Please read the whole thing before you pass judgment, that's all I ask.
Mikaela Banes angrily flung her corsage down in the empty street. Then she unbuckled the straps of her uncomfortable high heels, transferred the shoes to her left hand and reached up to tug the bobby pins holding her hair up in a bun. Finally, after shoving the pins into her purse with a disgusted growl, she resumed walking.
Prom night was supposed to be a joyful event. She spent more money than she'd like on her dark red halter gown with a slit up to her thigh and matching ruby earrings. Sam's mother kindly offered to pay for her hair and makeup. She was all dolled up for the perfect night.
But no...instead of a special, peaceful evening...she got Sam and Trent having a fist fight in the parking lot. The cops took them both away in cuffs even though Sam didn't start it.
She never got inside the high school gym.
Mikaela let another sigh pass her painted red lips. Tears threatened her perfect makeup. She tilted her head back and looked up hard until the lump in her throat dwindled enough to let her swallow.
Headlights lit up the otherwise noiseless road. Mikaela instinctively moved over to the shoulder.
The rumbling diesel engine was unmistakable. She knew that Peterbilt was no ordinary truck. Turning her head, she glanced at the painted red and blue flames sprouting from a silver grill.
The truck rolled to a stop and swung its passenger door open. No driver, but the cab was too dark to see from the ground. It wasn't until she climbed in and the door closed that a familiar, deep voice spoke to her from the radio speakers:
"You shouldn't be walking around alone. Crime rates suggest young females such as yourself are targets for--"
"I know, Optimus," Mikaela sighed darkly, upset at herself for being angry over her plight. This was always the luck she had with boys. Then she felt guilty for snapping at him. "...Sorry. It's been a piece of crap night."
"I heard. Bumblebee radioed me when he could not locate you. He can't risk driving around with Sam's parents in his vicinity, so I came."
"Thanks. It's just--argh--I'm sorry--I had to get out of there." Mikaela leaned back in the leather seat and gazed forlornly at her red manicure. Damn Trent and his flock of followers! "Sometimes, I swear guys only want to go out with me because they think I'm pretty. Like I'm some trophy to show off. All I wanted was to dance with a nice guy--is it too much to ask? Just one minute of peace after..." She couldn't bring herself to say Mission City. It still gave her nightmares.
Optimus, bless him, stayed focused entirely on the road. For several minutes he didn't utter a sound beyond his engines. At first she thought he'd drive her back to school, but he turned left at the cross-street, taking them in the opposite direction.
"Hey, where are we going?"
"Somewhere quiet," came the cool reply.
He rolled to a relatively deserted part of the city and pulled into an abandoned field. Mikaela remembered this grassy space. Optimus landed in it. The scar of his descent still marred the grass and trees.
"I'd like to make up for your ruined evening, Mikaela." Optimus swung his passenger door open for her.
"Huh?" How the heck would a giant robot fix my prom night? "Why?"
"Uhh...I wish to perform an experiment with my hologram, but my main priority is solving your problem."
Mikaela smiled at his kind offer. How could she refuse? Optimus wasn't asking because he'd gain prestige amongst his buddies--and that made all the difference. She climbed out, leaving her purse and shoes on the seat. The cool grass was soft against her bare soles. She rubbed a hand down her backside to make sure no part of her dress had caught on the side of the truck.
"Forgive me if this doesn't work--I haven't tested it."
And then, with a soft zapping noise, Optimus' image wavered into reality on her left! He still looked as regal as ever--but he stood exactly six and a half feet tall.
Optimus glanced at his hands and his face plates shifted subtly into his version of a smile. "Well, what do you know...it works."
She gasped. "Optimus?"
He fixed her in his shining blue optics. "Human holograms feel so false to me. Useful as a disguise while driving in daylight...but when I'm alone, I'd much rather experience your world as myself."
It was strange to see a human-sized Optimus Prime. In many ways he reminded her of a glistening metal sculpture, his body so intricate and his face so perfectly formed with humanoid, yet simultaneously alien features. The spaces between his facial plating weren't as pronounced at this size. She stared at him. He was beautiful!
Something about his eyes was sad...mired in the guilt of losing Jazz, seeing his own brother--his very evil brother, she noted silently--die, and the knowledge that all hope to restore his world seemed lost. She wondered if he ever spent his recharge hours going over it again and again in his mind, seeing what he could have done different. Could Transformers cry?
Mikaela realized she was staring. She looked down, pretending to examine her fingernails.
Optimus extended his metallic hand, his optics softly glowing in the moonlight, "May I have this dance, Mikaela?"
Mikaela blinked at him.
/ Wait, how does he...oh, of course--the internet. He probably downloaded dance steps. Please, please, please don't try and do something complicated like the tango/...
"Um..." For once she was the nervous one whose mouth ran dry. First, she worried about him stepping on her feet and breaking her toes. Then she worried about someone seeing them. Then she worried she'd enjoy it...
His radio whirred to life and strains of Mikaela's "guilty pleasure" music rippled into the air. Berlin, /Take My Breath Away/.
"I noticed a few songs from the nineteen-eighties on your I-pod."
That made her chuckle. He caught her, but he'd never make her admit to liking eighties songs in front of anybody else. She breathed a silent thank you because he hadn't put on something crazy--like tango music. /Phew/. "Okay, I'll dive in."
She took his outstretched hand. It was as solid as the truck behind him and cool to the touch. Not cold, just slightly cooler than her skin. He drew her close, interlocked their fingers and wrapped his free arm around her waist. She placed a hand on his chest plate. Her head fit perfectly under his chin. Surprisingly, his metal body felt warm like a car left all day in the sun.
Optimus swayed her gently to the music. She could hear the hisses and clicks of his joints as he moved more fluidly than a human with bones and ligaments. His rhythm was perfect. She didn't need to worry about him stepping on her feet.
"Wow," Mikaela whispered.
He spoke, his low, powerful voice vibrating through his armor and making her cheekbone tingle. "Wow?"
"You're so warm. I...thought you'd be--ah--cold."
"I raised my surface temperature to one hundred-point-five degrees Fahrenheit for your comfort." One of his optics tilted up, mimicking an arched brow. "Am I too hot for you?"
His question was innocent, but she snickered at the unintentional double meaning. "You're fine--and...you're pretty good at this. How'd you learn?"
That smile again. "Youtube."
Notes and chords continued to float in the still night air. Optimus led her in slow, swaying circles.
"This is rather relaxing," he mused.
"Yeah." Mikaela let her cheek rest against Optimus' chest. "Here...let me show you how they do it at a prom." She pulled her hand out of his grasp, wrapped his arm around her waist and cautiously placed her hands on the back of his neck joints. "Now, don't move your shoulders so much...just your hips and feet."
Optimus adjusted himself accordingly. His large, metal hands cupped the base of her spine. "Like this?"
"Yeah," Her heart pounded behind her ribs. Why this reaction? "You're a natural."
His chrome body shimmered under the moon.
"I believe, going by the etiquette of your world, my next statement should involve mentioning that you look..." He inclined his head to look her in the eyes, quirking his mouth plates into a small smile, "lovely?"
...Watching, I keep waiting,
Still anticipating love.
To become the fated ones.
Turning and returning
To some secret place inside.
Watching in slow motion
As you turn my way and say,
"Take my breath away..."
Blushing, Mikaela tilted her head to the side. She'd been called many things: hot, sexy, gorgeous...but lovely was a new one. At least he acknowledged her appearance--Sam forgot. She didn't blame Sam, he always got nervous around her. Most guys did.
"Thanks, Optimus. I kinda wish I'd asked you to the prom," she mused.
"Somehow, I think your peers would have a problem with that. And there is also the issue of finding a tuxedo in my size." Optimus chuckled and...winked at her. It looked a little dorky, but his gentle laugh made the gesture charming in its innocence.
She barely concealed an unladylike snort. "How about I spray paint you black and white and wrap a tie around your neck?"
"Ratchet would love that." He laughed again and twirled her. Then he pulled her close and bent forward in a graceful dip that brought their faces mere inches apart. "Is my dancing sufficient?"
"Better than 'sufficient.'" Mikaela replied when they straightened. Again, she felt her cheeks growing warm. She leaned on Optimus and wrapped her arms around his neck. Somehow, his armor wasn't as big an obstacle as she first thought. "Everybody else I dance with shakes like a leaf." She averted her eyes for a moment, sighing, "It's nice to finally have a dance partner that knows what he's doing."
She swore she saw faint purple creep into the edges of his blue optics. The mechanical equivalent of a blush?
One of his thumbs stroked her lower back. No, not stroking her, just feeling her dress, but it felt too wonderful to make him stop. Besides--she became suddenly aware of her own thumbs repeatedly tracing a vent on the back of his head.
The silence mixed with the music became suddenly suffocating. Mikaela refused to think about Mission City, so she filled the emptiness with her voice, "Are there women where you come from?"
"Ah," his voice rumbled almost directly into her ear. It came from his mouth, but carried no breath. "Technically there are no males or females, and the Cybertronian language doesn't have gender-specific pronouns. It is only coincidence that I have the traits you consider 'male'. There are others who carry the traits you consider 'female.' Gender is...I find it highly strange and foreign."
A cold answer. His tone wasn't cold--the ideas behind it were.
"No women..." The icy space inside her grew. They were machines, not men and women. Tears sent hot pokers prickling in the corners of her eyes.
Optimus switched to another song. Total Eclipse of the Heart by Bonnie Tyler, and adjusted his footwork to match the new tempo. He seemed to know every eighties piece Mikaela kept on her I-pod.
He also guessed exactly what she was thinking.
"On Cybertron, relationships are not based on gender, appearance or reproductive capabilities. Intellect is what I find attractive." He leveled his eyes with hers, "My people love deeply. We have ways of intimacy you could equate to intercourse, and we mourn for lost lovers. So, fundamentally, we are not so different, are we, Mikaela?"
"I guess not." She slowly became aware of heat coming from somewhere between his chest plates. "Do you...have anyone?"
He lifted his gaze to the sky--
...once upon a time there was light in my life,
but now there's only love in the dark.
Nothing I can say--
A total eclipse of the heart...
--before dipping his head in a quiet nod. "Megatron."
Mikaela barely suppressed a shudder. She expected him to say yes or no, not name that horrible thing from her nightmares!
"He was--different--before he discovered the All Spark. The corruption turned him into what he was." Optimus looked to the side and lasers issued from his optics. The light beams coalesced into a mech whose silver body reminded Mikaela of a medieval knight. The image turned its head and shockingly familiar red eyes tilted in a warm smile. Then it faded as Optimus shut off the hologram.
Mikaela could hardly believe that was Megatron--he looked gorgeous!
"But you called him 'brother...'"
"That is a rather loose term, actually. Two mechs who gain consciousness in the same moment sometimes call each other 'brother'. Ten billion years ago, Megatron and I...we came into being facing each other. My oldest memory is his face. I loved him before I cycled my first intake, Mikaela," he trembled, "and I will love him after my last exhalation."
His words made her ache inside. Her mind produced a clear picture of a battered, dented Optimus gently, ever-so-gently, gathering Megatron to his chest and loading him onto the aircraft carrier. She remembered how he remained on the dock long after the aircraft carrier had vanished from view.
That day, he lost his world in more ways than one.
It hit Mikaela all at once and her mind struggled to comprehend the depth of his words. She almost couldn't fathom loving someone that long.
Optimus and Megatron were together longer than her oldest ancestors' lifetimes. They loved before the nebula responsible for the Sun, Moon and Earth existed. Their relationship almost spanned time itself.
"I'm sorry." She swallowed hard, her innards quivering. "Sam, he--"
"No," Optimus cut her off. "Sam did what I could not."
Then he cycled a deep sigh and his blue optics dimmed a half degree. It was easy to see how much he grieved for his lifelong companion. And he endured it in silence because he was the foundation of the Autobots. If he cracked, they would fall. The pressure had to be maddening.
Inklings in the back of Mikaela's mind told her this conversation was getting far too personal, but she couldn't pull herself out.
"Do you cry?"
Soft music. Swaying. The faint whoosh of a zephyr stirring tree leaves.
"My people can cry, yes," Optimus whispered.
"No, I mean...do you cry?"
He lifted his head and blinked. "Crying won't bring him back."
"Maybe not, but sometimes a good cry makes it easier to stand your own skin...armor...whatever."
Optimus' sad blue eyes focused on her face. For a moment the pupils in his glowing irises appeared to quiver.
Again, she found herself realizing what a burden he shouldered. What she saw in Mission City...she experienced only a single day of what he endured for millions of years. That annoying hot potato sensation returned to her throat. Memories flooded her mind. All the chaos, Bumblebee trying to crawl on shredded legs, Jazz torn in half, people dying, being shot at and how she found the wherewithal to drive back into all that so Bumblebee could help his teammates.
She often had nightmares where Bumblebee didn't survive. Nightmares about Sam's bleeding remains dangling from Megatron's claws. Nightmares of the All Spark turning her household appliances into killer robots that shot everyone she loved.
Her vision blurred. It was too late to stop the tears as they overflowed in hot trails.
"Shit," she muttered, which prompted Optimus to stop dancing with her. He frowned--or did something that looked remarkably like a frown.
"Your eyes, they're leaking! Mikaela, do you need medical assistance?"
"No," she averted her eyes from his comically concerned expression. "This is how humans cry."
For a moment the only sounds were music and the little clicks of his eyes blinking.
Mikaela glanced at one of the mirrors on his chest, and to her relief she didn't have long black streaks on her cheeks.
/ At least my mascara's holding up/, she thought ruefully. It gave little comfort.
Optimus guided her face back towards him with two gentle fingers.
"And why..." He spoke even softer, "...are you crying?"
Good Lord, why did his voice have to be so alluring?
Mikaela sniffed, clinging tighter to the back of his neck. Her lips trembled. "Everything. /Everything/! I almost died--I-I have nightmares about it and I can't even tell my mother why I wake up screaming in the middle of the night. I can't let Sam see me crack...dammit, Optimus, I just want to be held by somebody who understands. I just want someone to say it's over and it'll be okay so I can get on with my life!" She let go of his neck and clenched her fists on his chest plates.
Shimmering optics regarded her with utmost empathy as music from the radio rushed to fill in the silence.
...and I need you now tonight.
and I need you more than ever!
and if you only hold me tight--
we'll be holding on forever...
Mikaela felt strong, protective metal arms slowly wrap around her shoulders and gather her close. "It's over, Mikaela..." Fingers stroked her hair, "Everything will be okay."
Something broke inside her. Heat swelled from her throat to her eyes. Dropping her cheek against the windshield on his chest, she clenched her fists and wept. Makeup be-damned, she cried for everything. Her father, the events in Mission City, everything Optimus lost, everything she lost, her ruined night that wasn't so ruined anymore and everything in between she couldn't think of right then.
"It's...going--to...be--okay..." Optimus' face pulled in a mechanical grimace. Dewy condensation formed on his optics too fast for him to blink it away. The droplets dripped straight off his optic lids and made two plop-plop sounds on his armor. A display of vulnerability as rare and brief as the sun between storm clouds.
Mikaela cupped his face and wiped her thumb across his cheek, only to find no tear streak. He blinked and two more drops fell like rain on her forearm.
For that moment, Optimus Prime wasn't a leader. He was a lonely being trembling under the burden of his grief.
Warning alarms blared in Mikaela's mind. This was getting too intimate--yet she couldn't stop and leave him like this.
"I'm sorry for--"
"Shh," Mikaela ignored her own tears and held his face in both hands now, looking him square in the eyes. "I'm glad I'm not crying alone."
Smooth steel fingertips brushed away her tears. For every tear he wiped off her cheek, another fell from his eyes. They were pure water, not salty--probably wiper fluid.
Optimus cycled a long, noisy sigh. "I miss him. Even when--when we were apart I--could feel him...now there is nothing. It...it /hurts/, Mikaela. It...just..." His cheeks clenched, ".../hurts/!"
He clapped a hand over his eyes and made a whining sound similar to Bumblebee during his capture. A mechanical sob?
Mikaela figured so when it happened again.
"C'mere," she sniffed, wrapping her arms around his neck and holding the back of his head like he did for her.
His entire frame quaked in her embrace. "I--"
"It's okay." She gave him a light squeeze, "Let it out, Optimus. Let it all out. I won't tell anyone."
...turn around--bright eyes,
Turn around--bright eyes--
"Bright Eyes..." Optimus lifted his head at the last lines of the song. "I--used to call him--Bright Eyes..."
"Optimus," Mikaela cupped his cheek plates. Her heart ached at his stricken expression. "It's okay to cry. It's okay."
"Mikaela..." Optimus whispered. His hands rose and fell in a helpless gesture, like he didn't know what to do until she guided his arms back around her waist. He balled his fists so hard the joints creaked in protest. There was a hiccup as his intakes hitched. The agony he bore so bravely became almost tangible, and he fought it bravely until the last possible moment. He turned his head, burying his face in her hair. His vocal mechanisms groaned, screeched and shuddered like an engine that wouldn't quite turn over.
Optimus' walls had crumbled.
Mikaela felt his warm teardrops drip onto her neck and shoulder. She could feel each tremble of his metal body. Every sob made his shoulders heave. For a heartbeat he looked like he'd shatter without her arms there to hold him together.
Despite his tears, Optimus' voice remained level when he spoke, "I--haven't done this--in eight million--years...this is so--unseemly..."
"No. It's been way too /long/." Mikaela let her cheek rest against his silver ear finial. "Everybody cracks. My dad used to say that's why God invented shoulders."
Optimus spoke softly, his velvety voice right in her ear, "Thank you."
Mikaela started to sway again, picking up where their dance left off. He followed her lead and they revolved slowly inside their shared pain. She rubbed the back of Optimus' neck, soothing him through his grief. His movements were heavy at first, but as he released his tears they slowly grew lighter, regaining their previous fluid grace.
Optimus gradually quieted down. He drew back enough that Mikaela saw all his pain naked before her.
She studied his flickering eyes, lost in the world behind his mantle of leadership. He did not discourage her thumbs from feeling the angles and grooves that broke his face into a living mosaic. If anything, the plates grew warmer. She touched his mouth and his head dipped suddenly forward, so close that a mere inch of air separated their noses. The moment had her entranced. It existed somewhere above the universe and she didn't want to leave its presence.
"According to Youtube, I believe your customs after such an emotional moment require us to kiss. Unfortunately, I'm not quite sure how to approach such a gesture."
If he said that any other time, Mikaela would have laughed at him for mistaking romantic movie clips as examples of human behavior. But now, here, in this time bubble under the stars, it seemed impossible to refuse his innocent inquiry. She smiled a little, leaned up and gave him a quick peck on his mouth plates.
/ You've lost your mind! You kissed a walking, talking truck. You have LOST your/--
Mikaela shut out her conscience. This moment was too pure and perfect to ruin with guilt and dread. She had never been around anyone who saw her for her and not as the pretty girl to show off as a sign of their masculinity. Why weren't there more men like him around?
/ Because Sam and I, we're still kids. Optimus isn't/.
"That felt...interesting," Optimus said. "You kiss Sam differently."
"Kissing...it's complicated. Down here, you don't kiss family members or friends the same way you'd kiss a boyfriend or husband." Mikaela arched a brow at him, curious. "You don't have anything like kisses on Cybertron?"
Optimus looked down at her, his expression gentle. "Not quite, no. Your people are far more touch-oriented than mine. I find that fascinating. Uh..." He paused and blinked, lifting his hands slightly off her shoulders. "Have I laid hands on you in a manner you find offensive?"
That was a new one. Guys usually groped and fondled her so much that she almost asked Optimus to repeat himself. Then again, he wasn't driven by the desire to throw her on the nearest vehicle hood and turn a perfect night into awkward looks and regret the next day.
"Trust me," Mikaela's arms instinctively wrapped around his neck again, eliminating the last inches of space between them. "I'd let you know if I didn't like where your hands were going. And just so we're fair, I hope I'm not doing anything you don't like either."
"Not at all."
They went back to swaying with the music. She noticed his hands moving up and down her back, cool fingers going from pressure through her dress to icy flames across her bare shoulder blades. His stainless steel hands made her skin break out in delightful goosebumps. Her inhalations deepened, but she didn't stop him because she knew his explorations had no ill intentions. How strange that his innocent, alien touch did more for her than all the awkward nights she spent with Trent and would likely spend with Sam. There was no heavy breathing in her ear, no smells of sweat, no nerves and no world beyond his arms.
Optimus turned his head and his chin brushed her temple. Mikaela responded by sliding her hand along the back of his neck and upwards, tracing his pointed ear finial. The engravings made it rough under her fingertips. He leaned slightly into the caress.
"Mm..." She watched her breath fog part of his windshield. "I probably feel weird and squishy to you."
"No." Optimus dipped his head and chuckled against her throat, and she realized she really liked his laugh. "I'm gaining a lot of information about you this way. Your dress is velvet and your body temperature is exactly ninety eight point six degrees Fahrenheit. Your blood pressure, heart rate and respirations are increasing as I speak. I can feel the blood roaring through your circulatory system. That sensation...you feel like /life/, Mikaela."
/ Your sense of touch is more sensitive than mine. You probably know everything about me/. Her damp eyelashes fluttered and her pupils dilated, inviting him further into herself. When she looked up, she noticed his lens-like eyes appeared darker as well. Evidence of his crying glistened like dew all over his mechanical eyelids. She reached up with her thumb and gently dried them, causing him to blink.
If he could tell so much about her with just his hands...suddenly her mind raced to when she sat in his cab, fidgeting, touching handles and shifting in her seat. Had he been able to feel all that, too? When he walked out of Mission City, battered and beaten, did the dents in his armor hurt?
"So," Mikaela glanced up, "how do you--um--get together and--well you don't have to tell me if it's too personal."
"You wish to ask how my people are intimate?"
Well, if he wanted to be that blunt...
"Yeah. I never thought robots got down like that."
Optimus tossed his head back and laughed at that. Then he collected himself, gazed at her and said, "Sorry. The euphemisms for intercourse on this planet are rather humorous. However..." He sobered, though his laughter still twinkled in his eyes, "where I come from, we 'get down' by connecting to one another, much like this." He clasped her hand, interlocking their fingers. "We would bare our Sparks and form a data stream, sharing our most private thoughts and feelings. A joining of minds, you could say. It is a very pleasant experience."
And he'd explained it to her so openly. They stood together in a place without secrets or walls.
She smiled at him, "I wonder what that feels like. It must be nice."
"I can approximate the sensation for you." He met her eyes and adjusted his hold on her hand so just their fingertips touched. At first, she heard a soft crackling as though moving her hand too close to a television screen. Then, suddenly, she felt static electricity prickle down the length of her fingers. The hairs on her arm stood erect. He took her other hand and the prickling came in stereo. Then he leaned forward until their foreheads touched, and his alien smile became something beautiful.
"This is how we love on Cybertron," he said.
Mikaela's eyes welled over. She was stunned. Optimus came from a totally different world, but he loved just like a human.
Was love universal? Was humankind really so arrogant to believe it was the only species capable of the emotion?
"So your Sparks..." She swallowed, "are they your heart?"
"My fuel pump is my 'heart,' you could say." He replied simply, "A Spark is more like a soul."
A machine with a /soul/.
"I'd like to see it." Mikaela whispered, lost in his eyes. "Show me your Spark, Optimus."
Optimus paused, blinking. The pleasant tingle he created stopped the second he released her hands. He grasped the inner edges of his chest plates and pulled them apart. Warmth greeted Mikaela in gentle waves. His Spark's electric phosphorescence shone in her blue eyes. The seat of his thoughts, dreams and love--everything he was and would be--gleamed before her. She could hear the zap-zap of its rapid pulsations and watched how it twinkled like a miniature star within his chest.
"Oh..." for a painful heartbeat she wished they could move beyond holding hands. It seemed like such a crime, knowing emotion unified them while the makeup of their bodies kept them apart. "...how long does a Spark last?"
"Forever." The light faded when Optimus closed his armor plating. "Or until it is extinguished."
He'd said /forever/, yet the way he spoke sounded more like /forever alone/.
"Will you be okay?" she asked.
"I feel much better than I did earlier," Optimus replied. Their eyes met and echoes of his Spark glittered in his optics. "It is getting late, Mikaela."
He just had to break this bubble in time, didn't he? She didn't blame him for it--how could he have known she wanted to pretend away reality for a few more minutes?
Mikaela shot a self-conscious glance at one of the mirrors on Optimus' chest plates. To her surprise, her makeup hadn't suffered too terribly--or at least not enough to notice in the dark. Then she realized how silly it was to worry; Optimus wouldn't care about something so shallow. She smiled in relief and looked up. "One more dance?"
A smile tugged Optimus' metal features. "If that is what you want. I even found the perfect song."
She shrugged, "Knock yourself out."
His radio clicked. He held out his hand as the music started. She took it, smiled and let him twirl her gently towards his chest. Every motion he made seemed lighter, just a little less burdened than before.
The vocalist started singing--darn it the song hung just on the edge of Mikaela's memory. She knew she'd heard it before. Recognition hit at the chorus--
The lady in red
Is dancing with me--
Cheek to cheek.
There's nobody here--
It's just you and me.
It's where I wanna be.
But I hardly know
this beauty by my side!
I never will forget
the way you look tonight...
"Chris De Burgh," Mikaela linked her fingers together on the back of Optimus' neck, "Lady in Red."
Optimus nodded in that sagely manner he did whenever something pleased him. "It seemed appropriate, considering your attire," he tilted his head, "You match the imagery of the song."
Mikaela giggled. "I didn't know you had a romantic side."
"Heh, heh...neither did I. But I'm grateful for the discovery." He said, dipping her in a way that made her want to throw him against the nearby tree and shove her tongue down his throat--and she might have if he'd been human. There was something about him so raw and alluring that came from beyond what he looked like or where he came from.
Mikaela's smile trembled when they straightened. Suddenly, she was glad she never made it to the prom. She wouldn't have seen this side of Optimus. She wouldn't have discovered that, underneath all the metal, the mantle of leadership and his brave face--he /felt/. He wasn't just a smart machine, he was truly as alive as anything flesh and bone.
She laid her cheek on his chest and closed her eyes, letting the music seep into her consciousness. /I refuse to feel guilty about how I feel...I can't after a night like this/...
The song came to an end. Optimus finished it by taking a graceful step back, bowing and bringing the back of her hand gently to his mouth like a perfect gentleman. His eyes were shining when he smiled up at her.
It'd be easy to love him after tonight--so easy...but what about him? Her life was a lightning flash compared to his. Wrapping love around him meant causing more heartbreak when her natural lifetime ended. She couldn't burden him that way. Not when he'd already lost practically everything he held dear.
But her feelings towards him were different now. She just couldn't put her finger on--
"Mikaela." Optimus' voice broke into her thoughts.
"The air temperature is reaching a level detrimental to your state of dress."
Until then she didn't even notice her own shivering.
"I should return you to your home."
"Guess so," Mikaela sighed. "Thanks for tonight, Optimus."
The slightly sad glow returned to his blue optics, a sign that he, too, wished this night didn't have to end. "I owe you my thanks, too. I...needed that."
She nodded to him, "Anytime. You can still look me up if you need to talk."
"I'd like that." Optimus said.
Then he helped her up into the cab of his real body. His hologram vanished as the door swung shut. No more music, just the rumble of his engine. He turned the heater on full blast. The warm cab and soft vibrations quickly put Mikaela to sleep. She dreamed pleasantly for the first time in months.
Next thing she knew, she woke to his air brakes pop-hissing. She looked out the window. They were outside her darkened house.
The silence was so absolute that Optimus' idling engine seemed unusually loud.
"Mm, what time is it?"
"Oh-one-hundred, or one o'clock in the morning."
Mikaela gazed forlornly at her home. Tonight was so perfect...why did it have to end?
Being the gentleman he was, Optimus utilized his hologram once more and walked her to the door.
"Hey, Optimus?" Mikaela dropped her purse and shoes on the front steps. Glowing blue pools fixed on her as if she held the universe in her hand. For some reason she felt herself blushing. "Megatron was a lucky guy. You know...back when it was good for you two."
Optimus' face melted into a soft, metallic smile. "So is Sam."
Mikaela blushed at that. She stood on her toes and touched her lips against his warm mouth plates. It just felt like the right thing to do, and he didn't seem to mind. "G'night."
"Good night, Mikaela."
They were still holding hands when Optimus' real self pulled away. His hologram flickered, became insubstantial, and faded the moment he turned the corner. Mikaela hugged herself as the memory of his gentle touch hung in the suddenly empty air.
Sam's parents bailed him out of jail. Mikaela found out when he sent flowers to her house--cheap flowers because he was so broke--but he wrote a sweet note apologizing for ruining their prom. Her heart swelled. The gesture showed her he saw her as more than just a pretty thing to decorate his arm...he had genuine feelings for her. Maybe he just had trouble expressing them--like Optimus and his pain.
Come Monday, she was waiting on the curb when Bumblebee pulled into the school parking lot and let Sam out.
Naturally, the second he was in speaking range, Sam started to ramble.
"Mikaela, I'm so sorry about Trent. I told him to shut up for calling you a slut a-and he slugged me. I knocked him against his truck--gotta pay for the window, so I kinda--"
"Sam." Mikaela pressed a finger against his lips. He really was cute when he babbled. "It's okay."
"You're--you're not mad?" His eyebrows went up.
She slipped her arms around his neck the way she did with Optimus and lightly kissed his lips. "Nah."
Behind them, Bumblebee's radio let out a cat call that caused a few people to mutter about the jerk in the car. Mikaela pressed her forehead to Sam's chest and giggled.
"Mind your own business." Sam lightly kicked the Camaro's rear tire. He grinned, muttering, "Pervert."
Mikaela smiled as the bell rang. She took Sam's hand and led him towards the school building. Over her shoulder, she said, "See you later, Bumblebee."
"...so Miles' date stood him up and he ended up walking home in the dark."
Beads of sweat formed under Mikaela's hairline as she worked a push broom across the warehouse floor. Optimus sat nearby with one leg pulled to his chest and his forearm resting across his knee. His radio played music--Fleetwood Mac at that particular moment--while he gazed through the large door at the horizon. Watching...always watching. He sat so still that he'd pass for a sculpture to the casual observer. Not that there would be anybody. Hardly anyone paid attention to a run-down warehouse.
"Doesn't surprise me one bit." She commented between broom-scrapes. "Rachel's nasty like that. She calls me a slut when she's the one that goes on dates with one guy and comes back with somebody else."
Optimus turned his head, "So this Rachel is rather promiscuous?"
"You could say that," Sam replied, "She probably gets more than truckers do..." His eyes widened, "Uh...no offense, Optimus."
A small, barely concealed laugh, "None taken."
Two vehicles pulled up outside. One a yellow Hummer H2, the other a black GMC Topkick. They parked so close together their doors touched.
"Clear!" Optimus called.
Ironhide and Ratchet transformed quickly into their robot forms. Nothing seemed special about it, just two Transformers changing shape.
Mikaela leaned on the broom handle. "Have a good time?"
"Mmhmm," was Ratchet's cool reply. "I think I finally fixed that loose bolt in Ironhide's suspension."
Ironhide flicked his cannons. "After I tweaked his axels."
"Don't mind him." Ratchet made a dismissive gesture, "He's just upset because I landed on top."
"Ratchet, so help me..." Ironhide's face scrunched in false anguish, "you're asking for it."
The medic whipped around, "Try me, you rust-bucket!"
Ironhide took a step forward.
"Ratchet, Ironhide!" Optimus snapped. Mikaela saw his optics flick to Sam, who was digging in the tool pile for a dust pan. "You know the rules, you two."
"Sorry, sir," both mechs replied.
Ratchet made his way towards a tarp in the back. He moved it to expose part of Jazz's torn torso, transformed his hand into a multi-tool and went to work cutting wires.
"I can't find the dust pan. Maybe it's in the--" Sam straightened and slapped his forehead when he saw the scratches on Ratchet's armor. "Oh, God! Not again! I just waxed you two! What the heck do you do to get all scratched up?"
"Stuff," was Ironhide's gruff reply. The weapons specialist parked his hulking black form by the wall opposite to Optimus. Just a little further off, Bumblebee's Camaro form kept guard over the driveway. Should anyone come by, he'd honk his horn and any Autobots in the warehouse would transform into vehicle mode. They performed guard duty in shifts.
Grumbling, Sam trudged up to Mikaela. He looked cute with a dirt smear on his left cheek. All he needed was a checkered flannel shirt instead of a gray pullover and he'd look like a real grease monkey. "Guess I need to save up for more wax. Seriously, my parents are starting to worry that I'm too obsessed with my car."
"How about I get it this time?"
Sam's blue eyes brightened. "Oh, man...Mikaela, you--you're totally saving my life...I'll pay you back in a week! I swear!"
Optimus' radio cut off, switched to another station and turned up. Familiar music reached Mikaela's ears and filled her with memories of cool fingertips, crying optics and a love older than the solar system. At the same time it was also funny--usually Bumblebee pulled things like this!
She reached up to wipe the dirt smear off Sam's face--
...watching every motion
in my foolish lover's game.
On this endless ocean,
Finally lovers know no shame...
--and watched his cheeks turn cherry red at her touch.
"Pay me back with a dance."
"Dance?" His eyebrows went up.
Mikaela slipped her arms around his neck, aching to feel the closeness she experienced two nights ago. The short hair on the back of his neck felt like velvet.
Naturally, Sam shook almost as bad as Mojo, but he recovered quickly and slipped his arms around her waist. The hands resting on her lower back were the same hands that pushed the All Spark into Megatron's chest. They were hands that saved the Earth. Hands that could protect her.
/ I bet you have nightmares too, Sam...I bet we all do...but we also have a lot to dream about...and you're the reason we're still here to dream/.
Their dance sent them revolving over an invisible point on the floor. Mikaela laid her cheek on Sam's shoulder. She felt tears well in her eyes when she saw Optimus fix her in his steady azure gaze.
A part of her would always love him after last night. At the same time, she realized Sam's arms were just as warm. They didn't need to be covered in metal armor to make her feel safe.
"Thank you," she mouthed over Sam's shoulder.
Optimus smiled softly and tilted his head just long enough to wink at her.
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