Chapter Ten

Magnus lifted his head in surprise when Rodimus stirred and sat up. A moment later, Optimus did the same. Magnus dropped his data pad and rushed over. "Take it easy, both of you!" he warned, looking very relieved to see both of his friends awake once more.

Optimus sank back wearily into the medberth. How he wished he could stay in the Matrix forever! Facing the real world was a very daunting task. Primus had repaired the damage that had been done to his mind, but it was still very raw and sore from the invasion. His memories had been returned to their former position behind sealed doors, but he could just feel them crowding each other, waiting to burst out and overwhelm him. A gentle touch came through the link and he flinched. It quickly withdrew, and he looked at Rodimus guiltily. He appreciated the kindness, but it was just too much for him to have another mind touch him right now.

His optics dimmed in sorrow. He had wanted so badly to ask Primus for a reprieve, to let him stay in the Matrix for at least awhile longer, but he knew that would be a very selfish request. He had had his time of rest in the Matrix after his death, but that had made it all the harder to leave paradise and return to the land of the living. He wanted so badly to curl up and stay locked away in the safety of his own mind, but he was needed now more than ever. He would have to be strong, for his people's sake.

Optimus looked up in surprise as a strong hand reached out and took his own. Magnus offered him a somewhat bashful smile, and his soul was warmed by the simple, affectionate gesture. He squeezed the hand in gratitude. Roddy beamed, seeing that Optimus did not pull away, physically or emotionally. He took Prime's other hand, giving him all the support and strength he could. Optimus was privately very relieved. He dreaded facing the others after what had happened to him, not wanting to see their questioning glances or feel their pity. But Roddy and Magnus were different. The wounds were too fresh for Optimus to discuss them just yet, but Rodimus and Magnus would be there for him when he was ready. The three sat in companionable silence for quite awhile.

Some time later, there was a knock at Megatron's room in medbay. The Decepticon leader was not overly surprised when Optimus Prime stepped inside. The two shared a long, meaningful look. With a gesture, Megatron signaled for his two underlings to leave the room. This conversation was private. Cyclonus and Soundwave obeyed grudgingly, reluctant to leave their newly-returned commander alone with the enemy leader. From the looks of the Autobot guards outside, they weren't happy with the situation either.

Optimus remained motionless, watching him, as Megatron sat on the edge of his medical berth. Several long seconds ticked by. Finally he spoke. "I just wanted to thank you for your help. Things would have turned out much differently if you had not intervened."

The silver Decepticon snorted derisively. "Don't bother. I regret it already."

Prime looked unsurprised. He studied Megatron for several more moments, making him distinctly uncomfortable. "Why?" Optimus asked finally.

"Why what?" Why was Optimus being so enigmatic?

"Why did you help us? Why did you protect me?" At last, he directed his gaze to the floor. "Of what consequence is my pain to you?"

Megatron's mouth was set in a firm, hard line. "I know what it is like to have my body usurped, my mind breached and twisted to serve the will of another. I was a slave to Unicron, and subsequently a slave to the madness he induced upon his supposed destruction. I did not want to see anyone else suffer the same fate. Not even you." It was his turn to look away. "Especially not you."

That penetrating blue gaze returned once more, studying his profile. No further words were necessary. Through so many years of ceaseless combat, constantly trying to anticipate the other's actions, to determine how each other thought, had created a very bizarre sort of bond between them. They each had the utmost respect for each other and their abilities. They had worked together on several occasions in the past, setting aside their disputes for the greater good. Now, it seemed, they were being called upon to do so once more, on a grand scale.

Optimus coughed slightly, a biologically unnecessary gesture, but it served to break the tension. "I have ordered a shuttle to be prepared for your return to Goloran. It won't be first-class accommodations, but it is space-worthy." He waited, but Megatron's only response was a nod. He greatly feared that Megatron was already dismissing their creator's warning. It seemed farfetched to him as well, the encounter already taking on a dreamlike quality, but to be lulled into a sense of complacency would be tantamount to suicide.

Megatron stood and solemnly held out his hand, which Optimus clasped firmly. He watched as the Decepticon walked out, no doubt very relieved to be leaving unopposed. He would see Megatron again soon, but under what circumstances? Would he be friend, or foe? And if Megatron discounted the approaching threat, what would become of their race? He turned and left the room, feeling a very heavy burden weighing on his shoulders.

For the next few days, Optimus had constant company, his friends trying to keep up his spirits and bolster his fragile state of mind. They were afraid to leave him alone for prolonged periods of time, lest he slide into despair. Andromeda had done an admirable job of comforting him at night after the inevitable nightmares. Rodimus had restricted him to desk duty for the next week, giving him only mundane and low-stress assignments. He knew that the elder Prime wanted to throw himself into his work and bury the painful incident, but in his weakened condition he could easily become overwhelmed.

The two of them sat on the recharge berth in Roddy's quarters, each toiling away on a pile of data pads. The informal surroundings seemed to put Optimus more at ease, and Rodimus had to admit that it was a nice change of pace from his office. Things had become rather awkward for Prime lately – he felt a little uncertain and insecure now that the others had seen him in such a weakened position. As ever, he continued as if absolutely nothing had happened. Rumors ran rampant about exactly what had happened to him. Many stared at him, and a few actually seemed angry with him for betraying his demigod image by showing vulnerability. The few that had actually made some sense out of the ordeal were a whole lot nicer to him, wanting to reach out to him but somehow unsure how to bridge the massive gap between them and reach beyond the barriers that he had erected around himself. Optimus wished he could be an Earthen turtle, able to pull his head inside a shell and hide away from the world.

Rodimus was engrossed in his work, typing out an entry on his pad, when he felt a gentle, shy touch at the link, a silent entreaty. Without looking up, he sent out a wave of comfort and affection, feeling Optimus drew it around him like a warm blanket. It was the first time since his possession that Optimus had instigated any contact through the link. A few minutes passed. "Roddy?" a quavering voice spoke hesitatingly. This time he did look up. Optimus was looking at him with a very strange expression. Rodimus recognized that look instantly – Prime was on the verge of tears. Roddy gently folded him into an embrace as a sob escaped, muffled against his chest. He was very relieved that Optimus had chosen to reach out for the comfort that he needed, instead of trying to brave it alone. He needed to let out some of the misery that surrounded his spark with an icy grip, or else it would suffocate him. He had already repressed so much that needed to be released.

Rodimus held his friend closely, sending out as much comfort and reassurance as he could. Optimus' whole body heaved with sobs that seemed torn from his very soul. He tried to speak, but the words were unintelligible. The mess of emotion that came through the link was just as garbled, but Roddy was able to catch some of it: shame, fear, regret, pain. "It's all right," he murmured, unwittingly rocking Optimus very much as Primus had done. "None of that was your fault. Don't blame yourself for anything! It's in the past. Let it go." He realized that Optimus was ashamed that Rodimus had witnessed his very private, very painful memories. "I always knew that you were keeping secrets from me, but I respected that. I understand why you chose not to share those memories with me. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I am proud to share your burdens." How he wished he could get Optimus some real help! He was afraid to press Optimus to talk about what had happened to him so long ago, since the memory was so painful that he needed some more time to come to terms with it. If Prime had this much trouble confiding in someone who knew him so intimately, how would he be able to discuss his problems with a complete stranger? He knew he couldn't send Optimus away now for specialized treatment, just when they needed him the most. Once again, Optimus would have to pay a great personal price for their continued survival.

Once his rather violent emotional outburst had quieted, Prime sat quietly in his arms, soaking up the gentle comfort like a sponge. He hated feeling so needy, so dependent. It was unfair to place such a burden on Rodimus. He was weak for not being able to stand on his own, and a coward for not seeking the help he knew that he needed. He had to be strong in the coming days; so much depended on it.

Finally, he pulled away and tried to find some semblance of composure. "I've got something here which may cheer you up," Rodimus said brightly, reaching for one of the myriad data pads on the bed. Optimus eyed it warily, hoping that it wasn't anything "adult-oriented". "We've been invited to a party!"

"You mean you've been invited. I'm hardly wanted at those things."

Roddy shook his head. "No, this specifically requests both of us to attend. In fact, the party is being thrown for us. Jazz says something about us being 'the coolest leaders a bot could ever hope for'. I'll tell him we're both coming, alright?"

"No. I never felt less like going to a party." Optimus fixed him with a serious look.

Roddy wasn't hearing any of it. "Optimus, please, you really need to come. It will be a real insult if you don't show to your own party. You know that this is really for them; they need to see that we're all right. Look, just make an appearance. You can always leave early if you feel uncomfortable."

Optimus actually appeared to be giving this some thought. "I know what people say about me," he whispered. "They think I'm stuck-up and above everyone else because I don't spend personal time with them like you do. But it's just that I don't feel comfortable in those situations. If you were there with me, Roddy, I think I could give it a try. Tell Jazz that we'll both be there."

Roddy whooped and began to frantically type a reply on the pad. This was gonna be great!

As the time for the party approached, Optimus grew more visibly nervous. Rodimus laughed when he came across Optimus breaking out the special polish that he used for special occasions. "This isn't some grand ceremony, Optimus! You don't need to spiff yourself up. Just relax. You're acting like you're going to a funeral here!" He was very glad that Optimus had decided to do this. Some of their soldiers said some downright cruel things about him, just because they didn't understand him. Optimus, ever observant, heard a lot more than he ever let on. He pretended it didn't bother him, saying that everyone had a right to an opinion, but he couldn't quite hide the hurt in his optics. Roddy hoped to show them a different side of Optimus tonight. A little high-grade Energon would go a long way to loosening him up and getting him to have a good time.

When Roddy finally announced it was time to go, aiming to arrive just late enough to be fashionable, Optimus looked like he was about to jump out of his armor. Roddy took his arm and guided him to the function room where the party was being held. He gave his arm one last reassuring squeeze, then opened the door. "Hey, guys! Here we are!" he hollered joyfully.

Thumping, pounding music greeted Optimus the moment he stepped inside. It was quickly overshadowed by another sound – that of cheering. He threw Roddy a baffled look, who responded with a shrug and a grin. They were cheering for him! They were actually glad he'd come! He touched his chest, feeling suddenly shy, yet undeniably pleased. They were happy to see him here, and he found it touching.

Rodimus lost no time in dragging him toward the Energon bar for some liberating high-grade. Optimus allowed himself to relax and actually enjoy the experience. There might not be an opportunity for another party for a long time, and he was determined to experience this one to the fullest. Such moments like this were fleeting, and he would cherish them as long as he could. Right now it just felt good to be alive.

The End