At the beginning, Optimus had only the vaguest sense of the project; he was always sorry when he did have to dampen Wheeljack’s creative enthusiasm, so to compensate he made a deliberate effort to stay out of the way except when Wheeljack was working on new weapons or some similarly dangerous design. The most Optimus knew about this one was that Spike was extremely embarrassed about it: apparently Wheeljack had been inspired by finding him watching visual dramatizations of human reproductive functions, which seemed—peculiarly, given the frequency of human reproduction—to be a taboo source of entertainment.
“The point is, they don’t just use it for reproduction,” Wheeljack said, when he reached the prototype stage and asked permission to install the modification in a few volunteers. “They use it for stress relief, for entertainment, for reinforcing pair or sometimes even group bonds…”
Optimus remained fairly skeptical; it sounded very much as though Wheeljack were trying to come up with justifications when the true reason was merely that he was curious about what would happen, which often had undesirable consequences. That said, the proposed modification seemed minor, and Ratchet shrugged tolerantly when Optimus asked his opinion. “I’ve looked over his diagrams; he wants me to do the actual installs. I wouldn’t say I think it’s going to do any good, but it’s not going to hurt anything either, as far as I can tell. It doesn’t connect to anything except the pleasure subsystem, and it’s going to take a significant amount of dedicated collaboration by a pair of mechs to trigger the system overloads; they’re not going to just get set off by accident. I think it’s more a lark than anything, but we can all use a lark, now and then.”
So Optimus approved the request, and didn’t think anything more about it for three weeks. He was certainly aware that the number of demerits and minor squabbles dropped somewhat, but he didn’t connect the two events until Ratchet found him in the command center and said without preamble, “Optimus, I want to install Wheeljack’s new system in every single Autobot, as fast as we can spare the cycles.”
“What?” Optimus said, in surprise.
“I just did the post-trial evals,” Ratchet said. “The numbers are off the charts. Neural function is improved by an order of magnitude. Stress and anger levels are dropped to virtually nil. It’s even got knock-on effects on mechanical subsystems! That servo in Cliffjumper’s knee that keeps going out, it’s associated with a regret subroutine that cycles through his processor at rare and unpredictable intervals; I’ve been trying to catch it on a level where I can intervene for the last twenty thousand years. Well, after three weeks of him and Windcharger going at it, the whole process is just gone, and the servo’s back to 100%.” He actually laughed out loud. “Hell, I might put myself out of a job with this stuff. And you are first on my docket,” he added, with a narrow look of total determination.
It was a familiar look. Optimus was was well aware, with weary regret, that Ratchet was deeply concerned for him, and had been for virtually eight million years now. Optimus didn’t even disagree with Ratchet’s assessment of his neuro-emotional condition. But there wasn’t anything to be done about it. Ratchet couldn’t change the reality of their lives, of the slow inexorable grinding of the Decepticon war machine’s devouring gears. He couldn’t relieve Optimus of the burden of command. All he could do was help to ease the worst of the symptoms, once in a while. That said, on the rare occasions when he insisted that some intervention was necessary, he was always right.
“You know I don’t argue with the doctor,” Optimus said. “Go ahead and schedule the modifications however you see fit during off-duty hours.”
Ratchet worked faster than Optimus had ever seen him when someone’s life wasn’t on the line. The Ark became a significantly more cheerful place over the next few weeks. Optimus witnessed the effects with enormous gratitude, although unfortunately only secondhand: he himself wasn’t able to experience the benefit directly.
He was almost sorrier for Ratchet about it than himself. After a couple of rounds, Optimus had regretfully been forced to tell him that he didn’t see much of the appeal—although Prowl and Ironhide had both been more than vocal enough when they’d tried the other way around to demonstrate that they did—and Ratchet had looked as though he wanted to burst into tears.
“Ah, hell,” Wheeljack said, after they’d done a deep diagnostic. “It’s the power-flow differential. Dammit.” Ratchet had his head in his hands. “Optimus, I’m sorry. No other Autobot’s system can get the stimulation to you, no matter how hard they work at it, because your system just disperses it before it can reach significant levels.” He rubbed his forehead. “Maybe Grimlock?”
“His primary power-flow system is within standard parameters,” Ratchet said, muffled. “Remember? We created a secondary power-flow system instead so we could get the flamethrower…”
“Right,” Wheeljack said, dismally. “Well, give me a little while, I’ll see if I can think of something.”
But regardless, Optimus did feel better, because everyone else was so much happier. He’d stopped even consciously noticing the low level malaise and depression hanging over them, because it was so terribly pervasive. Until suddenly it lifted, so completely that Optimus had a hard time believing in the effect. It just didn’t seem real, that everyone else was truly feeling this much better just because they were taking turns having a very basic protrusion inserted into a port that barely even merited the name; the sensor array didn’t actually transmit data at all, only minor power surges and pings.
There was some initial trouble with Autobots spending too much time banging—Wheeljack called the act physiointerlocking, but banging was the term that stuck, since a great deal of it was involved, and difficult to overlook: the Ark was prone to echoing. The overindulgers occasionally ended up falling into rest cycles in mission briefings and conferences, but Optimus would have been delighted to take the exchange no matter what. And it was having a net positive effect on operating costs anyway: everyone’s efficiency levels were rising to completely new heights, as were combat metrics. Optimus had never pushed other Autobots to train as much as he’d always felt desirable: it caused most of them too much stress and anxiety to spend time fighting except when they had to, in self-defense or to protect others. Except now they had become glad to cause themselves a bit of stress, since afterwards they could very happily go off with a friend and have that stress banged right out of them.
Optimus did even enjoy the experience itself in an indirect way: he was more than glad to indulge his friends when they asked him, just for the delight of seeing them experience the climactic sensation. “Ratchet, this is still a gift,” he tried, gently, after three more design modifications on Wheeljack’s part had failed. “You can’t imagine that I’m not extraordinarily happy because of this, even if I never experience it myself.”
“Yeah, sure you’re happy,” Ratchet said tiredly, flipping a hand at his neuroscanner readout. “I can see your damn processes, Optimus. Yes, it’s better. At least you’re not experiencing everyone else’s misery on top of your own. But it’s not remotely close to the same therapeutic effect.”
“My friend,” Optimus said quietly, “I know you’re disappointed, and I know it’s out of concern. But I don’t think I could be made happy by this system. Not…for any length of time.”
Ratchet glared at him. “I’d take five minutes where I didn’t have to worry about you sliding into neural collapse on my watch!” Then he slumped. “It’s not fair,” he burst out. “The one Autobot who needs it more than anyone—”
“I wouldn’t trade for the other way around if you offered me a hundred thousand astroliters of energon,” Optimus said.
“Yeah,” Ratchet said, looking at him with love and sorrow. “I know.”
A month later, Bluestreak staggered back into base, wild-eyed and covered in grime, and blurted out, “The Decepticons have gotten it.”
Optimus didn’t entirely understand until they were in the repair bay and Bluestreak was choking out an admission that he’d actually banged with Skywarp, whom he’d stumbled upon stealing energon from a human refueling station.
“I—I didn’t mean to,” Bluestreak said faintly, not meeting any of their eyes as Ratchet checked him over. “We were fighting, and I—I pinned him so he couldn't transform and warp out, and—and—”
“And he jammed it into you and got you going in seven astroseconds flat,” Ratchet finished, straightening up. “Yep, this is going to be awkward, all right.” He handed Wheeljack his scanner.
“Oh boy,” Wheeljack said, looking at it.
“What’s the issue?” Optimus asked, frowning.
“The Decepticons have installed the system with reversed polarity, presumably to line up better with the routing of power flow to their antigrav units,” Ratchet said. “But what that means is—Autobots don’t have to take turns with them to experience the stimulation. Both partners get it at once. And since the intensification curve is governed by the amount of pleasure in the channel as a whole—getting banged by a Decepticon will be exponentially more pleasurable. On the bright side,” he added dryly, “it’s not like they can do it to us without experiencing it themselves.”
That was not a bright side, since it turned out that the Decepticons were perfectly happy to experience it themselves. They didn’t seem to have the slightest qualms about banging Autobots anytime they ran into each other—in the middle of energon raids, out on scouting flights, or just wandering around. In fact, they started wandering around much more frequently, which would have been bad enough, but after reviewing the next week’s logs, Optimus realized in blank dismay that the Autobots had all started wandering around much more frequently as well.
He couldn't conceive how any of the Autobots could possibly want to. He tried to maintain sympathy, because Ratchet flat out told him that it was conceivable and not to make everyone feel guilty while he and Wheeljack tried to figure out how to build in a technique for conscious blocking. But it was exceptionally difficult to understand how Autobots could be willingly giving in to this, over and over. It was one thing to dislike having to cause the Decepticons pain; he didn’t like it himself. But it was another to actively seek to give them pleasure. Especially when they were standing in the middle of the wreckage of some human structure they’d just pillaged!
Optimus assumed it was a deliberate Decepticon strategy, in fact, right until he pulled up outside a raid, answering a desperate distress call from Tracks, and found Megatron howling in fury at Octane and Swindle, who’d visibly just been in the middle of banging Sandstorm and Tracks. “You electroplated morons!” Megatron was bellowing. “They’re deliberately distracting you! At this rate, I’m going to rip this idiotic system right back out of all of you with my bare hands before we even get it functioning properly! Now get away from those Autobots and get back to work!”
Optimus tackled him just before he would have slagged Tracks with a cannon blast. They went over through the wall and crashed to the ground with a stack of empty metal barrels tumbling away around them. “Don’t think for one instant that this plan of yours is going to work, Prime,” Megatron hissed at him.
“My plan!” Optimus said, and slugged him. Megatron twisted his body, rolling them over, and tried to blast him. Optimus jerked his head one way and shoved the cannon arm the other way, barely keeping himself clear, and then from the other room, Swindle stuck his head in and yelled, “Megatron, it distracts them! Just try it!”
Megatron scowled, but he actually shoved his hipsection up between Optimus’s legs and did try it; he banged against the port cover, which automatically slid open in response—Wheeljack was working on that as well; it hadn’t occurred to him that anyone would try to bang someone without asking first—and then shoved his almost uncomfortably large shaft directly into the port. Optimus glared at him in indignation. “Nice try, Megatron,” he said flatly, and grabbed his shoulders to slam their foreheads together, sliding their bodies against each other—
The first burst of pleasure skittered out through Optimus’s circuitry like a warning shot. It faded away almost at once, but Megatron made a faint surprised grunt, and then he—moved, and a second flaring burst went off, and it hadn’t actually faded before he pumped his hips again and the third one hit. Optimus had stopped somewhere in the middle of his attack sequence and was oddly just using Megatron’s shoulders to hang on. He couldn’t quite seem to restart. Megatron had his hands wrapped around Optimus’s thighs. He pushed them apart and rocked deeper into him, and Optimus’s combat systems abruptly went offline entirely: they’d been preempted to redirect power to the sensory subsystem so his pleasure center could keep up with the stimulation.
A massive feedback loop was starting, and he couldn’t disrupt it. Megatron was just pumping that—perfectly sized, gloriously large shaft in and out of him again, sliding over all two hundred contact points along the sides of Optimus’s port—Wheeljack had desperately kept adding more—and it didn’t matter that there wasn’t any data. There were hundreds of power surges coming through each one, through all of them together, and all of them were variations on pleasure. More systems were going offline; after another half-dozen clanging collisions, his logic unit fell offline and then Optimus couldn’t actually form a coherent rationale for stopping anymore.
The system was pinging him to ask if he wanted to release a flow of lubricant to enhance the contact and make the strokes smoother, which suddenly seemed like the obviously best thing for him to do. Megatron made a stifled groan and then abruptly swept all the barrels around them out of the way and shoved Optimus completely flat on the ground. Optimus made a noise of protest as Megatron slid out of him, reaching for him instinctively, but it was only for a moment, not long enough for the pleasure waves to collapse; then Megatron fell upon him and pinned his wrists to the ground, as if he thought Optimus might try to get away, might try to stop this, and slid back in at a better angle that allowed him to sink the shaft completely inside.
He started thrusting steadily, and Optimus sank back into a limp, mindless sprawl and just stopped thinking. Megatron was pounding all his frontal processing routines out of him, every rhythmic plunging stroke shoving another handful completely out of memory to make room for still more pleasure. Optimus had routines down in low-level processing that had been running for tens of thousands of years, calcified layers of sorrow and regret, but as he ran out of computational resources, his system checked them for reclaiming, tried to see if the underlying conditions still held at the moment, and decided they didn’t; they were ruthlessly killed off.
Megatron was gasping for air above him with his mouth open and his eyes gone glassy in bewilderment and lust. His thumbs were still on Optimus’s wrists, sliding along the edges of the panels covering his data access ports, and Optimus slid them open; he couldn’t think of any reason not to. In fact Optimus had the vague thought that having sex right now would be wonderful. He hadn’t interfaced with anyone in ages, he hated to make anyone share his feelings, but at the moment he didn’t have any feelings other than pleasure; he’d be happy to share what he was feeling. A faint straggling process tried to raise some kind of objection to the idea, but it was drowned with the next surge of Megatron’s hips.
Megatron didn’t actually try to open a neural connection himself; he just pressed his thumbs into the ports and started to run a pulse through them in time with the strokes he was making deep into Optimus’s port, full-length strokes that rolled all the way through, sending sweet bursts of stimulation to every point of connection, all the brutal power of his body working to slide the shaft out and in again. Optimus rocked up into them, groaning deeply; he dizzily managed to manually release his hip joints as if for first-stage transformation and got his legs wrapped around Megatron’s hips, pulling him in harder at the top of every stroke, intensifying the contact. He was finally running up against the very last of his system limits; he couldn’t feel more pleasure, every possible resource had been freed to experience it and more was still coming, he couldn’t, he couldn’t—
Optimus surfaced back into normal functioning after a gap of roughly five minutes. Megatron was completely inert and still on him. Actually, Megatron was still in him, the full length of his shaft seated firmly inside the port and transmitting small lingering bursts of pleasure. It was delightful. Optimus stared at the ceiling in deep confusion. He was experiencing an extremely vivid sensation that was so unfamiliar he couldn’t immediately identify it. His emotional processing system was checking his databases to try and match it against prior experience, but it was already roughly three million years back without finding any samples. It had already discarded pain, determination, resolve, unhappiness, regret, sorrow, resignation, dismay, misery, anguish, longing, relief—
“Oh,” Optimus said. He was…he was happy.
As soon as his system managed to identify the primary emotion, an entire cluster of ancillary ones rose to conscious awareness: relaxation, peacefulness, satisfaction. His body was humming, all his circuitry aligned into perfect harmony, servos snugged up tight, lubricant flowing freely—very freely; a very faint sensation of mild discomfort crept into the mix as he became aware he was leaking lubricant from the port. And a little bit of oil, in fact. Megatron had banged him so hard it was dented.
His entire brain paused and refocused. Megatron had banged him. He had let Megatron bang him. He lifted up one wrist and stared at the wide open access port. He hadn’t imagined that, either: he’d nearly interfaced with Megatron. “What have I done?” Optimus said blankly.
“You didn’t do anything! You lay there and moaned!” Megatron said, muffledly, and pushed up and away from him, onto his knees. A final burst of pleasure skated through Optimus’s system as the thick shaft slid back out of him, one last exquisite stroke, and his entire body shivered from shoulders to feet. Megatron shuddered also, and glared at Optimus savagely. “What the hell is the standard functionality of this system anyway?” he snarled.
“What?” Optimus said, staring at him in what he very strongly felt should be overwhelming dismay.
“How the hell is it supposed to work?” Megatron said. “We haven’t found any damn usage except this bizarre interaction.”
“You installed it with no idea what it was doing?” Optimus said.
“I know what it’s doing!” Megatron said. “I’ve seen your efficiency ratings going up, we know you’re doing it with this—equipment.” He gestured towards his shaft. It was even more impressive to look at, silver and wet and gleaming with high-density lubricant, thin trails still connecting it to Optimus’s port, as if he might just—slide it right back inside, at any moment— “I don’t know how. Tell me or I’ll bang you again right the hell now,” he added, threateningly.
Optimus drew breath to tell Megatron this was how, except what came out of his vocal unit was, “I’m not telling you anything,” and Megatron’s optics narrowed, and—
Megatron was extremely persistent. Also, there was a reasonably large stack of energon cubes in the other room that had been siphoned earlier by Octane and Swindle—who had fled at some point along with Tracks and Sandstorm—so they didn’t just run out of power, either. They kept going until a point during the fourth round when they both simultaneously forgot all the excellent reasons why they didn’t want to interface with each other for long enough to actually have sex.
Even then, they carried on for some time longer, because by that point Optimus didn’t actually remember how the system was supposed to work, or for that matter where and who he was. His every scrap of live memory was currently devoted to holding on to full sensory detail from the past twenty-one hours; he was going to have to restore all his memory banks from tertiary storage.
However, Megatron was stubborn enough that he had managed to retain the determination to find out how the system worked in his motivator, so after about twenty solid minutes of interfacing—which turned out to indeed be wonderful when you were both sharing almost nothing but pure bliss—he eventually poked into Optimus’s storage and managed to find the answer for himself.
“I’m going to dismantle you into components and then smelt them down,” Megatron said, when they finally surfaced after that round. The threat didn’t have quite the usual force behind it, though; Megatron sounded slightly doubtful, as if he wasn’t a hundred percent sure that was actually his plan. He probably wasn’t, since it was going to take him a few hours to restore normal memory function, too. Optimus certainly wasn’t sure about almost anything at the moment. He did have the vague feeling that he should be ashamed of himself, but he wasn’t actually.
He was sure that he was famished. Fortunately, they’d moved closer to the stack of energon cubes at some point. He picked one off and poured half of it into his mouth without even sitting up. “Give me that,” Megatron muttered after a moment. Optimus passed it to him and got another.
They both drifted off into deep rest cycles and woke up roughly eleven hours later, at the same time: Optimus’s threat-awareness systems had reinitialized by then, and they prodded him when Megatron started stirring. “You’re an idiot,” was the first thing Megatron said.
“I feel wonderful,” Optimus said. He did also feel appalled, mortified, and concerned, but it was hard to register the negative emotions because his system had been so focused on them for so long that he’d dulled the pathways; the rich lingering sensations of happiness and relaxation were intensely vivid by contrast.
“As I was saying,” Megatron said, heavy with sarcasm. He pushed himself up with a massive groan, looking down with a grimace at his shaft attachment: it had gotten completely coated with several layers of lubricant and bits of debris and dust had accumulated. “I’m going to have to dismantle this to get it clean.” He retracted it and made another face.
“Don’t complain to me,” Optimus said, wincing as he shifted himself up sitting and slid his own panel shut. “I’m the one who was taking the impact.” He thought he was going to need a rebuild. He manually sent acknowledgement to his damage-monitoring system so it would stop sending the pain alerts it had finally been given enough resources to deliver.
“You’re also the one who deserved it,” Megatron said, climbing to his feet and glaring down at him. “We’re in the middle of a war, you moron. What the hell possessed you to install a pleasure-induction system at all, much less one you can’t actually use except with me or Shockwave? And Shockwave refused to install it anyway, because his efficiency ratings are already at maximum. Where the hell is my cannon?” He rotated both his shoulders loudly, stiffened servos grinding a little as he got them loose, and ducked through the hole into the other room and started banging through the scattered barrels.
“You noticed yourself it has positive effects,” Optimus called after him, wincing some more as he creaked himself up standing. He had to manually shove his legs back into position one after another: his joints and his transformation cog were all very unhappy about having been left in a halfway state for roughly thirty-two hours.
“Efficiency improvements that are completely useless once you’re too busy getting banged to fight us anymore,” Megatron’s voice floated back.
“It seems like you’re all going to be too busy banging us to fight either,” Optimus said dryly, stretching his arms overhead, and then he turned and stared as Megatron ducked back through, cannon firmly reattached. “Oh,” he whispered.
Megatron threw his hands up. “Yes, wonderful! So you’ve actually slowed the pace of this war that’s already taken eight million years by an order of magnitude. It’ll be lucky if we actually reach any kind of resolution before the heat-death of the universe.”
“Whenever you get bored, I’m open to suggestions,” Optimus said, still staring at him.
Megatron paused and stared back at him. “Oh, you antilogical pile of scrap,” he said, outrage visibly rising. “That’s your strategy now? Make the war intolerably boring?”
“It’s been intolerable for us for a long time now, Megatron,” Optimus pointed out. He felt almost incandescent with joy. “It seems only fair that you have to be in the same boat.”
“Go jump in a smelter!” Megatron snarled.
“Who are you going to use it with if I do?” Optimus said, and laughed aloud at Megatron’s expression. On that note, he transformed: he figured he was better off leaving Megatron to stew about the situation on his own. “I hope I’ll be seeing you soon,” he added, over the roar of gunning his engines. “I’ll be sure to ask Teletran-One to alert me—privately—any time you leave base alone.”
Hitting the open road hadn’t felt this good in eight million years.
Ratchet was waiting for him, parked next to the highway only about a mile out from the oil depot. He fell in with him on the road, and Optimus cut his speed so Ratchet could keep up.
“I was going to ask how you’re feeling, but after the first five hours, I figured I probably didn’t need to,” Ratchet said, full of sly mirth.
“No,” Optimus said, trying not to be desperately embarrassed and failing. But the sensation was wound up with a resurgent happiness, so he didn’t even really mind. “I owe more than a few apologies around, I think,” he added, ruefully. “I didn’t entirely believe you.”
“Yeah, I know,” Ratchet said. “It’s all right, Optimus. It’s not like we don’t all intellectually recognize the problem. Wheeljack’s still working on the block. But he can’t get it to work on anyone who’s already gotten banged by a Decepticon. Once you have the memory of the intensified experience, it’s really hard to deliberately refuse a repeat performance.”
“You can’t imagine how happy it makes me to hear that,” Optimus said.
“Tell Wheeljack to forget the block,” Optimus said. “I’d rather he worked on enhancements instead. Ideally something we can consciously control.”
“You know,” Ratchet said after a moment. “I think maybe I should take a good diagnostic look at your processes when we get back. Having a lot of long-term emotional subroutines disrupted can sometimes cause odd effects—”
“I’m feeling just fine, Ratchet,” Optimus said. “And so is Megatron.”
Ratchet got it instantly. “He couldn’t make it work with any other Decepticons,” he breathed out.
“And I’d very much like to have the ability to make the experience even better for him, under certain conditions,” Optimus said. “For instance, if he were to take special care not to harm any humans during his next operation.”
After one shocked moment Ratchet burst out laughing so hard he nearly swerved off the road and crashed; Optimus had to toss a tow line out and pull him back on. “I—I think there’s probably something unethical about this,” Ratchet gasped out, high-pitched, still laughing and clinging to the line. “but honestly, I don’t care.”
“Me either,” Optimus said, and started laughing with him. Up ahead, the sun was coming up, painting the sky in a million shades of gold.