Two For The Road
Two for the Road
by Birgit Staebler


Optimus stared at the amount of work on his desk and groaned, glad that no one was around to hear him. How could so much amount in just two days? He took the first paper from the large pile and sighed as he read what it was about. Speeding and parking tickets. Optimus Prime had been approached about this delicate subject matter by the local police. Autobots were either standing in no-parking zones or breaking the speed limit. The sheriff said it was okay in case of Decepticon trouble, but otherwise he couldn't favor them. The next paper was another delicate matter: license plates. No Autobot had a license plate and people in town had started to argue that the speeding car hadn't been theirs, it had been an Autobot. Optimus understood the problem, but he also knew what his people would say. License plates? No way!
He sighed deeply and shoved the left mountain of papers aside, only to discover more work. He knew that Rodimus was taking care of a lot of things, that Ultra Magnus was cutting down the paper work Optimus had to do and that Kup was going through Rodimus lately, because Optimus was getting in over his head. But still, there was a lot of work to be done.
Optimus placed the document on the pile once more and decided to distribute the latest, finished reports first. Rodimus was waiting for some things, as was Spike and several Earth officials. He called up the program and began to type in the correct command to send the files when suddenly the whole terminal went dark. Optimus stared at the machine.
"This can't be happening!" he groaned.
But it was. Right here and now. The Autobot leader tried to get the terminal working again, but no such luck. It stayed dead. This was embarrassing, he knew, but he needed to send out those files! He contacted the repair service.

* * *

"He needs a vacation."
Rodimus looked at Ultra Magnus in surprise; surprise that it was Magnus stating this well-known fact. Normally the city commander simply made dry remarks without judgment, but this time.....
"I know," the young Autobot leader said. Everyone knew -- in one way or the other. Optimus had been buried in work since the day he had come back from the dead for a second time and there was no telling when the work load would cease. Everyone helped as best as they could, Rodimus the most since he was second-in-command, but it still wasn't enough. Sometimes he thought Optimus was doing this on purpose to prevent himself from having nothing but himself to worry about.
"Then do something."
Rodimus blinked. "Like what? Kick him out of his office?"
Ultra Magnus allowed himself a wry smile. "That would be an option."
"Very funny," Rodimus muttered. "There will be only scrap left of me when I try it. He's a bit short-tempered lately."
"I noticed." Magnus gave him a sharp look. "Rodimus, we can't go on like this; Optimus can't go on like this. He needs some time away from work to get his head straightened out. He needs time to relax and think of something else for a change!"
Rodimus blinked again. This was very much unlike the Ultra Magnus he knew! He wondered if Magnus was feeling okay.....
"Okay, I'll talk to him." Not that he hadn't planned to do it anyway......
Magnus scowled. "Not talk, Rodimus, do something."
"Yessir," Rodimus said and barely refrained from saluting.
Magnus' scowl deepened. Rodimus simply grinned at him.
"I will talk to him," the younger Autobot then promised seriously.
Magnus nodded and left the second-in-command's office. Rodimus sank back into his chair and sighed a deep sigh. This wouldn't be easy and he silently wondered if he should start numbering his parts, write his last will and testament, and tell Shanygn to get herself something nice and black at the mall.....

* * *

Nicholas Cavanaugh walked into the office of Optimus Prime, his repair kit in hand. He was only visiting, but since Raoul had his hands full with a lot of work at Metroplex and the city around and below the giant Transformer, so Nicholas had volunteered when the call for help had come in.
"I heard you had computer troubles," Nicholas called cheerfully and saw Optimus look up in surprise.
"They sent you?" the Autobot leader asked.
Nicholas shrugged. "I can leave again...."
Optimus shook his head. "No, please. Sorry about that. It's not that I don't appreciate your help, Nicholas, but I didn't think I was such a serious case."
Nicholas walked over to the desk and let Optimus lift him to the terminal. "Well, the computer isn't, true, but you are." He started to open the side panel and took a look at the circuitry.
"Pardon?" Optimus sounded confused and slightly offended.
Nicholas did something to the circuits and suddenly the terminal lit up again. "There you go," he said with satisfaction. He grinned at Optimus, who returned the look with slight annoyance.
"What do you mean I'm a serious case?" Optimus repeated.
Nicholas crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned against the larger screen. "I mean that you need a few days off, my friend. You are short-tempered, easy to annoy and you are losing track of both private and public life." He gestured at the paper piles. "Everyone is trying to help, but you are a hopeless case. You need time away from this. All of this!"
Optimus was about to give a sharp reply, but looking into Nicholas very serious face he knew that the human was right. He was stressed out.
"Would you mind...?" Nicholas raised his eyebrows and looked at the floor.
Optimus smiled and put Nicholas down. "Thanks."
Nicholas grinned. "All in the job description." With that he left.
The door didn't close though because Rodimus Prime entered. Optimus looked at his second-in-command and knew exactly what was on the young robot's mind.
"Yes," he only said.
Rodimus blinked. "Come again?"
Optimus chuckled. "I said yes to your offer."
"I haven't said anything yet!"
"No, you haven't, but you are about to and it will be about me being stressed out and needing a few days off. And yes, I will take a day off."
Rodimus stared. "You will?!"
"Yes. Why are you surprised?"
"Uhm," he stammered. "Nothing. Glad you feel the same."
Optimus remembered Nicholas' serious eyes and now compared them to Rodimus' relief and still subtly worry. He smiled, the smile hidden behind his mask. Rodimus nodded and then left again, trying to hide his confusion. Optimus looked at his screen and keyed in the commands to send away the files, then he shut the terminal down. Then he looked out of his window. Well, now he had off-time.... What to do?

* * *

"Optimus Prime!"
The Autobot leader stopped and tried not to look like he had just run into the one person he had hoped not to meet, though it was the truth, actually. Perceptor smiled and joined his leader.
"I've been trying to get a hold of you for days!" the scientist told him. "But every time I got through, I had Rodimus on the phone. Not that it is something bad," he added, "but I wanted your input on my latest report."
Report..... Optimus sighed.
"You read it, haven't you?"
Optimus thought hard and came up with the mental picture of a ton of reports, all piled up on his desk, all now safely on their way to several other desks, including Rodimus'. Perceptor's had to be among them.
"Which one?" he asked cautiously.
"I sent you a report concerning my further studies of the doorway structure," Perceptor said immediately, smiling, his optics taking on a slightly faraway look -- as always when he was about to launch a lengthy explanation. "Chip and I have determined several quite fascinating features concerning the runes on the secondary ring, including the outer shell and the connection between the harmonies you hear whenever the doorway activates. It's quite intriguing because the musical notes change with the intensity of the energy output, as well as the respective coordinates!" The scientist was completely engulfed by this and Optimus sighed silently. "Chip recorded the sub-level harmonies which we don't hear but which are present and we compared them to the steady energy flow equally present throughout the deactivation, deciphering a...."
And Perceptor went on. Optimus listened with half an ear, convinced that if he listened fully, his audio receptors would go on mass suicide!
".... we also compared the FLOP input with the UXA harmonic recordings and ... -- ... there is also the power consumption, so we measured .... -- ... which lead to the approximate output ... -- .... considering the requirements for the graphic signal, compared to the dimensional control ... -- .... and we found a sensitivity to continuous energy changes .... -- .... in relation to the specifications required and needed for...."
"Perceptor, there you are!"
The scientist stopped and Optimus gave a silent thanks to whoever had interrupted them. It was Nightmare. The dark blue and black Gatekeeper smiled as he approached them and to Optimus it looked like a predatory smile, one he associated with the former Assassins mentality. The glint in the red optics only added to this impression.
"We've been looking for you," Nightmare went on. "Raven and Sphere decided to try another operation and since you wanted to be present a well....." He grabbed the Autobot's elbow and maneuvered him away from Optimus.
The Autobot leader shot Nightmare a confused look.
"You could have contacted me through my com link," Perceptor started.
"I was in the area," Nightmare interrupted quickly and winked at Optimus. "I thought I'd drop by and take you along."
Prime surpressed a thankful smile as he finally understood what kind of ploy this was. Nightmare shoved Perceptor down the corridor and to the elevators while Optimus dared to get his audio fully back on-line.
Now to find a quiet place.....

*

The library was lonely and quiet. Usually no one came here at this time of the day -- especially since the archives could also be accessed through terminals from the outside --and Optimus walked over to one of the many shelves to get the files he had wanted to read for such a long time but which he had never managed.
"Optimus?"
The Autobot leader looked down to where the voice had come from and discovered Chip Chase. The computer expert and attested genius concerning electronics grinned at him.
"Hello, Chip," he greeted his long-time friend. Chip, like Spike, had come to meet the Autobots very early throughout their first arrival on Earth. He had helped them and he had become a very good friend. In the later years, Chip had finished his studies, earned several degrees and two doctorates and had worked at some projects until he had come back to work for the Autobots some years ago, starting with the Matrix.
"Haven't seen you around here for a long time," Chip remarked.
"Well, I've been busy."
"So I heard."
Optimus gave the brown-haired human a curious look. Chip only shrugged.
"So, what have you been doing after you took apart the Matrix?" Optimus asked.
"Oh, this and that. Currently I'm helping Perceptor with the doorways. He's still deciphering stuff and things like that. Very interesting indeed, but it would be half as much work if Ralyk decided to help us."
Optimus smiled. "That's Ralyk, Chip. We all have to live with it."
Chip chuckled and brushed a hand through his graying hair. "Well, I don't want to keep you from your work. I have some things to look up anyway. See you around more often, I hope." He waved and walked off, disappearing between the shelves.
Optimus looked around the silent library, suddenly very much aware of how quiet it was here. Oppressing, he thought. Maybe he should drive around the country-side. He hadn't been outside for anything but meetings or official occurrences for the same time he hadn't taken a day off -- eternity.
As Optimus walked toward the exit he met several Autobots, who all shot him wary looks, some of them appearing as if they wanted to approach him, then remembered something and simply walked on.
Rodimus! Optimus thought with part amusement, part annoyance.
As he walked on he also met someone he had seen only this morning: Nicholas.
"Still on the call for repairs?" Optimus joked.
Nicholas chuckled. "No. Actually, I took the rest of my vacation off. Well, Raoul told me to haul my ...errr... behind out of the office and relax."
Optimus chuckled as well. "Want to join me?"
Nicholas raised an eyebrow. "I thought you wanted to spend a day off somewhere nice and quiet."
"I'm on my way there. I'm planning to take a drive around the country-side and maybe look for a spot to simply sit and relax."
The dark-haired man shrugged. "Sounds perfect. When do we leave?"
Optimus transformed, his trailer coming out of subspace, and opened a door. "Hop in."
Nicholas did just that. "Okay, what are you waiting for?"
Optimus chuckled again. "I thought, for old times' sake, that you could drive."
Nicholas Cavanaugh laughed. He started the engine and slowly maneuvered the large semi truck out of Autobot City. When they were on the road, Nicholas accelerated and they left the large city behind.

* * *

Rodimus finished the last report and leaned back with satisfaction. Some of the stuff had been very repetitive and he had filed different reports away under the same header, including them in a growing file of similar reports. It reduced space on the hard drive, it cut down on unnecessary work and it helped tremendously when searching for something. He closed the work session on this subject matter -- diplomatic handlings concerning the Autobots' presence on Earth -- and turned to what was left.
It was still a lot.
And it was something he hated. He grimaced.
Energon consumption logs of the last months, environmental reports, requests, replies, inquiries and and and. He was just glad that Kup was handling security and Ultra Magnus the Cybertron matters.
Rodimus shook his head. This was one side of leadership no one ever saw but those at the top and nobody ever expected he had to do when in this position. The truth was, more than three quarters of his work was bureaucratic madness and the rest was consumed by trying to stay alive in a battle field; a battle field that was divided into public battles, personal battles and those against the Decepticons.
"I really hope you are enjoying your day off," he muttered, then smiled a bit and set to work.

* * *

It was a beautiful day and Optimus really enjoyed it. The highway was empty. Most of the humans living here didn't use it because of the new one which had been built some years ago. It also led toward the camping grounds, which were not yet all open. It was early spring and tourist season would start in about one month. Tourist season would also mean more guided tours than usual. Optimus smiled slightly. The Autobots made guided tours for those interested, but in the summer months it was almost impossible to get everyone into a tour. The tours were not allowed into all sections and also had to stay outside Metroplex for security reasons.
"Great day," Nicholas commented. He was still driving and clearly enjoying it. Optimus had nothing against someone else taking over control, as long as he could trust this person.
He and Nicholas shared a special friendship, born out of a rather frightening experience Optimus had had years ago. He had been blind, unable to transform and generally completely dependent on someone else when Nicholas had found him. The human had not known what he had had on his hands and both of them had gone through quite a lot until Optimus was safely back at Autobot City. They hadn't seen much of each other later on, even thought Optimus had managed to interest Nicholas in a job as an engineer at Autobot City. Now he was helping out on Cybertron as well, mainly with the doorway mechanism while Chip and Perceptor did the translations.
"It is," he now remarked as well. "I know a secluded spot not far from here."
Nicholas lifted his hands from the steering wheel. "Be my guest," he laughed,
Optimus took over control and drove off the highway at the next exit. The secluded spot was close to a camping ground and he wouldn't go there in summer, but at this time of the year there would be no one. Or almost no one. As he neared their destination, he became aware of several RVs parked close by.
"We are not alone," Nicholas said ominously.
And it was true. A few humans stepped out of the RVs and as they saw the truck coming closer, they became curious. Optimus stopped and Nicholas got out.
"It's an Autobot!" a child exclaimed.
Optimus sighed and wished he had had the foresight to remove the blatantly visible Autobot insignia on his body. Nicholas only grinned and Optimus accepted his fate, transforming.
"Wow!" a child cried. "It's Optimus Prime!"
The call went through the whole group of campers and more and more people came. They all started to ask questions, wanted autographs or simply took pictures of the new arrival. Nicholas leaned back against a camper and couldn't stop grinning. Optimus answered all questions as patiently as he answered the delegates' questions at a conference and he signed pictures which were so small he was most likely enhancing his vision. And he was using pens that were tiny. It still worked and Nicholas guessed he had done things like this before. Just not on his day off...... He chuckled a bit. Optimus threw him a dark look and Nicholas only shrugged. It took them, well Optimus, about two hours to finally detach himself from his 'fans' and he looked slightly stressed, but also pleased.
"Confess it," Nicholas said as they drove away from the camp ground and toward another, hopefully more secluded spot, "you enjoyed it."
"In a way," Optimus said after a short silence. "Yes, I did." He chuckled.
Nicholas grinned. "Okay, where to now?"

They arrived about half an hour later and this time it was a secluded spot. The sun was already nearing mid-afternoon, but it was warm and the sky was clear. Nicholas stretched out and enjoyed the calm and quiet, the sound of the water running by, the birds, the insects. He had to confess he hadn't had some decent time off himself for too long.
"Hm, this is heaven," he muttered.
Optimus, who had stretched out as well, back against a giant bolder, grinned, eyes expressing amusement. "It is."
"What do we have here?"
Optimus was on his feet in a second and Nicholas followed just as swiftly.
"An Autobot and no less than the leader of them all!" a second voice called, then chuckled.
"Wildrider and Dead End," Optimus growled. "What do you want?"
Wildrider chuckled once more. "Oh, not much, Optimus Prime." He aimed his gun at him. "Only your head as a present for Galvatron!"
Optimus jumped out of the way and called his own gun out of subspace. "Get to safety!" he ordered Nicholas as he lost several volleys at the Decepticons.
Nicholas didn't protest. He was reasonable enough not to tell him he was able to take care of himself and maybe help. He might be, but he would also just get into the way. So he simply got to a more or less safe place and watched.

* * *

Night had fallen and Rodimus had to confess he was worried. Optimus had left before noon this day and he hadn't returned yet, and neither was there any signal or word about where he was. Of course, Optimus wasn't some teenager who needed to report back at nine or ten p.m., but he should have called in some time ago to confirm his position.
Then again, Nicholas was with him and they knew where he was by the personal signal he was wearing. Rodimus tried not to worry too much.

* * *

"Nick!" Nicholas was enveloped by a hard hug which nearly left him breathless. "My boy! Where've ya been?"
"Hey, Dough," Nicholas greeted his old friend. "Here and there..... I just came by to get something to eat and refuel."
"Ya still truck drivin'? Ah thought ya had a job with the Autobots."
"I have, I have." Nicholas nodded at the waiter. "A burger, fries and a coke." The waiter nodded and Nicholas turned back to Doug. "I've a day off and wanted to take a drive around the country side. We ended up here."
"We?"
"Oh, my truck and I," Nicholas said vaguely.
Doug grinned. "A truck? Hm, is it a truck I know?"
Nicholas grinned as well. "Yeah."
The older man peered through the window and frowned. "Looks as run-down as at the day we found it."
Nicholas shrugged. "We ran into something."
"Looks like it. Ya look like ya had the same accident...." Doug scrutinized him.
Nicholas knew how he looked. Clothes a bit worse for wear with stains everywhere; hair wild; dusty face and hands.
"In a way."
"What happened?"
"Oh, uninvited guests and stuff. Nothing serious."
The waiter brought the wanted food and Nicholas paid.
"Ya havta go already, kid?" Doug asked.
Nicholas nodded. "Yes. We are expected back at the City, though I've planned a longer visit already." He grinned. "Still got the old garage?"
"Ya betcha! An' Ah have a few repairs with ya name on 'em."
"Oh, I love it when they only appreciate me for my talents," the younger man groaned theatrically.
Doug chuckled and accompanied his friend outside. He gave the truck another scrutiny. "Wild party," he muttered. Aloud he said: "Maybe you should stay overnight and I could have a look at those dents. That tire is in a really bad state as well." Doug pointed at the left front tire.
Nicholas hesitated. "Op?" he asked.
"No problem here," the Autobot leader answered and Doug jumped a bit.
"Okay, if you can spare some bed space, I'll crash for the night," Nicholas told his older friend. "We can fix the tire in the morning and maybe straighten out the worst dents."
Doug chuckled. "Though it won't look anything like new, unless ya have some spare parts handy in that trailer."
Nicholas laughed. "Nah. No such luck." He climbed into the driver's seat and started the engine to drive over to Doug's garage.
Doug got onto his old motorbike and lead the way. They drove away from the truck stop and Nicholas surrendered control to Optimus to eat his burger and fries.
"Don't worry," he said around a few fries. "I won't leave stains on your seats."
Optimus chuckled. "I don't believe that this would make any difference, judging from our general appearance."
Nicholas only laughed.

* * *

It was mid-morning the next day.
Rodimus Prime stared at the duo in front of him, mouth agape. "What happened to you two?" he finally managed.
Nicholas shrugged. "Aw, nothing special, right, Op?" He looked at his tall companion.
"Right. Perfectly normal day," the Autobot leader agreed with a straight face.
Rodimus continued to stare in shock, amazement and confusion. Optimus looked like he had had a run-in with a bunch of Decepticons, as well as several bumpy road and a sledge hammer. His chest was singed, one leg bruised, one shoulder dented, the color flaking off. Nicholas was dirty, dusty and his clothes were an equal to Optimus armor: torn.
"Normal?" he echoed. "You two look ... disastrous!" And it was a mild word, really......
Optimus ineffectively brushed at some dust specks. Color flaked off. "Well, the streets were dusty...."
"And the pot-holes must have been very large and deep," Rodimus finished dryly, giving his older friend a pointed look. If he could have, he would have raised an eyebrow.
"Gigantic!" Nicholas agreed. "Like you wouldn't believe it!"
"And that is a sun burn, right?" the younger leader gestured at what were clearly blaster burns.
Nicholas and Optimus nodded in synch.
"Desert sun," the dark-haired human explained. "Without the right protection... well, let me say it's very dangerous."
"For robots," Rodimus muttered with sarcasm.
"Of course." Optimus chuckled and walked past his friend and second-in-command. "This day off was really a good idea, Rodimus. I should do it more often."
Rodimus stared at him once more and his stare became shock again as he saw how Optimus looked from behind. Someone had really hit him hard..... and he wasn't even sure whether the damage had been inflicted by Decepticons or some well-meaning person who had tried to undo the damage that had been done......
Nicholas whistled a merry tune and followed the Autobot leader. Rodimus remained behind, shaking his head, sighing.
"And they say I'm impossible," he muttered with a grin, then walked into Autobot City as well.