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Title: The Test (Part 2/2)
Fandom: Transformers Prime
Character(s): Bumblebee, Optimus Prime; mentions of Ratchet and Megatron
Pairing(s): None
Rating: PG-13 (this part; R overall)
Word Count: ~2700 (this part; ~8150 overall)
Warnings: Aftermath of torture (no sexual content), psychological distress.
A/N: I have freely interpreted various (and occasionally conflicting) moments of backstory revealed in the Transformers Prime cartoon to create this piece; I have also borrowed details from other continuities (Aligned and G1) to flesh it out. The result is, perhaps, an unholy hybrid, consonant with no canon, but it is the story I wished to tell. In addition, everything I know about writing Optimus Prime I learned from Foxbear and Alathea2, but any failure of characterization should be ascribed solely to my inability to emulate their example. Crossposted to [community profile] transficsation. Concrit welcomed with a coupon for one free therapy session. Part one may be found here.

It is the generous Spirit ...
Who, doomed to go in company with Pain,
And Fear, and Bloodshed, miserable train!
Turns his necessity to glorious gain.

— William Wordsworth, "Character of the Happy Warrior"

        Optimus Prime strode quietly through the hospital's corridors. Those who did not know him well were always surprised to discover that a mech of his size could move so unobtrusively. Most assumed it was the product of a warrior's training in stealth; few recognized in his light step and contained presence a habit of courtesy ingrained by long service in the Iacon Hall of Records, where the concentration of a scholar or a fellow archivist was not lightly interrupted.

        He had come in response to a summons from one of those few. Bumblebee has begun asking when he can return to active duty; for Primus's sake, get out here and talk some sense into him! Ratchet was always masterful on his own ground, but Optimus, listening to what his old friend had not said, had heard a plea rather than a directive. The medic no longer cursed the inadequacy of the field treatment that had saved the young scout's life at the expense of his voice box — at least, not within range of Optimus's audio receptors. Nevertheless, he had ceded his interest in the matter of Bumblebee's reassignment all too readily. I trust that you will take my staff's medical recommendations under advisement, he had snapped, and that had been the extent of his resistance. In this case, Optimus knew, Ratchet would accept his Prime's judgment not because the chain of command required it, but because he did not wholly trust his own.

        Even had Ratchet not sought his intervention, however, Optimus still would have interested himself in this mech. Bumblebee had suffered grievously in service to their common cause and the Prime permitted that cause no faceless sacrifices. Not that he had gone unhonored — far from it. So many good bots had been lost at Tyger Pax that it barely felt like a victory; Bumblebee, in his steadfast endurance and miraculous survival, had become for many the image of that victory. His superior officers had vied for the prerogative of signing his formal commendation until Optimus had put his own name to it. Though the scout had been designated missing before the assault began, his capture and interrogation occupied almost as many kilobytes in his unit's after-action report as their own maneuvers. His initial debriefing by Autobot intelligence had been submitted to Optimus with a personal annotation from Jazz: He didn't cave. Not even to Megatron himself. When he's fit for duty again, I want this one.

        For a few steps Optimus's pedes seemed to strike the floor more heavily. His subordinates, like all of Cybertron, were eager for heroes — or, rather, for the hope that heroism unfurled in its wake like the shimmering tail of a comet. But the burden of upholding that hope was heavy, too heavy to lay upon the shoulders of one who might no longer have the strength to bear it. Physically, Bumblebee was recovering, but Ratchet had been reluctant to pronounce on the state of his patient's mind. That ... sparkless monster ... left him with no somatic means of regulating his nociceptors while he was being tortured. I have no idea how his processor handled all the exceptions without crashing harder than it did. The medic's engine had snarled with the rage he had kept from his voice. He claims to have access to few clear engrams of the experience, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. The growl had abated then, as Ratchet spread his servos in an unconscious gesture of helplessness. It's too soon for a processor specialist to go poking around in his drives, not while he's still integrating his new linguistic protocols. He had met Optimus's optics with a kind of desperate defiance. He needs more time.

        He has not asked for time, Optimus had observed.

        At that Ratchet had thumped his console with a closed fist. He doesn't know what he needs!

        As long as he does not endanger himself or others by them, we must respect his choices, Optimus had replied.

        Ratchet had lowered his helm, accepting the rebuke. It will be a mercy if he remembers no more than he says he does, Optimus, he had said softly, a greater mercy than we are allowed.

        With that assessment Optimus could only agree. Megatron had taken care to deny his enemies the facile comfort of ignorance. In the wake of their defeat at Tyger Pax the Decepticons had circulated a number of propaganda holos designed to rally their loyalists and cow the faint of spark. A recording of Bumblebee's ordeal had been among the most widely distributed; its footage was practically unedited, Optimus's COMINT staff had informed him, leaving nothing of the scout's mutilation nor the viciousness of his tormentor to the imagination. The holo concluded with a harangue delivered by the Decepticons' leader over the ravaged frame of his victim: There will be no mercy for the weak, no rescue for the doomed! Though they come against us with tenfold might, we will shatter their hollow shells and quench their feeble sparks! Only the strong are fit to rule and we — are — strong!

        Tumultuous applause answered this peroration, rivaling the acclaim showered upon the gladiator Megatronus at the height of his renown. The spectators' approval had appalled Optimus nearly as much as the torture itself and put him uncomfortably in mind of another speech he had once thought himself privileged to hear. Rise, brother, the charismatic mech had said, offering a servo to the prone and worsted Soundwave rather than the killing stroke the arena had demanded. Is life not sweeter than death even here? Has not our contest proved our strength? Have they not seen that we are mechs? And then, standing shoulder to shoulder with his erstwhile opponent, he had turned to the fickle crowd, their catcalls transformed into cheers, and aimed his blade at the world beyond the walls of the pit. Let them hear it in the streets of Kaon, in the gardens of Praxus — let them hear it in the high halls of Iacon and tremble: we are not drones, but mechs! And we live, and we are strong!

        Optimus closed the file with a shake of his helm. Like the Prime, the Lord of the Decepticons too had left his origins far behind, but was marked by them still.

        Arriving at Bumblebee's quarters, Optimus paused outside their open door. The yellow and black mech was seated on the edge of his berth, his attention wholly absorbed by the datapad he held. He hummed and whistled quietly in what Optimus recognized as a signal-processing exercise using the nonverbal code best suited to his new voice box. His posture was hunched, but otherwise he seemed relaxed, secure enough in his surroundings to ignore them as he practiced: a dedicated student. Visited with nostalgia at this familiar image, Optimus extended his EM field to brush against Bumblebee's, a gentler method of announcing his presence than speech or a ping. Nonetheless, the other started violently, his own field flaring, and fumbled the pad, though he did not drop it. :Sir!: he exclaimed, leaping to attention and attempting to hide the strain it put on the welds, still perceptibly raw and gray, that crisscrossed his frame.

        "Be at ease, Bumblebee," Optimus said. The young mech immediately adopted an only marginally less formal stance, shoulders rigid and servos clasped behind his back. Allowing his own bearing to relax as he entered the room, the Prime gestured for Bumblebee to resume his seat, which he did with ill-concealed discomfort, backstrut tense. Optimus smiled kindly at him and was pleased to see his physical stiffness ebb. "You are recuperating; we need not stand on ceremony."

        :Thank you, sir,: Bumblebee replied, a platitude contradicted by the agitation of his field, roiling with embarrassment. :It's — it's an honor to meet you.:

        Optimus acknowledged the compliment but refrained from returning it, which would merely have disconcerted Bumblebee further. "Ratchet tells me that you are diligent in your recovery," he said, somewhat mendaciously. What Ratchet had actually said was, He'd overwork himself right back into stasis if he weren't stopped occasionally. I've threatened to magnetize him to his berth twice. Next time, I swear, I'll actually do it and see if that makes him take my orders seriously — but the Prime felt no need to share the medic's vow with Bumblebee. Doubtless he had already heard it, perhaps in so many words.

        :Yes, sir!: This time field and utterance were in synch, suffused with the same eagerness. :I hope — I hope to return to duty soon.:

        "As a scout?" Optimus asked.

        :Yes, sir!: Bumblebee's plating vibrated in his enthusiasm; then he caught hold of himself and added, with a diffidence that did nothing to camouflage his determination, :When — when I'm well enough for it.:

        Optimus regarded him gravely. "Why?" he asked.

        Bumblebee flinched at the question. Static erupted from his vocalizer as he attempted to speak, the slight stutter which had characterized his communications degenerating into empty noise. His doorwings flicked back and forth in a conspicuous sign of chagrin and his digits closed around the datapad with sufficient force to elicit a blat from it, too. :I. Must,: he said at last, enunciating each concept distinctly, his field all but radiating into the visible spectrum with the intensity of his resolve.

        But if will were all, no bot would ever fail.

        Optimus considered Bumblebee's insistence in light of Ratchet's plea for delay. Having by now seen much of war, he knew that often the best medicine against its horrors was to rejoin one's comrades in the field — often, but not always. Some bots faced fire again and again, emerging ever stronger for the tempering. Others, their sparks no less worthy, broke when put too many times to the proof. Bumblebee's mettle had been tested almost to destruction on the anvil of his duty; Optimus would not return him to the forge to see him shatter under the strain. "Your aptitudes fit you for many functions," he noted, calling the mech's training and service record from the hospital datanet to confirm his recollection. "Spotter, courier, SAR — "

        :I am a scout.: The words rang clear, their pride unmistakable, if corroded with bravado around the edges. Though his helm was high, Bumblebee did not quite meet the Prime's gaze — whether from respect or evasiveness, Optimus could not have said.

        "You have been a scout," he corrected him gently. "Why do you wish to continue in that role?"

        :I must!: But these words pronounced, Bumblebee's voice box emitted another flurry of white noise. As if in mimicry his field buzzed with electrostatic charge, earthing itself in diminutive pops against the berth and the Prime's own. Bumblebee turned his face aside, but not before Optimus saw his features distorted with shame.

        The Prime frowned inwardly. He would not have sought this interview had he supposed the injured mech incapable of expressing himself. Ratchet had assured him that although Bumblebee had yet to fully master his new speech protocols, he was equal to the task of articulating his thoughts. He relies on nonvocal cues to fill in the gaps more than I'd like, but he gets his point across. This sudden aphasia was manifestly as unpleasant a surprise for him as it was for his auditor. It distressed Optimus to observe Bumblebee's frustration, but his spark warned him to silence. He had come to listen as well as to counsel and to judge — indeed, he could do neither properly without listening. So he forbore to comfort or to press for clarification, suffering patiently the erratic discharges upon his person as Bumblebee struggled to recover his equilibrium.

        Encountering only conductance, Bumblebee's field gradually stabilized. His servos fidgeted with the datapad; then he clicked and beeped a brief series of test patterns, clearing his voice box's overtaxed buffers, assaying his control. Without looking at the Prime, he began to speak again, his delivery quick and clipped. :I fought as a scout,: he said. :I want — I want to keep fighting. That way.: His optics racked focus, fixing on a point in the middle distance. :Against Megatron. He — he must be stopped.: He broke off and Optimus's sensors caught the susurrus of fan blades accelerating to cool a stressed system. :What he did to me was — was — was —: Bumblebee lost the tenuous thread of his discourse, but cut his vocalizer before it could transmit any more random signals, holding up a minutely trembling servo to indicate that he had not finished.

        Optimus waited, outwardly composed, though the intimation of a personal challenge in Bumblebee's words troubled him. He discouraged those under his command from construing any foe as a nemesis. Hatred enslaved the spark and vendettas were a distraction his frequently outnumbered forces could ill afford. But who could deny that many Autobots drove into battle consumed with the desire for revenge on those who had injured them or their loved ones — or that for some acutely wounded few, that desire alone kept them from succumbing to the terrors that haunted them?

        Not he. Though Optimus would do all in his power to prevent Bumblebee from taking that dark path, in the end the mech was free to choose his own way — as he must be, or else the autonomy in whose name they fought was mere posturing and the war but a struggle for dominance.

        A contest to prove their strength.

        Past pain as evident in his face as in the scars from his ordeal, Bumblebee lowered his arm. :It was a show,: he said, his voice low but steady. :He gave them a show. They cheered and — and he wanted them to cheer.: His digits flexed, clasping and unclasping the datapad as he chose his next words. :He makes them believe that's what power is for, but it isn't.: He raised his optics to the Prime's and they held both certainty and appeal. :You know.:

        The statement worked on Optimus's processor like an override, calling a protected memory from deep storage. These are the duties of a Prime, Alpha Trion had said long ago, when the knowledge was of purely academic interest to the apprentice at his pedes. To preserve, to protect, to defend, to serve. No more and nothing less.

        He had never forgotten that lesson — one which Megatron had never grasped.

        :Sir?: Bumblebee asked hesitantly.

        Optimus inclined his helm to the scout as he would have to the Master Archivist, extending his field to encompass the other's as he did so. "Yes," he said, spark and mind resonating together so that the very aether hummed with the depth of his assent.

        The datapad clattered unheeded to the floor from Bumblebee's slackened grip. He made no audible reply, but his gaze, locked on the Prime's, was filled with awe, his entire frame broadcasting his relief at being so readily understood. And like the strut within the mesh, beneath his ardor to re-enter the fray Optimus now perceived a conviction as incorruptible as titanium, a faith to withstand the forge. Indeed, Jazz, the Prime thought as he withdrew, you shall have this one, for we need his like most desperately. "Then," he said aloud, "when you are fit to take up a scout's post again, one will await you."

        Bumblebee rapidly shuttered his optics. :I — it will?: he blurted, then clamped his servos onto the berth as if to brace himself to meet this turn of fortune. :I mean — thank you! Thank you, sir!: He beamed at Optimus and the Prime hid an answering smile.

        "No need," he replied. "The duty is earned."

        Bumblebee nodded, taking his remark as both caution and encouragement, as intended. :Then I won't fail,: he said. He rose to his pedes, coming to attention once more, but with a confidence to his posture that suited him better than punctilio. :What I swore to do, I will do — till all are one.:

        "Till all are one," Optimus Prime echoed.

        And never did that distant cycle seem closer than when he stood with those who discerned both its promise and its price.

[Acknowledgments: Transformers Prime was created by Hasbro Studios. Copyright for this property is held by Hasbro.]


nebroadwe: From "The Magdalen Reading" by Rogier van der Weyden.  (Default)
The Magdalen Reading

August 2014



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