He added, grinning, “there’s a chocolate bunny with my name on it, and it’s not gonna last long.”
Easter Sunday arrived in a pastel rush of chocolate, rabbit-themed confections, and variously-shaped marshmallows that left the children bouncing off the walls in a sticky frenzy until Ratchet finally shouted everyone outside in a desperate bid for peace.
Optimus took the opportunity to go for a quiet drive.
“Is your crew truly so obnoxious that you willingly seek my company over theirs?”
Optimus found himself smiling behind the battle mask, and didn’t try to keep the sound of it from his voice. “Yes, well, the human children had decided to engage in a Peep-eating contest, so I thought it wise to go somewhere else.”
“What the frag is a ‘Peep?’” said Megatron, and the sound of the human word in that deep gravelly rumble was so ludicrous that Optimus had to struggle against laughter.
“They are multi-colored chicks—“
“Your little human innocents are devouring newly-hatched birds? As a treat?” Megatron sounded disturbingly intrigued. “How barbaric. I didn’t think they had it in them.”
“The chicks,” said Optimus, in his most regal and Primely voice, “are sugar confections.”
“Not live animals?”
Megatron sighed dramatically. “You dash all my illusions so cruelly, Prime.”
“No one’s perfect,” said Optimus mildly, provoking another sigh from Megatron.
“Not even the great Optimus Prime? How disappointing. Very well; don’t keep me in suspense. What is the occasion this time?”
“Is that what it’s called?” Megatron sounded mildly distracted, but Optimus didn’t take it amiss; running an army aboard a cloaked warship in orbit over an enemy planet didn’t exactly leave much time for privacy or recreation, and if Megatron didn’t want to speak to him – or was too occupied to do so – he wouldn’t have accepted the incoming ping in the first place. “It looks like some sort of glucose-fueled orgy.”
Megatron’s description clashed disturbingly with Optimus’s own observations of the morning’s celebrations. He shook the appalling results out of his processor and forged on. “Unlike the previous festival, this one is in fact connected to the natural cycles of their world.”
Megatron grunted. “Which is it, then – sex or death?”
Blushing, Optimus cleared his throat. “I believe Easter was originally a fertility festival.”
“Sex, then.” Megatron sounded vaguely pleased; Optimus tried not to think about that too closely. “I thought that ‘Valentine’s Day’ mess was originally a fertility festival, though.”
“It was,” Optimus agreed, “or rather, still is, I suppose.”
There was a lengthy pause in which Megatron considered that.
“That’s somewhat alarming,” he said eventually, “How many fertility festivals does one planet actually need? Particularly given the dismaying fecundity of the dominant species,” he added with some asperity. “If there is any sort of higher power at work on this miserable backwater, it clearly needs to work on its managerial skills.”
Optimus choked on a laugh. “I have no idea what the local deities have to say about it, but I have to acknowledge your point about the sheer number of fertility festivals. It seems to be something of a preoccupation among humans, although they become amusingly defensive on the subject when asked.”
Megatron grunted again; background noises seemed to indicate that he was probably on the Nemesis bridge, and Optimus could easily picture him pacing slowly from console to console, missing nothing and almost certainly intimidating the scrap out of the bridge crew every time he passed them. “Likely a cultural trait rather than an organic one; I had a most unnecessarily informative encounter once with the ambassador from Ophiuchus 3. It was horrible.”
“Liar,” said Megatron without heat. “You revel in my suffering, don’t deny it.”
“I would not revel in the suffering of any creature,” Optimus replied placidly, “but I doubt your experience was so dire as you would make it out to be.”
“The ambassador had over a dozen offspring,” Megatron growled, “and required me to look at pictures of all of them.”
“Oh dear,” said Optimus.
“There were nearly a thousand image captures.”
“That does seem excessive,” said Optimus.
“It took more than three hours to go through them all.”
“Very well,” said Optimus, “I stand corrected. Truly your suffering was great and I should extend both my apologies and my sympathy.”
“Yes you should,” said Megatron, and Optimus could hear the grin that he was not present to see. “But you are a terrible person in ways that few others have seen, and also you have clearly been practicing your sarcasm, so I will have to remain scorned and mocked for my pain instead of comforted. Perhaps I should go shoot something to make myself feel better.”
“Please don’t,” said Optimus. The urge to giggle in a most un-Primely fashion was almost overwhelming at this point; he’d nearly forgotten that Megatron could actually be quite funny given the opportunity, but this conversation was reminding him quite effectively.
Megatron sighed as though the weight of the world and the demands of impudent Primes were too great a burden for one mech to bear. “I suppose it would be a waste of fuel to find an appropriate target. A pity that we can’t run the Nemesis on sugar syrup; this wretched planet does seem to produce the stuff in excess.”
“It’s for the children,” said Optimus primly, and the tone was so blatantly sanctimonious that Megatron actually barked out a startled laugh.
“Oh, well, if it’s for the children,” he drawled, still chuckling. “You have always been soft for the little ones; I suppose it’s nice that some things never change.”
“You aren’t wrong,” Optimus acknowledged, and then smiled as a favorite memory unspooled. “Do you remember—” He stopped abruptly, the gilded edges of memory tarnishing slightly under the caustic touch of reality. “—Actually, you probably don’t; my apologies.” He sighed and, after a moment, continued. “There was a fountain in the plaza before the Archives in central Iacon, and on warm days it would be full of sparklings, splashing and playing. The sunlight would refract through the mist and cast rainbows, and the flying droplets shone like jewels, and the sound of laughter echoed off the Archive’s edifice until sometimes I almost thought the whole world was laughing, too.”
“I remember,” said Megatron harshly.
Optimus invented; it was sharp, almost a hiccup. “You … saw it? When?”
“Not often,” Megatron clarified, “and never for long, but I remember the Archives and the fountains. It was … infrequently … that I saw sparklings.”
“Were there none in Kaon?”
Megatron scoffed. “On the contrary, Prime; Kaon had a thriving population outside the Pits, wretched hive of scum and villainy that it was. But caretakers were certainly not going to bring them to the fights, and my schedule and, shall we say, sphere of operations did not exactly intersect with theirs. Once in a while, though,” and his voice was as soft as that harsh raw voice could be, “once in a great while I found myself in the marketplace in the early hours of morning, and there would be a few scattered caretakers and their charges.”
Optimus laughed warmly. “That must have been a treat for the little ones, to see the great gladiator in person.”
“No,” and the word was hollow, the echo of fallen stone in a dry well. “They were afraid of me.”
Optimus breathed out. “Megatron, I …” He swallowed. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. I had cultivated a reputation at great effort, after all; it was hardly surprising to see firsthand that it had stuck.” Megatron was quiet for a moment, and then – unexpectedly – chuckled. “Well. Not universally. The caretakers, the older sparklings, they all feared me; but the littlest ones I suppose were too young to have learned it yet, and they were … fascinated, I think.” He laughed under his breath and added, confidingly, “I would make terrible faces at them behind the backs of their caretakers, and the little ones would laugh. I … I had forgotten that.” His voice turned bemused, faintly wondering. “I enjoyed that, their laughter. Being able to engender a response other than fear.”
Optimus hummed encouragingly. “For what it’s worth, you have always engendered far more responses than fear in me …”
There was a loaded pause while they both parsed that seemingly innocent comment and its possible insinuations; and then both burst into laughter, amused and delighted and embarrassed all at once.
Yes, I have also used the idea of sparklings playing in the fountains in "Long is the Way."
Chapter 5: May Day
It's yet another fertility festival by the humans' calendar, and Optimus has something to celebrate. It would be even better if Megatron were in a more festive mood himself.
... heck with it, I'm posting this early because it basically leapt, fully-formed, from brain to keyboard in one evening, like a weirdly robot-porn-oriented Athena from the forehead of mighty Zeus. And if I'm going all Aeneid-like in my chapter notes, it's probably time for bed ...
The Autobot base was in an uproar of never-before-seen proportions. Agent Fowler had taken one look at the mayhem, told June to take all the children elsewhere, and locked himself in his office with noise-cancelling headphones and a fifth of bourbon. His arrival and subsequent departure had gone completely unnoticed.
The sheer volume of clamor might have initially given an observer the impression that something had gone disastrously wrong; further inspection, however, would have amended that to the impression that something had, for once, gone impressively, deliriously right.
They had found energon.
They had found an energon deposit and its associated stockpile; they had routed the Vehicons standing guard; and they had escaped with the entire stash, free of Autobot casualties of any kind.
It was, frankly, a banner day, and Optimus could not find it in himself to deny Wheeljack’s request that they use a meager fraction of their spoils to test out the new high-speed distillation apparatus he had been designing.
That fraction was turned into high-grade of impressive potency in record time. Extremely impressive potency. Far greater potency than had been anticipated, in fact.
Consequently, the entirety of Team Prime was significantly overcharged.
Overcharged, happy, and very loud.
Optimus, far from unaffected himself, nevertheless was finding the volume of the team’s exuberance a little much for his current level of inebriation, and chose to retreat to the relative peace and quiet of his hab.
With the heavy door sealed behind him, the ruckus was dimmed to a remote and cheerful thumping that he could tune out with greater ease, and Optimus stretched himself carefully on the blissfully horizontal surface of his berth. He hadn’t been this overcharged since very early in the war, when hope and spirits and supplies had all been at much higher levels; and he hadn’t been this relaxed – fleeting though it might be – since … He paused. It had been so long since he’d known even a modicum of relaxation that he would have to unarchive and unpack some very old files indeed.
That was pretty tragic, when he thought about it.
Optimus was sufficiently in possession of his faculties to recognize the slippery slope of a descent into the maudlin phase of inebriation threatening to derail his otherwise very pleasant state of overcharge, and pulled himself back from the edge. He spent enough time sad and regretful and second-guessing every decision that had brought the tattered remnants of his people to this point; he certainly wasn’t going to waste the first overcharge he’d experienced in millennia on more of the same.
He stretched luxuriously, feeling the linkages in his shoulders and lumbar spine shift and pop back into alignment, and focused on the buzzing warmth that Wheeljack’s weapon-grade distillation had introduced to his systems.
It was … nice, Optimus decided, a little vaguely. Warm and tingling and a little floaty; it was very nice to feel this way, and he was enjoying it; and the only thing he could think of at the moment that would be nicer would be a little company …
And Optimus, no longer as fully in possession of his faculties as he would like to believe, followed that tingly-warm thought to its logical conclusion and pinged a once-familiar and very old comm channel.
“You have some nerve, Prime.”
Oh, dear. Megatron did not appear to be in anything remotely resembling a good mood; but, buoyed on the volatility of some truly spectacular high-grade, Optimus merely felt impelled to improve Megatron’s mood rather than allowing Megatron’s to bring him down.
Unaware of Optimus’s boozy determination, Megatron continued to froth. “Have you called to gloat, I suppose? I would have thought such a maneuver beneath you, but clearly you’re determined to reset all of my previously-held estimations of your ethics and morality to a new low. You at least had the decency to leave my troops largely unmangled, so we were spared that particular burden on top of losing a strategically-significant depot!”
That last bit was so blatantly untrue that Optimus was unable to stifle an extremely rude noise in response.
Megatron stopped dead. After a moment of stunned silence over the comm channel, he ventured warily, “Did you have something to say, Prime?”
“Strategically-significant depot my aft,” said Optimus, who was rather proud of himself for managing the phrase without slurring. “It was an insignificant deposit guarded by a handful of bored soldiers who were clearly under no orders to hold it at all costs. We got away with the whole stash and no injuries, unless you count the scrape on Bulkhead’s foot from kicking one of your Eradicons as they ran away, which I don’t.”
“Vehicons,” said Megatron in a bemused voice that Optimus could not remember ever hearing before.
“What?” said Optimus, who was not coping well with the interruption to his train of thought.
“They were Vehicons,” said Megatron, still bemused, “not Eradicons. But please continue, Prime; I’m fascinated by your version of today’s events.”
“Um,” said Optimus, who had completely lost track of his pre-interruption diatribe. Everything was very warm and floaty and nice right now, and he’d much rather concentrate on that instead. “I … what?”
“Prime,” said Megatron slowly, and now amusement was creeping in alongside the bemusement, the combination being enough to push his frothing rage temporarily to the wayside. “I don’t suppose you made any of that energon into high-grade, did you?”
“Oh,” said Optimus. Everything was moving very slowly in his processor, treacly-slow and sweet. “Um. Just a little; I mean, Wheeljack did ask very nicely.”
“I see.” It was all amusement now, and the sound of it in that deep gravelly rumble made the warmth and tingling start to pool in some very specific locations beneath Optimus’s armor. “Don’t suppose you’d be willing to share?”
“That would be nice,” said Optimus, stretching again and adding a slow writhe into the bargain; it felt so good to move like this, to be relaxed and warm and to hear that voice pouring sinfully through his audial processes. “I was just thinking how nice some company would be right now …”
There was a sharp invent on the other end of the channel, and when Megatron spoke again the leer was so audible in his voice that Optimus didn’t have to close his eyes to imagine it. “Were you, now,” Megatron purred, and Optimus felt quite certain that at least some of his warm and tingly feelings were being reciprocated. “I agree, it’s a shame we’re not able to … share the experience more directly.”
“Mmmmh,” Optimus agreed. At some point he had apparently retracted his interface panel and now his hands – and attention – were occupied with things other than the conversation.
Megatron laughed, low and hungry, and Optimus arched under the combined onslaught of sensual input; everything was so slow and sweet and syrupy under the influence of the high-grade, and while overload was clearly on the horizon he had plenty of time to enjoy the process of reaching it.
“Do you miss this, Optimus?” Megatron sounded as smugly superior and controlled as always, a sound that made Optimus think vaguely about removing the expression from his face with a slap – or maybe a long, filthy kiss instead; that sounded like a much better option right now – but the low rasp limning his words spelled out his arousal with perfect clarity to one who had once known it so intimately. “Do you miss our little … talks? When I would comm you in the off-cycle, you in Iacon and I in Kaon, so far away, and we would … talk?”
“Yes,” Optimus gasped out, “yes, Megatron … I miss it, I miss you, I miss … I wish …”
Megatron hushed him. “Not now, Optimus. Not right now. Listen to me, instead. Hear my voice, hear my words … let me hear you, too.”
It was some time later that Optimus resurfaced, processor still sluggish under the load of lingering overcharge – how potent was that high-grade, anyway? – and body sluggish from a series of extremely pleasant overloads.
He realized that the comm channel was still open, and pinged it curiously.
“I’m here,” said Megatron, sounding rather sluggish and sated himself. “I had forgotten what a filthy mouth you have when you get going, Optimus; do your troops know you can talk like that?”
“No,” said Optimus without thinking, “only you.”
The silence that resulted from that revelation rang like a bell.
Optimus scrambled for something, anything to say that would keep this fragile moment between them still breathing. “I almost forgot,” he blurted, and came out with the first thing he could think of; “Happy May Day.”
It was a long, dreadful moment before Megatron responded. “Happy what?”
“May Day,” said Optimus, who felt rather like his spark was imploding and exploding all at once. “Many human cultures celebrate the first of May as a …” He paused, realization setting in, and despite himself began to smile.
“As a what, Prime?” Megatron sounded like his usual impatient self; but he had not broken the connection.
“As a fertility festival,” said Optimus, almost light-headed with giddy relief.
Silence. Then, “You are joking, I hope?”
“Not at all,” said Optimus.
“A fertility festival,” said Megatron, voice utterly flat.
“Yes,” said Optimus.
“That would make three,” said Megatron, still flat.
“That I know of, yes,” said Optimus. “I admit that there might be others of which I am unaware.”
“This is purely gratuitous,” said Megatron, shifting back to default grumpiness. “No species needs this many fertility festivals.”
“I wonder whether they think they might not be doing it right the first time,” said Optimus thoughtfully.
“There’s almost nine billion of them, Prime,” said Megatron acerbically, “clearly some of them have figured it out.”
The relief and the lingering overcharge and the post-overload lassitude combined to rupture Optimus’s fragile composure beyond recovery, and he collapsed against the berth covers in helpless laughter.
“Clearly I won’t be getting any more sensible conversation from you tonight,” Megatron grumbled over Optimus’s wheezing struggle for equilibrium.
“Take that tone and you won’t be getting any more overloads, either,” said Optimus; and then his processor caught up with what he had actually said and locked up completely, only to be jolted roughly back into operation by Megatron’s astonished splutter.
“I … wasn’t aware that was an offer on the table,” Megatron eventually choked out, “but far be it from me to turn it down. Just how much high-grade did you have, anyway?”
“… Apparently more than I had thought,” said Optimus, who was reeling from inebriated mortification. “And of far greater potency than our calculations had suggested, as well.”
“Clearly,” said Megatron, who was doing some reeling of his own. “… er. I don’t suppose that offer was, in fact, genuine …?”
He sounded so blatantly hopeful that Optimus felt another laugh bubbling up. “Well …” He pretended to give the matter some thought. “It does seem a shame to waste such a rare opportunity …”
Megatron’s laugh could have been irritatingly triumphant had it not been for that previous brief moment of vulnerability.
Optimus nobly decided to let it pass, and made himself comfortable amongst the rumpled covers of his berth. “Very well,” he said. “I’m listening.”
Chapter 6: Memorial Day
In which a human holiday strikes a little too close to home, and decisions might be forthcoming.
The ensuing hangovers were spectacular.
Ratchet displayed no mercy for anyone, including himself – he was as miserable as the rest of them but powered through it with a combination of experience and sheer cussedness, his Party Ambulance days having provided ample experience in the art of working while dreadfully hungover. He did refrain from shouting, which was a small mercy, but made up for it with withering sarcasm and a blanket refusal to hand out anything stronger than civilian-grade pain chips.
Everyone else crept around very quietly. Wheeljack had absented himself from the base entirely after disassembling the still under Ratchet’s direction; it was an open secret that he had simply gone back to the Jackhammer to reassemble the still there, but an unspoken agreement existed to refrain from all mention of such.
Optimus himself was in significantly better shape than the rest, having consumed far less high-grade and then having had the opportunity to burn off the resulting overcharge in a particularly effective and satisfying manner. Smokescreen did speculate wistfully on the possible healing powers of the Matrix at one point, and the rest of the team concurred that it was likely that and the fact that Optimus was simply much bigger than they were, therefore his systems could more easily distribute the overcharge. This explanation conveniently overlooked the fact that Arcee could – and had been known to – drink everyone else under the table, up to and including Bulkhead, but she nobly forbore pointing out the discrepancy.
Quietly at first but with increasingly vibrancy, the wheel of the year churned onward.
The fifth of May was garishly and loudly celebrated in Jasper, which prompted a frothing rant from Raf on the vulgarity of cultural appropriation, the frankly insulting stereotyping, and the fact that Cinco de Mayo, while an important holiday, was actually secondary in significance to Mexico’s Independence Day, a holiday which most gringos didn’t even know existed. About the time Raf drop-kicked a sombrero-shaped piñata across the room, Bumblebee decided it was time for an intervention and took Raf for a nice long drive; by the time they returned, all the piñata detritus had been cleaned up and Raf was back to his usual pleasant self.
The merry month of May crept along, and suddenly alongside the high desert flora there unfurled a profusion of tri-colored bunting and American flags, and banners began to advertise Jasper’s annual Memorial Day parade.
Fowler’s explanation, that Memorial Day was a time to honor those fallen in battle, certainly produced enough emotional resonance to put Optimus in a thoughtful frame of mind; but June’s mention of the old tradition in certain parts of the country wherein Memorial Day was for the honoring of all dead and for the upkeep and maintenance of family graveyards added a weight of melancholy to that thoughtfulness, and Optimus found himself grieving all over again for his fallen people.
There were no gravestones for the Autobots and Decepticons, the casualties of their war scattered across galaxies and far from home, their own world a desolate wasteland. There was no memorial to visit, no solace for the living in acts of service for the dead; humans were so fragile and short-lived in comparison, and perhaps in response to that – and perhaps in open defiance of it – they had developed so many rituals of comfort centering around this one universal, inescapable truth, that eventually all lights go out.
Grief and regret made Optimus restless, drove him from the base to the stark immediacy of open road beneath his tires and open sky above his head; he found no comfort at the now-familiar overlook and drove on, deep into the desert, to a sandy bluff where he had arrived too late to a distress call years ago.
Optimus transformed and walked slowly to the edge of the bluff where Cliffjumper had died. There was nothing to mark the spot; no cairn, no scorch marks, nothing. It was a beautiful place, objectively; but it was a beauty that cared nothing for the people who walked there. Earth was not Cybertron, and it did not care whether they lived or died. They were aliens here, the planet not inimical but still indifferent, and Optimus felt a deep, swift pain in his spark with that knowledge.
It wasn’t right that Cliffjumper’s sacrifice go unremarked. It wasn’t right that any of the sacrifices through the long, bloody eons of war go unremarked and unremembered, carried only by the last living Prime in the aching chamber of his spark.
There were outcroppings of harder rock among the sandstone of the bluff, and Optimus strode toward one with sudden fierce determination; dropped to one knee and activated his laser cutter, and with careful strokes carved the Autobot emblem on the rock face.
The stone would erode over time, he knew; and it was very possible that his life would end too soon for him to maintain and renew this memorial; but for a moment Optimus felt a little lighter in his spark, as though this act of grieving had eased a little of the ever-increasing pressure.
“So,” said a familiar, rasping voice behind him. “The great Optimus Prime stoops to acts of petty vandalism? For shame. What would the children think.”
He should be frightened, Optimus thought; he should be horrified that he was so caught up in what he was doing that he allowed Megatron to sneak up on him. For Primus’s sake, it’s not as though that massive flight engine was particularly stealthy to begin with …
And yet …
And yet he was not afraid. Not after all that had passed between them in the last several months. Not after all those careful, clandestine conversations; and certainly not after hearing Megatron utterly lose his composure and shout Optimus’s name the last time they spoke …
Optimus very deliberately wrestled his cooling system into submission; rose and turned toward his old friend, his dearest enemy. For all that they had been speaking together for months now, this was the first time they had been face to face, and it would not do to let his guard down completely.
Megatron stood at the edge of the bluff, tall and powerful and as infuriatingly confident as ever, and something in Optimus leapt to see him as it always did – in peace or in combat, they never did leave each other unaffected.
“Megatron,” said Optimus mildly.
“Optimus,” said Megatron, and there was an edge of mocking amusement there. “What brings you here alone? This isn’t your usual haunt.”
“No,” said Optimus, and the grief closed in again. “This is where Cliffjumper died, and I … I wanted to come remember him.”
“Not something you’ve done before,” said Megatron.
Optimus heard the unspoken question. “The humans are celebrating Memorial Day, remembering their dead and particularly those who fell in battle, and I realized that we – that I – had never taken the time to do so.”
“It’s not something we generally take time for in the middle of a war,” Megatron pointed out; but he was looking thoughtful as well, and after a moment he stepped up to the rock face on which Optimus had carved the Autobot insignia, and added his own mark: the Decepticon sigil and, beneath it, a score of tally marks.
Megatron stepped back from his work to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Optimus, and there was a faint ringing chime of satisfaction in his EM field that Optimus could not remember feeling before.
“The Eradicons who fought your Cliffjumper,” said Megatron, answering Optimus’s question. “He was a great warrior, and he took a terrible toll. They too are missed.”
Raw surprise loosened Optimus’s speech, and he blurted unthinkingly, “I would not have expected you to notice the loss of your drones, much less to mourn them.”
Beside him, Megatron went very still, a big predator in the moment before the final killing surge; and when he did move, it was to turn a slow, considering look on Optimus that, even after all this time, Optimus could not fully interpret.
“You know better than that, Prime.”
It took a moment to parse that, but once he did, shame left Optimus reeling like a blow to the face.
The Eradicons weren’t drones.
The bulk of Megatron’s forces might have been virtually identical, literally cast from the same mold, cold constructed in haste; made-to-order soldiers born into a war that left them neither the time nor the resources to develop along their own path; but they weren’t drones.
Optimus knew this. All the Autobots knew this. But it was so much easier to strike down a nameless, faceless, soulless drone than it was to fight one of his own people. It was so much easier to kill them if they weren’t people. It was so much easier to sleep at night, if they weren’t people.
Megatron didn’t send them to die because they were drones, and he didn’t send them to die because he didn’t care that they were people who had chosen to give him their loyalty. He sent them to die because he sent himself out to die with that same fervent dedication every time he set foot on the battlefield. He wasn’t asking more of them than he demanded of himself or any of his other soldiers; he was holding them to the same standard.
Optimus had believed that Megatron didn’t care about his people; and while the manner in which he had just been proven wrong was choking him with grief and shame, it also was feeding that tiny flame of hope deep within him …
Because if Megatron did care, there might be a way forward to end this war after all.
Optimus and Megatron could pine for each other, lust for each other, love each other with all their hearts until the stars burned out and the universe faded to dust, but that alone was not enough to end the war. It had not, after all, been enough for the last four million years.
Megatron had started the war to take by force the freedom and respect that the Council refused to give freely, fueled by outrage on behalf of all the people he had seen consigned to the gutter and the scrapheap, not just himself. For a long, long time Optimus had believed that all the revolutionary fervor had been nothing more than pretty words hiding the dark and rotting heart of the Decepticons – that Megatron had been driven by nothing more noble than thwarted pride and ambition and all-consuming greed for power; Optimus had struggled with the remnants of hope each time he had seen a hint that that was not the case, and chastised himself for creating phantoms out of desperate desire that they be real.
But if Megatron did care about his people, that hope was not so laughable after all.
And this, Optimus knew, was absolutely not the time to be thinking about that particular possibility. This was the time to salvage whatever he could of the rapport he had just so heedlessly sabotaged.
“You’re right,” said Optimus softly, and opened his EM field enough to share with Megatron his genuine remorse and shame and grief. “They are not drones, and I do know that. Every Autobot knows that; and we are all terribly guilty of allowing ourselves to see them as drones to salve our consciences. You’re right, and I’m sorry, and … and I don’t know what else there is I can say. Everything I could offer would just sound like a hollow platitude, and they deserve more than that.”
Megatron was quiet for a moment, and then huffed out a long sigh. “It’s enough, Optimus. You needn’t grovel; it’s not as though my hands are any less stained than yours. Millions of years of sending our people against each other to die, and knowing that we will continue to do so over and over again … there is not enough time or space to properly memorialize all our fallen friends, and we few who are left –“
“There are so few of us left,” Optimus whispered.
“Few indeed,” said Megatron grimly. “Few enough that one good skirmish could end our species entirely, and leave as a memorial nothing more than the broken husk of our home and a cautionary tale told across a thousand worlds.”
Optimus closed his eyes as the pain flared in his spark, the sure knowledge that Megatron was right. They stood on the edge of extinction now, driven there by rage and pride and hubris.
“I won’t surrender,” said Optimus tightly. “And I won’t stand by and let you harm sentient creatures who are innocent in our conflict. But …” He forced himself to vent through the rising static, and looked squarely at Megatron despite the pain he felt. “But I would end the war now, this moment, if I could.”
Megatron looked at him for a long, long moment, calculating, and then said, “I won’t surrender either. Nor will I, through inaction, allow my people to come to harm, or see the yoke of slavery on their necks ever again. And I will not shy from the truth that I am reforged in war and combat, and take pleasure there where you do not.” He looked pointedly at the talons on his hands, the huge cold bulk of the fusion cannon on his arm, and then back at Optimus. “But extinction was never my goal, either. So perhaps it is time to consider a new path.”
Optimus didn’t trust himself to speak; he nodded instead, staring at the rock wall on which their faction symbols gleamed with the high polish of freshly laser-cut stone. In time, the edges would blur and be softened; in enough time, the faces would be indistinguishable if not renewed. Perhaps peace would mean the faction symbols were no longer needed, but in the end all Cybertronians would be indistinguishable – either in peace as one people, or in death.
Optimus looked at the carved stone, and hoped for peace.