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Her field announces her presence before her voice or body, and always has. When he feels her, there is something in him as childish as excitement and carnal as want, but above all, he feels relief. That’s what he feels, really, when she enters the room—a dam breaking, a crack in a high pressure system, a turned joint finally snapping back into place. The end of a long, long wait.

“Primus,” Elita One says—sighs, really—and hovers in the doorway of his room for a moment. Her EM field—already drawn tight with worry—flares and crackles over his before she reigns herself in, quickly. 

“No, just me, I’m afraid,” Optimus replies. It’s a stab at light-hearted that he’s fairly sure lands somewhere on tongue-in-cheek irony. Nonetheless, she cracks half a smile and crosses the room, sitting down on the berth beside him. 

They don’t talk, at first. He’s too tired to string words together; his audios are still ringing, and when he turns his head too quickly he still sees flashes of white light at the corners of his vision, ghosts his system is still chasing down and purging. His hands are covered in energon. Not his. For several moments, Elita only sits beside him, looks him over. At length, she clicks quietly and hops down from the bench.

“Wait here.”

Where would he go? But he nods and watches her slip out of the room.

It’s maybe a breem or two that she’s gone, but it slips by in a haze. His internal chronometers are off. That’s a bad sign, he’s fairly certain, in some cases—could be exhaustion, could be from a hard blow to the helm. Were there any of those? At least one, he thinks. He’s running a cautious hand over the side of his head when Elita comes back into the room, carrying an armload of supplies doubtlessly filched behind Ratchet’s back.

“Ah, ah,” she says, batting his hand down. “Don’t. Ratch will have to have a look at that bit. Give me your hands.”

He obeys. Elita douses a cloth liberally in cleaning solution and makes quick work of the energon on his hands and arms, paying due diligence to the places where some other bot’s life blood has seeped into the crevices of his armor, the joints of his digits. Ratchet—Primus bless him—rarely, if ever, takes notice of such things. He’ll patch the leaks and weld what needs welding and then send patients off to the showers. Elita knows—without being told—perhaps because she, better than anyone, can understand his burden—what bothers Optimus the most once he steps off the field.

“Better,” she says, so softly that perhaps he wasn’t meant to hear. Her hand lingers on his, very briefly, and then she is back to business, turning on a small welder. “Arm up, if you would.”

He does what he can—it’s a touch difficult, given the open, angry wound in his side. Elita props his elbow on her shoulder and ducks beneath to find room to work. Welding surface injuries is a simple task, the most basic of field repairs, but even so, she treats it—him—with the utmost delicacy, working carefully, cautiously. She’s certainly gentler than Ratchet has ever been. Optimus refuses to read too much into that—that’s down to Ratchet’s general attitude, not any burgeoning—affection—on Elita’s part.

“Let me know if it hurts.”

“It doesn’t.”

“Let me know if that changes, then,” she retorts. He can hear her smiling. “Don’t be stubborn. Not with me.”

The Prime acquiesces with a dip of his head. The weariness is setting in now, though not physically—his systems are still humming, battle protocols running double-time. Bridging straight back to their field base once the worst of the fighting ceased was a jarring experience. Internally—mentally, emotionally—he feels hollowed out. Emptied. His enemies’ swords have not so much sheared his armor as scraped out his insides. He feels as if his spark is going dark. He almost wants it to.

“There’s never been a Prime who killed his people,” he says, suddenly, surprising even himself. “I’m the first.”

Elita pauses. She can’t be more than halfway through the weld, but she helps him lower his arm and sits back a little, scrutinizing him. She doesn’t speak, ceding him the space. For that, he’ll never be able to articulate his gratitude.

“It’s not as though there haven’t been losses,” he goes on, fumbling a little now—the only time he gave voice to the first thought, the first horrifying time it became crystalized for him, it was with Ironhide, and the gruff old warrior rebuked him sharply not to speak that way. It came from a good place—most things did, with Ironhide. But it didn’t help. Not for the first time, Optimus isn’t entirely sure what he wants—needs—to say. “Under Nova Prime especially—the colony ships. And under Sentinel, obviously, with the rebellions. But no Prime before me has ever…”

He halts again, struggling. Sentinel Prime never held a rifle on an incoming suicide bomber and pulled the trigger. Nova Prime never cleaved a gestalt into pieces and tore out its spark to make sure it couldn’t rise again. Optimus Prime has done both—today, and on every orn that was doomed to host a battle. He can’t justify staying off the field any more than he could justify going in. His duties as a Prime demand that he do both, and neither. He’s caught. Helpless.

Elita touches him, and it’s startling—by some unspoken agreement, for reasons neither can bear to articulate (because it is easy, far too easy, to be wounded by the mere thought that if only things were different), they avoid touching when they can. But in the dimly lit room in Ratchet’s field medical bay, she puts a hand on his face and turns him toward her, then leans close, resting the front of her helm against his. She doesn’t shutter her optics, but holds his gaze. She doesn’t study him, or observe him, but lets their simple contact anchor them together. Present. Here. 

“No Prime before you was betrayed by one he called brother,” she murmurs. “And no Prime before you was selected at so dire an hour of need. There is no righteous path in war, Optimus. There are only choices, and these of two kinds—those that let us recharge at night, and those that don’t.” She smiles now, and the hand on his face becomes caressing. His spark stutters; his field flares, and he’s helpless to stop it. How, how, does she manage to make him feel so utterly undone?

“You can only control the choices you make, Optimus. We’re powerless to control the choices placed before us. That’s the burden of mortal beings.” She knocks her helm gently against his, just enough to make him wince. “Ah, see? You’re mortal after all. And you’re one of your own people, too. Don’t ask of yourself any more than you’d ask of any other Cybertronian.” 

“That’s—a very strange way of looking at it.”

“Your problem is that you’re stubborn,” she sighs. “The world doesn’t exist only the way you see it, Optimus. The world can always be otherwise.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

“You don’t have to.” She sits back—and with an iron will he doesn’t let his disappointment filter through his field—and coaxes his arm up, turning the welder back on. “Just be kind to my friend Optimus. I’m rather fond of him.” 

“Ah,” he says, chuckling. It hurts to laugh. It’s worth it. “My apologies. I’ll be sure to pass along your kind compliments.”

“Thank you.” She quirks her head, smiling up at him, her field warm and awash with—fondness, certainly. He won’t search deeper. “Anything else?”

Yes. “No.” Tell me I’m not the only one who wants this to be otherwise. “Thank you, Elita.”

“Sure. I’m pretty handy with a welder. Nicer than Ratchet, too, I’d wager.”

“Well, yes, to both, but I meant—”

“I know what you meant. You’re welcome.” She turns off the welder and leans away. “Arm down—how’s it feel?”

He rotates his shoulder, gives the weld a very cautious stretch. It holds. “As good as new. Let me know if you decide you might like to step into Ratchet’s position.”

“Please don’t say that when he’s within audio range, he’ll have me assassinated,” she replies, laughing. “Megatron is one thing, but I really don’t need Ratchet the Hatchet after my head.”

“Agreed. I can protect you from Megatron, but from Ratchet I can make no promises.”

“Aw, you’re almost my hero,” she snorts, and swings herself down from the berth. “Please rest, alright? So that I don’t have to worry after you.”

“I’ll do my best.” He watches her walk to the door—imagines, for a moment, reaching for her, taking her arm, pulling her into him. He tightens his fist over his thighs until she’s well out of reach. 

But she pauses in the doorway, hesitates, glances back at him. “Optimus?”

For just a moment—maybe he even imagines it—there’s something in her field, something he only glimpses, but for just that moment he believes, fiercely, that her question matches his own. “Yes?”

She drums her fingers on the doorway, gazing at him in her unreadable way—then she smiles, shakes her helm. “Never mind. Rest up.”

And she flits from the room, off to wherever she’s needed next, leaving him with a weld, which aches, and a mouth full of unspoken words—which ache worse.