Author's note:

Thanks for the reviews, it is nice to see Rodimus getting some sympathy, even though lots of people love to hate him. Poor guy...

Widow Maker (part 4)

It takes me long moments to get myself under control. During that time she does not speak, but continues to gently rub my back and shoulders.

"Why?" I ask, finally, when my voice is willing to be coherent again. I am terrified by how she might answer the question, but I must know nonetheless. "Why are you being so nice to me? I don't understand how anyone could want me after what I've done, but especially not you. He... he died because of me..."

There is no need to say who I am talking about.

"No," Elita's voice is so patient, so firm, "he died because of Megatron."

I feel a burst of relief at her words, but it is short lived, clouded quickly by the realization that she probably doesn't completely comprehend what happened that day. Why else would she be so understanding? I want to keep silent, to bask in that understanding, not shudder under the lash of the cold anger I know will come when she realizes she is mistaken to believe I am innocent, but as a leader I must take responsibility for my actions. Despite my cowardice, I find the strength to speak, though my words emerge in a breathless, guilty rush, bereft of dignity. "Megatron may have fired the fatal shots, but it is still my fault. Kup told me not to interfere, but I did it anyway. I saw that Optimus had Megatron disarmed and begging for his life, then realized the begging was a trick, and Megatron was slowly inching towards a gun that was hidden in some debris. I was stupid to think I could take on Megatron by myself, even with the element of surprise. I should have just stayed back and warned Optimus, but I wanted to be a hero and save his life. Instead I became the reason he died."

"Rodimus, please look at me." It is at once a command and a plea, and I could have refused neither. I roll over onto my other side, my faceplate still wet with cleaning fluid from my rebellious optics.

Elita gets up for a moment, and returns with an unused polishing cloth, handing it to me so I can clean myself up. I take it gratefully and pull myself upright to wipe around my optics and then mop up the small pool of fluid they left.

"Rodimus," she begins, her optics suspiciously bright with a certain glimmer of their own. "I appreciate you telling me the story in your own words, but it isn't going to change my mind. I don't blame you for Optimus' death. I know it must have seemed that way, with me avoiding coming to Earth, but I needed to take things in my own time. I was so caught up in grieving that for once I didn't think of what it would look like to others, with me not being here, showing support and solidarity with our new leader as we..."

Elita's vocalizer falters, but the unfinished sentence hangs between us: As we lay the old one to rest.

This is the first visible crack in her armour I have ever seen, and I am deeply moved to witness it. I find myself taking her in my arms, initiating physical contact with her on my own terms for the first time in our encounter. She presses her face against the middle of my chest, bathing my Autobot symbol with her tears. Before I thought it was my imagination, but now I feel it again: a strange quickening of my spark at her touch, and an answering pulsation in the Matrix.

She regains control more quickly than I did, and pulls back from me just slightly, looking up at me through gleaming optics, cleaning fluid forming silvery rivulets on the porcelain white of her faceplate. I pick up the discarded polish rag and brush it gently across her dermal plating, wiping away her tears, the symbols of her grief mingling with my own as they are absorbed into the soft cloth.

I lose myself in the feeling of touching her, for a moment forgetting to halt my ministrations once her tears are dry. I feel something wake inside of me, something long forgotten. Impulsively, I lean down to kiss her.

It is a gentle, chaste kiss, barely more than a brushing of lip components, but she shivers, the frissons of her chassis carrying themselves into my form as well. I kiss her for a second time, just as slowly, and for a second time we quiver and shudder deliciously.

Suddenly I am alive again.

I pull her more tightly against me, deepening the kiss, allowing my fingers to stray over her shoulders, caressing the spike-like projections that emerge from her upper arms. Her body is so enticingly intricate, I want to explore every aspect of her powerful, yet shapely form and catalogue the ways we are the same, and the ways we are different.

Our systems are overheating by the time I reluctantly take my mouth from hers, and for long moments we do not speak as we rapidly cycle air, trying to cool down. She is looking at me differently than before, like she is seeing me for the first time.

"I believe the humans have a suitable expression for this situation: 'Wow'." Her voice is still breathy; it is an incredibly seductive sound, though the words that follow make me squirm. "But you did have me going for a while, for a moment I thought you had never done this before."

"This? Oh, I've done it all the time," I say, feeling some of Hot Rod's old flippant charm emerge from wherever it had been hiding. It bolsters me only slightly for my next statement. "But if you're talking about interfacing, about actually... connecting with someone, then, no, I haven't done that." I look down, realizing for the first time that my panel is still open, and close it sheepishly.

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that little can surprise Elita One, making the look of shock on her faceplate as rare and priceless as the Femme Commander herself. "But I thought you and Arcee... I know she's with Springer now, but you two seemed awfully close when I used to visit."

"We had planned on it," I reply, "when the time was right. We didn't want to rush into anything. Then, I became leader, and well, I guess 'awfully close' just wasn't close enough."

"You were waiting for the right time," she says, still looking stunned.

"Not what the rumour mill would have you believe, is it?" I laugh self-deprecatingly. "The conquests of Hot Rod are legendary, but, like most legends, have a very limited basis in fact." The fact was that I had been woefully arrogant, and few people except Arcee had been able to see past that to the person I really was underneath.

Elita leans forward, clasping her hands together and staring down at them. "Well, this certainly complicates things." She looks up at me. "I think it's time I told you why I'm here."

"I must admit I've been wondering that," I say. It is easier to give in to my curiosity now that I am reasonably sure she really isn't angry with me, yet I still can't quite believe I'm daring to push my luck. "Why now, after all this time?"

She laughs unexpectedly and gives my arm a playful shove; the contact is still electrifying. "If you were so anxious to see me, you could have ordered me to come."

I smile in return, grateful for her attempt at good humour despite the difficult situation. "I wouldn't have done that without a really good reason, and I couldn't think of one that would warrant hastening a confrontation when the first thing I figured you would do is spit in my optic. In fact, I'm sure half of Autobot City is wondering why you haven't gotten around to doing that yet."

Elita chuckles briefly, then sobers. "I will admit that for a while I didn't think I could ever come back here. All my memories of Earth involve him, and to see someone else in the place he used to occupy, doing all the things he used to do... I wasn't sure I could face it. I also think that perhaps, at that point in my grief I would have said something rash, something I didn't actually mean, something like what you've obviously been torturing yourself with anyway, even without my help..."

"What else am I supposed to do?" I ask. It is a question I have asked myself again and again in the darkness of the night when I can't recharge, and I have never found any sort of answer. "You said it yourself, Elita, I'm in his place, doing all the things he used to do, and people don't see me, they see him, they see what's missing now that he's gone, everything I'm doing wrong, every mistake that he would never have made. How am I supposed to live like this?"

"Rodimus," she places a hand on my knee, comfortingly, and my sensors are instantly riveted to the spot, seeking more, "has anyone offered to take your place?"

"No..." I don't see what she is getting at. Being Autobot leader, I have learned, is a thankless job that puts you under a microscope of scrutiny - who in their right mind would want it?

"Then, despite their criticisms, they obviously don't think they would do any better than you," Elita concludes. Her logic seems impeccable, but a part of me refuses to see reason, at least any sort of reason that sheds a positive light on my efforts. Seeing me hesitate, she presses on. "You don't think Optimus had the same problems when he first assumed leadership? An unknown dockworker rebuilt practically from scrap and given the Matrix while others who served the cause for countless vorns were passed over? They thought Alpha Trion was senile or worse."

I try to imagine Optimus facing the same sorts of criticisms and comparisons as I have been, and the thought is as bizarre, as ridiculous to me as Sunstreaker having himself rebuilt into a garbage truck. "I find that hard to believe..."

Elita shakes her head, a far away look in her optics. It is often easy to forget her age, I don't know how she does it, but she carries the burden of her vorns of leadership lightly, whereas I feel ancient after leading for only a tiny fraction of that time. Just now though, her voice seems to hold the weight of every single astrosecond she has lived. "Most have forgotten those times, but I have not. There is much I can share with you, things that now only you will understand, both because you are leader and because you feel so connected to his death. You consider yourself responsible for what happened, Rodimus, but I don't think it is your fault." She pauses briefly before shocking me with her next words. "If there is anyone I blame, it is myself."