by Phantom

Author's Note: The last episode of RID has not yet aired as this is being written. Hopefully this story does not contradict anything that happens in that episode. I am treating RID as an alternate universe from G1, since there are already so many differences in the continuities.

“I tried so hard
and got so far
But in the end
It doesn't even matter
I had to fall
To lose it all
But in the end
It doesn't even matter”
-- “In the End” –Linkin Park

The small group of Autobots stopped chatting amongst themselves and saluted smartly as their leader entered the command center. Optimus Prime nodded to them. “Prowl, Sideburn, X-Brawn -- Decepticon and Predacon activity has been increasing around the local power plants. I need you to patrol the area and be on the lookout for a possible raid.”

Sideburn groaned. It sounded like such a drag! “Aw man, I was hoping to hook up with that little red sports car!”

X-Brawn chuckled. “Maybe you'll run into it on your patrol!”

“Yeah!” The young Autobot's face lit up.

Optimus folded his arms and fixed the blue Autobot with a stern look. “Keep your mind on the mission this time, Sideburn. You've allowed yourself to get distracted on too many occasions.”

Prowl drew himself up to his full height and saluted snappily. “Never fear, sir! We will carry out our duties to the best of our abilities. I will make sure that Sideburn concentrates on his assignment.”

A derisive snort came from the entrance of the room. Everyone turned to look at Ultra Magnus lounging against the wall, arms crossed. “Ha! All Optimus does is bark an order at you, and you jump as if it came from Primus himself. I mean come on, the guy uses the waste disposal unit like the rest of us! He's no god!”

Optimus Prime turned and faced his brother with a withering glare. Ultra Magnus had finally consented to join them in their base, although he still was reluctant to be a real team player and accept orders. It had taken a fair amount of pleading and cajoling to even get him to stay in the base. Optimus tried to keep his voice even. “Is there something you wanted, Magnus?”

Magnus smirked. “Just for you to drop the act, that's all. You're no saint.” He nodded to the Autobot brothers. “I know all about the *real* Optimus Prime. He didn't use to be the goody-two-shoes commander that he is now!”

“Magnus…” Optimus spoke threateningly.

Ultra Magnus grinned, enjoying his brother's discomfiture immensely. “I could tell you all about what he used to be like….”

“Drop it, Magnus.”

Magnus' tone was full of glee. Embarrassing Optimus was just too much fun! “One time we were stuck in traffic, and he really had to empty his tank, so I told him to—“

“SHUT UP!” Optimus roared, his fists clenching at his side.

The three Autobot brothers jumped. Optimus almost never raised his voice, and he never, ever told anyone to shut up! “Umm, that patrol is looking pretty good now,” Sideburn muttered, slinking out of the room, his brothers hot on his heels. Magnus turned and followed them out, throwing Optimus one last triumphant smirk. Prime watched him go with a scowl underneath his battle mask. This was not going to be easy!

The next few days passed in an atmosphere of tension. Optimus Prime did everything he could to avoid his antagonistic younger brother. As a result, his temper grew short, and his attention tended to wander. His subordinates became reluctant to approach him, and overall Autobot performance and morale began to suffer. Optimus did his best to keep things running smoothly, but with this new distraction, it became increasingly difficult with Ultra Magnus undermining his every action.

He frowned inwardly as Sideburn stepped into the command center hesitantly. The young hothead had once again been distracted from his patrol duties by that cherry-red sports car. Sideburn was a skilled warrior with a good heart, but he allowed himself to be distracted too easily, and that could be a detriment, not only to himself, but to any Autobot who was relying on him. It had happened too many times to dismiss, and Sideburn would have to be reprimanded.

The youthful blue Autobot approached his commander, shoulders slumped, knowing he was in trouble. He felt terrible for letting down Optimus Prime! “I know what this is about,” he sighed. “I'm so sorry, Prime! I don't know what's wrong with me! I just can't keep my mind off of that red sports car. I always swear to myself that I'll be good, but then I catch sight of it, and I forget everything else!”

Optimus Prime shook his head gravely. “You are a good Autobot, Sideburn, and you have improved your skills considerably since your arrival on Earth. However, your short attention span is a danger to yourself, your brothers, and all of the other Autobots. You have been let off with a warning several times in the past, but this incident continues to occur. It is with regret that I have to administer a punishment.”

A derisive laugh cut into his monologue. His head jerked towards the source. Ultra Magnus. Just wonderful.

The Autobot commander frowned. “Ultra Magnus, could you please give us some privacy? I am carrying out a disciplinary action, and it is a matter that only concerns Sideburn and myself. I am sure that he does not want an audience.”

“This is rich!” Ultra Magnus snorted. “You're punishing him for running off during patrol and chasing a female, erm, a car? Don't make me laugh!” He shook his head. “What a hypocrite! You did exactly the same thing when you were his age. And boy, were you ever pissed when ol' Alpha Trion caught you! I remember exactly what you said: 'Man, that Alpha Trion is such a blowhard! I can't believe he's punishing me for going on a date! This just sucks!'” Magnus made a surprisingly accurate mimicry of a young, immature Optimus Prime.

“Thank you, Ultra Magnus, for that glimpse into my distant past,” Optimus said dryly, holding his anger carefully in check. “Now tell me this. What was my punishment?”

Magnus scowled, disappointed at the calm reaction. “You had monitor duty for a whole week.”

“And did I ever sneak off during patrol again?”

“No.” Magnus glared furiously at the floor.

Optimus turned away from his brother dismissively, addressing Sideburn. “I may have done some foolish things in my youth, but I was punished for them and I learned from my mistakes. I am assigning you to monitor duty for a week and restricting you to base in the hopes that you will learn the same lesson. You will grow up and mature, unlike some of us.”

That last remark was met with a growl and stomping footsteps as Ultra Magnus left the room in a huff. Optimus allowed himself a private smile. He had won this round.

But Ultra Magnus was not content to leave it at that. He insulted and made embarrassing comments about his brother at every opportunity. Optimus found his patience growing very thin. He repeatedly told himself to stay calm, to not let Magnus undermine him, to not give him the satisfaction of getting angry. But he was fast reaching the breaking point.

“… and his quarters were always such a mess! Empty Energon cubes all over the place!” Magnus crowed to the Bullet Trains, who were trying very hard to ignore him.

For the millionth time, Optimus felt his fists clench. He would like nothing better than to pound that smile right off of Magnus' faceplate! But maybe there was another way. Maybe he could beat Magnus at his own game. “You know, Magnus wasn't always the big brave warrior he is today. He used to be petrified of big lightning storms. Every time one would come, he'd bawl like a big baby and hide underneath his recharge berth.” He paused dramatically. “Come to think of it, you ran off rather quickly a few weeks ago when you heard thunder. You aren't still afraid, are you?”

“NO.” Magnus began to look distinctively uneasy. “You used to recharge with a giant plush toy!”

“So did you. And you sucked your thumb unit!”

“Well, you—“

“Bite me, Mags.” It was an old joking exchange between them, but this time it was filled with malice.

The assembled Bullet Trains gasped. They would never have imagined that Optimus could say something so vulgar!

“You're such a jerk! I wish I never had a brother!” Ultra Magnus cried as he ran out of the room.

Prime's shoulders slumped as he turned back to absently fiddle with some dials. Those words had stung him more than he wanted to admit. He hadn't wanted to stoop to Magnus' childish level, but he just wanted the insults to stop!

Rail Spike shook his head in sympathy. “Aww, don't let him get to you, Prime. He's the one being a jerk.”

“Yes!” Midnight Express chorused. “He's only getting what he deserves. Believe me, he isn't making any friends among us.”

“I'm surprised you haven't pounded him flatter than a pancake!” Rapid Run exclaimed.

“No one would blame you if you did,” Rail Spike echoed. “That hotshot needs to be put in his place, and no one could do it better than you.”

Prime rubbed his faceplate wearily. “I appreciate the vote of confidence, but I hope it doesn't have to come to that.” But something had to give. And soon.

The teasing and insults mercifully stopped for a few days, but as he had feared, it was only temporary. Magnus just didn't know when to quit. The other Autobots were put off by his downright rude manner but were afraid to confront him about it. Ultra Magnus was notoriously unstable where his brother, Optimus Prime, was concerned. The others just did their best to stay out of his way.

On this particular day, Magnus seemed content to merely hang around the command center, not saying a word, just staring fixedly at the back of a certain Autobot leader. Said Autobot leader had busied himself with the monitors and controls, pointedly ignoring the obnoxious intruder, but it was still obvious that the staring was getting to him.

The Autobot brothers entered the room, ready for their next assignment. Magnus smiled craftily. At last, an audience! “I've been looking over the file footage of your missions here on Earth,” Ultra Magnus said casually. “Seems that Op is still as gullible as he ever was.”

“What are you talking about?” Sideburn asked. Prowl elbowed him, not wanting to encourage Ultra Magnus.

“The business with the Decepticons, of course. Optimus nearly compromised the entire base because he foolishly believed they had turned good.”

“Now that there wasn't Optimus' fault!” X-Brawn exclaimed. “Even ol' Sideburn was taken in by their act, and believe me, he ain't the gullible type.”

Magnus snorted. “Ha! Optimus should have known better. He lets sentiment get in the way of business. He was real naïve about things when we were young too. In fact, I had to explain to him what to do with a woman—“

The fist struck him across the jaw so fast that the Autobot brothers were scarcely sure that they had seen it. Ultra Magnus fell to the floor, more out of astonishment than anything else. Optimus Prime stood above the stricken 'bot, shaking in anger. He looked at his fist in surprise, the fury dissipating. He had let his anger get the best of him. He had struck his own brother! Now all the progress he'd made with Magnus would be gone! “Magnus, I—“

A soft chuckling interrupted him. Ultra Magnus knelt on the floor, wiping at the trickle of fluid that seeped from his split lip component. “I didn't think you had it in you, Optimus. I thought you had gone soft on me. Good to see you still have some fighting spirit in you.”

Prime's optics widened. “You mean you were trying to pick a fight with me? You wanted me to hit you?”

The moment was mercifully broken by Tai's high-pitched voice. “Optimus Prime! Emergency!”

“WHAT?!” he snapped.

For once, Tai seemed uncertain, her boundless confidence gone. “Uhh, sir, the Decepticons are attacking a nearby energy turbine! Permission to engage the Member Select program?”

Optimus straightened up, feeling his anger and frustration coiling up in him, searching for release. “No, Tai, that will not be necessary. The Autobot brothers and I will go. Ultra Magnus,” he fairly spat, “can join us if he chooses.” With that, he transformed and raced towards the global space bridge. Tai scarcely had time to program in the coordinates. The Autobot brothers followed suit, but quickly had to pull to the side to let past a rampaging Ultra Magnus. The massive car carrier pulled up right behind the fire truck and began tailgating, honking his horn angrily. Optimus sent a quick “slow down” transmission to the Autobot brothers and then slammed on his brakes. Ultra Magnus plowed front-first into Prime's bumper. It was worth the dent and scratched paint to hear the curses brought on by Magnus' own impatience.

The Autobots burst from the space bridge with a roar of engines and the whine of Prime's siren. Ultra Magnus did not even bother to transform; incensed by the head-on crash, he headed for the nearest Decepticon and began a demolition derby.

Optimus stared at the blue and white car carrier, allowing the fury he had suppressed to bubble to the surface. Scourge turned in his direction, aiming his weapon, but to the Decepticon's surprise, the Autobot leader sprang for him and began raining blows with his bare fists. Scourge cried out in surprise, then in pain.

Sideburn, X-Brawn and Prowl aimed their weapons and fired at the Decepticons, but it was a perfunctory gesture at best. Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus were taking on the majority of the 'Cons with only their hands, feet and wheels. “Ultra kick!” Magnus yelled, felling three Decepticons with one mighty blow from his foot.

Optimus imagined Magnus' head on every Decepticon he saw, giving himself free reign to pound away as he so desperately wanted to do to his “dear” brother. It felt so good to let out all his aggression, at last! He knew it was just a matter of time before Magnus goaded him into a fight, and suddenly he didn't even care. Right now he was fighting someone he didn't feel guilty over striking. He worked his fist like a piston, driving it repeatedly into Mega-Octane's face.

“Uugh! Decepticons, retreat!” Scourge howled, trying to beat off a raging mad Ultra Magnus, who was trying to wrench his arm clean off. There were no complaints as the other Decepticons managed to extricate themselves from the fight.

The Predacons, who were lurking nearby, caught sight of Optimus Prime staring at them, fists clenched. With a cry of fear, they ran away as fast as their legs could take them.

Without a single word, Optimus transformed into fire truck mode and headed for the space bridge portal. The Autobot brothers exchanged a troubled gaze and followed suit. They each privately resolved never to cross Optimus Prime. Magnus trailed behind, seemingly lost in his own vengeful thoughts. The short battle with the Decepticons had done nothing but delay the inevitable.

* * * * *

“Look at Optimus Prime,” Sideburn whispered several days later as the Autobot brothers entered the small recreation room. The red Autobot sat in a corner, sipping at a cube of Energon while he studied something hidden from view.

“He looks stressed,” Prowl observed. “Ultra Magnus must really be getting to him.”

“That renegade hombre is nothing but trouble,” X-Brawn growled as the three took their seats.

Sideburn shook his head. “I know that Magnus has been acting like a first-class jerk, but he's been through a lot. It can't have been easy for him to have been passed over by Vector Sigma for the Autobot leadership.”

“That's still no reason to take it out on Optimus,” Prowl said reasonably. “He came here for the Matrix, and now he's sharing it with Optimus somehow. I personally see no reason for his continued vendetta.”

“That's because you're too logical,” X-Brawn pointed out. “Ultra Magnus is acting on many years of built-up anger. That's not so easy to dismiss, you know.”

“Optimus Prime!” the Autobot leader's communicator crackled. It was Tai. “I am ready for your maintenance check now. Please report to the command center at your earliest convenience.”

“On my way, Tai,” Optimus responded, already halfway to the door.

“Hey, look!” Sideburn exclaimed after Optimus had left the room. “He left something behind.”

“Poor guy's been real distracted lately,” X-Brawn observed.

Sideburn went over and picked up the object, turning to head after Optimus. His finger accidentally hit a button on the side, and the cube shed a light. The light coalesced a few inches in front of the cube, displaying a picture of a very young Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus laughing with their arms around each other.

Prowl's optics flashed in surprise. “It's a photo holo-cube!”

“Lookit! Optimus is grinning!” Sideswipe pointed to the picture.

“His face mask is removable. I bet he never told you that.” The three Autobot brothers turned to see Ultra Magnus in the doorway. “Mind if I join you?” The trio looked at each other uncertainly. “I won't badmouth Optimus this time, I promise.”

“Okay then.” Sideburn smiled and gestured to a spare seat.

“Where did you get that?” Magnus asked curiously as he sat down, nodding at the photo cube.

“Oh, this. Optimus left it in here. I activated it by accident.”

Prowl gave him a stern look. “Sideburn, that is not your property. You should put it back where you found it.”

“No, wait. Let me see that.” Sideburn handed over the photo cube. Ultra Magnus began to thoughtfully flip through the stored pictures. A small, gentle smile tinged his faceplate as he looked at a picture of his younger self and Optimus playing with a turbo-kitten.

“Aww, you guys were so cute!” X-Brawn grinned.

Magnus changed the pictures slowly: one of Optimus and Magnus wrestling on the floor, one of them beaming and holding up some kiddie painting (both liberally covered in paint), one of them putting together a scooter. “Hey!” Sideburn exclaimed as Magnus brought up a very old class picture. “That's old Miz Strict! I knew she was older than dirt, but really! She was my teacher in the Academy!”

Magnus laughed out loud. “Miz Strict is still teaching? She was a fossil even back then!”

Sideburn began to laugh. “She's told every class she taught that Optimus Prime was her student once, but no one believed her! Now I see it's really true!”

Magnus joined him in laughter. “She's actually proud of that? Isn't that a twist! She couldn't stand him, and Optimus hated her outright! Matter of fact, he set fire to a science experiment once just to set off the fire alarms and get away from her!”

“Optimus did *that*?” Prowl gasped. Suddenly the trouble that Sideburn got into didn't seem so bad after all.

“Yeah, and he got suspended for a whole week!” Magnus chortled. “He was so happy to get away from her he didn't care what Alpha Trion did to him!”

“What else is in the cube?” Prowl asked curiously. Magnus continued to flip through it. He paused, a stab of regret passing through him as he beheld the image of himself and Optimus grinning triumphantly, holding up their Academy diplomas. Alpha Trion stood behind them, arms around both young robots.

“We were always very competitive,” he said, almost to himself. “Everything was a contest: who could run the farthest, jump the highest, get the best test score. But it was always in good fun. We never let it get too personal. Hell, we even dated the same girls sometimes! We shared everything. Every weekend we'd go out and party, get drunk and try to pick up women. You should've seen Optimus in action – he put Sideburn here to shame! I never thought anything could come between us.”

He breathed a heavy sigh, feeling the pressure of the years weighing down on him. X-Brawn flipped to the next picture – a shot of the two brothers, somewhat older now, standing back-to-back on a battlefield. “We were foolish back then. Just two little hellions running around causing trouble. We thought we were the hottest things around and nothing could hurt us. I honestly don't know how Alpha Trion dealt with us. Then the war came and changed everything.” His fist clenched as a bitter tone entered his voice. “We had to grow up very fast. Nobody had expected the civil war, except for Alpha Trion. Turns out that he was much more clever than anyone had given him credit for. He always had us play war and practice firing low-powered laser rifles. We thought it was all in good fun, but we found out later just how serious it all was. Alpha had also kept a secret from us. In the event that the civil war would come to pass, he had designed us to combine into one mighty Transformer – Omega Prime. Alpha Trion did not survive the war, but his creations did. We became the two most formidable warriors that Cybertron has ever known.”

“And you won the war.” Prowl whispered.

Magnus looked down at his lap. “We were both honored after the war and decorated with numerous medals. However, with the death of most of the Autobot elders, the planet was left without a leader, and Megatron posed a threat to the Earth. So the great heroes and leaders of the civil war were gathered before Vector Sigma so that it could bestow the Matrix upon a new Autobot leader. I was positive that I would be chosen – I was the biggest, the strongest, and the bravest. But it chose Optimus instead. Why, I don't know. He was the weaker one. He got upset when an enemy was destroyed. And it was easy to fool him, once you knew how his mind works. I just couldn't believe it. I hated him, hated the very sight of him! It would have hurt less if he had just stabbed me in the back. I left the planet that very same day and never looked back.”

“So what did you do then? What made you come to Earth?” Sideburn asked curiously. It was fascinating to see things from Magnus' perspective. Magnus had been so hostile that everyone had automatically drawn away. They were finding out now that there was a real person underneath the defensive shield of anger. Someone who was alone and hurting.

Magnus offered Sideburn a weak smile. It was nice to have someone to talk to. “For awhile I just wandered from system to system. I got odd jobs, drank a lot of high-grade stupor-inducing Energon, and thought about what a mess my life had become. I blamed Prime for every moment of it, and my hatred for him grew until it was all I could think about. Finally I decided that he couldn't get away with taking away my life, and I returned to Cybertron to have it out with him, only to find out that he was gone. I hung around Cybertron for awhile, bolstering my defenses and honing my skills while I hunted him down. I eventually found out he'd gone to Earth and decided to follow and claim what was rightfully mine. You know the rest.”

The three Autobot brothers looked at each other in mute communication. They hoped that nothing so catastrophic would happen to tear them apart. They were so close and cared about each other so much that it surely couldn't happen, but it seemed that Optimus and Magnus had once been even closer. Could their own relationship survive? Each face radiated determination. They would see that it would!

* * * * *

The trip down memory lane had stirred up warring feelings inside Ultra Magnus. One part of him remembered all that he and Optimus had been through together, their shared youth, the way they protected each other's back during battle. Another part of him, wounded and angry, remembered how Optimus betrayed him by accepting the Matrix and leadership of the Autobots without so much as a thought to the brother that had fought so loyally by his side. He had to pay!

Here he comes now, into the command center, so sure of himself! He had the Matrix, he had the Autobots obeying every wave of his hand, and what did Magnus have? Nothing! Nothing!

Optimus Prime was scarcely through the doorway when Ultra Magnus jumped him, hands closing around his throat. He was deaf to the cries of the other Autobots, unfeeling of the hands that tried to pry him away. Finally, with a look of disgust, Optimus delivered a mighty kick to his abdomen, sending the attacker flying across the room. The Autobot leader strode over to the prone figure, hands on hips, optics practically spitting sparks. “I'm sick of you, Magnus! I'm sick of your insults, sick of your attacks, sick of your attitude! You want a fight? I'll give you one! Meet me in the training room in ten minutes. No weapons, no battle mode super-transformations. Just you and me, the way we are right now.” He spun on his heel and stomped off towards the training room. Magnus scrambled to his feet and ran out to prepare.

The other Autobots looked at each other, then headed for the training room's observation section. This they had to see!

Optimus Prime was stretching and preparing himself when Ultra Magnus entered the training room. The two locked gazes, motionless. Seconds passed, each waiting for the other to make the first move. Suddenly, with a furious yell, Magnus charged, and the battle was joined. Each rained blows on the other, then the two locked in a bear hug, scrambling for an advantage. Optimus grasped his brother and threw him bodily across the room. Magnus recovered quickly, springing to his feet and engaging his rocket boosters. “Ultra kick!” he yelled, streaking downward. Being very familiar with this move, Optimus turned and tried to jump out of the way, but caught the blow in his side. He staggered and Magnus got a few good licks in before he recovered. Anger and hurt were written on each Autobot's features. They were lost to everything but the release of those emotions.

After nearly forty-five minutes, there was still not a decisive victor. “They're too evenly matched!” Prowl observed in horrified fascination. Ultra Magnus was bulkier and stronger, but Optimus was faster and more agile, and better able to plan his moves ahead of time, while Magnus relied on tried-and-true tactics.

“Aaaarrrr curse you!” Magnus howled as Optimus grabbed him from behind. He struck desperately at Prime's already bruised side, then turned and delivered what could be considered a very low blow. Optimus fell to the floor like a ton of bricks, clutching his goods.

“Oooooh!” the assembled crowd moaned in sympathy. That *had* to hurt!

“Now that was really dirty!” Wedge breathed in awe. Not even the Decepticons or Predacons would stoop to such tactics!

Ultra Magnus took advantage of Prime's pain and began to punch and kick whatever parts he could reach. Optimus winced and cried out at the assault, then suddenly managed to overcome the pain and drove both fists into Magnus' midsection like a battering ram. The enraged Autobot flew across the room to smash into the far wall. He slid to the floor, where he lay on his back, panting as his systems struggled to draw in air to cool his overheated circuitry. “Had… enough, Prime?” he gasped.

“I could… go… all day,” Optimus groaned, still clutching at his nether regions, forehead nearly touching the floor.

“I'm just… getting started!” Magnus declared with as much bravado as he could muster but looking like getting up would be the last thing he wanted to do.

Optimus gazed upon his felled brother sadly, ignoring the stabs of pain that shot up from his groin. “Alpha Trion would be rolling over in his grave if he could see us now.”

Ultra Magnus managed to push himself up to a sitting position. “He'd hate to see us fighting,” he whispered, a sense of shame flooding him.

The two regarded each other solemnly for several long moments. “Tie?” Optimus offered hesitantly.

“Tie,” Magnus agreed wearily. Neither of them had any strength or energy left to fight. The two dragged themselves off the floor and walked out of the training room in opposite directions, carrying themselves as upright as they could. As soon as they rounded a corner and were out of sight of each other, they slumped, barely having the energy to drag themselves back to their private quarters. Each looked battered and bruised, fit for nothing but a few cycles of rest and repair. Worse, all of what they just went through had changed nothing.

The next few days in the Autobot base passed tensely. Every Autobot was on edge, fearful of what would happen next between their leader and his jealous brother. To their surprise, the two scarcely exchanged looks, much less harsh words or blows. The encounter in the training room had enflamed old wounds, which made dealing with each other painful beyond words. Everyone knew that something had to be done but were at a loss at how to go about it. Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus were clearly both miserable with the strained relationship but did not know how to mend things or break them off completely.

It was almost a relief when Tai reported, “Emergency! The Decepticons are attacking a hydroelectric dam in the middle of Metroburgh! Thousands of lives are in danger!”

Optimus Prime leapt to his feet, relieved to have something constructive to do, at last! “Tai, summon the Autobot brothers and Build Team, Battle Protocol. We must act immediately before the Decepticons endanger any more human lives! I'm leaving now; have the others join me en route.” He transformed into his fire truck mode, siren wailing, as he raced for the space bridge corridor. Very shortly, the engines of the Autobot brothers were revving behind him, and even further back he heard the rumble of Magnus' car carrier form. He knew that the Build Team was also on their way through different corridors. The group exited the tunnel as one fluid group, countless hours of simulated and real combat alike having honed their teamwork.

“I've got Mega-Octane!” Wedge hollered. “Right shoulder thrust!” The young Autobot's body hurtled through the air, his shoulder blow catching Mega-Octane solidly in the midsection. Without wasting time, the other Build Team members and Autobot brothers engaged the enemy. The Predacons were actually fighting this time, instead of lurking around and searching for a way to discredit the Decepticons.

“Scourge!” Optimus called in an authoritative voice. “You will not succeed! I will never allow you to steal energy from the inhabitants of Earth. Leave now, or I will force you.”

“Don't make me laugh!” Scourge sneered behind his faceplate. “You are weak, Optimus Prime, and I am here to rid the universe of your existence!” The two clashed in a mighty struggle.

“Stop them!” Wedge's young voice cried out, watching the other Decepticons draw together, but it was too late.

“Ruination, awaken!” the large Deceptcion combiner intoned.

In turn, the young Build Team leader gestured for his team to form up. “Build Team, combine! Form Landfill!” The Build Team gestalt was not very combat-savvy but still managed to get some good licks in. The Autobot brothers left Optimus to his hand-to-hand combat and assisted Landfill in beating off Ruination.

Ultra Magnus wore a look of disgust as he hung back, firing an occasional blast at the 'Cons and Preds. He honestly didn't know why he had come. He liked swooping in to save the day when things were getting really interesting, but this was fast approaching a stalemate. He knew he could make a difference, but why bother? If Optimus was such a hotshot, let him handle the situation.

A sudden pain burst like fire across his back, and he fell with a cry. 'Curse me!' he thought furiously. He had forgotten all about the Predacons, allowed himself to become complacent!

“Magnus!” Optimus' voice echoed across the battlefield, tinged with worry. “Are you hurt?”

The Autobot leader had unwittingly made the exact same mistake as his brother, turning his attention away from the battle at hand, oblivious to the enemy poised to strike. Scourge knew that he would never have a better opportunity. “Sword of fury!” he yelled, swinging his glowing light saber and impaling Optimus with the charged blade. It was Prime's turn to scream, the material passing through him effortlessly to the other side. He felt blinding pain sear him, but it came as if from far away, his systems going into shock. Scourge twisted the blade savagely, then pulled it out, ready for a fatal strike.

All activity on the battlefield stopped as if someone had hit the 'pause' button. All optics were on Optimus and Scourge, the Autobots' wide with horror and disbelief, the Decepticons' and Predacons' agleam with savage delight. There was no way that Optimus could transform to battle mode or form Omega Prime in his damaged condition. His very life lay at the mercy of Scourge's fully charged sword.

“Optimus, NO!” Magnus screamed out, the paralysis finally breaking. He whipped out his weapon and opened fire on Scourge, hitting the dark Prime doppelganger with round after round of ammunition. Spent shell casings clattered to the ground, forming small piles at his feet. His gun barrel turned white with the blazing heat of the expended rounds.

The glee in the enemy's optics quickly faded to disbelief. Scourge was being punctured like Swiss cheese! “Get away from him!” Magnus yelled almost incoherently, charging the Decepticon. Scourge staggered back, then collapsed. He was afraid to transform to tanker mode and flee, not only because of his wounds, but because his tanker would be very flammable if pierced with a round.

“Retreat! Decepticons, retreat!” Scourge ordered, trying to climb to his feet without success. Mega-Octane grabbed him, transforming and tossing the broken 'Con into his vehicle. Once Scourge was secured, the other Decepticons and Predacons wasted no time in fleeing the battlefield. They had seen what Ultra Magnus could do in the past, and nobody wanted to find out what an enraged Magnus would do now.

“Primus!” Sideburn whispered in awed horror at the sight of Optimus Prime lying on the ground, nearly sliced in half. Fluids ran out of the open wound to stain the earth below.

“Quickly, we must get him back to base, before he leaks to death!” Prowl ordered, hurrying over to his stricken leader. He tried to lift Prime's large bulk but barely managed to budge the larger robot, causing Optimus to moan in pain. Wordlessly, Ultra Magnus brushed the other Autobots aside and scooped up his injured brother, cradling him as gently as he could. The others followed him, staring at his back as he bore Optimus into the space bridge portal, heading for Medbay.

The Build Team and Sideburn, also talented in repairs, lost no time in setting up a fluid drip and preparing bandage plates. Magnus set Optimus down on the repair berth and stepped back, heedless of his brother's lifeblood that stained his chest and hands. Optimus stirred weakly and activated his optics, which glowed unhealthily. “Don't try to move or speak, Prime,” Sideburn urged. “You've been badly hurt, but we'll have you patched up in no time.”

“M-Magnus, where is he?” Optimus called. “I must speak with Magnus!”

“I'm here, Optimus,” the renegade Autobot said softly, approaching the berth and, after a second's hesitation, taking his brother's trembling hand. “Just relax, you'll be fine.”

“Magnus, hear me.” The Autobot leader struggled against the darkness that threatened to envelop his consciousness. “I know that we have had our differences in the past, but you are still my brother, and I love you as such. Listen carefully, I may not have much time left.” Magnus opened his mouth to protest, but shut it with a snap, not wanting to interrupt. “If I… do not survive… it is your duty to take the Matrix and lead our people to victory.”

Several of the Autobots gasped in shock. Ultra Magnus had punched, kicked and shot Optimus in order to gain the Matrix, and here he was, just handing it over? Could it be that he was going to die after all?

“Optimus… I can't! No!” Magnus surprised himself with his own words. Here it was, the thing that he had been craving for so long, the obsession that had burned at him and threatened to drive him mad, and yet it was all wrong! “You'll live, you have to!”

Optimus turned his head with a large effort, giving Ultra Magnus a smile with his optics. “Yes, you can, and you will. I'll know you'll make me proud, Magnus.” His head sank back, optics going dark as he slipped into a coma.

“No! NOOOO!” Ultra Magnus screamed, heedless to the others gaping at him. All he could think of was to get away! He raced for the space bridge and transformed, his car carrier mode racing through the tunnel, caring nothing for where he would end up.

He raced the entire night away, accompanied by nothing but the crunch of his tires on the pavement and the revving of his straining engine, and yet it could not drown out the fevered thoughts that crowded his head. He had wanted to get revenge on Optimus for the longest time, was prepared to even kill him to get what was rightfully his, and now Optimus handed it over to him and named him as successor! Everything he ever wanted was in his grasp, and suddenly it had all turned sour. It wasn't what he wanted it all! Not this way.

Suddenly things were so clear to him. The reason that Vector Sigma had rejected him as Autobot leader. Optimus had been the right choice after all. He was a better strategist, he inspired awe and devotion among his troops, and he was compassionate to friend and foe alike. Magnus had thought it would be a simple thing to discredit his brother and seize leadership for himself, but he had not counted on the fierce loyalty with which the others had defended Optimus. Optimus had changed since their shared days on the battlefield and their earlier rambunctious childhood, but it wasn't out of pride or ego. He had changed for the good of those under his command, in order to set a good example. By dredging up the past, he had hoped to embarrass Prime and show him his hypocrisy, but the Autobots had loved their leader even more, seeing how far he had come.

Magnus had always scorned his brother for being so softhearted toward the enemy, but it suddenly hit him like a lightning bolt – he had allowed himself to become just like them! Ruthless, murderous, unfeeling, bent only on conquest of the Matrix. At what expense? Had he really been willing to kill his own fuel and steel to get it? Nothing was worth that price! Vignettes flashed through his mind, images frozen in time: Optimus holding him as he wept over a skinned knee, Optimus protecting him from bullies before he learned to fight for himself, Optimus sneaking him enersweets when Alpha Trion denied him dessert for punishment, Optimus talking bashfully about his first crush, Optimus patching him up time after time when battle lust had seized him and made him feel invulnerable. The sense of betrayal was still there, but it was quickly becoming eclipsed by a wave of guilt and remorse. If Magnus himself had been chosen as leader, Optimus would have congratulated him and wished him luck, no matter how jealous he would have been.

They had been so close. The Shadows, they were called, for when one turned up, the other was tagging behind just like a shadow. And Magnus had allowed his petty jealousies to break up the most wonderful relationship that he had ever known. His entire being burned with shame. He didn't deserve the Matrix. He didn't deserve Optimus. He didn't even deserve whatever small gestures of friendship the other Earthbound Autobots had shown him.

As the first rays of dawn began to break through the night sky, he stopped and transformed on a high hill, admiring the spectacular view. He had not expected to like Earth. A lot of unexpected things had happened since his arrival on the blue and green planet. He thought of something Prowl had shown him: a caterpillar inside a cocoon, transforming itself into a butterfly. At the time he thought it was stupid, but now he rather liked the concept. If something as lowly as a caterpillar could turn into a beautiful butterfly, could he not shed his skin of hatred and jealousy and become the same idealistic warrior he had once been?

Summoning all his courage, he activated his communicator. “Tai, what is Optimus Prime's condition?” he asked, his voice rough, trying to pretend that the answer didn't really matter.

Tai couldn't keep a note of surprise out of her voice. “He is resting comfortably in his quarters, Ultra Magnus. It was touch-and-go for awhile, but it looks like he's going to be okay.”

“Thanks… uh, don't tell him I asked.” Magnus felt self-conscious.

“I won't.”

Ultra Magnus felt even more embarrassed by his current situation. “Umm… I don't recognize the town I've ended up in. Could you please direct me to the nearest space bridge portal?”

Now Tai was definitely hard-pressed to keep her voice neutral. “There should be one two miles to the east. I've downloaded the coordinates to your cyber-map.”

“Erm, thanks, Tai. I'll be returning shortly. Magnus out.”

A short while later, he stood outside of his brother's quarters, trying to summon up enough courage to press the door chime. His forehead rested against the door, his hand poised over the button. He jabbed at it, then stepped back, squelching the urge to just run away.

There was a second's worth of silence. “Yes?” Optimus inquired curiously. He didn't get visitors very often. The other Autobots respected his desire for some alone time when he was off-duty.

“It's me.” Magnus could not bring himself to say anything more, for his vocal module had locked up.

Another few seconds of excruciating silence. Finally Optimus said, “Come” and released the door lock. It slid open obligingly to allow Ultra Magnus' bulky frame to pass. He stood nervously in the doorway until Prime nodded at an easy chair. He himself was stretched out on a couch of sorts, looking through some data pads as he allowed his body to effect its self-repair cycle.

Magnus eased himself into the chair, feeling more awkward than ever. He felt Prime's questioning optics on him, but his brother did not say a word, giving him time to gather his thoughts. “I came to talk,” he said finally, staring at his feet. Despite his best resolve to put his bitterness behind him, the sight of Optimus brought back painful memories that bit into his psyche. This was going to be even harder than he thought.

“I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it looks like I'm going to live after all.” Optimus meant it as a joke, but it fell flat.

“I'm not here for the Matrix, Optimus. I could have taken it from you last night if I had wanted to, but there is no need. We share its energies somehow. I do not need to possess it to make use of it.” It was coming out all wrong! Why couldn't he just say what he meant?

Optimus nodded. “Sideburn told me that you ran off after I named you as successor. I would have thought you'd be pleased. It's what you came to Earth for, isn't it?”

Magnus heaved a sigh. “I don't know about anything anymore. But I am glad you're all right. You had me worried for awhile.”

Prime looked at him closely. “Magnus, I want you to read something. I never had the chance to fully explain what transpired between myself and Vector Sigma. You ran away so quickly that I never had a chance to speak to you.” He stood and made his way slowly and painfully to the other room. Ultra Magnus followed, worried that Optimus might fall and hurt himself. To his surprise, Optimus knelt by the head of his recharge berth and pulled open a secret panel, withdrawing a top-security data pad. He entered in a code, scrolled down briefly, and then handed it over.

Magnus took it wordlessly, a question written all over his face. He glanced briefly at the pad, then froze. The date at the top of the entry was one that was seared into his memory. It was the Day of Selection, the date that the Autobot leader had been chosen. The day his entire world turned upside down. He began to read, realizing with even greater shock that this was Optimus' private journal.

I don't know what to do. Today I've had the biggest shock of my life. The Allspark, Vector Sigma, was to select the next Autobot leader, and I was positive that Ultra Magnus would be chosen. I have always been proud of him and was eager to be by his side to congratulate him. Instead, Vector Sigma selected me. Me!! What do I know about leadership? I can hold my own in battle, but can I really take charge of an entire army?

I tried to tell Vector Sigma of its mistake. Ultra Magnus is stronger, more ruthless, and more charismatic than I am. He has the makings of a wonderful leader. But it would not heed me. It merely told me that I had what it had been seeking, and I would adjust in time. I feel so unworthy! Who am I to carry the sacred Matrix?

Soon afterward I discovered something terrible. Ultra Magnus has left the planet, perhaps forever. What have I done? I've driven away the one that I love the most! I never wanted to hurt him. How can I go on without him? I need him now more than ever! I feel so alone and scared. I can't possibly do this! Primus, give me strength, or we are all doomed!

Ultra Magnus scrolled down through the next few entries, mouth agape. This wasn't at all how he thought Optimus had been feeling on that day! He thought Optimus would be flattered to receive such an honor and would be immensely pleased to have wrested such a prize away from his sibling. He had viewed it as an unforgivable betrayal, but Optimus had been thinking of him the entire time, wanting to set right what he viewed as a mistake.

Magnus glanced over several of the entries, wondering vaguely if this was some sort of trick to get him to lower his guard, but it was quite obvious that this journal was genuine. He recognized the events that Prime related in his entries, and some of the thoughts were very private. He was surprised beyond words that Optimus had chosen to share this with him – he had always guarded his journal very jealously, and had nearly taken off Magnus' head when he had come across it by accident one day. Now that Optimus was the Autobot commander, his innermost thoughts would have grown even more personal. Sharing his journal had to have taken a lot of courage.

Optimus looked alternately at his hands and at the floor, snatching fleeting glances at Magnus. Finally Magnus looked up and handed back the data pad. Optimus felt immeasurable relief just to have it back in his hands. Letting his brother read his most intimate thoughts was very nerve-wracking, but it was the best way to show his sincerity.

“I had no idea,” Magnus finally said softly. “I thought you had abandoned me the moment the Matrix was in your structure. It seems that I've always been jealous of you in one way or another. This was just too much for me to take.”

It was Optimus' turn to gape. “You, jealous of me?! But I've always been jealous of you! You were the one to try everything first! You were good at the subjects that I really struggled in. You always made Alpha Trion proud, while I only brought him shame. And then there was Aurora….” He broke off suddenly, a look of dread crossing his visible features.

“What about Aurora?” Magnus wondered. Aurora had been his bonded mate during the civil war.

Optimus looked down. “I shouldn't have said anything.”

“No, really,” Ultra Magnus insisted. “You can't leave it like that!”

The red Autobot fidgeted uncomfortably. “I'm afraid this will only make things worse between us. You see, I… had feelings for Aurora. From the moment you introduced me to her, I desired her. It drove me crazy that you were with her, doing things with her that I could only dream about. But I could never let on about how I felt. I would be betraying you, and our closeness meant much more to me that she did. I think she suspected, and Alpha Trion knew for sure, but encouraged me to keep my feelings to myself, and assured me that everything would work itself out. And it did. I met Elita, and my feelings for her were ten times stronger than anything I had felt for Aurora. I could finally be truly happy for you two, and I could once again look you in the optics with a clear conscience.”

A soft smile crossed Magnus' faceplate at the mention of their bonded mates. “They were amazing femmes, and terrific warriors. Nobody could believe that they had actually tamed us. I really miss them, you know. It hurts to think I'll never see them again.”

Optimus nodded mutely. Both femmes had died on the same day in the same horrific battle. Their grief had been nearly crushing, but they had gotten through it – together.

“I don't understand!” exclaimed Magnus. “Aurora and I broke up before you ever met Elita… you had the perfect opportunity. Why didn't you take it?”

Optimus could not face his brother out of shame for his traitorous feelings. “I knew you still loved her, and she loved you. I wanted nothing more than to be with her, but I knew it was wrong. Women may come and go, but brothers are forever. I couldn't hurt you by starting a relationship with the woman you loved. Besides, you got back together, as I knew you always would.”

Magnus' processor struggled to take in all the new incredible information. Optimus had had feelings for his mate! That thought made his fuel burn in anger, but his rational mind tempered it. Optimus had denied himself the affection he so badly craved out of loyalty for his beloved brother. It had to have been excruciating to see Magnus with the femme he desired. In that case, Elita had truly been a godsend. He felt guiltier than ever – Optimus had been a true brother to him, denying his feelings out of respect for his sibling, holding himself above whatever envy he may have felt, but Magnus himself had allowed jealousy to consume him, twist him until he became no better than the Decepticons and Predacons they had struggled against for so long.

Prime looked at Magnus, allowing himself to become slightly more optimistic when Ultra Magnus did not explode in a fiery tantrum over his revelation. “I was lost without you when you left,” he murmured. “I prayed every day that you would return, but eventually I lost all hope. Did you know that I was going to make you my second-in-command? I know it wouldn't have been the same, but you would have had as much authority and power as possible. I wanted you by my side, and I still do. We could accomplish so much together.”

“You – you still want me as your second officer? After all I've put you through?” Magnus was incredulous. “I doubt the others will have me, after the way I treated you. They're very loyal to you, you know.”

“I know,” he said softly, “but this job gets very difficult sometimes. I need you here, Magnus. I have some very loyal and dedicated warriors, but I have not allowed myself to form any friendships with them. My position has put a real barrier between me and those that I command.” He rubbed his hands on his thighs nervously. “Being the Autobot leader is very lonely. I have no one to confide in, no one to turn to when things get ugly. I have to be the strong one and never show doubt or fear, even if I am shaking on the inside.” His voice took on a plaintive tone. “I've missed you so much, Magnus! I've been feeling so alone. Everyone that I love and care about is dead. You're the only friend I have left.” He turned his head away abruptly, but not before Magnus saw tears glistening in the corner of his optics.

The blue and white Autobot hesitated, unsure what to do. It was true that Optimus was often too soft-hearted to his enemies, but now that he was the Autobot commander, he seemed loath to display any kind of extreme emotion. The tears could be nothing but a show to jerk at his heartstrings, but Magnus knew him better than that. More than anything, Optimus hated to cry. It made him feel weak and defenseless. Even as a newling, he had bit back his tears.

Hesitantly, Magnus reached out and put a hand on Prime's tense shoulder. Optimus turned to him slowly, and before he realized what was happening, Magnus had gently folded him in his arms. Optimus breathed a shaky sob, finding the embrace more comforting than anything he had felt in a long, long time. His rioting emotions began to calm somewhat, and he drew comfort from the strong arms that held him. Sometimes he thought he would give anything for a hug, but how could he possibly ask such a thing from his underlings? He was supposed to be their strength, their rock, and he could never, ever show weakness in front of them.

Optimus drew away after several minutes, looking rather sheepish. Magnus smiled gently – it was good to know that his brother was just like everybody else, with the same weaknesses and emotions. The Matrix hadn't made him some sort of god or superhero. It just made him special, and he had always been special.

A sudden wicked grin crossed Magnus' features. “Say, why don't we grab a few drinks for old time's sake?”

Prime's optics glowed warmly. “Primus, I haven't had a drink in ages! I'm sure we've got some high-grade Energon in stock somewhere. Let's go hunt some down, brother.”

Magnus chuckled. “Glad to see you haven't totally gone goody-goody on me.”

Several hours later, the sound of raucous laughter and raunchy song filled the halls of the Autobot base. Two large figures staggered around the corridors, holding onto each other for dear life. Faces appeared in the doorways of the private quarters, wondering what the racket was all about. “Cool it, whoever you are!” Sideburn hissed. “Keep it down before Optimus hears….” His words trailed off as he stared, slack-jawed, at a very drunk Optimus Prime leaning on Ultra Magnus for support and roaring laughter until his optics streamed with tears.

Ultra Magnus sang a line of an infamous bawdy drinking song, and Optimus chimed in with an even lewder line. Sideburn gaped, immediately filing the song away for permanent memory. This was something he didn't want to forget!

Prime grew disoriented and walked smack into a wall. “Ouch!” he yelled loudly, falling flat on his aft. His exclamation of pain was a surprise, since he could take a lot of punishment and scarcely cried out when he was wounded in battle. “Damn Build Team shouldn't build walls where they don't belong!” There was a horrified shriek back down the hall as Wedge darted into his quarters as if the fires of the Inferno were licking at him. There was no way he was taking responsibility for this one!

Ultra Magnus, laughing so hard that he could barely stand, hauled Optimus to his feet and the two continued unsteadily down the hall to Prime's quarters. “You can't hold your drinks for slag!” he chortled gleefully.

“Bite me, Mags!” Optimus cried gleefully. “I haven't had a drink since forever, what did you expect?”

“Bite me, Op!” Magnus retorted with equal glee. It was so great to be together again!

The two sang the vulgar song at the top of their vocal units. Suddenly Optimus faltered. “Um… ummm… what comes next, Mags?”

Magnus scratched his head and made a great show of thinking. “Dunno, Op. Can't remember the next line. Isn't it your job as the Autobot leader to know such things?”

“An Autobot leader delegates authority. Prowl should know!” The police-car Autobot tried to duck back into his quarters, but it was too late, he had been spotted. “Hey, Prowl, what's the next line of the song? Huh huh?”

Prowl opened the door very reluctantly. “What makes you think I know this disgusting song of yours?”

Magnus' grin practically wrapped around his head. “You know it! Just sing the line, or else we'll stay out here all night!”

Prowl stared fixedly at the ceiling as if expecting divine assistance. Breathing a silent sigh and a muttered curse, he sang the next line of the song through clenched mouth components. The two soused Autobot warriors crowed with triumph and continued their song. Prowl was relieved beyond words when they moved out of sight, though snatches of laughter and song drifted back to him.

He cringed when he felt Sideburn's wide optics on him. “You never taught me that song!” he cried, sounding petulant.

“I didn't want to encourage you. You misbehave enough as it is,” he muttered.

“Hah!” Sideburn exclaimed. “You're not as proper as you'd like us all to think! Where did you learn that song, huh? Was it at the Academy? Did you go out drinking a lot? Will you teach it to me?”

“Never!” Prowl cried in horror. “I don't even want to think about that song!”

“I'll never stop bothering you till you tell me!” the young blue Autobot insisted. Prowl groaned, seeing X-Brown, the eldest of all three, giving him a curious stare, accompanied with a knowing chuckle. The laid-back Autobot had just known that his middle sibling had a wild streak in him somewhere!

Prowl looked skyward once more. “Brothers are nothing but trouble!”

The End

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