One More Try

by Phantom

Setting: This little tale takes place in the cartoon continuity, following the events of "War Dawn" and alluding to the events in "The Search for Alpha Trion".

The Transformers are the property of Hasbro and several other companies that I am too confused to name. Don't bother suing me, since all my dough is going toward Botcon '97 anyway.

* * *

"Just who do you think you are?!!"

Optimus Prime flinched imperceptively under the verbal assault. He had prepared himself for such a reaction, steeled himself for the barrage of angry words, but he has found that he has underestimated the force of her anger. He had grown accustomed to weathering disappointment, distrust, and outright hostility since he had accepted the mantle of leadership. It really hadn't been all that long ago, but to him it seemed like an eternity.

"Well? Answer me! What is the meaning behind this?"

Optimus gazed solemnly up at the pink figure leaning over his seated position at his desk, her hands placed defiantly on her fists. He sighed mentally, allowing himself no other display of emotion. "Alita," he said slowly, "listen to reason."

"Reason?" she exclaimed in outrage. "How about giving me a reason why you've demoted me and restricted my activities to the base! Maybe *then* I'll listen to reason." She glared at him, waiting for an answer.

Prime stared back impassively, his face betraying no emotion. "I have removed you from command because I doubt your abilities." He faltered a bit when he saw her truly shocked expression.

For a moment, Alita was speechless. When she next spoke, her voice was still laced with anger, but it was more subdued. "What makes you say that? How have I fallen short? Most of the energy raids that I've led have been successful, even more so than we had anticipated."

"But not all," Prime corrected grimly. "Firestar and Moonracer were injured on your latest mission. You failed to realize that the rumors of a large energy stockpile were the bait for a trap. You were all lucky to escape with your lives."

"But there was no way of knowing that! I doubt you had any foresight either in that situation. It's unfair to accuse me of ineptitude when you use the judgment of hindsight. I can still perform my duty, just let me prove it!"

Although Alita could not actually see Prime frown, she could still see his displeasure reflected in his optics. He looked her up and down critically. There was a flicker of emotion in his optics, but it was gone so quickly that she couldn't be sure that she hadn't imagined it. After all, that chapter in their lives was over.

"It is not just your leadership abilities that I doubt, Alita. I also doubt your ability to handle a Decepticon opponent. Until you can convince me otherwise, your demotion stands." Prime leaned back in his chair and gazed at her expectantly.

She opened her mouth to protest, then shut it with a snap when Prime shook his head at her. As far as he was concerned, this discussion was over. Feeling a mix of anger and frustration, she stalked out of the office and down the hall.

Prime thought he heard her grumble "Men!" in exasperation. Once she had gone, he allowed his broad shoulders to slump slightly. The decision had been a hard one to make, and he hadn't expected her to be so emotional, but he was still sure that he had made the right decision. It was done, and he couldn't change his mind. He had worked so hard to earn the trust of his new soldiers, and he wasn't about to let them see him waver for a second.

He turned and gazed out the window, overlooking what had been a magnificent, sprawling city at one point. Iacon had once been the pride of Cybertron, but the war and the desperate struggle to hold onto the rapidly dwindling resources had taken its toll. Iacon had lost its glitter, its vivacity, and Prime felt all of the blame resting squarely on his shoulders. If only he could end the war peacefully. If only they could gain an advantage. If only Autobots didn't have to risk their lives each day in the name of peace. If only innocents, who had no connection with the war whatsoever, except to be its next casualty, didn't have to suffer and die. Like Dion....

Optimus squeezed his optics shut, his lowering his head at the thought of his friend. He and Ariel had been successfully rebuilt, but there was nothing that could be done for Dion. Prime felt his loss as a thick, heavy, unshakable weight on his soul. It was times like this that he missed Dion more than ever. Dion was his best friend, his supporter, his confidant. There was nothing that he could not tell Dion, and no dilemma that Dion could not solve, or at least provide moral support for. Dion had served as an intermediary between his former self and Ariel whenever they had an argument. It hurt beyond belief that he had lost such a wonderful friend, but what really stung was that his new foe, Megatron, had killed Dion for virtually no reason. Sure, Dion had been about to interfere, and he was a witness to Megatron's true plans, but he could have been easily dealt with.

"Why?" Prime whispered, not realizing that he had spoken aloud. Megatron's callousness in killing his best friend was sometimes the only thing that kept him from running away from his new responsibilities and shoving the bizarre object known as the Matrix of Leadership in Alpha Trion's face. Dion had truly understood him, and he knew that none of the robots that comprised this motley crew of Autobots could ever take his place. He could never be that close to or confide in anyone like he had in Dion.

"Except for her," a small voice whispered in his head.

Prime jumped, startled at the thought. It was true that he and Ariel had been very close, but their relationship had not been serious for very long. He had come to accept that they both had changed too much to go back to what they once had. Which left him all alone, with no one to confide in or even talk to as an equal. And that, perhaps, hurt more than anything.

* * *

"You've got to be kidding!" Moonracer gasped.

"I wish!" Alita muttered, staring despondently into her cup of energon. "He was absolutely clear and refused to let me prove myself. As far as he's concerned, I'm no longer the leader of the femmes."

"This is unlike him," Chromia mused thoughtfully. "He usually listens to both sides of each story and doesn't make snap decisions. Something seems wrong here."

"What makes you think you know him better than I do?" Alita snapped. She immediately regretted it. "I'm sorry," she whispered, but it did little to change Chromia's surprised and worried expression. Now she was positive that something was going on -- something that, despite the cliche, seemed to be more than meets the eye.

"Oh, my! I didn't realize it was so late!" Moonracer exclaimed. "I promised Powerglide that I'd help polish his sharpshooting skills." She ducked her head, trying to avoid the others' knowing smiles. She could feel her face growing hot, and she fervently hoped that the rise in temperature was not accompanied by a change in hue, which was uncommon but not impossible.

"You're right, it's getting late," Chromia agreed. "I don't want to be late for my meeting with Ironhide to discuss internal security."

"Suuure," Moonracer drawled teasingly.

Chromia scowled at her young teammate. "Unlike you, I actually intend to get something done."

'Yeah, *something's* going to get done, alright,' Moonracer thought to herself, but she knew better than to say it aloud. Implying that there was more than business on Chromia's mind was to invite sure trouble, and besides, she was a fine one to talk.

They both looked at Alita, feeling guilty about leaving her alone. "Don't worry about me," she said firmly, managing a smile. "I might as well make good use of my free time."

Her smile faded as soon as the others left. What am I going to do? she wondered. Leading the others felt so natural, I know it's the only place I belong. How am I going to cope with being trapped in the base, knowing that the others are going on a raid without me?

"You don't look very hungry," someone announced.

Startled out of her thoughts, Alita nearly upset her cup of energon. It teetered precariously, then was steadied by the other's hand. Alita looked up curiously as Alpha Trion seated herself in front of her.

"You seem to have lost interest in your sustenance," he observed.

Alita was rather confused by the sudden change of topic, her mind still dwelling on her predicament. "Huh? Oh, no... I... I'm not interested in refueling anymore."

"Why don't you prove it to him?"

"What?" Now she was *definitely* confused.

Alpha Trion smiled enigmatically. "You know that you are capable of handling yourself in a battle, and you know that you are capable of strong leadership. Why don't you prove it to Optimus?"

She shook her head. "I tried talking to him, but he just won't listen to reason."

"I didn't say talk, I said prove. For, *ahem*, whatever reason, Prime has denied you the opportunity to state your case. The only option is to confront him head-on and, while pitting your skills against his, show him that his fears are groundless."

"Fears? Hah!" Alita snorted in disbelief. "This has nothing to do with fear, and everything to do with the fact that I'm female, and he can't grasp the concept that I can handle myself."

Alpha's smile was wide and knowing. "Oh, I think he's perfectly aware of the fact that you're female. And this rash decision of his may have to do more with fear than you may think. Haven't you stopped to wonder exactly why he has restricted you to the base?"

Alita frowned thoughtfully, then gave herself a mental shake. She could ponder the fine points of Alpha's argument later; she was eager to find Prime and force him to reinstate her position.

"Oh, and Alita...."

"Yes?" She turned back to the aging robot, impatient to get going, yet feeling that he had something important to say.

"Just don't use your secret weapon on him. It would give you an unfair advantage. And it will hurt you more in the long run." His optics twinkled with suppressed amusement at her confusion.

"Secret weapon? I... I don't understand. What weapon? And how do you know about it?" Alita seated herself once again, her curiosity piqued.

Alpha patiently began his explanation. "I know about your special power because I have studied your schematics. You were created with the full knowledge of your potential, and it was necessary to provide you with a last resort to defend yourself. As for the weapon itself...."

Alita leaned forward despite herself, eager to hear his words and sensing that this peculiar robot knew far more than she could imagine. Something bothered her about his explanation.... Studying her schematics seemed to be a bit too pat, but she couldn't put her finger on what concerned her. She focused on her mentor's words as he revealed more about her capabilities, giving her in the process the courage and resolve to face Prime as an equal.

* * *

"Care to face a thinking opponent?"

Prime whirled around, smoking laser cannon in hand. The practice droid crumpled to the ground, crippled by the last blast. Prime hadn't expected to be interrupted, especially not by the trim pink figure that stood framed in the door. For a moment he gaped at the picture she presented, with her powerful stance and determined gleam in her optics -- she was really quite beautiful when she was stubborn. He quickly squelched those thoughts and answered her challenge. "I told you that my decision was final."

She stared at him defiantly. "I could tell you where you could stuff your decisions, but I wouldn't want to offend your innocent audio receptors. You always were so shocked when I would say a bad word," she recalled with amusement and nostalgia. Dragging her mind back to the present, she continued. "I didn't come here to force you to reinstate me, I came here to prove once and for all, to you, to myself, and to all the other skeptics in the Autobot ranks that I can hold my own against the best."

Prime pondered her words in silence, being careful to keep his emotions hidden. This obviously meant a lot to her, much more than he had expected. It couldn't hurt to honor her wishes, and he needed the practice anyway. He nodded at her brusquely, and her blaster appeared in her hand from subspace in response.

"Computer, engage program F-5, level 4," Prime ordered. He was answered with a hum as a panel in the practice room lifted and the droids flew out into the open, weapons activating. For the next few minutes, the room was filled with the sounds of weapons fire. When the din faded away, Prime noted that he had been matched shot for shot. Somehow he didn't feel surprised, though the reason why eluded him. Why had he demoted her, if all along he had believed her to be his equal? Those were thoughts better left alone.

"Computer," Prime stated flatly, "level 5."

Once again, the air was filled with the crackle of deadly energy as each robot fired burst after burst, Alita clutching the trigger of her blaster with frightening intensity. She noted with an internal smirk that she had beaten him by two droids in this round. She glanced at her opponent and frowned slightly. This was going nowhere, and it was up to her to steer it in the right direction.

"Computer, level--"

"Belay that," Alita interrupted, ignoring Prime's confused expression. "The only way that I will truly prove myself to you is if I face you in hand-to-hand combat. Then maybe you'll see that I can handle myself as well as any male."

"But Alita, I don't think that's--"

"You may be bigger than me, but there's much more to me than you know. Until I face you as an equal, and force you to accept me as one, you will never come to accept that. At least let me try."

Prime sighed inwardly. He truly wished he could deny her request, but something in her voice urged him to do otherwise. Her words had the ring of truth in them. And one thing hadn't changed -- when he gazed into her beautifully expressive optics, he found that he could deny her nothing. Looking away to prevent her from seeing how affected he was by her gaze, he opened his hand and shunted his weapon back into subspace. After a moment, she followed suit.

Prime stood still for a moment, unsure how to begin. Alita solved that problem by rushing forward, poised to strike. He easily deflected the blow, but was unprepared for the one that was delivered from her other hand. He staggered back a few paces, then regained his footing in time to avoid a kick. He could see the determination, the need to prove herself. He was tempted to give in, allow her to win, but she would know. She knew him too well. A false victory to her would be much worse than an honest defeat. Still, he couldn't bring himself to raise a hand against her.

He blocked another blow to his head, then managed to grab her hands and held on tightly. She cried out in anger as she was restrained by his powerful, yet usually gentle, hands. He was fascinated, absorbed in his study of her perfectly shaped fingers to notice her taking advantage of his distraction. She saw a break in his concentration, and grabbed it. She raised her knee and slammed it into his lower torso, hitting a cluster of sensitive circuits dead-on.

She watched with satisfaction as he abruptly released her and drew back. However, her pleasure quickly turned to horror as he doubled over, groaning in agony. His normally impassive face was filled with pain, glaringly visible despite the mask. He collapsed to the floor, curling into a ball, trying desperately to decrease the pain. He shut down his optics and fought for some measure of control. It was a battle that he was losing, he realized as he faded into unconsciousness.

"No! Paxie!" Alita cried as she knelt by the inert form, instinctively calling her former companion by his silly pet name that had become a mark of affection between them. She silently cursed herself for losing control of her emotions, instead of remaining calm and searching for a less dangerous way of achieving victory.

"Alita to med-bay," she ordered over her comlink, choking back the lump that filled her throat, and forcing back the pressure building in her optics. "Ratchet, report to practice room 1A at once." She squeezed Prime's limp hand, as much to comfort herself as to reassure him. Now there was nothing else to do but wait.

* * *

Ratchet turned away from Prime's inert form on the repair berth as a hand was laid on his shoulder.

Alpha Trion smiled reassuringly. "I can take it from here."

The next thing he knew, Ratchet found himself outside the med bay, the door sliding closed behind him. He had no idea why he trusted the older mechanoid, but something in his optics told Ratchet that he had more to offer the Autobots than anyone could imagine.

* * *

The first thing to greet Prime as he returned to consciousness was Alpha Trion's expectant face. "I feel like I've been run over by a steamroller," Optimus groaned.

Alpha smiled. "I don't think Alita would take kindly to the comparison, but I'd say that it was rather accurate. It's hard to stop her once she gets involved in a fight."

Prime sat up, wincing at the pain. "Where is she?" he asked anxiously, glancing around the room.

"She's waiting impatiently outside. I banned here from the med bay so you and I could share a few words."

Prime sank back against the repair berth. "Forgive me if this seems rude, but I'd prefer to talk later. I'm anxious to speak to Alita."

Alpha displayed his trademark enigmatic smile once again. Prime shuddered inwardly; he trusted Alpha implicitly, perhaps more than he had reason to, but that mysterious smile gave him chills, as if his mentor knew much more than he let on.

Alpha spoke kindly, but he knew that his words would cause confusion and perhaps pain, no matter how gently he phrased it. "Prime, have you stopped to wonder why you've removed Alita One from command?" He held up his hand as Prime prepared to interrupt. "I don't mean the surface explanations, the handy excuses. I don't think you understand the strength of your emotions and how they have influenced you."

"I -- I don't understand," Prime stammered slightly, trying to close his mind to the disturbing thoughts that Alpha's words were awakening. "I've based my decision on the facts, and stuck to my beliefs, despite Alita's hostile reaction."

Alpha shook his head. "No, Prime, I think you understand more than you want to admit. You must come to accept your feelings and not try to suppress them. The true reason that you have demoted your former companion is that you cannot stand to see her become the Decepticons' next victim. You'd do anything to keep her safe, away from the fighting and the danger, despite her feelings. But you know, deep inside, that it is wrong. You are treating her like a prisoner, denying her the right to fulfill her destiny as a leader. In the end, it will bring both of you pain, and you will have lost her as surely as if she had been introduced to the business end of Megatron's fusion cannon."

"Please... stop," Optimus whispered softly, his optics reflecting his mental anguish. He clenched his fists as he fought to regain his normal iron control over his emotions. "I -- I just want to keep her safe. I can't stand the thought of losing her again, like...."

"Like?" Alpha prompted.

"Like I lost Dion," he whispered almost inaudibly. "Matrix forgive me, but I can't help how I feel. My feelings for Alita have only gotten stronger, and the thought of losing her to this cursed war tears me up inside." He turned his pained gaze towards his companion. "She deserves so much better than this."

Alpha nodded sympathetically. "Then you must trust her to live her own life."

Prime looked down. "It's going to be hard, but you're right, I can't hold on to a fantasy. I must let her go and hope for the best." He turned and looked at Alpha. "Thank you, my friend. You've helped me a great deal. It's strange -- sometimes I feel that you know me better than I know myself." Something tickled at the back of his mind, something very important concerning Alpha Trion. He reached out for it mentally, nearly grasping it, but then it was gone.

Alpha exited the med bay, gesturing for Alita, who had been pacing outside, to enter. She rushed in immediately. "Prime, are you all right?" she asked anxiously. "Alpha didn't tell me--"

Prime chuckled slightly, holding up his hand to stop the torrent of words. "I'll be all right, though I should take it easy for a few days. Though I was a bit surprised by your tactics -- that was a cheap shot." His optics reflected a smile. "Cheap, but effective. Now I know that I don't have to worry about you handling yourself against a male opponent. Though I wish I hadn't found out about it the hard way." He winced as a bolt of pain stabbed at him.

"But that doesn't change what I've done," she said, grasping his large, powerful hands in her small, dainty ones. "I knocked you out, and could have crippled or killed you in my rage. And you never lifted a hand to strike me. Was it out of chivalry, or -- something else?" Her voice faltered slightly.

Prime turned away from her. His next words would answer that question. "Computer, take note: as of this moment, Alita One is restored to her former position as leader of her female squadron and granted free mobility. Also note that her demotion was not based on any lack of skill or due to poor performance, but was the result of... personal sentiment of her commanding officer. End note." He remained facing away from her, staring fixedly at his hands, which were clenched together tensely. He couldn't bear to see a negative reaction.

"Oh, Paxie," she breathed. He looked up hopefully at hearing his old nickname. "I had no idea you still cared for me."

Prime looked away from her, preparing to be disappointed. "I don't expect you to return my feelings. I know that we have gone through many changes, and perhaps our old feelings for each other have gotten lost along the way."

Alita smiled at her old flame. He was giving her a graceful way to spare his feelings without feeling guilty. Well, she wasn't about to take it. "Or maybe they've gotten even stronger. I was surprised at how worried I was when I realized how badly I'd hurt you. Only then did I realize that my feelings for you had never gone away, I'd only lost sight of them due to all the new changes. Now I feel closer to you than ever."

"Lita, I've missed you," he said softly, stroking her metallic cheek with the back of his hand, his old way of displaying affection.

She smiled at the nickname he'd spontaneously invented. The smile turned a bit impish when her quirky sense of humor overcame her. "Likewise... Timmy."

"Timmy?!" Prime cried out in astonishment. "What kind of a name is that? I've never heard it before in my life, but it sounds childish."

She grinned at him. "That's why I like it so much!"

Prime shook his head ruefully. "Oh, you -- you haven't changed a bit!"

She stroked the side of his head. "We've been apart too long, Optimus." She scowled when she encountered his battle mask. "I don't think this is much of an improvement. Now I can't see your cute face."

For once, Prime let his boundless happiness show. "I think it's time we did something to bring us closer together," he said suggestively. She laughed softly. Perhaps, he thought with amusement, one day he would tell her that the mask was removable. But right now he was content to lay blissfully in her arms.

* * *

Alpha smiled to himself as he watched the couple embrace. He was relieved to see that they had finally gotten together again -- after all, they had literally been made for each other. Their basic design was quite similar, but he'd been able to make a few adjustments here and there to make each more appealing to the other. Alpha had a feeling that Alita would ease a large part of the new leader's emotional burdens. He would help as well, but only as a mentor and advisor. It was not yet time for his creations to learn the truth. That was for another day -- the day that they would be reunited yet again. That day was far in the future, but Alpha Trion was very patient. He would wait and allow destiny to unfold.

The End =)

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