Optimus digested that information with a tilt of his head. After a long pause, Optimus peered down at her. "Did this fear ever leave you?"
Michaela opened her mouth, and then closed it, as her eyes darted away, uneasily. Optimus sighed deeply, bowed his head. "Please accept my apologies for asking a question of such a personal nature. It was not my intention to make you uncomfortable."
Michaela hastily stammered, "No, no, that's not it at all. It's just .." her voice trailed off as she craned her neck to peer up at him before her eyes swept back downward and were concealed by the dark curtain of hair. "I don't get how somebody like you could ever be afraid." She admitted quietly. She regretted the words when she saw the infinite, gentle sadness in his optics as he shook his head. She felt the sharp stab of guilt, knowing that she had unintentionally hurt him, but not knowing how. "I mean, you're so tough!" She offered, with a contrite, hopeful smile. "I've seen what you all can do with those cannons. How could you be scared of anything?"
She cringed inwardly when she saw his optics shut, as he lay a palm across them. It looked like a human gesture of weariness, and sorrow, as he finally turned to her. "We are not so different from you that we do not feel fear." His tone was quiet and biting. She bit her lip, the apology already forming as she tried again.
"Look. Before I met you guys-the Autobots- things like cars were just things that I used to get where I needed to go. They didn't talk, they didn't think, they were just there to take me where I needed to go. That's what machines do."
The deep rumble from his vents made Michaela recoil when Optimus only narrowed his optics and stared down at her. "Is that what we are to you, then?" There was no trace of anger, only wounded, long suffering patience as he waited for her answer. She did not know if he was addressing her alone, or if his question was so much deeper than she could attempt to answer. Looking up at him, and seeing him sitting under the vast sky, the alien moon of her planet falling over his inhuman metal, his helm, his fathomless existence, she knew that she could not.
Uneasily, she raked the hair away from her face, as Optimus noted her fidgeting grope for an answer. Optimus was familiar enough with human body language to sense that she felt helpless. Protocol demanded an apology, the dictates and moors of her human culture demanded an assuage to the emotional turmoil he had unwittingly stirred.
Michaela felt an odd sense of sympathy as he fell silent again, and blanched at the realization that she had never considered the possibility that the Autobots could be plagued with fears and doubts.
Optimus. Even sitting, he towered over her, godlike and still as a mountain, and until now, just as unmoving. She had cringed when she saw his gears fragment, his literal flesh littering the battle fields, each blow feeling like a wound with the sharp shriek of metal twanging in the air. His ferocity in combat, as he dismantled enemies and left their metal corpses in pieces she shuddered inwardly. It was difficult to reconcile the psychopathic level of violence-however necessary, however justified-to the tortured introspection Optimus was struggling with now. She flushed with shame. She had never stopped to wonder what a burden he carried on behalf of her, and all of her species. And, watching him silently peering at the celestial display, she knew that he would leave it unspoken. She, however, could not.
"Machines also don't waste time defending the world, and saving people, either." She tapped the back of his massive hand, noting that the joints and neural connections threaded through the appendage tensed uneasily.
Optimus's left optic shield rose, quizzically, like a human eyebrow. He understood that humans often attempted to comfort each other by spontaneous touching, especially on the back of a hand or a shoulder. Neither his light tone, nor the forced smile could convey his appreciation for the kind attempt. Nor did he have the words to explain how hard it was to accept it.
"It was my duty, Michaela. Your world would not have been in danger if it were not for our presence here."
The sorrow was tangible before he fell silent again, either brooding on his self-inflicted sense of responsibility, or politely waiting for her reply. He felt her hand shift, and tighten over the metal, sensing the blood quicken with the emotions that she did not express. Optimus winced inwardly, and squelched the impulse to ask her to remove her hand from its perch on him. Human emotions were easily picked up by the multiple sensors that ran through his neural pathways, and all Autobots could detect the human state of feeling just by physical contact. He knew that the humans had-by their own standards-sophisticated sensors that could pick up things as vague as starlight. Sentient metal, however, seemed to something beyond their comprehension. Distance was hard to maintain with such literal empathy bombarding his protective shell.
"What if the Decepticons landed without you here? Do you think we'd be better off?" The question lingered between them as he peered down at her, his facial gears flickering into an expression of contemplation. Michaela watched him, expectantly, as he continued that infuriatingly polite silence.
"Do you really think we'd survive without you?" It was a question that he seemed strangely hesitant to answer, as he bowed his head, and shuttered his optics closed for a moment. His answer was barely a breath when he finally answered.
It was clearly a reluctant admission that Optimus seemed unsure of voicing.
"Well, I know we wouldn't be alive without you."
Michaela smirked to see Optimus blink at that, both touched and feeling unworthy at the unexpected praise.
"You do not know that."
Optimus countered, as he regarded her with that solemn patience again. Michaela shook her head, frustrated.
"I do know that we're safer with you here now." Optimus breathed a long sigh, as Michaela, clearly discomforted by her searing honesty, studied the ground with a sudden interest. Optimus said nothing as he glanced from the small, frail form of her dwarfed by his shadow as he was engulfed by the abysmal sky.
"Thank you, Michaela." His words were warm with gratitude as he smiled down on her.
She returned it with a rather shy duck of her head, both pleased and awkward at the suddenly human moment they had shared.