Title: Heaven on Their Minds

Author: Tirya King

Category: General/General

Rating: PG

Timeframe: After Op returns for good.

Summary: G1. Somehow, the dream has faded. The purpose hidden from sight. For this one, the time for blind subordinence has passed. He's seen what it is to be a god. And he knows what no one else does.

Disclaimer: Screamer is red. Cracker is blue. I don't own Transformers so please don't sue! The song 'Heaven on their Minds' belongs to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

A/N: Just a little introspective. It was written in many snippets and it's definitely not among my favorites. I'm not even quite sure if it makes sense or not. But I think I did Hot Rod justice, especially since I was never a big fan. So that would have to be my reason for posting it. The song 'Heaven on Their Minds' is one of my favorites, and if you know it you will understand the title and possible outcome a little easier. If you don't, you haven't missed much other than some good ear candy. Either way, enjoy!

Heaven on Their Minds

As young as many considered him, Hot Rod certainly could not be called naïve or innocent despite the image he presented. His time as Rodimus Prime assured that any novice habits of his would be swiftly stamped out. As Hot Rod he was expected to be the silly daredevil, the pup Kup often cursed as he dove out of the way. As Hot Rod he was allowed to act just like another soldier.

And so he did just for that sole reason.

Just today he had gotten another reprimand from Ultra Magnus for nearly running down a few humans touring the grounds. Hot Rod had been speeding too quickly down the hallway and turned a corner, careening out of control. It was only due to old Kup's quick intervention that the humans weren't squashed by the former Commander.

Former Commander, huh…

That had a funny ring to it.

Vaguely he wondered if Ultra Magnus at all weird reprimanding the mech who, only a few months ago, was his superior officer. For Hot Rod's part, he knew he felt damn awkward.

He supposed it was past time he started acting less like a pup and more the strong Commander he knew he was.

Only problem was he wasn't the strong Commander anymore. Not that he minded terribly. The position of fearless leader was a hard and lonely one. When he filled the position, Rodimus often wondered how Optimus could so it for so long without going absolutely mad. The workload was unbearable, the job highly hazardous to one's health, and the pay absolute crap. And at the end of the day, one couldn't even grab a glass of energon and head to the lounge to unwind. The only time he had tried it, he had been so decidedly ignored, he had to leave almost immediately. It wasn't that he wasn't welcome. No, not one mech would dare tell him to leave.

And that was part of the problem. As Hot Rod, the lounge was a haven from the pressures of war. Here, people could be themselves. Even if they weren't particularly nice selves.

Once, some of the older, higher ranking soldiers were playing a game late at night. 'Older' meaning part of the crew who had crashed on Earth in the first place. For even among Cybertronians, these soldiers were still considered rather young. Life expectancy during wartime had moved the age of adulthood much lower. Hot Rod had wandered in, hoping to join them, eager to be one of the 'big boys.' He was fresh from the Academy, just assigned to the Earth unit at the Ark, and absolutely reeking of 'rookie.' Sunstreaker, a mid-ranking melee warrior of whom everyone had a healthy dose of fear, promptly told him in no uncertain terms to scram.

But Rodimus? Oh no, no one would tell Rodimus Prime to scram. Even the volatile Sunstreaker had just looked the other way when he glanced over, half hoping for some reaction. Any reaction. The tense awkwardness of the situation was enough to assure that Rodimus Prime would never set foot in the lounge again. Even Hot Rod always paused for a moment before entering now. He would look around as he walked to his friends, waiting for the uncomfortable feeling to go away. Even if no one else ever said anything, even if they never even noticed, he knew he still didn't belong. And now there wasn't even a Sunstreaker around anymore to tell him to scram.

It wasn't until much later that Rodimus figured out why it was that he wasn't 'allowed' in the lounge anymore. Why he had to return to barren quarters, lonely and cold. It wasn't that he was a commanding officer. Jazz was the commanding officer of Special Operations, and he had been just fine. And it wasn't that people were unsure of this new version of Hot Rod. Goldbug's presence proved that. Also physically and psychologically different than his previous self, Goldbug was accepted quite seamlessly back into the fold.

The difference was Rodimus Prime had become a god where Jazz and Goldbug were among the lesser mortals.

And that's what he hated most about the job of Commander.

When Optimus Prime returned for good to assume leadership, Rodimus was nearly tripping over himself in his haste to give him the Matrix. Optimus was the true leader. With good old Op back among the living, it was only time now before the War would finally end. He was great and powerful. He was perfect, and Rodimus nothing more than a sham.

The only problem was… Optimus wasn't perfect. Not anymore. This, Hot Rod could see with every passing day and absolute clarity. And he discovered that what he had been trying to convince himself for so long, what he had believed as a rookie, was exactly what the others had done to him as Rodimus. Why he wasn't able to ender the lounge.

Rodimus Prime was no god.

And neither was Optimus Prime.

It was so easy to believe otherwise. There wasn't a mech in the Academy who didn't know Optimus' name. His achievements were legendary. His power unstoppable. He was a general of generals, the one who would eventually win the war. Any mech would gladly give a limb if it meant they could serve under him.

Hot Rod had been no different. He was a young punk delighting in pranks and living on the edge. But his hero was always Optimus Prime. The day he received his assignment to Prime's unit on Earth, he thought he had died and gone to the Matrix. Yes, he had had a bad case of hero worship.

But now that he had been Commander, he literally knew what Optimus was going through first hand. Knew of the pressures, the decisions, the good and the bad.

And he found himself unconsciously comparing himself to Optimus as a leader. The results were rather startling.

He expected to be found lacking. To be uncovered as the usuper he was. But he watched day by day as his Commander made error after error. Programs he had worked so hard to build were gone. Nearly every new system erected was replaced with the 'old way' of doing things. And with each passing day he found himself holding more and more anger inside where it grew dark and ugly. Looking around, it was as though Rodimus had never existed; that it had always been Optimus in charge. That his entire time spent as Commander was completely erased hurt terribly. That all of his sacrifices and hard earned victories seemed to never happen was a slur on Rodimus as a leader. And he doubted Optimus even knew what he was doing when he did it.

Hot Rod scoffed at the thought that his leadership existed only as a dreamlike memory. How far had he gone in only a few short years. From hero worshipper to Commander to sympathizer to critic. Nowadays he found himself silently ridiculing nearly everything Optimus did, comparing them together. From how he would have handled a certain battle to how would have set up the night sentry.

The thing was, if anyone thought the same way as he did, they never gave any indication. They all loved Optimus too much to find any fault in him. There were very few left alive form the original crash. Certainly no superior officers were still alive. People like Prowl and Ratchet and Ironhide he had met perhaps once or twice before their collective deaths. Living legends of their time, they were missed deeply by all who knew them. Hot Rod was grateful he had gotten to know the last remaining original ranking officer, Jazz, during his time as Rodimus Prime.

But even the intelligent Special Ops officer was convinced that Optimus could do no wrong. Hot Rod firmly believed that it was this blind devotion that ultimately led to the friendly mech's death. A death Hot Rod felt wasted as he could have anticipated the ambush, used to Galvatron's unpredictability by now. It was another failing of Optimus that he still tried to predict the insane Galvatron's strategy based on what the sane Megatron would do.

Yet no matter how many defeats the Autobots suffered, it was never Optimus' fault. If it wasn't the madness and unpredictability of their foes, than it was something else. Never their Commander. Their Commander was perfect. Hot Rod had even seen the Autobots blaming themselves on occasion. Optimus blamed himself, of course. He wasn't perfect, but he hadn't achieved the rank he did by being stupid. No, he knew it when he screwed up. In passing each other in the halls, Prime and Hot Rod would share a glance and they would know that the other knew. But where there would once be understanding and forgiveness in the younger mech's optics, there was only harsh accusation now. And Optimus knew the moment that he had lost his only ally. The only one who knew what it was like to be him.

Hot Rod would never forgive him for letting them die. Even if the others would time and time again.

It was with the death of a young gunner that he lost all sympathy; that this change occurred to turn him away from forgiveness. Only a few years his elder, the gunner was easily excited and frightened. That was probably why the young mech chose the career he did instead of being a frontline warrior. Ever the empath, Sunstreaker would have denounced it as 'hiding behind a gun,' but Hot Rod disagreed. The kid was damn good with his weapon and always eager to please his superiors. Even Rodimus who was younger than he.

The battle with Unicron had scarred the boy more than anyone can describe. He had loved the older officers dearly, especially Prowl, and the added deaths of other soldiers only cut that much deeper. But where Jazz had fallen into a deep temporary depression following the death of so many close friends, the gunner was determined not cry. It was sick at first, seeing him so desperate to smile. But where he had been a chatterbox that no one could shut up, he was eerily quiet. Just smiling and refusing to hurt. But it was his own way of grieving, Hot Rod supposed. Eventually, he righted himself, and though he never stopped smiling, it was more natural now. Less forced. The pain in his baby blue optics would never fade, but at least he had learned to live with the loss of his dear friends. And those friends that remained, he was determined to keep safe. A skilled marksman before that fateful day, there was very little he couldn't hit now.

And on the day of the young mech's death, the Autobots lost a little of their sunshine.

Hot Rod went to visit him before he passed on. The boy was so filled with painkillers that he felt nothing. For that Hot Rod was eternally grateful. If anyone deserved to die in absolute comfort, it was he. The gunner knew he was going to die and faced it with a bravery never before seen from him.

"Hey," the former Commander greeted him as he entered the med bay. He didn't know how to treat the dying mech. He never was good at this.

"Good evening, sir," the little grey bot chirped back. "How are you? You weren't injured at all, were you?"

"No," Hot Rod smiled despite himself. "I'm just fine."

"That's good." The mech's baby blue optics darkened in thought. "It was bad today, wasn't it, sir?"

He nodded. "It was. We lost a lot of good bots today." And we're about to lose one more.

"I'm sorry, Rodimus," the gunner apologized. For some reason he never gave up using the title like the others. "I should have…"

"No, no," Hot Rod shushed him, feeling like someone was crushing his laser core. "You went beyond anyone's expectation of you today. You always do. You did a good job today, Bluestreak. And we're all very proud of you." It felt strange speaking to the elder bot like this, but having superiority thrust upon him at such a young age had made him used to it. Even if now he was back to being only a mid to low-ranking soldier. "Don't ever feel that you were anything less than a hero today."

"Yes, sir," Bluestreak nodded, visibly relieved. "That's what Optimus said to me too."

"He came to visit? When?"

"He was here when First Aid told me the wounds were fatal," he replied quietly. The air became thick as the words washed over the red and orange warrior. It was one thing to know the bot's condition, but another thing entirely to hear it from the dying mech himself.

"You're taking this much better than I would," Hot Rod said just as quietly. "I'd be blubbering like a fledgling for my Creator by now." He was pleased to see a small smile on Bluestreak's face.

"I always thought that when the time came, I'd act like the cowardly tubbo the others think I am, but… it's not so bad. I mean, I don't want to die, no one does really, but I can't feel any pain. I'm just tired. Like I need a good recharge." His baby blue optics darkened in thought. "There's nothing that can be done and that sort of stopped my being afraid."

Hot Rod chuckled humorlessly. "When did you get to be such a philosopher, Blue?"

Bluestreak laughed breathily as well, lightly, so as not to harm any other systems. Not that it mattered in the end, really. "I think it's just the painkillers talking, sir." His optics stared at something far away and unseen. "I remember Sideswipe would always get like that too when he got hurt real bad and had to be numbed. Ratchet would always get so mad…"

"You… still miss them, don't you? Prowl and Ratchet and the others?" the younger mech asked hesitantly, remembering how Bluestreak had very nearly snapped back on that day in 2005. So long ago it seemed. Especially since the only memory of it on Earth still existing now lay in old textbooks and movies. Any human old enough to remember was long dead and buried.

"Every day," the dying Autobot sighed wearily. "But they're not really so far away."

Nothing else was said that night between the two. Hot Rod left when Hound came in. He had said his piece and he had duty coming up soon. The war couldn't stop for one dying mech. Not even if it should. Besides, Bluestreak was well-loved by many. He would have many friends at his side at the end.

Returning from his patrol route a few hours later, the air hung thick in the city. He didn't even need to ask to know that the young gunner had finally slipped away.

And he would never forget the anger that nearly overwhelmed him at the air of formality that surrounded their fearless leader. He understood hiding your pain. As a Commander, you couldn't let the others see you as weak or not under complete control. But Rodimus was never so heartless as to block a dear friend's death completely. He didn't care if Optimus was killing himself on the inside over the gunner's needless death. What mattered was the way he handled it. Shallow meaningless words of peace and honor meant nothing to those who heard them.

And it was this that finally turned Hot Rod away from his old hero. And the Commander knew it too. Hot Rod made sure he knew it.

But really, even the Dinobots showed more sorrow over the young Bluestreak's passing.

The Dinobots… when would they ever receive their own fair share?

When he was first assigned to Prime's unit, the Dinobots had the reputation as stubborn dimwitted infants. To young, stupid, and powerful for their own good. It was no secret that Grimlock and his brothers had little respect or love for Optimus. He wouldn't trust them and treated them like ticking bombs. If it weren't for Ratchet and Wheeljack's efforts in life and respect for them in death, Hot Rod had little doubt the misguided quintuplets would have been permanently deactivated by now.

But as Rodimus he had found the Dinobots to be invaluable. He couldn't count the times that one of the brothers saved his neck. And in his reconstruction of the command element, Rodimus made sure to include Grimlock. In return, he received the great loyalty and trust that many thought only Ratchet and Wheeljack would ever enjoy. The proud young leader didn't give his loyalty easily or frivolously. Yet he gave it to Rodimus and not Optimus. That had to count for something, didn't it?

And now that the Big Man was back in charge, the Dinobots found themselves enjoying the lives of outcasts once more. Grimlock was not happy.

For all his anger, Hot Rod knew better than to ask for the Dinobots' help in achieving any sort of change. Even a hint of mutiny would not be looked upon kindly. It was a serious crime, punishable with permanent deactivation. It wasn't as though he wanted to be leader again. He would accept that burden if it fell to him, but he'd never reach out and take it for himself. Yet he couldn't bear much more of this silent anger building up inside. The humans might call it being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Needing and wanting change so much yet unable and unwilling to bring it about.

He could always resign he supposed. But what would that accomplish? Some had chosen to do so when he became Prime. Those who refused to serve under any but Optimus. They had either been dragged back into the war or disappeared into the unknown, lost without the protection of the Autobots. No, resigning would only get him killed. Not to mention his friends would see him as a coward for leaving while they stayed and fought an ever desperate war. The young mech's time as leader had taught him much in the way of responsibility and he knew he'd see this thing to the end under whoever was delegated to lead.

But that didn't mean he'd like it. Rodimus Prime was always there, ready and willing to take command once more. His optics had been cleared of the hero-blindness that plagued the others. He knew the truth and would never forget it. Even if he was reduced to sharp glares from across the hallway, Hot Rod would never cower. It was time he grew up and stopped playing the naïve little fledgling. Optimus was just plain Optimus. No god. No immortal. No great savior risen from the grave. Just a mech trying to do what he could as the universe fell down around him.

Hot Rod was forced to hold some respect for him despite his faults. He did try. And he did do so much good.

But, wouldn't it be so much better if Prime had just stayed dead?

FINIS

A/N: The comedy I promised from my last fic is coming shortly. I hope. This is just a little introspective I played around with. It was especially fun for me since I had to play the 'Devil's Advocate' in a way. I was never much of a fan of Rodimus or Hot Rod. I was an Optimus girl myself when it came to Commanders. But I think I did a half-way decent job of doing Roddy justice and making an unusual case. The part with Bluestreak was rather unexpected. Contrary to popular belief, I do not get my kicks just by killing people off. Nor do I do it for the tear factor. I… well… I'm not quite sure why I end up doing it to my favorite bots. It seemed to make some sort of sense at the time.