AN: The end! Yay! Thanks to those that read and commented along the way. As usual, comments are crucial encouragement for writing. This has been an interesting character examination of Optimus for me.

Peya_Luna: Yeah, Mikaela certainly has made Optimus think about some stuff that wouldn't necessarily have occurred to him. It helps having a bit of an outside perspective. And yah, Ratchet was a virgin (as far as sex with a femme goes - who knows if he's fooled around with other mechs?). But he's never shy. He's...prudent. ;p

Borath: Well, I hope you like the last chapter, as it has a little bit of just about everything you mention. Wishes do come true.

Three Lovers

The humans were blessed with a peaceful December, and their allies celebrated their various holidays with the sober joy borne of too close a scrape with destruction. December was also the month the United Nations as a whole passed a resolution of temporary support of the joint Autobot and human operations, allowing all of NEST to breath that much easier. December, Optimus and Ironhide first shared sparks.

The day had been one of pleasant summer weather. Hot, humid, but not raining. The medbay interior would have been a furnace, if it weren't justified for their circuitry to maintain a cooler temperature through air conditioning. A day in Egypt was fine – several months in the tropics, however, would begin to affect their processors.

Of course, as Ironhide stroked his belly and thighs, Optimus was glad for the cool air for other reasons, his fans whirring it over a rapidly heating engine block. Ironhide's hands had become familiar, and comforting, the past few months. In stolen moments he would stroke Optimus' arm, place a hand on his back…or, like now, tease apart his armor, their EMFs overlapping, a charge building from his groin to his spark.

Optimus massaged the black mech's soldiers, working his fingers into the gaps caused by his transformation sequence. Ironhide leaned forward to nuzzle his face into Optimus' chest, slowly trailing kisses across his windshield and down the central seam. Their interfacing equipment was bare to the air, but they did not hurry.

Optimus parted his chest plates, and began to peak open the spark chamber hidden beneath.

"Optimus…" Ironhide said, leaning away. Suddenly, his field was filled with wavering uncertainty. Optimus leaned over to kiss his brow, then his temple, finishing at an auditory receptor:

"We don't have to, old friend. But, I would like to, if you are willing." A pause, and then a long huff from Ironhide's vents.

"Optimus," he muttered, "I hope I never learn how to say no to you."

When Ironhide was buried deep inside him, thrusting up with a steady rhythm, and they finally, finally touched sparks it was – it was a relief. Optimus wrapped his arms around his lover, resting his chin above Ironhide's shoulder plating.

{You're exactly like I thought} Ironhide's voice came to him, from that place where before he heard only himself, and Elita. He felt a little embarrassed, but not surprised, as he felt what the other mech felt. Ironhide was confidence and uncertainty, strength and tenderness, stubborn like a tree with deep roots…Ironhide smiled when Optimus returned the sentiment,

{You as well}

After some interminable time, melded in both body and spark, pleasure built like flame under bellows, and their overloads cascaded through them together.

Optimus absently trailed his fingers over Ironhide's plating, curled together.

"Perhaps I should negotiate with the humans to construct personal quarters." Ironhide chuckled, the laugh rumbling against his grill.

"You start thinkin' about the fact we always lyin' on the floor now?" Optimus smiled, and pulled him tighter.

#########################

A ping for attention politely appeared on his HUD, sender: Autobot Sideswipe. Optimus excused himself momentarily from the conference call he was engaged in with the Chinese ministers, turning his attention aside to address the bot.

"You have my attention," Optimus said, waiting. A summer breeze wafted in from over the sea, ruffling the sand around their pedes. Sideswipe fidgeted, EMF prickly, anxious, and on edge - characteristic since the announcement about the Matrix's other effects. Trailbreaker, Smokescreen, and Bumblebee seemed to be adjusting, in their own ways. Beachcomber had never had much of a reaction in the first place. But Sideswipe…Optimus sighed, placing one hand on his hip.

"Sideswipe, I think it unfortunate that you no longer feel comfortable addressing any issues you have with me. If the current command structure is completely untenable, I might have to change it so that you report directly to Ironhide – but I would rather not have to change our team dynamics," he swept a hand out in front of him, "our battle effectiveness is, as always, a key priority, and while so far there have not been any problems – "

"There won't be any problems, Prime," the silver mech cut in. "Yeah, this is slaggin' weird, but it ain't like I haven't seen you rip a couple Decepticon's new seams in the last few months. This ain't about that."

"Well?" Optimus said expectantly.

"Me and a couple other mechs been talkin', and, well, we feel like we're being kept in the dark on something big. Something else big. And that's what we're worried about." Sideswipe rotated his tires in agitation. "Turning into a- a femme doesn't mean you've gotta live in the medbay. And, you know, the fact that Ironhide and the Hatchet have been hovering over you like Jolt fawns over his plants. So are you going to tell us what's really going on, are what?"

Optimus weighed the options in his mind carefully. Another security risk. More awkwardness. The Truth.

"Sideswipe, tell me, do you ever think about a future - after the war?"

#########################

It was a conflicted Optimus that met with Ratchet early the next morning. Optimus was glad, as they locked the door, that Ratchet seemed willing to give his thoughts some space.

He had, by this point, discovered Ratchet shivered delightfully when Optimus stroked his cheek flanges. Or, really, when Optimus stroked most sensitive spots on the medic's body, a fine-tuned instrument ready to sing under the right fingers.

The medic lay splayed out on the floor, smirking up at him. Unlike Ironhide, who was becoming more and more of an open book, Optimus still found it difficult to gauge exactly how charged up the medic was at any given time – which, as they first became lovers, had lead to some unfortunate embarrassing incidents. Now Ratchet made it clear he considered it another tool hidden in his subspace.

"What are you off dreaming about, Prime?" Ratchet asked, a little too serious for teasing, not breaking their long lasting, lazy rhythm.

"Oh…" Instead of revealing his heavy thoughts, Optimus stroked a cheek flange again. In retaliation, Ratchet shifted his grip on Optimus' hips, changing their angle just so. Optimus bit his tongue to hold back a groan, but Ratchet knew the effect it had on him anyway, and celebrated by stretching up enough to nibble on a jawline. Optimus brought his hand up to cup Ratchet's face, encouraging him, but Ratchet stopped, and sighed.

"Optimus, you think I'm going to ignore what your EMP is shouting at me all morning?" Optimus had hoped so. Ratchet took his non-response for what it was, and gently lifted his hips away. Soon the two were laid out next to each other, Optimus' blue arm draped over Ratchet's neon abdomen.

"I thought we decided rubbing a rust spot till you grind a hole in the armor wasn't the appropriate way to deal with problems," Ratchet said softly, shifting just far enough away to look up to Optimus' face.

"I told Sideswipe about our hope for a sparkling yesterday," Optimus said. Ratchet's brows furrowed.

"All right. How did he react?"

"You aren't upset?" Ratchet snorted.

"Prime, when you're carrying, there comes a point it can't be hidden anymore. They were going to find out eventually. And when the little one arrives, let me remind you, the humans will find out as well. It's an inevitability. But back to Sideswipe."

"It was strange. It was almost as if he hadn't even considered the connection between femmes and sparklings."

"Hardly surprising. The only femme he probably ever met was Arcee, and perhaps his mother, if he and Sunstreaker ever had one. Arcee's hardly the bot one would associate with infants."

"I asked him. He said he and Sunstreaker have no memory of one, nor any mech to call a father. He," Optimus stopped, as the silver mech's straightforward comments had touched a worry he already harbored. The worry had bloomed insidiously overnight.

"What did he say?" Ratchet asked, threading their fingers together.

"He reminded me I might die any time." The silver mech's expression had been pained, and his field sour, when he'd said that. But he'd continued, indignantly. "That any or all of us might die. That's what he thinks happened to their creators. And what would a helpless sparkling do then?" Optimus bit back a sob, remembering the bitter pain in Sideswipe's voice. Ratchet rolled onto his side to hold him better, and they embraced each other.

"Well, I can't guarantee no one will die," Ratchet said gruffly, and without too much bitterness. Their enveloping fields pulsed with the thousand ghosts of lost patients. "But we are solid here, and you know that. And even if one of us, or Primus forbid all three of us, kicked the bucket, someone else would take up the responsibility. You really think after a speech like that Sideswipe would sit back on the sidelines?" The medic stroked his back panels in comfort, and Optimus tried to take his words to spark.

"It is still distressing to me, that's all," Optimus said more steadily, bringing his lips to Ratchet's forehead. Ratchet continued to pet him. Optimus knew what Ratchet said was the only reasonable response, but the bitter irony wouldn't completely wash away.

"Is it strange, that I want to have a sparkling in part because I fear I might fall in battle, and yet I fear having a sparkling in part for the same reason?" Optimus asked.

"No," Ratchet said, and Optimus felt it, in the chartreuse mech's field, that this was an answer the medic had no trouble providing. "I think it just shows that you've got a lot of things to worry about. Unsurprising, being the leader of a small band of refugees of an almost dead race caught in civil war," he said with a dry finality. But then his voice warmed against Optimus' audios, "But don't forget, now you don't have to worry alone."

After they relaxed a few minutes longer, Optimus began trailing his hands down Ratchet's plating in a somewhat more suggestive manner.

"Is that everything on your mind, Optimus?" Ratchet said, with enough warning in his voice to make his lover chuckle a bit. But Ratchet knew him too well. "None of that. I get the feeling something else is bothering you, from before you spoke with Sideswipe." Optimus built his courage. Ratchet must have known that this might happen, he had agreed to live this life.

"I shared sparks with Ironhide a few days ago," Optimus confessed hesitantly, his joints stiff with uncertainty over Ratchet's reaction.

"Ah," said the medic. Optimus felt his field pull close as he tried to refrain from any inappropriate reaction.

"It wasn't anything we planned, I just – I was impulsive. I have been thinking about it though, these past few days. I didn't know how to tell you – " Optimus cut himself off as Ratchet pulled tight around him.

"Optimus, I'm just glad you felt comfortable enough to do that. What, you thought I might be jealous? I did sign up for this, you know. And I understand if you want to merge with Ironhide and, and not with me." This time, it was Optimus who shook his head and smiled indulgently.

"Ratchet, don't ever put yourself second. I care about you as well," he once again cupped the mech's faceplates, taking the opportunity to run a thumb over those oh so sensitive flanges. "In fact, if we might return to our earlier activities, I want to show you for yourself," he peeked open his chest plates, the armor sliding against Ratchet's suggestively.

The smirk was back. But Optimus knew it hid the fondness in Ratchet's field and optics. A hand reached down to grab his knee and hike up his leg.

"Why, Prime, what exactly are you suggesting?"

#########################

"What's taking so long?" Ironhide grumbled, shifting his weight in irritation.

January.

Ratchet rolled his optics, and ignored the other mech with alacrity that came from long practice.

"The scan is complicated, and requires a significant amount of computation before meaningful results are derived. As I already explained," the medic grumbled at the end sardonically. Optimus dozed on the repair berth, the two mech's voices floating around him in the semi-darkness of the medbay. The last several days he'd been feeling drained, and when Ratchet noticed him nodding off into his oil drum that evening…well.

"Prime, it seems, well, your little fantasy has come to fruition." Ratchet finally announced, a tint of awe to his voice. Optimus heard more than saw Ironhide stiffen up at the news. He himself felt a wash of shock pass over him – so soon? He only realized he was gripping the edge of the concrete berth when Ratchet pried one of his hands loose to hold it.

"I'd be damn surprised too, except it's you, for one, Primus knows what the Matrix is pulling, for two, and it's just our damn luck, for three," Ratchet said, not lightly, but with a wry wit that Optimus knew was intended to help calm them all down. Optimus didn't manage a laugh, but the moment of paralysis that had overtaken him did pass, and when the implications of the news began to settle deeper than the surface, he moved his other hand to rest on his chassis, just below the spark chamber.

A child. Before, he had justified the act with thoughts of the continuity of their people. Still the thought of their species spiraling down to nothing loomed in his mind. Ratchet's announcement, though, filled him with a different kind of hope, a kind that had meaning only for the three of them: creators to be.

"So, uh," Ironhide spoke slowly and uncertainly, "what now? I mean, when Chromia was carrying…" Optimus remembered, then, the losses Ironhide had suffered, and a new fear filled him.

"I know what you're both thinking, and stop it. I checked all our spark frequencies for incompatibilities, remember? I am going to be watching out for anything that might go wrong, and by the end of this we're going to be sick of it," Ratchet pronounced forcefully.

"Ironhide, Ratchet," Optimus finally spoke up, "let's put aside those thoughts for now. I, like I think Ironhide meant in part, want to know: What do I do tomorrow when I online in the morning? What new changes," Optimus sighed, a small one, "should be made? More joyfully, when will we have the pleasure of meeting the little one face to face?"

"As for the last question, it'll be a while. Protoform consolidation this way is slow, even if we can actively supplement your diet with recovered Cybertronian nutrients. With our shortage of energon," Ratchet turned his thoughts inward, "well, depends on how much we give you. If we're out of fights and don't need any for emergency situations, my guess is around 2 Earth years. Up to 4 on the slow end."

"4 years?" Ironhide returned with frustration. Optimus glared at him mildly. He rest a hand on Optimus' shoulder and the touch of his EMF that Optimus felt had the decency to be reproached.

"Hopefully not," Ratchet corrected. "As for tomorrow? Nothing. You're tired because your systems haven't quite caught on they need to up their output a bit to support the sparklet. That should hopefully pass in a few weeks. Excusing yourself when you need a stasis nap to reset your systems should help it along."

"Oh," said Optimus.

"Speaking of, since you're practically falling asleep on the berth, it might be time to turn in to recharge for the night." Ironhide grunted in agreement.

"Wanna park on that runway near the beach? Weather tonight ain't too bad." Optimus, still in a daze, nodded, and the three meandered lazily to the out of commission runway.

Suddenly and unbidden, his memories cycled back to an evening of leisure he'd spent with Elita-One, vorns and vorns ago. They had been newlyweds, but somehow Optimus had secured time for just the two of them, away Ultra Magnus and Megatron. They'd snuck down to the capital's art district, taking in the evening crowds packing the alleys and galleries. The decorative streetlamps made her rose paint glow nearly peach. She had been so beautiful.

"Woah!" She said, laughing, as a forest green mechling ran headlong into her. The child cried, but Elita only smiled and helped him upright. "Next time be more careful, little one. Where are your fathers? You should go find them again," she said indulgently. She sighed as he slipped off into the crowd's legs, and then she laughed again.

"What are you laughing at?" Optimus asked, grasping her hand in his again. She smiled slyly up at him, her optics glowing brightly.

"Oh…Just wait a few cycles, and maybe you and Magnus will be chasing down a little one, that's all." Optimus stopped dead in his tracks, shock on his faceplates. Elita laughed again, bright and clear over the sound of the crowd around them.

"Not yet, silly mech. But," she demurred, a touch of nerve entering her voice, "I hope, you do look forward to sparklings? Someday?" Optimus pulled himself together, gazing warmly at her.

"I look forward to it very much."

Optimus abruptly stopped on the tarmac, startling the two mechs walking with him. Raising his gaze to the clear sky above, he sent a silent prayer to the Matrix. He hoped Elita would be happy for him. He thought she would be.

"Optimus?" Ironhide said.

"I'm sorry I startled you," he said. "Come, let us recharge." He folded into his alt-mode and rolled to a scenic spot, and the two mechs followed suit. As his systems settled down, his sleepy processor imagined a little rose femme running headlong into his legs, and his spark warmed.

Fin