Chapter One: A Choice
The war was over. The Decepticons were defeated. After millennia of fighting, peace had finally been restored to the universe. It had been an end long in coming. For years, the Decepticons had been fighting a war they refused to recognize they were losing. Out supplied, underfed and led by incompetent mechs, it had only been a matter of time before Megatron and Optimus Prime finally met in one last decisive battle. It had been a bloody battle with heavy casualties on both sides. But in the end it had been Optimus Prime who permanently extinguished Megatron's spark and ended the Great War.
In the days immediately following the final battle there had been little time for celebration. Rogue Decepticons who had managed to escape capture after Megatron's defeat had to be hunted down and caught. Many Decepticons, when they were finally cornered, did not try to resist arrest. With their leader gone, their faction in shambles and no way to leave the planet, they had submitted themselves to stasis-cuffs with an aura of near-relief; they were as tired of fighting as their Autobot counterparts.
It took months to do, but with the help of their human allies, the Autobots finally captured the last Decepticon warrior.
The Autobots had immediately transported their prisoners back to Cybertron to answer charges of war crimes committed both on Cybertron and Earth over the course of the war. A tribunal of elders representing government, military and civilian sectors oversaw it. Many of the lower ranking soldiers were found guilty and exiled from their home world, never to be allowed to return. Those who were not more often than not left as well - scattering themselves to the numerous colonies that peppered the galaxies in search of refuge and peace. Almost all of the Deception higher ranking officers were found guilt with little to no deliberation needed by the tribunal to reach a consensus. Verdicts were given and sentences were laid. It was decided by the tribunal that those Decepticon officers who were found guilty would serve as an example to any other would-be warlords or government usurpers. Public opinion demanded that they be executed.
Optimus Prime sat in on every case. He even testified in several of them himself. He felt it was his duty as figurehead and military leader of their race to see the end of the war through to the very end. He knew he was seeing justice carried out, but with every guilt verdict and death sentence the tribunal read, the Matrix-bearer couldn't help but feel that after all the fighting and killing that there had to be a better way to rectify past mistakes and heal old wounds.
"Optimus… this is a waste 'a time. I'm telling yeh, he's never gonna agree ta this."
Optimus didn't break stride as he and Ironhide made their way deeper into Iacon's maximum-security detention center. The detention center's hallways were stark white and empty, staffed by only the occasional Enforcer guard. As Optimus and Ironhide turned down a new hallway, a young guard passing them snapped off a quick salute an accompanying, "Sir," to each of them before disappearing around a corner.
"I have to at least try, 'hide." Optimus murmured. "Starscream is a proud mech but I feel he will listen to reason in this. One of his greatest talents has always seemed to be survival."
Ironhide scowled. "Got that right. Ah can't count the number of times ah tried ta shoot that crazy seeker out of the sky only for him ta show up the next battle looking none the worse for wear."
Optimus tried to ignore Ironhide's open hostility for the Decepticon second-in-command. "Starscream was the last Decepticon officer to be tried. He was found guilty of war crimes and we both know what the price of that verdict is: he will have his spark extinguished and his frame melted down."
"Good riddance, ah say," Ironhide grumbled.
Optimus abruptly stopped in the middle of the hall. Ironhide was forced to stop as well. He stepped closer to the shorter, stockier mech and gently took Ironhide's face between his hands, urging his sparkmate to look up and meet his optics.
For as long as Optimus could remember Ironhide had been a constant, reassuring presence by his side. He'd originally joined Optimus's circle of officers as a master weapons specialist and Prime's personal bodyguard. Within short time he had become one of Optimus's most trusted soldiers and friends. Rarely did Optimus go somewhere without him or plan an attack without Ironhide's personal input. Maybe it was Ironhide's unquestionable loyalty or his gruff confidence no matter how bad the situation got, but whenever Optimus was around him he felt confident and safe, even in the midst of battle. When they were alone together unwinding after a tough battle, Optimus felt like he could be himself and not the unfazed leader everyone else expected him to be. Ironhide helped Optimus feel like a normal mech again, like when he was nothing more than a lowly dock worker named Orion Pax.
It took centuries for Optimus to realize that his feelings for the gruff weapons specialist went beyond just those of simple friendship or camaraderie, and were something much deeper in nature.
Optimus at first had been frightened by the revelation. Ironhide was one of his most trusted officers and best friend. It would be improper to let such feelings interfere with their professional relationship; especially when they were in the middle of a war. There was also the widely held belief that Primes were above such banal things like personal love or sexual attraction. Primes were thought to be near-mythological beings just one step removed from Primus himself. Primes were suppose to be the best example of their race. If only Optimus could have told everyone he was no different than any of his men and yearned for the same companionship and love as they did.
For vorns, Optimus kept his feelings secret, content to keep Ironhide near as nothing more than a friend he could appreciate from afar. It wasn't until millennia later, a few years before the end of the war on Earth, that Optimus's restless pining was finally put to an end. It had been the evening after a particularly violent clash with the Decepticons. In the heat of battle Optimus had been downed and almost permanently taken out by Megatron's plasma cannon. It had only been the quick intervention of Ironhide that had saved Optimus from assured destruction. That night, as they usually did after all the war meetings and damage control was done, Optimus and Ironhide had retired to Optimus's quarters to share a drink of high grade before parting company for recharge.
Optimus still vividly remembered the surprising conversation he and Ironhide had had that night.
"Yeh should 'a been more careful out there today, Optimus. Megatron almost permanently took yeh out." Ironhide was already a full cube of high grade ahead of Optimus, having started drinking almost as soon as the door had been closed behind them.
Optimus frowned around the edge of his own cube; Ironhide was one of only a couple mechs he trusted enough to lower his battle mask around and expose his face to. "Facing Megatron in battle is one of the unfortunate obligations of being a Prime."
Ironhide grimaced and downed the rest of his high grade in several deep gulps. He stared, scowling, into the dregs of his empty cube. "Yeh take too many risks in battle. One of these days yeh may not be as lucky as yeh were today."
Optimus gave Ironhide an affectionate smile. "That is why I rely on you to guard my back in battle. I can always trust you to be there."
"One of these days ah may not be there in time."
Optimus grew somber. "If it is the will of Primus that I rejoin the Allspark on the battlefield then it will be as it was suppose to be."
Ironhide shook his helm. "Yer Prime. Yer too important a mech ta lose like that."
"If I were to die the Matrix of Leadership would find a new host to lead the Autobots after me. I might be Prime but I am not irreplaceable. I have seen potential for such responsibility in many of those I lead."
Ironhide angrily shook his head. "No, yer not replaceable." His optics suddenly swung up to spear Optimus with a look that made Optimus's spark clench. "Not ta me yer not."
Despite all of Optimus's denials and refusal to admit his own feelings, there they all were staring back at him from the optics of his best friend - the same yearning, desire, love and lust he felt himself.
"'hide…" Optimus murmured, too stunned to properly react.
Ironhide met his gaze undaunted and unashamed, as if the high grade had given him the courage he'd needed. "Ah don't care if ah make a fool of myself or not, but ah need yeh ta know ah don't want to ever lose yeh. Yeh mean too much ta me ta let yeh get yerself killed without a fight."
Optimus numbly forced himself to find his voice. "How long have you felt this way about me?"
Perhaps sensing the bewildered hope in Optimus's voice, Ironhide's gaze did not waver from Optimus's. If anything, the heat behind it seemed to intensify. "Long enough fer me ta know if yeh died ah wouldn't care if ah saw the end of this war or not."
For the first time since he's accepted the responsibility of Prime, Optimus let his emotions guide his actions, and leaned across the space separating him and Ironhide and captured Ironhide's mouth against his own. The weapon's specialist moved to meet him, grabbing at the plating on Optimus's shoulders and chest to pull him closer. Arms encircled each other, warm plating pressing against the other's until it was almost impossible to know where one ended and the other began.
That had been the first night Optimus and Ironhide shared a berth. Maybe it was because they could sense the end of the war drawing closer, but from that night onwards they did not make any attempt to hide their feelings anymore. At times it felt like his and Ironhide's transition from friends to lovers was moving too fast. But in the end, several weeks after Megatron's final defeat, Ironhide and Optimus solidified their love in a permanent sparkbond. It had been a long rocky road to that point but Optimus had not looked back on any of it for a moment with regret.
Looking into his sparkmate's optics now reaffirmed Optimus's belief that he needed Ironhide beside him, backing him up in what he knew deep down in his spark he needed to do.
"Please," Optimus softly pleaded. "I know how you feel about our former enemies but this is something I must do. Enough lives have already been lost. We Autobots fought for a righteous cause, but we have been guilty of doing terrible things as well in the heat of battle. We did things over the course of the war that at the time we counted as acceptable in the greater war effort. The only difference between us and the Decepticons for having to answer for them is that we were lucky enough to be on the winning side. There is another way to seek justice for crimes done in the midst of war that does not involve anymore loss of life. I am so tired of death, Ironhide. I am so tired of looking at the bodies of mechs and femmes who have gone to join the Well of Allsparks before their time. The Decepticons are defeated, their cause over. As victors we must strive to live by example the ideals we fought so hard to protect. As I have said countless times: I believe every sentient being can make a change for good, no matter what mistakes they've made in the past."
Optimus stepped closer, pulling Ironhide flush against his chassis. He leaned his helm down against his sparkmate's so that their faces were inches apart. "I have to do this, 'hide. I have to at least try to convince Starscream to save himself. I still believe redemption can be found."
Ironhide vented a disgruntled sigh of defeat, but reluctantly melted against his sparkmate's front. The synchronized pulse of their sparks hummed against the inside of their chest plates. His arms came up to loosely wind around Optimus's waist to hold him closer. "Fine," he huffed. He stared long and hard into Optimus's optics. "Ah always knew yeh were a good mech who believed his own speeches. Ah just didn't know how much yeh believed yer own speeches until after ah bonded with yeh."
Optimus allowed himself an affectionate chuckle. "What kind of Prime would I be if I didn't?"
Ironhide gave him a weak smile that didn't quite reach his optics, and gently pulled away from Optimus. "Ah just don't want yeh ta get yer hopes too high about Starscream, 's all. If he knew how much it meant ta yeh ta save his sorry aft he might opt ta be executed just ta spite yeh." Giving his sparkmate one last heavy look, Ironhide turned and resumed his trek deeper into the prison.
Optimus solemnly followed.
Within minutes, the atmosphere of the hallways changed. With one turn Optimus and Ironhide found themselves in a bustling epicenter of activity. Emerging into a large command center, the two were suddenly ensconced in a cocoon of voices that reverberated off the walls of the room that were lined with countless tele-consols showing hundreds of different security feeds of the prison. An important looking mech almost instantly found them in the confusion.
He was of average height and build with no memorable paint job to speak of: a utilitarian matte gray with blue trim. The prison's crest was emblazed on his left shoulder. A five tiered gold chevron was painted on his right. Optimus had been Prime long enough and dealt with enough high-ranking mechs over the vorns to recognize the aura of self-assured confidence and power that radiated off him as he strode towards them.
"Optimus Prime, sir. Consort Ironhide."
Ironhide scowled. A spike of irritation flashed across his and Optimus's sparkbond. Optimus sent a pulse of soothing affection back across in response. Although it wasn't a common situation, when a Prime was bonded, the Prime's sparkmate, whether mech or femme, was given the title Consort as a sign of respect to his or her position as the Matrix-bearer's chosen mate. Ironhide, however, had never taken a liking to the name. He thought it sounded too formal and even slightly degrading, as if he were a high-born femme who had bonded purely out of political gain. Everyone who knew him well took care not to use the title in front of Ironhide unless decorum strictly required them to.
Optimus stepped forward to meet the mech. "You must be Divebomb."
"Yes, sir. I'm warden of this facility. I was told of your visit just this morning by Senator Riptide. If I might be so bold to say, I am confused why you would want to speak to this particular prisoner. Starscream is a notoriously dangerous mech and has already been found guilty of war crimes. He's scheduled for deactivation within the deca-cycle."
"That is still yet to be confirmed," Optimus said. "I have spoken to the High Council and the tribunal that oversaw the Decepticon trials and have come to an agreement with them. Those sentenced to death will be given the choice of a different sentence."
"And what sentence would that be, sir?" Divebomb asked.
"Rebirth. They will be given the option to surrender themselves to Vector Sigma and have their sparks cleansed and recycled into a new body for a second chance of life instead of execution."
Divebomb stared at Optimus for a full klick of stunned silence. "That is… highly unorthodox, sir. I cannot say I've ever heard of that being made an option before now. Many would consider such a fate worse than death. Again, if I might be so bold to say, from what little personal dealings I've had with Starscream I doubt he will accept such a choice."
"But it is a choice that is his to make," Optimus said.
Divebomb opened his mouth to say something, but he was prevented from any further comment by the tread of heavy footsteps coming towards them. Optimus turned to the doorway of the command center just in time to see the footstep's massive owner enter. No less than four guards gave the mech startled sideways looks. Optimus inwardly snickered. Skyfire had a way of disarming others by the sheer size of his presence upon first encounters. It was only later after people became aware of his gentle disposition that they became more comfortable with his enormous size.
"Skyfire," he called to the scientist.
"Optimus." Skyfire quickly crossed the room and leaned over him, a desperate look clouding his facial plates. "Have you already spoken to Starscream? Am I too late to talk to him? Has he already made his decision?"
"No. I haven't talked to Starscream yet," Optimus calmly reassured him. "I promise you will get a chance to talk to Starscream before anything is officially decided."
Some of the immediate distress left Skyfire's face, but his optics still gleamed with anxiety.
"I'm sorry, but who is this?" Divebomb curtly demanded.
Optimus turned back to the warden. "Skyfire was friends with Starscream vorns before the Great War broke out. During the war, they unfortunately fell on opposite sides of the battle line. I asked him to come today to help me speak to Starscream about my offer."
Optimus held Divebomb's gaze, making sure to impart the impression that Skyfire's presence was no longer a debatable topic. "May we see Starscream now?"
Divebomb's lips tightened but he stiffly nodded his head. "Yes, sir. This way please." He led the small caravan of mechs out of the command center back into the hallway. Expertly navigating the maze of identical hallways, he said, "We've placed Starscream in section 16. It has the highest level of security and is where we house all of our maximum-security prisoners. He's proven to be quite… antagonistic towards anyone he comes in contact with, so we've had to place him in solitary confinement. I've had to threaten him with a silencer collar on more than one occasion just for my guards' sake."
"That sounds about right," Ironhide grumbled at Optimus's side.
Skyfire's optics became unfocused with distant memories. "Starscream has never been one to accept submission easily. He hates not feeling like he's in control. It was a source of constant consternation when we worked together in the Science Academy's Space Exploration Department. Our colleagues never seemed able to understand his unique way of interacting with others. I suspect that was why no one except me ever requested the opportunity to work with him, despite his brilliance in the field."
Divebomb made no comment on Skyfire's fond memories, and for the rest of the journey the four mechs walked in silence.
He finally came to a stop in front of a door framed by two guards. Both of them carried high-powered plasma rifles. Optimus sensed Skyfire's distress at the sight of them. Ironhide seemed ambivalent.
"He we are." Divebomb gestured to the double reinforced door. "The prisoner has already been shackled with stasis-cuffs in preparation for your visit. You will be allowed to enter the cell, but I must demand that you maintain at least a four-pace distance from him at all times. There are security cameras at five different points around the cell. Should Starscream make any suspicious movements, extra guards will be called. I will be waiting here outside the cell along with these guards. If you need any assistance or feel you are in any kind of danger, call to us immediately. You will be allowed thirty klicks to speak to the prisoner. At the end of those thirty klicks you will immediately be asked to leave in accordance with our established security guidelines. You were all searched and had any weapons or questionable objects confiscated when you entered my prison, so I will not require you to be searched again. You are not to hand the prisoner anything at any time. If you try to hand him anything or touch him in any way, you will be immediately escorted from the cell and the visitation terminated. Are there any questions?"
"No, thank you, warden," Optimus said. "We will take it from here."
Divebomb nodded and gestured towards the nearest guard. "Open the door."
As the guard entered a code into the door's lock pad, Optimus turned to Skyfire. "I know you are anxious to see Starscream again, Skyfire, but would you be so kind as to wait outside until I call for you? I would like the opportunity to speak to Starscream from a purely diplomatic standpoint before we try to appeal to his emotional side."
Skyfire seemed distressed by the request but obediently bowed his helm. "Yes, of course. Whatever you think is best to make him agree."
"Thank you, Skyfire," Optimus said. "I promise you will get your chance to talk to him."
The door to the cell noiselessly slid aside. A large, empty room opened up before them through the doorway. Optimus moved towards it. Ironhide followed half a step behind. Optimus cast him a questioning look. Ironhide returned it undaunted.
"Yeh weren't planning on going in there and talking ta Starscream without me were yeh? 'Cause that ain't gonna happen in a million vorn."
"As you wish," Optimus conceded. Affection for the gruff mech bled across their bond unbidden like water through a sieve. "But if it's at all possible would you please let me do the talking?"
"Can't promise anything, but ah'll try my best."
Optimus smiled behind his battle mask and stepped through the doorway into the room, his sparkmate following close behind. The cell was large but completely empty except for a plank of metal welded to the far wall that served as a berth. The walls were a pure sterile white, the ceiling one massive span of lighted paneling. The only bit of color to break up the processor-numbing emptiness was perched on the edge of the cell's berth. Starscream sat with one leg thrown over the other at the ankle joint to give the impression of aloof disregard to anyone who saw him. His wrists were shackled with stasis-cuffs, his throat circled with a shock-collar. His wings hung limply down his back. Apparently his jailers had decided to take no chances with any possible escape attempts, and had had his flight gears disabled so that his wings were nothing more than useless panes of metal hanging from his back struts. Despite Starscream's obvious attempts to appear poised and suave, Optimus sensed a pervading aura of defeat around the seeker.
Starscream looked up at Optimus and Ironhide's entrance and speared them each in turn with a condescending glare. "Well, well, well, if it isn't the all-powerful Optimus Prime himself come to visit me. I take it you wanted to personally lord your victory over me before they execute me?"
Optimus felt Ironhide stiffen beside him, but sent a warning pulse across their sparkbond to remain quiet. Ironhide vented heavily, but obliged. "No, Starscream. I did not come here today to revel in the Decepticons' defeat."
"Of course not," Starscream sneered. He shifted a little in place, as if to make himself more comfortable. His dead wings scrapped against the unpadded surface of the berth. For some reason Optimus found the sight extremely disturbing. He was still used to seeing Starscream proudly framed by his wings on the battlefield, not chained and unable to make his wings respond to his commands. "The great Optimus Prime is above such things like gloating. I can assure you, though, that if our positions were reversed I wouldn't have any such qualms."
"Too bad you and the rest of the Decepticons got yer afts beat in," Ironhide growled.
Optimus sent Ironhide a sharp look out of the corner of his optic. You promised me! it accused. Ironhide reluctantly fell silent by his side again. His side of their bond continued to roil with barely checked emotions - most of them some form of irritation, anger and disgust for the shackled seeker.
Starscream's optics flashed, his mouth turned down in an ugly sneer. "Why are you here? Unless you're here to tell me the tribunal's had some kind of change of spark and I'm free to go, I'd rather spend my last few days alive alone if you and your new sparkmate are my only options for company - congratulations on that, by the way," he snidely added.
Ironhide's side of their bond flashed with irritation, but he blessedly managed to hold his glossa.
"I came today with an offer for you," Optimus said. "I have spoken to the High Council and tribunal on your and your Decepticon brethrens' behalf to mitigate your executions to a different sentence, should you agree to it."
Starscream's optics narrowed suspiciously. He nevertheless sat forward on the edge of the berth, intrigued. "And what would this mitigated sentence be, exactly?"
"Rebirth through Vector Sigma."
Starscream's optics widened into perfect circles of startled red.
"Your spark will be cleansed of past transgressions and transferred into a new protoform in one of Cybertron's hatchling facilities to-"
"NO!" Starscream shrilly cut him off. The seeker surged to his thrusters, trembling in horror. "I will NOT surrender my spark to Vector Sigma! Never!"
Both Optimus and Ironhide were startled by Starscream's reaction. "Starscream," Optimus calmly tried to reason. "Rebirth is not the same as death. It is a chance for you start over and lead a life unburdened by past mistakes."
"At the cost of losing all my memories and anything else that ever made me who I am!" Starscream spat. "I would rather have my spark ripped out and extinguished than face such a fate. I am Starscream! Second-in-command of the Decepticons! Prince of the skies! Scientific genius and inventor! I will not become some helpless sparkling again. At least in death I will remain who I've always been."
"And go to the Pit to suffer for all eternity for your crimes instead of taking on a new identity and having the chance to live life as an honorable mech, and perhaps even make up for some of your past mistakes before going on to join those before us in the Well of Allsparks," Optimus softly intoned. Starscream quieted at his serious tone, though his optics still gleamed with prideful defiance. "The Decepticons no longer exist. You are second-in-command to nothing anymore. If you do not accept my offer, everything you think makes you who you are will still be forfeit when they extinguish your spark on the end of an electric rod. Please, Starscream, listen for once to reason. I know you are proud of who you are and what you've accomplished in your life, but your life is about to end. And permanently in every sense of the word if you do not accept this second chance I am giving you. You are not the only one who's had to chose how he would pay for his crimes. Soundwave has already agreed to my offer. He surrendered his spark to Vector Sigma just the day before along with all his symbiotes who survived the war."
Starscream began to angrily pace along his side of the cell. Optimus heard the guards outside the door anxiously shift their rifles in response to the seeker's movements. "There is no guarantee I would have the same level of intelligence as I do now if I agree to this," Starscream muttered. "There isn't any guarantee I would even come back as a seeker." He abruptly stopped pacing and speared Optimus with a sudden look of horror. "I have lived my entire life as a flier. I don't know what I'd do if I couldn't fly. My entire existence has always been tied to the skies."
Optimus felt something inside his spark soften at the seeker's admission. So used was he to Starscream's egotism, pride, conniving betrayals and brutality that to see him show so much fear at losing something so basic to him at flight made Optimus see a little better the kind of mech Starscream must have been once upon a time before war and ruthless ambitions warped him into the mech everyone besides Skyfire knew him as today.
"Being reborn will not be the end of everything," Optimus said. "It will be the beginning of everything else yet to come."
Starscream defiantly shook his helm, his stasis-cuffed hands clenched into fists. "I don't want to die - especially not at the hands of any of you filthy Autobots. But how can you seriously ask me to give up everything I ever was?"
Sensing he'd hit a roadblock and had reasoned with Starscream as much as he was able to himself, Optimus glanced over his shoulder to the door. "Skyfire, would you like a chance to talk to Starscream?"
Starscream froze in place as Skyfire slowly folded himself through the doorway into the cell. "Skyfire…" he murmured, stunned.
Skyfire gazed at him with sorrowful optics. "Starscream. It's been a long time."
Optimus discretely stepped out of the way closer towards the door. He motioned Ironhide to follow his example. Whatever happened next was completely between Skyfire and Starscream.
"What are you doing here?" Starscream spat. He seemed to have finally recovered from the shuttle's unexpected appearance.
"Optimus asked me to come help convince you to accept his offer. He thought you might be reluctant to accept."
Starscream's facial plates bunched together in a defensive scowl. "Fragging right I'm reluctant to accept! He wants me to agree to some half-processed deal of letting Vector Sigma take my spark and put it in another protoform."
"I know what's involved in the deal being offered to you," Skyfire said. "I know why you would have such reservations of agreeing to something like this, but I beg you to seriously consider it. I know we've had our differences since I woke up on Earth and we were forced to chose different sides, but I am here today solely in your best interest."
Starscream scowled, his lips twisting into a pained, angry grimace. "You left me. I vouched for you to Megatron and you abandoned me for the Autobots over some measly humans! I told him you were my friend and that you could be trusted, and what did you go and do? You betrayed me! Do you know how badly Megatron beat me after you switched to the Autobots?"
"Starscream," Skyfire sighed. "All of that is in the past now. We both made our decisions and nothing we do will ever change that. Now is not the time to hold onto past grudges or hurt feelings. I know you feel like I abandoned you but I've never once, not even for a moment, ever stopped caring for you for as the most important mech in my life. I still love you as my friend and lover the same way I did when we explored the universe together."
Optimus and Ironhide exchanged startled glances. This was news to both of them. Optimus had known Skyfire and Starscream had been good friends before the war and had worked together in the scientific field, but Skyfire had never said they had been more than just friends. The revelation made Optimus hope all the more than Skyfire was able to do what he had not in convincing Starscream.
Starscream's face crumbled at Skyfire's words, his optics filling with static around the edges.
"It was bad enough when I lost you in that blizzard, but to find out your were still alive thousands of years later and have you chose someone else over me was almost too much for me to bear."
"I know, and I regret what I had to do every moment since," Skyfire said. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't wonder what would have happened if I hadn't been caught in that storm and had been around to stop you from falling under Megatron's sway. I wonder all the time how different things might have been if I had been here to stop you from ever getting involved in that war."
Starscream gave a sharp, ironic snort. "If you had been around I probably wouldn't be in this cell right now facing execution. That's pretty much for certain."
Skyfire's optics grew desperate and he took a step closer to the seeker. "Please consider Optimus's offer, Starscream. I'm begging you. I do not know if I can stand to see you meet the executioner's rod."
"But if I agree to be reborn through Vector Sigma I won't remember anything from this life. I won't remember you or anything we had together. There isn't even any guarantee I'll ever see you again when I come back in a new protoform."
Skyfire's voice suddenly became strained, as if he was struggling to hold in his emotions. "I know. And I will mourn you for the rest of my days as though you really had died. But I would rather have you be reborn and know that you live on somewhere in some new form than see you executed and know that you are gone forever."
Starscream's face completely crumbled, and Optimus knew he'd finally made his decision. "I don't want to forget loving you," he whispered in a voice so filled with longing, sorrow and despair there was no hint of a screech anywhere in it.
"I know," Skyfire murmured. "But it's the only way you'll have a second chance to prove to everyone you can be just as good a mech I know you still are deep down in your spark."
Optimus sensed something abruptly shift between the estranged lovers. Moving as if on instinct the two stepped closer to the other, their optics locked in mutual forgiveness and desire. Skyfire raised his arms out to Starscream as the smaller mech leaned forward as best as he could in his restraints to let himself be wrapped in the shuttle's comforting embrace. They were stopped, however, by the voice of one of the guards outside the cell.
"Maintain a four-pace distance from the prisoner at all times or you will be immediately escorted from the cell!"
Skyfire and Starscream both stopped and stared at each other across the short, yet insurmountably wide distance separating them. Optimus felt his spark ache at the helpless look of longing that passed between them. He could only imagine the pain he'd feel if he were never allowed to touch Ironhide again like that.
"I don't care what Vector Sigma does to me, I'm not going to let my spark forget you," Starscream announced with brash resolve.
Skyfire gave him a watery smile. "Then I will wait until the end of time for you to find me again."
Starscream sharply glanced in Optimus and Ironhide's direction. "There you go, Prime. You win. I accept your offer. Now get out of here so I can talk to Skyfire alone for awhile. We no longer require your presence."
Optimus nodded and turned to the door with Ironhide beside him. "As you wish, Starscream. I will tell the tribunal of your decision. I wish you the best of luck in whatever life Vector Sigma gives you next."
Starscream ignored him, his attention locked on the larger mech in front of him. Striding out of the cell and into the hallway to rejoin Divebomb and the guards, Optimus cast the two one last glance. The sight of the two lovers standing so close yet still so far apart stabbed the Autobot leader to the very center of his core. It saddened him to think that Skyfire and Starscream would never see each other this way again. If Primus was kind they would find each other again no matter what protoform Starscream was reborn in. It was a fool's hope, though, Optimus knew. The universe was a wide place with thousands of hatchling facilities spread out across Cybertron and it's many colonies. There was no saying even when Starscream's spark would be reborn in a new protoform. He might not find a new body for hundreds of thousands of vorns. The chances of him being reborn anytime soon, anywhere near his former lover were slim to none.
Despite these disheartening facts, deep down in his spark, Optimus couldn't shake the feeling that he would one day cross paths with the proud seeker again.