Quick note: This takes place after Shifting Gears with mention of events from For the World.
Two lines had slashed her life apart.
They were a chasm that left her standing outside her own house in the middle of the night with her life bundled in two duffle bags heavier than the world. They became the parallel walls of a prison trapping her in limbo between the past and future. They locked her out of her old way of life forever.
Now she stood alone, trapped and terrified. She shivered in the cool night air.
How could she be so stupid?
Weeks of sleeping on friends' couches until she wore out her welcome had come to this. Crawling back home for the belongings she failed to pack before didn't help her self esteem. She'd gone through everybody on her cell phone list.
Mikaela grasped her cell phone in shaking hands and started dialing without thinking about it. There was one person out there who wouldn't be disappointed, angry or judgmental, and right now she'd give anything just to hear his voice.
He answered after the first ring, his smoky baritone curling into her like a pleasant flavor. "Mikaela! It's awfully late. What can I do for you at this hour?"
Mikaela's eyes burned as she choked out, "Hey, Optimus...did I wake you up?"
"No, you didn't." Optimus' voice instantly dropped to a concerned whisper. "You sound distressed. Are you all right?"
"No..." she sniffed. Tears threatened just behind her eyelids, but she refused to shed them alone.
"Are you hurt?"
"Yes. No! No...I'm not hurt. I'm just...I..." She reached through her hair and grasped at her scalp, then ran her fingers over her dark locks and let her hand slap down at her side. "Dammit, I can't even think."
"Calm down," Optimus spoke with eternal patience, his voice like a smoothing hand against her mind. "What is your situation?"
"I--I can't tell you on the phone." Because if she did, she'd cry, and she wasn't about to stand on the sidewalk in the middle of the night and sob like a child. Her dignity wouldn't allow it. "Where are you right now?"
"I've just returned from Diego-Garcia, so I'm at the warehouse," he said, and his line crackled as he started his engine. "What is your location?"
"Outside my house."
Static hissed again and she knew he was pulling onto the road. "I'll be there shortly."
"You don't have to come all the--"
"What are friends for?" he said with a grin in his voice that made Mikaela unconsciously smile back.
"Okay...see you." She sighed, "Bye."
Mikaela hung up without waiting for his reply. She paced, hating herself more than ever. Optimus had better things to do than listen to her rant. Almost a month ago, they'd parted ways and said it was the last time. Her wounds from that were just starting to heal. Facing Optimus meant slicing each scab open all over again. It couldn't be any easier for him, either. For a split second Mikaela found herself hating him for being so amazingly good to her. Asshole boyfriends were a lot easier to break up with than nice ones.
Time crawled, rushed ahead and crawled again, arguing with her. She glanced at her watch. Only five minutes had passed.
She tried turning on her I-Pod.
"...and if you have to leave, I wish that you would just leave.
Your presence still lingers here...and it won't leave me alone.
These wounds won't seem to heal.
This pain is just too real.
There's just so much that time can not erase--"
Mikaela shut the music off and ripped the ear buds out of her ears. The song just made her feel worse. So much for that.
God, how pathetic am I? I'm chasing somebody I'll never have. I should just wait for Sam to finish college, but I can't now. I love him and need him, dammit! Why is he running off NOW? Ugh!
When pacing stopped passing the time, she gathered her bags and made her way onto the main sidewalk. She began to walk in the direction she knew Optimus would come from.
I don't have anywhere else to go. If I can work things out with Sam, maybe--
A police car passed her. By instinct she checked to make sure it wasn't Barricade. It wasn't even a Saleen, so she relaxed when the car pulled over next to her. The cop who rolled down the window was a young Asian man with a heavy Vietnamese accent.
"Awfully late to be out alone, miss."
"I was at a party that sucked, so I left. Someone's picking me up," she said automatically. Her default excuse from childhood whenever the cops caught her out late at night. Glancing at his nametag, she smiled, "Don't worry, officer Pham, I'm fine."
"Hokay..." The officer didn't look pleased, but he shifted his car into gear. "Have a nice night and keep out of trouble."
The cop car pulled away, and she watched the red tail lights fade into the distance.
Mikaela focused only on placing one foot before the other. The world turned beneath her footsteps. She hardly felt time passing until she looked up and noticed the Chevron gas station situated half a mile from her home. She checked her watch. An hour had passed.
Jake brakes roared behind the freeway overpass wall, indicating a large truck was decelerating down the off-ramp. Headlights cast a white glow over the newly-resurfaced street. Shifting gears made the engine grunt and rumble between air brake puffs. Mikaela's gaze focused on the blue flames seemingly blazing from the silver grill of a Peterbilt as it drove by, executed a U-turn at the intersection and pulled up next to the curb with a pop-sigh. Bitter butterflies danced through Mikaela's stomach, matching exactly the tempo of the idling engine. She climbed in when the passenger door swung open. Her meager belongings fit comfortably under the dashboard. There was no scent of diesel--this truck burned a fuel not from this world--so it didn't have any fumes. The cab smelled like a new vehicle fresh off the lot.
Optimus didn't ask any questions other than, "Where would you like to go?"
"I don't care," she sighed. "Just get me out of here."
He pulled away from the curb and she watched the brightly-lit gas station shrink in the rear view mirrors. She was grateful that he didn't pressure her to talk, because at the moment she wasn't even sure how she'd explain her situation to somebody who didn't know all the ins and outs of human behavior.
They said nothing more until city lights gave way to open road. Up above, the clear summer night showered them in a celestial display of diamonds on black velvet. It was usually cloudy the few nights she journeyed to the warehouse--so to see the same sky she saw on the aircraft carrier mere weeks ago brought fleeting comfort.
Mikaela closed her eyes and the gentle vibrations from Optimus' engine lulled her into a light doze. It was still night when his jakes growled again, waking her. She looked up at the dark shape of the warehouse just ahead. A menacing black GMC Topkick was sitting in the parking lot. Optimus eased past Ironhide, jiggling over the driveway. In the absolute quiet, Mikaela heard every change in his engine and the rattle of tires crackling on the gravel.
Ironhide didn't respond to their presence.
"Ironhide is in alert recharge." Optimus noted over the hiss of his air brakes.
Mikaela nodded solemnly and felt much safer already. If anything without an Autobot signal disturbed the area, Ironhide would instantly wake up and confront the intruder.
"What about the other Autobots? Sideswipe and those twins? I thought they'd stay with you."
"Sideswipe in Washington D.C.. He will protect your president in the event of another large-scale attack. Skids, Mudflap, Jolt and Arcee are in Diego-Garcia. Arcee's repairs will take some time, however."
"Shouldn't you be out and about, too?"
"If the Decepticons wanted to attack me, it's safer if they strike somewhere unpopulated. This warehouse is a safe distance from most human dwelling, so collateral losses would be minimal."
They stopped talking after that. Optimus' engine shut off and his hood creaked and clicked as it cooled in the night air.
Still, the lull reminded Mikaela of the issue at hand. She was thankful Optimus didn't prod her. His hologram materialized in the driver's seat. Concern was written all over his face. He took her hand in his cool metal one and his gaze pleaded with her to tell him what caused her such grief. The unspoken words screamed a thousand echoes through her skull.
Two weeks ago, she ran into Ratchet parked at the gas station near her home. He'd called her over because, in his words, "Your levels of human chorionic gonadotropin are extremely elevated."
"It's probably the Pill. It changes my hormones around." She'd said back, having grown used to the medic randomly spouting information about her hormonal state.
"Birth control pills elevate your progesterone levels." Ratchet pointed out.
Mikaela had rolled her eyes, but when she finished her set of pills for the month and missed her period entirely, she found herself running to the store and peeing on a plastic stick. Two pink lines appeared, and then...
"I'm pregnant," she blurted.
Optimus' optics flickered to her still flat stomach and back to her face. "Why is this cause for sorrow? I thought you wanted to--"
"Yes, but not right now!" Mikaela exploded, "It's messed up my life!"
He looked mildly confused. "Is that why you left home?"
"I got kicked out." Mikaela sighed. "The rules my mom laid down ever since I started having sex was I better be married when I get pregnant or I'm on my own. She can't afford to support me with a baby. She gave me a check with all the money she was saving for when I went to college and told me to get out. It won't get me far. All that prenatal crap is expensive. My dad is barely out of jail, so there's no way he can help me and I don't want to go crashing at his place." Her voice cracked when she went on, "I've already spent the last two weeks sleeping at friends' houses. I went home to get more clothes and here I am. God! How dumb is this mess? You must think I'm an idiot right now."
Optimus blinked slowly, but did not stop her. Always a listener who never interrupted unless his input was important.
"I know exactly when it happened, too. I went for two days without the Pill when we were in Egypt. Remember the closet incident I told you about? Sam and I fooled around. Ugh! How stupid could I be? We should've used a condom. Aren't we geniuses?" She slapped her own leg because she couldn't, in good conscience, bang on the windows of a living being who didn't deserve it.
"You were taking those pills for your...uh...dysmenorrheal pain, correct?"
"Yeah...but some take them to prevent pregnancy. The thing is you're supposed to take them at exactly the same time every day, no matter what. And the condom, well...Sam forgot, and I'm a moron because I thought 'oh, I'm on the Pill, I'll be fine.'" Mikaela looked over at him. "Argh! I can't believe this. Sam and I were just starting to get serious, and this happens."
Optimus seemed taken aback by how irate she was. "What does he have to say about the situation?"
"I don't know what we'll do. I can't help right now, I'm broke."
Mikaela closed her eyes and tightened her lips.
"He left for the university again because he can still catch up on what he missed. I tried calling him. He said he can't deal with this right now. And before you ask--no, I'm not getting an abortion. That's murder." She sighed, pressing a cool palm to her damp forehead and glad that Optimus' hand was metal instead of flesh, because the way she squeezed it would have surely broken a human hand in two. "I don't want Sam to give up his life because of this...but it's just so typical. Guys can run away, but the girls are stuck with the baby. His parents think I'm trying to trap him. Isn't that just awesome? They start out liking me and now they won't even talk to me." The tears she'd been holding back rushed to freedom and she hated herself even more for crying over this. She was so angry her body shook. "I'm right back where I was when I was ten years old. I have nothing. I'm scared. I'm not ready to be anybody's mom, Optimus."
Optimus didn't bat a metal eyelid. He just held her hand while she sobbed, swore and spat. Only after she fell silent did he speak.
"You're wrong, Mikaela."
"What?" she sniffed.
"About having nothing. You're wrong." Optimus looked right into her eyes and everything wonderful that made fall in love with him shimmered in their azure glow. "You still have me."
"But--with the fighting...Barricade is still out there...and--and Megatron, and--"
"Mikaela..." He tapped on her knuckles with his thumb. "Calm down. You're tired and not thinking clearly. You panic more when you're tired. You need rest."
"Mikaela," he said in a no-nonsense tone, but the brush of his palm on her hand showed he wasn't angry. "Relax. We'll find a way to get you through this."
Leave it to Optimus to say that when he had no idea what he was in for. Though, much of his life involved decisions made almost blind, deaf and mute and futures depended on whether he said 'stay' or 'go.'
"You should rest." He nodded towards his sleeper.
Mikaela's mind raced for an excuse not to. "What if you need to transform in the middle of the night?"
"I'll wake you."
"Fine. But in the future, I'll probably stick something in the back room of the warehouse to sleep on until I find an apartment or something. No offense...I just don't want to get in the way."
Because sleeping inside Optimus would make her think even more about the relationship she wasn't supposed to have with him. Not even a month ago he'd said they wouldn't be seeing each other again for a long while, but fate intervened with this situation. Now, once again, she'd be seeing him every day. Every waking moment. This had to be just as hard for him as it was for her. She felt like such a burden.
"I'm so sorry about all this."
"Don't be." Optimus ducked into the sleeper ahead of her and turned down the blanket. "Good friends get you out of messes, but true friends sit right in the mess with you."
"Well, this is a big mess."
He winked, "I brought a poncho."
Mikaela snorted, slipped off her shoes and curled up on the mattress. It had as much give as her couch at home, but she liked firm sleeping surfaces. Optimus drew the blanket up to her shoulders. His optics were glowing blue hope in the darkness of the sleeper. He didn't look upon her with anger or disappointment--there was only compassion in his smile.
And seeing it hurt.
He rumbled, "Just speak up if you need anything, all right?"
Mikaela nodded and closed her eyes. She felt a faint breeze as his hologram dissipated.
Regardless of the pain, it was a safe feeling knowing she had someone to rely on. Optimus had all the qualities of a true friend.
She fell asleep within minutes and no one disturbed her, not even when she slept until noon.
Morning sickness hit Mikaela hard. Her sense of smell seemed to go from average to super sensitive, and any scents involving garbage or, strangely, apples, sent her gag reflex into overdrive. And why was it called 'morning sickness' when she felt nauseous all day long?
Once, she puked when Ratchet mentioned apple juice. Another time, she lost her lunch when Optimus accidentally ran over a possum that darted into the warehouse parking lot at the wrong moment, and normally the sight of guts and blood didn't bother her. Then there was the time she almost upchucked on Ironhide's tailgate because she found a squashed spider on his bumper.
She felt so bad, making them put up with her running into the bathroom. Sometimes she didn't get any warning--and having three sets of optics watch her most recent meal go splat on the ground did little to comfort her. She was just glad for the water grate right outside the doors. If she got sick on the floor, she could just hose it down.
"That looks incredibly unpleasant," Ratchet commented on one particularly queasy afternoon.
"It feels unpleasant." She'd replied while wiping her mouth clean. "What are you watching that keeps making you laugh?"
"House. It's an enjoyable program."
"One of my favorite shows. Pop up a hologram, I'll watch with you."
Ratchet gladly obliged. It was the episode where Dr. House had to treat a mystery patient sent by the CIA. Mikaela snickered when Dr. House rolled over a bed to pick up the phone and said, "You've gotta get over here. They got a satellite aimed directly into Cuddy's vagina. I told them the chances of invasion are slim to none, buuuut..."
Slowly, Ratchet turned to look at Mikaela.
"No," she crossed her legs. "Don't even try it."
"I was merely going to state how impossible such a situation is."
"He's joking, Ratchet."
When Mikaela wasn't puking, she was worrying.
Shopping for a few household necessities made her feel like a bum. The little money she had was tight at best, forcing her to buy as cheaply as possible so she'd have enough for her prenatal care until she got a job.
She bought a cheap office refrigerator-freezer combo that could hold a small carton of milk and a few other items, like eggs, ginger ale and the materials necessary for salads. Optimus spotted a microwave at a garage sale, of all places, and took Mikaela to purchase it. There was even a semi-functional electric stove that Ironhide found dumped on the side of the road. Only one front burner and the oven itself worked, but that was better than nothing. She cleaned it the best she could and hooked it up next to the emergency generator. Inexpensive cooking pots were bought from the Walmart near Mikaela's old high school.
The Christian Service ministry of a small church just inside town helped her via food distribution. Once a week she could pick up a free grocery bag. Even gas was free--the credit card Agent Simmons gave to the Autobots paid for gas. This required either a human or their holograms. Mikaela breathed a relieved sigh at this. At least she could eat, travel and sleep without worrying about money for awhile.
It was hard to enjoy her newfound ability to grab food when everything she ate came back up within an hour. Salads and bananas saved her disagreeable stomach. Lettuce with bits of chicken and cucumber chunks topped in Ranch, or a banana sliced and served in Wheat Chex cereal with a little milk stayed down at least ninety percent of the time.
Of course, the one time she let Optimus try to make a salad(which was funny in itself to watch), she forgot to inform him that tossing a salad did not mean grabbing a handful and hurling it straight up. Even though he did catch each piece he tossed in the bowl again.
"You instructed me to 'toss the salad.'" he'd said, one optic tilted in comical confusion.
"Yeah." Mikaela tried not to laugh. Not easy when she could hear Ratchet snickering in the warehouse doorway. "That wasn't what I meant. You're supposed to use the tongs and mix it up."
"I see." Optimus tipped half his mouth upwards. "You look lethargic, Mikaela. Are you all right?"
"Yeah. It's just hormones."
Optimus laid his hand on the counter next to the bowl. Right smack in a grease smear she missed cleaning up after breakfast earlier that day. He lifted his hand again and rubbed his fingers together, smearing it.
"Ack!" Mikaela hurriedly grabbed a paper towel, snatched his arm by the edge of his wrist armor and wiped the grease off his hands. Somehow the grease left a streak halfway up his forearm. She wet the paper towel under the faucet and went back to cleaning Optimus' arm.
"How long does a pregnancy last?" he asked.
"Nine months." Mikaela kept wiping.
"Then let me handle this." His other hand grasped her wrist, stopping her motion. He leaned down until their eyes were level. "Making another human being must be hard work if it takes nine months. You should decrease your activity level so your internal processes can work more efficiently."
It was how he said it that made her heart jump like a Mexican bean. He never regarded the BB-sized creature growing in her uterus as a shameful burden. His eyes, still penetrating as ever, watched her pour the dressing all over the salad and use the tongs to stir it. Nothing she did seemed too mundane for him. She didn't dare meet his gaze or she'd fall again. Feeling as she did about him carried too much guilt on its heels.
Could the weight of a too-heavy heart crush a person?
"You know what makes this whole situation stink?" Mikaela chewed a piece of chicken that tasted fantastic mixed into the dressing. "Sam went to so much trouble to get me. Sweet guy, a bit weird...but I just...gah, nevermind."
Optimus examined a piece of lettuce. He looked back at her. "You just what?"
"I wonder if he wanted me for me." She took another bite and muttered, "Maybe he's scared off by how fat I'll get."
"I'm afraid I don't understand," said Optimus.
Mikaela stirred her salad again and took delight in the lush crunching sounds indicative of fresh ingredients. She sat down against the wall. "In high school and college, a guy can gain status for dating the 'hot girl,' and that happened to be me in high school. I kinda had a weakness for big arms and..." She blushed, "Well, that's not important now. Imagine somebody wanted to be friends with you only because they knew it'd make them famous. What if this supposed person preferred to be seen with you rather than seeing you?"
Optimus stood next to her while he considered his answer. Even human-sized, his legs were metallic pillars sculpted by hands not from this world.
"I would feel a tad used." He replied. "However, I find this whole situation strange, seeing as Sam appeared to genuinely care about you."
"I do love him," Mikaela chewed her bottom lip. "Guys on Earth tend to mature slower. He's not ready to be a dad...I'm not ready to be a mom, but I'm the one stuck with the baby and all the mess it brings along." There she went again, telling him things she'd never tell anybody else and not at all worried about it. "What if I can't hack it?"
Optimus closed the salad dressing bottle and set it in the door of the portable fridge, which he then nudged gently shut. It was stainless steel, just like his hands. "Perhaps your thoughts will change as this pregnancy progresses."
Mikaela ducked her head, but glanced up again and found his optics looking down at her.
He knelt to level their eyes, smiling slightly. "Life is a wonderful thing. The way it slips into being almost imperceptibly while two human beings make love. Two cells that meet and somehow know what they must do to form a unique individual. It truly is a miracle."
Heat rushed to Mikaela's cheeks the way it did whenever Sam put his arms around her. She wiped imagined sweat off her forehead and ran her hand over her hair.
"I saw what the All Spark does. Simmons used energy from it on a phone and it tried to kill us all," she frowned at him, "Are you all born fighting like that?"
"No." Optimus shook his head. "The All Spark reacted to the emotions of those in the area when it created a life. If there was fear, the new mech would come to life believing it's in danger and attack anything it sees. But when the person directing the energy was filled with love, it was entirely different."
He frowned for a moment, "Those of the Prime lineage are supposedly able to create life with their very Sparks, and I know I wasn't born from the All Spark. I had a true Spark-father--Sentinel Prime, though I didn't know that until I learned my heritage. But Megatron was born from the All Spark. We were guided into life by the mech we both called 'father.' We tend to call the mech who guides us into being a 'father' or, for those who prefer more archaic language--a 'maker.' My father's name was Orion Pax. Hm..."
Optimus let air hiss from his joints, a simulated sigh. This subject made his optics dim. "I used to hang onto his every word. He was a wonderful storyteller who dazzled me with dreams about how every star was a precious treasure. I remember it every time I look up at the night sky." His eyes were soft, remembering. "Megatron loved to challenge father's authority. Even before the Fallen twisted him, he thrived on conflict. He could never sit still when things were peaceful, but father never took any of his--er--I believe the proper slang term for it is 'sass.'"
"You guys have childhoods?" Mikaela suppressed a giggle at the very idea of Optimus being a baby--even a robot one.
"Yes, but not the way you do. My people are born with basic knowledge that grows through schooling and life experiences. I had to grow up mentally just as humans do. I ran. I played. I got into trouble and even went through a rebellious phase--namely because Megatron and I bonded before we'd reached mental maturity. We both wanted it, so we didn't see the point in waiting for the pomp and ceremony." Now Optimus' eyes were faraway, twinkling in memory, "Orion was angry with us, but, as always, we were forgiven."
"So your dad was a nice guy?"
"Oh, very much so. Firm, but extremely loving."
"What happened to him?"
"He was killed when the war broke out. It was in his last few moments that he told me the truth of my heritage, which was kept from me for as long as possible." Optimus rubbed the middle of his forehead with his fingertip. He had a glyph there, but he moved before Mikaela got a good look at it. "Primes are born, not made, and the Fallen was hunting us down, generation after generation. Orion hid me away, raising me along with Megatron because single younglings were bigger targets than two or more."
Orion Pax was just one more person Optimus saw die because of the fighting. Mikaela felt guilty for bringing him up. She looked away. "I'm sorry."
"No." His smile never wavered, "I'll see him again."
This time Mikaela could not resist smiling back. He believed.
"What happened to the phone mech you saw brought to life?"
"Oh." She bit her lip, "Simmons fried it." When she saw him flinch ever so slightly, she realized Simmons had killed a newborn. A life that never truly began was torn from this world after gaining sentience in a tiny box surrounded by frightening alien creatures. That little Nokia-bot lived and died in fear. That was no way to exist! What if more Decepticons showed up and decimated the world in the nine months between now and her baby's birth?
No, forget that. Birth itself. Birth meant pain.
Mikaela slapped the plastic salad bowl down and dropped her fork inside it. Bits of lettuce spilled out onto the floor. "Dammit...I'm so scared of giving birth."
"Why?" he asked.
"Look up childbirth on Youtube, Optimus, and watch."
Optimus' eyes flickered. His mouth dropped. He finally shuddered, closed his optics and scrunched his face in what seemed to be sympathy. "That looks agonizing." His eyes refocused on her, awed, "To endure that pain to create life--there is nothing more powerful."
"Women do it every day." She noticed his eyes growing faraway again as he searched the internet. "What'cha looking at now?"
"Curiosity." He blinked, "This would fascinate Ratchet. I think I'll pass it along to him. Do you mind?"
"Mm-mm. Go ahead." She picked up her salad and began shoveling it into her mouth. Two seconds ago she couldn't stand to look at it. Now, she'd give anything to have its entire contents in her stomach. She ate it in two minutes, embarrassed for looking like a pig. "Pregnancy is a cool transformation, I guess. From a little blob to something that looks like me. Same principle goes for you."
"All life is a miracle, Mikaela." Optimus handed her a fresh paper towel when she licked her fingers. "By the way, you have dressing on your cheek."
Mikaela flushed and wiped at her face. "Did I get it?"
"Uh...here." Optimus picked up the paper towel, reached out and dabbed at the corner of her mouth.
Their eyes met. Time ceased to be and reality sank into the glow of two brilliant blue pools. Mikaela was drowning. It took everything she had to resurface, to swim against the current while her heart clung to her ankles.
"I better go lay down for awhile. I don't puke if I rest after I eat."
"Right." Optimus blinked, coming out of his own funk. "I should go relieve Ratchet outside." He flashed her that tiny smile of his, "I cooled my cab to seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit for your comfort."
His hologram vanished before she could reply. Then the passenger door on his real body popped open and invited her in. There was a bucket next to the bunk for puking emergencies.
Mikaela laid herself down and tried to be as still as possible. Optimus assured her countless times that he received no sensory input from the mattress. But the metal wall behind her? The bunk underneath the mattress and above her? Even if the mattress itself was numb, he still had to be just as aware of her lying there as she was aware she'd curled up inside a living being.
Maybe the mattress in the warehouse could wait awhile longer.