Mikaela glanced over, pushing her sunglasses down just far enough to take in the two idiots from over the rims. Leering at her, enjoying the way she propped her legs up on the dashboard, waiting for the light to change. Cruising through town, though there wasn't much in front of them now but empty road, sweet curves rising up to wind through the hills.
"Hey there, hotness. What's your name?"
Louder, as if she just hadn't heard them before. Their car wasn't bad - sleek, dark red body heavily modified, god knew how many hours of work, a perfect custom paint job – probably damn fast too, by the sound of it.
Unfortunately, her standards had gone a bit higher since she'd met a certain yellow Camero.
"Why don't you ditch the limp dick and the weak-ass wheels and hook yourself up with a real man?"
The radio snapped off. She could hear Sam's head drop against the steering wheel, the muttered 'oh man.' She smiled, pulled her feet off the dash, leaning forward languidly. The rumble of Bumblebee's engine was a perfect purr, her hand shaking with the force of it where she held the door.
"Ok... if you beat him, you can have me."
"Mikaela, come on." Sam groaned, not at all worried by the terms, making a half-hearted protest first to her, and then to the car because he knew he couldn't change her mind. "Bumblebee, we just did this like, yesterday. I think these might be the same guys."
She grinned, biting her lip as Bumblebee revved his engines. She could never be sure if he did this purely for sport, or if he was actually that sensitive about the challenge to his land-speed record.
"Why does he listen to you? Why does he only listen to you?"
Mikaela grinned, ruffling Sam's hair as she listened to the idiots hoot and howl and think they had a chance in hell. "Because I have all the fun ideas."
The light turned green. Bumblebee gave the other car a good three or four second head start, before showing them what an alien robot with a ridiculous suspension and diplomatic immunity was capable of.
At the start of the year, if you'd have asked Mikaela what was more likely, dating a guy named Witwicky or spending most of her free time hanging out with alien robots, she would have probably called it a draw.
After-school special-clichés aside, dating a dork was really one of her better decisions. And she realized that maybe, just maybe, she'd been sticking to the boys who never bothered with her, beyond having their arm around her, because it was so easy risking nothing of herself. Safe to stand in the shadow of boys who never, ever asked her what she wanted, or what she dreamed about - or if she thought she might deserve better.
Mikaela was used to admiration, to being the center of attention. All the boys wanting her just because all the other boys wanted her - but Sam was the first one to want more than that, and he didn't seem to even notice. Asking her questions, actually waiting for her answers. Those first few conversations had been surprisingly awkward, when she realized he actually listened to everything she said.
Sam hadn't made the first move – or the second, but sometime around the third he'd at least remembered basic motor control, and things had progressed fairly well afterward. He was also an amazing kisser, a fun little surprise, admitting under the duress of using him as her personal body pillow that it was likely because he had spent the majority of the last few years thinking about kissing her.
"You know, in a non-'Fast Times at Ridgemont' kind of way." He'd said, nose wrinkling in the way it often did, when he was desperately hoping she didn't think he was a goober.
"Of course not." She'd smiled, and kissed him. Even when he was a goober, he was really cute at it.
The military had been surprisingly open to negotiation with the Autobots, probably after they'd tallied the damage done to the city, and realized how most of the robots had been destroyed by other robots, not anything they'd been able to do. It had been Optimus' decision to keep the peace, and everyone knew it.
Mikaela had been waiting for the Morons-in-Black who'd captured Bumblebee to reappear, for the situation to drop right back into idiot-government-in-bad-alien-movie mode, but apart from the expected tense curiosity and slow, careful negotiation, the Autobots had received a fairly hands-off approach.
Still, she couldn't help wondering if Jazz's body had been melted down because it was tradition, as Optimus had claimed, or because he knew better than to give the military access to the body – what was left of it.
The death of their comrade had been a heavy sacrifice, she was sure of that, but they kept it to themselves. Mikaela knew the Autobots must have talked to each other in private - radio frequencies, or cellular, even - and damn, damn was the whole human race really lucky that Optimus Prime had taken the long view on the value of their lives.
The Autobots had been given a substantial roaming ground for a 'home base', a couple hundred acres a few hours outside of the city, on a secure military base. Bumblebee took frequent trips out from Sam's house, and Mikaela went with him as often as she could, or by herself when things got boring. Enjoying the perks of being a first-contact diplomat.
The first time she'd gone alone, the guards hadn't believed her, looked at her pass like they were carding her for a fake I.D. Until Bumblebee had transformed behind her, to find out what the problem was and if he could be of assistance.
She didn't have many problems after that.
It never got normal, seeing them. It wasn't like the first few times, when her heart kept forgetting what it was supposed to do, but there was still something about coming over the hill to see a giant robot sitting there that no amount of adjusting was going to cover.
Optimus Prime was alone, which was fairly common for them now, the other Autobots on 'scouting missions' that she suspected were little more than an intergalactic version of shore leave. The government may have been taking this with the utmost seriousness, but if the Autobots had been fighting as long as they'd said they had – this was probably as close as they ever got to a vacation. Down time.
So it made sense that he was just sitting against a hill, relaxing beneath a tree, a little pond – strange, really, how much they liked nature.
Mikaela stopped five steps too late to stay hidden, knew he'd seen her, and it sure the hell wasn't cool to be impolite to the space alien robot guy even if you did help save the day but damn, it was a lot easier to talk to any of the others, and not just him. Not the leader of an entire planet, who'd watched his army dwindle to a handful of still-loyal soldiers. Still a king - one who'd probably seen everything in the galaxy worth seeing.
Space battles. Intergalactic wars. The words hadn't even had a real meaning before now – but she'd been there, right in the middle of it, even if it still didn't feel quite real.
She was nervous, because Optimus Prime didn't know better, than to treat her like everyone else. Like someone important. It was stupid to worry about it, but Mikaela couldn't help but dread the day he found out enough about humans to realize she was just a stupid, silly girl. Not at all worth his time.
"Hey." She managed to sound fairly nonchalant. Closer up now, she could see he wasn't just sitting, the thin, nearly non-existent shape of a pole delicately perched in between thumb and forefinger, the barest disturbance on the water where the bobber was pushed by the wind.
"So, uh... you're fishing, huh?"
Brilliant, Mickey. I bet he's glad he came halfway across the galaxy for this conversation.
"Sam suggested it, an activity you humans did when you wanted to think."
Maybe it was her imagination, that he sounded just a little sheepish. Amazing how much emotion they could show, without much in the way of expressions.
"It helps when you're wasted."
The words were automatic, Mikaela quickly shutting her eyes, wishing there was a way she could kick herself in the face. Optimus was either too polite to say anything, or he wasn't familiar with the term – unlikely – damn near impossible if they really had pulled all their knowledge from the Internet. They'd been absorbing human culture at an astonishing rate, though Mikaela thought they probably all had different goals. Ratchett and Ironhide seemed to be on a perpetual challenge to learn as many swear words in as many languages as possible, using them in combinations as majestic as they were horrifying.
"My sensors indicate there aren't any fish in this pond larger than 2.3-."
Mikaela smiled. "You, uh, might want to turn those off."
"I had the feeling that might be so."
The wind swept over the surface of the lake, rustled the leaves in the trees overhead. Mikaela leaned back on her heels, thumbs hooked in the belt loops on her jeans, and tried to think of anything worth saying. She'd met the president, after the dust had settled – this was so much worse.
"So have you heard anything? Any other Autobots call in yet?"
"No." A slight noise that might have been a sigh. "But there is still hope. Your scientists have offered the use of some of their equipment to try and boost the signal."
The Very Large Array, she'd heard them mention the possibility, all those dishes out in the desert. If they could even do something like that. Mikaela had been intimidated by the science wonks, at first, until she'd watched the fifth or sixth one get introduced to Optimus only to end up spluttering in amazement, stunned and flat on his ass.
"Hey, that's good, right?" She was confused for a moment, when he looked at her, without answering. Not entirely happy.
It's not like using a cell phone, idiot.
The signal would reach anyone who could pick up, enemies and allies alike. Not all the Decepticons had been defeated, she knew that, though they tried not to talk about it around her or Sam.
Any continuation of the war, it would happen here on Earth, Allspark or no.
"It is difficult for me to accept peace as an asset, to plan around it." Optimus said. "It has been a very long time since we have had the luxury. If I believe it, if I allow myself to relax, I risk being caught unprepared."
Only a handful of soldiers left on both sides – and this was why the Autobots still trusted him, still looked to Prime as their leader. Expected that he knew what to do, even with the cube gone, with any hope of restoring their true home lost forever.
"Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."
He let out what would have been a slight cough, if he'd had lungs, glancing down at her. "Mm?"
Mikaela quietly high-fived whatever brain cell had bothered to hold on to that information – she wasn't even sure which class she'd heard it in. "It's, uh, Shakespeare. I think you'd like it."
He tipped his head slightly, a thoughtful-looking motion she knew meant they were communicating – talking to each other, tapping into the Internet – and if he hadn't heard of Shakespeare before he certainly did in a matter of seconds, downloading a few hundred years of history and analysis in the time it took her to blink twice.
"Yeah, I'm sure we're everything you were hoping for." Mikaela said dryly, pulled off her shoes, sitting down next to him, dangling her feet in the water.
"We had not known what we would encounter. Some believed the Allspark had created us alone. There would have been many on my planet who would have been as intrigued by you as you are of us. Life is scarce among the stars."
His home, nothing but memories and recordings now. Bumblebee had told her a little more about it, shown the both of him some of his video files – they all carried them, the places they'd come so far to save. A strange dreamscape, fractal ferns and rivers of mercury, machinery and biological life merging flawlessly, until it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. What goal had Megatron been so desperate to reach, what could have been worth sacrificing such a world?
Mikaela glanced up at a rumble in the far distance – a military jeep, not coming any closer, just out on rounds. She frowned, remembering Bumblebee's frantic fight, the way he'd been ready to blast them all after Sam had gotten him free. He'd been with Optimus the longest – always a soldier. Difficult to imagine that they hadn't always been, though they'd been fighting so long it probably didn't matter much, what had come before.
"Are they giving you any problems?"
A slight chuckle, with that same soft wheeze on the end. Mikaela looked up, frowning – giant robots didn't get sick, did they? Optimus seemed alright, eyes still following the vehicle. She could see little more than a blur – he could probably tell what the passengers had for breakfast.
"Your government, they do not want what they think they do. There is no victory, not at that cost."
It didn't mean they weren't going to keep trying, but she thought he probably knew that already.
Optimus coughed again, one hand pressing against a spot below his left shoulder. Mikaela frowned – it sounded like some kind of exhaust problem, and it wasn't something he seemed to be able to fix, and he obviously wasn't going to ask for help. She pulled her feet out of the water, and stood up.
"Ok, so pop it open."
Mikaela bit down on the grin that she couldn't stop at all – he sounded damn near like Witwicky the first time she'd told him to unzip.
"It sounds like you have something caught in a filter somewhere. I'm sure I can fix that. So..." She waved her hands in a grand imitation of nothing, reaching down to make sure her feet were brushed clean. "Transform a little. Let me see."
Optimus Prime recoiled. If he was capable of blushing, she was sure he would have been.
"I believe I will be fine."
"Hey, don't let those army dorks work on you. You know the minute they hear that wheeze, they're going to panic - and I'm better. I am."
Mikaela adamantly refused to be embarrassed. Refused to consider the fact that the giant space robot was easily more of a father figure than her real dad had ever been.
"I swear I won't unplug your eyes or reverse-wire your feet to your hands. I won't even touch anything, I just want to look."
"Bumblebee warned me about this."
Mikaela grinned. "It's not my fault you're interesting."
He cracked his chest panel open, reaching for her as it slid outward. Mikaela wondered just what he could feel as his hand wrapped around her – it had to be something, sensors or a similar system. Otherwise Bumblebee would have crushed her when he'd dove for her, and instead he had been so gentle, so careful. Just like now, Optimus lifting her up until she could stand in the space he'd provided, not quite level but Mikaela braced herself against what looked like metal, and stared.
Bumblebee still hadn't let her get a good look at his hardware, and with Sam around there had been enough distractions that she hadn't managed to plead a good case. Still, Mikaela doubted it was the kind of thing that would get old, if she stared at it for a thousand years.
A few things seemed familiar, close enough that she could assign a likely function – but most of it was like nothing she had ever seen – nothing Earth had ever seen, from a planet where technology had risen to take all the forms she recognized. Blue arcs of plasma rippling along conduits, veins, like a human heart. Mikaela reached out, didn't touch – true to her word – watching the blue glow flicker across her palm, glowing between her fingers.
"Are you all right?" Optimus' voice reverberated oddly with her inside his chest – he could probably hear her heartbeat just fine, and she leaned back a little, bracing herself against the back of his chest panel.
"I..." She'd been about to say 'fine,' but it wasn't what came out. "I'm sorry, about the Allspark."
Sacrificing his own planet, for all of them, a world he barely knew, a people nothing like his own kind. Sacrificing something so beautiful Mikaela could not imagine losing it, and she'd only seen it for a moment. The whole of the world, the whole of the universe there before her.
Optimus was quiet for a long moment. "It was what had to be."
He shifted a few more parts as she moved, giving her a makeshift staircase, better access to where the problem seemed to be. Mikaela stopped halfway up, surprised to see a slight shift in the color of the metal across the inside of his chest. A seam, a near flawless patch though when she ran her fingers across it she could feel the smoothness, the slight difference.
"Did this happen in the battle?"
"It's an old scar. We were on a planet, smaller than this one, when the Decepticons ambushed us. There were... a few more of us then, and we were resupplying. It was uninhabited, but there was some plant life, a few smaller creatures."
Mikaela wondered absently if he meant small by her standards or his.
"Megatron diverted the path of a passing comet directly into its orbit. I failed to stop him in time."
Mikaela's heart did a funny little U-turn between her stomach and her throat. She knew, of course, that Bumblebee wasn't just hanging out with them for fun. Optimus Prime didn't really believe Megatron was dead – and maybe it was just paranoia, hard to give up a fight that had lasted so long.
Or maybe he knew something they didn't.
Maybe it was that Sam, her Sam, would be the first stop on Megatron's rampage. The last one to hold the Allspark. The one who'd saved the world, sent the Decepticon leader to the bottom of the sea. Megatron seemed like the type to hold grudges.
Mikaela figured she would probably be stop two, once he'd reloaded.
She swallowed, hard, and tried not to think about it, climbing up along the inside join of Optimus' arm, miniscule parts shifting to give her a better hold. He was more of a gentleman than most of the humans she'd ever met.
Mikaela reached the top, a shelf of metal and a low drop leading to the exhaust vent, and the problem. A problem she'd seen before, though not exactly in the same circumstances.
"Ok, so there's a cat here."
A large orange lump stretched out over the exhaust port, enjoying the heat from Optimus' systems like any regular engine block, although she couldn't imagine where the dumb thing could have come from. A stray from the base, maybe.
Mikaela hissed at it, and two yellow eyes languidly blinked, glancing up with imperious disinterest.
"A cat?" He was probably going through several encyclopedias even as he asked, to find out what kind of nests cats built in robots on Earth.
"Yeah, don't worry." She employed her best mechanic's drawl, a calm and lazy confidence. "Little mammal thing. Totally harmless. It's a good thing you didn't need to turn into anything today, though. It would have gotten real messy." Mikaela frowned at the cat, waving one hand. "Shoo. Shoo, you little bastard."
She didn't like cats, just for these kinds of reasons. The cat yawned, stretched, and curled back up, ignoring her.
"It's all right." Optimus' voice from a distance, and Mikaela frowned, leaning forward, metal digging into her stomach and shoving the air out of her lungs but dammit, no. No, it wasn't all right. She was not going to be the one to prove that humans weren't the superior species, even if she got her arm mauled off in the process.
In the end, it wasn't anything quite as climactic as all that – just twice as humiliating. She poked the warm, furry lump once, twice, and the cat finally let out a yowl of displeasure, scrambling down a passageway she couldn't see, a slight blur of orange where it hit the ground, disappearing into the brush.
Mikaela grimaced as the sliver of the world she could see tilted dizzily, Optimus moving to catch a glimpse of the cat, though he soon stopped shifting as he realized she was clinging for dear life, and she could stop worrying about the consequences of hurling on an interstellar diplomat.
"Ok, well, that was fun." Nothing blocking the exhaust, no other problems. Maybe he could transform himself some kind of cat ejection pod. The thought was enough to make Mikaela smile, until she shifted, pushing back – and didn't move. Mikaela blinked, pushed a little harder.
"Is everything all right?"
Except for the part where I'm ass up inside a giant robot space president, everything's fantastic.
"I... uh..." Mikaela shifted, trying to see where she was stuck – somewhere at waist level, her waistband snagged and refusing to budge, but she'd shoved herself into a corner and there was no way to move her arms, or get enough leverage to get herself free. "I think I'm... uh... just give me a second here."
Of course, the world being what it was, before Optimus could speak she heard the sound of tires on dirt and the familiar sound of a car transforming into the last two people she wanted to see at the moment.
Bumblebee and Sam had been working out a routine involving transforming at high speeds, ejecting Sam from the driver's seat and catching him in midair. This, from the boy who didn't like to speed and still took corners as if the car didn't know the road better than he did.
The little stunt had the double bonus of looking supremely cool and being insanely dangerous, and so nothing anyone said had been able to talk either of them out of it. Mikaela glanced through the gap in the side of Optimus' chest, past the edge of his arm, but couldn't see much other than Bumblebee's left leg, and a sound that was suspiciously like a robot trying not to die laughing.
"Woah. I... hey now. If you two are busy, I can come back."
"Witwicky, you have ten seconds to get up here!" Mikaela shouted, heard another burst of radio noise from Bumblebee that sounded like laughter, and the clatter and clang of sneakers on metal as Optimus shifted carefully, barely moving her as he helped Sam up.
Mikaela sighed, tapping her fingers gently against metal, weighing the possibilities of ever being able to look Optimus Prime in the eye again, and heard the first few lines of a familiar song from outside as Sam finally reached her, slightly out of breath and still not confident enough to just reach out for her and certainly smiling – she could tell even if she couldn't see him, and she smiled back.
I'm too sexy for my shirt. So sexy it hurts. Bumblebee got perfect reception, even out here.
"You lost a bet again, didn't you?" She said, could tell Sam shrugged just like she could tell he was still smiling.
"He really likes that song." Sam said, and went quiet, just the slight sound of his breathing in the silence. Sizing her up. No doubt enjoying the view. Mikaela rolled her eyes.
"Rescue now, Witwicky."
I'm a model, you know what I mean, and I do my little turn on the catwalk. The bass on Bumblebee's radio could be heard on the Richter scale.
His hands around her legs, warm wherever they touched her, and Mikaela reminded herself she was in the giant robot, hello, the definition of inappropriate and shifted a little bit, trying to help.
"Damn ultra-low rise..."
"Sacrifices must be made for the greater glory of those pants." Sam breathed, a half-laugh. Carefully maneuvering her stupid belt loop from where it had hooked around the smallest metal post. God, she'd gotten stuck inside the giant robot. God.
"I have the hottest girlfriend in ever."
Mikaela waited patiently, until they were back on solid ground, to kick him.
"Come on. Let's do this."
Bumblebee still didn't speak as much as he could have, preferring shorthand bursts of the radio whenever they could adequately express his emotions – she thought she caught the first few seconds of 'Maneater' that time – and damn, they were quick at picking up the lingo.
"Oh, don't give me that. We didn't come all the way out here to kick over rocks."
"Don't you have school?"
"Aren't you a enormous alien robot?"
Ok, so she skipped class... a lot. But Sam was gone for the week – some family reunion on the other side of the country – and Bumblebee wasn't exactly carry-on and they were still sort-of walking around the whole subject with his parents and Bumblebee stared back at her and she stared at him and he was entirely unconvincing even without eyebrows.
Mikaela took a step back as he transformed, even though he could have changed shape five inches from her and barely dusted her shoes – they were so careful, so cautious even without Optimus' admonitions.
"Oh hell yes."
He'd kept the yellow paintjob, but there was way too much mass to him to manage any traditional kind of motorcycle. His version was longer and leaner, unlike any bike she'd ever seen but immaculately sleek, light pooling off the edge like liquid, and she jumped, nearly fell over when he gunned the engines.
"Hell yes!" Mikaela laughed, and jumped on. No helmet, she knew better than to doubt him and it wasn't like it would do any good with the way his engines were roaring. He waited until she was low in the seat, leaning down like a professional across the best racing bike ever made.
Rumbling enough to shake all the way through her, but the ride was smooth and perfect and it was one thing to hear about breaking the sound barrier, and another entirely to do it.
... and this time, it was almost fast enough for her.