Paradron. It was strange to look at the void where the planet had been before and to see nothing but the last fading shreds of blue light, the very dregs of the explosion that had destroyed the home of thousands. Sky Lynx and the escape pods had left to shuttle the refugees to Cybertron breems ago, and Springer had eventually dismissed himself to return for energy rations.
Rodimus Prime perched upon the rugged, rocky outcrop of the largest of Paradron's three moons. During the skirmish, it had served as their safe point , the high concentrate of carbon in the surface blocking the dark side from the Decepticon's radars. During the explosion, it had been a viewing platform, a safe enough distance for the Paradrones to mourn while watching their home in its death throes. After the victory, it had found its purpose as a launching platform as countless nameless faces were ferried onto Sky Lynx and sent to seek their futures on war-ravaged Cybertron, the planet they had fled aeons before.
The angled face of the Autobot commander was drawn in thought, his permanently-sorrowful azure optics dimmed in silent contemplation as he stared at the dying slivers of light.
"Are you going to be out here much longer, Prime?" Ultra Magnus' voice cut through the still atmosphere of the dead moon, intruding from behind the reluctant leader. 'Everyone else has gone already, and you did promise a good Autobot welcome on Cybertron for our Paradrone friends. It would not do to be absent."
"I know…" murmured Rodimus, his voice as tight as his features. Recognising the emotion, Magnus sighed and allowed himself at ease, sitting on the jagged, uncomfortable rock next to his younger commander.
Just as he was about to enquire, Rodimus spoke over him, voicing his troubles. "Do you think Optimus would have done what I did, Magnus?"
It needed no contemplation. "No," replied the sub-commander quietly, "I do not." He watched red shoulders slump slightly, defeated. "That does not mean your actions were wrong."
"I will never manage to be half the leader Optimus was."
With his voice so calm and flat, the words escaping in a statement rather than a question, a simple laying out of facts rather than an y attempt at self-pity, it was hard for Magnus to think how best to respond. He had never been good with words, and certainly not to the degree of mechs like Ratchet, who always knew what to say, or Perceptor, who always said too much.
Hot Rod had been far too young to take the matrix and all the responsibility that came with it. He had been far too inexperienced for the weight of so many worlds to rest upon his shoulders, for the hopes of so many innocents to carry with his successes and for the scorn of so many strangers to bear with his failures. The attack on Autobot City, before Optimus had died, had been Hot Rod's first military experience, and it had showed; his brashness, in part, was what had caused the great leader's death. Doubtless Rodimus still felt the weight of that mistake every orn. His deadened optics, once so vibrant and lively, and his dull, monotonous voice showed the strain he was under. It seemed the first opportunity, he wished to rid himself of the matrix, the responsibility and the heroics he had craved as a youngmech. More than once, he had begged Ultra Magnus to take the matrix from him…
Ultra Magnus had never wanted to receive the matrix, being a soldier rather than a leader, but he had to admit that he would have been a wiser choice than Hot Rod. At least he had experience leading others and bearing the brunt of a failure, or carrying the responsibility for the deaths of others. Hot Rod had never had that burden before the matrix thrust itself upon him.
Of course, Magnus knew all this, but he could not find the words.
"Optimus would have fought for Paradron," Hot Rod – no, Rodimus Prime spoke miserably. "He would have defended the planet with his life until Galvatron had fled."
"Losing how many lives?" asked Magnus quietly. "Sacrificing how many mechs? Rodimus, just because Optimus would have chosen a different course does not mean that your course is the wrong one. The Autobots did not suffer a single casualty. The Paradrones were all accounted for. Had we stayed and fought, doubtless we would have lost mechs, Primus knows how many."
"The war will go on . All this has done is lose our cousins their home."
"Optimus Prime abandoned Cybertron to the Decepticons a long time ago, or that was his decision. That Megatron followed him leaving only Shockwave and drones on Cybertron, he could not have predicted."
Rodimus glanced at his sub-commander and friend. "What of the Paradrones? They were pacifists and I turned them into killers."
A shake of the head. "No, you gave them the choice of fight or flee. That they chose to fight proves they did not want you to view them as cowards. That you chose to allow us all to flee shows you were not willing to force them to become warriors."
""Even so, I could have handled it better."
Ah. Yes, that was true. Ultra Magnus remembered – no matter how bad he was with words, he could always count on Rodimus to be worse.
"Well, you didn't have to be quite so blunt when telling Sandstorm to stop mourning his planet," he replied honesty. Rodimus' optics flickered.
"No, I didn't. I've never been good at cheering people up."
"That is because you are miserable yourself."
Ultra Magnus was quite calm as his leader all but gawked at him. "I'm serious. One of Optimus' greatest virtues was his empathy and his ability to distance himself from his own feelings. He could cast his emotions aside for others, and so he was always a beacon of strength to them. You are allowing your hardships to rule you and it is obvious in all you do, so others feel that misery too. No, I don't blame you," for Rodimus had opened his mouth to speak, "you are young and a new Prime, and I remember an Optronix who would tear at the walls in frustration when the world became too much. You will grow, Rodimus, if you allow it."
The red-bodied leader glanced down at the rock they were sitting on. Moments later, one silver hand sneaked to lay over the nearest blue. Magnus' expression did not change as their fingers interlocked.
"You'll grow, Rodimus."
"Optimus Prime was a great mech."
"So was Sentinel Prime before him. You think that young Optronix did not suffer from the matrix after it passed to him? Of course he did. He was a changed mech, like you. He didn't want to have to bear the lives of every innocent being upon his shoulders, he wanted to sit in his library and organize his archives. He used to confide in Kup and Ironhide and myself that he would never be half the mech that Sentinel Prime had been… and he grew into one of the greatest leaders Cybertron has ever seen. People will compare you to him, Rodimus, but that does not mean your choices are foolish and his wise. All leaders, no matter how great, make mistakes."
Rodimus was silent, staring at the slowly fading energy waves remnant of the planet's explosion. As he raised his head, lips parted slightly and optics still dim, Magnus eased their clasped hands onto his lap so he could grasp the smaller mech's fingers with both of his.
In the empty, gaping space where Paradron had been, the final wave of energy burst from the point of the bomb's detonation and spread outward like a ripple in the ocean. The barest edge of it brushed a nearby giant of a star, which immediately went nova, creating pulsing energy waves of its own as the two stoic Autobots watched the colours fade.
Magnus nudged Rodimus when the dying star heaved its last burst of light. "Come on," he murmured, catching the leader's attention. Rodimus turned his head to look at the other, taller mech.
"Let's welcome our companions to their new home and help them build their future, Rodimus Prime."
Rodimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, rose to his feet and, knowing Ultra Magnus would loyally follow where he led, took to the skies, leaving the stillness of Paradron's moons, the last remnants of a once-glorious planet, behind them.