Rated M for a reason. OptimusxMikaela, takes place after A Road Paved in Friendship. Starts out silly, but ends serious.

.o

Shifting Gears

.o

Stinging desert air blew into the cab, waking Mikaela from a dream she couldn't remember. Crisp blue skies, brown landscape and tarry black pavement greeted her sleepy eyes. She reached for her water bottle and for a moment the taste of fresh alpine water disconnected her from the dismal desert around her.

It was weird, falling asleep in one climate and waking up seemingly in another. The last thing she remembered was the patter of rain on the windshield. Being on the road for three straight days with shifting time zones wore on her.

"Morning, Optimus," she mumbled once her throat had moisture again. "Where are we?"

"We're leaving Las Vegas on route ninety five." Optimus' voice spoke from the speakers. The little GPS monitor on the dash confirmed his words.

"Mm. Gonna need a rest stop. Gotta pee." Mikaela instinctively gripped the knob on the steering wheel, positioned her feet on the pedals and rested her hand on the gear stick. All were moving on their own accord as Optimus navigated the highway. The knob and stick were warm from the sunlight beating on the dashboard.

"Duly noted."

It was nice of Optimus to save her the plane ticket and drive her all the way home while Sam regrouped at college. His parents were paying to have him flown back to be checked out by their doctor. Mikaela didn't feel like waiting--deciding instead to just get home and put her life back together. Sam understood, and he--perhaps a bit foolishly--trusted Optimus when he volunteered to drive her after Bumblebee refused to leave campus.

Unfortunately, Mikaela hadn't packed money for such a long trip, and she'd used the last of her cash to buy food in another city long gone. But the last six or seven hours wouldn't be too bad. In her childhood she went a lot longer than that without anything to eat, so hunger didn't bother her as long as she didn't smell any food.

"By the way..." Optimus spoke again, "I have no qualms about pulling over and letting you sleep in the sleeper."

"Don't worry about it." Mikaela playfully tried to turn the wheel the opposite direction from which it was moving, but Optimus was a lot stronger than her and the wheel remained in his control. "I'm used to sleeping in cars and trucks."

"Not cars and trucks that speak to you." His response had a smile in it.

Mikaela picked the label off her water bottle, wadded it up and flung it at the windshield. "Get over yourself, Optimus."

He laughed, "Rest stop in five miles."

They said nothing more after that. Mikaela took out her phone and poked through the photos she'd taken with the camera. She had a great shot from Memphis: Optimus in robot mode, sitting next to the grand music-themed gates of Graceland Mansion. It was done in the middle of the night, and getting him to transform and step over walls just to pose there took a lot of convincing.

"This is trespassing!" He'd said.

"We're not hurting anything," Mikaela had responded. "Someday, I'm sure Neverland will become a landmark just like this."

"Ah, Michael Jackson's ranch?" Optimus continued when they were on the road again. "Considering all the media still surrounding his death, I'm sure the outcome of that will come to light soon enough."

Mikaela leaned back, "Yeah. I wasn't really a fan though. But Graceland is pretty legendary."

"Indeed."

And the next several miles were spent surrounded by Elvis music.

The most recent photos were the ones she'd taken in Roswell yesterday. Optimus got that joke and made a dork of himself kneeling beside the city sign with his fingers sticking up next to his head like antennae.

"Take me to your leader, Earthling."

"Sure," Mikaela snorted, "When you show me your mothership."

"Oh, sorry, it crashed a long time ago."

"Damn."

Mikaela turned her phone back off, yawning. Traveling through time zones made it seem like the world stopped moving at one o'clock in the afternoon. She saw an American Airlines airplane go by and wondered if Sam was onboard.

Optimus' engine purred, then guttered as the gear stick under Mikaela's hand down-shifted--and his hood emitted a knocking roar when he activated his jake brakes to decelerate down a hill. The whole cab vibrated, and Mikaela relished the sound of power. Her bladder didn't like it, however, and she gripped the stick tighter to distract herself from her discomfort. Optimus' air brakes pop-hissed when they achieved a full stop.

"I'll wait right here." His voice sounded strange--like someone who had trouble catching their breath.

"Thank God we found this stop. Be right back."

It was hot outside in the sun. Mikaela thought she'd be accustomed to such dry heat after Egypt, but Optimus' air conditioning spoiled her. At least the heat was dry, so her sweat could evaporate and cool her while she hurried into the even hotter restroom. She did her business, washed her hands and eyed the vending machines outside. One for sodas, one for water and one with snacks. Mikaela picked through her pockets for change and had just enough for a foil-wrapped Pop Tart, a bag of ChexMix and another bottle of water.

"That doesn't seem very nutritious. You'll be hungry again in a short time."

If it was anybody else, Mikaela would've been annoyed. "Money buys food, and I only have enough for what I've got." She walked past Optimus' grill to get out of the sun and leaned against his front tire while she devoured the Pop Tart. Then she swished and swallowed a mouthful of water to clean her teeth. The cold water refreshed her. She dumped the wrapper in the trash bin before climbing back into Optimus' cab. Sitting in the driver's seat was a given. Her hands went automatically to the gear shift and the steering knob. Both were warm despite the air conditioning.

"Geez, Optimus, are you horny or something?"

He started to answer, "Um--"

--but it cut off the moment she started easing down on the clutch. Her thumb flicked the splitter on the side of the gear lever to low while she eased it into first gear. Then she released the brakes and the clutch and pushed on the throttle to get Optimus moving. She pressed the clutch twice and shifted gears again, easing onto the road. The gear stick didn't shift easily, so she had to push and pull hard and the shifts weren't always smooth.

Mikaela up-shifted once they were on the open road again. Driving such a huge vehicle made her nervous, so she gripped the lever tighter than normal.

Then she realized what she was doing and yanked her hands back.

"Oh, my God...I could have crashed you!"

Optimus laughed so hard he had to pull over. "Y-you were doing fine, actually."

"I know how to drive stick, but not a big rig." Mikaela balked. "Why didn't you take over?"

"You're welcome to practice on my stick any time."

"Practice on your stick?" Mikaela barely covered a snicker. Optimus was very talented at saying unintentionally dirty things. "You have got to be horny right now. Do you have any idea what you just said?"

"I'm well aware of what I said," Optimus answered simply. He pulled back onto the road.

"Tch, next thing I know, you're going to tell me you have a pick-up line."

"Actually, I do."

Mikaela grinned. She had to hear this! "Okay, what is it?"

Optimus' rumbling voice dropped to a husky level, "Nice shine."

She almost regretted asking when sinful thoughts crossed her mind. "You are horny."

"You seem to be as well, Mikaela. Considering what went on in the utility closet the other d--"

"Yeah. Two-minute man. He was a virgin, so I should've expected as much. It was great up until then. We'll get better at it once we figure out what we're doing. I'm more experienced than he is." She shrugged one shoulder, "I expect it to suck the first time I sleep with a new guy. There are a few exceptions, though." She patted his steering wheel and wondered, for the millionth time, why she felt so comfortable talking to him about her most private thoughts.

"I do hope things improve for you two."

"It will." Mikaela let her hand rest on the gear lever that was now much hotter than before and up-shifted when she felt Optimus accelerating. His engine skipped a beat and the RPM needle jumped. "When I'm frustrated, I like to drive anyway. I usually take it out on the poor car though...nothing like horsepower between my legs to clear my head."

"Now who is the one dropping innuendoes?" Optimus laughed again. "I have no complaints if you wish to drive me. Just inform me when we reach a road named 'Insane.'"

"What's got you in such a mood?" Mikaela wondered aloud. She'd never known Optimus--or any Cybertronians for that matter--to be so raunchy! They were either turned on like switches for the occasion or not at all. Nothing ever simmered in their systems for hours and days.

Or so she thought.

"Our dance on the aircraft carrier," Optimus said softly. "It brought back memories I'm rather fond of."

Oh. That night...

"Maybe we shouldn't have--"

"No, no..." Optimus cut her off. "I don't mind it. Just...inform me if what I say is getting too intimate and I will stop."

Mikaela grinned and leaned back in the driver's seat. "Optimus, with a voice like yours, you can say anything you want and it sounds sexy."

"Thank you."

Quiet settled between them again. A comfortable silence broken by occasional "jaking" or the click of a blinker. Even on a highway with no other cars, Optimus used his blinker.

"Is there such a thing as breakup sex on Cybertron?" Mikaela asked quietly.

The brakes slammed on so suddenly that Mikaela grabbed the steering wheel. They weren't going very fast, but they still skidded quite a way. She smelled burnt rubber and for a nervous few heartbeats she was worried she'd offended him.

"You mean one last bout of intercourse before a couple decides not to remain together, correct?"

"Yeah. Sort of like saying goodbye to a relationship. Probably doesn't work for the bonded folks on your planet, but--"

"It's been known to happen." Optimus rumbled over his idling engine. The power of it vibrated the cab and made Mikaela feel suddenly delicious. "By the way, the road ahead is almost perfectly straight for the next hundred miles."

"I noticed." Mikaela tried to keep her breathing steady.

"It's the perfect road to take out your frustrations, Mikaela. The worst you can do is veer into dirt."

"What is it with you wanting me to touch your gear stick?"

"It connects to the central neural input line, which is directly connected to my Spark chamber." Optimus answered simply, and let the implication hang there in the air.

"So basically, it's your robot dick."

"It's not a penetrative part, Mikaela," he jokingly reprimanded her. "Stroking it does nothing, but a firm grip..."

Now Mikaela knew she was used to the weirdness. First the vacuum, and now this? She licked her lips and buckled her seat belt. Sweat beaded on her brow and made her palms feel a little slick. "So this whole time I've had my hand there, you've been getting all riled up. This is worse than the vacuum, you pervert."

"Perversion has nothing to do with it." He huffed. "I'm merely stating a fact."

"Fact my ass." Mikaela smirked at the road. "If you're that worked up, I'd be glad to take care of it for you."

"We are both in such a state that to continue driving without clearing our minds may prove dangerous," said Optimus. Once again, his voice smiled at her. "We want the same thing. Now please, Mikaela, grab my stick and drive."

Robot dick, Mikaela thought. The black and gray gear lever in question jiggled slightly from the idling engine. She realized this would be their last time, so why not make it memorable? Regret could come later, when she had to face her reflection in a mirror or her final thoughts before going to sleep at night.

But for now?

She stomped on the clutch and yanked the lever viciously into first gear. Upon releasing the clutch, she jammed her foot against the throttle and Optimus jolted forward with a startled noise.

"Rough enough for ya?" Mikaela cooed, double-clutching and caressing the splitter. She heard Optimus' engine pause and speed up. The RPM needle jumped. Another tap on the clutch and she up-shifted, noticing how the speedometer and engine RPM needles flicked. Vibrations from all that horsepower bled through the seat and she realized, suddenly, that Optimus had been adjusting the seat all along just for this purpose. She leaned forward slightly for maximum contact with the vibrations in the seat. The how's and why's didn't matter anymore. There was only here and now--a last chance to experience and say goodbye to each other.

Neither of them made a sound. There was just the brown and black landscape and the dotted white lines becoming an increasingly solid blur. The gear lever in Mikaela's hand kept heating up. She gripped the bottom of the steering wheel so hard her bones nearly burst through the skin.

Another violent up-shift. Optimus' motor snarled as the speedometer approached eighty miles per hour. The road dipped downward in a shallow slope, but to Mikaela it felt like a ninety degree drop. Everything blurred. She heard the gear stick click when she pushed it up and to the right, then down again. Her body was alive with a sensation so visceral that she stopped trying to find words for it.

"Mikaela," Optimus' voice growled from the speakers. Until then the roar of his engine told her everything. But his voice, raw and carnal, made Mikaela's heart jump behind her ribs.

"You steer," Mikaela panted when her eyes started to lose focus. The wheel in her hands steadied and she worried only about the lever and the clutch and the needles on the dials spiking and waning. Static electricity tickled her through the gear shift and heat oozed along the floor. Her body stopped being her own; she was part of Optimus and their bodies, four point three metric tons of metal and wires united with one hundred and fifteen pounds of flesh and bone, lived and experienced as one being. Every vibration, jerk, twitch, sigh and hiss thrust her closer and closer to the edge of forever. She gripped the gear stick tighter when it got hotter and braced her other hand against the roof of the cab.

Just in time.

Optimus let out a cry and floored it, his air horn blasting. Mikaela lost herself at the same time he did--and they had a simultaneous orgasm while careening downhill at one hundred and twenty-five miles per hour. The sun and sky whirled and swung. Everything streaked by like hastily painted art. Mikaela thought she'd fly apart without the seat belt holding her down.

After an eternity that lasted less than thirty seconds, Mikaela heard the growl of jake brakes and felt Optimus gradually downshifting into a less insane speed. He rolled to a gentle stop just short of a sharp curve in the highway.

"Oh. My. God." Mikaela said through clenched teeth. Her body shook in a soup of adrenalin and endorphins. "We did NOT just have sex at high speed. We did NOT."

"My consciousness log says otherwise." Optimus sounded equally breathless--a pretty good imitation for someone without lungs. "Are you still frustrated about earlier?"

Am I still--is he nuts?

"If I had pipes like you, I think they'd be pretty cleared out by now." Mikaela took a gulp of the cool water she got from the vending machine. Condensation made the bottle slick in her hands, and she wiped her now cold and wet hand down the center of her sweaty face. "Mmh...oh man...that was insane."

How in the world could Sam top this experience? It didn't matter who she had sex with in the future...Optimus would always be the best. She knew it, and she knew her conscience would beat her senseless when she got home. It would kick her again when she saw Sam.

It didn't matter. She'd cross that bridge when she came to it. Right now?

"Dammit, Optimus, this is the third pair of underwear you've ruined."

"You could always stop wearing them."

Mikaela felt him move the clutch and shift gears. She snorted, "You'd like that, wouldn't you? No way, then everybody would know what I've been up to. Panties can get tossed, pants can't."

"Hm, point taken."

"Hey, Optimus?"

"Yes?"

"Why don't you play with your own damn stick?"

His answer was serious, "Because it is the same principle as you trying to tickle yourself."

"Figures."

"For what it's worth," his jakes rattled again when they decelerated onto the off ramp. "You have very nice hands."

Their banter continued while the landscape went from desolation to inklings of civilization--a gas station here, a sign there--and Mikaela lamented the knowledge that once again she'd have to leave Optimus.

At least, she comforted herself, we have one hell of a 'goodbye' memory.

.o

Getting to Mikaela's home took six more hours, mostly because Mikaela needed pit stops to use the restroom and stretch her legs. Once or twice, Optimus stopped to let his engine cool down. At seven o'clock or so in the evening, she remembered the ChexMix and nibbled that before falling asleep. She woke up a little later to find it was dark out, Optimus had moved her to his passenger's seat and his bot holo was driving. His eyes glowed soft azure. The amber street lights revealed him in brief shimmers.

Mikaela's eyes drifted to his hand on the stick shift. The same stick shift she'd touched to send him into overload on the highway. His fingers worked the switches and pulled the lever to and fro like second nature. But he knew himself so well that he didn't need to think about it any more than she needed to worry about her ears while inserting earrings.

"Good evening," Optimus rumbled. He reached down and rattled a plastic bag tied shut by its handles. "I took the liberty of procuring something for you to eat."

Mikaela reached down to pick it up and was shocked to find a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. "How did you--"

"I have my ways," he winked at her. "Let's just say Simmons has a love for secret Swiss bank accounts and opened one for me to use in an emergency. I think your need to eat qualifies as an emergency draw."

He didn't have to go do that for her. It was such a simple little thing, yet doing it showed her how much he cared.

"You are awesome." Mikaela reached into the bucket and started devouring the delicious meat. It did fill her up. When she finished and only bones were left, she dug the napkin out of the bottom of the bag and wiped the grease off her fingers. A swig of water washed down the meal. "Oh, man, that tasted great. Thanks."

"Don't mention it." He replied.

As usual, his radio was playing too softly to really hear beyond knowing it was on.

"Mikaela..."

His quiet tone made her mind say, Uh-oh...

He turned to her, able to drive and focus on her simultaneously. His softly glowing optics reached straight into the core of her being. The way he hesitated told her he'd been contemplating telling her this for a long while. Maybe the whole drive.

"Unless fate crosses our paths again..." He flinched slightly, bracing himself. "it's entirely possible we won't be seeing each other face to face again."

Reality was a wrecking ball. Her heart accepted the blow and the pieces sank into inevitability. Optimus disappearing from her life forever, except as a voice on the phone or text on Twitter, or the occasional webcam video chats they'd probably have once in a very blue moon. Always just out of reach...

She didn't realize she'd shed tears until his fingertips brushed one away.

"It's for the best, Mikaela." Optimus' voice remained low and soft, a well of barely contained emotions. "The more I'm around you, the more I put your relationship with Sam at risk. You deserve your dreams of marriage and motherhood and a career. I would only hold you back. You know that."

"Yeah, I do." Mikaela hated herself for crying over the truth. She forced back the tears and gripped his hand. "It's really not fair. Loving two people for entirely different reasons, and knowing you have to leave the one you love for all the right ones. It's not fair."

"I...I understand your frustration. It isn't fair, but it's life."

"Then life sucks."

Optimus' 'eyebrows' inched up. He turned the corner and rolled slowly onto her street. "And sometimes it blows."

His well-timed statement won a laugh from her, though brief. She saw her mobile home in the light of his headlights and sighed. Home again. It was like emerging from Narnia--a sudden slipping back into her own mundane world after living a new, fantastic life. Everything had changed inside her, but she was the only one who knew.

"What's that on the radio?" she asked.

"Amy Grant." He said, and turned it up.

"I will be walking one day
down a street far away,
And see a face in a crowd--
and smile..."

Hearing it made Mikaela's heart ache anew. She climbed over the gear shift and his arms were quick to reach out and catch her. If this really was goodbye, she wasn't going to just get out and leave like he'd be back in the morning. It would be a sin not to feel his arms one more time.

Optimus rubbed her back with both hands. "Our memories are precious ones."

"I know." Mikaela looked up to find him gazing gently down at her. "It's just..."

"...Look into my eyes while you're near.
Tell me what's happening here.
See that I don't want to say...goodbye..."

He blinked. "Just...?"

She took his face in both hands and touched her lips to his mouth plates. "I'll never regret you, Optimus."

"Oh, Mikaela..." His optics misted over, and she saw his face pull slightly despite his efforts to will it into a stoic mask. He drew her to his chest and laid his cheek against the top of her head. She felt two tears drip onto her brow. It occurred to her, suddenly, that he was losing two loves in his life. Ten billion years or two years...it didn't matter to him because he stood timeless against the universe.

And every loss hurt.

"...our love is frozen in time.
I will be your champion and you will be mine.
I will remember you..."

Mikaela kissed his face when she felt him shed more tears. She envied his ability to stay so composed even while crying, but she was also grateful to him for not hiding his emotions. He had to hold back so much in battle and negotiations. How would he deal with it again without her as an outlet? What if he went back to burying it all?

"Call me if you need to talk, okay?" she said against his ear finial. "Don't hold in so much that you crack."

"I'll do that," he whispered.

Damn, but his eyes were pretty when they were teary. They sparkled as much as they glowed. She wondered if he'd quietly sob all the way to the warehouse...or would he be silent and move on?

He'd go quietly, she decided. Optimus didn't strike her as the type to sit alone and cry over something he couldn't change. He had soldiers to worry about, and she had motorcycles to fix.

They sat there in the front seat, their foreheads together, both wishing that door didn't have to open and dreading the moment when it did.

"...one word we never could learn--
'Goodbye...'"

"If I have kids someday, I'll bring them to see you. I want them to know who you are, what you do--and what you mean to me."

"If I'm still alive--"

Mikaela grimaced and slapped her hands against his chest plates. Childish, but she didn't want to hear him talk that way. "Don't say that!"

"I'm fighting a war. You mustn't forget that, Mikaela."

"You're not going to die. You're going to meet my kids someday. Okay?"

Optimus took her face in his hands and looked deep into her eyes, searching her soul. "All right," he said. And he smiled, making her wish her future children could have been his.

"...True love is frozen in time.
I will be your champion and you will be mine.
I will remember you.
So please remember...
I will remember you..."

Mikaela returned it, shakily. His steady gaze gave her the courage to open the door, but she couldn't step out until she gave him one more tight, long hug. Then she held his hand until the Peterbilt pulled away, separating them. She heard his jakes rattle around the corner and fade into the distance. Silence rushed in to fill the space he once occupied in her life.

Something told her this wouldn't be the last time she'd see Optimus. They never said the word 'goodbye' to each other, and 'goodbye' usually meant forever. The pain of separation would fade over time. It did in the two years following the events of Mission City, which brought Optimus crashing into her world. She survived and got her life back on track, so it wasn't impossible to do it again.

Mikaela slipped inside her quiet house and promptly disrobed while starting the shower. Her pack of birth control pills--prescribed to control her painful periods--fell out when she freed her phone. She'd missed the first two days because of the chaos in Egypt.

Oh well. Mikaela popped one into her mouth and cupped her hand under the sink faucet to help wash it down. Then she got in the shower and let the warm spray bead on her tan skin. It was hard not to think about Optimus, but she forced her mind onto matters surrounding her immediate future.

Next year, she'd have enough money saved up to enter the same college Sam was going to. She already had plans for majoring in auto-mechanics. And after graduation, in four years, she hoped to hear Sam start talking marriage. Settling down would stop her heart from straying.

Mikaela heard her phone ring. She stuck her arm out to check it. Sam was calling. She smiled and let it go to voice mail. He could wait five more minutes while she shampooed her hair.

Five minutes later--

"Hey, Sam. Sorry, I was showering..." She saw some blood on the towel when she dried herself. Curling her lip, she grabbed a panty liner without missing a beat, "...so what'd the doctor say?"

Sam sounded chipper, "I'm fine. Everything checks out. I'm flying back to school tomorrow. So how about you? You sound kinda down."

"Mm, just tired." Mikaela adjusted her hold on the phone while she applied deodorant and pulled on clean underwear. Tired of being crazy for two people... "I'll probably go to bed early. When do you leave tomorrow?"

"Seven o'clock sharp. Earliest morning flight I could get."

"Want me to come over there?" Mikaela felt her stomach sink at having to say another goodbye. She felt a bit abandoned by no fault of the people leaving--Sam in college and Optimus leading his men. Now she knew how Optimus must have felt when they parted ways.

Sam made clicking noise with his tongue. "Why not? You can help me pack again."

Mikaela smiled. "Only if you promise not to take that ratty old shirt you got blown up in."

"Scout's honor."

"Tch. See you in fifteen."

"Bye, gorgeous."

"Bye."

Mikaela hung up and hurried to find clean clothes. Hanging out with Sam would get her mind off Optimus--barring the fact that he didn't mention anything about Egypt, of course. Maybe they could lay down some basic plans for the future.

If only she knew the direction her life was about to turn...