Feel How It Feels

Lennox/Optimus. PG. ~2100 words.
But Optimus said, “That would be helpful,” and a weirdly pleasant warmth spread through Lennox’s gut.

At oh dark thirty, the base was quiet as a church. It had been for weeks, no new arrivals on either side of the war. They all needed the break, some more than others, but the very worst thing about a fighting lull was the knowledge that it would end.

Lennox bypassed the low murmur of voices in the common room, his thoughts wandering along ahead of him to the gym, where he could make the best use of his restlessness, while his feet carried him closer to the kitchens. Epps had a sweet tooth big enough to rival Sideswipe’s ego and he was sure he’d seen someone hiding waffle cones in with the All Bran.

Five minutes later he was strolling through the back yards with two scoops of Oreo chocolate fudge, heading for the light spilling brightly through the repair bay’s open doors. A harsh fizzling noise and the scent of seared metal wafted out into the night.

Optimus stood in the central bay, the deepest of the three at forty feet down, the scarred plating on his arm opened from wrist to elbow. “Major,” he greeted, a careful flex of his fingers sending up a shower of sparks. “Are you up late or rising early?”

“Bit of both,” Lennox said, and crunched through another mouthful of cone before nodding at Optimus’s arm. “What’s up?”

“Ironhide.”

“Got in a lucky shot, huh.”

“Ironhide is a tremendously skilled warrior.” Smoke wafted up from Optimus’s wrist, the usually smooth shift of hydraulics accompanied by a grating whine as his hand closed into an awkward fist. A sigh like the hush of a giant ventilator fan on slow filled the bay. “It was a very lucky shot.”

Finishing off the last of his ice cream, Lennox rounded the skywalk and crouched down, squinting at Optimus’s arm. Shiny greyish fluid seeped from the ragged edge of a something-or-other, the bits and pieces of Optimus’s insides he could see through the gash slicked with it. It was a lot like staring into an open wound, and at the same time it really wasn’t. Metal and wires lacked the strange intimacy of exposed muscle and tendon. “Need a hand?”

As soon as he’d asked, he felt sort of stupid. The Autobots had existed for centuries, probably longer than his entire species, and of all of them, Optimus was the least likely to need help treating the equivalent of a sprained ankle.

But Optimus said, “That would be helpful,” and a weirdly pleasant warmth spread through Lennox’s gut.

“All right,” he said, brushing his hands off on his sweats and ignoring how much this felt like being a kid again, ‘helping’ his father to fix the broken vacuum cleaner. He headed for the stairs. “What’re we doing?”

“Speeding the process,” Optimus answered, dropping smoothly to one knee as Lennox jogged across the bay. He held out his good hand, palm flat–the same as Lennox had seen Bumblebee do for Sam a dozen times over–and if he noticed Lennox’s split-second hesitation before hopping on, he didn’t think it worth mentioning.

As Lennox stepped off onto his thigh, Optimus’s hand moved to hover behind his back, shielding him from the potential of a fifteen-foot drop. Appreciating the sentiment if not the brief, jarring thought of being plunked on daddy’s knee, Lennox crossed his arms to ward it off and sized up the damage. It was even worse from here, the half-closed rent stretching from what looked like an ulna into a thicker, smoothly rounded chunk of metal, exposing a ribbed tube that ran like a vein beneath the surface. A few jagged splinters of metal had lodged in it, more fluid welling up around them to drip into the workings below.

Following his gaze, Optimus said, “I can assimilate the shards, but it will take time. Removing them would prevent further damage.”

Lennox jerked his chin at the gash. “What about that?”

“Shrapnel first,” Optimus said.

Shrugging, Lennox grabbed onto Optimus’s knee and swung down, using the dozens of tiny gaps between Optimus’s armour for handholds. He headed for the standard-size worktable in the corner and rummaged around, coming up with a pair of snub-nosed pliers that seemed like they’d get the job done without making things worse. “Anything else I should get while I’m here?”

“Gloves. You will most likely get my fluids on your hands.”

Lennox pursed his lips in a quiet whistle. If it were anybody else up there, he’d think he’d been deliberately tossed a line, but even with 24/7 access to the internet, Optimus wasn’t the type to go trolling for dirty jokes. He cleared his throat. “Should I be worried if you drip on me?”

“No,” Optimus said, “but some have objections.”

Shaking his head slowly, Lennox dug around for a pair his size just in case and snagged a few blue disposable towels out of an open box. Not waiting for Optimus to chauffeur him around again, he climbed up on his own and waved Optimus’s injured arm closer.

With his hand hovering a few inches shy of diving into heavy cords and wires strung along the inside of Optimus’s arm, Lennox said, “When I do something like this for the guys out in the field, now’s usually when I say punch me if it hurts.”

A sly bit of humour lacing his tone, Optimus replied, “Understood.”

Out of options to delay what he’d gotten himself into, Lennox scooted over and reached into the jungle of parts. The slight temperature change from the cool bay to the warmth given off by Optimus’s systems prickled along his skin. “Warn me if I’m about to screw up,” he said, carefully fitting the pliers to one of the shards and doing his best to pry it loose without snapping it off or widening the puncture.

He worked in silence for a moment, and then Optimus quietly said, a low mechanical whine accompanying the shift of his gaze, “It is good to again have comrades who can perform these tasks for us.”

Some people, mostly the ones with not enough work to do and votes to lose, still debated a machine’s capacity for what they liked to call humanity. If Lennox had his way, he’d have every last one of them spend just one day with Optimus and watch their bullshit arguments vanish in a puff of smoke. Autobots, even Decepticons with their staggering rage, weren’t machines in the way of the things people built.

A machine couldn’t hold a soul pulsing like a heartbeat in its chest, and he would like to see the day people could so easily prove the existence of their own.

“I guess you all can’t be the size of a Mack truck,” Lennox said, wary of opening up a different sort of wound. He wiped the pliers clean before going after another piece of shrapnel lodged between the ribbed tubing and a jointed metal plate. “Can I lift this?” he asked, pointing at the tube.

“Go ahead.”

He felt the sluggish flow of liquid through the metal vein as soon as his fingers closed around it. It was firm but flexible, and a heck of a lot warmer than the rest of the metal surrounding it. His skin tingled where the fluid, hot like a spill of fresh blood, dripped between his fingers. He stared down at where his arm was buried inside Optimus’s body, at where he had Optimus’s blood on his fingers and flesh in his hand, and it didn’t matter that they weren’t really blood or flesh at all.

“Major,” Optimus said, not quite a question.

“Only one left,” he said quickly, wetting his lips as he eased the last of the shrapnel free and dropped it onto the small pile forming on Optimus’s leg.

“Hold on,” Optimus warned, in that way all of the ‘bots meant hold the hell on and not just wait a second, and turned to pick up one of the thin sheets of flexible metal, about as thick as a baking sheet, laid out on the floor. “Wrap this around the punctures as tightly as you can. It’s already cut to size.”

As Lennox drew his hands free, his fingers left thin smears of grey on the outside of Optimus’s arm. Tiny speckles of silver still shone on his hands after he’d wiped them clean, and with a glance at the sheet metal’s sharp edges, he reluctantly hauled on the gloves.

The sheet was heavier than he expected, stronger, and Optimus held it steady until he got a decent grip on it. “Like a band-aid?”

“Like a skin graft,” Optimus said. “You’ll need to seal it.”

Lennox glanced at the closed wound further up. “That’s what you were doing.”

Optimus’s low mmhm rumbled straight into Lennox’s chest.

And on that note, Lennox was happy to let conversation slide in favour of concentrating on the work, focusing on the occasional instructions Optimus gave instead of the way the words echoed in his head and rippled down his spine. His hands were damp in the borrowed gloves and his grip slipped, the metal twisting sharply to the side and snagging some wire or gear that made Optimus’s fingers twitch, and he sucked in the startled breath Optimus didn’t.

“Sorry,” he said, falling about twenty miles short of the casual apology he’d meant it to be, and Optimus nodded, said, “Do not worry. For as similar as our two species are, we feel pain very differently.”

With all signs pointing to Shut Up and every last warning bell screaming, Lennox scrubbed a drop of sweat off his upper lip and asked, “How’s that?”

“It’s difficult to explain.” After a brief moment’s consideration, Optimus’s optics dimmed to a soft black. “Touch me.”

That stuck something low and hot in Lennox’s gut, something he tried to ignore by waving his hand near Optimus’s face. “I’m not falling for that one.” He stuck up a few fingers. “How many?”

Optimus’s optics stayed dark. “Please,” he said, lowering his chin slightly. “Whenever you’re ready.”

It sounded too much like a challenge to ignore, never mind how much sense that didn’t make; Lennox tugged off one glove and laid his palm flat to the outside of Optimus’s arm, as far away from the damage as he could reach. When Optimus said nothing, he pressed harder, his fingertips turning white.

Optimus’s voice was the same, a low, steady rumble, burrowing its way deeper into Lennox’s bones with every word. “I am aware of you only as much as you are aware of the air against your skin. When you move, I’m reminded that you are there.”

Lennox tried to swallow the vaguely Oreo-flavoured lump stuck in his throat. He dragged his hand slowly closer, fingers fanned wide. “You can feel that the same as I do?” he asked, and at Optimus’s nod, stopped. “Now?”

“I can feel you breathe.”

It’d been a long time since he’d used it, too many weeks in the naked desert sands, but Lennox dug up his sniper training, focusing on the point of Optimus’s shoulder and breathing slowly, letting it peter out until he felt himself go still, silent.

“Your muscles sometimes twitch,” Optimus said, his eyes shifting from black to blue. “Your heart is always beating. As long as you live, you will never be so still that I won’t feel you against me. Think of our pain as the absence of that awareness. There is nothing where my metal is torn, and that pains me. Too much nothing and my spark suffers.”

Wishing he could claim he didn’t know what he was doing, Lennox shifted his fingers a tiny fraction, then stroked them lightly along Optimus’s arm. He kept his gaze on Optimus’s face, some harebrained notion that maybe he’d see a reaction there the same as when something tickled his skin.

“The opposite of pain is pleasure,” Optimus said.

Aside from a slight hitch, the glide of his hand along warm metal didn’t waver. “Do you define that the same way we do?”

“Perhaps without so many nuances. It simply is.”

Lennox finally made himself stop when his fingers neared a ragged edge, not wanting to remind Optimus of the wound he already knew was there by prodding at it. “So you really don’t mind me walking all over you.”

“No,” Optimus said, and while the echo of that still filled Lennox’s ears, looked down at the new metal grafted into his arm. “A fine job. Thank you, Major.”

Lennox couldn’t help the broad grin that took over his face, just as he couldn’t help the hot swoop of his gut as Optimus tested his arm, making a noise like a pleased smile as his fingers closed smoothly into a fist.

End

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