The Dog Ate My Homework And Other Gut Wrenching Tales From The Darkside

Gone Fishing

My Grandpa gave the boys $50 for Easter, and being the nice mother that I am, I didn't keep it and spend it on myself.

We decided they could use it to go buy fishing equipment at Wal-mart. As you can imagine, this was little kid's dream plan. I wasn't so sure Big Kid would enjoy fishing, but he's been saying he wants to catch fish off of the bridge near our house and then eat them for dinner. I thought this seemed out of character for him, but was impressed he wanted to try.

I personally am not a fan of fishing. I don't eat fish (ever, fucking puke), so sitting around trying to catch and kill them seems pointless at best, excruciatingly boring and unnecessarily cruel at worst. I had fun watching the boys, but I'll admit that I was completely cringing as Mr. Ashley twisted the hook around in the poor fish mouths before releasing them again. I stayed quiet about it though and concealed my grimaces. Everyone had fun.

Today I picked Big Kid up from school and he said, "I miss da fish we caught yesterday. Dey sure were pretty."

I assured him that they did not miss him and were happy we released them.

"But what if someone else caught dem and ate dem?" I turned to look at him and he was doing the fast blinking thing he does when he's trying not to cry.

Author's note: For those new to the Danceverse series, you can find the list of fics in order on my tumblr. The link is butterflyinthewell.(tumblr.)com/post/93376058493/my-danceverse-fics Ignore the parenthesis when you type in the address. I had to put them there to keep this site from eating the link.

Secondary note: Eva is an OC who belongs to Candice(CallMeParrot here), and I have her permission to give Eva a cameo and mention a bit of her past. Thanks a bunch!

WARNING: This gets NSFW and there is talk about sexual assault, which might be triggering for some.

Pairing is OptimusxMikaela.

Here we go!

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In Sickness and in Health

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"Oh, why you look so sad?
Tears are in your eyes,
come on and come to me now.
Don't be ashamed to cry,
let me see you through,
'cause I've seen the dark side too.
When the night falls on you,
you don't know what to do,
nothing you confess
could make me love you less.
I'll stand by you.
I'll stand by you.
Won't let nobody hurt you,
I'll stand by you
..."

-The Pretenders, "I'll Stand By You"

.o

A pounding headache wasn't something Mikaela expected at ten o'clock in the morning on an unusually cold, cloudy Friday in May. She shook it off and refocused her attention towards the spark plugs she was busily replacing in a green, beat-up Honda Accord.

At eleven-fifteen, she took her customary lunch break to eat the ham sandwich Optimus so kindly made her and followed it with a gulp of Snapple iced tea. The normally pleasant drink tasted cloying. Come to think of it, she felt strangely full after just the sandwich, when normally she went for a bag of trail mix from the vending machine.

Eleven-thirty had Mikaela wondering who turned the air conditioning unit on. The wind child left it barely sixty degrees Fahrenheit outside. She shivered as she tried to breathe new life into the past-its-prime car.

"Ugh, it's freezing in here!" Mikaela hugged herself.

"Nah," Joe wiped his wrinkled hands on a dirty rag. His palms, slightly paler than his brown African American skin, reminded Mikaela of a farmer. "Thermostat's at seventy-two. You feelin' all right, doll?"

Mikaela gave her head a mild shake and grabbed the socket wrench in her back pocket. Her heartbeat throbbed behind her eyeballs. Its furious thumping reverberated inside her skull. Sounds from Joe's Garage couldn't decide between being way too loud or far off in a fog.

"Mikaela?" Joe was suddenly beside her.

"I'm fine." Mikaela tried to brush him off. Then her stomach lurched and she raced into the back bathroom. Out came the sandwich she ate. She glowered at the chunks in the toilet before flushing it and rinsed her mouth out at the sink.

"Sweetie, c'mere." Joe touched the back of his hand to her forehead. He frowned, deep wrinkles forming on his leathery brow. "That's it. You're goin' home."

"Joe, I'm-"

"Sick. I won't let you work in that condition. It ain't good for ya."

"I need to finish this Honda."

"You need to go home and rest. You know the rule. Nobody works sick here."

Mikaela's blood boiled momentarily, though her anguish quickly abated. Joe was right. She wasn't in any condition to keep working. She refused being driven home and climbed reluctantly into her silver Chevy Silverado.

Her cell phone rang as she buckled her seat belt. The Silverado's dark, tinted windows took the daylight's sting away, lessening her headache. Unfortunately, it didn't help the dull ache gripping her joints. Goosebumps and fits of shivering struck in waves.

Mikaela leaned back in the driver's seat, fighting more nausea. She checked the caller ID. It said OP. Smiling a little, she clicked the speaker icon and picked up.

"Hey."

"Hello, Mikaela." Optimus' smoky baritone voice offered a welcome distraction. He always sounded absolutely sexy on the phone. "I just called to say I love you."

"Heh, I love you, too, you Stevie Wonder wannabe."

"You caught me. Heh, heh." His quiet chuckle warmed her heart. And, just as quickly, he got serious again. "Your voice sounds different. Is everything all right?"

Of course he would notice. Optimus possessed an uncanny ability to read people. Once, he admitted to saving the waveforms of Elita's baby cries, so he always knew exactly what she was crying for.

"Hm, cry number six...it must be nap time. Come on, sweet-Spark, you'll feel better soon."

Mikaela smiled in amusement, but it faded. "I caught the gastro Elita just got over. I puked and I feel like crap." She ran a hand over her hair and shivered again. "I think I'm running a fever."

"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Should I beam my hologram over and drive you home?"

"Could you, please?" She moved the driver's side seat back to accommodate his long legs and scooted over into the passenger's seat. "I'm already in my truck. Nobody can see inside."

"All right. Just a moment."

Optimus' line clicked off. Mikaela heard a faint whirring and watched his hologram shimmer into existence in the driver's seat. His head appeared first, then the rest of his body drew itself on a green wire frame. He looked completely out of place- him, with all his robotic armor and Western Star parts, sitting in a truck nowhere near his own make. She might've laughed if she didn't feel like walking death.

The first thing Optimus did was touch his cool stainless steel hand to her brow.

"Mm, yes...one hundred point nine." His eye ridges tilted upwards in concern. He stroked the side of her face. "I suppose I won't be cooking a fancy dinner tonight after all. It's a good thing I paused to call you when I did. I was about to order the necessary ingredients online."

"Ugh, crap." Mikaela covered her face. "I'm sorry."

"What? No, this isn't your fault. We'll take a snow check." Optimus didn't notice his misuse of the 'rain check' idiom. Hilariously, he put his seat belt on, making himself look even more out of place. No doubt a habit from modeling proper buckle-up procedures in front of Elita. "Fasten your seatbelt, please."

She did so in a haze. Invisible cement blocks hung off her limbs. Even her head weighed more than a wrecking ball.

Optimus turned the key Mikaela stuck into the ignition and her truck rumbled to life. Music by Bryan Adams played softly from the speakers.

"...Don't tell me it's not worth fighting for.
I can't help it, there's nothing I want more.
You know it's true,
everything I do, I do it for you, oh yeah
..."

Optimus lowered the radio's volume while he adjusted the gear stick for reverse, grabbed the back of the passenger's seat and twisted to look behind him. He squinted, easing the truck out of its parking space. Then he faced forward, one hand controlling the steering wheel and the other shifting the gear stick. His feet manipulated the clutch and brake pedal. The Silverado came with a manual transmission instead of automatic- something Mikaela considered a perk. She liked being able to tell the vehicle what to do when she wanted to switch gears.

Mikaela remembered teaching Optimus how to drive stick. In his real body's vehicle mode, shifting and clutching happened by instinct without a second thought just like birds knew exactly which way to adjust their wings for maximum flight efficiency. He had the general idea, yet being a driver instead of the actual vehicle meant learning new methods to recognize when changing gears was necessary. Now he could handle practically any car or truck his hologram climbed into.

More often than not, Mikaela marveled at how easily he melded with human culture like he lived on this planet all his life.

"I know I say this every time I drive your truck, but it still amazes me how you accomplish the task without tactile and proximity sensors."

Mikaela giggled, "Blindfolded and numb?"

"Mmhmm." He tapped his right index finger on the steering wheel. When driving her truck, he never took his gaze off the road for a second. "I think the most unsettling aspect is not feeling the road under my tires."

Nausea caused Mikaela to emit an unladylike burp. She excused herself and distracted her mind by thinking about the importance of today.

Ever since his return, Optimus said he wanted to celebrate their togetherness. Something to measure the span of their relationship.

Shortly after Elita turned three, Optimus and Mikaela obtained a marriage license using Optimus' human alias. Mikaela asked her friend Eva, who knew all about the Autobots, to sign as a witness. She happily did. They had a quick ceremony before a Justice of the Peace. More for show to make the license legal than anything.

Then, the very next morning, Optimus invited Mikaela out onto the cabin's second story deck. She got blindsided by Eva, who took the white flower she'd pinned in her curly dark hair and clipped it just above Mikaela's right ear. Eva kissed Mikaela on both cheeks, jumped on the balcony railing to do the same for Optimus and tip-toed away, giggling.

"Have a good time, you two!" she'd said.

Mikaela remembered how Optimus placed his hands on the railing and repeated the vows they said before the judge. Without holograms or disguises- just him and a Spark-felt promise. Mikaela cried, leaning on his hands as she poured her heart into every vow she spoke back. They kissed, size-differences be-damned, they kissed, and from then on they called themselves husband and wife.

Ultra Magnus caught great photos of the vow exchange and kiss. The two pictures hung above the bedroom fireplace in gold eight-by-ten frames.

Sometimes, Mikaela couldn't remember the date they were legally married without checking the license. The judge was in a hurry and there were no formalities. Despite that, one date always shone brightly in Mikaela's mind. Their first dance. It marked the beginning of everything. She wanted to celebrate that. Optimus loved the idea and they began planning a romantic evening together.

Now the day was here, and Mikaela had the stomach flu. Worst. Timing. Ever.

The fever chills worsened as Optimus pulled the Silverado into the cabin garage. Mikaela shivered hard. The heavy black jacket she wore over her gray sweatshirt and faded jeans did nothing to warm her.

A creak marked the driver's side door swinging outward. Mikaela heard a clunk. Optimus parked a little too close to the crate holding the fake Christmas tree, and opening his door knocked over the cardboard box of tools sitting on top.

"Oops! My bad," said Optimus.

"Smooth," Mikaela joked.

He quirked his face plates in something like a half-smile. "Sit tight. I'll clean this up."

"Optimus, wait!"

Too late. Optimus had snatched the box and started scooping everything back into it. He straightened, staring solemnly at the crowbar clutched in his fist.

Uh oh...

Mikaela scooted herself through the driver's side door. Optimus' optics were already going blank. She gently took the crowbar from his hands and set it behind the box, out of sight.

"Optimus?"

No response. Like she wasn't there. Because he wasn't.

Mikaela whispered to him. "This is our garage, not a movie theater. Hey, honey, look at me." She got in his line of sight, "Focus on me."

"I can't move, I can't transform. I- stay back! Stay back!"

Mikaela stepped back, obeying his request. "You can move. You're in robot mode. You can move your hands."

"No. I-I can't."

"Yes, you can. We're fine. This is our garage. See?" She pushed a button on the remote clipped to the Silverado's sun visor. The garage door whirred shut, stopping the cold breeze.

In the dimness, Optimus' optics flickered like a laptop hard drive's activity light. Seeing them do that during recharge was normal- his equivalent to REM sleep- but it wasn't supposed to occur during full alertness. His optics stared beyond everything, seeing a past data track instead of the present.

"Optimus, it's okay." Mikaela spoke in a calm, even tone. She got woozy and leaned against the Silverado's fender. "Focus on my voice. We're in our garage. It's our anniversary. We're fine, Optimus. I'm right here. We're fine. You're fine. Try to move. Nice and easy now."

Optimus' fists slowly closed. Convincing him to move some part of his body worked every time. His optics ceased flickering, his inner and outer pupils adjusting in accordance with the garage's dim lighting. A shake of his head indicated he'd shut down the data track responsible for the unwanted recollection.

"Damn it," he muttered. Something new for him- swearing. He usually did right after a flashback.

Mikaela held her increasingly upset stomach. "Are you with me?"

"Yeah." Optimus grabbed her keys from the ignition. Unlike humans, he was usually okay immediately after a trigger experience. "I'm sorry. You're in no condition to be dealing with my issues right now."

"You can't help it. It's my fault for not hiding that crowbar better." She covered the crowbar with a dirty rag and stashed it underneath a plastic bin full of icicle lights. A bubbly sensation irritated the back of her throat when she bent over. "Ugh, I'm gonna puke again."

Optimus unlocked the door separating the garage from the cabin. Mikaela couldn't recall if she thanked him or not as she rushed for the downstairs bathroom. She barely got her face over the toilet in time.

"Fuck!" she coughed between heaves.

Cool metal fingertips gathered her dark hair before it could fall into the toilet bowl. Optimus massaged her back in slow, even circles. "Do you want me to stay with you until you finish?"

"No, this's gross," Mikaela whispered, "I'll be able to get upstairs once I'm-" she gurgled as another wave hit. "-done here."

"All right." He pinned her hair back with one of Elita's jaw hairclips. "Call me if you need anything. I'll be in the living room."

Optimus' footsteps moved away and the TV whined on. Weekends sometimes found him watching NASCAR races or- hilariously- golf. During the week, if he wasn't chuckling at syndicated Doctor Who or Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns, he was absorbing cooking shows on the Food Network.

Hearing Paula Deen chirp about chunky clam chowder had Mikaela blowing her own chunks. The toilet bowl looked like something out of her old high school's cafeteria. She flushed, washed her mouth out with water and let her hair back down.

Mikaela opened the bathroom door. She almost giggled at seeing Optimus lying across the couch with one foot thrown over the back of it and his arm folded behind his head. Last week, she caught him sitting upside down like Mork while watching an episode of Mork and Mindy. He fell on his head, his ear finials scratching the hell out of the floor, and swore to never try it again.

Fresh nausea sent Mikaela leaning over the toilet a second time. Dry heaves, nothing more. She decided to chance climbing the stairs. Her fever-addled brain stretched the staircase a mile long. Somehow, she clawed her way to the top, staggered blindly forward and laid diagonally across the king sized bed in the master bedroom. She didn't know where she found the wherewithal to peel her clothes off and throw on her purple button-down nightshirt. Every movement required Herculean effort. Her tired body just wanted to lay still for awhile, but she forced her sick self into the bathroom to wash the nasty bile taste out of her mouth.

"Ugh," Mikaela groaned to herself. Her slightly pale reflection stared back, looking as sexy as a zombie with the stomach flu.

The floorboards creaked. Optimus ducked into the bedroom holding a bottle of Tylenol and two bottles of Aquafina water.

"Hydration is important," he said. Classic Captain Obvious moment.

Mikaela gratefully popped two pills before collapsing on the bed. "Thanks. I'm sure you felt this shitty when you were sick. Remember that virus you caught?"

Optimus sat on the edge of the mattress and regarded her gently. "The computer virus caused my CPU to produce more heat than usual, and it did result in quite a bit of pain. I suppose it was comparable to a fever." He shot her a worried look, "Should I phone your physician?"

"Nah, not unless I start puking up anything I swallow, and the water and Tylenol are staying down." Mikaela rubbed her eyes and went on, "I- ugh- I definitely can't eat anything right now."

He rubbed her arm soothingly, and she welcomed the kind gesture. "I'll prepare soup and re-heat it when you request it."

"Mm...make sure it's chicken noodle."

Optimus' weight shifted and his metal lip plates nuzzled against her cheek. He finished it with the touch-click of a more human style kiss above her ear and a whispered 'I love you.' Then his presence eased off the bed and his hologram beamed itself downstairs.

Mikaela adored his Cybertronian kisses and often wondered if there was an equivalent to something more passionate. She thought she could figure it out on her own via osmosis like he learned human-style kisses. He had this sexy way of moving his mouth against hers while making love...was that it?

The scent of chicken noodle soup wafted upstairs. She told her feverish brain to stop twisting itself in knots and closed her eyes. Sleep soon found her.

.o

Whirrrr-clackclackclackclack!

"Got you, dad!"

"So you did, but..." CLACKCLACK-CLACKCLACK! "I still have ammunition, and you don't."

"WAAH!" Elita laughed. "I'm dead!"

"Really? Dead people don't talk."

"I'm a zombie!"

"Then I suppose I must-" CLICK-click. "-oops. I'm out."

"Yeah, me too. Let's reload."

"You're on, kiddo."

Mikaela checked the clock on the cable box. Four twenty-five in the afternoon. Wind-blown rain pattered against the bedroom windows. Gray skies shone between the shivering leaves on the trees. Definitely not the kind of weather she'd want to be out in while sick as a dog.

She threw on the white bathrobe Optimus so kindly laid out next to her and staggered out of bed. Leaning on the banister outside her bedroom door offered a complete view of the happenings downstairs.

All the knick-knacks were cleared off the kitchen breakfast bar and the end tables in the living room. Optimus ducked behind the couch while Elita, wearing clear safety goggles, holed herself up by the breakfast bar. Both busily loaded foam darts into the magazines of their chosen Nerf weapons. Optimus carried the bright orange and yellow Alpha Trooper CS-18, and Elita sported a blue and orange Elite Rapidstrike CS-18. The whirring noise came from her activating the flywheel for rapid dart fire.

Elita positioned the Nerf rifle's stock against her shoulder and slowly crept out of her hiding place. She looked just like a soldier invading enemy territory. Optimus kept his weapon pointed upright while he cocked it with a loud clack-clack. He shoulder-rolled into Elita's path, already shooting.

"Aah!" Elita took a dart to the left leg. She leapt onto the couch with her right one and fired back, laughing.

One of her Nerf darts stuck right between Optimus' optics. Optimus collapsed dramatically onto the floor, playing dead. Elita jumped onto his stomach and kept shooting him, point blank.

"Got you!" she crowed triumphantly.

Optimus opened one optic. He chuckled, pulling the darts off his forehead and chin. "Boom, headshot." Then he noticed Mikaela watching and smiled. "Feeling better?"

"Mom!" Elita started to get up. "I got an A on my book report! Mrs. Torres stuck it to the 'Smart Spider' bulletin board."

"Awesome!" Mikaela beamed in delight because she knew Elita hated the book chosen for the class. She rested her elbows on the railing and answered Optimus, "I feel half-dead, otherwise I would've grabbed Elita's Longstrike and sniped you both."

"Uh oh," Optimus raised both eye ridges.

"Yeah, good thing she was asleep," added Elita.

Mikaela's ability to snipe them during Nerf wars was legendary. She always made sure not to use the same hiding place twice in a row, so they never knew exactly where she'd come from next.

"El, any homework tonight?"

"Just some math. I'll do it after dinner."

"Mmhmm, speaking of, I should get dinner started. Up you get." Optimus lifted Elita off his stomach and climbed to his feet.

"I'll have some of that soup after Elita has food in front of her," said Mikaela. She didn't feel like eating, but knew she'd feel worse later if she didn't make the attempt. Besides, throwing up pure stomach acid made her throat burn.

"You got it," said Optimus.

Elita grabbed the scattered Nerf darts while Optimus put all the household knick-knacks back in their proper places. Mikaela retreated for the bathroom when fresh nausea struck. False alarm. She dragged herself back to bed and popped two more Tylenol.

Rain continued its soft patter on the window and roof. Mikaela's nose picked up the distinct odor of stroganoff flavored hamburger helper, spinach and rice. Optimus discovered Elita actually ate the spinach if he mixed it with plain rice. One of the tricks he picked up off a cooking show, and it tasted delicious.

Normally.

Right then, the smell sent Mikaela back into the bathroom. Dry heaves. Almost worse than spitting out acid. She washed her hands and returned to her bed. Not long afterward, she heard Optimus tip-toeing up the stairs.

"Are you awake?" he asked.

Mikaela rolled over to look at him. She hadn't taken the bathrobe off yet. "Yeah. It would've been okay to wake me up for it."

"Ah. Noted. Here, I'll set this down on the nightstand. It's quite hot."

"Like you?" she asked.

"Only if you're attracted to dork chic." He crossed his optics and waggled his eye ridges, which sent her into giggle fits.

One of Optimus' secrets for tasty soup was simple- he served it in a beer mug with a spoon. It made drinking the broth before eating the noodles and chicken chunks a million times easier.

"I saved some rice for you, by the way," he said.

"Thanks, 'preciate it." Mikaela grunted as she sat up. Being sick left it hard to tell whether the butterflies in her stomach came from the intestinal irritation or her feelings for him.

She grasped the handle of the mug and stirred its steaming contents. The pleasant smell finally reached past the inflammation to awaken something resembling her appetite. Nearby, Optimus shifted about where he stood, one hand carefully concealed behind his back.

"Do you have to pee or something?" Mikaela joked.

"Hm? No, I uhh..." Optimus sheepishly revealed a red rose in a tall, white vase. Its bud had already begun to open. "I wasn't sure if the flower's scent would upset your stomach or not." He placed the vase on the windowsill. His blue optics gazed warmly at her, oblivious to her ghastly, feverish appearance. "It isn't the anniversary dinner we planned, but...happy anniversary, Mikaela."

The warm feeling in Mikaela's chest definitely wasn't the soup or sickness. Placing the beer mug on the nightstand, she got up and wrapped her arms around Optimus' waist.

"It's perfect." Mikaela blinked a few tears out of her eyes. Honestly, what in the universe did she do to deserve someone so amazing?

Her right hand found his left. His free arm slipped into position. He started the music without prompting, and Berlin gently filled the room.

"Watching every motion
in my foolish lover's game.
On this endless ocean,
finally lovers know no shame
..."

Thunder couldn't break the atmosphere. Mikaela leaned on Optimus, letting him gently sway her in slow circles. Their feet moved perfectly in sync with the song's beat and the faint whisper-hiss of his hydraulics. She glimpsed their reflection in the closet door mirror- Optimus' optics were closed in contentment. The first time they danced, he cried his eyes out. This time, he was smiling. He seemed totally at peace.

Mikaela freed her hand from his and clasped her hands behind his neck. Optimus' hand automatically joined its brother in cupping her lower back. He dipped his head down, his cheek resting against hers.

"...turning and returning
to some secret place inside.
Watching in slow motion
as you turn around and say,
'Take my breath away.
Take my breath away...'
"

"I dreamed about our first dance that night," said Optimus. His voice was a pleasant rumble near Mikaela's ear. "Every time I slipped back into recharge, I experienced it over and over. I told myself not to fall in love again...but my Spark wouldn't listen."

"Funny, I tried to talk myself out of it, too."

"Oh?"

"Mmhmm. We were ridiculous," Mikaela smiled against his cheek. "Totally ridiculous."

He laughed softly in her ear. "Yes, yes we were."

"I'm not sorry for any of it."

"Nor am I." Optimus' cool lip plates nuzzled her cheekbone. "Many of life's best moments are unplanned." He slowly moved his head to meet her eyes. "Like this one."

"...watching in slow motion
as you turn around and say,
'Take my breath away.
Take my breath away...'
"

His optics took her breath away. That look...he could turn it from gentle to sensual to loving simply by adjusting the aperture of his inner pupils. Right then, she only saw his love for her shining in every blue photon. It didn't matter that she wasn't dressed up for the occasion. To him, the fact that they were together took priority over everything else.

Mikaela stopped feeling guilty about her inopportune stomach flu.

Optimus' face came forward. Mikaela closed her eyes and accepted the kiss he placed so gently on her lips. Then he winked and carefully dipped her as the song reached its final chord. Everything was right in the world...even the things that went wrong.

That afternoon, Mikaela ate her soup while floating on cloud nine, and Optimus held her hair while her stomach rejected it less than thirty minutes later.

"It's not your cooking," Mikaela mumbled between heaves. "Damn gastro."

Optimus gently rubbed her back and wiped the chunks off her bottom lip with a tissue. "It's all right. I'm sorry you aren't feeling well."

"Almost like morning sickness."

He closed one optic and chuckled. "Actually, that was worse than this."

A painfully true statement.

Chills left Mikaela shivering like someone naked in a snow bank. Evening hours tended to make fevers climb, so she wasn't too surprised about feeling like fifty pounds of crap instead of just twenty-five. Remembering the sweetness Optimus gave her just a short while ago helped lift her spirits.

She had almost fallen asleep with her cheek on the toilet seat when Optimus lightly squeezed her shoulder.

"Finished?"

"Hm? Oh. Mmhmm...I think so."

Optimus flushed the toilet and put the lid down. He practically held Mikaela up while she used mouthwash to get rid of the bitter bile taste. Then he quietly walked her towards the bed. Once she shed the bathrobe and laid down, he touched his palm against her brow.

"Your temperature is one hundred and one."

"Figured as much." She shivered. "The Tylenol should knock it back down pretty soon...hope I didn't throw it up."

"I don't think you did." Optimus moved enough to tuck the covers around her shivering frame. He sat down again, one hand gently stroking her hair. "Elita is doing her homework right now."

"Cool."

She felt Optimus swing himself over her to get on 'his' side of the bed. He pulled a red spiral bound notebook from the cardboard box next to the nightstand. Then, sitting up against the headboard, he started writing in it. Cybertronians didn't have "handedness" like humans. His penmanship looked the same regardless of which hand he used, but Mikaela noticed he preferred his left for writing.

His expression grew troubled. Twice, he erased and rewrote.

Sometimes, Mikaela swore Optimus' selfless nature was both his biggest asset and his greatest weakness.

That's why you need me. Someone has to take care of you when you forget to do it yourself.

She curled up under the covers, letting her mind wander back to the difficulties they were still overcoming.

.o

Shortly after his four year absence, Optimus mentioned being trapped inside a nightmare while in stasis and that he silently endured countless flashbacks of it as he talked Cade Yaeger through repairing him.

Mechs who entered stasis traumatically often relived the data track of the moments leading up to it as a horrible endless loop until they were awakened. This caused the CPU to produce a tangle of useless software connections in its attempts to regain consciousness, and the mismatched links created chaos in a bot's mind. Cybertronians called it stasis trauma- a mental condition with symptoms identical to PTSD. Ratchet mentioned helping Ironhide recover from it several millennia ago. He wouldn't give details other than Ironhide's battle-scarred optic was a direct result of what put him in stasis.

Ratchet's last statement on the matter:

"I am the only Cybertronian to see Ironhide cry and live to tell about it. I kept his illness secret and I stayed at his side through every nightmare and flashback. Somehow, during it all, the stubborn fool won my Spark and we bonded as soon as he had a clean bill of health. He needed me, I needed him, and that was that."

Unfortunately, Cybertronians considered mental illnesses to be shameful. If it became public knowledge that a bot was suffering from one, they were subtly phased out of social circles. Some returned once they regained their health. Others became outcasts. Nobody wanted to believe it could happen to them.

With treatment- which included assistance during triggers and flashbacks- the symptoms of stasis trauma went away over time as the CPU gradually purged the damaged code. Untreated bots eventually lost the ability to distinguish data tracks from reality and either self-terminated or ran to their deaths on the battlefield.

The first signs of stasis trauma showed immediately upon waking, but, in rare cases, people were blindsided by its effects centuries later. What made the disorder even more insidious was the sufferer didn't realize they had it until the symptoms were well advanced. And, worse, once they did know, they kept quiet because of the social stigma until a routine medical scan revealed the awful truth.

Optimus' symptoms didn't become obvious until two months after reuniting with Mikaela via his hologram. Mikaela noticed his behavior changing in the bedroom first. He wouldn't let her hands near his Spark chamber, claiming it hurt. Then the passion started to disappear- his optics dimmed and he went through the motions without really connecting to her like he used to. Sometimes, after they finished, he didn't want to snuggle or be touched at all. Other times, he couldn't stand Mikaela being more than an arm's length away.

She tried taking him out to a movie late in October. Optimus loved going to the movies, because Cybertron didn't really have an equivalent. He'd create holographic popcorn to flick in the air and catch in his mouth. He could even imitate the crunch.

But that day, he jumped at every little sound once they claimed their seats. His human hologram couldn't hide the nervous way he scrutinized every single person who came in after them. It got worse once the lights dimmed.

"I'm sorry," Optimus said, pushing his holographic glasses up on his nose. "Something in this building is interfering with my hologram. I should leave before it flickers and gives me away. Enjoy the movie. I love you."

He took the lighted stairs two at a time. The door banged. His facsimile of a popcorn bag vanished, indicating he'd left.

Mikaela found him and Elita cooking dinner when she arrived home after the film. Pot roast with baked potatoes and asparagus. When dinner finished, she pulled him aside while Elita did her homework.

"Is everything okay?"

"I'm fine." Optimus' response was a little too abrupt. "I believe someone's cell phone was causing the unpleasant feedback. It stopped once I switched my signal off the emitter in your ring. I...apologize for my swift exit. How was the movie?"

The look in his optics screamed for help. He knew he had a problem. Ratchet said treatment couldn't begin until the bot in question admitted they required it.

Mikaela got her own confirmation in December when Optimus entered the garage while she used a crowbar to pry a delivery crate open. She'd ordered a nine-foot-tall fake Christmas tree to better fit the large cabin living room. The stubborn crate required a lot of jabbing and wrenching side to side. Optimus sputtered that he took care of washing the dishes and literally bolted out of the garage like he'd seen a ghost.

Elita poked her head in ten minutes later. "Mom?"

"Yeah?" Mikaela hefted the lid off the crate and threw it aside.

"Dad's down in the basement."

"Is he wrapping presents down there? I told him he can do that out here."

"No...he's just standing by the window with the lights off. I asked him if he's okay, and he totally ignored me."

"I'll check on him. Is your homework done?"

Elita rolled her eyes. "Almost. I'll go finish it."

Mikaela would've given her daughter grief about rolling her eyes, but she was more worried about Optimus. She hauled the fake tree pieces into the house for assembly before heading down the basement steps.

"Optimus?" She tugged the pull cord above the staircase.

The light bulb came on and there he was by the tiny storm window. He didn't acknowledge her presence at all. She moved in front of him- right where his optics were pointed. He didn't blink. His dim inner pupils were almost pinpoints, giving his gaze an eerie, dead stare.

"Optimus," Mikaela whispered. She cupped his face between her hands.

His eyelids fluttered and his pupils regained their proper aperture for the light level. He seemed surprised to find her there. "M-Mikaela..."

"Are you feeling all right?"

Again, the silent scream passed through his optics. This time, it almost reached the surface. "No...but I'm working it out on my own. It's a private matter."

A lump swelled in Mikaela's throat. Something about his gaze didn't look right, and she knew why. So did he. The painful truth was right there on his face.

"Optimus, I love you, and I know you're not okay." Mikaela cradled his clenched fists on her palms. "I'm not going to push this. Come to me when you're ready. I'll be there for you."

The fists on her palms splayed to encompass her hands. He pulled her into a strong embrace, his lip plates brushing her brow. "I love you, too."

Optimus stayed in the basement while Elita and Mikaela assembled the tree and strung colored lights around it. In fact, he didn't emerge for almost three hours. Just in time to watch Mikaela drape silver icicle tinsel on the glowing, decorated tree.

"It's beautiful," he said. "I'm sorry for not participating."

"You had stuff to work out." Mikaela replied, hoping to ease his guilt.

The morning after Christmas, Elita playfully jumped into Optimus' lap and hugged him. Her palms were roughened by several healing calluses, a result of swinging on the school monkey bars. She laid her head on his shoulder and patted his chest plate. Mikaela noticed the blank look in Optimus' optics- the same look he had when he saw the crowbar in the garage. He hid it wonderfully by giving Elita a kiss and sending her upstairs to put away her Christmas presents.

And with that haunted expression still in his optics, Optimus got up off the couch. He started towards the basement. Mikaela convinced him to sit back down and talk to her.

Blam, everything overflowed like pus from a lanced abscess.

"I am suffering from stasis trauma...I'm sure that is obvious by now." Finally, he'd said it. Naming the problem was the first step. He went on, "Elita's hands just triggered a flashback. I overcame it this time, but other times I must ride them out until the data track closes. There are instances where I'm not sure what is real and what is not, and that is why I've been retreating to the basement. I don't think I'm a danger to you or Elita, but just in case..."

Pausing, Optimus pressed his palm against his forehead. "Am I correct in assuming Ratchet spoke to you about this condition?"

"Yeah." Mikaela reached out and caressed his shoulder. She stepped back, giving him space. "Talk to me. Please. Whatever caused it is killing you inside."

Optimus shook his head. "I don't know how to broach the matter. Knowing this information is going to change our relationship."

He was rubbing his hands together, not looking at her. Light from the fireplace flickered across the tips of his fingers.

"This...thing...this harm done to me...it's the reason my behavior has been so strange when you try to touch my Spark during intimacy. It's nothing you've done. I thought I could put it behind me and heal on my own, but it continues to get worse. I know what my triggers are, and I can avoid them...mostly. I'm afraid that making love is the biggest one. I-I don't feel safe when we...I know, logically, that you won't hurt me, but my reactions are no longer in my control."

Mikaela sat on the floor in front of the fireplace, worried by the way he avoided meeting her eyes.

"I don't know where to begin," he simulated a sigh. "I don't know how to begin."

"Start wherever you need to. I'm listening."

Optimus grimaced and closed his fists. The inner corners of his eye ridges tilted upward. Steam escaped the tiny vents under his nose. After a long moment, he seemed to inhale and started talking.

"My visual sensors were scrambling when the soldier found me taking cover inside an abandoned movie theater. I was somewhere in Texas...I think. It was dark, and I cannot describe his face- all I know is he had callused hands and wore a wedding band. He crawled beneath my undercarriage and disconnected part of my engine block, exposing my Spark chamber. The movement disturbed the shrapnel already present, and it jammed my T-cog. I was helpless."

For a moment, he stared blankly ahead at nothing. Like someone transfixed by something gruesome. He wrapped his right hand around his left fist and held it tight.

"He tried to force my Spark chamber doors open with a crowbar he found in a pile of nearby rubble. Sometimes, I still hear the pinging and feel the jabbing. It- it sent agony through my whole body. I...couldn't move. I shouted at him to stop because I was unable to transform, and he ignored me. He continued to stab and jerk the crowbar side to side. My communications systems were down. I called your name, I called for help...but no one heard me."

Mikaela clapped a hand over her mouth in horror. He was all alone, yelling for help, and got no answer.

"I...am so ashamed of this, Mikaela. When the crowbar failed, the soldier started twisting and pulling on the wires connecting my Spark chamber to the rest of me. Fortunately, he wasn't aware those are the strongest wires in my body, and only another mech can apply the force necessary to break them. Perhaps I am doubly lucky that he wasn't carrying wire cutters or a saw. But my sensors were so scrambled by my wounds that...I...I...Mikaela..."

Abruptly, Optimus leaned forward and covered his face. Cybertronians weren't capable of vomiting, yet he looked just like someone trying not to throw up.

"Take as long as you need," Mikaela whispered. She didn't pressure him, because the important things he had to say always emerged in their own time.

"I...did not want to feel it- and there are a few scant moments that I can't recall. My body kept responding, and I-I could not stop myself..."

She reached for his left hand. He let her take it. The other stayed pressed over his optics. He strained to keep talking, as though the words created physical pain somewhere in his body.

"I became aroused by all the tugging and pulling, and I eventually experienced an overload. I-I shouted your name as I reversed into the wall behind me. I don't know whether the movement, the noise or the electrical current frightened the soldier away. He escaped. I remember yelling that I would kill him as I lost consciousness. I spent four years reliving the experience, and I awoke repeating what I said in my nightmare. I was still experiencing it when I first regained consciousness in Cade Yaeger's barn. Cade spoke to me in a non-threatening tone until my senses returned, and he convinced me to stay while he performed basic repairs. I would not be speaking to you now if he hadn't found me. I owe him my life."

Optimus slouched and more steam escaped the vents in his face. His voice, normally strong, dissolved to a whisper.

"Still, Mikaela, the Cemetery Wind soldier...he induced sensations I should only feel with you. I could have defended myself or driven away, but I was so confused by my own response to his touch. I did nothing to stop him. My failure to act let it continue. I've betrayed our relationship. I've betrayed you."

At last, he lowered his right hand and looked her in the eyes. His optics were almost painfully bright and his inner pupils resembled pinpoints- an expression of pained terror.

"I'm sorry. By the Allspark, I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

Suddenly, his confession crystallized in all its horrible reality. Tears welled in Mikaela's eyes. She jumped up and pulled him close.

"No. No, you didn't betray anyth-" Mikaela lifted his chin when he tried to shrink from her touch. "Optimus, hey. Look at me. Listen. You never gave that guy permission to put his hands there, did you?"

"No. He wasn't trying to force himself on me...he wanted to extinguish my Spark. His touch, it just...he had no idea of what he had done," Optimus said. He closed his optics and went on, "When it was over and he was gone, I felt incredible guilt and shame. I was wrong to feel those sensations, but I could not stop them once they started."

Mikaela cupped the back of his head. A sudden urge to cry almost closed her throat, but she fought it back. He needed her strength right now. "You didn't do anything wrong."

"But I did, Mikaela. I'm sorry for keeping it from you this long. I knew telling you would hurt you more than it harmed me."

Damn him and his selflessness! Damn it all! Mikaela swallowed more tears.

"I'm not hurt. Optimus, it's okay. Shh, it's okay." Feeling him tremble in her arms almost broke her heart in two. She worked her nails in soothing little circles behind his left ear finial. "I'm glad you told me. I thought I was doing something to upset you in bed."

"You...you aren't angry with me?" The question sounded completely incredulous.

"No. You weren't cheating on me. Your body reacted the way it's built to react. That soldier hurt you. You didn't hurt me. Oh, Optimus, I've got you. Cry it out. You go right ahead and cry all you need to. You're gonna be okay."

The tears Optimus must've held back for the past year found their way out all over Mikaela's red reindeer sweatshirt. He didn't have a typical male ego to damage. But his pride in himself as a warrior? His sexuality? His emotional well-being? Those were deeply wounded, and the depths of his silent suffering showed through a single, simple question.

"Do you think less of me for this?"

Mikaela held him tighter, protectively. "Oh, God, no. Nothing's gonna make me think less of you, Optimus. You're the strongest person I know."

He tried to say something, but his voice only generated static. It took four tries before he formed words. "I'm...afraid. I'm- so- afraid!"

"I know, and it's okay to be scared." Mikaela knelt and leaned upward until their foreheads touched. "You're allowed to be scared."

He moved back, putting a few inches of space between their faces. "This is a mental illness, Mikaela. To admit I suffer from it is weakness, it will embolden my enemies. If my Autobots knew of my condition right now..." He hung his head. "...I cannot lead like this."

"Shhh. You're panicking. Easy. Listen...Optimus, listen- I'll do anything I can to help you. We'll figure this out together and we'll get you better. Ratchet said it goes away eventually."

"Yes, with treatment," he said. "Ratchet is dead...he cannot help me."

"No, but I can. Humans have a condition like stasis trauma. It's called post traumatic stress disorder. I'm sure the treatment methods are a lot alike. We'll work this out, Optimus. I promise."

Tears continued building until they dropped off his eyelids and fell onto his clenched fists. Admitting the problem brought him some relief, yet his mind jumped straight to brand new concerns.

"Galvatron is out there. My Autobots might need me, and I still have to face my Creators. There is so much I must do!"

Static once again corrupted his voice into a low, mechanical whine.

"And if this progresses to the extent that I become dangerous, I will deactivate this hologram for your safety. If that were to occur...will you be all right? Mikaela, will you and Elita be able to carry on if I am forced to shut this hologram down?"

The idea of Optimus alone in space, slowly losing his mind, struck Mikaela like a stab in the stomach. Her eyes stung and she gripped his hands.

"It won't get that bad. I won't let it."

Some of his tears ran inward and escaped the tiny vents under his nose. They were exit only, leaving him unable to sniff. Mikaela automatically took a tissue out of her pocket to dab away the 'snot.'

Optimus reached up to wipe his nose himself. His hand didn't do any good, so he let her use the tissue. "Mikaela, I-I need to know."

"Okay...okay. Yeah. I can deal. But you're not going to do that. You're not going anywhere." She dried his optics and mopped up the fresh teardrops as they fell. "You might be standing in the middle of Hell right now, but I'm standing right next to you. The Devil's gotta go through me to get to you."

Somehow, he made a snorting noise mid-sob.

Elita's footsteps creaked upstairs. Being the astute kid she was, she saw them having a moment and quietly retreated back into her room.

"For what it's worth, I don't think you're weak," Mikaela whispered in his audio. "I think you're so used to being strong that you don't know what to do when you can't be."

Optimus' audio cover spun counterclockwise, then clockwise. His hologram flickered as he switched from the dragon-shaped emitter on the mantle to the tiny gem in Mikaela's ring.

"That...is very true," he said.

"Then let me be strong for awhile," she said against his ear finial. "Let me take care of you."

That smoothed Optimus' agonized expression. The tremors in his hands finally stopped. He embraced her, cupping the back of her head. "Thank you."

She hugged him tight and kissed his cheek. "We both made the same promise- for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. I meant those vows then and I still mean 'em now. I love you."

After ensuring Optimus had calmed down, Mikaela excused herself to the garage and beat the hell out of the punching bag in the corner. She pretended it was the soldier who sexually assaulted Optimus. Sparks and their chambers were sacred- only meant to be touched by lovers, trusted friends and medics. What made it worse was that idiot soldier had no clue of the damage he inflicted.

Optimus might have been a billions-of-years-old warrior, but he suffered through a nearly endless stream of traumatic events throughout his lifetime. So many betrayals, so many losses. And after all that, the final straw was a violation of his innermost self by the very species he tried to protect.

Her anger spent, Mikaela walked back into the cabin and swore to aid Optimus' healing process any way she could.

Professional counseling wasn't an option for obvious reasons. She spent a lot of time online, reading about helping someone suffering post traumatic stress disorder after a sexual assault. Optimus read with her, and together they created their own treatment plan.

Mikaela learned how to talk Optimus out of his flashbacks when they struck, and he discovered that physically writing positive statements in a paper journal helped him deal with negative intrusive thoughts. Sometimes he wrote in Cybertronian, others, he used English. He let Mikaela see everything. On the worst days, he filled around six pages. For better ones, he only had three or four entries. A cardboard box of colored notebooks and a jar of pencils became a mainstay in the master bedroom. Mikaela wanted to be sure he always had writing materials available.

Nightmares were another issue. The first time he jolted off the bed, Mikaela mistook it for an earthquake. She spent many nights helping him get back on the mattress and comforting him until his optics darkened into deep recharge once again. When he woke later, he had absolutely no memory of the night's events. He asked her to keep track of the incidents, hoping to find a pattern in the occurrences. There wasn't one.

They didn't engage in intercourse at all between January and April. Optimus' sex drive practically vanished after his confession. Though his lacking desire occasionally frustrated Mikaela, she knew he needed the break. She found ways to be intimate without making love that were just as satisfying. Like dancing with him, washing him off in the shower or sleeping in his arms.

Once, he walked in on her moaning his name while masturbating. He put his arms around her finished her with his fingers. As messed up as he was, he still had the magic touch.

"I'm still not ready," said Optimus. "I miss us...but I still can't. It isn't you, Mikaela."

"It's okay." Mikaela cleaned up and got dressed. Seeing her nude made him feel guilty. Guilt exacerbated his symptoms. She wrapped herself in his arms once she was clothed. "Optimus, I can wait. Hell, I don't care if we never have sex again. I love you...I'll do anything to help you get better. Don't worry about me- I can take care of that on my own."

Mentally, Optimus made awesome progress. Instead of running to the basement, he kept the lines of communication open whenever he experienced intrusive thoughts or flashbacks. Taking a break from sex actually lessened them immensely, and his "mojo" came back by itself while they were teaching themselves the Argentine tango. Something about moving so close together reawakened his extinguished flame.

The first time they made love again, Mikaela let nothing except her heartbeat go near his Spark. Foreplay and the actual act of intercourse caused Optimus no problems at all. His main trigger was hands on his Spark chamber. That stopped everything cold. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. Cold.

Optimus, being Optimus, saw no way past his reaction except through exposure. He asked Mikaela to touch the outer rim of his Spark chamber both during intimate relations and in everyday situations. The first several times, he froze like a statue. His optics were lit and blinking, but nobody was home. He'd mentally dissociated himself- probably the same thing he did without realizing when the assault first happened- and didn't snap out of it until her fingers withdrew. Weeks of trying later, he could finally accept hands resting on his Spark chamber's outer rim without an adverse reaction.

With that hurdle conquered, he began working on tolerating touches on the sensitive doors. Mikaela's initial attempt sent him jerking back as though burned. And laying fingers on his Spark? No chance. Those chamber doors stayed shut unless they were having Spark to heartbeat intercourse.

Optimus expressed no issues with touching his Spark himself. His own hands didn't trigger him, however his sexual response when he masturbated was another story. No matter how long he worked at it, he couldn't finish. Nothing other than the vibration of Mikaela's heartbeat or stimulating his various neural clusters let him achieve a satisfying overload.

"Sometimes, Mikaela, I feel as though a part of me is missing," he said after a failed attempt to stimulate himself. Watching him struggle through sheer terror to experience pleasure again was heart-wrenching, but she swore to keep assisting him any way he deemed necessary.

Their love-life slowly returned to near normalcy- only exception being no Spark-play unless Optimus specifically asked to try and his occasional issues with touch afterward. Everything else went smoothly. They began talking and joking about sex again. Mikaela slipped him a book about Tantra to tease him. He added the breast and clitoral massage techniques to his bag of tricks and left her wondering how the windows weren't all steamed up afterward.

Outside the bedroom, he acted exactly the same as he used to with two exceptions: crowbars and movie theaters. Seeing or handling crowbars set off flashbacks. Movie theaters did the same. Merely driving by one got him all tense and surly. He explained the problem to Elita by saying crowbars and theaters brought back memories of being severely injured just before falling into stasis.

Elita, bless her heart, said ticket prices were stupidly expensive anyway. Besides, she couldn't grab his thumb to pause the movie in theaters like she could with DVD's. She asked Optimus what helped if something upset him, and she used the knowledge to get him past a flashback the same way he guided her through her glyph attacks.

Optimus still had a very long way to go. Though vast unknowns plagued his recovery, Mikaela comforted herself with knowing they were working towards it together.

.o

"Mikaela?"

Mikaela's mind returned to the present. She gave herself a little shake and smiled self-consciously. "Sorry...I was thinking about last year. It's been pretty wild, hasn't it?"

"Mm, it has indeed." Optimus touched his chest like he knew exactly what she reminisced about. He was still scribbling in the notebook. A page and a half this time.

"Bad episode?" asked Mikaela.

"Mmhmm..." Optimus showed her the page he just finished.

I am not weak.

This will not defeat me.

It was not my fault.

I'm going to live.

I can and will defend those that I love.

I am worthy to be a Prime.

My leadership is not in jeopardy.

The Autobots will not desert me.

My family will stay by my side.

I am more than this illness.

The people I love are supporting me.

I am doing the best that I can.

My Spark is still pure.

I refuse to give up.

This will not stop me.

I am not alone.

I AM OPTIMUS PRIME, and these thoughts have no place in my mind! Get out!

Mikaela borrowed his pencil to write I love you next to every single affirmation. Optimus closed his optics when he saw what she did. He was smiling. She tapped her finger against his nose.

"You're doing great."

"It is a daily struggle."

"Yeah, but you know what? Anybody can throw a punch in a fight. It takes everything you've got to keep getting up after getting hit in the face." She patted his forearm and gave him the pencil. "I'm sorry about the crowbar. I used it to poke the garage door when it wouldn't open. I put it back in the box because I was in a hurry."

"You couldn't have known I would encounter it by accident." Optimus flipped the notebook shut, "And you shouldn't have to tip-toe around me."

"I don't, but I also try not to leave triggering stuff laying around." Mikaela smiled tiredly at him. "Just remember this: I have a stomach bug, but it doesn't have me. Same goes for you. You have stasis trauma...it doesn't have you."

"Hm." Mischief gleamed in Optimus' optics. "Then it's fortunate we aren't in Soviet Russia."

Mikaela let out an unladylike snort. That was the one internet meme Optimus seemed to "get" and he found the weirdest times to say something related to it. She remembered hearing him try to explain it to Ultra Magnus. No luck, he didn't get the joke.

Besides, Ultra Magnus liked Grumpy Cat. On April Fool's day, he mailbombed Elita over five-hundred images of Tardar Sauce with the caption NO after she hacked his iTunes account and added rap music to his playlist. Mikaela only heard about it because the "bombing" also ended up in Optimus' Yahoo inbox.

Cybertronian humor didn't translate very well into human language, either.

"What do you get when you attach jumper cables to a Decepticon's aft?" Ironhide asked once. He waited for a beat and said, "A signal flare!"

The bots around him cackled- Mikaela didn't get it. Ratchet later explained that Decepticon optics tended to superheat and explode in their sockets when a strong current struck the opposite end of their bodies.

Speaking of electricity...bright lightning flickered outside. Thunder rumbled on its heels, rattling the windows.

"WOW!" Elita thudded her way up the stairs like a herd of ruptured elephants. "Did you guys see that?"

"Sure did!" Mikaela answered.

"Is your homework finished?" Optimus asked.

"Almost!"

"Please complete it. I'll be down to check your work in a few minutes."

"It's boring!"

"It's educational."

"Yeah, education in boredom," Elita muttered in defeat. "Frag homework!"

Mikaela almost choked on her spit. A scandalized look struck Optimus' face. He got up in a hurry and stuck his head out the bedroom door.

"Elita Prime, get back in here," Optimus' cold tone stopped the girl in her tracks. He loomed over her with his hands on his hips and lip plates grinding together. Her eyes opened wide. His optics narrowed. Gently, but firmly, he grasped her shoulders and knelt to her level without raising his voice. "Language like that will not be tolerated in my presence. It is unbecoming of a young lady such as yourself. This will cost you two dollars of your allowance money. Pay up."

"Two dollars because I said fr-"

"Ah-ah!" Optimus raised one finger. "If you say it again, I'll withhold next week's allowance and you won't be attending Sunday night's events. I don't think you want to give up your sleepover at Jennifer's house after the astronomy club meeting, do you?"

"Mom!"

"Better do it, El," Mikaela said. She wasn't in any condition to get in a fight and hoped Elita wasn't planning to pick one.

"I'm sorry!" Elita folded her arms and tightened her lips. "C'mon, I'm sorry! I-"

"Two dollars, Elita," Optimus talked over her. He straightened and almost exactly mirrored her posture without realizing it. "Lose the attitude and do the dishes after your homework is complete, and you may earn your lost wages back with your regular allowance on Monday night."

Grumbling, Elita stomped into her room. She returned and slapped eight quarters into Optimus' waiting hand. Then she thudded down the stairs like she wanted to kill them. Her math book crashed into the kitchen tabletop.

Optimus shook his head. Mikaela laughed at how he rolled his optics. That apple didn't fall very far.

"She reminds me of myself when I was young," he simulated a sigh. "The first time I swore in front of my Maker, he slapped me across the face. I never did it again in his presence."

Mikaela snorted at that. She drank generously from one of the water bottles on the nightstand.

"My dad washed my mouth out with soap the first time I cussed in front of him. He stopped caring once I turned ten. I've had a potty mouth ever since."

"I can tell," Optimus said cheekily. He placed the quarters by the TV set and rejoined her on the bed. "I remember your homework rants. I think my favorite was the term paper you had to write about Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Your use of swear words was quite interesting that night."

"Charles Dickens was paid by the word, and it showed." Mikaela made a face. "Also, ten pages minimum? I could've summarized the stupid story in two."

"But clever use of a thesaurus saved it," Optimus replied casually. "Besides, wasn't writing in a similar style to Charles Dickens the point of the essay?"

"Yeah, I guess so, but it killed most of my brain cells. Using a thesaurus got me the B I needed to keep my GPA from tanking. Thanks for that."

"You're most welcome. Now, I better make sure Elita isn't reading instead of finishing her math." Optimus removed himself from the bed. "Is there anything you'd like me to bring back later?"

"Nope. Water's all I need and I have that." Mikaela switched the TV on and laid back, fighting off another wave of nausea. Jeopardy! was currently playing- she decided she'd leave it on for awhile.

"All right. I'll be back up later," he said. A flick of the light switch cast the room in near-darkness, lit only by the flickering TV screen.

Sleep found her, and she woke again close to ten o'clock at night. The weather report predicted heavy rain and thunderstorms throughout the night. Dismayed, she used the bathroom before wandering out to lean on the banister outside her bedroom door again.

Elita, sporting pink flannel pajamas, was playing Wii MarioKart with Optimus. Their little spat earlier seemed entirely forgotten.

Mikaela's position didn't let her see the TV, so Elita and Optimus both looked silly working the controller steering wheels. Optimus could play every game wirelessly without moving if he wanted to, but he always said that wasn't fair. Besides, the in-game shenanigans were hilarious.

Elita grabbed Optimus' wheel, causing his character to crash.

"Ohh, frickinabicka..." Optimus muttered, laughing, "I'm coming for you!"

A little later, Optimus suddenly covered Elita's eyes with one hand, which made her Kart spin out on a banana peel.

"Ack! Dad! Hey! I'll get you for that!" Elita giggled.

"You have to catch me first."

"Watch me."

"I'm going to- oh! Koopa shell to the rear!"

Elita bumped her nose into Optimus' and stuck her tongue out at him. Optimus honked her cheeks, caught her in a headlock and gave her a noogie. She flailed, but thankfully didn't screech like she normally would. Their quiet laughter sounded like home.

"High five for the win, kid."

Elita happily slapped her palm against Optimus'. "One more race?"

"Of course, but you need to go to bed afterward. It's getting late, and your mother still isn't well."

"I hope she feels better soon."

"So do I."

They started a new race. About a minute in, Elita dropped her controller and covered her eyes. "Dad...I'm gonna-" She stopped mid-sentence like someone pressed pause on an invisible remote.

Optimus wirelessly switched off the Wii and the TV set, leaving the room dimly lit by the end table lamp. He gathered Elita in his lap, tucking her head under his chin and rubbing her shoulder. Without changing positions, he grabbed a large notepad with lined yellow paper and a sharpened number two pencil from the alcove in the end table.

Elita practically lurched for the pencil and began jerkily marking the paper. She used her left hand instead of the right. Like Optimus, Elita was ambidextrous to a degree- she could write and draw using either hand, but preferred her right.

Watching her left hand scribble looked downright eerie. Mikaela knew the attack ended when Elita quickly switched the pencil to her right hand and finished at a slower, more fluid pace.

Optimus stroked Elita's hair as she set the pencil down. She threw her arms around his neck.

"So that's what Sparks are made of," she said. "Plasma fluid suspended inside an electromagnetic field."

He looked down at her in complete adoration. "Yes, basically. When a Spark is extinguished, the electromagnetic field dissipates and the plasma falls to the bottom of the chamber. If that hadn't happened to me, you would not be here."

Elita touched Optimus' chest. "Did it hurt?"

"Yes, it did."

"Sorry."

"No. Never apologize for your existence." Optimus sat her up and looked straight into her eyes. "I have done many things throughout my lifetime, but you, Elita, you are my greatest achievement. No matter where you go in life, no matter what you do, I'm proud to know I can point you out in a crowd and say, 'That's my little girl.'"

Elita's face lit up. She bent closer, hugging him tight. "Someday, I'm gonna fix it so I can tell the world you're my dad and nobody will say anything nasty about you ever again. You're my favorite superhero."

Optimus' expression softened visibly. He kissed Elita above the ear and whispered something. She planted a quick peck on his mouth before climbing off his lap.

"I love you too, dad. G'night."

They were fine. Mikaela smiled with amusement before wandering back to bed. She shut her TV off, casting the room in darkness. Thunder rumbled and pea-sized hail clattered on the roof.

"Mom?" Elita poked her head in. "You awake?"

"Mmhmm." Mikaela blew a kiss. "Still sick, so don't come in here...you don't want this back."

Elita pretended to catch the blown kiss and offered one back. "No way. Just saying g'night and I love you."

"Night night, El. I love you, too."

Downstairs, the hiss-bang of a screen door indicated Optimus taking out the trash. Elita vacated the bedroom doorway as a fresh bag rustled and the bin thumped home beside the refrigerator. The downstairs door locks all received a through unlock and re-lock to ensure their security.

Wind rustled the trees outside the bedroom window. Hail gave way to heavy rain hissing along the roof.

Nasty chills returned, followed by aching joints. Damn stomach flu. Another dose of Tylenol promised temporary relief, and within twenty minutes sleep granted Mikaela a short reprieve.

Intense shivering woke her up one more time at two-fifteen in the morning. She got out of bed to use the bathroom and groaned as she swallowed more Tylenol.

Optimus relaxed contentedly on his back. Left leg bent, right ankle crossed over his knee and a paperback book held above him. Unlike a human whose arms grew tired, he could lay in that pose for hours. His optics provided a perfect reading light. Sometimes, if Mikaela had trouble sleeping, he utilized his night vision to avoid disturbing her.

He only needed recharge once a week at minimum. On the nights he didn't power down, he read while lying in bed because he knew Mikaela liked sleeping next to him.

That night, he was reading The Andalite Chronicles by K.A. Applegate. Did Elita know he raided her bookshelf again?

"So, where are you in the book?" Mikaela asked to take her mind off how cold she felt.

Optimus dimmed his optics to glance at her. They brightened once he refocused on the book. He possessed the uncanny ability to read, listen and speak at the same time. "Elfangor just recognized who Tobias is."

"Ooh."

A few minutes later, he closed the book and set it aside. Underneath it, the Hork-Bajir Chronicles. He devoured sci-fi and romance novels like candy.

"Loren and Elfangor remind me slightly of us," Optimus said. "I liked the part where he ruminated about liking the alien who wasn't so alien to him anymore. I...definitely identify with that sentiment."

Mikaela curled up against his side. "Me, too."

She shifted uncomfortably. No matter which way she twisted, she couldn't stop her shivering. Shivering upset her sore joints, which made her headache worse. Her upper body was warm, but her feet were like ice. Even more annoying, she couldn't fall asleep if she wore socks in bed.

"Optimus, could you warm up my feet?"

"Of course."

Optimus took great care not to jostle the mattress when he changed positions. He folded the covers off the foot of the bed just enough to reach underneath and grasp her feet. His stainless steel fingertips lightly touched her toes to take a temperature reading. They cooled to match, so it wasn't altogether shocking once Mikaela felt his palms press flat against her soles. His hands warmed so slowly that she hardly noticed until she realized her feet weren't ice blocks anymore.

Then Optimus started giving her a foot massage. Mikaela swore she'd landed in paradise.

"Mm, love you..."

"I love you, too," he answered without hesitation.

She was almost asleep when he lowered the covers and resettled beside her. He warmed and kissed her hands next. The last thing she remembered before falling asleep was his fingertips brushing a lock of hair off her cheek.

In the morning, Elita's handmade "get well" card gave Mikaela something to giggle about. She'd drawn a nice image of Godzilla using his atomic breath on a cloud of dark spots. Inside, it said, "I know you don't feel so great, so here's a picture of Godzilla beating up your stomach bug. Feel better soon, mom! Love, Elita."

Mikaela made sure she blew Elita a big kiss and threw an air hug from her bedroom door as a thank you. And, though she still felt horrendously sick to her stomach, she asked Optimus for toast. It took her almost an hour to nibble it into nothingness.

Outside, the clouds were burning away. A clean new world glistened under the warm sun.

Optimus and Elita headed outdoors, where they proceeded to make a racket on their skateboards. Not that Mikaela minded a whole lot. She enjoyed hearing her family goof off. Especially Optimus- he needed fun things to remember.

Besides, he had the funniest wipeouts.

Then Elita bailed and let out a screech. Her muffled sniffling grew louder when Optimus brought her inside.

"Everything okay?" Mikaela leaned over the banister.

"Just fine," Optimus answered. He helped Elita run cold water over her skinned elbow. She didn't actually cry until he sprayed the scrape with Bactine. He unwrapped a Band-aid, smoothed it over her elbow and gave it a quick kiss. "That was some wipeout, sweet-Spark."

Elita sniffed, wiping her face. "Yeah. Too bad I'm not metal."

"Hm, but I am." Optimus curled his hands into classic heavy metal horns and winked at her. His sight pun worked- she laughed, and they headed back into the sunlight.

Mikaela's fever broke that afternoon, bringing much relief from the joint pain and nausea. She celebrated by carefully eating steamed rice and a small cup of applesauce from the six pack Elita picked out at the store. When she didn't throw it all up half an hour later, she declared victory.

She parked herself across the couch, playing games on her phone and watching the outdoor chaos through the windows. Optimus and Elita traded their skateboards for the silver Frisbee.

A catnap caught Mikaela in its clutches. She awoke when Optimus carried her back to the bedroom. They watched Short Circuit because it happened to come on HBO. Optimus hadn't seen that one before and asked if they could leave it on. So much for worrying about who picked the night's film.

At the scene where Johnny Five and Stephanie danced, Optimus caught Mikaela's eye. Pure adoration shone in his optics, leaving no doubt what he was thinking. She grinned over the butterflies in her stomach. He pulled her close for a quick kiss on the lips. Neither said a word. They refocused on the TV with affectionate smiles gracing their faces.

Mikaela ended up falling asleep on Optimus' shoulder right before the movie ended.

.o

"Mom, we're going!" Elita called upstairs.

"Okay, sweetie. Love you!" Mikaela replied. "Don't forget your solar filter!"

"I've got it, mom! Love you, too!"

Optimus' voice echoed Elita's sentiment. Mikaela answered accordingly and heard the door bang shut. It was Sunday, and she felt back to her old self enough to venture downstairs and make herself a light lunch.

Mikaela used her family's absence to call up Ultra Magnus, who had been busily setting up a new set of energon detectors that doubled the scanning radius of their predecessors. The recent storm knocked several old ones out of commission anyway, which meant holes in the security perimeter. He considered that the perfect excuse to stop procrastinating and get it done. It was slow going- he could only work at night or he risked being seen. There wasn't a team of Autobots this time around, so the work fell solely to his hands.

"I need some help," Mikaela said. She held the phone between her chin and shoulder while washing her dishes. "How do you create a romantic atmosphere on Cybertron?"

Ultra Magnus laughed heartily. He knew exactly what Mikaela was up to. "Oh, romance? The list is quite long. I'll email it to you. Deal?"

"Awesome. Thanks."

"No problem, earthling," he kidded. "I'm glad you're feeling better. Take care."

"Thanks! Bye!"

The extensive list contained many items too impossible to accomplish due to Earth not having the technology. But there was one that could be modified a little.

Mikaela checked her watch. Four hours until Optimus returned. She headed right for the garage to begin rummaging. Three hours of setup and a shower later, everything looked ready.

When away, Optimus sometimes let his calls go to his 'human' voicemail. That way, he wouldn't appear rude by answering his facsimile of a phone at an event where phones were supposed to be shut off. Mikaela chuckled softly at his polite voicemail greeting.

"Hello, this is Owen Prime. I apologize for not taking your call right now, but I will get back to you as soon as possible. Please leave a message after the beep. Thank you."

"Hey," Mikaela did her best to sound innocent, "Keep your eyes closed when you get home. Don't ask, just do it. It'll be worth it. Love you, bye!"

She adjusted the bun in her hair- it was pristinely held together via simple black hair sticks- and checked herself in the closet mirror one more time. Her red velvet prom gown fit a little bit tighter than she remembered, but she still looked damn good in it. With her fingers, she checked the hook on the halter strap at the nape of her neck. Gold shimmer eye shadow and matte red lipstick went perfectly with the faux ruby chandelier earrings she picked out just for tonight.

Mikaela headed downstairs, shutting off lights as she went. Flipping the last switch cast the living room in dusky near darkness. But turning another light switch lit up the many strands of white icicle lights she draped between the banister and the floor to ceiling windows looking out over the trees. Several more strands hung from the walls. The room was a sea of glowing LED's.

She checked the stereo next. A Bose system. The song she chose, These Dreams by Heart, was all set to play.

The Silverado's tires crackled onto the driveway. Mikaela's heart leapt into her throat when she heard the garage door whirr down. Then Optimus' human sized bot hologram appeared just inside the front door, a hand covering his optics.

"I'm home!" he called.

"You sure are," Mikaela replied silkily. She took his free hand and led him to the middle of the living room. Taking a breath, she let go. "Okay, you can look."

Optimus blinked a few times, his bright blue optics taking in the atmosphere. The lights glimmered nicely on his shiniest parts. He focused on Mikaela next and his mouth dropped a little.

"Wow," he said. "Wow!"

Mikaela grinned in delight. Optimus' reaction made battling the ladder and the tangled lights worth it. She scooped the stereo remote off the couch and pressed play, letting the dreamy music fill the air.

Mikaela extended her hand and quirked a questioning brow. "May I have this dance, Optimus?"

Optimus' optics softened. He accepted the invitation, drawing her gingerly closer. His warmth wrapped itself around her like a torus.

"You are incredible," Optimus whispered in her ear. "I feel like I'm on Cybertron again."

"I wanted to make up for missing the real date," said Mikaela. "You mentioned you didn't buy the steak...so don't worry about it. This is something we can both enjoy."

Their bodies were synced, moving in perfect musical rhythm.

Optimus' rumbling voice fit perfectly into the atmosphere. "Mm, it's funny how a series of unfortunate events leads to moments like this."

No statement rang as true as that. As the song lyrics began, she remembered...

"Spare a little candle,
save some light for me.
Figures up ahead,
moving in the trees.
White skin, in linen,
perfume on my wrist,
and the full moon that hangs over
these dreams in the mist
..."

Eleven years ago, Mikaela's prom night fell through after Sam and Trent brawled in the parking lot outside the gym. Bumblebee called Optimus to check on her because there were too many people around. She still remembered throwing her corsage onto the asphalt and taking her heels off as she stormed down a dark street. Probably not the safest course of action, but she was pissed off and didn't want to marinate in any more testosterone for the rest of the night.

She made it about a mile before Optimus' headlights shone through the gloom, two white beams leading to a future neither expected.

And here they stood. Married. As parents. Still crazy for each other.

Optimus' hand tightened gently around hers. She felt his casual lean. He wanted to lead her in a waltz. Pressure from her palm gave him the all clear, and he swept her through light and shadow for the song's chorus.

"...These dreams go on when I close my eyes.
Every second of the night, I live another life.
These dreams that sleep when it's cold outside.
Every moment I'm awake, the further I'm away
..."

"We're here because my prom night got screwed up," she said. "You turned a piece of crap night into a dream."

"I'm glad I could be of service," Optimus replied. He looked down at her in complete adoration. "You allowed me to grieve. Something I had not been able to do. I don't know how you accomplished it, Mikaela...you took the torn ends of my love, and you wove them into this. Into us."

Mikaela lightly kissed his chin. "Glad it helped...you needed me."

"I still need you." He swayed his hips rather suggestively, flirting with her. "However, I do hope future anniversaries don't include a fever and vomiting."

Laughing, she momentarily ground against him to flirt back. "I'll try my best."

Mikaela's skin tingled as Optimus nuzzled his lips along her neck and shoulder. His smooth, porcelain-like armor, whispering hydraulics and clean motor oil scent consumed her senses.

"...I want to see you clearly,
come closer than this.
But all I remember
are the dreams in the mist
..."

The almost practiced motion of his body against hers sent heat pooling low in her pelvis. Their eyes met, and his were slowly becoming dark blue eclipses. She could almost see the electricity in the air between them. He held her spellbound, giving her courage.

Mikaela used a tissue to wipe the lipstick off her lips and gazed teasingly through her eyelashes. "How do you kiss passionately on Cybertron? I've been trying to figure it out on my own, but I can't seem to pick it up."

Amusement twinkled in Optimus' optics. "It's all right. Heh, heh...I always do it to you while we make love, but I omit the static electricity since I know it might be painful. I completely understand why you wouldn't distinguish it from an everyday 'smooch.'" He smiled and went on, "May I demonstrate?"

"Yeah. Show me."

Mikaela tilted her head as Optimus' face inched closer. At first, he touched his mouth to hers human-style. And again. A third time. Then he parted his mouth plates and brushed them sensually across her bottom lip, paused at the left corner and went over her top lip the other way. Another pause, and he shifted back to center.

"...The sweetest song is silence
that I've ever heard.
Funny how your feet
in dreams never touch the earth.
In a wood full of princes,
freedom is a kiss
..."

All at once, it clicked. A slightly open mouth caressing each lip in turn instead of a closed one casually sweeping side to side against both. Yes, he did do that when they made love. She always liked it and knew he was kissing her his way, but never realized it signified something deeper than a simple lip-peck.

"The speed and directional preference varies," he said against her mouth, "but I like it slow and side to side."

"Mm...it's nice. How do I kiss back?"

"Move opposite to me, switching from top to bottom each time you change directions. It is like a dance. We meet in the middle."

He leaned in again. She followed his instructions and drank in the simple sensuality of it. The first pass, she accidentally went for his bottom lip at the same time he wanted hers. He chuckled. She blushed. After a quiet laugh, they found their rhythm. The silken skin-on-metal slide repeated itself in slow succession.

"Congratulations," Optimus winked, "We're 'making out.'"

"Good." Mikaela wrapped her arms around his neck and giggled. "Been wanting to for a long time."

The one time she tried to French him as an experiment, she cut the tip of her tongue on something in his mouth. It took twenty minutes to quit bleeding, and it made eating painful for a week. They both swore never to attempt that again. Now she knew the Cybertronian equivalent and planned on using it whenever she could.

Optimus smiled, touching his mouth plates to her brow. They waltzed again through the chorus. Reality swirled and swung until he slowed to dip her at the song's end. By then, his previously cool armor felt noticeably hot. He blinked and his gentle optics became dim blue rings surrounding darkness. The way he looked at her excluded the rest of the universe.

Mikaela's heart pounded in anticipation. She interlocked her fingers with Optimus' and led him upstairs. The icicle lights weren't just relegated to the living room. Their shared master bedroom also shimmered. She felt his hand squeeze hers. His optics were closed and his mouth plates quivered. The mechanisms in his throat moved in something resembling a swallow.

"Did I make you homesick?" she asked, worried she'd upset him.

Optimus opened his optics to regard her. "No. It's perfect." He caressed her fingertips, "I'm wondering what in the universe I did to deserve someone like you."

Mikaela shouldn't have been surprised at him asking the same question she often asked herself, but she was. Recovering quickly, she swung their joined hands and said, "Me, too. Maybe we were always meant to be."

Optimus' expression softened at that. He sat down on the bed, his gaze never leaving hers. With his hand, he guided her fingertips to the seam in his chest armor. When she pressed upward, the metal covering his Spark chamber split away and rotated aside beneath his breastplates. The chamber doors opened by themselves, baring the brightness of his Spark.

Reflections of whiteness shone in Mikaela's eyes. That was the real Optimus. His body- the metal, wires, tubes and joints- provided a vehicle to experience the universe around him. But everything he was and would be existed in that simple flickering sphere. The same light appeared in his optics whenever he smiled- like right now.

"Your eyes reflect my Spark," he said. "Eleven years and a daughter later, and it still looks the same."

Mikaela's hands moved off Optimus' chest to cup his face. Though his outward appearance changed, the glow of his Spark and the way he looked at her stayed the same. "My dad used to say you see the best parts of yourself in the person you love most."

"Do you like what you see?"

"Oh, yeah. A lot." Mikaela playfully tapped his nose. "I used to think I wasn't worth anything more than looks because every guy I hung out with liked the idea of me instead of me. Then you asked me to dance...and it was perfect. I felt like I really mattered to you."

"You did matter to me that night." Optimus brushed the back of his hand against her jaw and cupped her cheek, his thumb stroking her bottom lip. The sincerity in his optics created butterflies at the pit of her stomach. "You still matter to me tonight. You'll always matter to me, Mikaela. Always."

Swallowing, not breaking eye contact, Mikaela pulled the hair sticks out of her bun. She guided Optimus' hand to the hook on the nape of her neck, which let the velvet halter dress slide right off her body like water. He let her 'undress' the armor concealing his Spark, so she let him undress her. She retrieved the dress and tossed it across the little couch on her right. Her earrings came off next- she didn't want them tangling in her hair or his fingers. Then she climbed into his lap. The gold shimmer eye shadow she so carefully applied sparkled in the dim lighting.

"Hey," she said.

"Hello," he replied.

Their lips met- Optimus' hard metal against Mikaela's soft skin. He bit her bottom lip and she sucked on his upper one. They slowly graduated towards brushing their mouths side to side, the deep Cybertronian kiss Optimus demonstrated downstairs. His grip on her shoulders tightened and she delighted in how quickly such a simple gesture excited him.

Quick click-hisses marked the two halves of Optimus' metal collar separating and sliding closer to his shoulders. Mikaela's fingers immediately went for the newly exposed framework, tubes and wires. His clean oil scent was the strongest there. Maybe his armor somehow kept it contained until he decided to let it escape. Mikaela inhaled his hot familiarity. She remembered how it lingered on her pillowcases and bed sheets during his four year absence. Her exhale blew warm air across his throat. Then she wrapped her hand around the back of his neck and kissed him repeatedly under the chin- something he said he really liked. He shuddered with a mechanical whine.

"Yes," Optimus whispered, "Please."

The smell he gave off strengthened as arousal heated his internals. Mikaela rested her other hand against the back of his neck and curled both sets of fingers inward. The neural wires she couldn't find before were hidden in a tiny space just large enough for her fingertips. They tightened and pressed against her fingers whenever he inclined his head to let her lips caress his sensitive jaw. She rubbed the bases of his ear finials with her thumbs. He smiled like he'd died and gone to Heaven. Then he tilted his head down and caught her mouth with his. As always, his attempts at a deep human kiss were still adorably clumsy. He knew what to do, but his lips weren't flexible enough. She found his willingness to keep trying rather charming.

A question shone in Optimus' optics when their faces separated. Mikaela nodded almost imperceptibly. He bent forward, mouth plates nipping and gliding effortlessly along her throat. She felt him kiss her pulse. His hands slipped between them to massage her breasts. Feeling his thumbs circle her areolas until her nipples stood erect sent her blushing in the best way.

Something she loved- he never considered himself privy to her body. Even though he knew he always had permission, he sought an all clear through a look or a word before engaging in anything sexual.

Most of the boys Mikaela went with never considered her that way. Back in her teenage years, people treated her like meat. Maybe they didn't mean to. Guys grabbed, chewed and took their fill from her whenever they saw fit. Sam happened to be pretty decent and he respected her...but he was also very inexperienced. He tried- maybe that was why she still felt something for him even though they were long over.

Sex once provided Mikaela a barometer of her self worth. She measured herself according to the boys she satisfied. Why bother being anything more than a fantasy when that was all people saw?

Then Optimus entered her life, and he transfigured her view of herself without even trying. When they made love, she felt completely connected to the process. Her enjoyment of the act mattered to him, and he tended her needs with the most loving care. Fake orgasms and ocean-deep guilt were no longer part of her sexual modus operandi. The echoes of evil jock concubine and slut finally stopped plaguing her psyche, and for that she remained eternally grateful.

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