(Continued from Part 3)

(Disclaimers in Part 1)

Diarwen looked out over the city from their vantage point inside an abandoned apartment building. "Do any of you know the city well?"

Joe Rideout said, "I lived here for a little while back in the 90's."

"Tell me of this Veterans' Stadium."

"It's where the Bears play football."

"So there could be tens of thousands of people there."

Journey adjusted his cap. "Easy, if they took that many prisoners. Didn't look to me like they were trying that hard to take prisoners."

"How much cover is in that park?" Diarwen asked.

"Not great, till you get close to the stadium itself. Then there isn't any. It's pretty much open all around it. And that isn't all. A major road, Lakeshore Drive, goes through the park. They're going to be patrolling that."

They swam the river using the remains of the Damen Street Bridge as cover, with their clothes and weapons wrapped in duct-taped garbage bags. As soldiers they were used to seeing other soldiers in various states of undress, and they all had their share of scars; Diarwen had centuries' worth.

Scars and skin were unimportant now, and nobody said anything as they stopped under the remains of the opposite bridge approach to quickly gear back up.

It was slower going than Diarwen liked. They were far enough from downtown that patrols were infrequent, but still a concern whenever they were in the open. Pershing Avenue was lined with two- or three-story brick stores, gas stations, fast food places—what was to be expected on any major street in any Midwestern city. Most of the people had fled south but there were some who hadn't, or couldn't. They kicked in more than one basement door to give children or elderly or disabled people at least somewhere to hide.

It was nothing they hadn't seen before. Any time disaster touched a city, there would always be those among the able-bodied who abandoned those who couldn't keep up. It still made the members of the war-band furious. They knew the best thing they could do to help was get rid of the 'Cons, but it still wasn't easy to leave scared and often injured people with nothing better than advice to keep their heads down.

They finally reached Lakeshore Drive, which crossed a bridge over the expressways; people were hiding under the bridge. Diarwen got glimpses of faces blackened with soot. They kept going, since there was nothing they could do for these poor souls.

Journey said, "Quiet, I heard something."

Diarwen listened. There was a faint mew, which at first she thought was a cat but then realized it came from one of the wrecked vehicles that choked this section of the Dan Ryan Expressway. "Wait here, I'm going to see what that is."

"I think it's coming from that blue Ford."

She looked around for more seekers, but they all seemed to be nearer the city center for the moment. Staying low and clinging to the rubble, she went down the line of cars.

The front of the blue car had been crushed—stepped on, no doubt. The driver lay slumped over the wheel, cold and white. The noise was coming from the rear seat. The roof was crushed so that she couldn't easily see into the back seat. She moved to the back of the car.

It was a baby, filthy, with a scratch from flying glass across his little face, but still looking up at her with wide, trusting brown eyes from a car seat which was still strapped in place. His blanket lay on the seat beside him. "My Goddess!"

Diarwen tried the back door, to find it hopelessly jammed. She covered the baby with the blanket, then used the hilt of her knife to break out what was left of the glass.

She had to cut the straps holding the baby to the car seat, as it was too big to maneuver out of the crushed car.

Once he was freed, she wrapped the baby in the blanket and extricated him from the vehicle. With a last prayer for the driver's safe journey to Summerland, she took the baby back to the people in the underpass.

One man said, "You can't leave that brat here! We don't have anything to feed it or anything!"

A woman with stringy blonde hair wearing a ripped waitress' uniform backhanded him across the mouth hard enough to bounce his head off the concrete bridge pier behind him. Without saying a word, she gave him a look that was pure contempt and held out her arms for the baby. She and Diarwen exchanged a look, and then the five of them were gone, into the park.

Rideout had been right about the lack of cover in that park. It was mostly cut grass on either side of a trail that Diarwen would have described as a sidewalk, a good place for people to bike and run. There were trees dotted here and there but nothing to break the line of sight.

Journey said, "Ironhide's around here somewhere? What the fuck is he using for cover?"

Diarwen said, "I have no idea...a squirrel could not find cover here! He must be in the lake!"

Cornell objected, "In the lake? They can do that?"

"How do you think the 'Cons got Megatron out of the ocean? Of course they can swim," Journey told him. "They don't need air. It ain't like they run on a car engine, no matter what they look like."

Cornell shrugged. That was all fine and good, but it didn't help them now. "We can't do that. Look, we're going to have to stay on the west side of the tracks and go from house to house. We're going to be right under their noses, but it's the only way that we can make it work."

"Yes, that is the only way we are going to get closer to the stadium," Diarwen agreed.

The route they chose led through what had once been a college neighborhood. Now it looked like a tornado had hit it, which at least meant they had cover in the rubble.

There were bones everywhere. From the clothing and belongings scattered around, far too many had been college age kids who would never grow older.

Then they stumbled across what was left of a day care center. If there had ever been any question of turning back, it was forgotten after that. The fresh scar on Diarwen's hand throbbed sharply, once, and a flock of black birds took flight from a blackened tree. Yes, dear Lady. My sword is Yours. Show me what You would have me do.

One of the birds flew over a large tangle of wrecked vehicles that crossed several lanes of traffic. Just beyond it was a manhole of some sort.

Diarwen pointed that out. "I wonder where that goes? Maybe under the stadium?"

"It's worth a look. We sure ain't walkin' up to the front gate."

"I'll check it out. I can glamour myself easier than all of us if one of those seekers flies over. Cover me." Diarwen thought about casting the glamour, but decided to wait so that she could signal the others. She followed a fence out to the sidewalk. A low concrete wall blocked the sidewalk off from the highway. She looked around carefully for any onlookers. There was a 'Con standing around a few hundred yards away, but he was looking the other way. She jumped the fence and ran to cover behind the wrecked cars, then using the hand signals she had learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, pointed the 'Con out to her team. Moving slowly, she crossed the highway and examined the manhole.

She waited until the sentry looked away again, then put up her strongest glamour and moved the manhole cover. It was heavier than she expected, and made of iron besides—she was thankful for her gloves.

There was no disguising the clang when it hit the concrete. She dropped into the hole and landed in six inches of water, there was a square tunnel that seemed to run the same way as the sidewalk above it. She stepped into the pipe.

The 'Con tromped down there and looked around, but didn't pay any attention to what, to him, was just a hole smaller than his ped. When he saw nothing of interest, he went back to his post.

One by one the rest of the team crossed the street and climbed down the manhole.

There were a couple of storm drains lighting the tunnel before it turned toward the stadium and slanted upwards slightly. Up there, though, it was completely dark. Journey pulled out a small flashlight, most of which was covered with black electrical tape, which allowed only a dot of light to escape.

They kept as quiet as they could. While several feet of earth and a layer of concrete would keep any Decepticons that happened to be nearby from sensing their electrical fields, they could still hear well enough if they happened to be near a drain.

For a long while, they saw nothing but moss and mud-covered concrete as they passed under the stadium. But then they found a drain that apparently carried rainwater off the football field.

Diarwen climbed the ladder up to the drain, careful to avoid touching the metal rungs with bare skin. If there was one thing about human cities that she hated more than anything else, it was the sheer amount of cold iron, and usually it was things like doorknobs and handrails that people were meant to touch.

At the top, she forgot all about her annoyance. There were hundreds of people on the football field, possibly as many as two thousand, though she couldn't be sure from that angle. Some of them huddled together, others stood alone despite the crowd. From where she was, she could see three Decepticons on the lowest tier of stands, and from their spacing, there probably was another one right behind her. Then there was the one she'd seen outside, and however many more she couldn't see.

What they wanted with these people, she didn't know. Hostages? But that made no sense. No one fighting a war could afford to worry about hostages, no matter how badly they wanted to. It would give Optimus pause, but not the US military.

Maybe they didn't realize that the sheer numbers of the humans made them a threat. Kill a thousand of them, and ten thousand more would come swarming in. Millions of them could spend their lives to free their world, and there still would be enough to repopulate in no time, by Sidhe or Cybertronian standards.

The humans also had weapons that could turn the whole city to a sea of molten glass, if they were pushed to an extreme of desperation.

In any case, it was now clear what she was meant to do here. She just wasn't sure how to accomplish it. She needed to find Ironhide and his team, for one thing. She climbed back down to rejoin the others, and they went back down the tunnel to avoid being heard. Once there, she told them what she had found.

"Without knowing what Ironhide is doing, we are as likely to start a massacre as to prevent one. I can take down one of those 'Cons, but not all—not before they start shooting hostages, anyway. If anyone has any idea how to find our people without alerting the Decepticons, I would be pleased to hear it."

Unlike Cornell and Perkins, Journey and Rideout were retired NEST agents like Epps. He said, "We're just going to have to wait for them to come out of wherever they're hiding. Trust me, I know Ironhide—he's just a-waitin' for his chance."

Cornell said, "If we could get up into the stands, we might be able to get the high ground on 'em. Draw fire away from the hostages when he makes his move, if nothing else."

"Stadium maintenance probably has an easier way to get in here than climbing down those ladders with whatever tools or equipment they might want. Let's see if there's something on the other side of the stadium," suggested Rideout.

They followed the tunnel under the field. There was another drain on that side. She climbed to take another look around. There was indeed a fourth Decepticon, exactly where she had expected to find him.

She looked around for Betony, but couldn't see her. Diarwen hoped it was because she was too far away in the crowd. She thought surely she would know if her dearest friend had crossed over. But there had been so much death here that one voice might be lost in the cacophony. Tears came to her eyes as she prayed for her friend's safety. She dashed them away. There was no time.

The dank, smelly passage continued under the opposite side of the stadium. There they found a sturdy metal door set into the side of the tunnel.

It was locked, perhaps padlocked on the other side.

The door was hung to swing toward them, which meant there was no use trying to kick it in even if they hadn't had to worry about the noise.

Journey asked, "Can your sword cut through the hinges?"

"Yes, but...when I draw Fire to it, they are aware of it."

"Yeah, they can pick up on energy fields like we can hear and see. So magic is just energy like anything else?"

"It is nature. Life. For the most part magic only encourages things to happen that could happen anyway. Crops grow well, wounds heal quickly and cleanly. The glamours and other things I've been doing are on that order. This is another level of things, calling upon Fire—capital 'F', the element of Fire. Most Sidhe witches have an affinity with one of the elements. But that sort of working uses far more energy."

"And they'd be all over us like stink on a hog if you done that," Journey nodded. "Anybody got any thermite?"

"Right here," Rideout said. "The rest of you back up and look the other way." He put thermite strips on the hinges and ignited a child's sparkler, which he then used to touch off the thermite. Cornell got a plastic pop cup and used it to scoop up dirty water from the tunnel, and cooled the door.

The men were able to wrench it far enough open that Rideout could worm his arm in and cut off the padlock with his bolt cutters. They laid the door down in the tunnel.

A narrow, grimy stairwell waited on the other side. Once again, Diarwen took point.

At the top she found a metal expanding gate, with darkness beyond. She had excellent night vision, but there was no light here to begin with.

Journey's flashlight revealed the large bulky shapes of various sorts of equipment. Diarwen supposed it was whatever one typically kept in a basement, furnaces and water heaters. Beyond that, they found a workshop full of all sorts of tools, and the super's office.

Everything down here seemed to be painted some shade of industrial gray—the walls lighter, the bench, the door and its frame a darker tone.

At the opposite end of the tool bench was a windowed door leading into a hallway. The glass was the sort with wires embedded in a diamond pattern. Rideout was able to simply pick that lock.

The long hallway they found themselves in followed the curve of the stadium. Various doors led off, one to a laundry facility, another to storage for the various concession stands. At the hallway's midpoint was an elevator, useless with the power out. Not far past the elevator, they finally found the fire stairs.

These stairs only went up one floor. Diarwen looked through a narrow window, and immediately ducked back, holding up a clenched fist to stop the others from coming any closer.

There was a sentry standing ten feet away.

Diarwen considered and cast off several ways to kill the sentry. He probably would raise an alarm first. Even if she did deal with him silently, he would be missed sooner rather than later.

As silently as possible, she checked to see if the door was locked. Luck was with her.

Across the way was a stairway marked "Press Boxes."

They were near the center of one long side of the stadium. From here, ramps led up to this tier of stands. All along the outside wall were concession stands, restrooms, souvenir vendors, all strung like beads between gates where one bought a ticket to get in.

She had seen at least two more tiers of seating above this one.

At either end, the corridor curved around the end zones to, she supposed, a mirror arrangement on the other side of the field. Here and now, though, she needed to dislodge that sentry.

Where main force would not work, guile might. She started to sing quietly under her breath, creating an illusion of danger waiting in the shadows. As she drew energy for the spell, a shadowy form began to take shape at the end of the corridor.

Eventually the guard began to glance down that way. Diarwen beckoned the others forward.

The glamour was affecting them too, but they had the advantage of knowing she was doing something. She pointed out the stairway, then pushed the last of the energy she had raised into the spell.

The sentry saw his death coming at him. To his credit, he drew his sword and charged to meet it head on. Diarwen and her men raced across to the stairs behind his back.

By the time the sentry realized his only enemy was his own imagination and went back to his post, they were long gone.

Diarwen stopped on the landing, pale and shaking, and gasped for breath.

"What was Scorponok doing here?" Cornell whispered.

"A glamour only," she gasped. "Different for everyone-it takes the form of one's greatest fear."

"Like a Harry Potter boggart," Journey nodded.

"As good as an explanation as any, that. Laughing at it will dispel it, as will striking at it, as he did. Most flee. Either way, it would have got him away from the door."

"What did you see?"

Diarwen said shortly, "Sentinel."

Journey said, "If he'd taken a whack at me in the middle of Potomac Avenue I think he'd scare the crap of me, too."

"Yeah, what'd you see?" Rideout asked him.

"My wife waitin' on the porch at 0300 with the rolling pin," he replied with a grin.

Diarwen didn't say she hadn't been the one in mortal danger. She didn't understand why she would have seen what she did, and she didn't have time to think it through.

They made their way to the top tier and found places to wait out of sight. Another half hour passed.

Then, suddenly, several pillars blasted off from various locations around the city. That noise was overtaken by the sounds of battle from west and north of the stadium, over by the river.

The 'Cons were apparently ordered to kill the hostages before abandoning the stadium, for they conversed briefly in Cybertronian, then started to take aim. Diarwen and her men opened fire, drawing their attention away from the field. Journey and Diarwen both killed their targets outright.

The others would have carried out their orders, but that was when Ironhide started firing from the rim of the stadium. Diarwen figured he must have climbed right up the outside of the building. At the same time the groundskeeper's gate burst open and Jolt and the sisters charged in.

One of the 'Cons seemed simply to refuse to die; climbing to the top tier he went after Ironhide.

The weapons specialist had time only for one autocannon burst before the burly 'Con got too close. He transformed the autocannons away and jumped over several rows of seats to tackle the onrushing 'Con like two linebackers crashing into each other on the field below. The stands collapsed under their weight, dropping them onto the top rows of the second tier. They rolled down, crushing seats beneath them, and fell onto the field, still fighting. Hostages scattered as far away from the battle as they could get.

Diarwen knew she couldn't fire into a melee like that. She and her men ran down a ramp to the second tier and rappelled over the railing down to the field. She ordered, "Help the Sisters get these people out of here before some seeker drops a bomb on the field!"

Her men did that, while she and Jolt ran toward the fight. Exactly what they were going to do when they got there, they didn't know—those were two big mechs.

She asked Jolt, "Is there a history involved?"

"Yeah, that's Blockhead. Actually the history is with Chromia, but that's...complicated."

Blockhead knocked Ironhide down. Whatever the history was, Chromia took advantage of the clear shot to open up on the 'Con with both of her autocannons. Everyone else joined in.

As Blockhead's name indicated, he wasn't the brightest torch on the wall, but he did have a streak of cunning. He grabbed Ironhide and heaved the big weapons specialist at the crowd of fleeing hostages.

Jolt let out a horrified yell and pushed everything he had into his magnetic whips, catching Ironhide and reeling him in. Both bots went down with a horrendous crash, but the hostages were unhurt.

The sisters rushed Blockhead, aiming high, darting in to slash at his legs whenever they got the chance. They were quick enough to dance out of the way of his blows.

Diarwen had his measure by then. She drew an arrow and aimed at a spot low on his left flank. The arrow disappeared under his armor. For a couple of seconds nothing happened-then spellfire shot out of every opening in his armor plates. He roared and started slapping at himself in a vain attempt to put it out.

Unfortunately for him, he had forgotten about Ironhide, who activated his fusion cannon and blasted his enemy in the head. The 'Con was dead before he hit the ground.

Getting the hostages to cover became the first order of business. There were no more Cons around, but this open ground would quickly become a kill zone if just one of those seekers came back. They all scattered out to direct the panicking crowd across Lakeshore Drive into the buildings. Over and over they told people to find somewhere to get out of sight, and stay there.

That was when a beam of light shot up into the sky and Diarwen felt a gate wrench open. She screamed as the ley lines twisted, throwing everything that she could sense out of balance. She turned to Ironhide. "We need to get over there now and stop them before whatever they're doing tears the planet apart!"

Ironhide shook off the last of the effects of the fight. "Get in!"

Nobody hesitated. She swung up into the cab while her men swarmed into the back. Jolt and the Sisters transformed and followed him towards the fighting over on Wacker Drive.

They swerved around all manner of wreckage.

Collapsed buildings.

Crushed cars.

Downed seekers and carriers.

A charred bus.

A broken, burning gas main.

And bodies, hundreds of bodies, many of which they could not avoid hitting.

They got delayed by a couple of seekers who dropped down on them from the side of a building like overgrown gray bats. Ironhide's fusion cannon popped up from his truck bed, eliciting a curse from Cornell who barely got out of the way.

Two blasts dropped the seekers in among the other wreckage.

When they got to Wacker, the main fighting had moved north to the river bend, near the Riverwalk. But Sam and Bumblebee were there, pointing urgently at something high in the air.

Sam yelled, "Optimus shot the control pillar down off the building but before Bumblebee and I could get to it, that son of a bitch Sentinel did something to float it up out of reach! Bee shot at it, but it's got some kind of force field! They're trying to bring Cybertron here and use humans as slave labor to rebuild it!"

"We'll see about that." Ironhide's fusion cannon roared again, but the burst of plasma arced around the control panel. Safety protocols shut the cannon down before it could melt down.

Jolt said, "We can't bring that field down without Sentinel's control codes!"

Diarwen said, "That portal is magical. What would happen if the control pillar went into the gate?"

Ironhide told her, "It'd blow to the Pit and gone, force field or no force field."

Diarwen walked out into the middle of the street and drew her sword. She started to chant, drawing energy ruthlessly from every node connected to the shattered ley lines. "Great Mother, help me defend thy right! Spirits of air, lend thy power unto me! Cast this abomination into eternal night! As I will so mote it be!"

She had meant to call up the gods and the spirits to help her cast a spell too great for her own energy. What actually happened was something much more; Diarwen became the sword in the hand of Eternity.

By the second repetition of her chant, even the mundanes could see her glowing with magical energy. She burned from the inside out, but somehow she held her ground to chant her rhyme a third time. Her voice rose to a spirit shout on the last "SO MOTE IT BE!" as she used her sword to direct all the energy coursing through her, using her body as its channel, at the control pillar.

For the second time, a massive beam of light shot up into the Chicago sky. It contacted the force field, which flared once, then ruptured with a blast that threw rubble into the air for three blocks around and knocked the humans and smaller bots to the ground. The beam of barely contained energy continued through to the control pillar, raising it high into the air as if it were no more than a leaf caught in a fountain.

Cybertron's gravity caught it at about fifty thousand feet, pulling it on up into the gate, and the column collapsed back into itself, most of it grounding back through Diarwen into the Earth from which it came.

High above, a ring of light exploded outwards as the portal imploded, creating a vortex that consumed the mechanical world. Diarwen collapsed to the street. Energy flowed wherever bare skin touched the torn earth, coursing out of her with no control on her part like water running out of an upended bucket.

She watched a world die, with tears streaming down her face. With a last flash of light, the portal disappeared, leaving only blue sky and roiling clouds. Stunned, she felt the ley lines begin to reweave themselves, beginning directly beneath her and extending as far as she could sense. Mother Earth was healing and cleansing Herself.

There was going to be one huge energy vortex right in the middle of one of the busiest blocks of Wacker Drive when the lines finally settled.

She looked at Ironhide with eyes full of guilt and grief. "I am so sorry…I had no idea this would be the cost."

Ironhide said, "Diarwen, you didn't do this. Sentinel did."

She drew a deep shuddering breath and sheathed her sword. "That bastard needs killing," she said in a low growl.

"Let's go find him," Ironhide replied. He held out his hand for her, and she accepted his assistance gratefully, unsure she could have gotten far without it. He transformed around her and she found herself seated in his cab.

He called to the rest of them, "Come on, what are you lugnuts waitin' for? The battle's that way!"

This time, Sam and Bee joined the war band as they made their way toward the sounds of their people fighting for their lives.

-DOTM-

They followed in the wake of a massive battle. There were dead Decepticons everywhere. Sunstreaker, out of it with terrible damage to the whole left side of his body, nearly shot them before he recognized the identification codes they were sending. Ironhide waved Jolt off to tend to him.

"Sunny, where are they?"

"Bridge! Optimus and Sentinel—think Megs is there someplace too!"

There were lots of bridges, but only one of them was lowered. They skidded to a halt near Ratchet and Sides. There was no room on the bridge where Optimus and Sentinel squared off for anyone else to join in the fighting. All they could do was ready their weapons and wait for an opportunity.

Diarwen had seen many a battle come down to this, king against king in single combat. That had been for a throne, or to settle an insult. This was for the future of a world.

Time slowed to a crawl. Sentinel drew his rust gun out of subspace.

Diarwen's vision in the stadium came to pass, but not in the manner that had terrified her.

Anyone else might have flinched or hesitated, and died for their troubles; Optimus, though, was every inch a swordmaster of the caliber of Diarwen herself. He stepped inside Sentinel's guard and struck the gun with the flat of his blade. It bounced several yards and rolled towards them.

Ironhide cursed and took control of it before the weapon could go off accidentally.

Sentinel and Optimus grappled for a long moment, a contest of sheer strength. With incredulity in his voice, Sentinel said, "When only one world can survive, you would choose their race over ours?"

"Over you," Optimus growled back at him, and then, with a quick twist at his waist, he upended Sentinel and slammed him to the ground.

Sentinel replied with a kick that knocked Optimus staggering and quickly regained his peds. They struck several mighty blows that would have devastated a lesser opponent. But Diarwen quickly realized that Sentinel clearly had Optimus outmatched. The terror she had felt in the stadium came creeping back with no glamour to call it forth. Once again, as on the Mall, Optimus was in mortal danger before her eyes and there was nothing she could do to intervene. This time, it was because she had not the magic left in her to light a candle.

Optimus went down. Sentinel roared, "We were gods once—all of us! But here there will only be one!"

Sentinel's double blade severed Optimus' right arm at the shoulder. Energon sprayed everywhere, and Sentinel kicked Optimus to the bridge deck. Even as Optimus scrambled for some way to fight back, Sentinel raised his primax blade for what would have been the final blow. Diarwen's sword rang from its sheath—she would die in this battle before she lived a slave, and the Morrigan grant her vengeance! But before she could make a suicidal rush into the fray, a cannon blast from behind Sentinel knocked him clear of Optimus.

Megatron charged onto the bridge from no one knew where, firing as he came. He fell upon Sentinel from behind, attacking with claws and fisted servos as he closed into hand-to-hand range. He was so battered that he looked for all the world to Diarwen like some skeletal, undead liche-king of old, still dressed in the tattered remnants of his royal robes. "This is my planet!"

He threw Sentinel down, and spoke to Optimus. "Now. We need a truce. All I wanted was to be back in charge. Besides, who would you be without me, Prime?"

By then Optimus was back to his feet. Battered, wounded, but still defiant, he turned on his brother. This was their last fight, they both knew it. Optimus' battle mask snapped into place. "Time to find out." He took up his battle axe, the weapon he was accustomed to wielding in his left servo, and rushed the Decepticon commander. There was one mighty clash of weapons, then Megatron went down hard, with the axe embedded in his skull. As Optimus tried to free his weapon, Megatron's head separated from his body. Axe and head both fell to the deck nearly at Diarwen's feet.

If Megatron was still capable of seeing anything, his last sight was Diarwen sheathing her sword, her eyes fixed on Optimus, not him.

Optimus picked up Megatron's blaster and advanced on the downed Sentinel.

"Optimus, all I ever wanted was the survival of our race. You must see why I had to betray you."

"You didn't betray me." Optimus activated the blaster and took aim. "You betrayed yourself."

"No, Optimus!"

Two blasts later, the Battle of Chicago ended.

Optimus' systems groaned loudly as he pulled himself upright, looking around to be sure there were no more threats in evidence. Then he threw the blaster to the bridge deck.

Bee, Sam, Epps, Diarwen, Lennox, their men, the rest of the Autobots all gathered. No one spoke at first, as if they were all stunned in the sudden silence. No one dared believe it was over; no one dared to believe they were victorious.

Bee transformed and stood upright. For a moment he and Sam just stared around them at the devastation that had so recently been a bustling city center.

Lennox called, "Sam!" He drew the younger man's attention to the group of Navy SEALS. Carly pushed between two of them and the two ran to each other. Sam lifted Carly and swung her around. Optimus took a moment to drink in the sheer joy on their faces to see one another alive again.

In any war, there are calms between storms. There will be days when we lose faith; days when our allies turn against us. But the day will never come that we forsake this planet, and its people.

As the silence around him gave way to shouts of victory in both English and Cybertronian, Optimus somehow knew that his silent vow had been heard.

His eyes met Diarwen's. Maybe the Sidhe could help him to understand one day how he knew beyond any rationality that this world welcomed them as her adopted children, a new home in place of the home that had been truly lost to them not today but ages ago.

He touched on the clan bond, fearing what he might find, and instead found all of them there—weary beyond measure, hurt in many cases as badly as he himself was, but all present and accounted for.

The same could not be said for the brave humans who had fought beside them. Too many faces were, would be forever absent.

Yet their spirits were there in the sound of celebration, in a tattered, scorched American flag that still flew proudly from a pole in front of what had once been a bank. The dead could return to their ancestors in pride, knowing that they had defended their homeland and their people.

Diarwen looked up at Optimus with a weary smile. They needed no words for the understanding that passed between them, born of too many battles to count. Leaving the dead behind them, they looked for a place to regroup and tend their wounded.

The battle was over. The war was over. For those who had won through, the rest of their lives awaited.

The End