Rusti slipped on a new top. Her little figure almost swam in the over-sized clothing and she giggled her little girlish laughter. She took it off and turned it right-side out.
"Nope. This one's too big too, Optimus."
The Autobot leader patiently handed her another top while other shoppers stopped to gawk at the sight. Imagine! The leader of the Autobots taking an afternoon off to buy clothes for a ten year-old! He knew they were staring at him, their eyes as wide open as their mouths. But Prime paid them no mind. Rusti needed clothes for school and Rodimus had his hands tied with a summit meeting in Tokyo, Marissa and Magnus were at the Lunar Colony and Rusti's folks were delegates to the French Prime Minister.
Well, he didn't need to pretend he was enjoying himself with the munchkin. She chattered incessantly, asking him questions from time to time, talking about school and some of the newer students in her class. She tried one outfit and kept it. She tried something else and flatly disliked it. Optimus picked clothes indiscriminately, handing her everything from something of her own size to older women's stuff. Once he handed her a large bra and she cracked up and prattled on, telling him she just wasn't old enough to wear it yet.
"Oh." He teased in an unsurprised tone. "I thought all females wore this kind of thing." He did everything he could to suppress a howl of laughter when she opened the dressing room door, her topside completely naked.
"Do I look like I need that yet?" Her sea-grey eyes sparked with a life Prime remembered once having himself. He allowed himself a private smile, daring not to go any further lest he loose complete control.
"No." His voice remained miraculously leveled and pleased with himself, the Autobot picked something even more silly-a jock strap.
She opened the door again, this time wearing an undershirt. She dangled the strap between her finger and thumb and gave him a puzzled look. "I'm not that flat, am I, Optimus?"
"You wanted to try everything on, Rusti." He joked.
She tried to think of something to say, but her own vocabulary failed and she silently returned to the dressing stall while Optimus handed her a dress and two pairs of jeans.
"Feliciti said that her mom's fallen in love for a second time. She said that most people fall in love only once in their whole lives. Is that true?" She buttoned the jeans, examined herself in the mirror, decided they were okay and tried on a yucky brown pair.
"Sometimes." Prime answered quietly.
"No." The girl wasn't sure if he understood what she meant. "I mean, people can fall in love more than once. Dezi says that some people fall in love more than once a year. Does that mean they have slag for brains?"
"Sometimes." Optimus replied evenly. "They probably aren't particular. Or perhaps they choose to see the best side to those they love, overlooking the bad."
The jeans were just as ugly on her as they were off. "No." She sighed. "The brown just doesn't do, Optimus. You'd never find me in the mud with these things on. Guess I'll have to take another color." And no sooner had she said it than another pair dipped down from above the door. They were purple with red hem and flowers embroidered on the back pockets. She took an instant liking to them and tried them on.
"Have you ever been in love, Optimus?"
"Once." He admitted quietly.
"I'll bet she was really pretty. And I'll bet she was smart, too. Was she? Where is she?"
"She was beautiful, Rusti. One of the kindest people I ever knew in life."
"But . . . she's not alive anymore, is she, Optimus?" A sudden silence signaled her that she had touched a bad subject. She peeked out the door and sought his face. He forced his optics to smile and he held up a night gown between his large metal fingers.
"Night gown?" He offered.
Rusti smiled and swept it from him. She disappeared back into the room and slipped out of her jeans and blouse. These she would keep and she folded them into a growing pile of chosen clothes. The brown jeans lay in a heap careless tossed in a corner. "Did she die, Optimus?"
"Your lady-love. I'm sorry. I probably shouldn't have asked."
"Yes. She died a long time ago."
"It was during the war, huh? Did Megatron kill her?"
"No, Rusti. She never knew Megatron. I met her . . . When I was not on Cybertron."
She smiled. Rusti fancied the pretty lace front, dotted in the center by a tiny blue flower. The nightgown was silky and roomy. Lace encircled the sleeves and staring at it, the girl felt like a princess. She stepped out and slowly twirled around, trying to be as graceful as she could.
Optimus nodded approving. "Robe and slippers?" He offered. "Mmm. Okay. And she took the soft pastel robe and tried it
on the spot. Perfect. She went back into the little stall and slipped out of that while Optimus handed her a dress with lace and frills. It wasn't often that Rusti wore such things; she was too busy pretending to be a hero or running around with the Dinobots or climbing trees.
"So, how did she die?"
The girl berated herself for not being a little more thoughtful. Optimus was very sensitive and some things were too painful to talk about. She decided to change the subject.
"Have you been in love more than once, Optimus?"
"Hmm? Yes, Rusti."
"Twice? Two different girls?" She supposed that was an okay thing, since one lady obviously died before the other. Besides, Optimus was really good looking and he was really sweet. She stared herself in the mirror, loving the beautiful dress. It hugged her at the waist, but flared strongly at the skirt. The topside framed her with lace on either side and a row of lace and flowers covered her collar bones and dipped into a V-shape at the center. The shoulders puffed out and draped down to her elbows in more soft lace. She was mildly surprised at Optimus' good taste.
Her smile died. The subject of love had all of a sudden become a personal thing. She fingered the lace at her collar bone and wondered if she'd ever fall in love. "Optimus?"
"Yes, Rusti." His voice touched her and she wished he could talk to her all the time.
"Do you think I'll fall in love?"
"Inevitably, Rusti." Came a soft, sad reply.
"Probably only once." She muttered sadly. She stepped out, seeking his approval and turned around once, arms held to show the pretty lace. He nodded and she studied him. Such a powerful creature. So steadfast, so unmovable.
So kind. So vulnerable.
Rusti sent him a bright smile. "People can't fall in love three times in their life. Can they Optimus?"
Optimus nodded. "Yes. They do."