Note: This takes place right after the end of RotF and is also set quite a bit after my fic Between Mind and Heart. There be spoilers within for all two of you who haven't seen the movie yet. Main pairing is OptimusxMikaela.
A Road Paved in Friendship
Aircraft carrier bunks and sore muscles offered no rest for Mikaela. For that matter, neither did the most recent series of events. Just when she'd escaped the nightmares of Mission City, new ones took their place.
She tip-toed across the metal floor, trying not to look at the shapes of sleeping bodies all around. Her dirty white jeans pulled uncomfortably against her aching legs. In the darkness, images haunted her; the Fallen had looked right at her with red optics far more crueler than Megatron's could ever be. And before that--Optimus...and Sam...
Mikaela picked her way through the maze of corridors until salty air surrounded her. Nothing and nobody else was present except for military aircraft in the periphery and the twenty-eight foot tall figure standing at the very end of the deck. Above his head, a sky unpolluted by city lights glimmered. Mikaela never really took the time in Egypt to examine the naked sky. She stood amazed. It was a veil of black velvet covered in twinkling diamonds, and to the south, near Sagittarius and Scorpius, the hub of the Milky Way shone as a dusty white haze streaked in blackness.
In a sea of stars, Optimus shimmered.
Mikaela walked across the deck and stood near Optimus' feet. Then it occurred to her that she'd better make her presence known, lest Optimus inadvertently shift and squash her flat or accidentally kick her overboard. A few military personnel made that mistake around Ironhide--one man was nursing a broken leg and the other almost drowned. Thus Lennox started a new rule: Make your presence known around the Autobots.
Mikaela sucked in a deep, salty breath and said, "Hey."
Optimus twisted and gazed down at her. In the darkness his blue optics seemed more brilliant than usual. They were sad, but still tilted into his version of a smile. "You should be asleep. It's oh-four-hundred."
"I couldn't sleep," she admitted. "I'm guessing you have the same problem."
"Your assessment is correct." Optimus replied. He backed up several steps and his body clanked as he transformed into a red and blue Peterbilt. Colorful rays lit the deck near the truck's grill and his man-sized hologram formed from the ground up.
No matter how many times she saw it, Mikaela could never get fully used to Optimus' human-sized hologram, but she welcomed his wanting to relate more on her level. Plus, being six and a half feet tall brought his face a lot closer to hers--and she could see he looked just as troubled as she felt.
It was so dark that his optics were the only source of illumination besides the stars. She could see his face perfectly. It seemed to glow slightly from within as the light cast by his optics also shone between the plates making up his facial features. The effect was quite pretty, and she might have said so if they were in a happier mindset.
Mikaela turned away from the intensity of his eyes and gazed up at the starry heavens. A vista so distant, yet just within reach.
"Where's Cybertron?" she asked to fill the silence.
Optimus lifted his arm and pointed at the hazy hub of the Milky Way. "On the other side of the galactic center."
"That's pretty far."
"Just...a hop and a skip." He chuckled and perfectly imitated a human sigh. "How is Sam?"
Mikaela tore her focus from the stars and found herself looking into Optimus' eyes. They were magnetic, and her heart still melted in their warmth despite her pleading with it not to. "He's fine. Lennox and the others spent three hours debriefing him about everything. Sometimes he still sees symbols, but he says it's not driving him as crazy as before." She paused with her lips parted and added the last part in a whisper, "What about you, Optimus? You died out there, too. Did you go back to--"
Optimus nodded once before she finished. His eyelids clicked when he blinked. "I met my ancestors--the ones who gave their lives to save this planet. I walked with them in the Allspark, Mikaela. It was peaceful there. I felt no pain, no worries, no suffering, no sense of time...just peace."
He shifted his attention to a piece of loose metal on the deck. Mikaela watched him roll it around with his metallic toes.
"Megatron wasn't there." He added in a whisper, clenching his fists at his sides. "When I felt myself fading, I hoped..."
Mikaela knew Optimus well enough to recognize the upward slant of his eyebrow ridges and the tension in his mouth plates as an expression of sadness. He was hoping the Spark called back wasn't Megatron's. He was hoping to find his first love safe and sound in peace.
But he wasn't, and it was the Fallen's fault.
Mikaela maneuvered herself in front of Optimus and took his face in both hands. He mirrored the gesture on her and she felt rather than saw his mantle of leadership slipping down.
"He came back in the same state in which he left, just as I did." Optimus' optics darkened and he let his fingers slide off Mikaela's cheeks. Something inside him turned over. He averted his eyes for a few seconds.
"Hey." Mikaela prodded, wondering how long this had been simmering inside his Spark. "Talk to me, Optimus. Please."
"He was taken from there, from the Allspark, and returned to corruption and greed." Suddenly, Optimus' eyes flared like twin supernovae. He ground his lip plates together and growled, and for a moment he looked completely out of his mind with rage. The mosaic of his face grew so tense it actually vibrated under Mikaela's fingers. It was terrifying to see his amiable features twist so horribly. Yet, despite that, his voice didn't rise in volume. Optimus never yelled unless he needed to be heard on a noisy battlefield. "And for what? To serve the Fallen? That--that traitor. He went against everything I was taught when I took my position as Prime! Everything! Is nothing sacred anymore?" He backed away from her hands. "Will the dead ever rest in peace? Who else has to suffer because of this war? What more must I do to bring an end to it all? I fight, I protect and I sacrifice, and it seems to do nothing."
Mikaela felt the ice in his words shoot down her back. On the surface, Optimus appeared calm and collected, but she knew now how far that was from the truth. She watched as everything he'd been holding back exploded to the surface in a burst of anguish.
"I'm tired of it." Optimus started ticking things off on his fingers, "I'm tired of every answer breeding more questions. I'm tired of worrying about the next Decepticon attack. I'm tired of fear. I'm tired of despair. I'm tired of pain. I'm tired of watching people die. Most of all, I'm tired of this--" he snatched up the scrap metal he was toying with earlier, a thick, jagged hunk of steel, and crushed it in his fist like an aluminum can, "--damn war!"
Optimus hurled the metal chunk overboard. The motion was lightning fast and oddly graceful.
The deck fell silent again, save for the sound of seawater sloshing in the aircraft carrier's wake.
Mikaela covered her mouth with both hands. She'd never heard Optimus swear before, nor had she ever seen him this angry. He stood there afterward and hung his head, his form trembling in the ire bubbling against his self control. One of many emotions he had to bury for the sake of his men, yet felt free enough to show around her. They both discovered this comfort level the night of her prom.
That evening seemed like eons ago.
Mikaela's heart thudded so hard she felt it pulsing in the back of her neck. He'd thrown that metal shard pretty far; she never heard a splash. What else was he capable of when this upset? She knew he wasn't mad at her, but it still scared her a little. Robot or human, holding in anger like that couldn't be healthy. He needed someone to hear him out.
Optimus straightened from his follow-through position. The twisted expression melted from his features, turning his face once more into a calm mask. He avoided Mikaela's worried look.
"I'm sorry." He whispered. "My behavior was extremely inappropriate. You did not deserve that."
Typical Optimus...selfless even when his own wounds were still bleeding.
"We all have to blow off steam once in awhile," Mikaela hugged herself while her heart regained a normal rhythm. "How many times did I call you up and rant about homework?"
Optimus' mouth quirked, "One hundred and ninety three times, actually."
"Oh, God, you kept count?"
"You asked for the precise--" he blinked when she looked at him, and smiled a tad sheepishly, though it didn't last. "Ah, point taken."
Mikaela offered a shaky smile and ventured closer. "Don't you ever take your anger out on the people you're fighting? I mean, if I was that pissed, I think beating the shit out of a Decepticon would feel pretty good."
"Not for me, it doesn't. It just means my anger causes someone else pain."
She balked at him, not understanding. "Seriously?"
Optimus tilted his head back and stared up at the sky. "I use my anger to fight, but I never use it against my opponents. The moment you lose your temper in a fight, you risk making mistakes that cost lives...and I can't afford that. I've made only one exception to that, and it was when I destroyed the Fallen. I tore his face off, Mikaela. I brutalized him. Then I ripped his Spark out through his back and crushed it in my hand."
It was strange to see Optimus feeling guilty over killing someone who nearly turned Earth into a cinder. She always thought that in a war, one grew desensitized to the death and destruction. His words taught her otherwise. Even after eons of fighting, he still mourned every life he had to take.
"Sounds like you were pissed. More pissed than you were a minute ago."
"I was." Optimus said simply. "I hated the Fallen. I've never hated anyone that strongly in my life. He was the one behind Megatron's obsession with the Cube. He took Megatron from me, and he is the reason Cybertron is doomed. It...it was personal when we did battle on the pyramid. I..." He lowered his eyes, "I was so irate that I forgot who I was while I fought him, and I didn't grant him an honorable death."
"He didn't deserve one." Mikaela sneered, remembering those cold optics. She couldn't find it in herself to feel sympathy for the Fallen like she did, if ever so slightly, for Megatron. "If he messed up your lives like that, he's no better than a rapist or serial killer. You did what you had to do to keep him from killing everything on Earth."
"I've never felt hate like that before. I don't ever want to feel it again." Optimus shuddered.
Silence settled again. Neither of them moved.
Suddenly, Optimus whispered, "Megatron stabbed me in the back."
Six simple words that hit harder than his entire rant, and they were spoken almost too softly to hear.
"He stabbed me in the back and left me there to die. I've lost him, Mikaela." His eyelids clicked when he blinked, but he didn't look anywhere near tears this time. He was just stating facts. "Nothing I do or say will return him to the mech I loved."
Mikaela reached out and touched his metal bicep. The springs inside--probably shock absorbers--flexed and relaxed under her fingers. His body was a wonderland of engineering genius. She finally asked the question itching the back of her throat.
"Are you okay?"
He looked at her with dim optics--the eyes of someone who witnessed horrors no living OR dying being should ever have to see--and answered, "I wonder if there is such a thing as being 'okay.'"
Seeing someone as confident as Optimus doubting himself made Mikaela's heart ache. He was suffering with issues no wrench or solder could repair.
The silence broke when Optimus' radio softly clicked through an array of stations. His search was unobtrusive against the sounds of the ocean. Finally he settled on a station where soft piano chords played in the wind, followed by lyrics performed by the Fray:
"Some things we don't talk about.
Better do without, just hold a smile..."
"Mikaela," he said.
She looked over to find his eyes watching her.
He went on, "I need you to tell me it will be okay. I need to hear someone say it. Give me a reason to hope."
"Falling in and out of love--
the same damn problem.
Together all the while..."
Mikaela's throat burned and the heat shot up behind her eyelids. She could remember asking him to tell her the same thing, and now he needed to hear it from her. He needed her.
Cool wind ruffled Mikaela's dark hair. She stepped in front of Optimus, guided his hands to her waist and slipped her arms up around his neck. He picked up immediately and turned up his radio, and they swayed together inside the safety of the music.
"You can never say never when we don't know it.
Time, time again,
younger now than we were before.
Don't let me go.
Don't let me go..."
"It's gonna be okay, Optimus." She stroked the chrome on the back of his head. It was cool and as smooth as porcelain under her palm. "It's gonna be okay."
Optimus' entire expression quivered at her words. His optics misted over, but he was smiling ever so slightly. He drew her against his chest so he could rest his chin on the top of her head. She felt his hands rubbing gently up and down the length of her back. So warm, so achingly familiar. Two years had passed since they truly embraced this way, yet Mikaela felt like they never stopped holding each other.
"...I will be your guardian when all is crumbling--
I'll steady your hand..."
"You always find the perfect song." Mikaela smiled, looking up. "Are you snooping in my I-pod playlist again?"
Optimus winked at her and for an instant the world stopped around his smile. "Why would I do that?"
Around them, the music rose in a crescendo against the night:
"We're falling apart and coming together again and again.
We're coming apart, but we pull it together.
Pull it together, together again..."
"Because you're a pervert who can't keep his data packets out of my--" Mikaela's world became a swirl of sea, horizon and glowing eyes when Optimus twirled and dipped her. "--virtual underwear drawer."
She was lucky laughter didn't cause Optimus to drop what he was holding. "I've grown very familiar with the quirks of the World Wide Web." He snickered. "As of yesterday, I'm able to tweet."
"Oh, my God." Mikaela held onto his chest plates when they straightened. "You're on Twitter? Are you following me yet?"
He gave her his username. Yes he was, that name was on her list of followers. She made a mental note to look it up and follow him back.
"I didn't want to be too obvious." He raised a brow, "What's so funny?"
Mikaela stifled her laughter, "Nothing."
"All right then, SocialFutterbly."
"Shut up. SocialButterfly was taken."
Optimus' gentle laugh made everything go away for just a heartbeat. Why did his presence make her so comfortable? Why did everything she needed exist in someone born on a different world? He pulled her close again, so close all that separated them was armor, skin and clothes. Then he turned his head and she felt his closed mouth press against her hair--his version of a kiss.
"Thank you, Mikaela," he said, his velvety voice right in her ear. "Thank you for making this burden easier."
"What are friends for?" she shot back lightly. Except their relationship was so much more than simple friendship. The word to describe it simply didn't exist--how did one define people who were more than friends, but not quite lovers?
Mikaela's heart stood torn between what she wanted and what was right. She'd lessened her face to face contact with Optimus over the last two years to regain a normal life--and then fate threw them back together again. Now they were in this moment under the stars, and nothing else mattered.
The song tapered away into silence. Optimus' radio shut off, but they kept moving while the world continued turning. A cruel reminder that time didn't stand still.
Mikaela watched the sky's reflection glide along the windshields on Optimus' chest plates. The sighs and whirrs of his servos were better than music--they told her he was alive and safe. Then she felt his fingertips under her chin, and looked up to find him peering gently down at her.
"Are you okay, Mikaela?"
She smiled at his kindness. "I'm under construction."
He returned the expression. "Sometimes, I think our entire lives are under construction. To stay in one place is to stagnate." Taking her hand, he rubbed his thumb over her knuckles, warm stainless steel making her skin tingle. "We should keep moving even if it's within the bounds of our own contentment."
Mikaela breathed in the salty sea air and traced one of his silver ear finials. "What if what you want is right there, but you can't have it?"
Optimus leaned forward until their foreheads touched. From Mikaela's point of view, his shining optics turned into a bright blue blob in the middle of his forehead.
"It's fine to want. Just don't let it blind you to what you have." He petted her knuckles with his thumb again. "It's fine to love me. But love me as a friend."
Her eyes drifted shut. He looked straight ahead while she let her brow rest against his chin. Everything she felt ached behind her breastbone. He was right, but that didn't make the truth any easier to swallow.
Optimus' arms shifted until he was hugging her against him. "Hey," he said against the top of her head.
"The sun is rising."
Mikaela looked over at the sliver of brilliant light on the horizon. Then she glanced up at Optimus and watched how the sun's first rays kissed the very edge of his face. He shimmered against the morning glow. Then he smiled at her and the light in his eyes wasn't from the sun.
He was hurting. He would always hurt. But she helped him bear it, and that was all that mattered.
"You're gorgeous in the morning." She said, touching his glistening cheek.
Grasping her hand, Optimus turned his head and brushed his mouth against her fingers. It amused her that his eyes glowed, yet he still squinted in the sunlight. "You're always lovely."
Heat flooded her face. She let her cheek rest on his chest and watched the ocean sparkle. The zapping sounds of Optimus' Spark pulsing was loud against the resounding quiet.
"I can hear your Spark," Mikaela whispered. "Can you hear my heart?"
"You have a very strong heart, Mikaela," he replied, his voice vibrating through his armor. "You should sleep."
Until he brought it up, Mikaela didn't realize how sleepy she was. Suddenly she couldn't keep her eyes open. She felt Optimus cup the back of her head when she yawned.
"Come on." He led her by the hand into the cab of his real body. Pushing the passenger seat forward, he guided her to the mattress in his sleeper. "If anyone asks," he winked, "I'll tell them that Sam's father snores too loud."
"Actually, he does." Mikaela obediently laid herself down on the comfortable mattress. Optimus had scanned every aspect of a truck--everything from the electrical tape wrapped around his steering wheel down to the blue quilt serving as a blanket. She closed her eyes while he drew it up to her shoulders and brushed his hand over the top of her head.
"Then your reason for being here is valid." Optimus stood up and stepped back. "Sleep well, Mikaela."
When his hologram disappeared, Mikaela scooted backwards until her back came to rest against the wall. She couldn't ask for a better friend...a person willing to offer his ear for listening and his body as shelter from the world.
Bright sunlight beat down on Mikaela's cheek as she plopped to sit on the deck near the water. Sam joined her a few minutes later, and they smiled at each other while Ratchet made Leo's eyes cross with super advanced information.
"...if my analysis is correct, it appears as if the data within the Cube shard wove itself into Sam's DNA sequence."
"So..." Leo cut in, "W-what's that mean?"
"The Cube, the All Spark, contained all the information about my people. It was the driving force behind our kind. We thought Sam destroyed it, but shards were left behind." Ratchet was patient in his explanation. "When he touched it, microscopic splinters rubbed off on his fingertips that were then absorbed by his skin cells. In essence it became part of him."
"Does this mean he's half machine now?" Leo squinted up at the medi-bot.
"No." Now Ratchet was smirking. "Boy, have you studied quantum mechanics yet?"
"Then let me give you a lesson on the laws of conservation of information. Bits of data can never wholly cease to exist, or else micro-reversibility would become impossible." Ratchet explained, "When two particles collide, they break into shards. Those shards collide with other shards, and those shards with still more. A cascade of breakage that can be run in reverse from the progeny to its ancestors, and thus retrieved. Suppose you take a book and burn it. The markings of ink on paper are still there in the flicker of the fire, the smoke and the ash, and if you ran time in reverse you could retrieve everything from the first letter to the last piece of punctuation."
"Oh! Right! Because if you lose information, you lose energy, since information needs energy to transmit. Stephen Hawking talked about that once on something I saw on TV. Man! That's deep."
"It's just quantum mechanics." Ratchet said. "Try googling a human you call William Dembski."
"We haven't covered him yet." Leo ruffled the dark hair on the back of his head. "But that ain't fair. You're super advanced alien robots who know this stuff. We're still learning."
Mikaela tuned out their voices when she realized Ratchet was giving this lecture for the millionth time. Sam relaxed beside her, his eyes glistening with reflections of the ocean. He wore a camouflage T-shirt borrowed from one of the soldiers onboard. It didn't quite match his scuffed jeans. His nose, forehead and cheeks were slightly red with sunburn from their time in the desert. The scrape on his cheekbone was scabbing over, but still a bit swollen. Clean, white bandages covered the hand he'd injured when Jetfire warped them from America to Egypt. Mikaela felt fortunate she didn't get sunburn, but the bumps and bruises she got running for her life in high heels would probably annoy her for awhile.
Behind them, the sunlight glinted off a familiar red and blue Peterbilt sitting between a black Topkick and a yellow Camaro.
"Sorry about my dad's snoring," Sam said. His forehead wrinkled guiltily. "Usually he wears Breathe-Right strips at night."
"I think he gets a pass." Mikaela brushed her hair out of her face and grinned, "Optimus let me sleep in his sleeper."
"Cool." Sam picked at his fingernails. He glanced at the Peterbilt not too far away. "How's he holding up?"
The question brought back the familiar ache in Mikaela's heart. Why was love so complicated? "Physically, he's fine. Emotionally? Let's say he's still under construction."
Mikaela felt herself blushing. She fiddled with a strand of her hair. "Same."
"No sacrifice, no victory." He grinned, "And I thought I warned you that dating me is hazardous to your health."
She smacked his shoulder, giggling. "What about you though?" She grew serious again, "Are you okay?"
In reply, he leaned over and gently kissed her mouth. He was so soft, real and human. She wondered if she'd ever shake that image of his lifeless body flying through the air in the aftermath of an explosion.
"I'm working on it. My brain isn't exploding with symbols anymore. That kinda helps my sanity. I guess those Primes must've done something to me. It was really weird, Mikaela...I don't know where I went, but I felt Optimus when they sent me back. He wasn't happy." Sam's sandpapery stubble prickled against her cheek when he moved away. Of course, Mikaela had no room to talk--her legs felt like cactus when she scratched an itch. Running in the desert didn't leave much time for hygiene. She could remember how sinfully good it felt just to shower and use a working toilet again.
"C'mon," Sam pushed himself up and offered his hand. "Let's go scrounge up some food. I'm hungry, and I heard Lennox makes awesome burritos." His eyebrows rose, "Wanna try one?"
Mentioning food made Mikaela's stomach take notice. She covered it when it growled loud enough to be heard over the ocean. "Sure. I'm so hungry, I could eat an Autobot."
Optimus let out a snicker. "It's fortunate that I'm not edible, then. I rather like this paint job. Which reminds me--I have a joke for you two."
Sam went pale. Mikaela raised a brow.
"If I could eat any food on this planet, what do you think it would be?"
"Uh...I dunno. Sam, do you?" Mikaela poked Sam's side.
Optimus' reply was so serious that it sounded like the fate of the world hung on his next words.
"Prime ribs," he said.
"Optimus!" Mikaela groaned while Sam erupted in hilarity. She gave Optimus another swat on his back fender while she dragged her guffawing boyfriend away.
Inside, after Lennox gladly made two more burritos and headed off to feed the others, Mikaela took out her mobile phone. Funny that she'd think about such a silly thing right now. The phone survived the chaos, and upon discovering this she sent her dad a text message to let him know she was all right. Then she logged into Twitter, found Optimus' screen name and followed him. Hundreds of people were following him, too, and none of them knew the same truth Mikaela did. She glanced at his tweets and found one from last night.
BestFirstTruckLeadership is such a heavy burden that I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever be okay.
10 hours ago from mobile web.
Suddenly, a new tweet popped up and made her smile:
BestFirstTruckThe road to 'okay' is paved in friendship. Someday, I'll get there.
less than a minute ago from mobile web.
Mikaela turned her phone back off and looked over at Sam, who was pigging out on his burrito. She picked hers up and began tearing into it as well.
"Prime ribs," Sam muttered. Their eyes met and they laughed until their sides hurt.
Maybe the road to 'okay' was a lifelong journey full of detours and potholes, but, no matter what, Mikaela knew she wasn't taking it alone.