"Hide what you have to hide. . and tell what you have to tell . . "

-Depeche Mode

Location : Alpha Trion's base..

"Please Elita..."

His plea came quiet and laden with worry, "..reactivate..". His soul ached at the sight of her dark optics and blank expression. With a heavy sigh, his optic darkened and he bowed his head, his hands resting on the edge of the flat. "This.. should not have happened", he whispered softly. "I'm sorry.." Moments passed in stillness until he finally lifted his optics slightly. Thoughts and emotions whirled in his mind like dust devils of the Earthen plains. However, recent events were not the only thoughts this unexpected return home had stirred up. The moments stretched on in silence. He had allowed this to happen, he knew that. It seared his soul to think that his actions had led to yet another failure, another regret. It took less than thirty minutes to complete the procedure and there was nothing more he could do for her. He gently disconnected the filter, replaced it beneath his grill, and resumed his vigil. Within minutes he heard her draw a trembling breath as her systems came online. Instantly his optics snapped up to meet hers, "Elita! Are you-"

"I'm alright." She smiled slightly as she sat up on the flat. She slid her legs down over the edge, but remained seated on the flat facing him. His arms on either side of her, he leaned on his hands at the tables edge. "thank you..," she quietly added. Prime looked away from her, "It was I that put you in danger in the first place."

"You did nothing wrong, Prime-"

"I did .. exactly what they wanted." Anger and guilt tainted his soft words, anger at himself. Elita laid her hands on his arms, causing him to look up at her, "Does it really matter now?" Her grip on his arms tightened. "It was MY decision to use the weapon. You cannot blame yourself."

Slowly shaking his head, Prime looked down from her with a strained sigh, his feelings under tight control. "Had I done what I should have, if.. I had not returned." , his voice came disturbingly quiet. "The risk to you would have been unnecessary." Silence. But I had to. The words echoed fiercely in his mind, words not meant for Elita. "You don't know that." Her optics narrowed in determination. "..and regret won't change what was.. or was not done."

He sighed and cast his stare up right into her optics, "..neither will it let me forget." They held optics for a long moment, until Elita's dimmed as she finally dropped her gaze. The conversation was at an end. And the walls remained. He would never give even a glimpse of what lay buried in his soul. Her hands trailed down his arms as he backed away, coming to rest on the flat's edge were his had been. Even her touch didn't seem to affect him the way it once did; or if it did, he refused to let it show. No, she mourned, she'd lost him a long time ago. Since the day he became Prime and was dragged into this damnable war. Their bond shattered and the walls rose between them -stone by retched stone. And she could do nothing to stop it. He still cared about her, of that she was certain. But the closeness, the intimacy they had shared had long since slipped away. And she grieved, because she knew him once. She knew the immense passion and tender love he was capable of. But that had all been driven deep behind the fortress that held his soul. His passion was for his people, as a whole. He would no longer risk such intimate personal ties.

"We should go", he softly stated as he adjusted his weapon's setting. "Your base has no doubt been discovered. The others could probably use some assistance." He suddenly glanced at her apologetically, "That is if you feel well enough." He seemed distracted, something else now had his focus. Elita knew, of course, it would be futile to ask him about it. She slid down off the flat and resigned herself to checking her own weapon, then returning it to subspace.

"Ready when you are, Prime." She moved to walk past him toward the door. Her optics narrowed as her hand briefly brushed over Prime's shoulder, "Shockwave and I have a score to settle." She nearly reached the door when he softly called her name. She stopped and turned to look over her shoulder at him. His expression told of gratitude mixed with deep pain. She bowed her head slightly and gently nodded with the understanding it wasn't just for saving his life. She still loved him enough not to make it any harder on him than it already was. Not another word was spoken.

The Autobots soon accompanied the femmes back to what was left of their base. They proceeded to salvage what they could, while Elita again made contact with Alpha Trion for assistance in setting up plans for a new base. Optimus took the opportunity to question Chromia about their plans. "Any idea how long it will take to relocate and get established ?"

"Hard to say, Prime." , she glanced toward the remains of their Com center. "Depends on how much help we get."

"I see"

A sudden weariness shadowed her face, "I hate this part.. swiping energon is one thing. Having to start over -again ..one would think we'd get used to it.."

"One never does Chromia. But you have the strength.. and the sheer stubbornness to survive."

Her optics narrowed, "You got that right!"

Prime genuinely wished he could continue the conversation. But right now, there was someone else he needed to see. "Speaking of stubborn" he quipped, trying to keep his tone light. "Would you happen to know where Ironhide has gotten off to?"

The hint of a wry smile lifted her weary features. "Last I saw him, he was back in the weapons room helping out with inventory." He nodded, glad it see her smile a bit. "Thanks, Chromia". He turned and made his way over and around pieces of what was once part of their main command center's ceiling, disturbing reminders of just how close they had come to a complete and fatal collapse of the entire base. Optimus shook off the despondent thoughts. There were more important things to worry about than what if..

Ironhide rummaged through a smashed crate of ammunition, searching for anything that was still functional. The old warrior paused as he felt the strong, familiar grip of his leader's hand on his shoulder. "How's it going, Old Friend."

"Well Optimus, good news is they didn't lose everythin'"

"And the bad news?" Ironhide paused and motioned to the devastation around them, "Do ya really hafta ask?" Prime responded with a weary sigh, "Point taken. ." Ironhide pitched another damaged shell casing into a growing pile of useless junk, "That maicro-saized moron sure knows how t' make a mess'a things. It's gonna take 'em weeks t' replace all this."

"At least Trion has indicated he would assist in getting them re-established." Prime finally offered, hoping to reassure the old warrior.

"Yeah well I'd just assume he'd mind 'is own business. Ev'ry time he sticks 'is o'fact'ry where it don't belong-"

"I know", Prime interrupted. "Right now, though, he's all we've got." Ironhide sighed as he tossed another shell casing. "That ain't too encouragin'." Prime held his silence, very aware of his friend's personal dislike of Alpha Trion. He knelt down beside Ironhide in an effort to keep the conversation private. "I need you and the others to handle things here on your own for a while.. maybe a day or so." Ironhide stopped in mid motion for a moment, then resumed. "Fine time fer you ta be goin' AWOL.", he ground. "What's on yer mind Optimus?"

Prime paused for an awkwardly long moment. Ironhide was his subordinate in rank only. Prime had never lost his respect for him as his elder. And in turn, Ironhide had always respected Prime's authority, though that was not to say he didn't question Prime's decisions on occasion. It was a unique balance the two had developed over the ages. And in moments like this, it paid off.

"There's something I have to take care of .. before we go back." He fell silent again, his thoughts churned with the sickening notion that he was headed for yet another devastating heartbreak. "It's important to me, Ironhide", he softly confided. "I've a promise to keep-" At that, Ironhide's demeanor softened. He never knew Prime to say such a thing, unless it was absolutely true. "Just don't make me hafta come gitcha. . capisce'?" The human word caused a smile to glint in Prime's optics for a moment as he stood, gripping Ironhide's shoulder again for mock support. "Understood". He firmly patted Ironhide's shoulder before leaving him to his crates.

When her repeated calls to Prime on the com-link went unanswered, Elita's feelings of annoyance began to sink into genuine concern. She had just spent the last several hours in communication with Alpha Trion working out plans for relocation. She hoped Optimus and the others would do as much as they could to help her group with the critical situation.. But Optimus was nowhere to be found. She questioned nearly everyone in the compound, but no one seemed to know anything at all of Prime's whereabouts. Chromia had informed her that the last person Optimus may have talked to was Ironhide.

In the dim light of the weapons room, the old warrior labored to stack the crates of salvaged ammunition that he had reorganized and now prepared for transport. He grimaced upon hearing Elita approach him, already knowing why she was here. He greeted her with a half-smile, but did not stop what he was doing. "What c'n I do for ya, Alita?" For a moment she simply studied him. Then. . "I've been unable to locate Prime. Have you seen or contacted him lately?" Her characteristic bluntness didn't appear to affect him in the least. He tramped a few steps away from her, "He showed up a few hours ago to check on th' progress here . ." Kneeling, he grabbed hold of another crate and proceeded to drag it toward the stack, ". . But I ain't seen 'im since." Elita debated whether or not to push the conversation. His response suddenly made her very uneasy about the situation. It wasn't what she had expected, and she decided to prod him further. "He's not answering his com-link, Ironhide. . . That's not like him."

How would you know? Ironhide thought it, but he knew better than to say it and just sighed as he hauled the crate up and stacked it with the others, then rested one arm on the stack. "You an' I both know Prime is more than able t' take care of 'imself." Elita simply stared at him, convinced that there was something he wasn't telling her, and that it was quite pointless to question him further. "If you see him-", she relented.

Ironhide raised his hand, anticipating her statement. "I'll let 'im know yer worried about 'im. . fair enough?" She forced a slight smile and nodded, "Yes. Thank you." She departed the room thinking that recent events, or perhaps something else, might have upset Prime more than what he had let on. Elita regretted having to use precious energy to power up the scanners, but she felt she had little choice. She keyed in the commands and a surface scan of the surrounding sectors (about a 1000 mile radius) filled the screen. She caught sight of one tiny blip that flashed on the grid. Her optics narrowed as she realized it was moving in excess of 250 mph.- at ground level . . headed straight for Iacon.

The solitary semi roared across the war torn plains of his home world. He knew this to be a foolish, and probably futile journey. The risk far outweighed any possible benefit. The fact that he incidentally made himself an open target was the least of his concerns. Unanswered questions plagued him like wounds that refused to heal. He found he could no longer ignore the aching need to know. Though the thought of what he might find terrified him. For over two hours he pushed his vehicle mode nearly to it's limits. And it felt good, easing his anxiety to some degree. His concentration on maintaining this speed kept his mind from dwelling on his destination. He hoped that maybe he would find some measure of comfort in the inherent and familiar darkness of his world. But it felt cold, indifferent. The past lay bare all around him, a landscape of memories scarred by betrayal and stained by eons of bloodshed. It was his world, but not his home. Earth . . He wanted so much just to return. But he was not about to forsake this opportunity. Somehow, deep in his soul, he felt he might never get another.

Nearly six hours after his journey began, the Outlands of Iacon spread from the horizon. The sight of it sent a chill through his systems. He suddenly realized he was in no way prepared for this, mentally or emotionally. Every fiber of his being screamed to turn back. But he had come too far, and turning back now would be cowardice and selfish. He knew he had no choice but to face what ever lay ahead.

As he approached the city itself, the terrain quickly became too rough and debris ridden for him to continue in vehicle mode. Upon shifting, he gazed at his surroundings with his own optics. And the scene he beheld froze him where he stood. Oldest and greatest of the sentient-living cities, Iacon symbolized one of the most monumental achievements in Autobot history. But one after another the great cities fell. . Crystal City, the Twin Cities, .. And now, these once grand structures of Iacon lay in ruin. It's immense towers stood crumbling like weathered tombstones against the blackened sky. Absolute silence invaded Prime's audios with the eeriness of a deathnell. Not even the whisper of thin air dared to disturb this lifeless, unholy void. Optimus could only stare about him in disbelief. His body fell numb at the sheer magnitude of the devastation around him. His internal systems surged with the horrid sensation of standing in the midst of a decaying and mutilated body-shell. He knew Iacon had been lost many centuries ago. . but to see it for himself, the place he once called home.

Despair sank unrelenting claws deep into his soul, and his mind struggled to control the lancing pain. Questions he did not want to answer refused to leave his thoughts. My God . .what have we done. . what have we become. . His mind demanded desperately for him to turn and run, back to the base, back to the space bridge. . back to Earth, and never return to this forsaken corpse of a world. But he fought the desire with all he had. "No" he growled within. No way would he abandon his responsibility a second time. With his optics dark and jaw tight, he took hold of the dread that threatened to turn him back, and twisted it into determination to move forward. Even the sound of his foot steps seemed to be swallowed by the cryptic stillness. As he stepped through the wreckage, flashes of the past assailed him from every side. And in the silence, his mind could hear the shouts of warriors, cries of the dying, and the ground-shattering noise of Iacon's final days.

But in an instant it was all silenced when the faintest of sounds touched his audios and he stopped cold. He raised his stare just as part of one of the distant towers gave way. Pieces of debris crumbled and slid down the side of the tower, striking and bouncing off whatever lay in their path. The haunting sound echoed from the structures around him, sending chills through his infrastructure. Yet, as with the sound of his footsteps, somehow the void of silence remained undisturbed. He breathed once . . Twice. And forced his legs to move, despite his mounting trepidation. Hastening his pace, he made his way toward the interior of the city itself.

Quickly and deliberately, Optimus tread deeper in to the city. He knew this place.. Like his own internal systems. But what he saw seemed unfamiliar, alien, devastated beyond recognition. His surroundings only taunted him with the memory of what was once his home. With each step, the city began to close around him. Unlike cities of Earth, many cities of Cybertron had no definitive transition from outside to inside. As Prime followed the wreckage strewn alleys and corridors, starlight faded.. giving way to total darkness. But Optimus -like most of his kind- did not need light to navigate in the blackened world below the towers.

Seven levels below the surface, Prime knew he was nearing his destination. He hoped to be sensing something by now ..anything.. but he found only deadness. He negotiated another turn, heedlessly shoving fallen piping and wires out of his way. This area was not technically a part of the city itself, in that Iacon did not physically sense or monitor it's existence. And Prime had used that to his advantage.

Optimus suddenly halted. There should have been a wall here. He reached out his hand, as if to be sure his sensors were not deceiving him. Nothing met his touch. His hand dropped in despair as what little shred of hope remained fell as dead as everything around him. But determined to finish the task, he produced a fusion flare from subspace and activated it. In an instant daylight flooded the corridor, and Prime winced from the shock to his optics. It took only seconds for his optics to adjust. As they did, all he could do was stare at the gaping void that was once a wall.. Designed to conceal a doorway. He dared to step for a closer look, only to regret it. For what he saw was not battle damage. The entire thing had been butchered by a cutting laser.. possibly centuries after the fall of Iacon. His systems ran cold in the pit of fear, perhaps his greatest. Someone had found this place..

After the Reign of Terror by the Dark Prime, the Council (including Alpha Trion) had implicitly forbidden any future Prime to create and give life to his own child. Optimus, however, had once again defied the Council of Elders, and even Trion himself. He had chosen to follow his own instincts, despite ancient Council Law.

Cold and unforgiving light split the darkness within his own private lab. And he faced what he considered to be the consequence of his defiance- the damaged and empty stasis unit that once held his greatest treasure. Grief seized his soul and dragged him to his knees like a defeated warrior. His head and hands lay heavy against the stasis unit. He had dreaded this moment, with every pulse of his 'core. He wanted nothing more than to weep as the humans did. But even that simple release was denied him. Against his will, memories crept into his mind. He remembered how he had meticulously constructed it's form, down to the last micro-circuit. The memory of giving it life swept into his mind and he caught his breath. To this day he had no words to properly describe those few precious moments. Never before, and never since had he known such an incredible and fulfilling experience as when the Matrix allowed traces of his own being-his own soul, to entwine with It's own Energy, and become part of this new life. It had only to be born. Anger slowly kindled within him, fueled by sorrow and regret.

So close, his fingers scraped the surface as his hands closed into fists. So.. damned.. close. The rage burned, anger at himself for daring to attempt such a selfish act, and then abandoning his son- leaving him helpless to whatever fate had claimed him. He slammed his fists onto the unit's surface, cursing Primus as he stood. WHY! Why had he been given the ability to create a child only to have it taken from him? Why was he condemned to lose everything he dared to love in this life?! "WHY?!!" , the word echoed in the chamber like a crack of thunder as he swung around and hurled a chunk of debris at the nearest wall. With a hard sigh, he regained control. Part of him begged Primus that his child had died mercifully, before he had a chance to awaken, before he could be..

The thought of one day facing his own son in battle struck him hard and he found he could not breathe. He could not defend himself against the truth that bore down on him and threatened to crush him.. His people would not survive the rise of another Dark Prime. -"Enough!" Again he fought his guilt stricken mind and emotions back under control. By sheer strength of will he forced himself to focus on what IS, not on what Might be. And he should never have come here. The unknown ate at him like a disease. And he knew it would haunt him for the rest of his existence..

Without warning his optics flared. His body tensed sensing the fuel about to be thrown to the fire.

"Why did you follow me?"

Elita flinched at his words as she stood in the mangled doorway, not realizing Optimus was already aware of her presence. The coldness of his tone chilled her soul, though her voice remained calm, ". . I was -concerned." She waited for a response but he remained still and silent. This was the last place he ever wanted her to find him. And he dare not show what he felt. "This .. is not your concern", he ground, a bit harder than he had intended. His anger surged again and he struggled to control it. An already agonizing situation was rapidly becoming worse. Elita stepped into the chamber, "But you are-" She ceased her advance when she realized exactly what Prime was leaning on. Her optics narrowed as recognition slowly sank into her mind. And for an instant she felt as though she were falling. It took her a moment to find the words. "He's.. yours".

Her gaze settled firmly on Optimus ".. isn't he..?"

Prime's optics darkened and his head bowed, lamenting her inevitable discovery. But the next moment his optics flared as he realized what she just said.. he is. His internals twisted, though his words remained dead calm. "What do you know of him, Elita?" He hesitated, trying in vain to calm the racing vibrations of his laser-core, then forced himself to ask the question.. "Is he.. alive ?" His 'core froze at the sound of those words as though it were a forbidden hope.

Elita remained stunned. Prime's violation of Council Law came as no surprise to her.. but his apparent distrust of her filled her with a profound uncertainty she could not understand or explain. Why had he not told her..?

Moments stretched into an eternity of silence before she finally answered him. "IF he is still with the Underground, then possibly . . yes." Optimus nearly collapsed against the stasis unit, his hands gripping it's shattered edge to steady himself. The mental shock of being thrown from one extreme to the other brought him to the edge of emotional breakdown . But outwardly, he gave no sign of what was happening within. "Tell me what you know of him ." Finally, he turned to face her. Open desperation weighed heavy in his words and on his face. ". . Please", he amended softly.

Elita's shock soon ebbed under the weight of his gaze. No wonder he had seemed so distracted. With a soft sigh, Elita relaxed her stance. Memories of that day flooded back. She drew a breath, piecing together the events of a day long past.

"Some time after the fall of Iacon, the Resistance returned to the dead city." Her tone held an edge of sadness, but remained soft. "The Major General had hoped to use the lower levels as a base for the Resistance. He figured the Cons would not waste resources to monitor a dead city."

Optimus' optics fell to the floor. Ultra Magnus.. Another friend left behind. Another friend he missed dearly. His head still bowed, he listened as Elita continued.

"The mission failed. The damage to Iacon proved too severe and the lower levels were too unstable. But.. that's how they found him.."

Silence.

Prime remained still, his optics closed. A kaleidoscope of emotion churned in his soul. Joy.. anxiousness.. relief.. fear. Innumerable questions tumbled one over another. Finally one thought rose above the rest. "I wish I could have been there. To see him awaken." He sighed softly, "But.. for his sake, I think it best that I was not."

Elita's optics darted up and flashed slightly. "You still can be."

His optics instantly shot up and locked with hers. "What? ..How?"

A gentle smile touched her face. "Because, Optimus.. I was there."

He stared at her, dumbfounded. He needed no further explanation to know what she meant. His mind raced, analyzing the consequences of accepting her offer. But none of it even mattered. The moment she walked through that door.. he no longer had a choice.

His optics pinned her for a long and silent moment, then finally, "Are you sure..?"

"Yes." Her answer came soft, but certain. In the back of her mind there lingered a hope. A hope that someday.. somehow the walls between them could be overcome. Saving his life was not enough. Any one of his fellow warriors would have -and had- done no less. This went far beyond anything they could do. She offered him an opportunity.. a gift no one else could, the gift of witnessing his child's awakening through her optics.

She stepped forward and stood directly in front of him. Optics locked on his, she raised her right hand up to the side of his head. She paused just inches from his audio sensor, awaiting his final approval.

He gave it as a single, subtle nod. Elita arched her hand back. With a soft click, a small compartment opened on the underside of her wrist. From there a slender, cylinder shaped uplink emerged in-line with her wrist. At the same moment, the forward edge of Prime's audio sensor creased and soundlessly slid apart to reveal the uplink port.

Alpha Trion had told the truth about using Optimus Prime's schematics as baseline to rebuilt Elita. But it went beyond just component compatibility. The two had the ability to make a direct CPU connection. In simple terms, it was a mind link. It granted complete and unrestricted access, designed to allow them to share information and intelligence with absolute efficiency. Events could be relayed directly from memory, rather than relying on words or interpretation to describe them. Despite the enormous potential for misuse and abuse ..at the time, both were willing to take the risk. But soon after the first and only use, Optimus gradually distanced himself from her. Elita believed he had his reasons, that his duty to his people must not be influenced or affected by personal concerns or desires. Now, after four millennia of separation, personal desire for the truth outweighed all other concerns.

Elita closed her hand over his audio receptor, and engaged the link. Optimus mentally prepared himself as his optics fell dark and went off line, followed by all other external sensors. Seconds passed, then his all senses reactivated, or so it seemed. Prime suddenly found himself amid hauntingly familiar surroundings... In another time..

Ch 2 in progress..