Mikaela's palms grew sticky-moist against her keyboard. She sat up and stared absently at the moon. Optimus was likely still outside, looking at it, too. She understood exactly where he was coming from more than anyone he knew.

Deciding she could put her own discomfort aside, she put her hands on the keyboard and sent a quick response.

Optimus,

Come NOW. Don't worry about me not feeling well. I'll be okay as long as I don't leave the house. Come to my place and let's talk. My mom won't be home until tomorrow night. We've got time.

See you soon.

Without waiting for a reply, she pulled on a pair of gray sweatpants, tied the draw string and hobbled downstairs to choke down three Ibuprofen pills. One of these days she'd get her sorry butt to the clinic near the school and buy herself birth control pills--they were probably the only thing capable of making her menses tolerable.

She passed the mirror on the hall, stopped and walked back. Oh, God, I look like shit! Bags under her eyes, messy hair, a ratty Dallas Cowboys jersey and gray sweats. Optimus would--

--not care.

Twenty minutes later, just as the Ibuprofen kicked in, air brakes hissed outside. Then Optimus' hologram materialized just inside her door like...like a knight in shining blue armor. He didn't bat a metal eyelid at her bedraggled appearance.

"Oh!" Mikaela leapt back.

"My apologies," Optimus said, "I'm still getting accustomed to projecting over distances. Forgive me if my hologram cuts out."

"It's fine." She gestured to the couch, "Let's sit over there."

Optimus' expression brightened. "Ah...sitcoms usually feature these things." He walked over, seated himself on one end and stretched his legs across the seat. His very long legs, which took up almost all of the available sitting room. He regarded her with a smile, "Am I correct in assuming this is the proper way to 'chillax?'"

Mikaela shook her head, resisting a rude snicker. Optimus spread out on her couch like he belonged there--and how normal he looked doing so--she almost wanted to take a photo with her phone and send it to Sam.

"Um...yeah, you got it right," she said, easing to sit by his feet.

Once she plopped down, Optimus moved his legs and sat up properly. The sparkling amusement in his optics trickled slowly into seriousness. "You've read my email...what are your thoughts?"

His question hung like smoke in the air. Mikaela clasped his hands and sucked in a deep breath. "I'm going to tell you something I never told anybody...not my mom, dad, Sam...nobody. You'll be the first."

Optimus' pupils flickered. He was focused completely on her.

"When I was ten, I snuck into a public pool after it closed so I could swim without other people getting in my way. Well, I got a cramp and..." she made a sinking gesture, "Drowning is nothing like the movies where somebody splashes around. I couldn't yell for help. I just...sank."

She felt him squeeze her fingertips in empathy, urging her to continue.

"I--don't remember passing out. Just...one second I couldn't breathe and the next, it's like I was standing on the high dive. I saw myself lying at the bottom of the pool. My life flashed in front of my eyes. Then I watched one of the neighbors pull me out and start CPR. The ambulance pulled up and I got zapped into this...dark, warm place. It looked like a freeway tunnel with a bright light shining at one end." Mikaela stopped and trembled at the memory, a piece of her past so clear it could have happened yesterday.

Optimus' optics blinked rapidly. The blue tabs above his eyes--they were part of his helm, but acted like eyebrows--tilted upwards. He leaned forward, face to face, "Did you feel anything? Emotions?"

"Yeah," Mikaela nodded eagerly. "Yeah, I did! I felt so--loved--when I saw the light. I ran to it...I jumped in...and right when I jumped I got this jerking feeling. It was like--" she grabbed the sides of his head and pushed it backwards, "--somebody did that to me. Except from behind. I flipped over onto my back and suddenly I was looking at four doctors leaning over me. I died, Optimus. I had no heartbeat for over five minutes and the doctors brought me back." She held his gaze, "We--humans--call these visions 'near-death experiences.' Some think it's just the brain misfiring as it dies. Others...like me...believe we really went somewhere."

Something in his face flickered. A rare fragility that wasn't even there when the virus left him helpless on the warehouse floor.

"I was without a Spark. I...died...temporarily." He let his forearm rest on the back of the couch and faced her fully, "I want to believe, but I have no proof. I've scanned my memory banks over and over. My processors record everything when I am online. I can even tell you how long I was active just by observing the file size."

"Faith isn't enough?"

The glow in his eyes dimmed "I wish it was, Mikaela. It was the most fantastic thing I've ever experienced and I everything my mind is tells me it was real. I remember it--and there is no file telling me it happened. I don't know what to believe. Though..." He managed a smile, "...it's wonderful knowing I'm not alone in this--oddity."

Mikaela's heart broke for him. She saw how badly he wanted to believe, yet his machine reasoning stood like a roadblock between him and faith. Fate dealt him a cruel blow--the ability to imagine while holding him bound to logic.

"I never used to think beyond my own life," Optimus went on coolly. "Now--I fear all that I've worked for will fade when I die. If there is nothing...what is the point in existing in the first place when everything I've done has the potential to unravel once I'm gone?"

Yet another bit of himself he'd never reveal to his own men. This was the frightened, doubting, grieving and desperately screaming mech hiding somewhere amidst Optimus and his role as Prime.

"'Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible concatenations, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable.' I believe a human you call 'Einstein' said this." Optimus chuckled, the sound slightly bitter. "And he is correct."

Never in her life had the urge to scream hit Mikaela so hard. Her fingertips literally burned to grab his ear finials and yell at him that something did happen to him. It was so bleeding obvious...and he wouldn't see it! Was he actually incapable or just refusing?

"For what it's worth, Optimus..." She shifted where she sat as the couch cushion felt suddenly warmer than usual. "I think you saw more than just electricity."

He cracked a casual, alien smile that made his optics squint and shimmer. "I'm glad someone does. At least--" his gaze shifted downwards and the smile melted, "Mikaela, you're bleeding!"

"Huh?" she stood up, saw the bloodstain on her sweats and found herself wishing the couch would swallow her whole. "Ah, crap!"

"Do you need medical assistance?"

"No!" Mikaela's face had to be redder than the bone pillow behind Optimus' elbow. "Be right back!"

She bolted into the bathroom adjacent to her bedroom without waiting for his answer. This had to be one of the most mortifying moments of her life. She wouldn't blame Optimus one bit if he beat a hasty retreat while she cowered on the toilet. For a moment she sat still and merely listened. He was walking around--she could hear the click-tap-hiss of his footsteps on the hardwood floor. The sound grew louder. Then came the soft clank of his fingertips knocking on the door.

"I'm sorry if I embarrassed you," he muffled through the barrier between them. "I...did not anticipate the amount of blood."

"No, I freaked. I'm sorry I screamed at you." The burning in her face receded. "I hope I didn't gross you out."

"I do not possess a stomach--therefore, I can not experience nausea." His voice had a smile behind it, "Why do you consider your menstrual cycle so embarrassing?"

An innocent question. He could search the internet for the answers if he really wanted to. Sometimes, she got the feeling he liked hearing her slant on things.

"Well, um..." Mikaela chucked the practically useless tampon into the toilet and stole one of her mom's maxi pads. "It's part of sex, Optimus. I guess women on their periods are less appealing because, on a carnal level, it tells the men they aren't fertile and not worth having sex with." She could not believe she just said that. As much as she told herself Optimus was technically genderless, she couldn't stop thinking of him as a guy. He sounded and acted like everything that made a man a man...except he didn't ogle her breasts or butt and didn't whistle rudely when she walked by, a huge plus in her opinion.

He was every woman's dream and he wasn't even male.

Mikaela almost giggled out loud.

"I'm coming out."

Optimus was right there when she opened the door. She smiled up at him and leaned on the doorframe.

"Welcome to my boudoir," she said, trying and failing to imitate a French accent, "You like?"

"Oui," Optimus replied.

Mikaela almost forgot he learned Earth's languages on the internet. He was probably fluent in all of them. "You could totally flirt with anybody like that, you know. Just speak a little French and people will melt."

His optics took on a decidedly mischievous gleam. He cocked his head and spoke as if he'd spent his lifetime in Paris, "Fait-il chaud ici, ou c'est juste vous?"

Mikaela nearly hit the floor. Good Lord, he made French sound downright sensual.

"Translation," Optimus all but smirked, "Is it hot in here, or is it just you?"

"You suck." Mikaela grinned and excused herself to change into more decent clothing. Even though Optimus didn't care, she was still embarrassed to be seen wearing rags. She emerged from the bathroom properly groomed and dressed in clean shorts and a tank top. Looking better helped her feel a little better.

Optimus was bent over her nightstand, her father's framed picture cradled in his left hand. He faced her when she turned off the bathroom light. Above his head--whiter than before--hung the moon. It outlined his profile in the relative darkness settling over her bedroom. He looked...silver...and his optics were two sapphires peering at her. They were only four feet apart, but the distance felt like miles. The curtains swished and slid briefly across his back and Mikaela felt intense jealousy towards the cheap fabric. Almost a symbol of time itself, it merely bounced off his armored form like diaphanous fingers, its path changed while he stood undisturbed in the middle.

Then he set the photo down and switched the bedside lamp on, unintentionally spoiling the illusion.

"You look like your father."

"Thanks," she said right before flopping down on the bed. God...he's in my bedroom...

Optimus joined her. Sort of--she had to move over and he put his arm around her, creating room for her to lay against his side.

"When I was little...I always used to love huge trucks. I'd always jack my arm so they'd honk their horns. Sometimes my dad and I went to truck shows together just to look at all the big rigs." Blinking, she reached under her mattress for the photo she always kept hidden there for luck. It depicted her five year old self, complete with pigtails and a lacy pink sundress, sitting in the driver's seat of a huge red and white cab-over. "I wasn't exactly a girly girl as a kid."

He grasped the photo by its lower right corner. The pillow rustled as he turned his head to look at her. "Is this why I remind you of your father?"

"Yeah...yeah, it is."

She felt him touch her hair ever so gently. In a voice equally soft, he replied, "Then I am extremely honored."

"Most wouldn't say that." Mikaela sighed. She took the photograph when he offered it back and returned it to its hiding place. "I just hope his parole works out. He might get out in a year instead of five. Now here's hoping he doesn't get the asshole judge."

"I wish him luck."

Mikaela sat up and peered at Optimus. She nearly laughed--he looked so comfortable laying there on her bed with his eyelids closed. His armor even matched her bedspread!

"Hey, did they have movies on Cybertron?"

Optimus' eyes opened to meet hers. "No." Now he was the culture teacher and she the student. "Nothing beyond archived historical footage, anyway."

"Hm. How about we watch one of my movies?" Mikaela leaned towards him, "I think I know exactly which one to pull out."

"I'd enjoy that, Mikaela. Name the title and I can download--"

"Nope. We're going in the living room to watch this the old fashioned way--with a VCR." She eyed her old, beat up thirteen inch TV set with disdain. The only VCR and DVD players in the house resided in the living room. "My dad used to say 'sometimes things lose their charm when they're done up with a bunch of bells and whistles.'"

"I know what you mean." Optimus said, folding his hands on his stomach. "I think I'll just...beam myself into the living room. I had difficulty keeping my hologram solid when I entered the hallway."

"Sure."

Mikaela stood up. Optimus simply vanished off her bed, leaving an imprint on the bedspread and pillows. There and gone like a dream. She shook her head and padded into the living room. There he was, spread out on the couch again.

"I think I like leather," he mused, running his hand over the backing. Mikaela almost choked on her spit while trying not to picture him wearing leather straps across his chest. She busied herself with pushing buttons on the VCR so the naughty thought wouldn't take root in her psyche.

Just before she started the film, Optimus sat up and looked suddenly alarmed. "Wait!"

Mikaela froze. Was her hair on fire? Did rats start hatching from her nostrils? Were tentacles growing out of her ears? "What?"

"You're missing the key element to every movie experience."

It didn't click. "Huh?"

He looked her square in the eyes, dead serious, and uttered a single word.

"Popcorn."

.o

Optimus surprised Mikaela. She expected him to ask question after question about everything in the film--or point out the scientific inaccuracies. Instead, he was absolutely silent, his eyes glued to the screen in rapt attention. She could almost hear his motherboards digesting the plots and themes. The only time he moved during the entire movie was to put his arm around her. She let him draw her against his chest and tried not to think about the decision she still hadn't made.

Mikaela swallowed the last kernel of microwavable popcorn right before the credits rolled. She smiled up at Optimus, "So, what'cha think?"

He blinked twice and focused on her. "I--found myself identifying immensely with Ellie towards the end. Particularly her speech after she returned from her journey. I get the feeling you're trying to tell me something, Mikaela. Very clever," he closed one optic in a wink. "I...will think about this."

Sighing, Mikaela reached up and lightly rested her palm on the cool hand he'd settled on her shoulder. Twenty four hours ago, that same hand was trembling, barely clinging to life. She pressed her cheek to his right chest plate. Its warmth seeped into her skin. Flashes of how he looked and sounded at the height of overload flickered against her closed eyelids.

"Dammit, why can't I be happy without make choices?"

"Mikaela?"

He'd understand. He always understood her...

"I'm trapped between my mind and my heart." She forced herself to lock eyes with him, "You and Sam, Optimus. I don't want to choose. No matter what I do, I hurt people. Maybe I'm not cut out for love."

"Nonsense," he frowned, "You're a very loving young woman."

Beautiful words that tugged the bitterness choking her heart.

"I can't have you both," she whispered. "You're both awesome in different ways."

"Choose Sam," Optimus said without hesitation. "When you're ready, choose Sam."

"That simple?"

He blinked and it was so silent she heard the clicks of his eyelids. It hurt him to say what he said next, but he bore it bravely. "I will always be here, Mikaela, but I can't give you everything you want in life. Marriage, children...are beyond my capabilities. You--deserve--the honor of hearing a man say 'I do' in matrimony and seeing child you brought into the world grow up. I can not grant you those."

"But you're the only person I feel safe opening up to," she admitted, averting her gaze to her hands. Butter from the popcorn left her fingertips shiny. She wiped her hands across her thighs. "I feel like I can tell you anything. I thought love was being open and sharing."

"It is. And no rules say you can't speak to me when you feel the need."

"I love you," Mikaela whispered, "and I love Sam..."

"And I...I love you enough to take your hand and lead you towards the person you should be loving. I can't be that person. Sam can." Optimus fixed her in a loving, but serious gaze teeming with wisdom and experience. "You fear that giving all of yourself will frighten him away. If Sam truly cares about you, Mikaela, he will accept you just as easily as I do. You shouldn't have to change who you are to please someone else."

Upon hearing those words, Mikaela's progesterone and estrogen-deprived brain played havoc on her emotions. Her heart sent blood roaring through her ears. Every nerve in her body surged and drew back like puckering lips after tasting a lemon. Coldness crept into her veins while stinging salt welled in the corners of her eyes. She was falling inside. Optimus' words were true and she knew it...but that didn't cushion the hard blow of reality slamming into her back.

"But..." Speaking felt like breathing through sand, "...I don't think he understands me."

"You need to give him a chance. Let him in the way you let me in." Optimus smiled at her, "I've observed his behavior around you. He may be just as afraid as you are. Going first will encourage him to open up as well. Perhaps you could start by admitting you like music from the eighties. See what happens...he might respond by revealing one of his own idiosyncrasies."

Mikaela dragged herself out from under the turmoil threatening to bury her alive. She leaned against Optimus, needing his support to hold her steady. "My feelings for you won't just go away."

"They don't have to. Simply..." He cupped the back of her head, "...redirect them. Energy changes, it does not disappear. Love is energy."

She clasped his hand when it slid around to brush the tears from her cheek. "You'll be--"

"Mikaela," he touched his mouth plates to her lips, "I know what love is. I have memories. You? You're making those memories right now."

Every syllable rang true. It was like taking awful-tasting medicine--she didn't want to swallow the truth, but doing so would benefit her in the long run. Optimus knew all along she struggled over this decision. He had the maturity, experience and insight to make the choice a million times easier by being the one to step back--to resign from this internal competition playing out in her mind.

Still, it hurt.

Optimus was incredibly strong to take this invisible, intangible pain and still remain standing.

"I may be partly to blame for everything. I encouraged you because I, too desperately needed someone. You helped me open up a part of myself I feared I'd never offer up again." He tilted his head, still smiling even though his eyes were sad. They were sad when she first met him and she knew now it was the echoing glow of Megatron's long road to destiny. Once, she overheard him telling Bumblebee that he thought destroying himself with the Cube would lift its effects and allow Megatron to regain his long-lost purity. But, in the end, it sounded like Megatron did receive the cleansing he needed. Optimus simply couldn't see that because logic blinded his faith.

She nodded her head, unable to speak.

"I'm not telling you to stop loving me. I won't stop loving you. Still..." He read her like a book. Hooking a curled finger under her chin, he slowly tipped her face up until their eyes locked and said, "I've had five eons to love. You only have forty to fifty years, not counting your childhood, and even with the best medical care your life is still so short compared to mine. It's a precious time, Mikaela. Cherish it."

Mikaela laid her hand flat on the hinged piece of armor protecting his Spark chamber. It was always warm. To think she almost witnessed that light, that warmth, disappearing forever. The glow of his Spark reminded her of the tunnel, the love and the light she saw the night she almost drowned. And, once again, she had to leave it.

Could her life get anymore ironic?

"I guess there's never balance, is there?" she sighed.

"What do you mean?"

"Life is either too long or too short. It's never just the right length."

That smile again, brief and shimmering. "Relativity."

His dorky humor shook a brief laugh from the emotional debris littering her innards. She took her hand off his chest and traced the groove running down the center of his nose. The way his optics blinked and crossed to follow her action made her smile. She stopped when her finger came to rest on his mouth plates. "We can still have our talks, right?"

"Of course," Optimus said against her fingertip, "But I want you to tell Sam the same things you tell me."

"I will," Mikaela replied. She didn't know if this was the last time she'd touch him this way or not, so she kept her fingertip on his mouth a little longer. "Mind if I still sit in your cab to do homework?"

He chuckled, a soft, gentle rumbling sound, "You're always welcome to sit in my cab, Mikaela."

The ache in her throat became the small, compact sting of resolve. She moved her hand back to his chest. "It's a safe feeling, you know--knowing you'll always be there. I can't say that about many people in my life."

Optimus' optics lidded slightly. They were moist, like dewy car windows early in the morning. "I'm honored," he said. She knew, in some small fashion, he was already missing her. She would be old and die in seemingly no time to him while he remained ageless. Still, no matter what, he'd be there, and that promise was all that mattered in the end.

Mikaela finally convinced herself that lifting her hands off his chest wouldn't make him cease to exist. Their love wasn't disappearing...it merely changed. Like energy.

"I should go..." Optimus' joints clicked and hissed as he eased himself onto his feet. Even in barely any light he somehow found ways to shimmer like fine china. "Thank you for the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it."

She ducked her head, smiling a little while her dark hair covered her face. "Should I walk you out?"

A chuckle. "That won't be necessary, but thanks anyway."

He embraced her.

"Don't forget. Talk to Sam," his voice rumbled in her ear.

"I will."

They locked eyes again and she touched her lips to his mouth. One last, long kiss before she had to let him go. He responded with a tickling static shock.

"Mm," he cupped her cheek, "I will miss your kiss."

"Me, too."

He leaned over until their foreheads touched. "It's going to be all right."

Mikaela wished she could believe that. Logically she knew she would--just not now. Not when the wound was still raw and bleeding. She held Optimus' hands until his hologram faded. The emptiness of his absence threatened to consume her. She rushed into her bedroom and stood by the window, which granted her an unobstructed view of Optimus parked across her driveway. The curtains bumped into her, not the least bit deterred by her presence in their path. She couldn't command them the way he did.

The Peterbilt pulled away into the night. When it turned the corner, Mikaela looked over at the Optimus-shaped print still marking her bedspread and found it within herself to smile. The mark on her bed was destined to fade, but that was all right with her--the imprint he left on her heart would stay forever.

.o

"It was so nice of your mom to invite me over for dinner. I could live off her meatloaf." Mikaela said to Sam.

A week had passed since she last spoke to Optimus. Her period caused her to miss a lot of school. Sam called every other day to check in. Optimus didn't call her, but she saw him drive by a few times. Then Sam phoned with a dinner invitation that she found impossible to refuse. It was the perfect opportunity to put Optimus' words into action. Which was why they were now sitting on Sam's bed, looking at his Junior High yearbook.

"I like it too. Okay..." Sam grinned, "You sure you want to see this?"

"Yeah."

He flipped the book open to expose his photo. Thirteen year old Sam Witwicky had braces, the freckles that faded with time covered his face like sesame seeds and he wore his hair spiked up in a way that looked utterly ridiculous on someone that blond.

Mikaela dissolved into snickers. "Wow." She could remember seeing that photo before she knew Sam. At the time she considered him the weirdest kid--not someone she could ever like. Times sure changed.

"I thought I looked so cool." Sam made a face and laughed. The braces did a good job of making his teeth pretty.

"I used to wonder who that dorky kid was, but other than that I hardly noticed your picture." She winced upon admitting it. Sam didn't seem at all bothered, flipping instead to the B's. Her own photo was a bit cleaner--though in it she wore a blouse with a ruffled collar she hated. Even at thirteen she had sad eyes.

Sam blushed. He'd circled her picture. "Yours is a million times better than mine."

Mikaela lightly slapped him on the arm. "At least you got over it. I've seen seniors dressed like that. Ugh." She bit her lip and tried to screw down the courage to speak to him like she did Optimus. "I remember the eighties dance we had last year."

"Oh, yeah? I--saw you there."

"Yeah?" Sighing, she gripped a handful of his bedspread and blurted out, "I like eighties ballads."

Sam's eyes grew. "You serious?"

Oh, damn... "Mmhmm..."

He started to laugh. Not jeering laughter, more--surprised. He bent over to reach under his bed and pulled out a small shoebox of CD's. She watched him shuffle through until he pulled one out. Monster Ballads. "This is one of my dirty little secrets. My dad doesn't even know I have this. Miles doesn't even know. 'Bee does, but I told him he better not play it with anybody else in the car or I'd take a sander to his paint job."

Mikaela laughed and silently wondered if she somehow dreamed this moment. Optimus...was right. And it was so easy. "Sometimes I even look up old cartoons on Youtube, just for kicks. You know...Scooby Doo...and Ninja Turtles."

"Ruh-roh!" Sam said in a perfect imitation of Scooby's voice.

"Cowabunga!" Mikaela giggled and gave his head a little shove. Then she pulled him close and kissed him. The soft warmth of his silky lips surrounded her like a protective blanket. "Guess we can't be mature all the time, can we?"

He breathed heavily, "Guess not."

Things might have escalated had Sam's mother not interrupted with a shout, "Who's up for dessert?"

Sam rolled his eyes and palmed his forehead, "Damn. Uh...rain check?" He peeked out from under his pinkie.

Mikaela smiled softly and sat up

.o

It was after dark. Bumblebee needed to report to Optimus--no real news, but the Autobots liked to stay informed about the happenings around Sam and Mikaela's homes. Sam made an excuse to go for a drive with Mikaela and they were off.

"Hey, Bumblebee! How was the car wash?"

Bumblebee's engine revved. "Most enjoyable."

Sam's face turned tomato red. "He kept playing the deli scene from When Harry Met Sally. People stared. A lot."

Mikaela guffawed until her sides hurt.

Ten minutes later, Mikaela and Sam got to witness the Autobots enjoying a rare evening of downtime. Mikaela giggled when Bumblebee played hip hop music started break dancing in the grassy field behind the warehouse. His moves shook the ground. Air chairs, freezes, six steps and even the worm. Sam and Mikaela almost died laughing--seeing a giant yellow robot do the worm...a very good worm at that--was too funny for words. Optimus and the others came outside to investigate the commotion. They stood in a circle on the grass, watching.

Bumblebee put on quite a show.

"Jazz was better, though," he said between six-steps.

Ratchet almost blew a gasket. "You're gonna blow out a joint doing that!"

"As if!" Bumblebee retorted, haughtily pulling another air chair just to spite the angry CMO a little more.

Mikaela's heart ached at the sight of Optimus in the evening glow. Or was it because of Sam's arm around wrapped warmly around her shoulders? Optimus looked her way with that little smile of his and the swelling heat rose into her throat. It was for the best. She knew that. Now if somebody would only explain that fact to her heart.

"All noise," Ironhide groaned to Ratchet. "How can humans call those noises comprehensible? How can Bumblebee?"

"I believe the core is rhythm," Ratchet replied. "Which is something you seriously lack."

Ironhide gave him a light shove. It only looked violent--he was actually smiling. "The only music I know consists of two things. Explosions and you overloading."

Ratchet cast his bond mate an amused sidelong look. "Perhaps I can make more of this music for you a bit later."

"You're on. Now if the dancing fool out there would just turn off that noise..."

Neither of them noticed Optimus very, very slightly tapping his foot to the music. "Ironhide, Ratchet," he smiled over at them both, "Music and dance are a means of self expression."

"I don't see you out there making a fool of yourself," groused the weapons specialist, his face scrunched in a sneer.

Optimus and Mikaela caught each others' eye. His gaze had fire behind it. He was always a leader by example--practicing what he preached.

"Really? Let's remedy that, shall we? Mikaela, may I borrow you a moment?"

Smiling, Optimus boxed himself into truck mode and his hologram appeared. Sam jumped back, startled at the sight of the Autobot leader standing before him at only six and a half feet tall.

"Whoa!"

"Showoff," muttered Ironhide.

Optimus' radio clicked on as Mikaela grasped his hand. She instantly recognized the glittery piano as Journey. He drew her close and began moving to the rhythm, his joints hissing and clicking each time he shifted his weight. Their eyes locked together. It was a secret goodbye--a slow, achingly difficult goodbye nobody in the area knew they were saying.

"Highway run
into the midnight sun.
Wheels go 'round and 'round.
You're on my mind..."

Mikaela blinked so the lump in her throat wouldn't become tears. She didn't notice the others watching in shocked silence. Not because they were together--the Autobots and Sam just couldn't believe Optimus knew how to dance.

"It's all right," whispered Optimus, "You'll be fine. I know you will."

She eased closer and laid her cheek against his warm chest plate. He rubbed her back, his fingertips gently thrumming the strings of emotion pulled painfully taut around her heart. Time stood still while his chrome body moved against her skin. She heard him quietly singing along with the song. No, not singing along, singing it to her.

Mikaela let herself remember everything. Their first dance, their long talks, the things she told him and everything he ever said to her. Those things didn't have to stop--but they were still saying goodbye. To what, she wasn't exactly sure. It still hurt.

For the millionth time she feared he'd disappear if removed her hands from the back of his neck.

"Optimus..."

Optimus stopped singing and held her tighter. This wasn't any easier for him--

"Shh," he smiled, though his optics were dewy, "It's the right thing."

--but his wonderful goodbye showed her that love sometimes meant letting go.

"...and being apart ain't easy
on this love affair..."

Then he twirled her gently towards Sam, who quickly caught on and picked up where Optimus left off. Sam was shorter than Optimus' hologram. Mikaela stood cheek to cheek with him. Their bodies swayed in unison while the piano and vocals issued from Optimus' speakers. She felt Sam's heart thudding behind his sternum. A fleshy, human chest and skin that gave when she pressed against it. His hands rubbed soothingly across her back while the tears she held back spilled out all over his shoulder.

"I...really like you a lot," he stammered against her hair, "Um...uh, I-I mean, I...uh...I--"

Mikaela giggled hoarsely, "I know, Sam. I know..."

"...two strangers learn
to fall in love again..."

She leaned back to find him grinning like a fool. God, he was so cute. "Stop being so nervous. I'm not going anywhere."

Sam relaxed in her arms. His movements became graceful, looser, less restrained. Mikaela saw his feelings for her reflected in the city lights dancing across his eyes. She glimpsed Optimus watching them through the corner of her eye. He was smiling. Sadness shone in his optics. Not regret, just sadness. Even if it was for the best, stopping their relationship had to hurt him as much, if not worse than it hurt her. He'd handed her off to someone capable of easing the pain in her heart, but what about his Spark? How many times would he have to sacrifice his own happiness for others?

What if her happiness was his?

Mikaela chewed on her bottom lip. She whispered, "Sam?"

"Hm?"

"Do you ever have nightmares about Mission City?"

His breath shuddered in her ear. "I did a lot right after. Still do...sometimes. Megatron was right on my ass. He wanted that Cube. And--" he frowned, "I almost got filleted by a helicopter propeller. I thought I was gonna die out there."

"Me, too." She blinked back another wave of tears. "Bumblebee and I drove back into that mess and took out the tank."

"'Bee told me about that. He said you became his combat brother that day--" Sam chuckled, "'til I corrected him and said girls are sisters."

Mikaela grinned, meeting Sam's eyes. "He is kinda like a big brother." She let her gaze flit briefly to Bumblebee, who watched them through curious optics. "And he's cute to boot."

"Cute? Ahh...um, must be a girl thing."

She made a face at him right before she laid her cheek on his shoulder and closed her eyes. His hands drew her closer. Her fingertips traced the velvety hair on the back of his head and neck. He smelled salty and warm like a spring afternoon. She brushed a finger across his cheek--but where she once felt cool chrome, she now felt warm, slightly stubbly flesh and moist lips as soft as silk.

"I can't believe I never noticed you." Mikaela whispered in his ear.

He grinned into her cheek and replied, "S'okay. I noticed you."

"I'm glad."

Their lips met softly.

"Say um..." Sam half-smiled, "there's a cheesy monster movie playing in that dumpy little theater behind the school. Wanna go see it?"

Heat threaded its way through Mikaela's cheeks. She laid her head on Sam's shoulder again and gazed at Optimus in the darkness. "Yeah. But we have to get popcorn. It's not a movie without popcorn, you know."

"You're on. I'll buy it for ya."

Mikaela's heart shivered. "Thanks."

Optimus nodded and his hologram slowly faded to reveal the rising moon.

"...I'm forever yours--
La-dee-da...
Faithfully!"

.o

One hour later...

"It's getting late. Mikaela, you coming?"

Ratchet emerged from the back of the warehouse. "Mikaela, can I talk to you for a moment?"

Two questions fired at once. Mikaela answered Sam first, "Just a minute--yeah, Ratchet?"

Ratchet motioned for her to follow him into the relative privacy of outside. His face was serious. Her innards froze. Oh, God, something had to be seriously wrong for him to quietly request speaking to her in private.

"Uh, sure." Mikaela gave Sam's hand a nervous squeeze and released it. The first time she'd let go of it in the hour following their dance, she realized. "Be right back, okay?"

"No problem. Bumblebee isn't going anywhere."

Bumblebee's speakers emitted a razzing sound. Sam laughed and slapped the windshield.

Mikaela walked out into the crisp evening air. Ratchet knelt to her level and slowly blinked his optics. "I have information I thought I'd share with you."

"Oh?"

"While you and Sam were engaged in courtship behaviors, I ran a full scan of Optimus. It seemed normal until I came to his Spark."

The blood drained from her face. "Is he okay?"

"Oh! He's fine!" the medic rolled his eyes, "But getting jumped fragged his circuits up a bit. I found a file sitting in his Spark. The creation timestamp says seventeen-fifty four...or five-fifty four in the afternoon. The darn thing was so fragmented that I had to run a debugging program just to put the data back together. Then I found out the stupid thing is so heavily encrypted that I doubt even the best hacker can crack it."

Mikaela's eyebrows knit. "The virus?"

He frowned, "I'm not sure what it is. It's three megabytes long--compressed of course. That's equal to roughly three hours of conscious activity."

"That is pretty weird."

"Yes, especially since his Spark went out five seconds before the listed timestamp."

She felt her heart skip a beat.

Ratchet leaned closer. "Mikaela, are you all right? Your heart rate just increased drastically."

"I'm...I'm fine. Ratchet, go tell Optimus what you just told me." Mikaela struggled to contain the elation bubbling like carbonation in the pit of her stomach. "He needs to know."

Ratchet didn't appear to see the importance of his discovery. In fact Mikaela was sure he just humored her when he transformed and rolled up to Optimus. She wished she could be there, sitting in his cab when Ratchet delivered the news. At the same time she had a feeling Optimus would want to be by himself with it for awhile.

And she didn't have to worry about him because she knew, now, that he'd be okay alone.

A casual arm draped around her shoulders. Flesh, not chrome, but just as warm. "What's up?"

"It's a long story." She leaned into Sam's half-hug. A brilliant new future sparkled into existence the moment she met his eyes. "How about I tell you on the way home?"