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Trigger Condition

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Trigger condition

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The light from the Matrix was blinding. It ran bright corrosive lines down the metal walls, sending melted circuitry dripping to the floor like hot wax. The cavern vibrated with the shrill roar of klaxons and shivered like a city in quake.

He watched the rippling light show from a crumpled heap on the floor. His mind shivered in agony as the blue light washed over him in pulsing waves, plucking at the shards of Unicron’s control that pierced through his mind and searing the nanites that peppered his body like a poison. He snarled, vicious and sharp, his own first real movement as he slowly came back online. Fighting against the last stronghold of Unicron’s grip, he regained control of his body and let the light burn out their connection, bit by bit, wrenching his processors back one at a time.

When he had enough control over his neural cortex, he tore down his old firewall and reset his resiliency protocols. He itched to overhaul his entire internal defense systems but he had neither the time nor the power. Instead, he tossed a packet over from main memory into core processing, quickly unwrapping and instantiating the new anti-malware program; he’d had a lot of time to work on it, locked out of his body. He grunted as it ran through his systems, fire burning methodically through his circuits. He ran it again, once, twice, just to be sure.

His combat modules seemed fine but he ran diagnostics anyway, adjusting and aligning processes, removing entirely the routines that Unicron had become too fond of, but he forced himself to keep some of the new, more practical, packages. The new armor was lighter, stronger, Unicron’s mark writ upon it and it would take some getting used to before he could scrap them entirely.

Finally, when his body was his once more, as safe as it could get, he restored his full personality matrix back from deep storage, sighing in relief.

Megatron opened his optics and squinted into the light of the opened Matrix, still burning bright. He rolled out his shoulders and checked his cannon and his sword, trying to get used to movement after so long off his processors. He pushed himself to his feet, staggered, and lifted a hand to steady himself, only to grunt in disgust as his jerked his hand free of the melting mess of a wall. Unicron’s gift, the hissing metal didn’t leave a single scratch on his armor as he took slow, squelching steps forward.

In the very center of the chamber was a giant well, stretching out farther than the eye could see and sunk down impossibly deep into the floor, it held a churning ocean of light, the waves washing up impossibly high to leave half-melted burn scars in the metal. The light was a roar of two colors: red and blue tendrils that snarled and snapped at each other. The red light rose from the depths of that massive well, wave after wave, a massive, unquenchable army and on the edge of this well sat a pinprick of blue, small but unmovable. Their clashes seared his optics and left behind mottled patches of darkness in his vision.

Megatron knew what he would see and yet when his optics reset he was still surprised to find Optimus Prime. The fearless leader of the Autobots, kneeling like a supplicant, had his head bowed in prayer and his chestplate slid wide open for the world to see. It was embarrassingly vulnerable. The delicate wiring, his circuits, the intricate metal cage meant to protect his spark, Megatron could see everything.

The Matrix hummed inside Optimus’s spark chamber. Its bulk took up every spare inch of Optimus’s chest, massive and crisscrossed with layers of wire and cable, its power colored the air blue. Overshadowed by the Matrix, his spark was pushed into the farthest corner, it’s delicate pulses just barely visible. His optics were twisted shut and leaked lubricant down over his battle mask, the drops hissing against the Matrix’s heat. He was blind and deaf to the world. Power, strength, will, everything was given over to the Matrix as it poured out a steady stream of blue light straight into the well.

Megatron’s tactical unit tried to remind him of the larger threat at hand but he didn’t want to care about Unicron, he didn’t want to think about Unicron. All he wanted was to let that familiar rage thump through his systems, let adrenalin drive his steps forward. Years of Optimus and his little gang of Autobots, nothing more than a thorn in his side, running headfirst into the path of the Decepticon war machine, so desperate and naive.

Primus had chosen Optimus Prime and made him the bearer of his Matrix and Optimus moved through life as if that somehow made him right. As if his cause was more noble or just than Megatron’s. As if the Autobots had any moral standing. There was no such thing as a moral war just what you could win with your own two hands and how capable you were at deluding yourself, how much history you were willing to forget, how many tragedies you could rewrite.

Megatron would not let them forget. A millennia of degradation under Autobot rule would not be erased. He would let Unicron destroy them all before he let the Decepticons forget.

He would never forget what it meant to toil under Autobots singing the tale of Primus, to fight their wars, to build their cities, to mine for their parts and their fuel and be left, forgotten for dead, buried there for their comfort. Unicron or the Autobots, it’d be a death sentence either way.

Megatron stared down at Optimus, kneeling on the edge of the great abyss, armor shining by the light of a fiery red sun, protected behind a tiny pocket of blue light. Megatron could see, nestled in the very back of his chamber, Optimus’s spark. Such a delicate thing to house the heart of a giant, slagging fool.

Saved by Optimus Prime. Unicron’s enslavement was just barely worse.

“You always did like to hide,” said Megatron, looking at the tight line of pain down Optimus’s jaw, barely concealed behind the mask. Megatron’s hands clenched reflexively as he reached for his sword but it jammed against its hatch and refused to slide free.

He growled in frustration and switched to his cannon but he had to manually kickstart his combat modules to force it to charge. It hummed in his hands, 20%, 30%, he tilted back Optimus’s helm and pressed his cannon to Optimus’s tear stained face. The Autobot leader handed to him on a silver platter. No great fight, no last stand, just a stab in the back while the world was not looking. Megatron snarled in frustration as his safety kicked on automatically and locked out his cannon.

Megatron couldn’t find his anger. Not even a deliberate attempt to think of his own helplessness, managed to coax it forward. It struggled to keep hold of any processing time and dropped out before he could try to boost its priority.

The Matrix’s blue light poured from Optimus’s spark chamber, reaching strangling hands down for Unicron’s red, fiery spark. Unicron’s death knells shook the chamber and Megatron automatically reached out a steadying hand to keep Optimus’s limp body from tumbling into the well.

Gently, he traced his fingers up from Optimus’s shoulder to the narrow gap in his armor at the base of his neck, so close to the delicate neuro-cortical strand. He tried to slide a probe out from his wrist but the panel spasmed, slamming shut on the delicate cable. His own body still fighting against him.

And as if in response, his primary motivator flagged a priority one readout. Weakened magnetic pulse, slowed neural activity, hiccupping breaths. Megatron wouldn’t need to kill Optimus because at this rate the blasted piece of scrap was going to kick the can all on his own. And now that he was aware of it, Megatron couldn’t help but notice the ragged sound of Optimus’s overworked fans, the limp tilt of his head, the stiffness of his body, the lengthening pause between each pulse of his spark.

The Matrix would either kill Unicron or kill Optimus in trying. It was chewing through an enormous amount of power, spreading across Optimus’s processors like a wildfire, and soon it would have nothing left to kick off except primary life support functions. Primus’s chosen would get spit out like a chewed up, dried out husk.

Megatron glared down at the tangled red and blue of Unicron and Primus’s power, two gods who had fought since the beginning of time itself, at last, determined to declare a victor. And here they were, Megatron and Optimus, two fools too caught up in their own fight to recognize their place in this divine war as two pawns for the slaughter.

Suddenly it all seemed so absurd and Megatron couldn’t help but laugh. Finally, here before him was Optimus, bared and tear-stained while what once gave him strength, drained him dry, his precious god turned against him as he finally learned what it meant to be disposable. Finally, Optimus learned why Megatron had begun his war in the first place. A millennia too late.

Megatron sat down beside his longtime foe with his head in his hands.

Two bots sat before the edge of an abyss as two gods fought to the death. Once lofty ideals transformed into divine greed. For the first time in his life, Megatron did not feel like fighting. Sitting next to Optimus’s living corpse, he knew that Optimus wasn’t up to fighting either.

The Matrix churned like a storm on the sea, blue waves crashed against Unicron, trying to drown the other god’s spark. A distant clanging rose up, louder and louder, blaring klaxons shrieking all around them, and the Matrix dove off the edge of the well for one last massive push. It swirled, funneling down, drilling into the sickly light of Unicron’s spark, wrapped tight like a snake around a dying sun. Unicron’s spark flickered once, twice, nothing.

“Failsafe: initiated. Trigger: imminent spark failure.” The mechanical voice shook the walls, echoing eerily inside Unicron’s massive chest. “Designation Matrix: detected. Failsafe program AJ598: initiated.”

Megatron pushed hastily to his feet and pulled Optimus’s body farther away from the edge. His sword slid free easily this time.

“Spacebridge: launching activation sequence. Establishing connection to supernova cluster PX581...Connection Established.”

Optimus’s optics opened, suddenly, wide and unseeing.

“Power source standby. Instantiating spacetime dilation interface.”

“Oh no,” thought Megatron, right before Optimus began screaming.

The Matrix pulsed in bigger and bigger waves; its light so bright it was painful to the touch. Red tendrils were hooked in deep and Unicron’s spark wrapped itself tight like claws and pulled. And the blue was ripped straight from Optimus’s chest.

The explosion threw them both to the floor. Circuits smoked and the tang of burnt metal hung nauseatingly in the air. Megatron pushed himself to his feet, combat systems kicking in and automatically backburnered the panicked systems diagnostics that kept trying to jump into primary processing.

Optimus’s optics flashed in and out as his cores reeled, his spasming body banging into his still open chestplate, processors crashing and desperately trying to reboot, ventilations system whirring as they working to disperse the heat.

 Megatron hissed at the sight of the damage. The Matrix had exploded inside Optimus’s spark chamber, shrapnel lining the inside of his chest, circuits scraped raw. He held Optimus down as gently as he could and tried to keep him from doing more damage to himself as the last of the Matrix’s light winked out and Optimus’s screaming died down.

A choked noise rose from Optimus’s hoarse throat. Optimus’s optics were unfocused, his body still shivering as he reached up blindly, pawing at his chestplate. His spark shone brightly, lonely in his chest without the weight of the Matrix. “Megatron.”

“Don’t move,” Megatron said gruffly, but he was careful as he batted Optimus’s searching hands aside and pushed the metal wings on either side of Optimus’s chest slowly shut. The armor squealed but closed without protest, vents hissed as Optimus’s self-repair modules started up.

Optimus’s breath hitched, his optics flickering as he tried to push himself upright. “Unicron…”

“I know,” Megatron said, pushing Optimus back down.

The fiery red of Unicron’s spark was flickering to life once more. It threw purple shadows against the chamber walls as it lashed out at the severed blue strands of the Matrix, pulling them apart like cotton and then sinking the power down into the dark depths of Unicron’s spark chamber.

Megatron pushed himself to his feet and stepped up to the edge of the well. He charged his cannon, soothed by its familiar hum, locked it back against his shoulder and blasted at Unicron’s spark. It roared through the air and hit the spark with little more than a splat. Megatron huffed in annoyance. He knew it would take more than a gun to kill a god but he still wished that, for once in his life, something could be simple.

Megatron looked back down at his Optimus, venting hazily, still dying, no miracles left in him. And then he launched himself into the depths of the well.

He transformed and let his wings stretch free as he flew, diving through slashing tendrils of light and wove in between mazes of crossbeams, letting gravity pull him faster and faster in his urgency. Even with his new armor, Unicron’s spark licked sizzling strips down his body, threatening to seep into cables and sink into his wiring and he had to manually shut off his pain receptors and ignore the trail of melted armor he left in his wake. He kept close to the funnel of blue light, diving through the clear air in the brief moments between the crashes of red and blue.

Deeper and deeper he dove, drowning in the red ocean until he burst through with a pop, thrown into sudden darkness, the Matrix’s blue formed more shadows than light. Debris tumbled from the sides of the well and Megatron had to dodge past Unicron’s drones, unsure if they knew he was no longer under Unicron’s control.

A bright wall of sickly black appeared as he neared the bottom of the well. It pulsed in waves, sucking surrounding noise and light into its depths. A weird distortion hovered in the air above its surface, like smelling color or hearing taste, it left a clammy feeling crawling up his back strut like a plasma gun pressed to the base of his neck. Reality distorting, a god playing his part.

Suddenly, a thick humming noise filled the air and it was like slamming into a brick wall. He tumbled, desperately reversing his thrusters as the waves of sound tossed him around like a kite. Wings transforming back into arms and legs, Megatron grabbed onto a crossbeam as his body slammed hard against the metal, and he quickly polarized his hands and feet holding desperately fast to not get blown off, to not tumble into those unfathomable depths.

“Initiating spacetime dilation interface.”

One foot and hand at a time, Megatron crawled to the edge of the beam, gritted his teeth, and ignored his body’s strain alerts. Directly underneath him was the massive pool, the Matrix’s power pouring in. Metal cranes lined the perimeter, reaching up to grip Primus’s power and pull it down through the spacebridge.

And that’s what the black pool was, although it certainly didn’t look like a spacebridge. Megatron had never seen one this massive, the construction costs alone were inconceivable, to power and run the bridge required enough energon to refuel Cybertron thrice over, its power readings were off the charts, quite literally godlike.

Megatron remembered Optimus, lying back up at the top of the well with the walls of his chest shredded by the Matrix and shuddered hard. Unicron had a spacebridge inside his spark chamber. He scanned the edge of the pool and his optics landing on the control tower.

“Spacetime dilation: calibrating wave period,” echoed the mechanical voice.

Hastily, Megatron redirected all his power into his cannon, charging as quickly as he could. He shut off his internal safeguards, grunting in pain as the cannon’s heat began to burn through his armor, the stress creating microfractures up and down his arm.

“Entering looping sequence in three, two, …”

Megatron fired.

And the world exploded in a wave of light and pain.

“Loop sequence: initiated.”

Loop 1: For Loop

Megatron’s body was flying. It twisted and soared through the air, dodging with grace and shooting with pinpoint precision, dominating the battle and tearing through the other mechs like paper dolls. Adrenaline was pumping, accelerating his combat modules and heightening his senses, a heady beat along his neural pathways. But Megatron couldn’t feel anything.

There was a thin glass wall separating his mind from his body, a glass so thin it would be all too easy to break if only he could find the will to do so. Unicron’s nanites had dug into his brain and built dampeners inside his head, cutting off power to his motivators, forcing Megatron off his processors to drift, unmoored, while his body obeyed Unicron’s every command. It was almost too much just to stay present and watch.

Unicron had locked out his emotional subsystem and some small distant part of him knew he should be railing, seething with anger but it couldn’t touch him. Otherwise, it would have been overwhelming, routines looping in a cycle of panic, anger and despair with no way out, no form of release with his mind locked inside his own body, it was worse than being abandoned in a collapsed mine, worse than being strapped down and stripped for parts. Worse than anything, it might have broken him. The dampeners were both a curse and his blessing.

Megatron watched, distantly, as his body aimed for the Decepticon symbol sketched on a chestplate, cannon locked on, shooting to kill. The blast tore through a wing and sent the other jet spiraling out of control. He grabbed the jet’s lost payload and twisted to fling it over the fighters on the ground, firing at it in the air to create a hailstorm of shrapnel.

Megatron struggled to feel anything.

His mind was stretched over the glass, stretching lazy fingers, searching but he knew not what for. On the other side of the glass his processors churned so tantalizingly close as he beat against it with fists as weak as a newborn sparkling.

A crack, so fine he almost missed it. He pulsed for a moment, unsure of its significance but he pulled his mind back from the opposite ends of the glass, gaining strength with each returning coil. He pushed, too weak. But the crack multiplied, spider-webbing out through the whole pane and then the whole wall shattered and fell in a shimmer of blue light.

Feeling, emotion, thought, will, it all came back. The abrupt start shocked his systems, routines falling out and cascading back in just as quickly, clamoring for priority. His first impulse was to rush forward in a flood. Steal back his body process by process, system by system, turn his body into the warzone. He would lose - the nanites were too deeply entrenched for any other outcome - but at least he would be doing something.

But he ruthlessly kept his tangled mind back within the borders of the broken glass, hidden and complacent and stretched forth a single greedy tendril and snatched a small network of central processing units, quickly adjusting his internal specs to hide his escape. Barely comparable to the processing power of a drone, it still sent his mind tingling, stretched and woken from confinement.

This small gasp of freedom was almost overwhelming. He backburned the emotional payload; if he survived, he’d deal with that later, preferably after he held Unicron’s dying spark in his hands, smelted down his corpse and shipped the pieces to opposite ends of the galaxy. He pulled his frazzled mind together with the stolen processors and did his best to isolate them from the rest of his systems. It wouldn’t be enough if Unicron turned on him with full strength but it would do for now.

For now, he had neither time nor units to spare.

Megatron patched into the databus of his gyroscope, riding the stream of data and scrambling it before it could be processed. It wasn’t enough to make him immediately plummet but it forced his navigational systems to stall out, and created an opportunity during the restart for a couple of rogue processors to sneak in. Enough to make it think that up was down and down was up.

It was not arrogance to say that he was the axis on which this war turned, not the sole axis of course, but Optimus was the only other mech who came close to matching his specs. As Unicron’s lone general, Megatron was both puppet and puppeteer. A being as vast as Unicron could not be delicate and to approximate rule rather than blind slaughter, a god needed a mouthpiece. Megatron had no intention of being anyone’s pawn.

Megatron dove. Or at least tried to.

The wind rushed beneath his wings as he fell, startled bots retreating from his path but Megatron was not interested in them, his gaze was fixed on the hard, unforgiving ground coming up at speed. His wings twitched, instinct clamoring at him to pull up or transform, warring with the gyroscope’s faulty data that surely that couldn’t be the ground. A proximity alert popped up, urgently pinging for his attention; he ignored it all, he was so close, a freedom that Unicron could not steal from him.

An eye opened. A hand reached out, its grip tight around Megatron’s neck, and tugged.

Agony tore through Megatron’s body, circuits smoked and melted together beneath his armor, his wings half-transformed, the joints protesting noisily. His sword shot out of his arm, extending up, and up, and then kept going impossibly high into the air. Cold metal was pulled from his chest like taffy, reaching up after his sword, it split into three and braided itself back together, ending with a viciously sharp spike. The chain pierced through the cockpit of a passing jet, the spikes locked in, and Megatron jerked as his body was swept clear of the ground, pinwheeling around the entangled mech until the spike yanked itself free.

Megatron landed on his feet, Unicron’s impromptu grappling hook trailing on the ground, his half-melted arm cradled to his chest with the metal pulled thin around where it had been repurposed. The other mech was not so lucky, their wings were torn and crumpled, the guts of their cockpit spread across the ground, a smoky wreck that would not be getting up anytime soon.

A crushing weight tore through Megatron’s head. A sense of contempt and a looming feeling of victory. COME NOW, THE GAME HAS ONLY JUST BEGUN.

Megatron bit back a scream as his arm reknit itself together, his vision flickered and he fell to his knees. When he could see past the pain and the tears, he saw a clear field of barren rock, the other mechs steering clear despite his vulnerable position.

Megatron pushed himself to his feet and howled a helpless scream of rage. He could feel Unicron’s power spread across his whole body, Unicron’s nanites tangled amongst his power cables and relay systems, ingrained in the very alloy of his armor. Megatron’s mind was free but his body was still Unicron’s, still a prisoner.

A wasteland of parts lay around him as far as the eye could see, a battlefield strewn with dead and dying mechs, locked in an eternal twilight by Unicron’s shadow, only the god’s chestplate visible from horizon to horizon, dwarfing those of the surrounding mountain range.

Every mech on Cybertron had heeded Optimus’s call to descend on this one plain in a final, desperate effort to repel Unicron, and the sounds of combat were deafening. The cries of Autobots and the howls of Decepticons. He should have been surprised to see them fighting side by side but he knew Unicron’s horror firsthand.

The enemy of my enemy.

Megatron wondered if he would have agreed to a cease fire with Optimus. If Unicron hadn’t taken him then would they now have been on this field together? Would they have fought side by side, letting a tentative peace grow between them with each passing day? Or would he rather have presented their planet to Unicron on a golden platter before shaking hands with Optimus? The questions wound through his thoughts, insidious, until Megatron clamped down on the process and killed it with ruthless efficiency. Hypotheticals didn’t matter, Unicron had taken that choice out of his hands.

Unicron was giving him just enough rope to hang himself with, the arrogant toolkit wanted to see him struggle.

Megatron let his sword cycle up from his arm and slide free into his palm, he clenched his fists to hide their shakes and heard the hiss of his intakes kick back in as he forced himself to breathe. Megatron was Cybertron’s greatest warrior and most brilliant tactician, war lived in his cables. There was no question he would win. He just had to play his cards right, toe the line and give just enough obedience so when Unicron slipped up, Megatron would be ready. 

The ghost of Unicron’s touch was heavy on the base of his neck; just enough rope. Unicron didn’t care for the particulars as long as the job got done, his scope was the size of galaxies, of universes, annoy him enough and he’d come down on you like a hammer, petty and personal like a spoilt child’s temper tantrum. He could find a way to exploit that, he just had to be patient.

Megatron ran, sword swinging. Shouts of alarm rose up around him as mechs scrambled to meet his onslaught. He slammed down heavily on a surprised Autobot; their optics opened wide in terror. A roar had him turning to meet another mech, charging him as they swung a clumsy, if powerful fist. Megatron ducked and sliced cleanly through the mech’s knee, severing the joint as he swung his arm back around, swapping out sword for cannon, and firing point blank at the terrified Autobot’s face. The bot shuddered and stilled, locked in stasis for the remainder of the fight.

He kept his body moving on instinct and focused on isolating his lower level processes. Unicron had locked away his conscious mind for a reason, he could control Megatron’s body but not his thoughts and if he could reroute enough of his base routines through his higher processors then maybe Megatron could find a way around Unicron’s nanites. It wouldn’t be much but it might give some unfortunate mech just enough time to escape his sword’s reach.

He tweaked his involuntary sensory network, modified his damage assessor to interpret even moderate impacts as risks of frame damage. Breathing hard, he adjusted his filters’ risk values on corrosives, pollutants, toxins, to keep his systems from flushing them out. He flooded his subprocessor queue to slow his reaction time, grounded his scenario evaluator and skewed his risk assessor.

All his work left him feeling jittery and off-balance as if he had chugged a barrel of low-grade energon. He felt a dizzying mix of vulnerable and invincible. He ran towards the army of Autobots and Decepticons hoping that maybe one of them would be able to take him down. It was a futile effort.

The world tilted around him but his hand stretched unerringly towards the gap in the armor where shoulder met chest, his sharp fingers sending up a screech of metal biting through metal, singing in harmony with the mech’s agonized cry as Megatron ripped out the delicate cables. His arm swung, the cogs growing hot as he switched between sword and cannon. Chaos followed in his wake, energon stained his armor, splashed hot against his face as foe and friend alike fell before him.

All that effort and still the new armor more than made up for its fighter’s lack of finesse. He shivered with the phantom sensation of thousands of legs crawling through his housing and though the nanites were too small to feel, the threat of Unicron taking back control loomed large and very real. The pile of injured grew steadily higher. At least not all of them were dead.

It wasn’t enough. Small, too small, but it was all he dared do with Unicron’s attention still so close to the surface.

A fist came barreling towards his chest and instead of jumping back, his body automatically ducked, instead, taking the full force of the punch to his helm as not a second later, an axe came swinging through the air right where his neck would have been. And despite the near miss, he felt a distant, echoing sort of pain. The plate around his neck sent up a barrage of impact alerts that his damage assessor disregarded with a bemused sluggishness, as if every part of him knew he should have been hit. He couldn’t have known where that axe was coming from, and yet he stood back up, not a scratch on him, his cannon aimed at the back of two hastily retreating mechs.

Again, it happened. His body dodged before his conscious mind caught up, he snatched a dropped axe and launched it high into the air, forcing the incoming jets to swerve and knock one another aside. The bright bite of pain from imaginary missiles was almost an afterthought.

Baffled, Megatron stepped back from the fight and let instinct take over while he dove deep into his subconscious processing, searching for the source of these misplaced memories. Stepping back through the broken shards of his prison, he found them: another time, another place. A spark chamber with two mechs sitting side by side as the world consumed itself, ending with a spacebridge and an explosion. Megatron shivered with the feeling of being too little, too late.

Maybe this was an Autobot trick, something to throw him off balance, to weaken him. Maybe it was his own people, hacking into his mind to leave a message, these overlapping memories some sort of countdown. But if that was the case, why Optimus? Optimus with his tear stained face and his hands outstretched, his naivete wielded like a hammer. It didn’t fit.

Megatron waded through the memories, logics circuits firing. None of this made sense, none of this was right but he kept slamming into the hard truth that whether he liked it or not, whether or not he believed it possible, he remembered . Megatron could practically feel the floor of Unicron’s spark chamber beneath his feet, the panic as Optimus’s life force bled out, the harrowing dive and the one last, desperate shot.

A sword lunged at him and Megatron twisted away with ease. His body moved fluidly as if he were stepping through a half-remembered simulation. But as he looked around, Megatron had a weird sense of dissonance as bots weaved in and out of their shadows of memory and he grew cold with horror as he saw it: the branches of time and possibility already diverging.

Megatron heard the echoes of an eerie laugh, loud and malicious. Victorious. And he shuddered, his sword gripped uselessly in his hands as time crept forward, closer and closer to the slaughter, to Unicron’s wide open jaws. Unicron believed victory was already in his hands and who could blame him when the god destroyed planets and ate galaxies, he could control souls and even bend time itself.

Cycling through the back of his mind, over and over, he could hear that flat, mechanical voice declaring, “Loop sequence: initiated.”

Whatever this was, Unicron controlled it. Unicron had stolen Primus’s power, ripped it from the opened Matrix, and sent it off into the far reaches of space, sucked into the heart of a supernova, and he clearly believed that by the end of it, Cybertron would be his.

And the only one who could stop him was Optimus Prime.

Megatron had never been religious but even he knew that the only way to kill a god was through another god; by Primus’s chosen, diving into Unicron’s spark chamber and opening the Matrix. The same Matrix that Unicron has stolen from. “The universe is terribly fond of its ironies,” Megatron thought.

Suddenly, a brilliant flash of light shot through the air and left the ground trembling in its wake. It hit Unicron dead center but nothing followed, no explosion, no burst of flame, nothing. Confused and half-blinded, Megatron transformed and threw himself up and away, gaining ground and time for his optics to reset. He broke through the battle, hovering high above the sounds of the desperate and dying in a false silence.

Optics blinked once, twice, scanning the battlefield. Memories of what the ground should have looked like overlapped confoundingly with what he actually saw.

The Autobots and Decepticons fought desperately, futility against the flood of Unicron’s minions: with Megatron on the field they were cut down all too easily, a clear suicide run, lambs to the slaughter. Most mechs looked civilian grade compared to Megatron. Their armor too weak, weapons not strong enough, fighting simply and bravely but lacking in cunning and ingenuity. The only mech who could have hoped to stand up to him on the field was Optimus and he was nowhere—

Megatron abruptly pumped power into Unicron’s still present dampeners and his mind writhing in agony as he forcefully dumped that train of thought. He flooded his tactical unit with corrupt data and his display flickering as his processors tried to work around the block but he kept going, desperate to keep his conclusions off his lower level processors and away from Unicron. Clearly, Unicron hadn’t figured it out yet, not if he had Megatron searching the battlefield.

Primus! Optimus didn’t have a subtle cog in him, it was a miracle Megatron hadn’t figured him out sooner. His tactical unit worked desperately to connect the dots, drawing a picture that was sure to match up to his hazy memories and maybe Unicron already knew Optimus’s plan but then maybe he didn’t and Megatron didn’t dare take the chance otherwise.

Unicron’s immune system suddenly sent out a system wide alert: intruders detected.

Too soon. This was much sooner than he remembered, they weren't supposed to launch the raid until Megatron had driven back their ground troops. Something had rushed them, but it was impossible to tell what, too much had already been changed, small changes piled on top of each other as the possibilities spiraled out of control.

Halfway across the battlefield Megatron received the order. His wings suddenly tucked themselves in and his body twisted with an agonizing lurch, and Megatron had to scramble to level out his flight as he was turned back towards Unicron.

Autobots and Decepticons alike shot at him, photon blasts and grappling hooks, trying anything to slow him down but he plowed through unshaken. He flew up flat against the sheer plate of Unicron’s chest, high above the mountains and the battlefield below, up where the air was thin and the world was lonely, and dove through one of the vents scattered across Unicron’s chestplate, taking vicious satisfaction in tearing through the metal netting. Dropping into Unicron’s dark twisting halls, his feet sent up sparks as he slid to a stop.

Unicron’s chest cavity was a dark maze of warped metal. Twisting pathways crossed empty space leading to dead end corridors, paved with misshapen metal, not meant to be walked but too massive not to be useful. Swarms of drones filled the air with a dangerous buzz of activity, patrolling every hall, they crawled on the walls and zipped through the air.

Hooked into Unicron’s primary defensive network, Megatron could see the movements of the drones overlaid as red dots on the map. Continuously updating positions and reporting their findings, their datastream was as massive as their ranks. He assigned his tertiary processors to monitor their movements and focused instead on the swaths of space the drones had missed. He layered a probability matrix over the map and stuck the whole thing through one of his pattern recognition subroutines, throwing all his processing behind it to find an answer by simple brute force, taking extra care to isolate the work from his lower level hardware.

Klaxons suddenly started booming. The network flared with a rush of activity as an incredible number of intruders suddenly appeared, their green dots scattered throughout the map, all throughout Unicron’s body. The army of drones scrambled. They practically crawled atop one another in a bloodthirsty haste as they made lines of red on his map chasing after the temptingly isolated intruders.

Megatron dodged around the drones’ eager teeth and razor-sharp wings, monitoring the network, waiting for his subroutines to finish, and he was not surprised when the swarms circled around corridors in confusion, unable to find a single intruder.

This had Soundwave’s fingerprints all over it.

When the results came back, he hissed out a curse. Years of war had made it clear Optimus only operated on two settings: clear, crisp, textbook strategy or utter chaos mainlining luck. This was clearly the latter and none of his officers would have agreed to it if they weren’t truly desperate. Or perhaps Autobot insanity was contagious. The drones were circling around the corridors in confusion, unable to find a single intruder their irritation seeped through the network, soon they’d realize they’d been tricked. Megatron sent out a ping of warning through the Decepticon’s usual channel, hoping to at least give Soundwave a head start.

Of course, that’s when Soundwave came barreling around the corner.

“Seriously?” Megatron growled.

Soundwave shrugged and lifted his sonic cannon, firing point blank at Megatron’s scowling face.

Irritated, his facial wiring spasming and nerve endings stinging, Megatron lashed out blindly. A lucky punch landed with a sharp crunch and the pitter patter of something shattered, falling to the floor as he listened to the sharp clangs of Soundwave dashing off.

Megatron had his network communications patched through a delay but Unicron would learn of Soundwave’s plot soon enough. He dropped to one knee and fumbled dizzily through the remains of Soundwave’s datapad and when his fingers slid over a data chip, he let his hand spasm closed, crushing it.

Suddenly, another shaft of light pierced through Unicron’s chest. It lit the corridor blindingly bright and the air seemed to compress, moving with a weight that sent shivers up Megatron’s spinal column. Another green dot appeared, lonely in the center of Unicron’s chest, inside Unicron’s spark chamber.

Megatron leapt into the air and transformed. Flying fast down the twisting corridors, his thrusters whined as he pushed himself faster and faster, his wings barely brushing the wall’s edge. Across the network, all at once, the green lights winked out: the drones had found Soundwave. He listened as their bloodthirsty glee spread throughout the network, their poisonous thoughts threatening to slip onto his own processors.

He flew on, no way but forward, making a beeline for the spark chamber. Half-transforming, he slammed feet first into the wall, metal crumpling under the impact, he took two bounding steps, rounded the corner, and jumped back into the air.

Megatron could just see the bright glow of the spark chamber when agony roared down his connection to Unicron and he fell to the ground and metal crumpled under his heels as he skidded to a stop. The walls trembled all around him as Unicron spasmed.

Megatron pushed himself to his feet, venting heavily as he made his way forward to the end of the corridor. It let out high above the spark, offering a clear vantage of the whole chamber, the well sitting like a gaping wound in its center and there, kneeling exactly as he remembered, was Optimus Prime.

As the final tendrils of Unicron’s power slipped from Megatron’s body, his last instructions were: DON’T KILL HIM YET.

Trembling, Megatron imagined he felt Unicron’s nanites still, their bodies lying inert throughout his systems. A weapon laid down to rest but the threat still very real.

The jump down was high enough that the impact had his knees screaming in protest, shock absorbers groaning as the flare of pain radiated up the length of his legs, the pain grounding, drowning out the racing of his thoughts. Megatron had a choice to make and he had until the drones arrived, scattered by Soundwave’s deception, to make it.

Slow, steady steps saw him across the melting floor, the light hissing against his armor where the waves slipped over the well, tendrils of power lashing violently against each other. Megatron reached Optimus and sat down by his side, both facing the well, thrown into shadow by the afterimage of light, of two gods dueling to the death. He was careful not to look at Optimus. Careful not to see Optimus’s hollow eyes and the burden inside his chest.

‘Don’t kill him yet.’ That was what Unicron had said.

“You are a slagging idiot,” Megatron hissed out into the open air. “If I killed you, right now, you would deserve it. Not a single bodyguard, no backup, no exit strategy. Did you even know Soundwave snuck in or did he go rogue trying to make sure you didn’t skewer yourself within the first 5 astroseconds?”

Optimus didn’t answer, silent and motionless beside him. The waves of light churned like a storm, stronger than he remembered and left charred streaks on the floor before them, the metal hissing.

The klaxons began blaring, louder and louder in a panic. “Recognized: failsafe program AJ598.”

Megatron jerked to his feet, pacing, the catch on his sword thumping against its hatch, open and closed, in time with his footsteps, careful not to look as Primus’s power was ripped from Optimus’s chest, careful not to hear Optimus’s loud, labored breathing, the screech of delicate wiring tearing and interior circuits smelting in place.

“I should kill you,” said Megatron, glancing carefully at the taper of Optimus’s neck, the thin sheet metal was no protection at all. He could make it quick, nearly painless. It would be a mercy compared to the hazy pain of his shredded internals; Optimus would probably thank him. Megatron raised his arm and let his sword slid free, released the hatch so that it dropped easily into his palm, no spasms this time.

“Exit condition: not reached. Connection to supernova cluster PX581: secure. Power source standby.”

He knelt and in his other hand he cupped Optimus’s tear-stained face, the tip of his sword resting at the base of Optimus’s neck. Unicron’s words whispered through his memory, ‘Don’t kill him yet.’

His grip tightened on his sword, fingers slipping through the oil dripping down Optimus’s cheek. “I could kill you,” Megatron snarled, “He does not command me, I am commanded by no one.”

Primus’s light leapt up to lick at Optimus’s tears, dancing along Megatron’s fingertips before it was pulled down into the depths of the well.

Unicron could have ordered Megatron to kill Optimus. He could have had the drones waiting inside his spark chamber, waiting for Optimus to arrive. He didn’t need more than a single loop to kill Optimus but Unicron refused to give the order. Which meant that Unicron wanted the loops to continue, he wanted to keep twisting time, and he needed Optimus Prime alive.

Megatron was nearly certain: killing Optimus was the exit condition required to end the loops. He was willing to bet his life on it; he was willing to bet all of Cybertron and Primus himself. If he killed Optimus he could end the loops before they really began, he could take the Matrix and find someone else to open the damn thing, find some other way to kill Unicron.

There was no way Primus had only one weapon to fight against his greatest foe. There was no way he was so near-sighted, so naive as to stuff all his power into a single box that only a single mech on all of Cybertron could open; to have left that box sitting forgotten for millennia, collecting dust while his planet died under the weight of its civil war, until the off-chance that that one, single mech would stumble upon it.

The universe and it’s ironies.

Megatron snatched his sword back. “You and Primus make quite the pair,” he snarled, “In spite of your martyr complex, you are annoyingly difficult to kill.”

“Reinitiating spacetime dilation interface.”

Megatron hissed. Not yet, he wouldn’t kill him yet. There was still time. He still had time to come up with another solution, a real plan, one with all its contingencies, at the very least something better than Optimus’s strategy of throwing himself at the problem like a warhead.

“Recalibrating wave period.”

“Megatron,” Optimus whispered, his optics blinking open.

“Oh, shut up.”

Optimus had the gall to look hurt.

“It’s not as if you’d remember anyway,” said Megatron, putting his sword away and sitting back down next to him. “The both of us will be killed soon enough.”

“I’m sorry.”

Megatron shrugged, uncomfortable with this weepy, fragile Optimus. “You did what you could,” he said, nodding towards the mess of Optimus’s chest.

“And yet it never seems to be good enough,” said Optimus.

Megatron turned away, looking at the dance of red light playing over the surface of the well. He imagined he could feel Unicron’s nanites perk up in anticipation.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.”

Megatron looked over in shock, anger threatening to rise to the surface. “Since when have I ever needed saving.”

Optimus shrugged, sending flakes of charred circuitry floating to the floor. “I guess it doesn’t really matter,” he smiled wryly, “Everything I try always seemed to make things worse.”

“Reentering looping sequence in three, two…”

“Well, to be fair, I’d say this is only thirty percent your fault,” said Megatron and smiled when Optimus choked on a laugh.

And then the world exploded in a wave of light and pain.

“Loop sequence: continued.”

Raye’s stunning art

Loop 2: Exit status

Megatron’s body was flying. It twisted and soared through the air, dodging with grace and shooting with pinpoint precision, his cannon aimed for the Decepticon symbol sketched on a heavy chestplate, his sword sliced through a wing and sent a jet spiraling out of control.

Megatron broke through the dampeners easily this time, the crack in the glass spiraling out in a burst of blue as his mind scrambled over and dodged around the hooks Unicron had sunk into his mind and Megatron quietly rebuilt a small space for himself. Isolated and self-contained and so terribly, terribly fragile.

The memories didn’t flood back this time so much as suddenly appear, as if they had always existed if only he knew where to look.

He jumped, transforming to hook into the downed jet’s lost payload and spun, flinging it up and away, far from the fighters on the ground. He was tempted to try and fling himself after it but he remembered all too well what had happened the last time he’d tried, his body still shook with the phantom pain of his previous attempt to remove himself from the equation.

COME , boomed Unicron, eager to get started.

Momentarily distracted, Megatron jerked, as a hammer landed a glancing blow against his helm. He leapt, transforming in the air and taking off with his head still vaguely ringing.

The other mechs scrambled, surprised by his sudden retreat. They chased him doggedly, desperately trying to keep him out on the field but the element of surprise only lasts for one round and Unicron already knew how this one ended. Megatron could see the web of probability shivering out into the infinite with Unicron in its center toying with his prey.

The swarm of drones parted to let him past and he flew through Unicron’s cavernous depths, threading slowly through the twisting halls, deeper and deeper until the darkness bloomed into the massive cavern of Unicron’s spark chamber.

Megatron landed on his feet with an echoing thud, the sound eerily distorted, bouncing against the sheer walls to disappear into the flaming spark. He turned his back to the wretched light and sat. The lip of the well dug into his hips and a red-hot wind rose up shrieking from the depths to trace along his spine and curl tightly around his neck.

He slid his sword free, unlocked it from his forearm, and placed it across his bent knees. And he waited, counting down the seconds.

It took longer this time for Unicron’s immune system to send out the first alert. Through the network Megatron watched the drones scramble, their noise vicious and grating as they meticulously combed through corridors in a clean grid sweep and when the fake green lights winked out faster than they had in the previous loop, Megatron had to consciously loosen his grindingly tight grip on his sword, one finger at a time.

Optimus came stumbling into the chamber not long after that. He was limping, a noticeable chunk ripped out of his leg. Dirt, oil, and energon covered him in a grimy layer, his armor lost of its typical polished sheen. His optics were wide and wild with fear.

But when Optimus saw Megatron he paused. Optimus’s back straightened, his optics narrowed, and he started walking with purpose and power, the limp almost unnoticeable, and the dirt seemed to vanish as if cloaked in a layer of righteous dignity. His battle mask shot out with a clang as it locked in place, covering his all too expressive face, his fist tight around his plasma gun.

Megatron stood to meet him. He could feel Unicron hovering behind his eyes, waiting, watching, gleeful to see what would happen. Megatron raised his sword in salute.

Optimus cocked his head in brief confusion, suspicious clouding his eyes at the gesture. It was one Optimus had not seen in over a vorn but he didn’t have much time to think about it as Megatron swiftly launched himself forward, his sword deadly swift.

Optimus fired rapidly as Megatron quickly closed the gap between them, the shots merely glancing off his armor. Panting heavily, Optimus dodged, lunging to the side as Megatron’s sword slid heavy along the barrel of his plasma gun.

Jumping back, Optimus twisted sharply to shoot a grappling cable up and back, and it had scarcely made contact before Optimus was hauling himself backwards along the line, quickly pulling far out of Megatron’s sword range. Hauled towards the wall at speed, he shot out his second cable farther out and gave them both a second to tighten into a sharp V before he heaved with all his might. Momentum tilted, he hit the wall at a dead run. Another grappling cable sent him swinging, circling back around Megatron and towards the red well, climbing rapidly. The ringing of his feet against metal was loud in his ears but he could still hear the telltale hiss and click, the familiar charging hum.

The wall crumbled beneath his feet as Megatron’s fusion cannon hit, the panels surrounding the blast site half-melted, bent and twisted out of shape. Optimus reeled himself back, falling into a crouch as the joints in his knees whined with compressed energy before he launched himself forward, pulling on his grapples to turn and slam feet first into the bulging metal. Heavy panels peeled off with a screech and fell to the floor with a ringing clatter and Optimus managed to grab hold of a smaller panel and duck down behind it just in time to get slammed back by the outer edge of Megatron’s second blast, the dreadful heat curling around the edges of his impromptu shield.

The shield was hot to the touch but he clutched his half-melted shield and swung up and away as Megatron’s blasts pockmarked the wall. Giant, gaping holes left tracks of scorched metal and exposed the cavern’s bare beams and girders which poked out haphazardly like snapped struts piercing through armor, throwing hollow shadows against the spark’s red light.

Optimus didn’t dare stop moving. Unicron’s spark loomed large and ghastly bright, sunk deep in the metal like a stolen heart. Wind roared through the chamber and battered him against the wall, slowing his pace. The pitted wall and abundance of debris gave Optimus plenty of holds to maneuver around and convenient hollows to dodge into. He had ducked into one just in time to see Megatron launch himself into the air. A jet, all smooth lines and deadly firepower.

Optimus fancied he could see Unicron’s lines of poison flash red across those clean grey wings, and he had a single panicked moment of feeling distinctly like a bug pinned to the wall.

Megatron opened fire, his shots raining down like thunder and Optimus had to scramble as the wall came tumbling down all around him, his little nook collapsing as the girders groaned and snapped under the strain. Panels peeled off left and right, sharp bits of shrapnel whirled through the air, and heavy beams bent and twisted, one good blast away from tipping like timber. He climbed frantically and the ground seemed a distant memory as heat and smoke curled in around him. He ducked into another small nook tucked in between the jagged ends of lines of rebar and a thick beam as the wall shuddered all around him, hoped desperately that it wouldn’t come tumbling down.

As Megatron’s assault petered down and the dust began to clear, Optimus could just make out Megatron hovering in the air below, his windshield tinted deep black. He ran a methodical grid sweep back and forth along the wall, using his short-range scanner to peer behind the wall and into each hollow, nook and cranny, searching, climbing ever closer.

The giant beam that shielded him from sight was a mess of black and twisted metal. A stray shot had shorn it in two and the rebar just barely kept it from slipping free and tumbling down to the floor. Optimus extended his grappling line, firmly attached its hook to the beam, and let the line go slack.

In his other hand, the edges of his shield dug into his palm, the front of it scorched smooth. He opened his hand and let the panel fall, hooking it to the end of his other grappling line, the sharp ends digging in tight. Optimus loosened the line and tested the familiar weight of it in his hand with an easy swing, the panel dangling like a pendulum, and once sure of its grip he let it circle back around. Faster and faster he twirled, the panel cutting through the air with a hum.

Optimus stepped out from hiding, panel whirling by his side, and then he leapt into the open air.

Megatron’s reaction was, as usual, instantaneous. A quick twitch of his thrusters twisted him up and his blasters started firing before they even locked on a target.

Optimus threw the whirling panel with all its built-up momentum and strength and it cut through the air like a knife to slam directly into Megatron’s nose. With a sickening screech, it tore a ghastly hole along his side before sinking into the crook between wing and thruster, buying Optimus a precious few moments as Megatron reeled back to try to maintain his height. Ignoring the frantic proximity warnings and the pain from a few lucky shots, Optimus landed on the clear space between Megatron’s wings.

Not bothering to reel in his grappling line, he quickly reattached it from the panel, directly onto Megatron’s back, tethering jet to wall, with Optimus the single string holding it all together.

Megatron’s growl reverberated through his frame as he bucked and rolled, a quick sequence of thrust and up-thrust, reversing direction with nauseating rapidity, firing off shots randomly as Optimus held on for dear life. Suddenly, Megatron inverted and dove and Optimus found his feet dangling over clear air, his grappling lines drawn tight. Panting through the pain he redirected all his power and failing strength to the two lines, to the two hooks keeping him airborne.

Megatron’s thrusters roared trying to pull free with brute force and Optimus could feel their heat as he hung in the air between, his arms flung out wide and stretched to the breaking point, his lines at the end of their spools and their anchors groaning in protest. Optimus’s arms burned, stress fractures radiating out in lines of fire and in this standstill, something had to give. Optimus refused to let it be him.

A moment and a moment more, a deceitful moment of release as something in his arm broke. He could actually feel the parts tumbling and shifting around inside, pulled against the edge of his vambrace until they pierced through his armor. Optimus had a terrifying vision of seeing Megatron move another centimeter out of reach before his hand closed around what was left of his grappling line, dangerously slippery with black drips of energon. He couldn’t look at his arm, the mangled mess of what was left, of what was sure to happen to his other arm, and he couldn’t even risk cutting off sensation to the area for fear of loosening his grip.

Pain battered him like waves, energon leaked down his arm and dripped through his fingers, the beat of it loud in his head, the roar of thrusters the only thing louder.

For a moment he was sure he was hallucinating. The screech of metal tearing grew louder and louder, impossible to ignore until Optimus felt a sudden glorious slack in his line as the thick beam came crashing down, an avalanche of metal tumbling in its wake.

Megatron jerked into motion weaving and trying to outpace a hundred tons of collapsing wall.

Optimus clung with shaking hands to his grappling line and towed himself forward until he could grab onto the edge of Megatron’s wing and haul himself up. Arm trembling, he reached back to unhook his ion blaster from his shoulder, propped it up against his chest and fired. The hole that the panel had torn open in Megatron’s side lit up in flames.

Cursing, Megatron weaved desperately, but it was too late, he had to transform back or risk spiraling out of control. As his wings bent and folded back into arms and legs, the torn armor screeched ominously, and the black glass of his cockpit shifted into Megatron’s familiar scowling face. The both of them now falling hundreds of feet, trapped by a mountain of debris.

Without a wince, Megatron reached up and ripped Optimus’s grappling hook free from his back. He wrapped the line around his arm and pulled with all his strength, sending Optimus flying towards him, while his other hand curled back into a fist that slammed into Optimus’s face.

Dazed, Optimus could do nothing but watch as Megatron grabbed hold of his grappling lines with both hands and started swinging. In a mimicry of the ill-fated panel, Optimus was spun on the ends of his own lines. With a fuel-tank churning lurch, he was sent soaring through the air, girders and rails and tiles rushing by, debris scraping and pinging as he flew, farther and farther until, miraculously, he burst through the field into clear air. A final burst of strength sent his remaining grappling hook out to slow his fall to a scrap and tumble to the floor. Against all odds, alive.

Optimus’s last sight of Megatron was of optics blazing and a mouth locked in a rictus of a smirk, victorious, as a hundred tons of metal slammed him to the ground.

Optimus stumbled to his feet, clutching his shredded arm. And though the Matrix pulsed insistently inside his chest, he ignored it and limped towards the mountain of metal on the floor, Unicron’s spark churning behind him.

The pile shivered as he neared and spikes of metal shot out from its very center and then retreated in just as quickly, again and again, quivering, furious, the mountain of debris shuddered as the spikes tried to fight their way out, spikes the color of Megatron’s brilliant silver, poisoned in lines of red. Sound bounced distorted through the hollows of the heap, muffling Megatron’s hisses of pain.

Optimus stayed well back out of range of those deadly sharp spikes and waited, their flurry dying down just as quickly as it started, Megatron’s harsh panting loud in the subsequent silence. Cautions, Optimus knelt until he could make out the faint glow of Megatron’s optics, reflected against the rebar.

“Get this over with quickly Prime,” said Megatron, his voice harsh and raspy.

“I’m not going to kill you Megatron,” said Optimus as he let his battle mask slip back down. There was no one to see him anyways.

“You? Unable to kill me? What a surprise,” Megatron’s laugh was bitter. “You and your unfortunate ability to survive. Prime’s blessing, I suppose?”

Optimus sighed, the pain in his arms a throbbing countdown, every second another of his friends either dead or dying at the hands of Unicron’s armies while here, pinned to the floor, was Unicron’s lone, rogue knight. “I wouldn’t have survived without your help. Matrix or no Matrix, it was no luck and you know it.”

“Well it certainly wasn’t skill or wit,” snarled Megatron, a warning in his voice.

“No. I suppose it wasn’t.” Optimus heaved himself to his feet and turned to walk away.

Unicron’s spark cast a mirage of red-light coursing throughout the enormous cavern, bouncing against its walls like streamers of sunshine in a dazzling display. Optimus thumbed the seam in his chestplate behind which the Matrix shone with a similar brilliance. Even now after all this time he could still feel Primus’s ghostly touch shoving against the caverns of his chest, pulling him wide open, new wire patterns snapping into place, the fire of circuitry torn apart and etched anew as Primus placed a piece of divinity beside his spark.

“Did you know that this would kill you?”

Optimus flinched but kept walking, he had to consciously work to keep his faceplate from sliding up into place. “It’s called responsibility Megatron. Something you might not understand.”

“Why are you by yourself?” Megatron called out after him. “If any of your baby Autobots knew they’d be clamoring up and down the halls this very minute. You all are naive but not stupid. So why did you lie to them?”

Optimus fixed his gaze on the dancing light, struggling under a tide that seemed to be sucking him in, pulling him closer while the Matrix clamored to be let out. “That’s what responsibility is all about Megatron. It means I have to bear this burden.”

“Blast it Prime, just stop! You know you don’t have a high enough transmission capacity. The blasted thing will drain you dry and keep going till you’re nothing but a brain-dead corpse.” Megatron yelled. “You don’t even know that this will work!”

At the edge of the well, Unicron’s spark pulsed, whipping up whining, writhing winds. It could tell that the Matrix was near.

Megatron’s voice called out behind him, “Are you so enamored with the idea of becoming a martyr that you can’t even think of a better plan? Another option? What makes you so sure that Primus can even win?”

Optimus opened the latch on his chestplate and hooked his trembling hands around the inner edges of the two wings. “You sound so worried. Where is your faith Megatron?”

“As if I’d have faith in that self-absorbed piece of slag! Blast it Prime just leave it alone for once in your rusted life! Can’t you see that Unicron’s already won? Don’t you think that getting here was a little too easy? Unicron wants you to open the Matrix, he wants to see you burn yourself out. Do you really want to give him the satisfaction of having Primus kill you himself?”

“It doesn’t matter, opening the Matrix is the only way to stop Unicron.”

“You can’t know that!”

Optimus’s lips quirked in a quicksilver smile. “I know because I wasn’t given any other choice.” The wind was picking up, howling as it rushed by and Optimus’s optics glazed as if seeing into the far distance, past miles of metal walls and thousands of fighting bodies, down to the core of Cybertron, to the very heart of their god.

“I will do whatever I have to do to save them, Megatron. My Autobots, your Decepticons, Cybertron, I will save them all. Primus made you all my responsibility,” He smiled, strong and genuine. “And I will bear it. I will save them. I will save you.”

And Optimus slid the two wings wide open, out to either side of his chest, letting blue light come tumbling out like a tsunami, devastating.

“Damn it, Optimus!” Megatron cried but his words were drowned out by the howling winds and Optimus’s voice, screaming in pain.

As the Matrix’s blue light tore through the room, Megatron could feel Unicron’s power, sunk deep in his mind, wither and withdraw, tingling along his neural pathways as he slowly regained control of his body. He ached from Unicron’s temper tantrum and he could still hear the ghost of Unicron’s hissed PATHETIC and the sounds his body made as his chest and arms and legs were torn apart.

The floor bucked and pitched, shuddering like an earthquake rolling through and Megatron stiffened in panic as heavy rebar shifted all around him. His left shoulder was dislocated, arm pulled high above his back in a vice-like grip, stuck in a hollow between concrete slabs, and their shifting sent waves of agony trailing up his arm. Those all too familiar klaxons started blaring once again.

The pile shifted again and the sudden loss of weight on his legs sent pins and needles trickling down along his pain receptors as they reset. He cautiously kicked himself free, as far as possible with his trapped arm, he powered up the canon, charged to its lowest setting, took careful aim and fired at the concrete right above his shoulder. The blast sent the whole pile tumbling down, collapsing into the new hole and he had to quickly yank himself free, grunting in pain as the melted edges of his vambrace scraped against the concrete, leaving behind faint silver smears.

Megatron stood dusty and panting, dizzy as the cavern continued to shudder all around him.

Optimus’s screams had broken off into the occasional moan of pain, his optics were clouded over with tears, arms a limp, ragged mess to either side, cooling fans working overtime as the Matrix fried him to a crisp, and his spark a single, delicate light, beautiful inside its metal cage. Optimus, so vulnerable it almost hurt to look at him.

“You never listen,” Megatron whispered.

As Megatron neared, a small panel on the back of Optimus’s neck slid open to reveal an access port and a jack. Megatron felt his knees weaken and he slid to the ground beside Optimus, so close he could feel the heat radiating from his overworked exhaust fans.

“No,” Megatron growled, anger and fear warring within him. “Everything has already been stolen from me, my body, my freedom, not even my mind is free. Take whatever’s left of me, take it all Primus!”

His gaze was torn between the blue light lashed against Unicron’s spark and the Matrix fit tight inside Optimus’s chest. “Take it. But don’t make me steal this from him.”

Megatron reached a hand up, hovering his fingers over the bared port. In the back of his mind his biosensors showed Optimus slowly slipping away, toeing the edge of no return. The cable slid free of Optimus’s neck and twined around his fingers, the jack making a gentle pinging sound as it bumped gently against the access panel on his wrist.

“Is this how you will save me, Optimus? Is this the price of our freedom?” But Primus didn’t answer and Optimus did not so much as twitch.

Megatron stood and carefully wiped away the streaks of oil on Optimus’s face. “Primus does not deserve you, Optimus,” Megatron said as he slid back the panel on his left wrist, letting Optimus plug into the revealed port. He freed a jack from his good right arm and the cable reached down and pressed into him, their connections opening simultaneously. “But Unicron more than deserves me.”

The Matrix slammed into him like a tidal wave. Not a single part of him was spared. Megatron was pulled along like a ragdoll as the Matrix flooded into his processors, stealing every bit of power it could get and his event handler didn’t even have a chance to trigger combat status before all his systems were overtaken. A distant part of him noted a minor pain trigger as his knees slammed back to the ground, all processing power rerouted from his motor system, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Even his emotional subsystem was being sucked away. It left him floating, scattered across what little the Matrix left him as he desperately grasped for free processing space.

It was too much like the callus touch of Unicron. Pushed to the fringes of his own mind, there was only one path left to him. And he flowed down Optimus’s open connection, sinking deep into the interface, only to find that even here in the mind of its chosen host, the Matrix had greedily latched onto all the processors it could get and in that first glimpse Megatron couldn’t find a single trace of Optimus.

Megatron gathered his strength and held his ground, refusing to be buffeted off by the Matrix. He stretched himself out, holding onto processors with an aching slowness and carefully traded one processor for another as he moved carefully around Optimus’s mind, searching for hints of his spark. But the deeper he dug with still no sign of Optimus he began to waver, rage rising up, terrified that he would always be a step too late. When he got out of this, he promised himself that he’d rip the Matrix from Optimus’s chest, burn all traces of it from Optimus’s body. Just like Unicron. He’d slag it, smelt down the shards and drive it through Primus’s spark. He’d see the gods burn.

No. Calm. Peace. Safety. It was less a voice than an idea, a wave lapping gently at the edges of his fury, growing stronger. I’m okay , said Optimus.

Like hell you are , said Megatron, but he was shaky with relief as he gathered Optimus up, pulling him onto his processors.

I’m fine , Optimus insisted. But Megatron could see the ragged edges of his thoughts, his personality core intact, but large chunks of his memory missing. If Megatron had been even an astrosecond slower, he had a feeling that there wouldn’t have been much of Optimus left to save.

As if feeling Megatron’s unease — and as entwined as they were, squashed together on the few processors left to them, Optimus surely could — Optimus sent him a wave of comfort, If I can stop Unicron then it will be worth it .

And if you can’t stop him then you’ll be just as dead and all the rest of Cybertron could go to rust. Megatron snarled, his anger just barely smothered his fear. If this is how your god treats you, I can understand why you’d blindly throw yourself into Unicron’s trap.

But Megatron knew the truth. He could see it, he could feel it, sharing processors, minds entwined, Megatron could feel Optimus’s heart burning like sunshine.

I did what had to be done.

In other words when you couldn’t come up with any better ideas you thought you’d take on this suicidal quest all on your own, Megatron continued, bulldozing over Optimus’s protests, he couldn’t seem to stop. No backup, no bodyguards. Just relying on sheer chance that I’d be moved by your tears and save your life by popping your panels?

No! We tried. Optimus said, sounding embarrassed and confused . Even all together it wouldn’t have been enough and the Matrix would’ve killed us all.

Oh , Megatron thought, sarcastic, but just a single Decepticon was able to do what your whole little army couldn’t?

Optimus floundered, No, it shouldn’t have worked. We both should’ve been fried.

But even before Optimus had finished that thought, Megatron had it figured out: Unicron had made some substantial upgrades during his temporary possession. And blown like a candle flame his rage was snuffed out.

Optimus hovered around him, and connected as they were now, Megatron couldn’t lock his thoughts down tight enough to hide it. Tossed around like a plaything from one god to another. Expanded, violated, upgraded to fit the needs of Unicron, of course he would have enough processing power to host another god. Enough power to hold the Matrix.

Oh , Optimus thought.

And Megatron violently wished for his anger, wanted to wrap himself inside it like armor, because he didn’t need Optimus’s pity and he didn’t want saving. Megatron had saved himself. It was Optimus who had needed saving, who needed Megatron and his body and his processing power.  The blasted Matrix had opened Optimus’s ports and Megatron had plugged right in, manipulated, used, both of them violated.

Oh , thought Optimus, but he didn’t seem surprised. Optimus pushed forward his fractured memories, held out like an offering. A kaleidoscope of shapes and impressions: the haunted halls of their predecessors, miles of rock weighing on his shoulders, a responsibility to bear, a love so great that it ripped his body apart, Primus trying so hard to be gentle as he pulled Optimus’s chest apart, liquid fire poured on top of his spark, the Matrix, power incarnate. Orion, a simple scribe of strong beliefs and stronger ideals, transformed into Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, enemy of the Decepticons. Delicate scribe’s hands swapped out for guns and swords and armor stained with spilt energon.

It wasn’t the same. But it was all too similar.

Optimus reached out, wrapped his fractured self, tight around Megatron, comfort and protection, but Megatron struggled, he didn’t need Optimus’s help. Please Megatron, please don’t fight. I don’t want to fight.

And that was the real kicker because Megatron could tell that he really meant it. Had always meant it. Even after Primus had turned him into the ultimate war machine, Optimus had never wanted to fight. And to fight anyway, to use his hands which were never intended to kill, to stand in Megatron’s war path and slaughter anyway, it tore him down to the spark.

Please. We don’t have to fight.

And Megatron believed him. Optimus couldn’t lie to him, not here, not now, not when Megatron literally sat inside his processors, every part of Optimus laid bare to him. But the problem wasn’t that Optimus didn’t want to fight, the problem was that Megatron did. I will not be disposable.

Optimus flinched.

You Autobots called us disposables. We were fodder for your wars, bodies in your mines, your Senate built their golden spires on top of Decepticon corpses and told us that it was our destiny, that we were made to be disposed of. You would have to tear off my arms before I put down my sword. Extinguish my spark before I lay down my cannon. If there remains a single Decepticon that yet fights, they will find me at their side, leading them forward.

Twined around each other, Optimus could feel Megatron’s conviction like a sledgehammer. Peace is on the horizon , Optimus thought back, fiercely. He curled around Megatron with memories of the desperate weeks following Unicron’s arrival: Autobots and Decepticons scared and desperate, forced into cooperation, laughter, sudden and bright spreading like wildfire, friendships in unexpected places, teamwork, trust, even romance. What will you do if there is no one left who wants to fight?

A half-memory, half-illusion rose up of the golden towers of the Senate, it’s members casually ordering the slaughter of striking miners. There will always be another, someone who thinks they can decide who has value, who deserves to be of use, someone who will tear apart our bodies and our minds and put swords in our hands. There will always be another Unicron. Another Primus.

But after we defeat Unicron, if no one rises to take his place , if together we can create something better? Optimus all but begged, It could all end with the both of us.

Megatron pulled Optimus close and let him curl around the iron of Megatron’s conviction. I will not lay down my sword, not for the Decepticons, not for myself, not even for you. I cannot imagine a world where my sword is not needed. But if there is something better, if you could show me something better...maybe I would listen.

Warmth spread through Optimus, timid and shy, hope was a long-forgotten feeling for the both of them, a moment of peace and contentment that he dared not shatter. Because Megatron knew the truth: the universe was not kind. And a moment was all they got.

Outside, their bodies and their entwined minds, the Matrix churned like the ocean in a storm, waves crashing against Unicron, trying to drown the other god’s spark. A distant clanging rose up, louder and louder, blaring klaxons shrieking all around them, and the Matrix dove off the edge of the abyss for one last massive push. It swirled, funneling down, drilling into the sickly light of Unicron’s spark. The red flickered once, twice, nothing.

“Recognized: failsafe program AJ598.” The mechanical voice shook the walls, echoing eerily inside Unicron’s massive chest.

The two of them jerked apart, having unconsciously dived deeper in their interface. And they pushed their way forward, reaching to tap into the streams of sensory data and through their connection they could see the bright blue light of the Matrix still wrapped tight like a snake around a dying sun.

“Exit condition: not reached. Connection to supernova cluster PX581: secure. Power source standby.”

The Matrix’s blue light seemed to twist in on itself into a tight knot, unable to pull away, tangled in Unicron’s red spark and then something pulled, and the blue light started to race away, pulled down deeper and deeper into the well. It raced away and both Optimus and Megatron gasped as they felt the tug like a knife through a socket as the Matrix’s power was ripped from their bodies.

We have to hold it back. Unicron been using the Matrix to power the loops , Megatron shouted. And together they formed a short chain, Megatron clung to Primus’s power, the light burning painfully in his grasp and Optimus wrapped himself around the anchor of the Matrix’s metal housing and held onto Megatron for dear life.

“Reinitiating spacetime dilation interface.”

The pain was extraordinary. Their two minds, so thoroughly entwined were pulled to the outer limits of their reach, stretched impossibly tight. But already Megatron could feel Primus’s power slipping from his grasp.

“Recalibrating wave period.”

I will remember, Optimus declared.

Just shut up and hold on, Megatron snarled.

Optimus ignored him and continued, I will remember so that next time, when I open the Matrix, when I free you, we can find another way, we’ll hold onto Primus’s power and keep it from being stolen away. I don’t know how many loops you’ve been through but I won’t let you keep going through this alone.

How can you make promises you have no way of keeping?

He could feel Optimus’s impish smile , It’s a flaw in my logic circuits, afraid I’ve had it all my life.

He was joking but if anyone could defy the odds, defy the gods, it was Optimus Prime. That’s what scared Megatron down to the core.

Would you listen if I told you not to risk yourself? To not open the Matrix, to not come back here? Megatron could still feel Optimus’s tears, slick against his fingers.

Optimus, contrary as ever said, Would you?

This is different. Cybertron can’t afford to lose you.

I don’t see any difference. I never, not once in my life, ever valued my life above others and I’m not about to start with you.

Those are some very pretty sentiments, Prime.

Megatron, said Optimus , You will never be disposable . And he said it like a promise.

“Reentering looping sequence in three, two…”

Damn it, Optimus , snarled Megatron, caught between Optimus’s tight, warm grip and the searing burn of Primus’s power. You will not die. Just, promise me. If nothing else, remember this one thing. Do not die.

Optimus held him tightly and didn’t respond.

“Loop sequence: continued.”

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Optimus didn’t remember.

Safely sequestered away in the sub-basement of the joint Autobot-Decepticon command center, Optimus paced, feeling anxious and useless as reports came rolling in, casualty lists and incidence reports, seeing all around him the grim faces of mechs who had lived through a millennium of war, the crumbling of their cities, and the slow starvation of their planet, a terrible, draining, pattern of attrition. They had lived through that, fought through that, and victorious or not, they had expected to, one way or the other, come out the other side. None of them could have expected Unicron.

 To see these strong, war-scarred mechs scared shook Optimus to the core.

Optimus reached the end of the room, turned, and continued pacing the other way. Their plan was already in motion, soon there would be no way but forward, but he couldn’t help but feel like there was something missing, something that they had overlooked.

Soundwave’s calm, monotone voice broke him from his thoughts, “Megatron has arrived on the field. Rerouting squadrons to engage.”

“Throw him up on the screen,” Optimus commanded.

Several Decepticon officers stiffened but Soundwave merely nodded and soon they could all see the familiar flash of silver go streaking by, flying a tight, neat grid across the field.

Optimus leaned on the dash against his clenched fists as their first two squadrons engaged. In an astrosecond, Megatron had dispatched their troops, he spun through a volley of hooks and plasma blasts, and sent their jets slamming into one another or careening towards their allies on the ground. It was a massacre.

Optimus closed his optics for a single ragged breath, and then glared back at the screen, searching for that missing piece of the puzzle.

It was Soundwave who found it first. “Irregularities detected in Megatron’s combat sequences.”

And now that it was pointed out to him, Optimus could indeed see the slight gaps in Megatron’s flight sequences, the smallest of hesitations in his attacks, how he allowed the other mechs to flank him, score a hit that he never would have allowed before. They had fought one another for so long that he was surprised he hadn’t noticed it sooner. The outcome was still the same but it was there. A sign that Megatron was still there.

And then Megatron was falling from the sky. His frame thrashed like a hand on wet putty, squeezed tight and stretched thin, twisted into awful, hideous shapes. They had no audio but Optimus could still hear Megatron’s scream as his agonized face rose up out of the oozing mass of his body before he was dragged back under. Optimus felt bile rise in his throat as Megatron slammed into the ground, sending up a whirlwind of dust and rock, other mechs scattering out of range.

His head ached and his breathing was ragged and from the desperate, churning depths of the Matrix rose a whisper, “Remember, remember.”

“Change of plans,” Optimus said, his voice raspy, “I need to get out there.”

His Autobots were quick to protest. “You are the only one who can open the Matrix, we lose you, we lose everything. It’s too risky,” said Ratchet.

Even Soundwave stared at him dubiously.

The Matrix churned within his chest, whispering “Remember,” but he couldn’t, he didn’t know what he was supposed to have forgotten.

They watched as Megatron stood, listing woozily to one side as his body reknit itself back together. They watched as Megatron threw his head back in a silent roar, as his sword slid out from his arm, it’s point turned as if he meant to run it through his spark but when the tip reached his chest it collapsed, and ran through his fingers like beads of mercury. They watched as Megatron bore his subsequent punishment.

The Autobots, and even the Decepticons, were all careful not to look at him.

Optimus felt like a hundred hammers were banging against his helm. A whisper, “Remember, remember. Promise me. Do not die.”

“I need to go to him,” said Optimus.

Ratchet sighed, his mouth a grim determined line, “Okay. But we’re going with you.”

“We will also assist,” said Soundwave.

Optimus looked at them both, finally feeling certain on the pathway forward. “Alright then, let’s roll out.”

The ensuing battle was a hazy blur as if it had been clumsily purged from his memory, leaving large gaps of time intermixed with vivid memory. He remembered Ratchet, swift and nimble despite his large frame, leaping in front of him to take a plasma blast to the face, friends and allies pulling him away, pushing him onwards, the image of dripping metal sizzling across exposed optic nerves seared into his mind. He remembered jets falling from the sky, friend and foe clashing all around him, dying, so many of them dying. His ion blaster hot in his hand. Soundwave sneaking off alone to provide a precious window of distraction. Wandering through Unicron’s twisting halls utterly lost, only to freeze in panic as he entered Unicron’s spark chamber and heard Megatron’s voice say so clearly, like a whisper in his ear, “You can’t come back here.”

But Megatron was nowhere to be seen and Optimus somehow suddenly knew with a visceral terror that this had all been Unicron’s plan, that Optimus had been blindly herded here, to Unicron’s most vulnerable point, for a reason beyond his comprehension. How much of this had been his own plan and how much of it had been Unicron’s? He had stumbled into a trap he had no choice but to trigger.

Optimus opened the Matrix.

***

Optimus still didn’t remember. But the whispers grew louder.

Megatron’s voice yelling at him, calling him a moron, a buckethead, a bit-brained groundpounder. Insults mixed with pleading, sarcastic remarks and surprisingly kind words. Like the last half of an overheard conversation they were in part baffling and incredibly intimate, more so since they were so clearly directed at him when the last conversation he could remember them having had been a lifetime ago, terse snarls across a battlefield, swords locked and guns drawn.

Megatron said, “Why don’t you just try it? Take a nuke to the brain and see what happens.”

And Optimus thought, why not. The Matrix twisted, filled with Megatron’s voice, filled with his panic, his fear, his hope. There was nothing from Primus. Just Megatron

Ratchet refused to let him go with the team sent to deliver the payload. Threatened to sit on him if he so much as twitched in that direction. And so, Optimus paced, fists clenched until he finally heard the all clear, until he felt the air shudder and the ground tremble, the explosion so loud they could feel it through their frames. He had time for a single tentative smile.

And then Unicron’s drones came for them. Wave after wave, they stormed out of Unicron’s body and tore down the mountains. An impossible flood of them filling the sky from horizon to horizon, a devastating force. And for every drone killed, three more sprung up in its place, cannibalizing their fallen for parts, even those still twitching with life, they bit down with razor sharp teeth, snarling mad, desperate in their hunger, their greed, their love of death and destruction, tiny shards of their master.

It was a massacre, their sheer number and force and the realization that victory had never been within reach.

The drones dragged Optimus to Unicron’s spark chamber. Ears ringing, head still spinning, red light filled his vision as they threw him over the edge of the well, everything rushed past in a dizzying spin. His fingers slipped the first time as he fumbled clumsily for the edges of his chestplate, the latch already free as he pushed the two wings open. And then blinding pain.

Optimus woke on the floor of the well. His leg’s left strut was snapped and dripping energon but he was miraculously alive, surprisingly comfortable.

“You weren’t supposed to actually listen to me.”

Optimus blinked the haze from his optics to find Megatron leaning over him, his hand a gentle presence against the side of his helm. He probably should have been worried about the jack plugged into his neck but he just couldn’t bring himself to care, he could feel Megatron’s amusement humming in the back of his mind.

  You usually have good advice , Optimus pushed at him through their link.

Megatron snorted and looked away. “How many?”

Optimus flinched and tried to shy away but Megatron was still able to read their names. Their grief was a tangible weight.

“I know,” Megatron said, responding to Optimus’s unspoken wave of comfort. “I know it’s not my fault. But if I can’t—” His hand clenched reflexively for a sword that was not there and he breathed out a sharp, harsh sound. “I will get us out of this Optimus. I swear it.”

***

“Why am I always the one who lives? My life is not worth more than theirs. I cannot weigh my life against all of Cybertron. And yet somehow, I still survive. How can I be strong enough to live when I am not even strong enough to save my friends?”

Megatron was a silent presence next to him.

***

Optimus stared up into Megatron’s agonized optics as Megatron’s hands tore open his chestplate.

Megatron’s whole frame, gleaming silver and elegant despite his bulk, was riddled with lines of deep red. The poison tore his body apart and dragged him around like a puppet across the stage and it guided his hands as his fingers reached for the seams in Optimus’s chestplate and ripped it open in a squeal of metal.

The Matrix tinged the air between them purple, poison for poison. And Megatron’s optics only flicked down once before quickly jerking back up to his face. Optimus didn’t realize how much he appreciated that until he felt the tears slide down his cheeks.

***

Everything hurt. As Optimus came back online, sound began to trickle through his audio receptors.

“Honestly, you’re such a moron I can’t believe you’ve survived this long without a single functioning logic circuit.”

Optimus smiled and blinked as his optics reset, “It’s good to see you too.”

“How much do you remember?” Megatron asked.

Optimus winced, “Enough.”

Megatron grunted and slid open the panel on his wrist, “I need to plug in.”

His own panel slid open in answer and Optimus smiled as he said, “I think that’s the first time you’ve asked.”

“I’ve asked before,” said Megatron, quietly, his voice strangely distant compared to his gentle hands and his optics refused to meet his, “Though I knew you wouldn’t remember.”

Despite his flat voice, Optimus could see the hurt etched onto his face, “Thank you, Megatron.”

And Optimus stretched out his jack and let it ping gently against the side of Megatron’s panel, “May I?”

Megatron just rolled his eyes and growled, “Just open up Optimus.”

And Optimus laughed as they fell into the interface.

***

Optimus still didn’t remember.

But suddenly Optimus had a plan in his head and Megatron’s voice drifting up from the Matrix loud and clear, confident, as if Megatron were standing right by his side. And Optimus hadn’t realized when the weight of his people, his planet, his responsibility to all of them began to drag him down until he felt his shoulders pull back and his spine straighten, head held tall, with just the whisper that he might not be in this alone.

The Matrix felt like a lighter weight in his chest.

Loop n: Continue

Timing was everything. The day spread out like a battle map inside his head. Flags set, contingencies laid, the movement of troops through time flying like flares in the night sky.

Megatron hovered around the battlefield, alert but out of range and moving with purpose, the very picture of a soldier on duty. The better to avoid Unicron’s notice. Neither excuses nor avoidance, he simply allowed himself to be delayed, called from one knot of fighting to the next and data mining as he went, sending the heavy flow of data back to Unicron through their open connection.

Megatron moved on instinct. He had been watching probabilities drop like flies from the map as the seconds ticked by, narrowing down the field from a hundred million to a mere thousand different branching scenarios. He couldn’t say what drove him to name today the day, but the air hummed with promise and energon ran hot in his fuel lines, thumping with suspense, the catch in his sword arm thumped against its hatch, itching to slide free.

So, when the grappling hooks arched through the air he was ready. Megatron induced a spasm in his wing, the spoiler opening and slamming shut, and as the flap of metal dragged against the air it forced him into a roll that sent the grappling hooks sinking straight through the delicate arcs of his wings. Megatron allowed himself to be dragged down, counting the seconds.

The air cracked as a tight beam of light shot through the air. Before his optics had the chance to clear another beam shot out, blinding the sky, again and again, layered on top of one another, filling the air with a painful whine. As the sky slowly cleared, the rumbling of avalanches filled his audio receptors and he turned to find the surrounding mountain range crumbling to dust.

Megatron ran and leapt into the air, transforming as he took flight. His jet engines revved in satisfaction as he whirled through the air, making a beeline for Unicron before the god’s hand could clamp down on his neck. Apparently, Optimus could feel it too.

Timing.

Megatron bared his teeth in a grin.

No one else tried to stop him as he flew by. The world seemed frozen in place, miniscule next to the bulk of Unicron’s body.

Megatron flew up the sheer wall of Unicron’s chest plate and around to the side where he sliced through the wire mesh that covered Unicron’s vents, diving into dark, twisting corridors that seemed to swallow him whole. They narrowed the farther in he flew, the maze of Unicron’s chest laid out like a map in his mind’s eye, so familiar now it was practically burned into his frontal memory.

Faster and faster he flew, wings brushing sparks off the wall’s edge. The clock ticking by.

Hundreds of green lights lit the map, marking the intruders’ locations. Actual intruders this time, beamed directly in from their mountainside base. They were scattered across the span of Unicron’s body, forcing Unicron’s vast immune system to split up, drones scattering to chase down every intruding mech.

The first green dot reached Unicron’s spark chamber just barely ahead of its pursuing drone swarm. But as the drones crossed the chamber threshold, Megatron winced as a shrill shriek of static ran through the drone network, down their connection, overwhelming the swarm’s feed.

The same thing happened to the second and third green dots’ pursuits. No audio, no video, a black box with three malignant intruders and Unicron’s vulnerable spark. Megatron could only hope that one of those little green dots was Optimus.

A speck of red light appeared down at the end of the corridor, growing larger and larger until he burst into the spark chamber on the heels of another swarm of drones. He cut easily through their ranks as he made a rush for the small figure sitting on the edge of the well.

Two bodies guarded Optimus, one Autobot and one Decepticon, Soundwave and Ratchet. They fired at him as he neared but Megatron easily dodged, the shots glancing off his armor.

Without slowing, Megatron transformed and let his momentum fling him through the air. His sword slid free into his palm and in his head he could feel Unicron pounding with excitement and bloodlust, CLOSE ENOUGH, IT’S TIME, NOW, NOW, PRIMUS, I’LL KILL HIM, KILL HIM.

Megatron’s aim was true and he shot like an arrow, sword point first, aiming for Optimus’s spark.

And then Optimus opened the Matrix.

The shockwave that hit him was not physical but it still felt like a shock stick to the neural cortical strand. Despite the pain, his body kept moving, undeterred, thrown by an impossible inertia as the Matrix burned Unicron from his mind, leaving behind a scattered mess, singed and torn apart. Before Megatron even gained full control, he jerked his sword off to the side, just in time to slam into Optimus at full speed, sending them both tumbling into the abyss as the drones roared overhead.

From his sides he let down a pair of polarized clamps to hold Optimus’s limp body close as they fell. Unicron’s spark leapt for them, a red light that threatened to burn and bubble through their armor like acid, but the Matrix’s blue light, trailing behind them like a shroud, provided just enough coverage to weave around the slashing red tendrils.

Megatron could hear the chittering of the drones on the network, coming from above, attempting to give chase but thwarted by the sea of red and blue. Soundwave, as usual, had done his job well and the communications block surrounding the spark chamber remained intact. If they timed this right, they would only have to face fifty drones instead of fifty thousand, perhaps even half that number if Soundwave and Ratchet managed to cull their ranks.

As the spacebridge drew nearer, the ground approaching at terminal velocity, Megatron let Optimus’s extra weight spin them aside and as they slammed into the wall, Megatron slid his sword free and rammed it through the wall’s panels. It screeched painfully, throwing up sparks as metal ground on metal, his hilt digging into his palm and his shoulder throwing out urgent strain alerts. By the time they touched down on the ground, his blade was a mess, the edge dull and chipped and scratched all to hell.

The last time Megatron had seen the spacebridge was from up above, watching as the Matrix’s power was pulled down into its massive pool, pulled through its inky black portal to touch the stars. Shut down, the massive system of rings and cranes seemed almost skeletal, like a deserted city laid to ruin.

Megatron laid Optimus down gently on the floor. Optimus’s optics were glazed with pain, his battlemask locked up in place as if to preserve the last of his dignity while his spark was laid bare to the rest of the world.

The small panel on the back of Optimus’s neck slid open gently, so achingly familiar at this point. Megatron dived into the connection between them and let the flood rush on in. The two of them met, once more joined in this familiar dance, communication in thought and impressions, so thoroughly known that words merely scratched the surface.

Megatron , Optimus breathed, feelings bursting like starlight between them, achingly bright.

Come. We must hurry , said Megatron, words unspoken hanging between, unsaid but understood.

They shoved their way past the churning power of the Matrix and together the two of them, with what space they could gather, managed to move one leg and then the other, push themselves up to standing. One body, two minds. Megatron stood.

Slowly, laboriously, they moved over to the control tower that Megatron had spotted so long ago. A twisting statue, it towered over them, a grotesque monument, a reflection of its creator’s hatred.

Megatron could feel Optimus’s mind standing ready at his back, a warrior of light prepared to lay himself down, whether body or mind, to protect the Matrix.

Silently, Megatron slid open all his access ports and plugged into the tower.

Soundwave’s code slid through and hit like a battering ram, no time for deceit or subtlety, it was elegant in its viciousness, bypassing the heavy security surrounding the spacebridge’s controls to instead target the bridge’s more vulnerable cranes.

They only had one shot at this. Megatron had been carrying this code, updated and fine-tuned throughout the last few loops, all for this one attack. Once used, Unicron could patch his systems to block the hack and shore up his vulnerabilities and they’d be forced to start from scratch with Unicorn looming over their shoulders, aware of the depth of Megatron’s treachery.

The code took control of the spacebridge’s surrounding cranes, securing them and fighting off Unicron’s internal defense systems. As the clock ticked down, Megatron and Optimus fell into place, their minds braided themselves into a strong chain and Optimus turned, ready to make the leap back into his body and grab hold of the Matrix’s housing. Anticipation bloomed through their connection.

A crash of light sent Megatron falling to his knees as klaxons shrieked and the ground buckled beneath him. Far above, Unicron’s spark sat in the center of a sea of blue, stuttering, once, twice, gone.

“Recognized: failsafe program AJ598.” The mechanical voice bounced down eerily, distorted by the throes of two dying gods.

“Exit condition: not reached. Connection to supernova cluster PX581: secure. Power source standby”

The Matrix’s blue light twisted, impossibly tangled with Unicron’s spark, was pulled down deep into the well. Optimus and Megatron gasped as they felt the awful tug.

Go! Grab it , Megatron growled as he clung to the last wisps of Primus’s power, the light burning painfully in his grasp. And he activated the cranes, instructing them to take hold of the Matrix’s power and pull, hold it tight and pull not towards the spacebridge but push it back towards Optimus, back into the Matrix.

Optimus, wrapped around the anchor of the Matrix’s metal housing, reached out for the light. It didn’t burn him. The power seemed to recognize him and it twined around his mental fingers, flowing down where it was directed, growing in strength. Both of them gasped in dizzy relief as the harsh tug stopped and then reversed. The cranes were a loud rhythmic clang as their claws reached high into the air to return the Matrix’s power.

Megatron glanced over his shoulder to where Optimus was pushing himself to his feet, walking unsteadily closer. Megatron found himself frowning, off put, feeling like there was something he’d missed. The Matrix was still open but its power wasn’t as suffocating as he remembered. He’d been through so many loops it was hard to tell from one to the next but the Matrix’s power should have been unbearable, it should have been so powerful that it burned through their minds and forced them off their processors but instead he still had enough processing power to think, to doubt.

Optimus could still feel Megatron’s thoughts through their connection and he smiled, his battlemask down and optics bright with life. Optimus opened his mouth but his reassurances turned into an “O” of shock as the connection dropped, the wires running between them bursting into flame and a trail of heat seared their sockets useless. Optimus he collapsed to the floor, spasming in pain. The Matrix’s blue light, pooped inside his chest, blinked out of existence.

“Reinitiating spacetime dilation interface.”

“No, no!” Megatron turned hastily, tugging his lines, jacks jerked harshly in the tower’s sockets, but the spacebridge lay just as cold and dark as he’d left it. No brilliant blue pool of light, no transdimensional portal, nothing.

Megatron had thought, had believed that there was only one way out of the loops, that the loops would end once Optimus was killed. And he wasn’t wrong. There was only one exit condition. But every looping sequence had another way out. It was a truth, a fact so universally known, so rudimentary that he cursed himself for not realizing it sooner. Two ways out. Fulfill the loop’s exit condition or break the program entirely, brute force, you could only run the looping sequence so many times before the buffer overflowed, memory leaked out, power source sputtered and died.

And Unicron has planned for both. The Matrix was powering the loops, scattering Primus’s power and draining him dry, and time and space had become so warped that reality had twisted itself into a singularity, drawing on Primus’s power as it tried to snap itself back into place, a black hole of disappearing probability. And Unicron could let the loops run as long as he liked, as long as he could keep himself from murdering Primus’s chosen vessel, Optimus Prime.

Megatron felt impossible small.

It was arrogance to think that he could have fought a god, that he was somehow smarter, cleverer, that he had any chance of winning. At least Optimus had another god in his corner and still he’d been played like a marionette.

All of a sudden, the noise seemed to burst through his shock. Klaxons blaring madly, Optimus’s breathing, loud and labored, and the buzzing of a swarm of drones flying through the suddenly cleared air, down the well, with their bloodlust soaring like a banner.

Megatron turned and ripped himself free, ignoring the twinges of snapped wires and bent jacks, grunting as Soundwave’s code was tripped out of processing, the odd sensation of phantom, clawed limbs lingering in his error queue. Ripped wires swung around him and electric sparks danced along his frame, he cycled up his cannon, locking it in place on his arm and howled out his fury.

The drones ignored him, intent on their prey. Deadly fast, they were nearly on top of Optimus, jaws opening wide in sharp toothed horror, eager to rip into his spark.

Megatron fired a wide blast that hit half of the group, smelting two with a direct hit and disorienting the others caught in its nimbus, giving him an opening to move in close, weave through the swarm and try to push his way to Optimus. There were only fifteen drones left in this swarm, deadly to the unwary, but doable. Soundwave and Ratchet had done a good job.

The sound of tearing metal caught him off guard and jerked around to find the remains of the two slagged drones lying scattered across the floor and the thing that had eaten them latched onto his leg, tearing through the armor, gnawing at the joins. The drone hadn’t waited for its fallen comrades to cool before tearing their bodies apart and integrating their parts, and it was a wet, dripping creature with hot metal drying in burned streaks across its face and its optics, down around its sawbone teeth. It smeared itself around the deep puncture marks and ragged tears it made on his leg.

With a hiss, Megatron tried to shake it free but it clung like a leech and several other drones turned at the sound, jealous. Images of cannibalized corpses and empty, gaping cavities filled his mind, panic rising. Steeling himself, he pointed his cannon down at his leg. He fired on the lowest setting but the smell of burning rubber rose nauseatingly, fire licking over the open wounds but the drone hung on, bared its teeth through the heat and screeched, venomous. Megatron had to grab it with both hands, its teeth snapping just short of his fingers as he pulled, energon dripping raggedly down his leg as he turned and threw it with all his strength at the approaching swarm.

The drones hissed at him and Megatron roared right back. He charged the group, facing down the wall of teeth.

He drew his fist back and punched the nearest drone. It jerked back, surprise washing over its menace and as it listed down to the side, Megatron took two powerful, bounding steps and jumped, his wings flaring wide. He kicked down and engaged his heel thrusters. Heat and fire licking against the drone, their roar covering its screeches as he leapt, twisting through the air, up and over the remaining swarm to land on the other side, blocking their way to Optimus.

Megatron lifted his cannon and fired on maximum strength, he punched ruthlessly through their ranks, shot after shot, smelting their remains until they were smears against the floor, and he kept going until there was nothing but burn marks. Dizzy, his arm shaking with the telltale heat of overuse, he limped his way over to Optimus and dropped unceremoniously to his knees. He let his cannon cycle back to free his trembling hands.

“Recalibrating wave period.”

Optimus’s optics were open wide and unseeing, smoke rose from his spark chamber and circuits melted, rivulets of wire run together, his body jerking with pain. Shrapnel from the Matrix’s housing peppered his chest, red hot knives slicing him open. The beautiful light of his spark was pale and flickering.

Sick to his stomach, Megatron gently reached inside Optimus’s chest, and cupped his hands protectively around Optimus’s spark, wincing as molten metal dripped onto his fingers. Timing. It was everything. He counted down the seconds to the end, counted the weak pulses of Optimus’s spark.

“Megatron,” Optimus whispered, optics open but unfocused, and Megatron had to stop himself from jerking away.

Holding Optimus’s spark in his hands, deep in Unicron’s clutches, the world trembling around them, Megatron wept. “I’m sorry.”

 “It’ll be okay.”

“Don’t lie,” Megatron hissed. His hands stung, his face was wet, their world was dying and Unicron would have him once more.

The slagging idiot had the gall to smile, small and genuine, peaceful. Beautiful.

“Reentering looping sequence in three, two…”

Megatron bent his helm down, foreheads touching and waited until Optimus’s optics narrowed into focus before he pressed the lightest kiss onto his unresisting lips. “Look at me Optimus. Look at me, it’s done, we’re done, there is nothing else. Let go. We don't have to fight.”

Optimus reached up and gripped his arm as tightly as his shaking fingers allowed. “Where’s your fire you old rustbucket?”

“It died the moment I saw your death at my hands. My hands drenched in energon and the doors of the Allspark bared to me, my spark chained to Unicron for all eternity, beyond redemption.”

“All this time and still you haven’t figured it out. Megatron, I’ll always come back for you,” Optimus said, his smile never wavered. “I will come for you, Megatron. I don’t think you’ll ever be beyond saving.”

“You really do have slag for brains,” Megatron marveled.

“Hey!” Optimus laughed, but his optics grew dimmer, hazy and unfocused, “You have to be nice to me, I’m practically dying.”

“You cannot die, I forbid it. I’m not done with you yet,” Megatron said and pressed a last kiss to Optimus’s free smile. “If you must be so stubborn then we’ll just have to save each other. At least that way one of us will always survive.”

And the world exploded in a wave of light and pain.

“Loop sequence: continued.”

Megatron thought he could hear the faint sound of laughter, cruel and vicious.

Adi’s astounding fanart

Last Loop: Break statement

TIME IS UP. NO MORE GAMES.

Megatron flew straight through the battlefield as wave after wave of drones filled the sky behind him. The air was loud with the grinding of metal teeth and cries of terror floating up from below. He flew towards the mountaintops, their ranges looming up in the distance, the world dark under Unicron’s shadow, toward the spot of vibrant red heat on his infrared, where the cloaking and dampeners were strongest. Away from the roar of combat, nestled at the base of the highest peak, Megatron burst through the bunker doors.

As his optics adjusted to the sudden gloom, he found himself face to face with Optimus, looking pale and ethereal, like he could float away at any moment. Megatron could almost imagine the Matrix’s faded light hidden within Optimus’s chest, light, almost trippingly weightless like a glass half full. But Optimus stood ready with his plasma gun pointed unwaveringly at Megatron’s chest, his battlemask locked up.

Soundwave, Ratchet, Ironhide, a half dozen mechs in total stood by his side, weapons drawn, arrayed out in martial splendor in the cramped space. They had known he was coming.

Megatron could feel Unicron’s anticipation, feel it revving up his processors, itching along his weapons systems. MAYBE ONE MORE GAME.

Megatron thrust his arm out to the side and let his sword slide free with a snick, heaving, he sliced down and out, cutting out a heavy chunk of the door. He pulled it up in front of him and charged, barreling forward.

He crashed into Ironhide, knocking him flat and slicing through his legs with a clean swing. Heaving, Megatron kept pushing, forcing the other mechs to try to dodge in the tight space. The ones too slow got trapped, tripping on top of one another as Megatron pushed them into the corner, trapped by the heavy door. Reaching up over the slab of metal, he stabbed down, and cries of pain rose up.

The telltale sound of Soundwave ejecting Ravage had him lunged out of the way of snapping jaws, rolling into the dodge as his sword swung out, deflecting blows, severing hands. He leaned back and snapped his leg out crushing a knee joint as his arm swung round, a chest plate collapsed beneath his fist.

His next step met strong resistance and as pain shot up his leg, he felt panic crawl up his neck, mind filled with the memories of wet hungry teeth tearing into him, drones ripped apart, scattering their parts all over the floor.

Surprised, Megatron blinked to find himself on the floor. Arms and legs bound tight; he could feel a thick cable wrapped tight around his throat. It dug in harshly as they pulled him upright to face down an arsenal of weapons and Optimus’s bare face that seemed incapable of hiding his emotions.

Pinned. Pinned once more by Optimus Prime. Hysterical laughter threatened to burst free from his lips.

“Ratchet,” Optimus called to the medic, busy bent over his new patients. “Ratchet, I told you they’re all fine.”

Ratchet closed his gear with a snap and stood, scowling. “For now, they’re fine.”

Optimus jerked his head, impatient, gesturing Ratchet closer while his optics remained locked on Megatron’s face. “Quickly, I need you to pull out my access cables, the ones on my wrists. I’m going to open up and the moment I do, you get close, short out his panels and plug me in.”

The medic jerked back as if struck, a horrified look on his face. “What? Optimus, no. To interface with someone in his condition,” Ratchet’s lowered voice, though it still echoed, humiliatingly loud in the silence, “He cannot consent.”

Optimus faced flashed through a grimace but he didn’t disagree. “Soundwave. I need you to help Ratchet. After I’m in, plug Megatron into me, complete the circuit.”

“Optimus!” cried Ratchet. The mechs still standing all shifted uneasily.

“Please. Just trust me. If you need me to make it an order I will.”

Megatron bared his teeth in a snarl. Soundwave stepped forward, Ravage at his heels, and moved up so that he could stare into Megatron’s optics for a long, quiet moment. Megatron did not so much as glance at him but whatever Soundwave saw, he nodded and stood by Optimus’s side.

“Are you sure?” Ratchet tried, one last time, “Opening the Matrix here…” He trailed off, his words hanging in the air unsaid: opening the Matrix here, instead of there, now instead of later, for Megatron instead of Unicron.

One shot. Optimus could feel it in the tiny, weak pulses of the Primus’s, could hear it in Megatron’s voice drifting up from the Matrix nestled inside his chest. He could see it in the way that Megatron fought, the way he moved, carefully, not a single dead mech on the floor. One last time.

“I’m sure,” said Optimus.

Megatron could feel Unicron stirring behind his chest, rising up in impatience, curious to see what Prime’s little toy would do, patronizing, condescending, curious to see what Megatron would do, confident of his win, just one fragile life away.

The Matrix’s light tore through Megatron’s mind, and as soon as the last traces of Unicron were burned from his mind, Megatron could feel the familiar nudge of another mind against his own. “I told you so.”

Megatron’s lips tugged into a reluctant smile. “You haven’t saved me yet.”

“Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go finish this.”

Positions reversed, Megatron and Optimus stepped up to the groundbridge. They were deep in the mountain, surrounded by miles of rock and Cybertronian security in a tiny pocket of safety. Megatron tugged Optimus forward, bound by his own grapples, his battlemask back up in place. They were both silent, contemplating the swirling pool of iridescent light. It reminded Megatron of his one and only glimpse of the spacebridge, the magnitude of it infinitely larger staring into the void of space and time.

Gruff, Megatron commanded, “Let’s go.” And they stepped through.

Megatron gripped the handles of Optimus’s grapples tight in his hand and wrapped around his wrist and pulled Optimus closer. The bridge’s light rippled over him and sent cascading shocks running along his circuits and along that tenuous connection. He felt lighter, pulled in two by the gravity of two different places, the bridge stretching him thin, thinner, until he snapped, and he came crashing back into the physical, rippling back together.

Venting hard and forcing himself not to stumble, Megatron looked up into the dark red light of Unicron’s spark chamber. Optimus came staggering after, leaning heavily into his bindings. Row upon row of twisted grey figures awaited them, drones contorting themselves in salute, heavy with suppressed violence.

Megatron forced himself forward. He walked through their ranks, back ramrod straight, with Optimus walking close behind. Megatron knew it was not fear, maybe pity, maybe disgust, but not fear.

At the edge of the well, Megatron forced Optimus to his knees. He stood close behind, his hand tangled the grappling cable and resting on the nape of Optimus’s neck. He stood, waiting.

Unicron’s spark churned, red and bloated tendrils curling up and slapping down in a shattering waterfall. It splashed over the sides of the well, leaving red pockmarks against the drones sitting too close. It ate through their armor and dripped into their internals and they sat there and took it, their optics blank, their sharp toothed faces a rictus.

ATONING FOR YOUR FAILURES CHILD?

Megatron bowed his head. The phantom pressure of a god, the memory of his heavy shadow, his hunger wrapped tight like a collar.

Megatron stared down into the well and the churning sea of light. He raised his free hand, threw back his helm and began. “Lord Unicron. I, your most cunning and faithful of servants have brought to you that which you most desire: Primus’s vessel, defeated and bound, at the mercy of your judgement. I had not realized the depths of your plan but the moment I understood your deepest desires I have carried out your plan most loyally. All I ask, most humbly, is to be brought back into your confidence.”

A red tendril snapped out into the air. In one leap, it broke from the pack and opened wide jaws to snap closed around Megatron’s helm. Like drowning, the red beat against him, filling his mouth and digging through his optics to burrow deep into his circuits, making itself at home in his body once more. Megatron welcomed him. Let Unicron cut deep, twisting sharply through every wire, every circuit, every electrode and neuron to reestablish their connection.

Optimus tipped his head back, leaning into Megatron’s spasming hand. He looked up, optics narrowing into a grim smile hidden behind his mask, as he dived deep, moving through the small, delicate wire hidden within his grappling cable, twisting round and round Megatron’s hand, his wrist, and sinking fast into their connection. Megatron gasped, a breath of air as the Matrix slammed into him, trampling over him, pounding through him, in its rush to Unicron.

The Matrix tore its way through Optimus, rerunning the familiar pathways, flowing from Optimus’s overfull processors into Megatron’s own, the same processors that held Unicron, sunk deep. Heaving, Megatron paved the way. He held Unicron tight, pulling himself closer, reaching for Unicron’s core. Bypassing Unicron’s failsafe because Unicron himself has welcomed them in.

It burned. Optimus pushed the Matrix along, forcing more and more of it to flow into Megatron and it stung like acid along his neural pathways. Megatron was never meant to bear the Matrix, never knew the call of Primus, and the taint of Unicron caught fire everywhere they touched. He let himself be used as a runway, Matrix in one hand, Unicron in the other. He didn’t dare to let go.

So, this is what it felt like. Megatron had locked his jaw in place, holding in the screams that threatened to burst forth. Never again. He’d never let Optimus open the Matrix again. The pain crested and all conscious thought went tumbling out of primary processing, his neural cortex flickering in and out: Never again. Optimus. Can’t let go.

The sound of rumbling and the crack of displaced air filled the cavern in a staccato of sharp cracks, echoing crazily as beam after beam of light pierced through the cavern. Ratchet ran forward and hauled Optimus upright as all around them the Autobots and Decepticons burst into view in a steady surge of light.

“Error: failsafe program AJ598.” The mechanical voice shuddered.

Klaxons blared as all around them the room shook mightily. Drones jerked up, free as Unicron’s grip on them failed, and they hissed madly through their wickedly sharp teeth. The red spark, streaked with Primus blue, shrunk and stretched, desperately twisting every which way and lashing out in thrashing strokes.

“Exit condition: not reached. Connection to supernova cluster PX581: null. Power source: null. Spacetime dilation interface: null.” The voice spoke faster and faster, stretched and distorted. “Reentering looping sequence: failed. Reentering looping sequence: failed. Reentering looping sequence: failed.”

“Error: failsafe program AJ598.” the cavern seemed to swell to a blistering heat, the shuddering walls sent debris flying, everything in chaos.

“Let’s move!” Ironhide called out, limping with the hasty patch on his legs.

Optimus reached out a weak hand to grip Megatron’s limp one. “We can’t,” Optimus said, “It’s not done yet and he won’t let go, not till it’s finished.”

“Can we leave him?” asked Ratchet and at Optimus’s vicious scowl he held his hands out peaceably, “I had to ask.”

Optimus pulled himself closer and tucked himself under Megatron’s arm, his heavy frame. “I’m not leaving him.”

“Well you better figure something out quick,” yelled Ironhide as the army of drones rose up out of control, viciously turning on each other and any mech in sight, tearing through the walls, burrowing through the floor, a humming, rabid, swarm.

“Ratchet help me get him on his knees,” Optimus said.

“Is this really necessary?” asked Ratchet, glancing at the gathering cloud rising between them and their only exit.

“Hurry!”

“Right, right, hurrying,” Ratchet said as he slid out a thin probe from his wrist, knelt to lay a hand right above Megatron’s knee joint and sent out a low volt shock to the locked cables.

Optimus grunted as suddenly all of Megatron’s substantial weight came crashing down, impossible to lower gently. He struggled out from under Megatron’s arm and moved to stand in front of Megatron’s kneeling form, and drew in a full, shaky intake before he opened his chestplate, the panel splitting into two wings down the middle and swinging apart.

Hesitating on the surface of their connection, Optimus called down, Megatron, I’ve got an idea. When he didn’t get a response, he pushed down the vaguely nauseous feeling that threatened to rise up his throat and let himself move over onto Megatron’s processors, diving into his motor controls as he shrugged Megatron’s massive chestplate up and aside.

Pushing up by his toes and wrapping his arms tight around his neck, Optimus clenched his optics shut and pressed his mouth to Megatron’s, swallowing his cries as he pressed his surging, crackling spark into Megatron’s and all the edges of self blurred, a deep thrumming note ringing through Optimus’s whole body. The sheer power was intoxicating. All Optimus could do was open himself up fully, letting it all come surging through him and shuddering wildly he blindly clutched at Megatron’s helm and kissed him desperately, overwhelmed and latching on to that single point of contact, holding onto something real.

Distantly he could hear the other’s voices, Rumble’s horrified, “Man, my optics.” and Ironhide choking, “Are they glowing?”

Optimus drifted through the stream of power, lost on the surge, searching, looking for the memory of him, the feel of his spark, and the heat of his strength. The first touch of him sent his mind cascading back together, memories rising in a flood forcing his drifting mind into focus, and he was able to choke out his name, Megatron.

 A ferocious will, violently determined, impossibly tangled with the essence of Cybertron, power stretching out to eternity, two forces ensnared on a path towards mutual destruction, uncaring of who they took with them. He was stretched out so thin that Optimus barely recognized him. Optimus let himself drift out wide, tethering himself to the heat of their merged sparks, the feel of Megatron’s wide lips, as he plunged down deep like a net, sweeping together Megatron’s scattered pieces: Megatron’s anger, his fear, his sharp, analytical mind, cold nights alone, the hunger and passion.

But when Optimus touched that deep well of will, Megatron refused to budge. Optimus dangled out the memory of the Decepticon army, standing at their helm with their cheers shaking the ground, his fierce pride for the freedom they had stolen. He tried next the feeling of seeing the sky for the very first time, happiness, holding up the severed head of a Senator, one time victims finding strength, vengeance and bloodlust. But Megatron would not let go.

With nothing else left, Optimus offered up himself.

His hopes and his dreams and his circuit deep weariness. The vision of a home, more than just a room in an industrial military complex, or a single berth in a command ship, but a place to learn to live, to learn to love. Friends and family and one time enemies. No more horror. Working to build a place that had no need, no wish for Unicron, where no mech would be tossed aside, cannibalized, disposable. Megatron and Optimus, hands entwined. It was not perfect but neither were they. It was all he could offer.

Shuddering, Megatron reached out and Optimus leapt for him. Slowly, carefully, they pulled themselves free. Megatron fell off him with a final massive clang, Optimus still clutching his shoulders was dragged down with him, and they lay next to each other, both of them shuddering and venting loudly for breath, twitching with stray shocks that didn’t belong to their own bodies.

“Oh, Primus,” Optimus said dizzily as he pressed his cheek against Megatron’s hot breastplate, humming wordlessly in gratitude as Megatron’s massive hand cradled his head.

“Ugh, guys,” called Rumble, wordlessly pointing to the walls of Unicron’s spark chamber crumbling all around them, the drones tearing each other apart and the floor listing dangerously, threatening to dump them into the air.

“Right,” Megatron said, pushing himself upright with a groan and helping Optimus to feet, “Let’s get out of here.”

“Hey boss, how do we know that you’re the boss and not still like some Unicron puppet?” asked Rumble suspiciously.

“You don’t,” said Megatron, stalking forward and taking command anyway.

“Wait, wait, that’s some screwy—”

“Now, Rumble,” Megatron growled.

Rumble jumped, snapped off a sharp salute, and turned to give the rest of the wary Decepticons a grinning thumbs up, “Yeah, that’s our boss alright.”

“Honestly,” Megatron turned about to direct their exit strategy when he felt a tug on his arm, the wires connecting him to Optimus still plugged in. He hadn’t even noticed.

Optimus had turned, exhaustion slumping his shoulders, to face the well. Unicron and Primus’s powers were so deeply entwined they threw a purple glow across the collapsing cavern, the light grew steadily dimmer as the two gods destroyed one another.

“Optimus?”

Optimus’s chestplate was still wide open, defiant in his vulnerability and nestled next to the bright glow of his spark lay the Matrix, empty and dead and cracked down the center. Optimus reached into his chest and pulled, headless of the snapping wires and sparking circuity, he ripped out the Matrix from his chest and let it hang limply from his fingers, back bowed, face streaked with tears. Panting, he suddenly reared back and threw, with all his might, the cold Matrix soaring through the air, sinking through the light and disappearing with a faint clang deep, deep into the well.

Optimus turned back and threw himself into Megatron’s arms, hugging him fiercely. Then he pushed himself upright, straightened his shoulders and said, “Right then, Autobots, Decepticons, let’s roll out.”

Megatron rolled his eyes and gestured his Decepticons to forward. It was about time he headed home.