Initiation Initiation happens a few weeks before Silent Voices and several of the events starting here, continue throughout Silent Voices and Choices, as well as Virus. This might explain why I didn't delve much deeper into certain things. Read the other fanfics, which were written about a year earlier (yes, sometimes it takes a while to write the initial story. No one has complained so far, though...:) )
Well, now that you know the facts, read the fiction!

by the way: I'm not a native English speaker or writer. I'm German. Any spelling/grammar mistakes in here are just to remind you of that fact :P

Initiation
by Birgit Staebler


"What did you think you were doing?"
The anger in Optimus' voice swamped over him like a tidal wave and Hot Rod tried not to flinch back. The larger Autobot towered over him, blue optics ablaze. He didn't know what Optimus wanted. Everything had gone as planned and though they had taken some damage, everyone had come back alive. His own anger surfaced at the blame Optimus seemed to be putting on him.
"I followed the plan," he ground out, trying to keep his voice level.
"Nearly getting the whole team killed was not the plan, Hot Rod!" Optimus countered.
He's really angry, the younger Autobot thought darkly. "No one got even close to getting killed!"
"You took an unnecessary risk and because of it, Jazz was injured!"
"It's only a scratch!"
Optimus' eyes took on an even darker note. "It should not have happened. If you had followed the plan, you would have gone in and out unscathed! You played with the lives of your team mates!"
Hot Rod's eyes glowed angrily as well now. "It was necessary to change the plan, Optimus, because the situation changed!"
Optimus stared at him, anger simmering just below the surface. Of course the situation had changed and they had had to adapt their plan, but no one would have gotten hurt if Hot Rod had not played risky. He couldn't just overlook this fact. He had put Hot Rod in command of the team because he knew that the young Autobot had leadership abilities. Now this.
"I've been leading the Autobots for several years, Optimus Prime," Hot Rod now spat, "before you returned. Don't treat me like a child! I knew what I was doing!"
"That's what I thought before you pulled that stunt!" Optimus nearly exploded. And it wasn't the first time something like this had happened either, though previous events had all concerned Hot Rod. He had been the only one to get injured, not one of the others. "Your behavior was irresponsible and immature!"
Hot Rod's face became an icy mask and Optimus regretted his words immediately, but he didn't get a chance to take back what he had said. Hot Rod's enraged optics burned into his.
"Then choose someone else as team leader to carry out your stupid plans next
time -- Sir!" the younger robot hissed. He whirled around and left.
Optimus watched his retreating form and sighed deeply. Good going, Op, really. He could have handled this better, much better. He should have known how Hot Rod would react. He knew him long enough. Optimus sighed again, wishing he could talk to someone, anyone, to discuss this matter. He needed another opinion because he knew he was not very objective here. But there was no one. His most trusted and closest friend was gone, killed by Megatron such a long time ago, and even though many of his friends were here and would listen, they wouldn't understand. And he didn't want to burden them with his problems. He had to solve them on his own.
The Autobot leader walked back to his office and looked at the amount of work waiting for him. Maybe he could lose himself in work, but even as he took the first report he knew it was useless. His mind was still confronting him with the mess he had made.
He is right, he thought darkly. Hot Rod is really right. He lead the Autobots for a long time and he knows what he is doing. But he still played too risky for my liking and I can't just let it slip by! He can't keep going on like this! He has responsibilities!
Optimus put down the report.
I wish I still had the accumulated wisdom of the Matrix.
But it was gone, released by him to cure a deadly virus not just threatening the Transformers, but every life form on Earth. It had been the only way. Now all he had was the power of the alien device, but not the wisdom of the ancients. He had never felt it before, but now that it was gone, there was a certain emptiness in side him, a certain feeling of loss. And things were not getting easier for him as well. Sometimes everything seemed to be even worse than before and all the more complicated. On some days Optimus Prime wished he had never been resurrected, never been called back among the living. He had caused more problems than solved them. Of course he had been needed at the time, but instead of letting him slip back into a more or less anonymous position, maybe as ambassador or counselor, they had made him Autobot leader again. And he hadn't even fought it. He had let it happen!
Guilty as charged.....
Optimus tore himself out of his reverie, looking at the reports again. Well, he had to start with them some time and now seemed to be as good as any time.

* * *

The brightly colored sports car broke every speed limit there was, but no one was around to witness the mad streak of red, yellow and orange racing relentlessly down a deserted highway. If any Highway Police officer would have been there, watching for speed violators, he would have been surprised by the mph the car was doing. It seemed impossible that a car could be so fast. But this was no normal car; this was an Autobot.
The highway was old and no longer used by any sane motorist since the new one had been built. This road was full of holes, litter and dead plant life blown in from across the fields. The Autobot car's tires crunched some debris and plowed on, its engine wailing under the strain. Hot Rod didn't care. His mind was a mixture of rampaging emotions and pain -- not physical, all emotional.
Hot Rod was angry. No, he was furious. He had done nothing wrong! The mission had gone perfectly well and he had not played risky! He took a bend with more speed than necessary and nearly flew off the street.
Why didn't Optimus trust him with this? Why did he have to criticize everything he did? As if his missions had always ended with everyone in top shape! Irrational anger cooked inside of him. He steered wildly off the highway and his shock absorbers were hard pressed under the sudden new strain of an uneven dirt road. His fuel pump was racing and pumping more energon through his circuits, trying to satisfy his need for more speed, more madness -- to forget what was constantly on his mind.
I didn't play risky! The situation demanded a decision and I made it! I was Autobot leader! I carried the stupid Matrix long enough to last me a life time!
He felt like screaming as he became acutely aware of the empty space inside of him. Hot Rod suddenly stopped and skidded sideways a bit. His side came into sharp contact with some rocks, but he felt the jolt only peripherally. He transformed. His hands clenched and unclenched and his mind was awhirl with contradicting emotions. Ever since he had lost the Matrix, ever since Optimus Prime had taken it out of his chest space, he felt empty, alone, cold. The feelings were mostly subdued by sheer willpower, but at times like this he couldn't deny that he was missing a part of himself. A hurting emptiness, like a tiny black hole, seemed to grow in strength inside of him. He knew that feeling. It was the same he had felt when the Matrix had been removed -- well, after he had been rational enough to feel it, after the red dust germs had been killed.
Since Optimus Prime's return, Hot Rod had nurtured his image as the old hot head because it helped others to forget that he had been Rodimus Prime not so long ago. He didn't want them to feel guilty or awkward. He wanted them to behave like they had done before he had received the Matrix. In a way he liked being just Hot Rod again, but the memories of Rodimus Prime were pressing on him and he always felt the vague emptiness of the Matrix space. The circuits ached and sometimes sent signals a human doctor would call phantom pain. He ignored the feeling as best as he could, but he could never forget it completely. He couldn't get rid of Rodimus Prime, just like he couldn't turn back into the robot he had been before. Too much had happened and too often did he see the others' expressions when they talked to him, as if they weren't sure how to treat him. He'd crack a joke then, do something outrageous, but it was all a facade. And the facade was cracking as well.
"I'm no longer Rodimus Prime!" he wanted to yell at them most of the time, but he kept his silence.
Suddenly he saw something pass overhead and his optics narrowed.
Galvatron!
And the Sweeps.
A grim expression settled on the young robot's features. So the Decepticons were back. Hot Rod transformed again and followed the Decepticon leader, simultaneously contacting Autobot City, telling them about the sighting. Then he increased speed to keep up with the airborne robot.

* * *

Galvatron had been bored out of his mind when Cyclonus had returned to the base with a plan to attack a lab where Autobots and humans worked together on several projects. The Decepticon leader had immediately jumped for the chance to get his cannon undusted and launched an attack. Now the humans were running away, screaming for help, and part of the lab already lay in ruins. He laughed at their fright and weakness. It was so easy, but nevertheless pleasing.
"Galvatron!" a voice suddenly called and as he turned, his shoulder was caught by a rifle shot.
Galvatron's optics narrowed dangerously and his mind sizzled with anger.
"Autobot!" he hissed and part of him registered that the Sweeps were taking care of the young robot, their weapons leaving some burns, but not inflicting permanent damage.
Galvatron growled and aimed at his attacker, who had managed to fight off the two Sweeps attacking him. "No one attacks Galvatron!" he raged and fired at the Autobot.
His target managed to evade one shot, but the second hit him full in the chest. He was thrown back, part of the armor flying off and Galvatron laughed insanely, adding another shot just for good measure.

* * *

Optimus Prime knew it was a stand-off and that everything was slowly turning towards Galvatron's favor, but he was not ready to give in yet. Everyone was out of the immediate danger zone and Optimus had at least his relief. He couldn't say so about Hot Rod.
"It's over, Galvatron. You are trapped!" he called.
Galvatron's lips twisted into a humorless smile. "Oh, you think so?" He tightened his grip around Hot Rod, who half-knelt in front of the Decepticon leader, kept in position as a shield by the powerful arm around his neck.
Optimus tried not to look at the badly shot up chest plate and the ripped open plating. Part of Hot Rod lay vulnerably free and each pull or twist also pulled and twisted at the revealed circuits. Hot Rod didn't have the strength left to do much and Galvatron knew it. He could handle him with one hand.
The Autobot leader wished he had arrived sooner. Blaster had called him, delivering the news that Hot Rod had sighted Galvatron and was following him. Optimus had had a bad feeling immediately and left right away, Jazz and Ultra Magnus in tow. Both Autobots were busy taking out the Sweeps right now and doing very well indeed. Springer was also on his way, but he would be late. And they had been late as well. By the time they had arrived in the small town, Galvatron had smashed several buildings and destroyed the new research lab, which had been a joined venture of Autobots and humans. And he had taken Hot Rod as a hostage. Optimus knew Hot Rod had tried to stop the Decepticon leader and he had suffered a lot of damage.
"Doesn't this remind you of something?" Galvatron teased mercilessly. "A long time ago? We had a similar stand-off and I won!"
Optimus didn't show a single emotion, but he knew exactly what his enemy was talking about: the day he had ceased functioning, the day his life had been terminated by Megatron, who had held Hot Rod as a shield. Optimus had hesitated to shoot Hot Rod and he had paid for this hesitation with his life. Today everything seemed to repeat itself. Again Hot Rod served as a shield for the enemy, this time Galvatron, and again Optimus couldn't bring himself to shoot.
"Surrender or your young friend dies!" Galvatron now demanded.
"No, Optimus!" Hot Rod protested, his voice as strained as his circuits. "Don't!"
"Silence!" Galvatron thundered and pushed the barrel of his gun against Hot Rod's head. He looked at Optimus with a cold, expectant smile.

Hot Rod cursed himself for blundering into this like the young idiot he tried to make the others see in him. Galvatron's arm around his neck made it impossible for him to move, especially since every movement reminded him of his shot-up condition. The blasts of the Sweeps had only singed him, but two volleys from Galvatron's cannon had torn off his outer armor and burned him badly. He had lost his gun and from his weak state he knew he had an energon leak somewhere.
Memories surfaced, memories he had banished throughout the years and which had returned over and over again, each time with more force. He had been to blame for Optimus Prime's death and then had been made Autobot leader. He! The murderer! It had been so ironic and at the time he had received the Matrix he had not thought much about it, but when the fight had been over, when Unicron had been destroyed, the memories had come. The knowledge had burned itself into his mind. He was responsible!
"It's like all those years ago," he heard Galvatron say now, voice taunting. "The time I killed you!"
The words stabbed into Hot Rod and he knew he couldn't let it happen again. He wouldn't be responsible again, he wouldn't let everything repeat itself. The cursed Matrix would be transferred to him again! Not this time! He wouldn't become the Autobot leader because Optimus sacrificed himself to save Hot Rod. He knew what he had to do. Optimus needed a clear shot and Hot Rod kept him from getting it. Optimus would never shoot, Hot Rod realized, unless the shield was no longer a shield. And there was a solution to this dilemma. His mind was suddenly clinically cold and logical as he made up a plan. While he kept one hand lodged around Galvatron's arm, his other hand slipped toward his opened armor.
"No, it isn't!" he hissed. "Not this time, Galvatron!"

Optimus had started to lower his weapon, knowing that he couldn't possibly shoot Hot Rod when he saw Hot Rod's hand move toward the open armor plating. The hand reached inside and closed around wires, tubes and circuits. Realization hit him.
"Hot Rod, no!" he yelled in shock and horror at what his young friend was doing.
But it was too late.
Hot Rod pulled his hand out and with it part of his innards. Fluids gushed out, circuits shorted and there was a tiny explosion from within. Hot Rod's eyes flickered, then the light faltered and his body went limp.
Galvatron stared at his former hostage and then growled in disgust. "Stupid Autobot!" he hissed, then threw the lifeless body at Optimus. "Decepticons, retreat!" He took off and fled, followed by the Sweeps.
Optimus forgot all about the Decepticons, optics wide. He heard the running steps of Ultra Magnus and Jazz, as well as their exclamations of horror. A pool of fluids was growing under Hot Rod's body and it was getting larger by the minute. The young robot needed help. Fast! He opened a com channel to Autobot City and called for help.
"What happened?" Ultra Magnus wanted to know, voice shaking with the shock he was under.
"Later," Optimus said curtly and transformed. "Get him inside!"
They loaded the gravely injured robot into the trailer and Optimus shot off toward Autobot City, closely followed by Ultra Magnus and Jazz.

*

First Aid stared at the damage with a mixture of disbelief and disgust. Disbelief at how bad it looked and disgust at the Decepticon who had done this. He tore his optics from the mangled body to Optimus Prime, whose grim expression could scare off even his best friends. The Autobot leader had not said a word since they had come here, but his face told lengthy stories. He looked back at the wound. First Aid identified many of the scratches and burns as the result of continued laser fire, which had also blown off most of the chest armor in the process.
"What happened?" First Aid asked with his usual calm voice, already connecting Hot Rod to the necessary machines to keep his systems stable until he could repair them. The young robot had lost a great amount of fluids and even though First Aid had not looked into the damage all that deeply, he knew that at least one half of the main fluid pump was missing completely.
"Galvatron happened," Optimus growled darkly.
First Aid nodded slowly, already figuring it had been Decepticon work, but not all the damage fit the picture. Part of Hot Rod had been torn out violently, aggravating the other damage and nearly terminating him. That wasn't Galvatron's style. He liked to blast his victims, not mutilate their bodies by tearing their innards out. The medic looked at the read-out of his scan. This was very bad.
"I see," was all he said.
He knew Optimus long enough not to dig deeper into the explanations. Either Optimus gave them voluntarily or not at all. If the information were necessary to save Hot Rod's life, he would have spilled it. Otherwise there was no hope in getting anything out of him. First Aid could add two and two, though, recalling how often Hot Rod had ended up in med bay since Optimus Prime's resurrection and how strange the young Autobot had behaved. First Aid was no psychologist, but he thought that something was deeply wrong with Hot Rod and that Optimus Prime held the solution in him but didn't know it.
He sighed softly to himself.
No use thinking about this now. He had a body to repair and a life to save. He set to work.
"It will take a while," he told the Autobot leader.
"Call me when he's awake," Optimus said and left med bay.
First Aid watched him go and nodded. "Of course.

* * *

Hot Rod sat on the med bay table, optics fixed on the floor. Optimus towered over him and somehow he wore the same expression as two days ago, when Hot Rod and his team had returned from their mission. And as at that time, Optimus was screaming mad and not keeping back about his feelings, though his face was impassive.
"I don't know what to do!" he now said angrily. His voice had not risen into an irate yell, but the deep growl was enough.
Hot Rod ignored most of the rant, his mind troubled by something completely different than his leader's rage. He was flashing back to the fateful events from years ago.

"I've got to help, Prime!"
"Stay away kid, that's Prime's fight."
But he had jumped into the way. "No you don't Megatron!"
"Out of the way Hot Rod!"
An arm around his neck.
Optimus hesitating.
A gun rising.
One shot. Two. Three. Four.
"Fall ... fall!"
Fluids gushed out of the terrible wounds.
No! Nonono!!!
"Optimus, forgive me...."

Not again.... he wouldn't let it happen again, ever.... This time he had done the right thing. He had insured Optimus Prime's survival. Hot Rod glanced at the enraged blue optics of the older Autobot and sighed silently. It was a sigh of relief. He didn't care whether or not Optimus was angry, whether or not he'd punish him one way or the other. Optimus was alive and that was what counted.
"Why, Hot Rod?" Optimus now demanded. "Damnit, tell me why?"
Hot Rod winced a bit at the curse, ducking his head between his shoulders. It took a lot to make Optimus lose it like this and apparently his action had been trigger enough. But why? He was just Hot Rod, a hot head, a young turbo rabbit, a careless teen. Okay, he had been Autobot leader once, but now Optimus was back, right? They expected him to behave like this, so why was Optimus so upset that he fulfilled his assigned role?
"It was the only way," he muttered, staring at the floor again.
"The only way?!" Optimus exclaimed. "It was not the only way, Hot Rod! You were ready to kill yourself! Why?" He leaned forward a bit. "I don't think you are a suicide case, Roddy. Why did you do it?"
Hot Rod evaded the burning optics. "Like I said, it was the only way. Galvatron would have shot you."
Optimus shook his head. "No...."
Hot Rod's head whipped up. "Yes!" he blurted. "Yes, he would have. You wouldn't shoot because of me and it would have happened all over again!"
"Again?" Optimus gave him a blank look.
Hot Rod looked caught and turned away again. Optimus stared at him, then realization dawned. And Hot Rod saw it as well.
Oh, no, he groaned inwardly. No, no, no!
"Hot Rod....." Optimus started, but Hot Rod didn't give him a chance.
He slipped off the table. "You'll have the report in a few hours," he muttered and tried to walk past Optimus.
The larger Autobot caught his arm and found himself looking into two briefly glowing optics; glowing with barely suppressed anger. Optimus let go again and Hot Rod stormed out of the med bay. He passed a startled Ultra Magnus, who had just entered the medical ward.
"Optimus?" he asked, slightly confused.
Optimus shook his head and left as well.

Days passed and Optimus was pretty much taken out of public and personal life through the many things he had to catch up on, conferences he had to attend to and the treaties he had to review. Part of his mind was working on the problem with Hot Rod, which seemed to get worse. The young Autobot was growing more and more aggressive, as Kup had told him often enough, and he was spending more time racing the highways than inside Autobot City. He wasn't exactly neglecting his duties, but he also never stuck around long after he was done with one task or the other.
Now Optimus had some breathing space for the first time in a week since the incident with Galvatron and for the first time he really started to think. And what he came up with was not what he had wanted to see. Maybe he was over-interpreting things, but a small voice told him that wasn't the case.
"Optimus?"
The Autobot leader looked up and saw Ultra Magnus, who returned his look seriously. "Yes?" he asked, dread rising inside of him.
"We have to talk," the city commander said calmly.
"About what?"
"Hot Rod."
Optimus had been afraid of that. "What did he do this time?" he asked with a sigh.
"It's not what he did or didn't do, Optimus. It's about what is happening to him."
The older Autobot shot his friend a questioning look. Ultra Magnus leaned forward a bit.
"The incident back at the town."
"What about it?" Optimus tried to sound neutral, but it didn't work.
"What he did.... he inflicted the damage himself, right? I didn't see it, true, but I can tell from the wounds. He ripped his circuits out."

Hot Rod's hand reached the torn chest plate, slipping inside. His fingers closed around the vulnerable circuits, the sensitive tubes with vital fluids, the delicate wires.
'Hot Rod, what the.... he can't possibly think to....'
The young Autobot's blue optics were cold and clinical -- and very calm, almost ancient. They met his and he shuddered.
The hand moved.
'No!'
Circuits sizzled, wires and tubes tore. Fluids spilled out in great quantities, staining the already stained chest plate -- or what was left of it -- with new colors.
'NO!'
Hot Rod's eyes flickered and then went dead. And part of Optimus Prime twisted in sheer agony at what had just happened.
The body slumped -- lifeless.

Optimus looked at him for a long time and finally nodded.
"And why?" Magnus asked calmly.
"Because he wanted to take himself out of Galvatron's hands as a hostage," Optimus answered, slight anger creeping into his voice. It was mostly anger at himself now, not Hot Rod. He should have seen it coming! "It was a stupid stunt!"
Magnus had to agree. "But if he hadn't done what he did, Galvatron might have injured you badly." There was an expression on the commander's face Optimus didn't like.
"Or killed me," he said.
"Or that." Magnus' face was neutral again.
"It was no reason to commit suicide!" Optimus said forcefully.
"It was for Roddy."
Optimus shook his head. "I thought he was more mature than that!" he growled angrily.
"Hot Rod is mature, Optimus," Magnus defended him and surprised his friend with the statement. "He grew a lot throughout the last years and the Matrix not only changed his name and body shell; it changed him. I saw him change and even though he was still a lot like Hot Rod, he was a leader. I can't say I adapted easily to his style; he was so very different from you, what we were used to."
Optimus winced a bit at the comparison.
"But I did, and so did everyone else. He did a lot of good, you know," Magnus then said slowly.
Optimus nodded, remembering the files and reports he had read, simultaneously wondering about how protective Magnus had become of his former leader. Rodimus had achieved a lot: peace treaties, energon generators powering large parts of Cybertron, commercial contracts..... Yes, he had done a lot to help Cybertron and Earth and this proved more than anything that Rodimus Prime was not just Hot Rod with a different name and position.
"I know," Optimus sighed.
And he kind of admired him for it. Rodimus Prime had achieved a lot and though Optimus had achieved a lot as well, he had never seen anything but war. Rodimus had seen war and still gone on to help out with peace conferences, sign treaties, help other planets.
Now I'm back, he is Hot Rod again and everyone seems to forget about Rodimus. And Hot Rod does everything to help them! He tries to be his old self again and he's failing!
Again Optimus thought about how easily the Autobots had turned to him as their new old leader again, forgetting one very important fact; a fact he had forgotten as well: Rodimus Prime was still here, not dead! The Matrix had not chosen Optimus to return, but still the Autobots had lifted him up into his 'old' position once more. And Hot Rod had stood by, letting it happen. He had not fought; he had simply surrendered.
Optimus felt a new pang of guilt. At the time of his re-establishment as leader he had only thought about the current problems, like the new Targetmasters and Headmasters, the Nebulans. He had had his hands full with everything concerning the new Golden Age and the sudden power surge all over Cybertron. Nothing had grown easier after they now had enough energy to run the planet. Optimus knew it had just grown worse now. And through all those new problems and troubles he had lost sight of one important fact: Rodimus Prime was not dead. He lived on in the guise of Hot Rod. But Hot Rod tried to convince him he was not leadership material and all his missions had ended with him somehow being bruised, battered or singed.
Optimus met Ultra Magnus' optics. "He did it for me," he said softly and it was like a confession.
"And for himself," Magnus added.
Prime wondered how much Ultra Magnus suspected, how much he knew.
"Magnus, he was ready to sacrifice himself to prevent that he is left with the Matrix again!" Optimus exclaimed. "It's both irresponsible and illogical!"
"And it's Hot Rod."
Optimus Prime stared at his friend. Ultra Magnus only smiled. The Autobot leader leaned against the examination table. "I know. I know it was Hot Rod and I know it was Rodimus acting as well. He's afraid that it happens all over again."
Magnus nodded.
"But he did so well as Rodimus Prime!" Optimus said softly, almost as if he were talking to himself.
"Of course he did."
Optimus remembered something. "The reports...." he muttered.
Ultra Magnus shot him a questioning look.
"I read the reports, Magnus, his reports about all the battles. It was like reading a school teacher's criticism." Prime looked at the commander. "Not criticism of the others but of himself. Reading all those files, thinking about them, would make you come to the decision that Rodimus Prime never managed to complete a mission or win a battle with the anticipated results. Rodimus thought he was incompetent."
"That's nonsense!" Magnus immediately contradicted and his optics widened in shock. "You should read our reports, Optimus, if you doubt him! He did great! Granted, he had trouble adjusting to his new role, but he didn't mess up or fail!"
"I know. It's not me doubting him; Rodimus doubted himself."
Magnus opened his mouth, then shut it again.
"He grew more self-confident in time," Optimus continued. "Then I came back."
"Yes."
Optimus looked at Ultra Magnus. There was the usual neutral expression on his face, but something in his optics told him that the commander was chewing hard on what he had told him. "I had to take the Matrix from him to cure us all and through it I started his self-destruction process, that's what it is, right?" It felt like an apology.
And I gave the Matrix back to him -- after I had emptied it of all wisdom to cure us all, to save the universe. Hot Rod had later returned it, quietly placing it on Optimus' desk.
"You need it more than I do," he had said with a smile that should have told Optimus something was wrong. It had been cheery all right, but not real. It had been a facade!
"I don't know, Optimus," the other Autobot confessed. "I only know that Hot Rod won't let you die, not through the same circumstances. Not again."
"He can't keep protecting me, Magnus."
"He thinks he can."
Optimus nearly gave in to his desperation. "It has to stop!" he muttered. "We have to talk about this!" He pushed himself away from the table.
Ultra Magnus watched him go and nodded. "It's about time."

* * *

Alean was a small and rather barren planet. It was a rock floating through space, orbited by three moons and lit by two suns. No one knew it existed and many star charts had only assigned it a number. There was no intelligent life on this planet, but it held life nevertheless, despite how dead it looked. Inside the deep canyons, hidden from the strong winds and the burning suns, grew plants and lived small animals. Rivers ran through the canyons, sometimes surfacing, but mostly keeping underground. And in one of the many deep and giant canyons lay a hidden base, ancient and secret. Alean was the home planet of the Sentinels, their chosen home since they had fled Cybertron after the Quintessons had left. Like the position of this backwater planet, the Sentinels were unknown, except in legend and horror tales told by the old Cybertronians, those who remembered what they had been. They kept their existence a secret and no Cybertronian knew about their continued survival. All but one.
Hot Rod had never been to Alean before, but Rodimus Prime had. Once. It had been a brief visit and it had been years ago. Still, nothing had changed, he mused as he surveyed the dry land. A small dust storm raged in the distance but it would soon dissipate. Another cloud roused his interest and he tensed briefly, but soon relaxed as he discovered who was approaching him. He stepped out of the shadow of the shuttle and watched the jet come closer and transform, touching down elegantly.
"Welcome to Alean, Roddy," the completely black robot greeted him and smiled. Even though the day was sunny and bright, to Hot Rod it looked like the darkness of this robot's body was sucking in the light, greedily, ceaselessly. It made for a scary effect, something utterly horrifying if you had never met him before.
Hot Rod found himself return the smile, though smiling was not how he felt. "Thanks, Midnight."
Midnight, leader of the Sentinels and one of the strangest robots ever to be constructed, nodded. "You want to leave the shuttle here or park it at the base?"
Hot Rod knew it would be best to hide the shuttle and told Midnight so. The Sentinel leader nodded again.
"Just follow me."
He transformed and Hot Rod walked back into the small shuttle, lifting off. Midnight had not asked him why he had come here or how long he intended to stay and Hot Rod was glad for it. He knew he'd have to explain some things to his friend, like for instance why he was suddenly Hot Rod once more and no longer Rodimus Prime. But that had time. First he needed the necessary distance from the latest events and he needed to straighten out his mind. And he wanted to take a liability out of Optimus' hands: himself.
He guided the shuttle down into the chasm, which was just wide enough to let him enter safely, then followed Midnight, who flew ahead at an almost lazy pace for him. Suddenly a cave loomed up before him and Midnight flew straight in. Hot Rod slowed down but still followed and as he went inside, lights came on, flooding the stone walls, giving him a better view. He had been here before, but it was always a sight. The gigantic cave, partly natural, partly artificially enlarged, opened into another cave, which housed a city looking almost like he inside of Autobot City. He landed the shuttle on a platform and got out. Midnight smiled at him.
"Feel right at home," he simply said. "You know your way around and the others have been told that we got a visitor over." He grinned.
Hot Rod chuckled. "I'm glad you didn't say 'tourist'."
Midnight laughed. "It's not yet tourist season, Roddy. And you also forgot your camera."
The young Autobot shrugged. "Yeah, right." He grew serious. "Thanks for letting me stay."
Midnight grew serious as well. "Any time." He appeared as if he wanted to say something, then simply turned and left.
Hot Rod looked around and then went his own way. Yes, in a weird way he felt at home.... He was away from everyone who knew him, knew both versions of him to an extent, and who treated him warily and with insecurity. No one here was affiliated with the Autobots and Midnight was in many ways just like him. He trusted the black Sentinel. Midnight knew things about him he had never told anyone and he, in turn, knew a lot of facts about Midnight and his small group of surviving Sentinels -- like that they had survived all those millennia. The Sentinel leader had trusted him with this knowledge because if an older Autobot like Kup ever got a whiff of this knowledge, he'd come here and extinguish every Sentinel he saw. The hatred ran deep and history told why. But at the time Rodimus Prime had not been interested in history; he had been interested in who the Sentinels were now. And through his tolerance he had made a very good friend.
He was safe here, he knew. He was among friends.

* * *

"Gone? How can he be gone?" Optimus Prime demanded.
Blaster shrugged. "He registered a shuttle flight and there was nothing wrong about it, Prime. I gave him the a-okay and he took off."
"Destination?"
"Cybertron."
"But he isn't on Cybertron and he never arrived there!" Optimus said forcefully. "I want to know where that shuttle went!"
Blaster shrank back from the anger emitting from the Autobot leader. "Sure, Prime, no problem. Just have to follow the signature...."
"Do it!" With that Optimus turned on his heels and walked out.
"What's with him?" Blaster muttered.
Eject, who was manning the com console left of the larger Autobot, shrugged. "Bad day?"
Blaster shook his head. "I'm not sure. Well, you heard the man, let's find Roddy's shuttle!"

* * *

"No."
Knight shook her head. "Midnight...."
The black Sentinel looked at her, green visor alight. "I said no, Knight. We leave him alone."
"He is troubled, Mid, and you know it. Everyone knows it by only looking at him."
"Yes, I know it, but we won't be of any help by crowding him and trying to get him to talk. He has to come on his own, Knight. He'll only clamp up more if we try anything."
The red and silver female sighed deeply. "That's not my style."
Midnight smiled slightly. "I know that as well, but please act against your style just this once, okay? Roddy is hurt, emotionally hurt, and whatever happened back on Earth or Cybertron, it left its marks on him."
"Well, one mark is that he is no longer Rodimus Prime," Knight remarked dryly. "Think they dismissed him?"
Midnight's lips twisted into a humorless smile. "No. Something different happened. It's not as if you can lose your job as Autobot leader just like this."
"Yeah, you have to die first."
The Sentinel leader nodded. "But Rodimus isn't dead."
"Maybe he is." Knight's facial features were hidden by her helmet, but there was a twist on her lips. "Maybe he resigned....."
Midnight sighed. This was very much what he thought as well. "Let's not speculate, okay? He will talk when he is ready."
Knight shrugged and left the room. Midnight was alone with his own thoughts about what had happened -- most likely. He knew a lot about Rodimus Prime and Hot Rod; they had talked in the past and Midnight had found that their lives had run vastly parallel to some degree, both getting stuck with a job neither thought they were really fit to do: lead their kind. Both had grown into this job and both had learned to handle it. Now something had happened that had turned Rodimus Prime back into Hot Rod, and Midnight knew that it had also relieved him of his position as Autobot leader.
The Sentinel leader sat back in his chair and stared at the wall. He didn't want to pry and he didn't want to force Hot Rod to talk -- it would have no results, except to make him shut up even more, maybe leave Alean. Hot Rod had come here to get some peace and quiet, to sort out his problems which had to be so grave that he needed a lot of distance from his own kind. Midnight knew Hot Rod could have found distance on Cybertron, but they would most likely have found him. Alean was secret. But how would he find out what had initiated this change?

* * *

Hot Rod was spending most of his time out alone on the planet's surface. He couldn't stand to be underground and maybe have someone finally ask the right question: what was wrong? He didn't know it himself either. He just knew that whatever he did, it was wrong.
He had tried to save Optimus Prime all those years ago and he had failed.
He had tried to be the same leader Optimus had been, and he had failed.
He had tried to fit back into Autobot society as Hot Rod and he had failed.
He had tried to save Optimus Prime's life once more and even though he had succeeded, he had failed again. Optimus had not taken his actions kindly.
The young Autobot kicked at a stone and it went sailing over the dry plains. Whatever he had done lately, nothing had succeeded. And when he had had a success, Optimus had dressed him down.
I only wanted to save his life! The Autobots need him! They don't need Rodimus Prime.... they didn't even miss him.
Pain, emotional pain, stabbed through him. Maybe that was his problem. Maybe.....
No!
Yes! Yes, yes, and yes again. It bothered him, on a very subtle level, something that rarely surfaced.
Suddenly there was a high pitched whine, startling him out of his dark thoughts, and when he looked up he saw something small and humanoid looking shoot toward the ground. It had wings, he saw, and it was powered by thrusters, which were sputtering and failing. The wings were outstretched and the figure tried to slow its decent, but it lost. Hot Rod didn't think, he acted. The Autobot transformed and shot toward where the figure would crash, transformed again -- this time in mid-race -- and jumped. His hands closed around the small figure and he landed almost gracefully back on his feet. The thrusters sputtered once more and then died. Hot Rod set the figure down on the sandy ground.
"Are you okay?" he asked, wondering who this stranger was.
It was colored in red and grey and much smaller than him. It was about eight or nine feet tall, mostly because it stood on its 'toes', three taloned claws. It appeared robotic with an animalistic look to it, mainly because of the long tail and the large wings. One was bent a little now. A helmet covered its features.
"Okay?" it now exclaimed and Hot Rod was surprised by the female voice. "Okay? I'm not okay! What did you think you were doing?"
"Uhm, help you? You were going down...."
"Going down?" the small female robot echoed. "I was just attempting to land!"
"Yeah, face first." Hot Rod grinned a bit.
The female put her hands on her hips. "What do you know about it, eh? You can't even fly!"
"But I know about crashes. That was a typical near-crash."
"Hah!" she exclaimed. "I near-crash! Not a crash! And I was landing!"
"You were crashing and I kept you from scrapping yourself, so what?" Hot Rod asked.
"You were not!"
"Were!"
"Not!"
Hot Rod felt himself rise to this verbal fight and he had to confess he enjoyed it. He had no idea who she was, but somehow .... it felt good.
"Okay, you had a controlled crash," he teased.
"Pah!" She looked at her wing. "And you bent my wing! It will take hours to get that dent out of it!"
"It's not that bad..."
"Sez you!"
Hot Rod chuckled. The figure gave him a sharp look, which expressed itself through the tilt of her head.
"You are an Autobot, right?" she then asked.
"What gave me away?" he asked cheerfully.
"Those eye-watering colors," she flung at him.
Hot Rod looked at his red, yellow and orange color and laughed. "Well, I didn't get a vote when they colored me."
She snorted. "What's your name?"
"Hot Rod."
"Uhhh...."
"What now?" he wanted to know, mock annoyed.
"And you didn't get a vote with your name either, right?"
He looked down at the smaller robot, wondering who she was. There wasn't a Sentinel insignia anywhere and she didn't look like any design he had ever seen. And she was very small.
"Any other problems?" she wanted to know.
"Only one: I don't know your name," he grinned, deciding he liked her.
"Shanygn."
"Ah."
"Something wrong?" she asked provocatively.
He held up his hands. "No, no."
Shanygn chuckled. "How about you give me a lift back to the base? Since you were the one to bend my wing...."
Hot Rod grinned again and transformed, opening a door. Shanygn looked at the interior and then jumped onto the roof. "Sorry, not enough room," she told him.
The Autobot closed the door and started his engine. He drove back to the base with moderate speed.

* * *

"He used several warp gates and then disappeared."
Blaster tried to stand his ground as Optimus optics seemed to flash with an inner fire he had never seen before. Blaster knew Optimus was annoyed that Roddy had simply disappeared, but he had not thought he would be so furious.
"How can he disappear?" Optimus now asked, voice calm and controlled. It frightened Blaster even more than the expression in his optics.
"We're not sure...... He used one of the smaller shuttles, those we don't use for runs between Earth and Cybertron or Nebulos, and he went to Cybertron first. Then he used another gate to get to several of the smaller colonies, and we lost his trail around the Aulman system."
Optimus stared darkly at the desk top where a star chart lay. Aulman was far away from every space route. It was practically outside any known travel route. What would Hot Rod want there? And had he really gone to Aulman or had this just been another diversion.
"Thank you, Blaster," Optimus simply said and the communications expert retreated.
Optimus kept on staring at the chart. Hot Rod had flown an evasive pattern, trying to lose anyone who might follow him. But why? Why had he left? Why had he fled? Why try to erase all traces of where he went? The Autobot leader sighed as the answers came to him. He could hit himself! Really! He should have seen it sooner! And to top it off, no one had really become aware of Hot Rod's continued absence. No one on Earth and no one on Cybertron missed him! This was intolerable! Optimus was annoyed and angry, both at himself and the other Autobots.
You played well, Roddy, really. You had us all. Congratulations!
Optimus rose from his chair and walked over to the window overlooking Autobot City. He knew now what was going on. Hot Rod was suffering from something he had gone through as well. Well, he had suffered from it the moment he had received the Matrix: the burdens of leadership. Optimus had been young once as well. He had to smile behind his mask as he realized how that sounded. He wasn't that old.... just one of the oldest Autobots alive. Nine million years..... Kup was older than him and Ironhide had been older as well. Now he was dead. Sadness settled over him, but he banished it right away. There was no time for thinking about lost friends now.
Yes, he had been burdened by the expectations everyone had put into him, by the responsibilities, the fact that he was the sole person everyone turned to in the end, the one whose shoulders carried the weight of the world. He had learned to live with it. And so had Rodimus -- in the end..... just before Optimus had returned.
And now he is Hot Rod again. He knows all about leadership, he knows what is happening in this office, what I have to deal with, but he's trying not to fall back into his role as Rodimus Prime. He tries to be Hot Rod with heart and soul -- and it isn't working! And we just made it worse.
"I was blind," he said into the emptiness of his office.
And now Hot Rod was gone and no one had any idea where he had run off to. Optimus cursed softly and tried to find a logical destination for the young robot. There was none. No planet anywhere around the Aulman system that could serve as a refuge. The system was empty, completely empty!
"Where are you?" he whispered.

* * *

"Quit staring at me!"
Hot Rod flinched back a bit and looked embarrassed. "Sorry...." he muttered.
Shanygn gave him an annoyed look. "What's wrong? Never seen an alien before?"
"Uhm...."
Shanygn grew more annoyed, then realization dawned on her. "You didn't know!"
Hot Rod shrugged, even more embarrassed. They had just returned to the base and he had found out that the female robot he had taken Shanygn for wasn't at all a robot, though very much female. She was a human-sized and humanoid built alien with light blue skin and long, dark blue hair. She was very much human in appearance and could fool you if you didn't look too closely. Right now Shanygn's equally blue eyes sparkled with amusement.
"Okay, once more: I'm Andrea Shanygn, I'm organic, and not the least bit a robot."
"I can see that," Hot Rod muttered.
"Disappointed?"
"No!" He shook his head. "Simply surprised."
"I hope it's pleasantly surprised...."
Hot Rod chuckled. "In a way."
Shanygn grimaced and gave him a blow against his leg, which was not even strong enough to leave a bruise. "Ey!"
He chuckled louder.
"So, what you plan to do tonight?"
Hot Rod shot her a confused look. "Huh?"
Shanygn sighed. "You are really dense sometimes, Roddy!"
Hot Rod grinned at her. "Okay, so what are you planning tonight?"
"Get to know you better. You are my first Autobot I get to know personally and I plan to use the opportunity."
He tilted his head. "Well, no problem with that. You are my first alien of your kind as well."
Shanygn laughed. "So it's a date!"
Hot Rod smiled. "Yeah."

*

The first 'date' turned into regular meetings in the next Alean weeks and Hot Rod found himself enjoy Shanygn's companionship. She was impossible sometimes, then serious and very understanding the next moment and he found himself relax around her. Still he couldn't really talk about everything with her. Not yet. She knew about his life more or less, his many adventures and what had happened to him when he had received the Matrix. It had been painful to tell her about the death of Optimus Prime, but he had managed. And he had told her about his life as Rodimus Prime and how he had met Midnight. She also talked about her own life, though not explicitly, but she explained why she had to wear the exo-skeleton. Shanygn also told him, with quite a smirk, that the exo-suit was her invention and she did her best to improve it.
"Like when you cra ... errr... tried to land," he joked.
"Yeah. I had modified the systems a bit and ..."
"Crashed," Hot Rod stated with a straight face.
Shanygn shot him a dark look, then shrugged.
She also dragged him back into the Sentinels' small group and Hot Rod got to know the different personalities and traits of each robot as well as those of the Interface partners. Not all Sentinels were Interfaced, though. He learned to relax more and felt his depressions leave one after another, but the initial problem remained -- and the knowledge that one day he'd have to face everything and return to Autobot City. But until then, he'd try and have fun, to chase away the dark side.

Shanygn in turn was quite fascinated by her new friend and his life. She had truly never met an Autobot before, even though she knew about Cybertron and its society. Her knowledge about robots consisted of Sentinels and Seekers, not Autobots or Decepticons. Hot Rod was a multifaceted person, someone who was fun to be with, but who also had a very serious side she also liked. She saw both the teen Hot Rod and the mature Rodimus Prime in him, which made up for an interesting mix. But he still hid part of his life's story and she knew it was the reason why he was here. She tried to coax it out of him, but every time she came close, he closed up. It was frustrating. And he continued to venture out alone to do whatever he was doing. Shanygn was annoyed by it because she wanted to help and he didn't let her!
Midnight had approached her once about it.
"Don't crowd him, Shan," the dark Sentinel said calmly.
"I'm not and you know it, Midnight," Shanygn answered seriously. "I know when to stop asking dumb questions."
Midnight grinned a bit. "You?" he teased.
She grimaced, then turned serious again. "Listen, Mid, I know something happened to him and that it weighs heavily on his mind and soul. I won't force him to talk and all I want is to be a friend."
"I think you are."
Shanygn smiled softly. "Thanks."

* * *

Skywolf straightened and looked at his patient. "Nothing wrong with you, Hot Rod."
The young Autobot slipped from the table and sighed. "Yeah, well, maybe I'm just a bit low on energon," he muttered.
"Your energon levels are perfectly normal."
Hot Rod shrugged. "Then it's a glitch that no longer exists. Thanks anyway, Wolf." With that he left.
"It's not a glitch, right?" Jill McKennan asked quietly.
Her larger Interface partner sighed deeply. "Most likely not. His body is functioning just fine and there is neither a bug in his system nor a glitch anywhere, nor has there been one lately."
"But he hears the whispers." It was a statement, not a question.
Skywolf, the oldest Sentinel still alive and a medic and engineer, nodded nevertheless. "Yes, the voices."
"Any idea how it might have happened?" the white-haired woman wanted to know.
"Several. I need some more facts and the latest check might confirm it, but I think has to do with the Matrix, or the lack thereof."
Jill frowned. "But he still is an Autobot, not a Sentinel. How can he even feel an approaching Interface or hear the voices?"
Skywolf looked thoughtful once more. "The answer is the Matrix, Jill. I'm not yet sure about it completely, but it is the only explanation."
"When will you tell him?"
"When he is ready. And Midnight needs to know about it first anyway."
Jill nodded. "He won't be very amused by it."
Skywolf had to agree. "Yes, I know, but it might also be a solution to Hot Rod's problem....."
"Or a new problem as such," she sighed.
The massive robot shrugged, then turned to his work again. Jill did the same and both started to complete the tests.

* * *

It didn't take a genius to see that something was terribly wrong with Hot Rod. He might put up a cheery facade, maybe for her sake, but Shanygn only had to look into his optics to see something was bothering him. And it was something very serious. Midnight had told her to steer clear of him unless he approached her first, but that was not Shanygn. She liked Hot Rod and she wanted to help him. She thought that bottling everything up didn't help. It only made things worse! So she had left the Sentinels' base and started to search for the young Autobot. The time they had spent together he had been playing a role and she had tried to subtly get behind what was really going on with him. She had failed. She had then inquired about him, finding out some interesting facts, but it still didn't explain most of his closed-up behavior. Something troubled him.
Shanygn found Hot Rod at the edge of the canyon, simply sitting there and staring down. For an irrational moment she was afraid he might simply slide over the edge to finish his life, then she shook her head. He wasn't suicidal. She approached him and sat down beside the silent form. Hot Rod was a lot larger than her, but he was still a medium-sized Transformer. He wasn't taller than maybe Midnight.
He ignored her -- or he hadn't even seen or heard her coming. He seemed to be lost in whatever thoughts were going through his troubled mind.
"Want to talk about it?" she asked.
Hot Rod's head whipped up and he stared at her. He truly hadn't heard her.
"What?" he asked.
"You heard me." Shanygn gave him a smile.
Hot Rod looked at her, then sighed. "You wouldn't understand."
"Try me."
There was another lengthy silence. Shanygn didn't move and she had no intention to simply give up. She could be stubborn and if Hot Rod wanted to see who could be more stubborn, well she'd go up against him.
"You can't keep bottling it up inside of you, you know," she remarked.
"What do you know?!" the young Autobot said sharply, his optics briefly alight with an angry fire. Then his face took on an embarrassed look. "Sorry," he whispered.
"Well, it was a start," she remarked.
Hot Rod shook his head and stared into the canyon again. "No. As I said, you wouldn't understand."
"I am a good listener. I have an open ear and I can keep my mouth shut. No one here will ever force you to talk and you know it -- no one except me. I'm not a Sentinel, nor am I an Interface. And I know that it would be better for you if you finally loosened up and started talking, Roddy!"
Hot Rod looked at her, studying her. "It's personal, okay?"
Shanygn returned the look for a long time, then nodded. "Okay."
He looked down at her, wondering why he didn't like the way she had said it. "You don't give up, do you?"
"Hey, what did I say?" she protested. "I said, it's okay!"
"You are a pain."
Shanygn grinned. "Thanks."
Hot Rod smiled. "It wasn't a compliment."
"Oh, I think it was."
He sighed softly. "Listen, I know you want to help and I know everyone else wants to help, but I .... I just can't. This is personal, very personal."
Shanygn nodded. "I know that, Roddy. And you know that if you ever feel like talking, you can talk to me. I'd be willing to listen." With that she opened the wings of her exo-suit and took off.
Hot Rod watched her disappear. "Yes, I know," he said softly. "I know."
And in the back of his mind, silent voices started to whisper.

* * *

"Do you really think it was a wise decision?"
Midnight looked at his friend and sighed. "To tell the truth: I'm not sure, but it is the only way, Skywolf. I know Hot Rod came out of his depressions all right and that he is getting back to his old shape, but his problems are not gone. They are still there and he won't talk about them. And now this." He looked at the results from Skywolf's tests. "Roddy will have a hell lot of more problems pretty soon and I don't think we can handle them for him while his old problems still exist."
"But calling the Autobots... Mid, you know what we are in their history -- and the history is right!" Skywolf shook his head. "They will kill us at first sight."
Midnight looked seriously at him. "No. I won't let it happen. Rodimus Prime was able to accept us and I firmly believe that we can work this out."
Skywolf looked long and hard at his young leader, then nodded. "Maybe."
Midnight turned to his personal com station and activated it. There was a small file in there, a file with a code signal. It would call someone he trusted to a certain degree, someone he hoped also made the same positive decision.

* * *

Earth's Ambassador to Cybertron, Adam 'Spike' Witwicky, stared at the e-mail in-box and blinked. Maybe it was a hoax.
He checked the message again.
No, it wasn't.
"Oh...." he muttered in shock and surprise. "Oh-oh." He looked at the pink colored Autobot standing in front of his desk.
Spike knew exactly what this message meant. Not only did it mean that he knew where Hot Rod was, he also knew that this would reveal a secret he and Rodimus Prime had kept for years...... He had a decision to make and he knew that the sender of the message trusted in him to make the right one.
"No joke, right?"
Arcee shook her head. "It came in over my work station this morning. I double-checked it. No doubt where the coordinates came from."
He sighed deeply and opened a channel to Optimus Prime.
"Yes, Spike?" the Autobot leader's voice rang over the loudspeakers.
Spike hesitated one last time, then he said: "I need to talk to you -- on a priority matter."
"Priority matter?" Optimus echoed.
"Hot Rod."
There was silence.
"I know where he is," Spike added cautiously.
"What?!" Optimus clearly tried to keep calm, but he had failed.
"Optimus, I'd like to discuss this in private. I could be over in an hour."
Spike could almost see Optimus' confused expression. "All right," he muttered.
Spike shut down the link and leaned back in his chair, sighing. Now the stone had started rolling and he just hoped there wouldn't be an avalanche of astronomic proportions.

* * *

Hot Rod hesitated. He knew he had to release what was inside of him and he felt
there was one person he could talk to. Not Midnight. Shanygn. The humanoid woman puzzled him in many regards, mainly because he relaxed around her. He had never releaxed so much around any human before, never! Somehow it felt like he knew her, like she was more like him and he more like her than any onf them wanted to confess, but he tried not to think about this all so deeply.
The voices whispered more intensely.
"Hi," a quiet voice said.
Hot Rod looked into Shanygn's blue eyes and smiled, the voices retreating a bit. He had come to ignore them most of the time.
"Hi," he answered.
She looked at him for a long time. "Either you sit down or I'll get a cramp in my neck muscles," she then cracked and he had to grin, but he sat down. "Much better," she muttered and hopped onto a metal crate, settlign down herself.
Hot Rod hesitated, suddenly insecure about how to start. Shanygn was silent, giving him time. Something inside of him said to simply talk; everything would come out. He sighed and then started, voice soft and almost emotionless as he told Shanygn what he had always omitted from his stories. He told her about Roddy, the person caught between two worlds: the one of the Autobot leader of the past, Rodimus Prime, and Hot Rod, the young teen he could no longer be because he had grown up. Shanygn simply listened, never interrupting, never asking. Hot Rod felt an avalanche of emotions finally break free, flooding him, and he spilled it all. It hurt, it hurt a lot, but it also relieved him of an immense pressure on his mind and soul.
The voices increased, sounding comforting and reassuring.

* * *

Spike still wasn't sure this had been such a good idea, but he kept his mouth shut as the ship increased speed and then entered the first warp gate. He looked up at Arcee, who gave him a reassuring smile, then over to Optimus Prime, who simply stared out into the warp tunnel.
This wouldn't be easy.
This wouldn't be fun.
But Spike knew it might be worth all the trouble.
At least he hoped so......

...... to be continued throughout Silent Voices, Choices, Virus and The Matrix Gambit.