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Evolution

Chapter Text

October 2009

It was three in the morning and Mikaela had reached her breaking point.

The sound of gunfire and explosions was nearly deafening.

She violently flung open her bedroom door and it bounced off the wall with a loud bang.

“Wheelie!” Mikaela screamed.

The tiny mech on the sofa holding the game controller didn’t even pause his profanity-laden commentary, much less the game he was playing at top volume.

Two weeks ago, Mirage showed up at the warehouse with Wheelie. The tiny mech had claimed he wanted to defect to the Autobots. After careful questioning, Optimus Prime had accepted his parole. Wheelie wasn’t allowed to stay at Diego Garcia, however, so Mikaela and Drift had been asked to take him in.

It was a decision that Mikaela had come to regret.

Mikaela marched across the living room and reached behind the large screen TV. With a flick of a switch she turned off the power strip, plunging the room into sudden, ringing silence.

“Whadda ya have to go do that for?” Wheelie irately protested, throwing the controller at Mikaela, who neatly sidestepped.

“Thank you!” Drift called up from outside the loft. His voice was muffled by the closed windows.

“Hey, stop picking on me!” Wheelie said, turning around.

Mikaela took a quick moment to run through one of Drift’s calming exercises. If nothing else, Wheelie was giving her a lot opportunities to practice her patience. It was getting less effective with time, though.

“What. Time. Is. It?” Mikaela enunciated clearly, with carefully leashed violence behind her words.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Wheelie turned back to face Mikaela, crossed his arms, and pouted at her. “Stupid squishy can’t keep track of the time,” he said to himself.

Mikaela saw red. “It’s three in the morning Wheelie!”

Mikaela caught herself yelling again. A week of sleep deprivation had made her too quick to anger.

“We had an agreement,” Mikaela said, lowering her voice and trying to be reasonable. “Quiet hours mean you are quiet. If you want to play your games, you connect to the audio directly and you keep your commentary to yourself.”

She understood now why Ironhide had warned her before he arrived that she would be tempted to step on Wheelie. Mikaela was surprised that the trigger-happy mech hadn’t taken a pot shot at the annoying little bastard before they kicked him off Diego Garcia.

“I don like how it feels,” Wheelie protested.

“Then do something else during quiet hours,” Mikaela said. “Something quiet,” she emphasized as Wheelie opened up his mouth to continue complaining.

Mikaela moved to the game console and began unplugging the cords. “For the next week, I will confiscate the game console at ten in the evening. It will be returned to you at eight in the morning.” Picking the console up, Mikaela walked over to the windows and triggered them to open.

Wheelie scrambled off the couch after her, protesting and pleading the entire way.

“Drift,” Mikaela called.

Drift’s head and shoulders suddenly appeared in the window. Mikaela didn’t move, but Wheelie was startled backwards.

“Can you put this somewhere where Wheelie can’t get to it?” Mikaela asked, holding out the game console.

Drift grinned widely, showing off his fangs. He took the console from Mikaela, slipped it into his subspace, and disappeared as swiftly as he had appeared.

“Thanks Drift,” Mikaela called after him, then closed the windows again.

Wheelie was kneeling next to her, looking downcast and heartbroken.

“It’s just a week Wheelie,” Mikaela pointed out to him as she walked back to her bedroom to get a few more hours of sleep in. “Behave and you’ll get it back.”

“But mechs don need ta recharge as much as you,” Wheelie whined.

“You don’t, but I do. All I ask is that you keep the noise down and don’t come in my bedroom. Otherwise, you can do what you want,” Mikaela said reasonably.

“I don have communications,” Wheelie countered. As part of his parole, Ratchet had disabled his comm suite so Wheelie wouldn’t be tempted to communicate with his Decepticon masters.

“You have a laptop you can use to get on the internet,” Mikaela pointed out. Autobot Intelligence also monitored all data traffic to and from the laptop, just in case Wheelie decided to change sides back to the Decepticons as quickly as he had changed sides to the Autobots.

“But that’s not the same.” Wheelie was still kneeling next to the window. He looked dejected, but was trying to play it up a little too hard with the wide optics and trembling lip.

“Tough,” Mikaela said, unsympathetically. “Live with the rules, or we send you back to Diego Garcia and Prime can find you a new babysitter.” With that ultimatum hanging over the little mech’s head, Mikaela retreated back into her bedroom and firmly shut the door.

***

Tuesdays. What was it about fucking Tuesdays?

First, Wheelie had kept Mikaela up most of the night with his trash-talk gaming. Then, after she took his gaming system away and gave it to Drift, Wheelie kept waking her up with his complaining.

It was understandable then, when Mikaela answered her phone with a curt, “What!?”

“Mikaela! Don’t you use that tone of voice on me young lady!”

Great, it was Aunt Elaine, Mikaela thought. She hadn’t heard from her aunt since before Mikaela had moved into the warehouse.

“Sorry, Auntie. I’ve had a rough week.” Mikaela explained in a soothing voice. She had her headset on, so she continued tinkering with her latest project. Fortunately, Wheelie had finally fretted himself into recharge a couple of hours earlier.

“It’s good to hear from you. How is Ethan doing?” Ethan was the cousin who could do no wrong. It was always safe to ask how he was doing, unlike Elaine’s third son, Daniel, who was the black sheep among Aunt Elaine’s six boys.

“Your cousin is doing well. He proposed to that girlfriend of his. Not that’s she’s good enough for him, but what can you do?” Mikaela rolled her eyes. Aunt Elaine was fishing for sympathy, but Mikaela wasn’t going to give it to her.

“Sounds great,” Mikaela lied through her teeth. Living with her aunt and uncle after her father was put in jail had not been bad, but, despite the fact that Mikaela was the only other female in the house, she had felt lost among the large family. It didn’t help that the house, a normally very roomy 4 bedroom, was absolutely cramped with nine people living there. Looking back, she wondered how her aunt and uncle had been able to keep all of them fed and clothed.

“Um hmm.”

Mikaela winced at her aunt’s knowing tone.

“Anyway, that’s not why I’m calling,” Aunt Elaine said. “I got a call this morning. Mikaela, your father is getting released from prison.”

Mikaela suddenly couldn’t speak. She sat down on the ground, hard. Fortunately she missed the parts that she had spread out as she was disassembling the motorcycle.

“Daddy?” Mikaela said with a small voice.

Drift looked over at Mikaela with a worried look on his face. She didn’t notice.

“Yes, Mikaela. He’s coming home,” her aunt said gently. She’d done her best to raise her idiot brother’s daughter. Elaine missed him as well.

“But, where’s he going to live? What’s he going to do?” Mikaela was suddenly full of questions. She didn’t know yet how much time she’d have to prepare. In all the chaos of Mission City and the Autobots, Mikaela had completely lost track of her father’s sentence.

“I’m connecting him with a volunteer group from the local Catholic church,” Aunt Elaine reassured her. “They have a whole program set up. They can help him find a place to live, help him transition.”

“Thank you Auntie.” Mikaela was relieved. As much as her aunt sometimes got on her nerves, she knew Aunt Elaine still cared.

“Of course Mikaela.”

“Send me the details,” Mikaela offered. “I can help. I’ve got some money saved.”

“Don’t you worry about that,” her aunt chided her. “I’ll send you the information.”

“Thank you Auntie,” Mikaela said softly. “Thank you... for everything.”

“No need for that,” her aunt said cheerfully. “You always were a good girl.”

After Mikaela said her goodbyes and hung up the phone, she noticed Drift watching. He wasn’t even trying to hide it. With Mikaela, he didn’t need to.

“So, I probably need to explain,” Mikaela started.

Drift shook his head. “No, you don’t need to explain.” He sat down on the floor. “If you need it, however, I’m here to listen.”

“You’re my guardian and this is going to impact your life by association. You should know.” Mikaela stood up and grabbed a stool for herself to sit on. It was more comfortable than the concrete.

“So, you remember I once said that I’d done some stupid stuff when I was younger,” she opened with. Mikaela found it difficult to talk to people about this, but it was easy with Drift.

Drift nodded, thinking back to that first day with Mikaela.

“Well, my mother died when I was a kid, and dad was left to raise me alone. He did his best, but he didn’t always make the best decisions, and he didn’t have the best friends.” Now that was an understatement. Her father’s ‘friends’ had been in and out of jail even before her father got caught. Some of them were currently still in jail.

“He tried to leave me with my aunt when he could, but it didn’t always work out. So, he’d bring me along. I learned sleight of hand, how to hotwire a car, pick a lock, and a few other tricks.” Not that knowing any of that was illegal, but how she’d used it was. Mikaela pulled her feet up on the edge of the stool, and hugged her knees to her chest.

“Well, one day it came crashing down. I ended up with a record, my dad went to jail, and I was sent to live with my aunt.” Mikaela looked down at her knees. She hadn’t let herself think about it a lot. It was best to ignore and hide, especially from the kids at school. She was surprised that Sam hadn’t broken up with her after he found out. Then there was that creep Simmons...

“He’s getting out of prison now,” Mikaela said. She set her chin on her knees and looked up at Drift.

“Let me know what you need.” Drift said simply.

Mikaela nodded, not trusting her voice.

Chapter Text

October 2009

It had taken Drift two weeks of research to decide on a short list of potential martial arts schools where Mikaela could learn self defense. In the end Mikaela decided on a local Jujitsu school. It was laid back, but serious, and she liked the helpful attitude that the seniors had towards less-advanced students.

Weekly martial arts lessons took some time to get used to at first. Mikaela wasn’t out of shape, but she was still sore. Additionally, Drift was a hard taskmaster, insisting that she practice at home for at least an hour a day.

Drift was also pleased to discover that the exercise mats that they had bought for Mikaela would, when layered, make a comfortable pallet on the floor for him. It was better than recharging in his alt mode or laying directly on the floor.

After Wheelie came to live with them Mikaela also started redirecting her frustration towards Wheelie into practicing instead.

For a few short weeks, Mikaela’s life had settled into a predictable pattern. But that wouldn’t last for long.

It was Wednesday evening. Mikaela was leaving the dojo when It happened. Her vision flickered, and—instead of the strip mall parking lot—Mikaela saw the inside of the warehouse.

In the middle of the floor was Drift, on his back, arms and legs outstretched. His great sword was impaled through his chest, as were his two short swords.

His armor was marked with deep gashes crusted with drying energon, and there was a slowly-widening pool of energon under his body.

The glow of Drift’s eyes flickered weakly as he turned his head towards her.

“Mikaela...” he said. Her name was barely a breath on Drift’s lips.

Mikaela stood frozen in place. The image was as clear as if she was there. Mikaela could smell the tang of energon and feel the heat of battle on her skin, as she had during the battle of Mission City.

Suddenly, Mikaela was jolted out of her trance when another student leaving the dojo brushed past her.

All that she could see in front of her now was the handful of cars belonging to the other students, the parking lot lights shining down on them in the fall gloom. Among them was Drift, in his alt mode, parked, and waiting patiently for her.

Mikaela felt disconnected from her body as she walked over to Drift. She barely noticed it when he opened his door for her. On autopilot, Mikaela threw her bag into the passenger seat and buckled herself in.

“Mikaela?” Drift’s voice resonated softly through his interior.

Mikaela reached forward as if she was going to turn on the car, but brushed the steering column gently with her fingertips instead.

Drift was getting worried. She was not acting like herself. “Mikaela,” he said slightly louder.

“Drift?” She sounded confused.

“Mikaela, what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know.” Mikaela felt like she was wrapped in cotton wool. Her body felt very heavy. “I don’t know if I can describe it.”

Drift noticed that Mikaela was getting some concerned looks.

“Let’s go somewhere else and discuss. It will give you time to think about it.” Drift started his engine.

Mikaela was able to place her hands lightly on the steering wheel, but didn’t have the concentration to fake driving while Drift backed up and drove them out of the parking lot.

During the drive Mikaela was silent, staring out the windshield blankly. Drift recognized that her attention was turned inwards as she worked over whatever was on her mind.

Drift drove them a few miles out of town to a highway rest stop and parked in in the far corner. The truck lot was nearly empty except for a couple of truckers catching a nap in their sleepers, and fall meant that there weren’t many vacationers on the road. It was quieter than the warehouse was with Wheelie there.

Drift slowly warmed the seat to combat the evening chill and patiently waited for Mikaela to start talking. The last few months had taught him that interrupting would lead to her forgetting what it was she was thinking about. Better to let her processes it before discussing.

Eventually, Mikaela started shifting in the seat. Checking his scanners, Drift unsnaped her harness for her and opened his door in silent invitation.

“Thanks,” Mikaela said quietly as she got out and walked across the lot to the restrooms. Drift stayed aware of Mikaela the entire time she was out of his sight. When Mikaela returned, he opened his door for her again. She slid into his seat and curled up awkwardly.

“I’m seeing things,” Mikaela admitted quietly after a few more minutes. “I have been seeing things. Just, flashes. In the corner of my eye. I ignored them. But...” Her breath hitched.

“This one was so real. A vision. You... were on your back.” Mikaela was fighting back tears. “Your sword, the great sword, was impaled through your chest and you were dying. But... I didn’t just see it.” Mikaela forced out the words. “I could... smell the fluids and... heated metal. I could hear... you were so quiet.”

Cybertronian bodies, like human bodies, were not completely silent. Mikaela had become used to the small sounds of life that Drift’s body made even at rest. Not hearing that was terrifying.

“It was so real.” Tears were running down Mikaela’s face as she curled up and buried her face against her knees.

Drift reached out his field to envelop and reassure Mikaela like he would another Cybertronian as she cried herself out in the protective embrace of his interior.

“Drift?” she asked. “Am I going crazy?”

“I don’t know,” he said, brutally honest.

Something came to Drift’s mind. “Did you read the reports from Optimus Prime?”

“No.” Mikela shook her head. “They don’t share stuff like that with me.”

Drift was surprised. He assumed, given her relationship with the Prime, she would be better informed than he was. But then, he reminded himself, she was a civilian non-combatant.

“It might comfort you to know that Sam reported something similar before the Battle of Cairo,” Drift revealed. “After touching the Allspark he reported seeing Cybertronian symbols and having knowledge appear as if from nowhere.”

Mikaela pulled the Allspark shard she still carried out from under her shirt, cradled it in her palm, and stared at it. “Why didn’t anybody tell me?” she said plaintively.

“I don’t know,” Drift replied.

“Did it stop?” Mikaela asked hopefully, tucking the shard back away.

“I don’t know. With Sam the symbols led him to discovering a long lost Cybertronian artifact. I don’t know if he still sees symbols or not.” It was a faint hope, but better than nothing.

A minivan and a sedan passed behind Drift’s parked form. The flash of their headlights lit up his interior briefly before sliding away back into the darkness.

“Why me?” Mikaela asked.

“They never told you...” The number of secrets that were being kept from Mikaela kept piling up. Drift needed to stop being surprised every time he stumbled across one of them.

“Never told me what?” Mikaela said suspiciously.

“What were you told about the Allspark?” Drift needed to know if she had the basics before he dove into the more complex topics.

“That it was the only way for new Cybertronians to be born.” Mikaela had been heartbroken when she had realized what it meant for her new friends. Without the Allspark, Cybertronians were a dead race.

“That’s broadly correct, but it glosses over the importance of the Allspark to Cybertronian religion and beliefs. The Allspark is creation. In humanities’ creation myths, life is called out of a primordial matter. Even your scientists don’t exactly know how organic life began, though they have several theories. For Cybertronians, it is the Allspark that created the first cybernetic life. We don’t understand how.” It was difficult to put into words how central the Allspark was to life for Cybertronians. It was the focal point around which life and religion pivoted.

“What does this have to do with me?” Mikaela asked, frustrated.

“When I first became your guardian, I was given your file. Your Autobot file,” Drift started explaining. “In that file there was a note that, after the Allspark was destroyed during the Battle of Mission City, traces of lingering Allspark energy were detected. You... were identified as someone with traces of Allspark energy.”

“They never told me that.” Mikaela was staring at Drift’s dashboard now. It wasn’t like she could look him in the face in this form.

“I now realize that you were never told.” Drift wanted to yell at whoever had made that decision. Hopefully they would rethink it once they found out about Mikaela.

“So my visions might be from the Allspark?” Mikaela was getting freaked out. Something was happening to her, and it might be connected to an ancient alien artifact. And she had thought that being a target for the Decepticons would be the worst danger she would face.

“I don’t know,” Drift admitted.

“Is there anyone who might know?” Mikaela asked.

“A priest of Primus might.”

“Are there even any priests left?” Mikaela had been told that the remaining Cybertronians were scattered.

“The Prime is the spiritual leader of Cybertron.” Not to say that the past Primes had been all that holy, Drift thought. He had been a member of the rebellion against the previous Prime, after all.

“So, Optimus is my best source of information about what happened to me, but he never told me about any of this in the first place,” Mikaela summed up the situation. She was shaking. Why was she shaking?

“Mikaela.” Drift kept his voice smooth and steady. He manipulated his field, trying to extend positive feelings. He didn’t know how well it worked, though. “Mikaela, talk to me.” Drift let a hint of command into his voice.

“I trust him. I really do trust him,” Mikaela started repeating under her breath, as if trying to convince herself.

“I’m here Mikaela,” he reassured the shaking woman.

Drift carefully wrapped the seat harness around Mikaela’s shaking body and fastened it. Then he pulled smoothly out of the lot and turned towards home. “I will always be here,” he continued to reassure her as he drove. It was harder for him to give her the physical reassurance she needed in alt mode. Drift found that Mikaela reacted best to physical contact.

Pulling into the warehouse Drift transformed carefully around Mikaela, cradling her still shaky body against his chest and dropping her duffle bag from practice next to the bottom of the stairs.

Wheelie was watching from the loft window. “What you so late for?” he demanded.

“Keep it down tonight Wheelie. Mikaela’s had a bad evening,” Drift said quietly.

“What’d ya do to her?” Wheelie said accusingly.

“Nothing, Wheelie,” Mikaela reassured the little mech.

However, even self-centered Wheelie could see that she was not doing well and gave her a skeptical look.

“I’m going crazy,” Mikaela declared cryptically, then giggled.

Wheelie shook his head at Mikaela’s antics and turned back to his video games.

Drift walked over to his makeshift pallet along the back wall.

With one hand he carefully removed his two short swords and his great sword, carefully placing them on either side of the pallet where they would be in easy reach. Drift sat down and took a thick blanket out of his subspace and laid it on his chest as he laid back. He carefully laid Mikaela on the blanket where she curled up, keeping as close to his spark as she could.

Mikaela laid on top of Drift for over an hour—unseeing—unthinking—just listening to the hum of his spark and the subtle sounds of his frame. One of Drift’s hands stroked gently down her back.

Mikaela gradually stirred, lifting her head and looking around blearily. “Where’s my phone?” she asked.

“In your duffle next to the staircase,” Drift replied evenly.

Mikaela slid out from underneath his hand. She waved off Drift’s help as she slid off his torso and onto the mats, then walked over to retrieve her phone and headset.

Climbing back onto Drift’s chest, Mikaela wriggled back under his hand again, giving a finger an extra stroke.

“Do you want to talk about this before you call Optimus?” Drift asked her. Neither of them had talked to Optimus since his call after the battle in Egypt.

“I don’t know.” Mikaela rolled over and captured his hand in hers. She started absently tracing the length of his fingers. Drift opened his hand and held it up slightly. Mikaela placed her palm on his and spread her fingers as if to compare sizes, then took his hand by the wrist. Mikaela pulled his hand towards her chest and curled up around it.

“Can you help me?” Mikaela asked.

It wasn’t entirely clear to Drift what she wanted help with, but that didn’t stop him from promising her, “I will do anything I can.”

“I need to be the one to call Optimus.” Mikaela had already slipped her earpiece in, so she just had to pick up her phone and select Optimus’ contact. “Just, be here,” she said.

Drift nodded.

It was mid morning on Diego Garcia. Optimus Prime had just finished up a meeting with Morshower when Mikaela’s call came through on his internal comms. While he finished saying his goodbyes, he accepted the connection and started the conversation over his internal comms.

:Hello Mikaela,: he said warmly.

:Hi Optimus,: Mikaela said. It had been too long.

Mikaela’s voice sounded odd. :Are you feeling OK?: Optimus asked.

:Honestly, no,: Mikaela replied.

Optimus frowned as he walked out of the hanger that NEST used for joint human/Cybertronian administrative offices. He didn’t like the sound of that. :What’s wrong?:

Mikaela paused for a few moments. Optimus waited patiently. :I think I’m going crazy,: she said finally.

Optimus was worried. :Can you explain?:

:I’ve been seeing things,: Mikaela admitted. :It used to be just symbols, briefly, then they’d go away.:

Drift looked at Mikaela sharply.

Mikaela gave Drift an apologetic look.

:But today I saw a vision. It was Drift, and he was dead. He had been impaled with his own sword,: Mikaela confessed to Optimus Prime. He needed to know if he was going to help her.

It was Optimus’ turn to be silent for a few long moments, processing the implications of what Mikaela had revealed. :Mikaela, your fear is understandable, but you can not let it control you,: he said finally.

:You don’t understand.: Mikaela tried to make him understand the raw realism of what she had experienced. :I didn’t just see it. I could smell the fluids, feel the dissipating heat. It was real,: she insisted.

:It was just a dream, Mikaela,: Optimus insisted.

:I wasn’t asleep!: Mikaela protested.

:A daydream, then,: Optimus corrected himself.

:You don’t believe me,: Mikaela said flatly.

The accusation stung. :I think the stress is getting to you,: Optimus explained.

:What if it's not?: Mikaela said. :What if it's the Allspark? Like Sam.:

Optimus was conflicted. The Allspark shard Sam had come into contact with had shattered his life. Optimus was still dealing with the fallout of the attack on Sam’s school. Coming back from the dead had been easier than dealing with that bureaucratic nightmare. Fortunately, he didn’t have to worry about Mikaela coming into contact with a shard. But, where could she have learned about Sam...

:Drift told you?: Optimus asked flatly.

:He didn’t realize how much information you keep away from me,: Mikaela reasoned, but Optimus was not appeased.

:That is nothing you need to worry about,: Optimus tried to reassure Mikaela.

:Is that what you told Sam?: Mikaela shot back. :What about Egypt? I told you; I felt you die.: Mikaela remembered how scared she had been. How confused.

:That was a coincidence, Mikaela, and the incident with Sam was an isolated one. Ratchet scanned Sam thoroughly, and he has no lingering Allspark energy.: Optimus could tell Mikaela was not convinced, though.

:You don’t know for sure, though.: Mikaela felt like she was grasping at air. Optimus wasn’t understanding. She realized that her hands were tightly clenched and wrapped up in the thick blanket.

:There is nothing to worry about,: Optimus repeated again.

:Optimus,: Mikaela said distantly.

Drift lifted his head to look at her. He recognized that tone of voice. It was the same one before she declared Optimus dead. She had the same far away look in her face now.

:Are you trying to convince me, or are you trying to convince yourself?: Mikaela asked with a terrible calmness.

The accusation hung in the air between Optimus and Mikaela for a long moment.

:Why do I still want to trust you?: Mikaela asked in despair.

:Mikaela, I understand that the past couple of years have been difficult for you—: Optimus began.

:But you don’t believe me when I say that something’s wrong,: Mikaela interrupted.

Mikaela was suddenly, violently angry. She tried to push it down and keep it at bay, but she failed.

:You believed Sam,: she pointed out bitterly. :You said he was special. Why not me?:

Optimus was silent again for a long moment.

:There is nothing you need to worry about,: he repeated yet again. He couldn’t let Mikaela get dragged into their war any more than she already had been.

Mikaela listened to the silence on the other end of the line for a long moment.

:Goodbye, Optimus,: she said and closed the comm line.

Mikaela buried her head face down in the thick blanket and screamed. Her anger, her disappointment in Optimus, was like a ball of toxic sludge inside herself. She tried to let it go, before it burned her from the inside with a cold flame.

Disturbed by Mikaela’s screaming,Wheelie showed up at the window above them. After a minute he shrugged, turned around and went back to his games.

Mikaela screamed until she was horse. Then she laid there, on top of Drift, breathing raggedly.

“Primus help us.” Drift heard Mikaela whisper, still buried in the blanket covering Drift.

Less than a minute later Drift received a comm from Optimus Prime.

:My Lord Prime,: Drift acknowledged, resting his head back down on the mats. Mikaela looked up at him when his hand stopped stroking her back, but she couldn’t hear anything because Drift was using his internal comms.

:Drift. You have been communicating classified information to Mikaela Banes,: Optimus Prime said sternly.

:I made the mistake of assuming her security clearance was higher than it is. I take full responsibility.: Drift needed to keep Optimus Prime’s displeasure from falling on Mikaela.

:This mistake had better not be repeated. Otherwise, you will be reassigned,: Optimus Prime declared.

:Understood,: Drift replied, neutrally. Everything that made him Drift, his mind, his very spark, rebelled at the idea. A section of his core coding, long ignored, sounded a warning.

Optimus Prime closed the comm line without further comment. Drift went back to stroking Mikaela’s back.

“Optimus called you,” Mikaela stated quietly.

“Yes,” Drift said. “I have been ordered not to tell you any classified information again, or I will be reassigned.”

“I don’t want that to happen,” Mikaela admitted.

“Neither do I.”

“We can’t talk to anybody about this, then.” Mikaela had been around the Autobots and NEST long enough to understand how the military worked. Everybody reported to Optimus Prime. There was nobody Mikaela could conceivably turn to for help without it getting back to Optimus Prime. She was alone.

“I’m here for you.” Drift’s determined words helped lift some of the hurt Mikaela was feeling.

“Until Optimus takes you away,” Mikaela pointed out sadly. After all, Drift was an Autobot, and even he was subject to Optimus Prime’s whims.

“I won’t let that happen,” Drift said simply and decisively.

The field of Wing’s great sword pulsed with warm approval from where it lay next to Drift. His coding settled down, adapting itself with his new realization.

Drift fully understood what his decision could mean. The abusiveness of his superior officer had broken Deadlock’s belief in the Decepticon cause and ultimately forced him to leave the Decepticons. Wing had provided a balm for his spark and a new path forward for Drift. After Wing’s death Drift had ended up joining the Autobots because neutrals were trusted by neither side, and he hoped that the Autobots would be different.

Drift’s decision to stay with Mikaela was not a sudden choice. He hadn’t thought that his coding would latch onto her at all, much less adapt itself so completely and so quickly. Not that he could tell her that. She’d take it the wrong way.

Mikaela heard the utter truth behind Drift’s statement. She braced herself against his chest and pushed herself up. She looked down at Drift’s face for several long seconds. He was calm, and his eyes tracked her face as she watched him. Leaning forward carefully, she touched his cheek.

“You can’t defy him, he’ll destroy you.” Drift had been a Decepticon. That very fact meant that he was automatically not trusted by the Autobots. Defying a direct order was a potential death sentence.

“I don’t care,” Drift said firmly.

“I do,” Mikaela said compellingly. “Whatever happens, I won’t let Optimus Prime take you from me.”

Drift turned his head into her touch.

Mikaela spent the night sleeping in a ball of blankets on the mats next to Drift. Close enough that she was covered by his field, but far enough away that he could react if anything happened.

Chapter Text

October 2009

The Fallen was dead. Four million years of planning. Four million years of suffering. Over.

Megatron, supreme leader of the Decepticons, leaned back in the command chair on the bridge of the Nemesis, staring contemplatively at the broad rings of the gaseous planet below.

Earlier, Megatron had run the bridge crew off in a fit of temper. He knew Soundwave wouldn’t let him have the bridge to himself for much longer, though. While the autopilot could maintain the ship’s relative position, the bridge crew was still needed to monitor and maintain the systems. For now, Soundwave stood by patiently as the Lord of the Decepticons brooded.

Megatron had a lot to think about. The fallout of the death of The Fallen had to be managed carefully. He could only hope that none of his followers cared enough about The Fallen’s death to try to resurrect the ancient mech. There had been too many miracles recently.

Megatron absently rubbed at his chest panel, above his spark. The searing pain of the Allspark’s destruction and the extinguishing of his spark had left its imprint on Megatron. It was overshadowed, however, by an older pain that not even death had been able to rid him of. Despite the fact that his very spark continued to fight against it, the spark bond was strong and would not be so easily severed.

The door to the bridge hissed open and Starscream strode in, upbeat. The low lighting of the bridge glinted off Starscream’s freshly-painted armor of vibrant red and white offset by blue detailing. He had obviously recovered from his defeat during the latest battle with Prime.

Starscream took his customary place standing at Megatron’s right hand. “Lord Megatron,” he acknowledged, unusually mellow.

“Starscream.” Megatron’s voice was a low rumble in the quiet of the bridge. “You look... confident.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Megatron could see Starscream’s wings shifted as he noticeably preened. “The Fallen is gone,” he pointed out.

“The Fallen is gone,” Megatron agreed, “however, Sentinel Prime is not.”

Starscream was startled. “The Fallen ordered Sentinel’s ship shot down.” His voice started rising, panicked. “We all saw it flee with critical damage. The chances of the ship landing safely—”

Megatron cut Starscream off with one raised hand. “I don’t care about the ship,” he said gruffly. “Sentinel Prime lives. I know it.” Megatron started to rub at his chest plates again, but caught himself first. It was an old habit he had trained himself out of ages ago. It was worrying that it was coming back now.

“Soundwave,” Megatron said shortly.

The silent mech stepped forward. The lean angles and purple detailing of his dark blue flight frame was a reassuring silhouette.

“The Autobots must not discover Sentinel,” Megatron declared, bracing himself.

Long-dormant code rose with a vengeance to lash at Megatron’s mind. Illusory pain lit up his sensor net, punishing Megatron for his insubordinate actions.

Soundwave silently acknowledged the order as he watched Megatron’s posture stiffen under the lash of old coding. There was nothing he, nor the unusually-silent Starscream, could do. After all, they carried the same coding, even if it was currently dormant, unlike Megatron’s.

Soundwave understood the subtext of Megatron’s order that he was unable to verbalize. The Decepticons would need to find Sentinel Prime first and kill him. He picked through the available personnel and assigned three squads to the search.

While Soundwave carried out Megatron’s order, Starscream took it upon himself to distract Megatron. “What about your little favorite, Lord Megatron?” Starscream purred. “There has been no sign of him since he left your side. Yet he still is not on the Decepticon Justice Division’s list.”

Starscream’s diversion was a success. Megatron relaxed back into the command chair as the code quieted down. “He has his purpose to serve, Starscream,” Megatron chided his errant second-in-command and air commander. “He is too important to be lost to the DJD.”

Megatron paused for a moment. This was his opening to clean house among the Decepticons in a way he had been unable to do in millions of years. “You do remind me of something important, however.”

“Soundwave.” The silent mech turned his featureless mask towards Megatron again. “Recall Commander Turmoil. I have business with him.”

Soundwave nodded and sent out the necessary commands. It would take some time for the message to reach Turmoil’s ship and for the mech to arrive at the Nemesis’ current location.

“Turmoil?” Starscream said incredulously. “What business could you possibly have with that third-rate tank?”

“Not now, Starscream,” Megatron growled. Fighting against the old coding had drained him.

“Now,” Megatron commanded, waving one hand “go.”

Only Soundwave left the bridge, however. Starscream stayed behind.

Megatron ignored his second-in-command and continued staring out the wide viewport of the bridge, wrapped in his own thoughts.

Starscream strode deliberately over to stand in front of Megatron, forcing the larger mech to look at him.

Starscream opened with a bow that was more decoratively elaborate than usual. “I humbly offer myself,” he declared.

Starscream kept his body bowed while Megatron considered his offer. “What for?” he ground out.

“In penance for my actions since your revival,” Starscream said smoothly.

“The contract?”

Starscream sent the form, which Megatron looked over. No major changes, even after Starscream’s tenure as The Fallen’s lackey without Megatron there to shield him.

“Acceptable,” Megatron decreed.

Starscream remained bowing as Megatron considered what scenario to use. He was too mentally tired to draw this out like usual, but both he and Starscream could use the release.

“Rise and come,” Megatron ordered.

Starscream straightened up and sauntered forward until he stood barely a step away from the warlord on his throne.

Megatron spread his legs. “On. Your. Knees.” he ordered with a bone-shaking growl.

Starscream’s armor chimed as he shivered and dropped to his knees.

A localized transformation sequence revealed Megatron’s interfacing equipment, which was just starting to show the first signs of arousal.

Starscream placed his hands on Megatron’s strong thighs and moved forward, without waiting. His nimble tongue slowly coaxed Megatron’s spike out of its sheath.

Megatron pinched a sensitive helm vent harshly. “Impatient,” Megatron rumbled a rebuke.

Starscream’s field danced with mischief as he looked up at Megatron. Then—in one smooth, practiced movement—he took Megatron’s spike in his mouth and down his throat until his lips touched the smooth metal plates at the base.

Megatron shook as the load on his sensor net spiked, then growled and seized Starscream’s head in his large hands. He took control ruthlessly and without concern for Starscream’s comfort. Starscream could do nothing other than savor the sensation as his throat was stretched to the edge of comfort. His mouth was a living sheath for the powerful mech’s spike. Megatron controlled the pace, depth, and speed. Starscream’s pleasure was secondary.

Starscream’s hips twitched with a few aborted movements, but his hands stayed firmly on Megatron’s thick thighs as the first crackles of built-up charge started sparking along the seams of Megatron’s armor.

With a roar and a final thrust, Megatron overloaded down Starscream’s throat.

Megatron gradually relaxed into a loose sprawl. As Starscream tried to pull himself off of Megatron’s spike, however, one strong hand clamped down on the back of his head, preventing the smaller mech from moving further. Starscream stilled, Megatron’s spent spike resting on his tongue.

Behind Megatron, the door to the bridge hissed open.

Starscream looked up at Megatron’s face. His hands flexed on the warlord’s thighs, but there was no distress in his field, only a steadily burgeoning arousal.

A sharp look from Megatron subdued Starscream’s restlessness.

Starscream lowered his gaze to Megatron’s abdomen and relaxed into the hold. He offered no protest in his field or over comms.

“What is it?” Megatron snapped as the unknown crew member shifted restlessly near the door.

“Report for you from Soundwave, sir.” The mech was clearly nervous to be interrupting two senior officers.

Megatron understood it was a not-so-subtle warning from Soundwave that their privacy was ending. Not that either mech minded exhibitionism, but some things were best not done in front of the troops.

“Bring it here.” Megatron held out one hand.

The shaking mech stepped forward and laid the pad in Megatron’s hand, getting an eyeful of the Air Commander kneeling with his face buried in Megatron’s lap.

Nonchalantly Megatron paged through the report with one hand while he kept the other firmly on the back of Starscream’s head. It was just a supply report, nothing urgent, but Megatron still took his time reviewing it. While he read, his spike recovered and started to pressurize again.

The crew member gradually lost control of his field, and the mech’s mild arousal slowly ramped up the longer Megatron dragged out his review.

Finally, Megatron approved the report and handed it back to the crew member. The mech fled as quickly as they could without running.

As the bridge door swished shut, Megatron looked down at Starscream.

“You have ten minutes to get me off again, or I’ll string you up and fuck you in front of the bridge crew like the cheap whore you are,” Megatron ordered Starscream, and let go of his grip on the seeker’s head.

It took Starscream eight and a half minutes, two fingers up Megatron’s valve, and a sharp nip to the tip of Megatron’s spike. The sharp pain accented the pleasure and set off Megatron’s overload, painting Starscream’s face with his fluid.

As Starscream started to stand up, Megatron growled and firmly gripped one of Starscream’s wings with his clawed hand. Slowly, Megatron twisted the wing, forcing Starscream to bend backwards or have his wing bent. Starscream’s field rippled with pleasured pain.

“You’ll wear that until you get back to your rooms,” Megatron growled out. “Report to my suite tomorrow after your shift. And no pleasuring yourself before then,” he ordered, before releasing the horny, unfulfilled mech. Starscream stumbled as he stood up on unsteady legs and gingerly strode off the bridge.

Megatron transformed away his interface hardware just as the returning crew started entering the bridge. He stood up and strode out, the mechs parting before him.

He knew Starscream would defy his orders. Megatron was looking forward to it.

***

Starscream’s shift ended fifteen minutes ago.

Megatron stood in the sitting area of his quarters, hands clasped behind his back and watched the seconds slip away in pleasant anticipation. Starscream was late. Just as Megatron knew he would be.

A feral grin split Megatron’s face.

:You’re late.: Megatron sent the coded ping on Starscream’s channel, and received the expected cheeky reply.

:Come and find me, then,: Starscream taunted, his voice low and husky with suppressed lust. It was a tone that Megatron was all too familiar with.

:I will.: With a dark chuckle, Megatron stepped out of his quarters and into the hallway. He already had everything he would need to hunt down and capture his wayward fuck toy, and Knock Out was on call for after Megatron was done ‘chastising’ Starscream.

“STARSCREAM!” The enraged warlord’s bellow carried down the halls of the Nemesis. It was a warning to the crew that they should find cover. Megatron was on the hunt.

Megatron stalked down the conspicuously empty corridors. His first stop Starscream’s quarters, which he shared with his trine.

Starscream was not there.

Thundercracker sat on the couch preeing Skywarp’s wings. Both mechs gave Megatron an exasperated look as Megatron overrode the locks and threw open the door.

Megatron gave them a slight nod, politely ignoring Skywarp’s open interface panel, and closed the door. He continued his rampage across the Nemesis until he finally cornered Starscream in one of the smaller cargo bays.

“STARSCREAM!” Megatron bellowed again, so he could watch the high-strung seeker jump. He always enjoyed seeing Starscream’s wings twitch when startled.

Starscream recovered quickly and turned to face Megatron, posing artfully in the middle of the room. “Megatron!” he said with faux surprise. “How may I be of service?” He bowed, taking the opportunity to show off his best features.

“You disobey me, Starscream?!” Megatron growled. The bass rumble of his voice reverberated through the cargo bay.

Starscream’s wings twitched, betraying his carefully-hidden anticipation. “Not at all, Mighty Megatron,” Starscream pleaded. He could already feel himself getting hot under his armor. “If you had only—”

He wasn’t allowed to finish. With a roar, Megatron threw himself at the grovelling seeker.

Starscream skillfully whirled to avoid Megatron’s initial rush. It wouldn’t do to be caught too easily.

However, Megatron was familiar with Starscream’s tricks. In a flash, Megatron was on top of Starscream, bearing him down to the floor on his back and pinning one of his arms.

“Don’t you dare!” Starscream screeched as he dropped his subservient act and unsheathed the claws of his free hand, using them to tear at Megatron’s head and back, leaving deep scratches in Megatron’s finish. Starscream writhed harder as he noticed Megatron pull a set of stasis cuffs out of his subspace.

Megatron quickly cuffed the hand he was holding and magnetized the cuff to the deck, restricting the thrashing seeker’s movements.

As Starscream felt the magnetized cuff imprison his arm, he went crazy. He struggled even harder, trying to throw Megatron off of him.

It was no use, though. Megatron ignored the deep furrows that Starscream’s claws left behind. He shifted, bringing his full weight down on Starscream’s other arm, capturing the flailing limb.

“Stay still!” Megatron ordered roughly, but the incensed seeker paid no attention. In a practiced movement born of long experience, Megatron wrapped the second stasis cuff around Starscream’s wrist and magnetized it to the deck as well.

Starscream’s hands were now pinned above his head, wrists shoulder width apart. The cuffs inhibited Starscream's range of motion, effectively preventing him from throwing Megatron off of him. Realizing his relatively helpless position, Starscream’s mood made another whiplash change.

“Megatron” Starscream purred, as if Megatron’s energon didn’t already decorate his claw tips. “What can I can do for you?” he asked, undulating seductively and not very subtly grinding his pelvis against Megatron’s.

Megatron loomed over the slightly smaller mech, one hand planted next to Starscream’s head, and his knees to either side of Starscream’s waist. Megatron’s face split in a wolfish grin. “I can think of several things,” Megatron’s voice dipped into a near subsonic growl as he slowly worked his free hand down Starscream’s abdomen to his warm interface panel.

“Open.”

Megatron’s command rumbled through Starscream's frame like a physical caress, making the seeker forget himself for a moment, and push up against Megatron’s groping hand before he remembered himself and pulled away.

“No,” Starscream stated defiantly, voice dripping with the arrogant confidence of his station. He could feel the heat of Megatron’s hand on his panel and the prick of Megatron’s claws in the seams of his armor. It was a subtle threat that Megatron didn’t need to repeat out loud. Starscream’s grin widened. He knew that Megatron could feel the heat of Starscream’s panel, though not the lubrication starting to bead his valve.

“Oh?” Megatron said lightly as he removed his hand from Starscream’s increasingly warm equipment. He pointedly held his hand in front of Starscream’s face and flexed his claws, inspecting the razor sharp points that were capable of rending a weaker mech’s armor like tinfoil. Turning back to Starscream he asked, “Would you like to reconsider?”

Starscream laughed in Megatron’s face.

The ping from Megatron’s systems to Starscream’s and back was quick. This was a well-worn dance between the two mechs, with a predictable, and highly enjoyable, ending.

Megatron brought his clawed hand down, not on Starscream’s closed interface panel, but on the exposed underside of his wings. Contrary to popular gossip, seeker’s wings were not any more sensitive to touch than any other part of a mech’s armor. At least, until the seeker in question was aroused. Even then, you still had to know how to properly stimulate them. And Megatron had millions of years of experience in exploring every possible reaction he could wring out of Starscream.

Megatron slowly dragged his sharp claws down the exposed surface of Starscream’s wing. As he did, curls of finish created coils of color under his claws, only to break and fall to the floor underneath Starscream like a small dusting of confetti. The pressure was enough to set off the pain sensors underneath, but not enough to break through the armor’s dermal layer and into the capillary layer underneath. That would come later.

Starscream tried to arch his back involuntarily as the warm, itching burn began to bloom across his sensor net, but was held down securely by the larger mech. He flinched as Megatron lowered his hand, only to moan as the large mech ran his palm down the scratched plating, irritating the sensitive surface and spreading the ache deeper like a painter spreading paint across a canvas.

Anticipation burned ardently through Starscream’s field. He knew that it was just the beginning.

Megatron repeated the pattern with exquisite, leisurely patience, drawing a number of keening wails and aroused moaning from the helpless seeker as he slowly scraped parallel lines of agony into the underside of Starscream’s wing, massaging the oversensitive, pained sensors after every pass to heighten the delicious burn.

Once Megatron was done with the one wing he looked down into Starscream’s unfocused eyes and lazily placed his hand on his captive’s interface panel again. He smirked as he noticed how scorching hot it was. Claw tips not so gently pricked across the heated panel.

“Open,” Megatron rumbled again. It was a threat. It was a promise.

It wasn’t time yet.

Starscream’s eyes were hazy with thwarted lust, but his answer was clear. “Never!” he said defiantly.

Megatron’s answering growl rumbled through his chest as he switched hands. He repeated the same slow, methodical torture on Starscream’s unblemished wing.

Starscream trembled as Megatron started scraping at his untouched wing, plating made hypersensitive by his soaring arousal. He burned as he thrashed in Megatron’s hold. Not to escape, but because he needed an outlet for his frustrated passion.

Megatron only made it halfway across the previously-untouched wing before he heard the quiet snick of his captive’s interface paneling opening. Megatron smirked, but didn’t stop, and didn’t speed up. Now that he had started, Megatron would not stop until it was done. He continued at the same methodically slow pace as Starscream continued to writhe in burning frustration beneath him.

Only when every last square inch of the second wing was covered with shallow, burning scratches, did Megatron reach down to fondle Starscream’s uncovered valve.

Starscream arched up, wailing incoherently as Megatron’s clawed finger tips circled the plush, aroused lips of Starscream’s valve, spreading the ample lubrication. Then, his voice rose in a pained shriek as Megatron lightly scratched at his exterior node with one claw. Starscream’s field told a different story, however. The seeker’s unrestrained lustful field curled itself around Megatron’s own field as delicately as a sledgehammer to the head.

Starscream was overwhelmed by the extremes; pleasure and pain cascaded through his sensory network, feeding on each other. The heat of his pain drove up the heat of his passion, cycling each higher and higher, but frustratingly never high enough.

Starscream had been driven mindless in his passion. He barely noticed as Megatron slipped a long, slim object into his valve, magnetizing it to the exterior lips so it couldn’t slip out.

Starscream whimpered, distressed, when he finally realized that there was false spike in his valve. It was small, much too small for the seeker. He could barely feel it as he fucked his hips upwards, hoping to dislodge it, or at least cause it to hit a sensor cluster or two. But it did him no good.

Starscream wailed in frustration.

Megatron chuckled darkly at the seeker’s distress.

Status pings slipped between the two mech’s systems, but tripped no alarms.

Megatron brought out a slim box and held it up so Starscream could see it.

“Please, please, please, please!” Starscream begged, the first coherent words that he had been able to say in nearly an hour. The stasis cuffs on his arms the only thing that prevented the wailing Starscream from plastering himself to Megatron’s chest in supplication. He knew what was in the box, and he knew how skilled the mech laying on top of him was in their use.

Megatron set the box aside, Starscream’s eyes following it hungrily.

“Starscream.”

The sound of his name brought the painfully aroused seeker’s attention back to Megatron.

The bloodthirsty grin on the large mech’s face was not meant to be comforting.

“Move, and I stop,” he threatened his captive.

Starscream immediately froze. It was no idle threat. Moving too much meant everything stopped, and Starscream would be left to enjoy a long night shackled to the deck of the cargo bay, untouched, and unfulfilled. Left to linger as his lubricant dried into a cold, sticky mess on his thighs and until his built up charge slowly dissipated away into nothing. Starscream had pushed the limits enough to know where the limits were, but had only stepped over the line once. The punishment had been bad enough that he never would again.

Megatron knelt up over the prone seeker, no longer needing to hold him down. He reached over and opened the case to reveal two dozen long, thin blades of metal, each well maintained, and sharp enough to cut steelspider silk.

Megatron raised one blade and paused, carefully considering where to place it, drawing out the moment agonizingly.

Starscream’s eyes didn’t leave the metal blade as Megatron finally moved.

Positioning the blade in the seam between Starscream's upper arm and shoulder, Megatron deftly inserted the blade into the unprotected internals underneath Starscream’s armor.

The blade moved swiftly, skewering Starscream as it ruthlessly and deliberately sliced through the assorted wires, tubes, and other connectors that passed between his armor and his deeper internals.

As Megatron pushed the blade in to the hilt, a line of intense, pained fire traced underneath Starscream’s armor. Capillary energon lines rerouted around damaged areas and normally-protected neural fibers went haywire at the unexpected intrusion and started firing.

While Starscream tried to be completely still, in truth no mech was completely still, except in death. The small movements created by living systems caused minute changes in position, which made the inserted blade to rub up against delicate internals, creating cascading waves of unpredictably painful sensations. And that was just the first blade.

Megatron was skilled with his blades and familiar with Starscream’s body. He knew where he could penetrate in order to create the most sensation with the least damage. That did not mean that there was no damage. Droplets of energon slowly dripped from underneath Starscream’s armor, tracing the seams before dripping to the floor beneath him.

It took five blades, five searing lines of agony beneath his armor, before Starscream finally noticed the increasing fullness in his valve. He tried to concentrate on the new sensation as Megatron slid home a sixth blade, this time under Starscream’s pectoral armor. Bright streams of pained pleasure distracted him, but after the seventh blade Starscream was sure.

Starscream moaned as he realized that Megatron had put a fucking expanding false spike in his valve and was enlarging it with each blade he inserted!

Starscream was struck with the sudden urge to squirm. His valve fluttered loosely around the slowly inflating spike. Starscream craved a real spike to fill him to to the hilt. This... thing... was barely even touching his internal nodes.

Starscream tried to twitch, but with a growl Megatron pinned Starscream's hips down, to the seeker’s vocal dismay.

“This should stop you from moving,” Megatron said as he pulled the eighth blade out of its case. Finding a spot on Starscream’s hip, he slowly inserted it beneath Starscream’s pelvic plating. If Starscream moved now, he would jar the blade and cause it to slide sideways though his internals, which would slice open more lines.

Starscream snarled in enraged disappointment, but was quickly silenced by the tantalizingly slow insertion of a ninth blade. By now the inflatable spike in his valve had reached what he would consider an ‘average’ size. Not quite as large as Megatron, but enough for a decent fuck... if it would only move!

The insertion of the tenth and eleventh blades passed in a haze of frustrated, painful lust. The spike was beginning to press against his valve sensors in the best way, but to Starscream’s frustration, it wouldn’t move!

Suddenly, the false spike discharged a sharp shock, electrifying Starscream’s valve and stimulating the sensors with direct electrical voltage instead of movement. It also caused Starscream to arch upwards involuntarily. The added pain from the eleven blades delicately slicing through his internals in response goaded the bound mech into letting out a screech worthy of his name.

Megatron smiled ruthlessly as Starscream collapsed back to the floor. There were still four blades to go, according to his plan. Not that he was going to tell Starscream that.

Starscream’s circulation fans finally kicked on. He was stubborn, but his body temperature had finally risen to the point that he could no longer stubbornly keep them suppressed.

Megatron took that as a cue to slow down, extending the tension to the breaking point. Each blade was slowly, tenderly slipped in behind armored plating. He worked each blade from side to side slightly, as if he was seeking the exact right fit.

The period of time between each electrical discharge was unbearably long and unpredictable. Each one tore a shriek from Starscream’s straining vocalizer. And, as each blade was embedded to the hilt, the false spike stuffed in Starscream’s valve expanded incrementally further. As the fourteenth blade was inserted Starscream felt like his valve would slowly start tearing apart at any moment, and the thought made his current race higher and higher.

As Megatron inserted the fifteenth blade, the false spike expanded one final time. Then, an electrical discharge crackled across Starscream’s sensor nodes. Unlike before, though, it did not stop.

Shrieking, Starscream was violently flung into a hard overload as the steady stream of electrical charge touched every sensor in his valve at once and lit up his interface systems deeper than any mech’s spike could penetrate. Bliss crawled across his sensornet as he writhed uncontrollably, fresh energon welling up and dripping onto the floor beneath him.

Megatron gave in to his urges, and licked at the bloody seams of Starscream’s armor as the continuing electrical shocks started to pulse in rhythm with the involuntary jerks of the seeker’s hips, driving Starscream from orgasm to orgasm with a ruthless, impersonal passion.

It continued until Starscream at last collapsed, unconscious from the chained overloads, and valve faintly steaming from where lubricant had been vaporized by the unrelenting charge.

Satisfied, but not satiated, Megatron pushed himself up and off of the prone seeker. Kneeling next to Starscream, Megatron extracted each blade from Starscream’s body, wiping it each one fastidiously clean and storing them back away in their box. Fresh rivulets of energon trailed across the unconscious mech’s armor, but long experience told Megatron that it was not enough to worry about.

When he was done, Megatron carefully subspaced the box of blades then leaned over and deactivated the stasis cuffs, but did not remove them. With a grunt, Megatron threw Starscream’s unconscious body over his shoulder and left the storage room, heading towards Knock Out’s medical bay. He pinged the medic to let him know that he was coming with his prize.

***

Crew members hid again as a smug Megatron strode through the halls of the Nemesis, this time with Starscream’s ravaged body draped over his shoulder and dripping a trail of energon behind him.

It took only a few minutes for Megatron to reach the medbay. He palmed the door open and entered the room. The door closed behind him with the faint snick of the lock engaging.

“Welcome, Lord Megatron,” Knock Out’s smooth voice came from the shadows in the far corner of the room. He stepped forward, letting the subdued half-light of the medbay dance across his impeccably-shined plating.

Showy bastard, Megatron thought. Knock Out had doubtlessly set up his medbay for the occasion. The lighting in the room was overall low and ‘atmospheric,’ and the two berths in the center of the room were brilliantly lit with overhead spotlights positioned just so, in order to highlight whatever was placed upon them. Despite how melodramatic the medic could be, as far as Megatron was concerned Knock Out’s skills made up for his overbearing attitude.

Megatron slung Starscream’s body onto the empty berth. “Fix him,” he ordered the crimson mech.

“As you say, Lord Megatron,” Knock Out replied. “In the meantime, if you would like, my toy is available for you to work off the charge you have built up.” Knock Out waved to the second berth in the room. On it was Knock Out’s partner, Breakdown. The large mech was very thoroughly restrained.

Megatron nodded to Knock Out, who turned to start his work on Starscream while Megatron walked over to the other berth.

Megatron’s systems exchanged a quick set of pings with Breakdown as Megatron approached the bound toy. He loomed over the prone mech. “Not very convenient,” he idly commented, referring to the excessive number of restraints that Knock Out had used on the mech.

Breakdown had been bound with straps around his entire body. His legs were strapped shut, his arms were strapped to his body, and there were even straps threaded through his wheels. The mech would not be able to move more than a finger with all the straps on him. Knowing Knock Out, Megatron knew that there was likely more toys being used that weren’t immediately obvious.

“You can move him however you like,” Knock Out offered. “There are additional restraints available over there.” He pointed towards a large chest next to the berth.

While Megatron was taking stock of his toy, Knock Out took his first look at Starscream’s damage. It wouldn’t take much work to have him conscious again. Then, it would be Knock Out’s turn to play. He always appreciated these chances when they came. It was too bad Starscream’s contract limited him from doing more than medical repairs while the mech was unconscious, though.

But then, that’s what Knock Out had Breakdown for.

***

Breakdown couldn’t move, couldn’t see, couldn’t hear. However, he could still feel Megatron’s field flow over him as the large mech came closer. The handshake protocol had happened flawlessly, and it was the only warning Breakdown had before Megatron was on him.

Megatron knelt on the side of the berth and swung his leg over Breakdown’s prone body, straddling it.

Breakdown shuddered as Megatron’s weight settled on his tightly-bound thighs. The vibrator in his covered valve merrily buzzed along, tapping at sensory nodes and stimulating his internal mesh. Not strong enough to overload him, but strong enough to keep him wanting more.

Breakdown really, really wanted Megatron’s large spike in his clenching valve, but Megatron apparently had other ideas.

Megatron manually released Breakdown’s spike cover, giving it a few perfunctory pulls as it rapidly extended, spreading the ample lubricant already oozing freely in anticipation, coating Breakdown’s spike.

Breakdown couldn’t hear Megatron’s interface cover opening, but he could feel the moist warmth of Megatron’s valve as Megatron frotted up against the underside of Breakdown’s spike without allowing it to penetrate him.

Megatron had a few things to set up first.

Megatron’s interface equipment protocols pinged Breakdown’s and downloaded the submissive mech’s latest specs. Knock Out was in the habit of extensively modifying Breakdown’s interfacing equipment for his own pleasure, so the couple’s occasional lovers had learned to download before every session to make sure they weren’t caught off guard by new functionality or size differences. There was nothing quite like experiencing vagina dentata ‘in the flesh’ to make a mech more careful. Then again, Megatron hadn’t seen Soundwave overload that hard since.

Megatron scrolled through the options for Breakdown’s spike on his HUD and selected a couple of his favorite mods, sending the request back to Breakdown’s interface systems, which accepted the order. Whatever he picked, Breakdown had no way of knowing, and the bound mech preferred it that way.

Breakdown felt it as his spike resized, adding a pattern of bumps and ridges that would provide enhanced stimulation for his rider. He whimpered as he realised that this meant that he wasn’t going to finally have his needy valve filled. Not that the vocal inhibitor incorporated into the wide collar he wore around his neck allowed any sound to come out. The collar itself was substantial, and held his head high and motionless as the rest of his bound body.

Megatron did not care what Breakdown thought of the situation. The mech hadn’t tapped out, so he was free to operate within Knock Out’s guidelines, and the crimson mech had very generous guidelines for his toy.

Breakdown tried to buck up as Megatron teased him, slipping his plump valve lips up the side of Breakdown’s spike and inserting just the tip before backing off.

Megatron’s rising impatience, and rising charge, soon got the best of him though. He quickly gave up teasing the bound mech and knelt up so that he could work his greedy, well-lubricated valve slowly down Breakdown’s formidably textured spike. Megatron threw his head back with a grunt as each bump and ridge lit up the sensors around the rim of his valve. The anterior node was stimulated by a line of raised nubs that marched down the top of Breakdown’s spike, a configuration that Megatron had specially chosen from the available options.

Megatron lurched forward with a gasp as his pelvis came to rest on Breakdown’s. The bound mech’s spike filled the entirety of Megatron’s valve, stretching it in all the best ways, like few other mechs could. Megatron paused for a long moment, shifting his weight from side to side, feeling it as the spike subtly rubbed up against the interior sensors of his valve, lubricant shifting and squelching.

With a deeply satisfied sigh, Megatron lifted himself slowly off of Breakdown’s spike before suddenly dropping forcefully down, a deep grunt driven from Megatron’s chest as his valve was brutally stimulated by the large spike.

Megatron continued to ride Breakdown’s spike as mercilessly as he had tormented Starscream earlier. Megatron had not overloaded yet, and he wanted to as he drove himself mercilessly towards completion without thought for the mech beneath him. Lubricant glistened, coating the armor of his inner thighs.

Breakdown laid on the berth beneath Megatron, helpless to move, rocked by Megatron’s forceful thrusts. Lubricant pooled in Breakdown’s groin and started to drip down his plating and onto the berth below him. Breakdown threw back his head as far as he could with the posture collar and sank into his role. He was Knock Out’s living fuck toy. He had been loaned to Megatron so that the larger mech could use him as a living spike to get off on, no matter what he might think about it. The idea made Breakdown’s charge run hotter.

The audial inhibitor he wore meant that Breakdown couldn’t hear the massive roar as Megatron overloaded, but he could feel the charge dancing across his plating. It didn’t do any more than that, though, as the charge was drawn away by the overload inhibitor that Knock Out had installed prior to Megatron’s arrival. Breakdown could only earn overloads at his dominant partner’s hands, no matter who, or how many, Knock Out invited into their berth.

***

Knock Out considered the unconscious seeker on the berth in front of him. Even with Starscream’s... preferences... Knock Out didn’t often get the chance, so he wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity. First, Knock Out located Starscream’s medical access ports. While Megatron had assured him that Starscream still had adequate energon reserves, his medical coding would be a bitch to deal with if he let Starscream drop into stasis due to low energy.

It would also prevent Knock Out from enjoying his reward at the end.

Knock Out connected to Starscream and ran a quick status check on the unconscious mech. He was pleased with what he found. Starscream’s energon levels were low, but nothing to worry about. Knock Out also estimated that Starscream would be waking up within the next 10-15 minutes. He grinned. Time to get busy.

Knock Out prioritized Starscream’s largest bleeds and got to work, stemming the bleeding and repairing the lines. He left the severed neural fibers until later. That was better left until the mech was conscious and squirming. It just wasn’t as delicious when his prey was unconscious.

Besides, it was incredibly stupid to have fresh energon around when one was soldering neural wiring back together.

Starscream lolled his head groggily as he struggled awake, weakened by energon loss, but with the unmistakably satisfied glow of a massive overload. He stretched luxuriously.

“Now Starscream,” Knock Out chided, tapping roughly on a sensitive wound. Starscream jerked, but couldn’t go too far with Knock Out’s hands deep underneath his armour.

Starscream could feel the medic’s fingers move as Knock Out worked on Starscream’s substructure. Knock Out had removed several plates of armor, exposing Starscream’s inner workings and protoform to the cool air.

Starscream felt slightly gummy where shed energon and lubricant had dried into a sticky mess underneath his plating. He would need to talk his trine into preening him afterwards, he thought idly. Stupid grounders never groomed a seeker correctly. Starscream resolutely set aside the memory of the one grounder he had met who had bothered to learn. The past needed to stay the past.

Knock Out brought Starscream’s wandering attention back with a deft twist of Starscream’s exposed neural wiring. Starscream keened in suprised pain and froze in an involuntary reaction to prevent further damage. “You know how we play this game,” Knock Out crooned, voice poisonously sweet.

Through the cable connecting them Starscream could feel Knock Out’s connection request, which he quickly granted. Knock Out now shared Starscream’s sensory perceptions, but thoughts and memory remained carefully firewalled away.

Knock Out roughly massaged Starscream’s arm. He ran his fingers over hoses and cabling, irritating freshly-repaired energon lines and chafing exposed neural wiring. He savored the sensation coming over their connection as Starscream’s pain flirted with the sharp edge of pleasure. Running his finger tips over the largest bundle of severed neural wiring one last time, Knock Out took out the small soldering iron he used for fine work.

Starscream twisted under Knock Out’s hands as the crimson mech lowered his tools, and was swiftly slapped by the pissed-off medic. “Be still!” Knock Out didn’t appreciate his patient interrupting his fun.

“Tie me down, then!” Starscream snarled.

Fuming, Knock Out turned on the stasis cuffs still attached to Starscream’s wrists. They wouldn’t hold Starscream for long if he was determined, but Starscream knew well enough not to squirm too hard while Knock Out was working. It might cause Knock Out’s hand to slip... Then the medic would be annoyed that Starscream ruined his work, and annoyed medics wouldn’t fuck him like he so desperately needed.

Starscream quickly stopped thrashing as a new sensation hit him... this time from his overstretched valve. He froze, slowly working his pelvis in a circle while trying to identify what the hell was in his valve.

Starscream's sudden stillness and quiet caught Knock Out’s attention, causing him to look up from his work. Prodding the connection between them, Knock Out focused on the new sensations coming across the connection with Starscream. It took the red mech a few moments of concentration to narrow down where on Starscream’s body the feeling was coming from. Starscream’s interesting pelvic gyrations certainly helped.

The red mech slowly smirked.

Starscream kicked out as Knock Out reached out with one hand to grope at his still-exposed valve.

“Well...” Knock Out crooned. “What do we have here?” Brushing his fingers across the base of the toy protruding from Starscream’s valve, he pinged Megatron. It took a couple of tries before Knock Out was able to get the distracted mech’s attention and get an answer for what the hell was in Starscream’s valve. He was delighted by what Megatron told him, however, as well as the control codes that the large mech sent over.

By then, Starscream had also figured out what it was. Megatron was going to pay for this! He wondered how he had been able to overlook the stretch of his valve mesh due to the overwhelming girth of the fully-expanded toy. Fortunately, the electrical pulses were turned off.

Then, Starscream noticed the look on Knock Out’s face. “No, no, no, no, no!” Starscream pleaded with the now deviously smirking mech who still had one hand between his legs.

Knock Out grinned widely down at Starscream. A quick ping between the two mechs confirmed that Starscream’s objections were only for show, so Knock Out set about reprogramming the toy using the codes Megatron had so generously shared.

Once he was done, Knock Out moved his hands away from Starscream’s valve and continued soldering a fresh patch of neural wiring, sending tingles of pain through Starscream to Knock Out’s pleasantly warming interface array.

Starscream squealed as the toy in his valve deflated slightly, allowing his valve mesh to constrict slightly before the toy expanded in a rapid succession of light pulses. The slight expansion forced his valve to feel the increased stretch each and every time.

Starscream writhed as the repairs Knock Out was still making to his exposed neural circuitry caused sparkles of pain to dance across his sensor net, mixing with the delicious pain/pleasure from his stretched valve.

Starscream was turning into one large soup of overwhelming sensation for Knock Out’s second-hand pleasure.

As he worked, Knock Out savored the sensations, even as the toy stopped shrinking and settled on a medium size. It still moved with a gentle pulse that rhythmically pressed at Starscream’s valve mesh in an provocative massage. It wasn’t enough to make Starscream or Knock Out come, though.

After Knock Out finally laid down his soldering iron a hour later, however, stray charge crackled vigorously across Starscream’s plating, dancing in the creases between armor plates. Starscream was incoherent in frustrated, lustful longing.

Knock Out, in contrast, was just pleasantly warm and aroused. After all, he didn’t want to screw up Starscream’s repairs. Knock Out did have his professional pride. And, since he had done well, Knock Out would have Starscream as well.

***

Megatron came, leaving Breakdown unsatisfied, his spike still stiff in the warlord’s warm valve.

As Megatron came down from his roaring orgasm, he lazily ground his satisfied valve on Breakdown’s spike, milking his final spasms.

Breakdown laid there, enjoying the stimulation, even though he knew that it would not get him off.

Even blind and deaf, Breakdown quickly noticed when Megatron twisted on his lap, forcing Breakdown’s spike to hit new nodes in Megatron’s valve. Breakdown was surprised when he noticed that the bonds on his legs started loosening, then falling off.

Breakdown trembled, wanting to open his legs, to beg without words for the other mech to notice his hungry valve, to pull out the toy lodged there, and to fuck him hard into the berth.

Breakdown had no warning as Megatron suddenly tightened his powerful thighs around the now half-bound mech, and, with one smooth movement, rolled them over. Breakdown was now draped across the length of Megatron’s body, his engorged, unsatisfied spike still seated firmly in Megatron’s well-lubricated valve.

Megatron’s hands worked at the last of the bonds around Breakdown’s torso and arms, freeing the other mech so he could obey Megatron’s next command.

:Fuck me.: Came the brief order over Breakdown’s comms.

Breakdown looped his arms underneath Megatron’s legs, leveraging the other mech’s knees to his shoulders and bracing himself securely against the surface of the berth.

Breakdown’s first plunge was shallow as he adjusted to the new position. He didn’t want to pop his spike out, after all, and be forced to search blindly for Megatron’s valve.

:Harder!: Megatron ordered harshly, the rumbling bass of his voice vibrating his chest, rattling through Breakdown’s body.

Breakdown did as ordered. He fucked Megatron, submissive to the larger mech’s commands. His hope was that, if he did well, the warlord would have Knock Out reward him with an orgasm.

The two mechs fell into a rhythm of brutal fucking, bodies clashing together in a ruthless rhythm. Breakdown bowed his head into the thrusts, nose and lips scraping against Megatron’s chest as they violently thrust up against each other.

The heat and friction grew at a frantic pace, barely kept in check by plentiful lubricant flowing from Breakdown’s spike and Megatron’s valve.

Breakdown bellowed as he felt the next mod click on, and the knot at the base of his spike started to inflate. He thrust his spike harder into the welcoming darkness that was Megatron’s valve, deaf to the mech’s howling cries. The body underneath him thrashed as Breakdown forced his ever-expanding knot brutally in and out, stretching the lips of Megatron’s valve to its limits. Breakdown was past caring who was beneath him, it was a warm, willing valve for him to use. And so he did, until his knot caught behind the rim of the valve and he could thrust no more. The two mechs were locked pelvis to pelvis as Breakdown started to overload...

Only to have his overload cut brutally short by the inhibitor. He shrieked as the massive charge from Megatron’s overload danced across his armor, vaporizing lubricant wherever it touched. Breakdown’s spike released additional lubricant in order to prevent the heated metal skin of both mechs from welding together from the extreme heat and electrical arcing. Through it all, the inflated knot at the base of Breakdown’s spike kept the two mechs locked together.

Breakdown felt it as Megatron’s body heaved upwards one last time, lifting even Breakdown’s bulk into the air before dropping down, presumably, hopefully, spent and satisfied.

Breakdown collapsed limply over Megatron’s warm frame. It would take some time for the knot on his spike to shrink enough for the two mechs to part. Until then, he’d take advantage of the opportunity to rest.

***

Starscream squealed as Knock Out pulled the still-inflated toy from his valve. The toy was large enough to stretch the rim of Starscream’s valve to the point where it felt like his mesh would tear under the pressure.

The squelch of lubricant was obscene, as was the open, gaping maw of the seeker’s valve as Knock Out focused on his prize.

The cable connecting the two was still in place, swinging between the two of them. Knock Out made a note not to get tangled up in it. That would be embarrassing.

“Fuck meeeeee,” Starscream wailed as Knock Out roughly pawed at his valve, manipulating Starscream’s node with just the right amount of painful pleasure to kick the seeker into a miniature overload.

Starscream sobbed as Knock Out finally took his position between the desperate seeker’s thighs, lining up his engorged spike with Starscream’s well-lubricated and stretched valve.

Starscream lived up to his name with a shrill shriek as Knock Out ruthlessly forced his spike into Starscream’s valve. The red mech hadn’t told Starscream that he’d triggered some of the modifications he’d had installed on his own spike — Breakdown wasn’t the only mech sporting exotic equipment. The raised nubs on Knock Out’s spike roughly massaged Starscream’s valve rim as Knock Out plunged furiously into the larger mech.

Starscream tried to squirm. Whether it was to get away or to get closer Knock Out could not tell because the mech was still bound to the berth. Besides, Knock Out didn’t care. As long as Starscream didn’t ping to be released, Knock Out was free to keep plundering Starscream’s warm, willing valve as much as he liked.

Knock Out’s own charge was quickly rising under the dual stimulation. Though the hardline connection with Starscream Knock Out could feel everything the other mech felt as he was having his brains fucked out of him by the smaller mech. As Knock Out fucked Starscream’s valve it was as if his own valve was getting fucked. Knock Out even changed his angle slightly because he preferred the new sensation, and not because he cared what Starscream felt about it.

Starscream didn’t care how he was being fucked, however, he just needed to be fucked.

Again...

And again...

And again...

Until he was finally able to dissipate this damn charge!

Starscream wailed in frustration as the edge hovered just out of reach.

Knock Out grabbed at Starscream’s shoulders as he began to overload, gripping so hard that his claws dug into the seeker’s armored plating.

The sharp spikes of pain, along with the excess charge from Knock Out’s overload, threw Starscream into his own overload. Starscream’s face went slack as he came, his eyes white with overcharge.

He could not see.

He could not speak.

He was a mass of exposed nerve endings all firing at once.

Pain/pleasure. Pleasure/pain. Cascading through Starscream’s body.

After several long seconds, Starscream collapsed back on the medical berth, Knock Out draped across him.

Starscream floated in a pleasant state of half-consciousness as Knock Out slowly stirred and pulled off, extracting his spent spike from Starscream’s valve with an almost-audible pop.

Starscream shuddered as overstimulated sensors protested delightfully.

Next, Knock Out disconnected the hardline connection, receiving a pout from Starscream as he reached over Starscream and fumbled at his bonds until Starscream was released. He then reached over the side of the berth and grabbed two warming blankets, one of which he threw over to the other berth were Megatron and Breakdown had finally pulled apart and were now sprawled with the boneless ease of the well-fucked. Knock Out pulled the second blanket over himself and Starscream and burrowed into the seeker’s side, luxuriating in the overlapping satiated fields of the mechs around him.

The medbay was finally silent, though the scent of heated lubricant, welding solder, and spilt energon belied the peaceful scene.

After some time, Breakdown’s systems pinged the other mechs in the vicinity, stirring Megatron from his doze. Knock Out half fell off of his berth, nearly taking the warming blanket with him before Starscream saved it with a quick grab.

Between Megatron and Knock Out they removed the remaining bondage from Breakdown, giving the mech his sight and hearing back, as well as removing the toy from his valve. Breakdown opted to keep the overload inhibitor active... for now. Knock Out could take care of that later...

With his submissive partner taken care of, Knock Out crawled back onto the berth with Starscream, winning the brief, non-verbal tussle as the seeker objected to letting Knock Out back under the warming blanket with him. Knock Out was soon cuddled back up with Starscream and all four mechs were drifting away again when the medic pinged Megatron’s internal comms.

:I’m setting an appointment for you,: Knock Out opened the conversation.

Megatron grumbled incoherently across the line before replying. :I have nothing that you need to see me for.:

:I disagree,: Knock Out replied. :And considering I’m your physician, I’ll be expecting you in my office at the designated time.: As Megatron’s physician, Knock Out was also very aware that Megatron would not be, and that he would have to hunt the mech down across the Nemesis. He shrugged mentally, and made a note to follow up on his threat later, and let himself drift off into recharge cuddled Starscream’s warm frame.

Chapter Text

October 2009

Sam had a problem.

Even after the university library had been blown up by Decepticons, Optimus had somehow still been able to get him back into school. The administration didn’t like it, and they were watching Sam very closely, but he hadn’t even been put on academic suspension after missing the first month of classes.

Optimus had even gotten Sam an apartment near campus—and a parking permit!—so he could drive Bumblebee around campus whenever he wanted, and make the other freshmen jealous. Sam had wanted Mikaela to move in with him. Then, everything would have been perfect. Sam would have had his car, and his girlfriend too.

But Mikaela and Bumblebee had wrecked it. Sam had gone through all the trouble of saving the world, and his girlfriend wouldn’t even give him celebratory nookie before breaking up with him, Sam fumed.

Bumblebee—his now former best friend—had taken Mikaela’s side over Sam’s. He even refused to help Sam contact her after Mikaela had started blocking his calls.

“C’mon ‘Bee,” Sam wheedled, “I just need to talk to her. It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”

Bumblebee and Sam were sitting in a parking lot on a bluff outside town. Rather, Bumblebee was parked in his Camaro alt form and Sam was pacing up and down the parking lot in front of Bumblebee.

Bumblebee whistled a negative tone. Sam had repeated this argument so many times that Bumblebee didn’t even bother with voice clips anymore. Sam already knew why Bumblebee wouldn’t be his go-between with Mikaela. Sam just didn’t care. He didn’t want to hear why, Sam just wanted to hear ‘yes.’

“C’mon ‘Bee,” Sam tried again. “All I need to do is talk to Mikaela and she’ll take me back. She won’t be pissed.”

Bumblebee whistled a negative again. Drift had pointedly sent him the image captures of Mikaela’s arms as the bruising had started to come in. (Bumblebee had also noticed where Mikaela had been when Drift had taken those pictures. He wouldn’t have thought that the ex-Decepticon would be a cuddler.)

Sam continued with his arguments. “I’d never hurt Mikaela. I just want her to understand she’s mine. You understand, don’t you ‘Bee.” If Bumblebee was really his friend, he’d understand, Sam thought.

Bumblebee didn’t understand. Sam had been repeating the same justifications for days, and Bumblebee found that he was just... disappointed.

This wasn’t the Sam that he had bonded with a couple of short years ago. That boy had been full of curiosity and excitement, helpful and eager to learn. Now, Sam was entitled. He took everything for granted; Optimus Prime’s influence, Bumblebee’s goodwill, and Mikaela’s love.

Bumblebee realized he wasn’t angry with Sam. Just... quietly sad.

Sam stopped pacing, heaved a large sigh, and turned to face Bumblebee. “I can’t do it anymore ‘Bee,” he declared dramatically, throwing his hands up in the air.

“I can’t trust you ‘Bee,” Sam said sadly. It was his last-ditch attempt to manipulate Bumblebee into doing what Sam wanted.

Bumblebee saw through what Sam was trying to do, and it hurt. It was a distant hurt though. Bumblebee had been waiting for Sam to do something like this. After all the anticipation, the fact of it happening just made him numb.

“Unless you’re willing to work with me, ‘Bee, you need to leave,” Sam made his ultimatum and waited for Bumblebee to crumble. Sam knew Bumblebee had to.

Optimus Prime had said Sam was important. He had also died protecting Sam. Bumblebee was Sam’s guardian, and Optimus Prime needed Sam safe. Optimus Prime wouldn’t allow Bumblebee to leave Sam. So, Sam thought, Bumblebee would have to do what Sam wanted.

He had to, right?

Bumblebee had seen this coming and had already prepared the paperwork to officially sever his guardianship of Sam. Ever since Mikaela had left Sam and Sam had started pressuring Bumblebee to help him win back Mikaela he knew that it might come to this.

Bumblebee also knew that Drift would never allow Sam anywhere near Mikaela, even if Bumblebee was inclined to bow to Sam’s demands.

Bumblebee sent the paperwork to Optimus with a heavy heart.

It took less than a minute for Optimus to comm Bumblebee.

:Bumblebee. I ask you to reconsider your decision to relinquish your guardianship of Sam,: Optimus requested. Through long familiarity with Optimus, Bumblebee could tell it wasn’t a command.

:Sam has rejected my guardianship,: Bumblebee replied sadly, :and I find that I cannot continue our relationship. He’s not the person he once was.:

:Let me try talking to him,: Optimus asked.

While Bumblebee was talking to Optimus Prime, Sam was still standing in front of Bumblebee, waiting for his reply to Sam’s ultimatum. The boy had started shifting his feet restlessly the longer Bumblebee stayed silent.

Suddenly, Sam’s cell phone rang. It was Optimus Prime.

:Sam,: Optimus said, forgoing a greeting. :Bumblebee informs me that you have rejected his guardianship.:

“Because he won’t help me get Mikaela back,” Sam said reasonably, or so he thought. “All he needs to do is help me talk to her.”

Back on Diego Garcia, Optimus felt a headache coming on. All this drama because of a youngster’s fading romance.

:Sam,: Optimus asked, :can you tell me about what happened between you and Mikaela?:

Optimus already had a very good idea what had happened through Bumblebee and Drift’s reports. The Autobot gossip network was also very quick, but it was largely Bumblebee’s point of view. Optimus wanted to understand Sam’s point of view. Curiously, Drift hadn’t weighed in on the ongoing gossip about the end of Mikaela and Sam’s relationship.

“After I got back from Egypt, ‘Bee and I went to Mikaela’s place,” Sam started to explain. “It was going well... until Mikaela said she didn’t want to see me anymore. I was working on convincing her when Bumblebee just picked me up and drove off. I never even got to say goodbye,” Sam said indignantly. “Now Mikaela won’t answer her phone and Bumblebee won’t help me.”

Bumblebee was outraged at how Sam was portraying his role in Sam’s encounter with Mikaela. He may not have had access to the same comm line as Optimus and Sam, but he could still hear Optimus’ words coming from the speaker of Sam’s cell phone. And he could hear Sam’s replies.

Optimus pinged Bumblebee with a generalized query over a private comm line. The query was a wordless question and request for further information.

Bumblebee jumped into the conversation. :What Sam is glossing over is that, after Mikaela told him she didn’t want to be in a relationship with him anymore, Sam got aggressive. He raised his voice at her and physically intimidated her; grabbing her hard and physically restraining her from moving away from him,: Bumblebee reported to Optimus Prime. :I pulled Sam away from Mikaela and took Sam out of the situation. Afterwards Drift contacted me to let me know that Sam was not allowed to come to Mikaela’s anymore. He reported that Mikaela was shaken by the experience. He also shared images of Mikaela’s injuries that Sam gave her.:

Optimus was pained. Sam and Mikaela’s relationship had seemed so promising. He never thought Sam would have hurt Mikaela. But the proof was in the images Bumblebee shared with him. Images Bumblebee hadn’t shared with him previously.

:This is so sudden,: Optimus Prime commented.

:Not really,: Bumblebee replied. :Their relationship has been deteriorating for months.:

:Since Drift arrived?: Optimus asked sharply.

:It started well before that,: Bumblebee corrected. :Their relationship started deteriorating after it became a long-distance relationship.:

:I should have sent Mikaela back to Tranquility instead of sending her to the safe house.: Optimus Prime was now regretting that choice.

:Optimus,: Bumblebee said softly. :Distance was only the final blow to an already shaky relationship. They’re both young. They’re both learning what it is to be an adult. And that includes how to be in a relationship. It’s not unusual for relationships like this not to work out.: Bumblebee spoke from his own experience as a scout blending into foreign civilizations, as well as his experience in day-to-day human life.

:My old friend,: Optimus said gravely, :thank you for the reminder. After all, I haven’t had the best of luck in my own relationship.: That was a vast understatement, considering that Optimus Prime had been locked in a genocidal civil war with his bonded mate and Lord High Protector, Megatron, for 4 million years.

Optimus turned his attention back to the line he had open with Sam. Fortunately, Sam hadn’t been part of Optimus and Bumblebee’s back and forth.

:Sam, I ask you to please put aside your disagreement with Bumblebee,: Optimus pleaded with the boy.

Cybertron was dead. The Allspark was the last hope for the Cybertronian people as a whole, Optimus Prime believed, not just for Decepticons or Autobots. So Sam’s safety—the safety of the Allspark—was critical.

“I never had any problems until you showed up,” Sam accused Optimus. “You brought your war here. You brought the Decepticons here. This is all your fault.”

“I wish you’d never come here,” Sam said heatedly.

The emotional impact of Sam’s words flayed at Optimus’ conscience and made Bumblebee involuntarily rock on his shocks.

Optimus knew that it was just Sam’s anger talking. But it was also Sam’s choice.

:Can we find a compromise?: Optimus pleaded with the boy.

“I want Mikaela,” Sam insisted.

Bumblebee signaled his disapproval to Optimus.

:I can’t do that, Sam,: Optimus said wearily. :Mikaela has made her choice and I must respect it.:

“Then no deal,” Sam said harshly to Optimus Prime, ending the call suddenly with a jab of the button. He stood there for several seconds with his head down and hands clenched at his sides.

Sam turned his head towards Bumblebee. “Go away,” he ordered.

Bumblebee made a mournful croon, but obediently backed up and drove slowly out of the parking lot. His body felt heavy as he drew further away from Sam. But he knew he’d made the right choice. Sam had been changed by his experiences, and apparently not for the better.

Sam watched as Bumblebee drove away. It wasn’t until Bumblebee’s tail lights had long since disappeared that Sam realized he had sent away his ride back to town. It took two hours before he was able to convince a taxi to show up to the out of the way parking lot and take him back to campus.

Chapter Text

November 2009

There was a maelstrom of emotion welling up inside Roman Banes, tying his thoughts into knots.

It had been four years since Roman had ended up in jail. Four years of Mikaela’s life that he’d missed. Letters and phone calls were no substitute.

He should have been there for her. Roman would have been there for her if he’d been smart enough to make the smart choice. Instead, he’d gotten tangled up with the guys. Where they’d gone, he followed. All the way to jail.

The hallway Roman was walking down was paved with finished concrete that masqueraded as something nicer than what it really was. It stretched ahead of him in a seemingly endless tunnel before ending in a set of double doors. In one hand he held a brown paper bag with his belongings and a fistful of paperwork.

Arriving at the end of the hallway, Roman pushed the doors open tentatively. He was half afraid that that a guard would appear and say that they’d made a mistake.

The evening breeze on his face stopped him for a moment. Everybody got time in the prison yard. But this... this was different.

Roman was hit by the sudden realization that he was free to just walk away and it took his breath away.

It was late in the evening. Around the parking lot the shadowed skeletons of trees were only dimly visible against the nighttime sky. Dim yellow lights cast a warm glow over a handful of cars waiting in the dimly lit parking lot. Soft plumes of vapor showed where some were running, probably to keep the occupants warm against the chill fall night.

Suddenly, the door of a white Subaru sedan flew open, and Mikaela slid out of the driver’s seat. She was a young woman now, but—as she ran towards him—all Roman could see was the gangly teenager she had been when he went to prison.

“Daddy!” she called out. Mikaela swept her father up into a strong hug and buried her head into her father’s neck. Roman noticed that she was stronger than the last time they’d hugged.

“Daddy, daddy, daddy,” Mikaela murmured, holding on like he was going to disappear on her.

“I’m here Miki, I’m here now,” Roman soothed her, holding on tight.

“Don’t call me that,” Mikaela protested, unconvincingly.

“I won’t,” Roman replied with a smile, also unconvincingly.

The two of them stood there, embracing fiercely and trading murmured reassurances for several minutes before Roman pulled back to get a good look at Mikaela.

She’d changed so much. The tomboyish jeans and casual t-shirts were gone. Mikaela still wore jeans and a sweater, but she was a woman now, not a teenager.

“What happened to my little girl?” Roman asked rhetorically as he brushed Mikaela's thick brown hair back from her face. “She’s gone and grown up.”

Mikaela smiled mischievously. “And don’t you forget it,” she said, tapping her father’s nose.

Roman made a half-hearted swipe at her finger as she withdrew it. Mikaela laughed.

Roman’s heart twisted. “I see so much of your mother in you,” he said quietly. Mikaela had his dark hair, but hints of her mother were there in the line of Mikaela’s nose and in her startlingly pale blue eyes.

Mikaela gave him another quick hug, then stepped back and pulled Roman by one hand over to her car.

Roman admired the car’s lines and the red detailing that was easier to see now that he was close. Mikaela was doing well to be able to afford something like this so soon out of high school, and she clearly kept it well maintained and polished.

“This yours, Mikaela?” Roman asked as he slipped into the passenger side seat. The white leather seats with red detailing matched the exterior, but didn’t show any signs of wear. Mikaela probably spent a lot of time detailing the car to keep it as spotless as it was.

“I have the legal paperwork if you want to see it,” Mikaela answered, slightly offended. She actually did have paperwork for Drift, even if she suspected that it came from less than legal methods. The title and registration for a white Subaru Impreza WRX that matched Drift’s description—as well as license plates and auto insurance cards—had been in a package that had arrived for Mikaela shortly after Drift had moved in. Drift pointed out that it had likely been set up by Autobot Intelligence in order to maintain the fiction that Drift was just an ordinary vehicle.

Several extensive government NDAs, as well as a promise to Optimus Prime, meant that Mikaela was not going to be able to mention fifteen foot tall alien robots to her father, no matter how much she wanted to. That meant Drift would just need to act like an ordinary car when her father was around. It had taken a few long discussions, but eventually Drift had agreed to even let Mikaela drive him—within a very narrow set of circumstances.

Mikaela pretended to start Drift, then put him into gear and smoothly backed out of the parking space. As she drove towards the exit Mikaela turned up the radio, which was tuned to a local soft jazz station. It was one of those stations that didn’t have a DJ in the middle of the night, so music and commercials followed a pre-recorded routine.

Roman was quiet while Mikaela navigated the quiet city streets and merged onto the nearly empty highway headed back towards Tranquility.

“I didn’t mean to accuse you,” Roman broke the silence. He really hadn’t meant it to come out like that, but the car was more than they had been able to afford, even before he got locked up. He also knew his wife’s sister wouldn’t have been able to buy it for Mikaela.

“It’s okay,” Mikaela repled.

“No, it’s not okay,” Roman pointed out. He it had been four years ago, but he still felt bad for what Mikaela had gone through.

“It really is. Things got better for me. I even got my juvenile record wiped and purged.” Mikaela suspected that Secretary Keller had been more responsible for that than Simmons had been, through. For somebody who had declared her to be ‘jailbait,’ Simmons had been a little too interested in her... assets.

“The government never truly forgets anything,” Roman said bleakly.

“I got it in writing, and that’s the important part,” Mikaela said. She couldn’t explain that she’d had the government’s balls in a vice, and she’d had some very large backup. Even she had been able to tell that Optimus Prime was a master negotiator as he’d talked circles around the government bureaucrats that had swarmed the Autobots during the early days.

Roman changed the topic.

“How are things going?” he asked. It had been four years, after all. He’d lost four years of Mikaela’s life, of seeing her grow older, graduate from high school.

“It’s going well.” Mikaela chose to sidestep the question. “We’re going to Aunt Elaine’s right now. You can crash on the couch tonight. Tomorrow, she has an appointment set up for you with a caseworker to help you find housing, a job, stuff like that.”

While good to know, that wasn’t what Roman wanted to hear. “That’s good to know, but how about your life, Mikaela?” He had missed so much.

“I’m doing well.” Mikaela said. “I house sit for a friend and I build custom cycles on commission.” That was the publicly acceptable version of her life.

“Who is this ‘friend’ you’re house sitting for?” Roman asked suspiciously.

“He’s currently stationed overseas,” Mikaela explained. It was a version of the truth. A version that didn’t include 30 foot tall alien robotic lifeforms. “He knew I was looking for a place to move after high school. Instead of taking a risk with a random tenant, he preferred that I look after his place, so he offered me a deal. It works out for us.”

Mikaela saw the skeptical look on her father’s face out of the corner of her eye. “I promise, he’s a good guy.” Even if her trust in Optimus had been severely strained recently.

“But you won’t tell me his name?” Roman prodded. For him, that was suspicious.

“He wants to keep his privacy,” Mikaela said. It wasn’t the strongest cover story, she knew.

“I just don’t want you taken advantage of,” Roman explained.

Mikaela snorted. “If anybody’s being taken advantage of, it’s him. After all, I get to live rent-free. I just need to maintain it and make sure squatters don’t move in.”

“So you live alone,” Roman stated.

“Not... exactly.” Mikaela had practiced her story with Drift, so she had it down. But she knew her father still wouldn’t like it.

“I live with a couple of guys,” she admitted, waiting for the possible blow up.

“‘Guys?’” Roman said, voice rising dangerously. The lights of an oncoming truck briefly lit up the interior of the car before plunging them back into darkness.

“It’s not like that,” Mikaela defended. “One of them’s a kid.”

“A kid?” Roman asked, suddenly alarmed. “Not yours?”

“Hell no.” Mikaela quickly reassured him. “The little shit’s a pre-teen. He’s not a bad kid, but the relatives he was living with were horrible. His nicer relatives found out about him and got custody, but needed someplace for him to stay while they get other arrangements figured out. Since they didn’t want the authorities to get involved, they asked me if I’d look after him.”

Mikaela realized that didn't sound any better out loud than it had when they had been coming up with the story in the first place. How else could she explain the situation, though?

Memories of how his choices had fucked up Mikaela’s life flashed through Roman’s mind. “And does this kid have a name?”

“Wheelie.”

“Interesting name... but not the worst I’ve heard.”

“His whole family is like that.” Now that was an understatement.

“How are you dealing with having a kid around?” Maybe Mikaela had changed in the last few years, but she’d never been the mothering type.

“He largely takes care of himself... in that he pretty much just sits around all day and all night gaming until I just want to punt the little shit across the room.” Not that Mikaela had. Though sometimes she really, really, wanted to.

“Sounds like your typical pre-teen.”

“I wasn’t that bad, was I?” Mikaela asked, looking sideways at her father. His face was shadowed in the gloom of the dash lights.

“You were a little angel,” Roman lied through his teeth.

Mikaela just snorted in reply. “You must have early-onset Alzheimer's, then. I was a little shit.”

“You weren’t that bad,” Roman said out of family loyalty. After all, Mikaela was his daughter.

Roman got back on topic. “How did you meet this kid in the first place?” he asked.

Mikaela winced. “He got caught stealing.” Her father would not be happy about that.

“From you?” Roman asked, flatly.

Mikaela just nodded.

“Mikaela!” Roman exclaimed.

“It was okay!” Mikaela said defensively. “Idiot got his ass caught by Drift.”

Roman zeroed in on the new name immediately. “And who’s Drift?”

“My other roommate.” Mikaela replied. Such a simple answer that left out so many things that Drift was to her. “Drift’s a soldier. He didn’t want to live on base, so he crashes at my place when he’s around and helps out. You probably won’t even see him around”

The irony practically filled the inside of the car. After all, Roman was currently riding inside of Drift.

Roman didn’t think it worked that way. But then, what did he know about being in the army? “And how old is Drift?” he asked instead.

Oh, shit. She didn’t anticipate that question. Mikaela scrambled to make up a reply that sounded plausible. “I never asked him his exact age. Maybe late 20’s, early 30’s.”

Mikaela, on the other hand, was only nineteen. Roman didn’t like the sound of that.

Mikaela accurately read the look on her father’s face. “It’s not like that,” she protested.

“But you’d like it to be,” Roman observed.

He saw as the wheels started turning in Mikaela’s head and Roman could just about slap himself for saying that. If Mikaela hadn’t considered jumping the older soldier she was living with previously, she sure was thinking about it now.

“Well...” Mikaela hesitated, then proved her father right, much to his dismay. “I hadn’t thought about him like that before. But, thinking about it now, I wouldn’t mind the possibility. I don’t think it’s going to happen, though.”

Mikaela felt the subtle hiccup in Drift’s normally smooth engine. She knew that Drift would pin her down later to talk about this. She just hoped she hadn’t weirded him out.

“What’s wrong?” Roman wasn’t completely blind. He could see that Mikaela was growing into a stunning woman—just like her mother. “Is the guy gay or something?” Don’t Ask Don’t Tell didn’t prevent gays from serving in the US military after all.

“Never asked,” Mikaela said, “but my money is on ‘or something.’” After all, Cybertronians, despite the fact that they used gendered pronouns in English, didn’t actually have a concept of gender like humans did. That understanding had come in the aftermath of a long, confusing lesson with Ratchet.

“What does that mean?” Roman, not having the background Mikaela did, was just confused.

“I don’t know yet.”

Mikaela snuck a glance at her father. He was looking very tired now, and they still had a little while until their exit. “Why don’t you get some rest? We have a little ways left to Aunt Elaine’s.”

Roman didn’t want to, but he was staring to get groggy. Not that he was going to let Mikaela get away without telling him all about her prospective boyfriend. But, didn’t she already have a boyfriend...

Roman faded off to sleep.

***

It was the small hours of the morning before Drift finally rolled into the warehouse with Mikaela asleep in the front seat. After dropping off her drowsy father at Aunt Elaine’s, Drift had taken over the driving, while Mikaela napped.

Drift parked first, then, after the door had closed behind them, he gently woke up Mikaela. She half stumbled/half fell out of Drift, only staying upright by leaning heavily on Drift’s open door.

After Mikaela had slowly gathered herself and started walking towards the small bathroom/locker room next to her workshop, she heard Drift transforming behind her. Then, she heard a strange sound.

Turning, she noticed that Drift was shuddering, armor plates rapidly shifting and resetting, making a sound similar to a very heavy rain on a tin roof.

“You okay?” Mikaela asked.

“... yes.” Drift sounded hesitant. Mikaela also noticed that he looked unsettled as he brushed down the armor of his arms using his hands.

“Was it me driving, or my father being inside?” Mikaela asked directly. She was too tired to beat around the metaphorical bush.

“... both,’” Drift quietly admitted. “It was more unsettling than I thought it would be.”

Mikaela considered that for a long second. “I have literally no idea how that must actually feel.” She couldn’t help but wonder if Drift had felt that way when they first met. He’d never mentioned it, and she’d never asked.

“I can use my motorcycle instead,” Mikaela offered. “I just need to buy a second helmet.” Her personal motorcycle was still sitting in the back of the warehouse, unused since Drift had started living there.

Drift shook his head. “That’s not needed,” he stated firmly. He didn’t want Mikaela to use the motorcycle, because it would make it harder for him to protect her.

Mikaela took Drift at his word. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Drift considered the offer. “Not that I can think of. I’ll just have to deal with it.”

“You don’t have to ‘deal with it’ if you don’t want to,” Mikaela said. “We can find an alternative.”

“I’ll be fine,” Drift reassured her again. He didn’t want her worrying about him when she was already emotionally ragged from seeing her father for the first time in four years.

Mikaela was honestly too tired to argue, so she just nodded and turned back around. A quick trip to the locker room to change and brush her teeth, then she burrowed into her nest of blankets next to Drift’s spot. He’d join her when he was ready.

A few minutes later, Mikaela drifted off to sleep to the quiet ‘shush’ of Drift’s feet on concrete.

Chapter Text

December 2009

Barricade was curious.

After Megatron’s death, Barricade had slipped away from the battlefield in the chaos. For the last two years he had been forced to hide among the humans, stealing their inferior fleshling fuels to distill into energon in order to stay alive. His energon still was carefully hidden to prevent the fleshlings from finding it, so he had a small supply of energon.

But the still was also a physical tether around his neck. Barricade couldn’t leave it unattended too long and risk it being discovered, but he still needed to travel far enough away for his raids so that the pattern could not be traced back to him. As it was, the humans were getting cannier. It was getting harder for Barricade to stay one step ahead of the Autobot’s Decepticon hunters.

Barricade somehow managed to keep his eye on what was happening in Tranquility. He noticed that, interestingly enough, the Prime’s scout, Bumblebee, never rejoined the rest of the team. Rather, Bumblebee was still in Tranquility. Barricade wanted to know why.

It was not the first time he had played a high-risk version of hide and seek with Autobot scouts. Further surveillance revealed that Bumblebee had shacked up with the fleshling known as Ladiesman217. Kept out in the garage no less, Barricade noted with dark amusement.

Since the scout was protecting the meatbag, presumably it was still valuable to Prime in some way. The presence of the Autobot scout, however, made it difficult for Barricade to get close enough to find out why.

So, Barricade watched, searching for a weakness he could exploit.

He watched as the Autobot scout played chauffeur to the fleshbag, carrying it around town. It was too dangerous for him to follow Bumblebee around town, so Barricade focused on the pair’s infrequent trips out of town.

During the first year, many trips were to what Barricade assumed was the Autobot’s current base. Barricade hadn’t yet regained his communications link with Decepticon high command, so he did not have the backup needed to mount a direct attack. So Barricade just took note of the location and stayed away.

When the scout’s trips to the base suddenly stopped Barricade concluded that the Autobots must have moved bases.

However, after the move Bumblebee started taking frequent trips to a nearby town. Barricade wanted to find out if it was the location of the Autobot’s new headquarters.

That was how Barricade eventually found himself slowly cruising the streets of a small, unadvanced strip of mud that liked to pretend it was a town.

He liked the fear and caution that humans tended to display towards his alt form. But Barricade didn’t like how, when he was out driving, other cars on the road would start slowing down. He couldn’t even flash his lights at them too often in case it brought the wrong attention.

Barricade wished he could transform and tear every one of the worthless fleshlings to pieces. But he was a survivor. Barricade knew how to play the game. So, instead he hunted. Slowly. Carefully.

The Autobot scout was cunning and had gone to great lengths to obscure his trail. But Barricade was better.

***

One cold evening Mikaela walked out of the dojo, waving goodbye to other students.

Things had gone smoothly. No hallucinations this time — unlike last week when the Japanese calligraphy on the wall had come to life and started shifting around, forming enigmatic Cybertronian glyphs. She’d had to plead dizziness and sit on the sidelines for the rest of the class. While Mikaela didn’t think she had said anything out loud during the vision, the fact something was wrong with her had been very noticeable to the rest of the class. She just hoped they didn’t think she was crazy.

It was becoming harder to hide these episodes when she was out in public. Drift — stuck in his alt form and without a holoform — could not be there to help.

As Drift and Mikaela pulled out of the parking lot in the fading winter light, neither noticed the patrol car parked discreetly down the street under some trees.

***

Barricade was intrigued. After searching the town and the surrounding area he hadn’t found any tell-tale signs of a hidden Autobot base. Instead, he found the female fleshling claimed by Ladiesman217. And there was an unknown Autobot with her. White armor, with a speedster build. Nobody he recognized, and Barricade made a point to know the more notorious members of the Autobot army. Chances were, this mech wouldn’t be a challenge.

Barricade smiled viciously. A new player had entered the field. He wondered how well this new Autobot would die.

Barricade was also cocky. That night, after he lost sight of the Autobot, he lost their track as well. There were too many old tracks in the area. The old tracks muddled the new track, making it impossible to follow. It was frustrating, but the amount of old tracks also meant that the two probably lived in town. Barricade would find them eventually.

However, it took Barricade another two weeks to locate where the girl and the Autobot were living, and that pissed him off.

Grumbling to himself, Barricade watched their location from a safe distance. The activity in neighboring buildings gave him some cover, but if he lingered too long the other fleshlings would get nervous — or curious. More than one bold human had to be sent running with a stern glare from his hardlight hologram.

Barricade waited. Information was power, and he wanted to know who this Autobot was before the attack.

***

“We’ll be back later this evening, Wheelie,” Mikaela said over her shoulder as she walked out of the loft with her bag slung over her shoulder. While Mikaela had largely ceded the loft to Wheelie and spent most of her nights sleeping in a nest of blankets next to Drift, she still used the loft for showers and meals. She also stored most of her clothes and personal belongings in the bedroom.

The small mech sitting on the couch waved absently at Mikaela, and the sounds of loud explosions didn’t even pause. Wheelie was used to Mikaela and Drift coming and going. He was just happy to get the loft to himself without Mikaela around to bitch at him.

Drift was in his alt form and waiting for her impatiently at the bottom of the stairs. Mikaela eagerly tossed her bag into the passenger seat and slid into the driver’s seat. Drift closed his door behind her as Mikaela buckled the harness.

“Where to this time?” Mikaela asked Drift as he pulled out of the warehouse.

“I was planning on taking the long route to the glade, get in some sword practice, and take the scenic way back.” The long route was a series of two-lane country roads that wound through the mountains and forests. The challenge would give Drift the opportunity to work off some of his excess energy on the way. The return trip would be along major highways, perfect for a leisurely cruise.

“Sounds good,” Mikaela said, settling in for the trip.

As they left the city behind, Drift asked Mikaela the question that was most frequently on his mind these days. “Have you been having any new visions?”

Over the last couple of months Drift had been keeping track of the symptoms related to Mikaela’s visions. During their weekly drives Mikaela debriefed Drift about any incidents he may have missed, and they talked about possible strategies to handle them.

Mikaela’s most common hallucinations were visual hallucinations where she saw Cybertronian glyphs move and rearrange themselves. Mikaela had copied out some of the most frequent glyph sets for Drift, but he was largely unable to translate them. Except for one glyph set which, oddly, translated roughly as ‘Kilroy was here.’

Drift hoped that was a weird joke of Primus’ and not a cryptic warning.

“Mostly the usual.” Mikaela fidgeted with the straps of her harness restlessly. “The glyphs have been showing up more often. Sometimes even when I’m reading the stuff from Ratchet.”

At first the glyphs had been just flickers in the corner of Mikaela’s eye. Those, she could ignore. Eventually it grew, though. Mikaela could hardly make it through a trip to the grocery store without having a short vision. People were starting to notice. Mikaela would probably have to quit going to the dojo soon at this rate.

“Do they mean anything?” Drift might not be able to interpret most of them, but maybe, in time, Mikaela would.

“Not really...” Mikaela shook her head. “It... it feels like I know them. I think I should understand them. But it’s like grasping at smoke. It just slips through my fingers.” Mikaela was frustrated. The harder she tried to understand, the more elusive that understanding became.

“Try to relax, just let them be,” Drift advised. “Acknowledge their existence, then let them pass by. You will be able to understand when you need to understand.”

“I’m trying to relax!” Mikaela said loudly and emphatically, her long-simmering frustration with the situation boiling over as she banged her hands on the steering wheel.

Drift was silent as the force of Mikaela’s outburst cut the conversation off. He slowed down to a safe speed and left driving to his automatic navigation systems while he focused his higher level processors on Mikaela.

Mikaela slumped back in the seat, her hands grasping at the air like she wanted to tear something to pieces. Mikaela wrapped her arms around herself, trying to bring herself under control.

“I’m here to help you,” Drift said softly, trying to defuse the situation.

Mikaela bowed her head. “I know.” Emotion choked her voice. “And... I’m sorry.”

Truthfully, Drift didn’t know what to do. He had no experience with anything like this. All he could do was dredge up old lessons and half-remembered bullshit and throw it at Mikaela’s problem and hope. Drift didn’t dare tell Mikaela just how out of his depth he felt. The last thing Mikaela needed was his uncertainty amplifying her own fear.

“Are the visions only visual?” Drift asked instead.

Mikaela nodded. “I haven’t had one of the freaky full-sensory experience hallucinations since October,” she said softly.

If Mikaela ever had another one of those, Drift had asked her to tell him immediately, even if she woke him up during the middle of his recharge cycle. Drift had still ended up cutting his recharge short out of worry.

At least, he had until Mikaela finally noticed and guilted him into sleeping a full recharge cycle again.

“Try to get some meditation in while I practice,” Drift suggested. Drift had started teaching Mikaela a few meditative techniques in the beginning, but the effort had gained special urgency since the visions started. What little he knew of formal religious practice suggested it was important, but Drift had very little experience to draw on. Organized religion hadn’t been that important among the gutters of the Dead End.

Mikaela smiled, bittersweet. “I’ll try, but it’ll probably be the hardest meditation I’ve ever tried. You’re very distracting with a sword.” She ran her hands down the soft leather sides of the seat.

“Try,” Drift said dryly.

“Yes, Drift,” Mikaela sing-songed back half-heartedly in a pale imitation of her usual light-hearted mockery.

Drift wasn’t sure if he was reading Mikaela’s non-verbal cues correctly. Mikaela had been more tactile than usual in the last few weeks, but he was unsure where the line was between erotic sensuality and simple comfort for humans. Human media was highly contradictory and confusing when it came to relationships.

Drift hadn’t decided yet how to handle Mikaela’s admission that she might be open to deepening their relationship. There were many complications, and the fact he was an ex-Decepticon was just one of them.

For one, Drift recognized that Mikaela was highly dependent on him, and that worried him. Especially now that Optimus Prime had effectively cut her off from any Autobot assistance. The Prime had worded his order so vaguely that Drift and Mikaela didn’t know what he considered ‘classified’ information. Even after the order Ratchet was still sharing detailed technical information with Mikaela that was far beyond what Optimus Prime had authorized released to any human agency. However, Drift’s coding objected to him asking the Prime for clarification. Given the mood that the Prime had been in the last time they had talked, Drift couldn’t risk that the Prime would order them separated.

Drift also didn’t want Mikaela to start a relationship with him because she felt like she had no choice, or that she owed him.

“I’m afraid,” Mikaela whispered into the quiet.

“I’m here,” was all that Drift could say. He wished he could say that it was all going to be okay, that everything would be fine, that Mikaela would wake up one morning and that this would all be just a passing nightmare. But he couldn’t. He could only be there for her.

“Thanks,” Mikaela said softly, sinking backwards into the firm support of Drift’s seat, cradled by the webbing of the harness.

Drift turned his attention back to the road as he took the off ramp to the county road that lead to their current secret spot. He had his own centering to do before he could give his sword forms the attention they deserved.

Mikaela and Drift spent the rest of the drive in a companionable silence.

***

Barricade grinned maliciously. Now this... this was an opportunity too good to pass up.

He watched from a distance, carefully camouflaged among the trees, as the white Autobot ran through sword forms. It didn’t matter that the mech had clearly had a complete rebuild. It didn’t matter that he now used swords instead of blasters. Barricade would know that mech anywhere.

It was his old rival Deadlock. And the mech was looking very healthy for a craven deserter and turncoat. How had he evaded the Decepticon Justice Division for this long?

Barricade growled lowly. At one time Barricade and Deadlock had both vied for Megatron’s attention. Deadlock had won, and become Megatron’s favored pupil, while Barricade was assigned to be a mere scout.

He had rejoiced when Deadlock had mysteriously fallen from Megatron’s grace and disappeared into the lower ranks of the Decepticon army while Barricade had risen to be one of Megatron’s elites.

And now... here was Deadlock. Complete with bright, shiny Autobot brands. Brands so new Barricade could practically smell the enamel. Slumming it with the humans like the rest of Prime’s degenerate ‘elite’ command team.

Barricade scoffed to himself. Deadlock couldn’t get attention from Megatron anymore, so he went running to the Autobots to lick the Prime’s feet — and probably other parts of Prime as well.

Barricade snarled. He wasn’t able to get revenge on Prime for killing Megatron, the Prime was too well guarded. But Deadlock... Deadlock was alone. And as a Decepticon turned Autobot, he wouldn’t be able count on his so-called ‘teammates’ for help.

Barricade knew now was not the time to strike, through. Deadlock was on his feet and would be ready to meet an attack. No. It was better to wait until Deadlock was at his most vulnerable, then strike.

Barricade withdrew silently, covering his tracks until he got back to the road, then transformed and casually drove away. He had time, now.

Time to set up the perfect ambush.

Time to plan his revenge.

Chapter Text

December 2009

Mikaela met her father at a small coffee shop in Tranquility. The shop had been one of her favorites during high school. It was cheap, there was a lot of room to hang out, and it was on the main drag through town.

Now, though, Mikaela felt vaguely out of place among the rustic wooden tables and rack of old newspapers. The shop was exactly as she remembered it, down to the decorative coffee roaster in the corner with its handful of artistically arranged coffee sacks. It hadn’t changed, but Mikaela had.

Roman Banes rising from his seat in the corner next to the front picture window didn’t help Mikaela’s impression of timeless history. In the bright light of day Mikaela could see what she had missed the night she had picked her father up from jail. He was a little bit older, his eyes were a little more pinched around the corners, and his hair had a little more gray.

But he still had the same smile.

Mikaela waved to him. “I’m going to get something first,” she said, setting her backpack on the chair next to Roman. “Anything you want?”

Roman shook his head as he sat down. There was a large cup of black coffee in front of him already. “I’m fine.”

Mikaela walked up to the counter and ordered something with too many syllables and a lot of cream and sugar. Even though she’d had to cut down on her training sessions at the dojo, it didn’t get her out of training sessions with Drift. He’d pushed her hard during practice yesterday, and she felt like a treat.

Mikaela slid into the seat next to her father, looking out the window at the storefronts across the street. Sitting back she took a long sip while she gathered her thoughts.

“So, how’d it go with Drift?” Roman asked first. Not that he wanted to know how Mikaela’s love life was going, but he did want to know who to beat up when they broke Mikaela’s heart.

Mikaela took a moment to recover from nearly inhaling her drink. “It hasn’t,” she said shortly. “We haven’t talked about it.”

In fact, Drift hadn’t even mentioned it at all. Mikaela didn’t know why. She ignored the fact that Drift was parked just a couple spots down the street and could easily be listening in.

“So soldier boy hasn’t been around?” Roman wouldn’t say that he was jealous, but he was jealous. He wondered if all fathers got this way about their daughters.

“He’s been around, but we have other things to talk about.”

“Like what?” Roman asked.

History, sociology, philosophy, mechanics, meditation, religion, poetry...” Mikaela trailed off.

Roman could only blink at the eclectic list of topics. What kind of guy was Drift?

Mikaela saw the surprised look on her father’s face and laughed. “You weren’t expecting that, were you?”

“Absolutely not,” Roman said. He wondered if Mikaela was telling the truth or if she was joking with him.

He didn’t have long to think about it.

“Mikaela?” A tentative voice asked from behind the two Banes’.

Mikaela twisted in her seat to get a better look.

“Trent?” she said, astonished, after she got a good look at the man standing a short distance away. He was still tall, blonde, and with very nice... arms. However, there was something different with how Trent carried himself.

“I don’t want to interrupt or anything...” Trent said politely, tentatively stepping forward.

That was different, Mikaela thought. Trent hadn’t been too shy about making himself the center of attention before.

Mikaela remembered her manners and shook her head. “No, it’s fine.” Mikaela could live with the potential embarrassment of introducing her father to one of her exes. It was easier than many of the other introductions she was avoiding.

Trent’s eyes slid sideways, and Mikaela mentally hit herself. “This is my father, Roman Banes,” she introduced them. Roman stood up and leaned over the table to briefly shake Trent’s hand. “Dad, this is Trent DeMarco.”

Trent stood there for a moment, looking at Roman Banes in confusion. He’d been over to Mikaela’s Aunt’s house several times to pick her up and had never seen this guy before.

Then Trent remembered a rumor from high school. “Weren’t you...” Trent started to ask, then almost visibly bit back the rest of his sentence.

Mikaela continued to be surprised. Trent never used to notice when he was being a douche. Apparently some time in the last couple of years Trent had learned manners.

“Yes I was,” Roman said steadily and waved Trent to sit down across from Mikaela and Roman.

“So, what brings you here–” Roman started to ask before Mikaela interrupted.

“What are you doing here? Aren’t you in college?” she said, leaning forward.

Trent shook his head. “I’m surprised you haven’t heard.”

“After graduation I found out that my friends weren’t as good as I thought they were.” Mikaela sat back and left it at that. Some of her friends had gone on to college, some got married, and some were pregnant. Mikaela had stopped paying attention to social media over a year ago. It was better for her peace of mind.

“Same,” Trent said bleakly. “I had a lot of things to think about after... well...” he trailed off.

Roman sat back and watched the teenage drama unfolding. He knew so little about the people who had been in Mikaela’s life while he had been away.

“Thinking is surprisingly hard,” Mikaela observed gently.

Trent looked up, expecting to see a mocking look on Mikaela’s face, but instead he found understanding. He had the sudden feeling that Mikaela was being honest.

“I realized...” Trent found it hard to say while looking at Mikaela in the face, so he looked down at the table. “I took you for granted,” he admitted, ashamed. “While we were dating... I... didn’t treat you like you should have been treated. I was an assohole and... I’m sorry.”

There. He’d gotten it out.

“Trent,” Mikaela said softly.

Trent nodded but kept his head down. His eyes traced the patterns in the solid wood table top.

“Look at me Trent, please?” Mikaela said.

Trent looked up. Mikaela was looking straight at him.

Both of them were completely ignoring Roman now. He stayed silent, watching. This was something Trent obviously needed to get off his shoulders. He also approved of the young man apologizing for whatever it was he’d done.

“I’m sorry too,” Mikaela said.

Trent was visibly surprised.

“Like you, I’ve had some time to think and come to some not so pleasant realizations. I realised I took you for granted. I used you. And dumping you the way I did... I’d understand if you never wanted to see me again.”

Trent shook his head. “I was the asshole. I fully deserved to get dumped. Damnnit, I pretty much ran you off!”

“We were both assholes, then,” Mikaela said, but she could see that Trent wasn’t quite convinced.

“I forgive you, Trent,” Mikaela said softly. “Can you forgive me?”

“Of course.” Not that he thought there was anything for him for forgive.

Mikaela smiled widely and held out a hand. “Hello, my name is Mikaela Banes. Nice to meet you.” It was corny, but she didn’t have any better ideas right now.

Confused, Trent took her hand and stared at Mikaela for a long moment, gobsmacked. Slowly, understanding came and he shook her hand firmly. “My name is Trent DeMarco. Nice to meet you as well,” he replied.

“That always works better in movies, doesn’t it?” Mikaela said as they dropped hands.

Trent laughed, perhaps harder than the quip deserved, but part of it was sheer relief for getting through the conversation.

“Witwicky is a lucky guy.” Trent said, as his laughter trailed off.

“Sam and I are no longer together,” Mikaela said simply. Despite what Sam had done, breaking up with him had still hurt. After all, she’d dated him longer than any of her previous boyfriends. It had taken time for Mikaela to come to peace with the fact.

“Sorry...” Trent said.

Mikaela waved away his apology. “You have nothing to be sorry about. We just grew apart, that’s all.”

Trent still looked awkward.

“What are you doing now?” Mikaela asked, changing the subject.

“I’m joining the military,” Trent admitted.

“What!” The exclamation slipped out. Trent was the last person that Mikaela would have pegged as going into the military. His goal throughout high school was to land an athletic scholarship. And if that didn’t work out, his family was certainly wealthy enough...

“I found out my parents were living paycheck to paycheck, only their paychecks were paying for luxury cars and European vacations,” Trent admitted. “Between mom losing her job and the market crash...” He shrugged, embarrassed. It seemed like everybody in town already knew about it. “The house is in foreclosure and the bank repoed dad’s Porsche last week.”

“But, scholarships...” Mikaela started.

“Wasn’t talented enough for a sports scholarship, grades weren’t good enough for an academic scholarship, and on paper my parents made too much money for a need-based scholarship. My only option left was taking out a shit ton of loans. After seeing my parents melt down over the last few months, I’m not doing that. I looked at community college and trade schools, but this... just felt right.”

“I wish you the best,” Mikaela said. Because, what else could she say.

She and Trent chatted for a few more minutes before Trent had to leave.

Roman stayed out of the conversation. He didn’t have anything productive to add, and it gave him the opportunity to observe Mikaela.

Since leaving prison Roman found that he didn’t take the simple pleasures in life for granted anymore. He no longer took for granted having a cup of fresh coffee and hanging out with his daughter. He was just glad he could be a part of her life again.

After Trent left, Mikaela turned her attention back towards her father.

“So, ex-boyfriend?” Roman asked.

Mikaela nodded, and took a large sip of her drink to settle her dry throat.

“Trent and I dated for a few months in high school. He was on the football team. Attractive. And a complete and utter douchebag.” Mikaela shrugged. “Apparently we’ve both grown up since then.”

“What about this... Witiky boy? I thought you were still with him, but you just said that you split.”

Mikaela had to smile at her father’s butchering of Sam’s name. It had always bugged Sam like a pebble in his shoe. “Sam and I broke up a few months ago...” Mikaela hesitated. How to explain this without getting into details that would have her father out for Sam’s head?

“We dated for a couple of years before I realized that the relationship had died somewhere along the way and I never noticed it.” How much Mikaela missed Sam after they broke up had shaken her, even knowing that the relationship had become dysfunctional.

Mikaela leaned back in her chair, cradling her cooling drink and staring out the window. She could just see Drift’s rear spoiler in the right side of the large picture window. “And... well... I met Drift. I’m not saying that Drift pushed me to break up with Sam, but Drift... makes me want to be a better person. I don’t care if we stay friends or if we become something... else. Because I would be... I am perfectly happy being Drift’s friend.”

Both Roman and Mikaela were silent for a time after Mikaela’s confession.

“You know,” Roman said eventually. “That’s how I felt about your mother.”

He looked over at Mikaela. “That’s not permission to go jumping into something,” he said firmly.

Mikaela just grinned wistfully. “Drift wouldn’t let me,” she said.

As far as Roman could tell, Mikaela believed it.

Roman just shook his head.

“But how about you?” Mikaela asked, changing the topic of the conversation away from her potential romantic entanglement. “How are you settling in?”

“Your motorcycle is running fine,” her father said, purposefully side stepping her question.

Mikaela mock-growled at him. “It’s your motorcycle now. Besides, I wasn’t asking about the motorcycle.” Before Drift had shown up it had been her prized possession. Ever since he’d become her guardian, however, the motorcycle had sat in the back of the shop, unused. It was a relief for Mikaela to give it to her father. At least it was being used and appreciated now.

“Don’t worry about me, baby girl. I’ll be fine.” Roman tried to reassure Mikaela.

However, Roman’s words rubbed Mikaela the wrong way. It was too close to how Optimus had repeatedly brushed away her concerns.

Narrowing her eyes, she scowled at him. “Don’t do that,” she said curtly. “Don’t try to wave it all away and pretend like everything is fine.”

Roman was surprised by Mikaela’s intensity. She hadn’t been this way before. He was struck by just how much his baby girl had grown up.

Roman looked at Mikaela for a long moment, then sagged in his chair. He tried to casually rake his hair back from his face, but Mikaela could see the stress her father was under in the subtle shake of his hands as he held onto the back of his neck. His throat worked for several seconds until he finally admitted, softly, “it’s not going well. I can’t find a place to live without more cash, and I can’t get cash unless I have a job.” He saw the look in Mikaela’s face. “A legit job.”

“I can help with the cash,” Mikaela offered. She’d have to check with the lawyers who managed the trust Bumblebee set up for her, but she was sure she had enough.

“It’s not just that, Mikaela,” Roman said, defeated. “Landlords also want to rent to people who are working, or they don’t want to rent to somebody with a record.”

Roman sighed and sat back in his chair, crossing his arms across his chest. “With the economy the way it is, nobody wants to hire. People can barely afford to keep the employees they have.” It wasn’t something he had ever wanted to admit to his daughter. He wanted to be the strong one. Instead, it was Mikaela leaning sideways to hug him. Mikaela took her father’s hand and interlaced their fingers and squeezed.

Mikaela didn’t tell her father that it would be all okay. She didn’t know that. Like Drift was for her, Mikaela could only be there to support her father, even if it was just with a hug.

They sat like that for several long minutes.

Chapter Text

December 2009

It was the day before Christmas. Mikaela had already bought and wrapped the gifts for her family, though keeping them away from Wheelie’s slippery little fingers had required some trickery. Christmas dinner was at Aunt Elaine’s house, so Mikaela had to keep everything unmolested until then.

When the Autobots investigated the incident later, they discovered that the warehouse security system had been compromised while Drift and Mikaela were away. There was no warning.

Drift and Mikaela had been coming back from a trip to the grocery store. Everything appeared normal as Drift remotely triggered the large roll up door to open.

It happened just as Drift pulled into the warehouse.

A sudden explosion of superheated plasma licked across the armor of Drift’s passenger side door and the force of the explosion threw him sideways. Drift triggered a quick transformation in order to meet the attacker on his feet.

Mikaela and the bag of groceries that had been in his back seat were sent tumbling across the concrete floor. Mikaela rolled to a stop at the base of the staircase leading up to the loft.

Drift — his transformation finished — spun and crouched, shielding Mikaela behind his body. His armor pinged as cooling subroutines started to shed excess heat and auto-healing subroutines started triaging damage.

It only took Drift a split second to recognize the mech standing next to the open door.

“Barricade,” Drift spat out scornfully.

Barricade grinned, tossing aside a plasma cannon and drawing a large mace from his subspace.

Drift sent a quick, coded distress signal across Autobot frequencies, but Barricade had been ready for the attempt. The signal was blocked by signal dampers Barricade had set up. The dampers weren’t sophisticated enough to stand up to even a half-assed hacker, but as long as Barricade kept him busy, Drift wouldn’t have the concentration required to break them.

Knowing there would be no backup coming, Drift drew his twin short swords and met Barricade’s charge head-on.

“What brings you here?” Drift demanded in quick Cybertronian, face to face with Barricade.

It had been hundreds of thousands of years since they had seen each other, much less tested each other’s capabilities. Drift could feel his battle-lust rising, tempered by Wing’s teachings, giving him strength through purpose.

“I’m here for you, Deadlock,” Barricade spat out spitefully, purposefully speaking in English. “I’ll take care of that little human pet of yours too.” Barricade wanted Deadlock’s little pet to hear. After all, terror made the chase more interesting.

Behind Drift, a stunned Mikaela lay on the ground at the bottom of the staircase. The concrete had left road rash on her hands, sides, and knees. She was dazed and in shock from the rapid attack, but she still had the overwhelming urge to get up and run. Drift had drilled it into her through repeated practice. If he ever got into a fight, Mikaela was supposed to run away, hide, and call for help.

Mikaela didn’t know if she’d survive the next few minutes.

Meanwhile, Drift successfully forced the other mech to the far side of the warehouse, away from Mikaela and the loft. However, that didn’t stop Barricade from lifting the second gun he was still holding in his off hand and shooting the loft.

The detonation sent debris flying. Mikaela was thrown back down to the ground by the blast. She curled up with her arms over her head in a vain attempt to shield herself, but was knocked unconscious.

Mikaela fell limp.

Drift flinched as his sensors registered a slight dip in Mikaela’s vitals. He wanted to run to Mikaela and make sure she was alright, but he couldn’t because of Barricade.

Barricade noticed Deadlock’s momentary hesitation and swiftly took advantage. With a powerful blow to the head, Deadlock was briefly stunned. Barricade took the opportunity to kick out one of Deadlock’s knees, driving the other mech to one knee and limiting his mobility.

As Mikaela slowly regained consciousness, she numbly stared at the burning loft above her. She could not move her body.

Out of the corner of her eye, Mikaela noticed Wheelie curled up underneath the remains of the staircase, hiding. He looked at her with terror filled eyes, shaking hard.

Mikaela was glad that Wheelie hadn’t been in the loft when it exploded. Somebody needed to get out alive.

With a detached, fatalistic calmness, she caught glimpses of the showdown between Drift and the mech she now recognized as Barricade.

It wasn’t looking good. Barricade’s initial shot, while it hadn’t penetrated, had damaged Drift’s armor enough that it provided a weak spot for him capitalize on.

Drift knew that he could not afford to lose. Sheer determination lent him the strength to rise to his feet and drive Barricade back, far enough that Drift could bring his blades in between himself and Barricade. A flurry of blows forced Barricade to back off from Drift while Barricade looked for his next opening.

Hidden underneath the stairs, Wheelie shook in terror. He had been downstairs fetching some energon in between gaming sessions when Barricade arrived. At first, Wheelie thought that it was Mikaela and Drift arriving home early. As soon as he saw a cop car instead of Drift, though, he’d hidden.

Fortunately for him, Wheelie had been in Mikaela’s workshop where there were plenty of tables, cabinets, and other stuff to hide behind. However, without any way to communicate with the outside world, or even with Mikaela and Drift, all he could do was hide and hope that Barricade would not find him.

Across the warehouse the confrontation between Drift and Barricade was not going well for Drift. Internal fluids streaked Drift’s explosion-charred side and down his leg. Drift was also down to only one short sword; the great sword was too large to use in the limited space available.

Barricade, on the other hand, was in much better shape than Drift, and had only had a few superficial cuts on his arms.

Wheelie looked around to see if there was something... anything he could use.

Mikaela’s purse was not far away, sitting in a puddle of orange juice. Wheelie didn’t know what it would be good for. Mikaela just used it to carry stuff like her keys, phone, sunglasses, and utterly random stuff like mints. Why anybody would carry something like mints around, Wheelie didn’t know. Crazy humans.

Then, it hit him. Mikaela’s phone! Mikaela’s phone was programmed with the personal comm codes of several members of Autobot high command.

Excitement overrode terror as Wheelie ignored the clamor of battle across the room and scampered out from underneath the staircase, grabbed the purse, and retreated back under the stairs.

During his brief sprint Wheelie got a better look at Mikaela. She wasn’t looking good. Wheelie didn’t think humans should be that color.

Back under the staircase, Wheelie pulled out Mikaela’s phone and unapologetically hacked the lock screen and pulled up Mikaela’s contact list. Prime, Ratchet, Ironhide, and Bumblebee. Which one to choose, though? They were all terrifying to Wheelie. He dithered for several long seconds before screwing his optics shut and picking one at random.

:Mikaela?: a low, gruff voice came from the phone’s speaker.

Wheelie squeaked, and then spoke quickly in a tremulous whisper. “Mikaela’s in trouble. Barricade’s here and he’s killing Drift!”

A sudden deafening crash rose from the other end of the warehouse, and was followed by an equally deafening silence. Wheelie frantically turned the volume down, but left the line open. It would have to do.

Wheelie felt Barricade’s heavy tread, completely different from Drift’s lighter stride, vibrate the concrete floor. He cowered back under the stairs as the steps came to a halt, then risked a quick peek around the side.

Across the warehouse, Drift lay on his back, struggling weakly as Barricade started to slowly stalk around him. One of Drift’s own short swords was impaled through his shoulder and deep in to the concrete below, pinning Drift to the ground. Helpless.

“Pitiful little Deadlock,” Barricade said menacingly. He picked up Drift’s second short sword. “Megatron’s prized pet no more. Look at you... writhing... helpless...” he said, mockingly.

With a sickening crunch he drove the sword through Drift’s other shoulder and deep into the concrete where it also stuck, pinning the mech twice over. The puddle of energon underneath Drift was quickly becoming a pond.

“You are... and always will be... WEAK!” Barricade snarled into Drift’s face.

Reaching down, Barricade drew the great sword from Drift’s back where it was still sheathed. Drift tried to protest, but his movements ground the edges of his swords into his wounds, opening up wider gashes in his energon lines and severing neural relays. Excruciating pain swamped his mind, blanking out all rational thought.

Barricade set aside the great sword and waited until he was sure that Deadlock was watching again. No use in doing this, if his audience was unaware.

Barricade knelt down next to the pinned. “So weak you can’t even protect one lowly fleshling,” Barricade murmured next to Drift’s head.

Barricade stood up and strode across the warehouse towards the burning loft where the frail creature lay injured. Looking down at it’s soft, easily broken body in disgust, Barricade said loudly, so that Drift could hear every word, “Listen to it cry out, Deadlock! Listen to the sound of your failure!”

Mikaela, in shock and in pain, couldn’t move as Barricade reached down and picked her up.

“Such a puny thing,” Barricade mused morbidly, turning it over in his hands like a large doll. “So weak and helpless.”

With a twist of his fingers, pain bloomed sharply in Mikaela’s left forearm.

Mikaela discovered that, while she couldn’t move, she could still scream.

Wheelie huddled under the staircase, trying not to listen to every wet ‘snap’ and the pained, animal screaming. Next to him sat Mikaela’s phone, still muted, but with the line still open.

Eventually the screaming broke as Mikaela’s overstressed vocal cords gave up, and faded away into harsh, grating breaths.

A few more minutes passed before Wheelie heard Barricade mutter a disappointed, “that’s it?” Then Wheelie heard a soft thud and Barricade’s heavy steps as he moved ponderously back across the warehouse.

Barricade picked up the great sword that he had set aside. He inspected it for a moment while he stood over Deadlock’s pinned body. It was very fine work, and would make quite a trophy — if he was inclined to use swords. In this case, though, the emotional impact would be so much sweeter.

Deadlock’s eyes were full of impotent rage, pain, and hatred.

Too late. Barricade smiled in response. It was much too late for Deadlock to finally find his fighting spirit.

The shattered mech tried to lunge upwards, but the first two swords had taken out motor relays in Deadlock’s shoulders and he’d lost too much energon. Deadlock wouldn’t be going anywhere.

“It is the duty of the weak,” Barricade said solemnly. Then, with a sudden roar, he lifted the great sword high and cried out, “to make way for the STRONG!”

Barricade brought the great sword down in a swift arc, point first, piercing the center of Deadlock’s chest. The great sword, like the twin swords before, passed through Drift’s body and into the ground below, piercing and holding him securely.

Deadlock’s struggles ceased.

His eyes flickered and went dark.

Satisfied, Barricade stepped back and surveyed his handiwork. Then, he transformed, rolled out of the building, and casually drove away.

Chapter Text

December 2009

Roman’s heart thundered as he snuck between warehouses and climbed over fences, headed towards the address Mikaela had given him.

When Mikaela hadn’t shown up to the family Christmas dinner as planned, Roman had tried calling her phone, but it went to voicemail immediately. No one had been able to get through.

That was not like Mikaela.

Concerned, Roman volunteered to drive out to check in on her.

Three blocks away Roman turned a corner and came face to face with a humvee and several soldiers with large guns blocking the road. They didn’t look too friendly, and the semi driver they were talking to — who was probably trying to make a delivery to one of the warehouses — looked pissed.

Forced to turn around, Roman parked his motorcycle and scouted the area. On foot, Roman was able to find a passage between buildings that allowed him to slip past the military roadblock.

As he got closer to Mikaela’s place, Roman’s heart sank. There were several military vehicles crowding the street outside the warehouse that had to be Mikaela’s home. Though Roman couldn’t see anything inside the building, the acrid scent of smoke and chemicals lingered in the air.

“Hey!” an authoritative voice called out suddenly. “You can’t be here.”

A soldier carrying what what most likely not a standard military-issue rifle intercepted Roman a few hundred yards away from the open door of the warehouse and stood firmly in front of him, blocking Roman’s way. “You need to go back,” the soldier ordered.

Roman fearlessly stepped forward chest to chest with the soldier, pinning the soldier’s ridiculously large gun between them. “That is my daughter's place,” he snarled, “and I am not leaving without finding out what happened to her.”

The standoff continued for a few tense moments. The solder kept repeating his demand for Roman to back off and Roman kept repeating his demand to see his daughter.

Suddenly the soldier stiffened and cocked his head sideways. Roman noticed the soldier was wearing a discreet earpiece. He must have received a message.

Whatever it was, the soldier glared at Roman, stepped back a step, and said, curtly, “wait here.”

From inside the building a Peterbilt with garish red and blue paintwork slowly eased a flatbed trailer out of the large warehouse door. Whatever was strapped down on the flatbed was covered with large pieces of canvas that covered any hint of what was underneath.

As the semi, escorted by more military humvees, turned down the street away from Roman, a soldier strode out of the warehouse and towards Roman and his watcher. Coming closer, the new guy nodded at the soldier who saluted and walked purposefully away.

Stopping a couple of steps in front of Roman the new guy stood in that fake-casual way that you always saw soldiers standing in the movies.

“Major William Lennox,” the soldier, who was apparently an officer, introduced himself curtly.

Roman took a long moment and looked the other man up and down. “Major William Lennox” hadn’t mentioned what branch or group of the military he was with. He was probably 5-10 years younger than Roman, with military-short brown hair, and a complexion that looked like it had seen the wrong end of a desert for too long.

He had the look of a man who had seen too much shit, and wouldn’t take any.

“It’s dangerous to be on this side of the perimeter. For your safety, I need to ask you to step back.” Major Lennox’s tone, however, implied that his request was really an order.

At least this one was more polite than the last one, Roman thought. Didn’t mean that he was any more inclined to listen to Major Lennox.

Roman started to take step forward in an attempt to intimidate the Major, but suddenly stopped when he noticed Major Lennox suddenly switch from watchful, to leathally tense. Roman recognized that look. This man had obviously had blood on his hands before, and wouldn’t hesitate to put Roman down if needed.

“Roman Banes,” Roman introduced himself to the Major. Nodding to the building behind the other man, Roman said emphatically, “I’m here because my daughter never showed up for Christmas. I’m not leaving without learning what happened to her.”

Major Lennox stared at Roman for a long moment stone faced. Roman felt as if he was being weighed and judged against a standard that he didn’t know.

After a long minute, the Major glanced sideways. A pit opened up in Roman’s chest. He didn’t understand what was happening, but he knew that a decision was being made, and he didn’t know by whom or which way it would go for him.

Major Lennox gazed at a large black pickup truck that was parked a few yards away. It looked out of place among all the military humvees. With his head turned to the side, Roman noticed that the Major also had a discreet earpiece, same as the other soldier. He wondered if Major Lennox was getting a message. Glancing at the truck, Roman couldn’t see anything through the tinted windows.

All Roman could do was wait.

Suddenly, Major Lennox turned back towards Roman. Apparently whatever discussion had been going on had come to a decision.

“Your story checks out,” Major Lennox declared.

So, he was right. Major Lennox had been getting information from somebody, Roman noted.

The Major’s stone mask cracked, and behind it was a terrible sympathy that made Roman’s heart plummet. “I can’t tell you the details, but there was an... incident. Mikaela’s been transported to a hospital on base.”

It didn’t occur to Roman until later that he never told Major Lennox his daughter's name.

“An ‘incident’?” Roman said, suspiciously. It was a rather oblique description. “Then why is the military here instead of the police?”

“This is outside the local police’s jurisdiction,” Major Lennox said.

Roman wondered what kind of ‘incident’ Mikaela could have been involved with that would merit a military response. Mikaela, Roman thought, what have you gotten yourself into now?

“I want to see her,” he demanded.

Lennox nodded. “The big boss is already working on getting you permission to come on base.” Roman noted that Major Lennox hadn’t mentioned which base. There were holes in the Major’s story that Roman could drive a semi through.

“I’m her father,” Roman tried to argue.

Major Lennox gave Roman a sympathetic look. “Mikaela’s an adult. You’ll need clearance first.”

“Why not take her to a closer hospital?” Roman figured that the city hospital had to be closer than whatever military base they had taken Mikaela. It just didn’t add up.

“Better resources for one,” Major Lennox said, “and Mikaela’s personal doctor will be there.”

“Her personal doctor?” Roman asked. Major Lennox just shook his head. Apparently this was as far as Roman could push that line of questioning.

“I want your information before you disappear on me,” Roman demanded. “You’ll understand that I don’t have any reason to trust you.”

Major Lennox just smiled. He reached into a chest pocket and pulled out something that looked like a business card, but was thicker. On the front was his name, rank, and a phone number with no logos or other identification.

Roman tucked the card away in a pocket. “What about Mikaela’s roommates?” he asked. If he could find them, they might be more willing to answer his questions.

Major Lennox’s reaction was curious. That lethal edge flickered across the Major’s face before it carefully smoothed out into a completely blank expression. “Roommates?” Lennox inquired, blandly.

Roman wasn’t fooled. “One of them is a kid named Wheelie. Mikaela said she was looking after him for a time as a favor to his family.”

Lennox relaxed slightly and glanced at the truck again. “The kid’s fine. He’s back with his family, and that’s all I can tell you.”

“What about the other one?” Roman asked. He wanted to see if Lennox would volunteer information.

“What other one?” Major Lennox said, not giving an inch more than he needed.

“Mikaela said his name is Drift.” Roman noticed that Major Lennox had gone very still.

“What else did Mikaela say about this person... Drift?” Lennox said in carefully measured words.

“Just that he was a soldier she met who sometimes crashed on her couch.”

Major Lennox looked intently at Roman. “Did you ever meet Drift?” he demanded.

“No. Despite how close Mikaela was to him, she never brought him along when she came to visit. He even turned down an invite to Christmas dinner.”

“You invited somebody you’d never met to Christmas dinner?”

“I wanted to meet Mikaela’s potential boyfriend before she realized she’s in a relationship with him,” Roman said bluntly.

Major Lennox looked as if Roman had hit him upside the back of the head with a length of two-by-four.

“I can’t tell you anything about anybody named Drift,” the Major said faintly, still looking stunned.

Special forces, Roman thought. Drift had to be special forces or something else deeply classified. He wondered if he should have been more concerned about Drift’s job causing a problem for Mikaela than any romantic entanglement between them.

“Can you at least tell me what the official story is here?” Roman said.

Major Lennox looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“I’m not an idiot. The military doesn’t get called in for something like this...”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I don’t know what this is exactly, but it wasn’t a simple home invasion or burglary,” Roman said bluntly.

Major Lennox looked at him consideringly. “An explosion caused by an undetected gas leak,” he said, simply. Behind him soldiers were packing up the last humvees and getting ready to leave.

That was not what Roman wanted to hear. If that was the cover story, that meant that there probably had been an explosion. It didn’t sound good. “Why would the military be called in for a gas explosion?” Roman kept pushing.

“We were never here, Mr. Banes,” Major Lennox said with a sarcastic twist to his lips. The Major turned, as if done with the conversation.

Roman grabbed Major Lennox by the shoulder and turned him back around. “Mikaela’s going to be okay” Roman pleaded.

After a moment, he saw something soften in the Major. “Mikaela’s in good hands.”

“That doesn’t tell me if she’s going to make it.” Roman knew the human body could take a lot of punishment and live.

“Mikaela’s a tough lady.” The Major said, with the voice of experience.

“How would you know?” Roman demanded. He couldn’t help but wonder what the relationship was between Major Lennox and Mikaela. How did somebody like Major Lennox know somebody like Mikaela? It didn’t make sense.

“Classified.” Lennox straightened up, suddenly the picture of complete professionalism. “I’ll be in contact soon, Mr. Banes.” Major Lennox nodded, then spun on one heel, and strode over to the large black pickup. The driver’s side door swung open before Major Lennox could touch it, and he was in and driving away before Roman could gather himself. The last of the humvees followed behind like a line of errant ducklings.

Roman was left standing in the now-empty street. If Roman had arrived 30 minutes later than he did, he wouldn’t have known anything.

The door to the warehouse where Mikaela had apparently lived was closed. Roman checked, and the doors were securely locked. Not knowing what security measures the military had left behind, he didn’t force his way in. Instead, he turned around and walked back to where he had left his motorcycle.

How was he going to explain this to Elaine?

***

“So, that was Mikaela’s father,” Will Lennox commented as Ironhide pulled away from the curb.

“That’s what the records say,” Ironhide confirmed. “He’s also mentioned in Drift’s reports.” Not that Drift had included a lot of detail about the guy, just that he was back in Mikaela’s life.

“I see where she gets it from,” Lennox said wryly. “He was ready to bite off my head despite the fact he was surrounded by soldiers with large guns.”

“Good instincts,” Was all Ironhide had to say.

“It would have been nice to know what the cover story was for Mikaela’s ‘roommates’ was before her father showed up,” Lennox said pointedly.

Ironhide rumbled. Will recognized it as a chuckle. “Blame the girl, this is the first I’m hearing about ‘roommates’ too.”

“And her ‘boyfriend’ was just her father misunderstanding their relationship,” Will said sarcastically. “It would have been nice to know that Mikaela even had ‘roommates.’”

“Where else could we have stashed Wheelie? Sarah didn’t want him.”

Sarah Lennox had spent five minutes with the young mech and promptly forbidden him from being anywhere near Annabelle. Ironhide agreed. The small mech was crude and undisciplined. The only other mechs with a blanket ban were Skids and Mudflap, also due to their wildly inappropriate language and unrestrained actions. They had clearly internalized some of the more problematic human stereotypes while adapting to Earth. The worst part was, they were honestly enthusiastic, and didn’t understand why what they were doing was so offensive.

Though the acts that Wheelie had done in order to help Mikaela were commendable, Ironhide didn’t think that the small mech had matured in that respect.

“You knew that the other Autobot, Drift, was there,” Will stated, being carefully non-confrontational.

He wasn’t accusing Ironhide of lying to him, he wasn’t a hypocrite. Will accepted the fact that the Autobots were probably hiding things from the U.S. government, and that it wasn’t personal. However, the soldiers on both sides had worked hard to build trust since Mission City, both on and off the battlefield.

“The girl needed protection,” Ironhide drawled as he quickly commed Optimus Prime to get the official story that he could share with Will. “Prime had to fight the politicians just to have Bumblebee stay with Sam. We couldn’t take the chance they would stop us from protecting her as well.” It wasn’t exactly how Prime said it, but then, he was the politician, not Ironhide.

“I completely understand,” Will said. And he did. After all, he had a daughter as well, and he’d seen how the mechs had treated Mikaela like one of their own in the time they’d had together before NEST had been relocated to Diego Garcia. “You’ve put me in a tight spot, though,” he pointed out. Will knew the higher-ups were going to be asking uncomfortable questions.

“Let Prime handle it. That’s what he’s for,” Ironhide advised pragmatically.

Will shrugged. He’d probably end up doing that anyway. Acting selectively ignorant when confronted by bureaucratic idiocy was a cultivated survival skill.

Redirecting the conversation back on track, Will asked, “so, what about this new guy... Drift. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, what do I need to know about him?”

“From what I’ve heard, mech’s good in a fight.” Ironhide said, hedging.

“‘What you’ve heard...’ I find it hard to believe that you haven’t worked with him before,” Will said.

Ironhide made a dismissive sound. “The mech is a Wrecker. Wreckers are frontline shock troops. Not exactly the type of soldier to travel with the Prime.”

Will knew Ironhide, though. “You don’t like him,” he observed bluntly.

“No,” Ironhide said, equally as blunt. “But then, I wouldn’t have thought he’d fight to deactivation to protect a squi —” Ironhide quickly cut himself off.

“Just go ahead,” Will said, exasperated. “You were going to say ‘to protect a squishy.’”

It wasn’t the first time Will had caught one of the Autobots using derogatory language within hearing range of a human. If reported, the offender had to suffer through one of Optimus Prime’s lectures on respect. Having overheard part of one of Optimus’ lectures once, Will understood why they were so effective. The mech could make you feel like mud without raising his voice.

“If you don’t think so highly of Drift, why was he Mikaela’s guardian?”

“It was Optimus’ idea. Mikaela agreed to it,” Ironhide defended his leader’s decision. “If we ever thought Mikaela didn’t want him around anymore, he’d be gone.” Left unsaid was whether ‘gone’ would include the strategic application of Ironhide’s guns.

“In any case, we should get Mikaela’s father access to see her,” Will said. “He should be able to visit his daughter in the hospital.” Will would feel the same if it was his daughter.

“Optimus is already working on it. He wouldn’t separate a creator from their creation, even if Mikaela is an adult according to your culture.”

Will raised an eyebrow at the use of ‘creator’ and ‘creation’ but didn’t comment on it. He could tell what Ironhide meant from context, and it wasn’t his job to learn all the intimate details about alien social structures, except when they impacted cross-unit cooperation. “I’ll coordinate with Prime, then.”

“Prime’s already filed the paperwork, but he’s running into some issues with the bureaucrats. Turns out Roman Banes has ‘a record’ and they’re pushing back.”

Will’s eyebrows lifted in mild surprise. He wasn’t surprised that Optimus was ahead of things. The mech could be freakishly efficient... and effective. Will was reminded, however, of ‘Agent’ Simmons’ immature sparring with Mikaela and Sam that day at the Hoover Dam. The fact Mikaela’s father had a record was still unexpected, though. “What’s his record for?”

“Grand theft auto.”

“... really?”

Ironhide didn’t bother answering, instead rumbling an annoyed-sounding confirmation.

Will held a straight face for about ten seconds before he cracked up laughing. Part of it was the fact that a robot who turned into a semi was advocating on behalf of a felon with a history of stealing cars and arguing that they be let into one of the greatest military secrets in the world. Not to mention the other robots, who collectively made up a car collection that would make even the most stoic motorhead cream their panties.

Part of Will’s reaction was also a reaction to stress. A Decepticon attack had left a civilian and an Autobot in critical condition, and the perpetrator was still on the loose.

Will slowly caught his breath and passed the next few miles in silence. The entire situation was a hot mess. From when Ironhide had sounded the alarm, to when they had rolled up on a quiet warehouse and walked into the bloody aftermath of the attack, the day had just gotten worse. All they had found was a severely damaged mech, Mikaela bleeding out on the floor, and a traumatized Wheelie hiding in the rubble of what clearly used to be Mikaela’s apartment.

Lennox took a quick glimpse into Ironhide’s back seat. The small mech was still curled up on the seat where he had been stashed while the NEST had cleaned up the aftermath and stabilized Mikaela and Drift for transport.

“This just had to happen at Christmas,” Will commented sourly. It wasn’t the first holiday that he’d miss enjoying with his family. It was an accepted fact of military life. Will was just glad that Optimus had given Sarah an Autobot security clearance. Not that he dumped all of his problems on his wife, but it was easier when he didn’t have to keep quite so many secrets.

Will Lennox was thoroughly surprised when he arrived on base to find out that Optimus Prime had arranged for Sarah Lennox and their daughter, Annabelle, to be brought to Autobot headquarters where they were waiting for him. They’d even packed dinner.

Chapter Text

December 2009

Roman sat on the couch in the semi-dark gloom of Elaine’s living room. The Christmas tree sat, dark, in the corner. Light from a streetlight shone faintly through the cracks in the window shades. Dinner had been eaten. Presents were waiting under the tree for Christmas morning. The rest of the family was upstairs getting ready for bed.

Mikaela wouldn’t be there to see it.

Roman had already pulled her presents out from underneath the tree. That way, when the presents were passed out the next morning, they didn’t remind the others of Mikaela and the fact she couldn’t be there.

During the ride back, Roman had wrestled with what to tell them. He couldn’t use Major Lennox’s gas line explosion story because Elaine would expect him to have gone with Mikaela to the hospital instead of returning home. Instead, Roman had told the rest of the family that Mikaela was sick and had decided to sleep it off instead of coming and passing around the infection. Elaine would probably make him pay for the lie later, once she learned the truth. At least in the meantime she wasn’t up late with him, worrying.

Roman picked up Elaine’s laptop and logged into his email. Many job applications these day were done over the internet, and if there was nothing else he could do, he could at least see if he’d gotten any replies. Not that he expected anybody to be working on a holiday, but he needed something to do. Something to distract him from the ‘what if’s’ and fears floating through his brain.

Among the usual inbox spam there was an email from an unknown sender. The subject line simply read Update. Roman clicked on it, not expecting anything more than a new type of spam.

After reading the first few lines, Roman pulled the laptop closer and hunched over it as if that would help him see better. He checked when the email had been sent. Apparently, just an hour after talking to Major Lennox, somebody called BB had sent him an email. Roman opened the attachment.

It was Mikaela.

In the picture Mikaela looked small underneath a white sheet. There were straps holding her down to a gurney. Several people dressed in fatigues or in scrubs surrounded her, but the photo was taken in such a way that nobody else’s face was visible except for Mikaela’s. Even with her body covered, there was bruising just starting to color the side of her face, along with a bad scrape. Her hair hung limp and lifeless.

Roman had to close his eyes as he was suddenly filled with an overwhelming relief. He hadn’t had any reason not to trust Major Lennox, but this was at least a shred of proof that Mikaela was out there. She was in bad shape, but she was alive.

After taking a few deep breaths in an attempt to get his composure back, Roman closed the image so he could read the rest of the email. From the notes, the picture had been taken just as Mikaela was being wheeled from the transport and into the hospital to be prepped for surgery.

The email contained the doctor’s preliminary evaluations, surgery timelines, and more. As Roman read through the details, he noticed that sections had clearly been redacted before it was sent to him. The name of the hospital, the doctors names, even name tags were blurred out. The details the email had about Mikaela’s injuries, however... some part of him wished that he’d never read it.

Roman stared at the email until it became just a jumble of words.

He couldn’t see too well.

Roman set down the laptop and scrubbed at his face roughly. Taking a few more deep breaths he leaned forward, head bowed and hands hanging limp between his knees.

He’d never been a very religious man, but when the crucifix on the wall caught his eye, he recalled the prayers of his childhood. It felt like a hopeless man’s last ditch attempt. He couldn’t be there for Mikaela. He couldn’t see her. His only point of contact was an email from a stranger, and he had no idea if any more would come.

Some time later, Roman looked up and noticed that there was a new email in his inbox. It had the same innocuous subject line.

Update

Roman leaned forward slowly. His arms felt like they were stuck in several tons of molasses, and clicked the notification.

It was an edited account of Mikaela’s first round of surgeries. Roman’s heart plunged as he read about how Mikaela had coded while in surgery. It soared as he read that she had been stabilized.

A new picture of Mikaela was attached. This time she had clearly been moved to a bed in a hospital room. There were several wires and tubes that snaked from nearby machines and slipped underneath the covers of Mikaela’s bed. The scratches on her face had been cleaned and bandaged.

Mikaela’s long list of injuries had also been updated. It contained a lot of technical words that he didn’t understand, but he could understand that they were bad. Especially after he googled a few terms to see what they meant. Roman felt despair as he realised that this was just the first procedure in what looked to be a long list of surgeries Mikaela would need before she could even think of starting to recover.

This email, like the last email, was signed BB. Not Major Lennox. Roman wondered who BB was. A nurse, perhaps, tasked with keeping him updated?

Roman ignored the fact that he’d never told the Major his email address. Right now he didn’t care how the Major had found it. Roman felt a profound sense of relief to be updated, rather than left in the dark. At the same time it was also an agony because he couldn’t be there for Mikaela. Instead, he was dependent on a stranger to send him updates.

Roman spent the night, sleepless, hunched over an old laptop waiting for the next email to come in.

***

December 2009

Drift was aware that he was floating.

Something was very wrong.

That information seemed distant, like it was hidden behind a gauze curtain.

There was a distance between himself and reality.

Drift’s mind was sluggish and running slow — much slower than his battle-honed instincts liked.

As the fog across his consciousness slowly cleared, Drift knew he should be in a lot of pain, but he couldn’t feel his body.

Drift’s memory started playing back his last moments before stasis.

Drift remembered Barricade skewering him.

He remembered laying on the ground, slowly dying.

He remembered the Autobots arriving. Ironhide had been first through the doors, followed closely by the Prime and Ratchet.

The last thing he remembered was was Ratchet plugging in and using his overrides to induce medical stasis.

Before that, though...

Instead of the full-body lunge Drift wanted, his body barely twitched. He opened his eyes.

Ratchet was standing above Drift, with one hand on his collar, carefully avoiding the still-open wounds across his chest. In his mind, Drift was now aware of Ratchet’s consciousness as it sat next to his. The two minds were held apart and carefully buffered by medical firewalls. The medic was using a hardwire connection to Drift’s systems. Internal medical scans ran through Drift’s neural network.

Drift had clearly been moved. The vaulted cement ceiling above him was not the roof of the warehouse. Ratchet was standing next to him, so he was clearly lying on something, though he couldn’t feel what. Probably a table.

Strong painkillers, Drift thought absently. He’d probably be grateful for them later, but for now, they just got in the way.

“Mi... kae... la...” Drift’s voice stuttered brokenly as Ratchet started to work on something inside his chest.

Drift hadn’t been aware that he was lying there with his chest plates open. If he wasn’t so drugged up, Drift thought he’d probably be more worried about it.

Ratchet grunted in reply to Drift’s attempt at coherent speech. “The NEST doctors are stabilizing her,” he said shortly. “I need you awake right now so you can respond while I fix this. Let me know if this hurts.”

With as much painkillers as Drift was on, that was a bad sign.

After a few moments, something ground harshly against something else deep within Drift’s body, and pain suddenly wiped his mind clear of all thought. A high-pitched whine came from Drift’s throat as Ratchet called out, “Got it!”

Ratchet didn’t say what ‘it’ was, though, and Drift was in far too much pain to really care.

As the pain slowly ebbed, Drift focused on control exercises, focusing his mind on not killing the medic that was fixing him. Drift realized that was probably why he was under such heavy sedation.

There was something else. Something important Drift needed to do. “Help... Mikaela...” he gasped. His voice was weaker than he cared to think about, but Drift needed Ratchet to understand.

Drift focused on moving his right hand, the hand closest to Ratchet. It barely twitched, but the medic still noticed.

“Stop moving or I’ll strap you down.” Ratchet threatened automatically.

Drift grimaced. “Mikaela... help... first...”

Fortunately, Ratchet was very adept at decipering doped up idiot.

“The NEST doctors working on Mikaela have more experience working on humans than I do,” Ratchet pointed out, he hoped reasonably. The last thing he needed was a determined — and doped up — frontline warrior rampaging across the base. “In the meantime, I’m the only Cybertronian doctor available. Cooperate, or I’ll tie you up,” he threatened.

“Promises...” Drift tried, but his attempt at breezy innuendo came out sounding like a plea.

“Once I’m done with you, I’ll head over to check on Mikaela,” Ratchet promised. He was already planning on doing so.

“Now that we’re done with that, though, it’s time for you to go back into stasis.”

Drift never noticed when Ratchet smoothly put the mech back under.

Once Drift was safely back in stasis, Ratchet took a moment to brace himself against the table. Drift’s injuries were not the worst he’d ever seen — the war was long and Ratchet had been on the front lines for a great deal of it — but doing delicate repairs near a mech’s spark never got easier.

Ratchet’s specialised medical training helped him to efficiently pack up all of his doubts and sweep them to the side where they could be dealt with later. First, he had a spark to finish stealing out of Primus’ hands.

Ratchet didn’t spare another thought for Mikaela. He couldn’t. Not and still do his job. She was being worked on by several highly-qualified trauma surgeons and other NEST medical staff. Drift needed to be his focus.

Ratchet picked up a welder and continued his repairs.

***

December 2009

It was after sundown when Ironhide pulled up and parked next to Bumblebee. The yellow and black Camaro sat in the parking lot of the medical building, in the section of the lot closest to the room where Mikaela was currently undergoing surgery. Ironhide could feel that Bumblebee had his scanners trained on the building in front of him, straining to catch even a hint of what was happening inside.

:Ratchet will have the report available later,: Ironhide commented over comms.

:Don’t care,: Bumblebee replied, uncharacteristically short.

Ironhide didn’t reply, just turned his own sensors towards the building and hunkered down for the wait.

Earlier that day, Ironhide had been out on the firing range with a group of NEST soldiers when he got Wheelie’s call. It only taken him a moment before he realized what was going on. Ironhide hadn’t survived the war this long by being slow on the uptake.

He’d immediately called off the training session, transformed, and sped back towards the Autobot hangers, calling ahead to warn Prime and sound the alert. To their credit, the soldiers with Ironhide had quickly realized something was going down and alerted NEST command, who moved to mobilize before Optimus Prime officially informed Lennox. It wasn’t the first time the task force had been deployed at a moment’s notice after all.

Optimus Prime, Ratchet, Ironhide, and Bumblebee all insisted on being part of the response team. Ironhide hadn’t even had the heart to argue against Optimus putting himself in danger now that they had more Autobots on base. Sideswipe was left in charge of those who remained back at the base.

As the miles between the base and Mikaela passed underneath his tires, Ironhide kept the line open and rebroadcast the signal to the other responding Autobots so they could hear as well. The sounds of the attack played over their communications systems and drove them forward with increased urgency. Ironhide knew that, realistically, they would not get there in time. He hadn’t given up after all the horror he’d seen in the last four million years, however, and he wouldn’t give up now.

They all listened as Mikaela was tortured, and as the confrontation between Drift and Barricade reached its climax, followed by a shattering silence. A few tense minutes later Wheelie’s trembling voice spoke up and Ratchet talked the small mech into calming down long enough to get a status report out of him.

Ratchet didn’t have to say it out loud. They all understood that Mikaela was slowly dying as they raced to save her.

The Autobots didn’t know if Barricade was still around, but as a group they were more than a match for the Decepticon scout, so they didn’t bother to disguise their approach as they came closer to the coordinates Optimus Prime had supplied.

Ironhide could smell the battle as he got closer. It smelled like explosives, electric discharge, and spilt energon.

Once they got inside the warehouse he’d been vividly reminded again what spilled human blood and fear smelled like.

Ratchet took care of Drift and prepared him for transport. They hadn’t been able to do anything for Mikaela, though, until NEST arrived with their medics.

It had taken more time for the medics to stabilize Mikaela for transportation than Ironhide liked. In the meantime, Lennox found a flatbed that Optimus could use to haul Drift back to base with. Ironhide ended up standing guard outside while Bumblebee scouted the area to see if he could find a trace of Barricade.

Ironhide had been sitting outside when he felt a sudden tentative knock on his running board. Tuning his sensors, he realized that Wheelie had managed to walk up next to him without him noticing. In fact, in all the confusion, Wheelie had been largely ignored.

“What,” Ironhide rumbled, shortly.

Wheelie cowered in the face of Ironhide’s temper.

“Well?” Ironhide asked, more gently, after the mech didn’t move for a long minute.

“What's...” Wheelie stuttered, uncurling slightly, “what’s gonna happen to me?”

“You’ll come back to base with us.” It wasn’t like they could leave Wheelie here. The living quarters of the warehouse was destroyed. Besides, the small mech was still under probation and needed to be monitored.

Ironhide watched as Wheelie fidgeted anxiously, and made a decision.

Wheelie yelped as Ironhide’s rear door swung open.

“Get in,” Ironhide ordered gruffly.

Wheelie scrambled for a grip on Ironhide’s running board, pulling himself up and carefully scrambling his way inside the larger mech. He huddled forlornly on Ironhide’s back seat. Ironhide reached out with his field and wrapped it around the small mech until Wheelie eventually stopped shivering and entered recharge.

Later, Lennox rode with Ironhide back to base so they could talk on the way. The soldier noticed Wheelie in the back seat, but didn’t say anything.

Now, Ironhide sat outside the base medical center next to Bumblebee, whose field was full of guilt, fear, and uncertainty.

:It’s my fault...: Bumblebee eventually said, softly.

Ironhide snorted. :It’s Barricade’s fault. Not yours.:

:I was supposed to be Drift’s backup.:

:You haven’t lived close enough to be effective backup since Sam went to college,: Ironhide pointed out tactlessly. :Drift did his job.:

:I’m gonna kill Barricade,: Bumblebee vowed.

:Only if you find him first.:

A small toy truck rounded the corner of the building, sped down the sidewalk, and transformed in front of Bumblebee.

“Kicked out?” Ironhide rumbled.

“Again,” Wheelie admitted shamelessly. “One of the nurses has good aim.” The small mech sauntered over to lean on Bumblebee’s front bumper.

:Any news?: Bumblebee asked. Fortunately, Ratchet had the foresight to leave Wheelie’s short-range comms working when he’d locked out the small mech’s communications, otherwise Bumblebee wouldn’t have been able to communicate with Wheelie. He hoped Ratchet got the parts for his vocalizer soon.

“Not this time. Wasn’t in there that long,” Wheelie admitted.

Bumblebee popped open a door. :Why don’t you get in and get comfortable?: he invited. :It’s going to be a while.:

Bumblebee didn’t mention to Wheelie that he got his information from a surreptitious tap on Ratchet’s low priority message queue. The tap wouldn’t last long if Ratchet was paying attention, but as long as Ratchet was distracted, Bumblebee had unlimited access to the reports the medical staff sent Ratchet in his dual role as Mikaela’s designated health care proxy and her primary physician.

Wheelie wanted to be helpful, though, so Bumblebee didn’t discourage the small mech’s exploits. However, Bumblebee thought it was about time he distracted Wheelie from worrying about Mikaela. Not that Wheelie admitted to anyone that he was worried. Bumblebee could just tell.

Wheelie settled down in the footwell of Bumblebee’s passenger side seat, and Bumblebee gently extended his EM field, overlapping with Wheelie and Ironhide’s in a companionable EM puppy-pile.

Chapter Text

December 2009

She carefully massaged her forehead. It was eight in the fucking morning on Christmas day and the painkillers hadn’t started to kick in yet.

As the new Director of National Intelligence, and de facto Director of NEST, Charlotte Mearing was determined to avoid her predecessor’s incompetent mess.

Galloway had moved the Autobots out of the country to a small island in the middle of nowhere, and then they went and blew up the pyramids! That was not how you kept a secret project secret.

Mearing’s first decision had been to move the Autobots back to the states where she could oversee them more closely. However, just when she thought it was safe to leave the Autobot’s to lower-ranked babysitters while she went back to Washington, D.C., they went and did something outrageous.

The preliminary report regarding the latest Autobot action sat on the desk in front of her.

The projector on the wall flickered as the teleconference software connected. The head and shoulders of the Autobot commander was projected across the wall in front of her desk. Mearing preferred to see the people she was berating in person. It usually allowed her to see their weak spots. It was less effective when working with the aliens, however.

“Optimus Prime,” Charlotte Mearing snapped aggressively, immediately on the offensive. “What is the meaning of this?”

She didn’t give Optimus Prime any time to respond, however.

“A Decepticon attacks a civilian, and there is an Autobot conveniently on hand. An Autobot that, I remind you, none of my people have seen before.” Mearing stopped pacing and thumped her hands down on her desk and glared into the camera at the large mech. “Where did the Autobot come from?”

Optimus Prime stood serenely under her glare. Mearing couldn’t detect a hint of what he was thinking. She hated their alien lack of emotions. It made it hard to work with the Autobots.

“The Autobot in question is known as Drift,” Optimus Prime said solemnly. “He was separated from his unit and followed my signal here. Upon landing he was was injured and his communications were damaged. When we became aware of his presence, I requested Mikaela Banes watch over Drift while he was convalescing.”

“Why did you never disclose this Autobot... Drift’s arrival?”

“Drift was not fit for duty. At the time, it was not worth the effort to bring him to Diego Garcia just to have him sit around the base,” Optimus Prime explained.

Mearing was still suspicious, but realised that she didn’t have the hard evidence that would be needed for her to accuse Optimus Prime of breaking his agreement with the U.S. government. As leery as the powers that be were about having giant alien robots as allies, they were more concerned what would happen if another country wooed the weapon’s systems on legs away from American control.

Mearing didn’t buy the story, but that wasn’t the only thing about this incident that was suspicious. “Speaking of Miss Banes, you brought a civilian into what is a military matter,” she accused Optimus Prime.

“Mikaela Banes already has clearance,” Optimus Prime explained. “Further permission was deemed unnecessary.”

Mearing was aware of Miss Banes’ history with the Autobots. The girl was only the girlfriend of the boy Optimus Prime was obsessed with. But now she found out that Banes also had her own pet Autobot.

“Unnecessary?” Mearing said sharply. “The U.S. government gave that girl her clearance. It can be revoked.”

“You can revoke Mikaela’s U.S. government clearance,” Optimus Prime conceded with a regal nod. “That does not remove her Autobot clearance, however.”

This was the first time Mearing was hearing about an ‘Autobot clearance’ separate from the clearance needed for NEST. Two could play that game, though. “You live on a U.S. government base,” Mearing pointed out. “Banes needs U.S. government clearance to be on a U.S. government base.”

“That is true,” Optimus Prime conceded again. The... alien was undisturbed. Nothing she said could break his steady composure.

“Your soldier wasn’t able to provide much protection to Miss Banes,” Mearing pointed out, going straight for Optimus Prime’s professional pride. Her reports from the base indicated that the young woman was in critical condition, just barely holding on to life.

“Unfortunately, Barricade was able to eventually overpower Drift,” Optimus said calmly. “Drift was able, however, to keep Barricade busy enough that we were able to arrive in time to prevent complete disaster.”

Mearing narrowed her eyes. “You withdrew the Bumblebee from guarding the Wittickly kid.” She had been pushing to have the Autobot scout reassigned since she’d taken over as director, but Optimus Prime had resisted. Then, one day the yellow mech just appeared on base as if he had been living there the entire time. The other Autobots didn’t even blink an eye. Mearing had thought that the Autobots were done having inappropriate relationships with civilian humans.

“Sam Witwicky requested Bumblebee’s guardianship be dissolved. It is unfortunate, but it is his freedom to choose.”

“And what if the girl decides that she no longer wants anything to do with you?”

“Then she is is free to go.”

“What about their safety? You were so concerned about them before, why not now?”

“Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.”

Mearing kept her reaction to Optimus’ words from showing on her face. For a front-line commander, Prime was an unusual idealist. He always sounded so sincere when he spouted garbage like that.

“You’ve filed a request for clearance for a ‘Roman Banes’,” Mearing stated.

“Mikaela’s father, yes. He should be able to visit his daughter while she is in the hospital. Since Mikaela is being treated on base, he needs clearance to visit her,” Optimus Prime pointed out.

“And what of his so-called ‘Autobot’ clearance?” Mearing said scornfully. She didn’t have any room to push back on his U.S. government clearance, unfortunately. Optimus had already gone above her head to get that approved.

“That is to be decided,” Optimus Prime said, giving nothing away.

Mearing stared at Optimus Prime. He gazed serenely back.

“Next time,” Mearing grimaced, because she knew there was going to be a next time, “you will follow procedure and contact me first,” she ordered.

“Understood,” Optimus Prime said. “If there is nothing else...” he continued, cocking his head to the side.

“That will be all,” she said curtly, and stabbed the button that would close the connection from her side.

Mearing made sure that the cameras were turned off, disabled, and even covered with an insulated cover. As Director of National Intelligence, she was aware of the possibility of foreign powers spying on her. Or even Autobots or Decepticons.

Mearing collapsed back into the chair at her desk heavily. At the time she had been offered the position Mearing had known about the Autobots and Decepticons only from intelligence briefings. She had considered Galloway incompetent when he proved how incapable he was at keeping a rein on the Autobots. Then, she had taken the job.

She stared at the wood grain of the her desk as if it held all the answers.

Realistically speaking, Mearing didn’t have much leverage over Optimus Prime. The alliance between the two groups only held as long as he found it advantageous. The recent actions in Cairo had proven again that the Autobots and Decepticons had the upper hand when it came to sheer power per individual. Even though U.S. soldiers and armaments had been able to take down a handful of robots, their effectiveness had been far outstripped by the alien fighters. Megatron alone had taken out a submarine and aircraft carrier like they were toys. Also, new soldiers kept appearing, implying that there were greater numbers beyond what appeared on Earth.

Mearing was not fooled by Optimus Prime’s earnest cooperation. She needed leverage. The boy and the girl where her best options. The boy, Samuel Wikky, had clearly cut his ties with the Autobots. However the girl, Mikaela Banes, was very promising. She had an Autobot bodyguard. The Autobots had literally dropped everything when she was threatened. And, she was vulnerable. Her father was a felon. She also had a record, even if it had been purged by agreement with Sector Seven.

However, what was a potential vulnerability for the Autobots could also be a vulnerability for NEST. Mearing needed to monitor the situation closely and make sure it did not become so.

Mearing had already read the official dossier, but it was severely lacking. She summoned one of her researchers and assigned him to dig deeper into Mikaela Banes.

***

December 2009

Optimus reminded himself that Sam was still young. He consoled himself with the memories of Sam’s past heroism.

Sam was not living up to that early promise.

Sam had called several minutes ago, insisting that he needed to talk now.

Optimus was busy. Mikaela and Drift had been attacked. Both were severely damaged and Mikaela was in critical condition. Optimus was handling the associated bureaucracy, including Mearing, who was pissed off to find out that there was an Autobot on Earth that she hadn’t been told about.

However, Optimus had to consider the possibility that, since the Decepticons had found and attacked Mikaela, they might target Sam as well.

Optimus reminded himself that Sam was the Allspark. He was the bright hope for the Cybertronian people.

...the bright hope of the Cybertronian people was currently complaining to Optimus about his girlfriend breaking up with him. The same girlfriend that was now fighting for her life.

:Sam,: Optimus said reassuringly, :it is not uncommon for people in relationships to grow apart from each other. I understand that it seems like a large problem, but you will find somebody else.:

:Not one as hot as Mikaela,: Sam replied, snarkily. :I still can’t believe I got her to look twice at me.: Sometimes Sam was afraid that it wasn’t him, but his car that had attracted Mikaela.

Optimus ignored Sam’s attitude, and focused on the more important issue. :Sam, there has been a surge in Decepticon activity. They have targeted allies of the Autobots. I am afraid that, since you sent Bumblebee away, I cannot guarantee your safety. Please consider allowing Bumblebee to come back.: Optimus knew that Bumblebee wouldn’t be completely happy, but he’d go, if Sam asked him back.

:What about one of the others? Ironhide or one of the new ones from Egypt?:

:They have other duties.: For one, they were too high-profile to reassign discreetly. Also, the personality mixes would be too volatile. Neither Ironhide or Sideswipe would put up with Sam’s immaturity for long. Sam with Skids or Mudflap was not even an option Optimus would consider. Not that Sam was currently completely unguarded, but what Sam didn’t know, he couldn’t disclose during a high-pressure situation.

:Sam, can you at least allow Bumblebee to come back?: Optimus asked one last time.

Sam, however, might have missed his car, but he didn’t miss Bumblebee’s nagging. :No can do, Optimus. Bumblebee broke the code,: he said, with all the swagger of a college freshman before he gets beat down with the baseball bat of reality.

:What code is that?:

:You know. Bros before hoes,: Sam said crudely.

Optimus had to do some quick research to figure out what Sam meant, and he was quietly appalled. He made a mental note to ask Lennox about this code in case he’d misunderstood. The Autobots had figured out, after several early missteps, that the human internet was not always a reliable source of information without additional cross-referencing and cultural context.

:Hey, Optimus,: Sam pulled Optimus out of his thoughts and back to the conversation. :At the very least can you get Mikaela to give me back the shard I gave her?: Sam asked.

:What shard?: The only shards Optimus knew about were the Allspark shards. But they were all gone, weren’t they?

:The shard I found in my shirt I wore at Mission City,: Sam explained. :It animated my mom’s kitchen appliances.:

Optimus vaguely remembered a report from Bumblebee mentioning the kitchen, but this was the first that Optimus had heard about Mikaela having an Allspark shard.

:And you gave Mikaela this shard. Does she still have it?: Optimus asked.

:She has to. She never gave it back to me. She was keeping it in a safe at her place.:

Optimus already planned on sending somebody back to gather up Mikaela’s belongings from the destroyed warehouse. Now, he made a note to have the Autobot in question look for the safe. Hopefully Barricade hadn’t found it. He should also ask Drift about it when he woke up from surgery.

:I will see what I can do,: Optimus said, promising nothing. Given Sam’s position, he shouldn’t have an Allspark shard. It wasn’t safe.

:Okay,: Sam said, grudgingly.

:Thank you, Sam,: Optimus replied.

Chapter Text

She was...

She was light.

She was emotion.

She was afraid.

Something was missing.

Somebody was missing.

She couldn’t find...

There was energy.

It surrounded her.

It was her.

There was a flicker in the corner of her eye.

She didn’t have eyes here.

There was a voice.

She didn’t have ears here.

There were emotions.

Peace. Reassurance.

They appeared and disappeared, as a candle flame in a high wind.

From within: Fear. Anxiety. Worry. Concern.

From without: A needle-like thread of calmness.

She clung to that thread and slipped back—

***

December 2009

It took eighteen hours for Ratchet to finish Drift’s repairs. Fortunately, the sword that went through Drift’s chest missed his spark chamber by inches. It also missed the primary energon pump and lines. The two short swords had gone through Drift’s shoulder assemblies, which required a large amount of finicky detail work in order to align everything correctly.

Overall, it could have been much worse.

Ratchet kept Drift in a healing stasis so that his self-repair had undisturbed time to integrate the welds and repair smaller nicks and stress fractures that were the natural result of battle. Stasis slowed down the healing process, but since the Autobots were relatively safe on base, Ratchet could afford to let Drift’s body take the time it needed to heal properly. Otherwise, if left awake, warriors like Drift were known to push themselves further than they should, stressing, or even opening new welds and setting back their overall healing, pissing off Ratchet in the process.

Word travelled quickly when Ratchet finally emerged from the Autobot’s medical bay. Ratchet had ignored his messages while he was in surgery, so a messenger from the human medical staff arrived to fetch him in person. They had a problem.

Mikaela was stabilized and out of surgery, but she had unpredictable fits where she would thrash around, which threatened to reopen her wounds and aggravate her existing injuries. The doctors performed several tests trying to find the cause, but the results came back either normal or inconclusive. They had reached the end of their knowledge, and had come to Ratchet to see if he knew of anything that might cause these symptoms.

Before leaving medbay, Ratchet took the time to drink an extra cube of energon. The holoform equipment was energy intensive and took a lot of energy to use the further away the holorform was from the mech. Projecting a usable holoform into the medical wing would require extra power.

Ratchet drove over and parked outside the medical wing, closest to the room where Mikaela was recovering, and materialized his holoform in the hallway outside before walking into the crowded room.

It was complete chaos. It looked like every doctor on base was in Mikaela’s room, swapping ideas or just gossiping with the others.

“SILENCE!” Ratchet bellowed. Cowed, the doctors in the room were momentarily silent, before one brave, or stupid, soul spoke up.

“And who are you, coming in here and yelling around patients?” the man said indignantly, sneering at Ratchet’s choice of scrubs.

Ratchet pinned the man with a flat stare and gave him a wolfish grin. “Autobot Chief Medical Officer Ratchet,” he introduced himself, to the surprise of several of the audience. He didn’t normally involve himself with the base’s human patients. “I’m here because you can’t figure out what’s going on.”

Flushing, the man stepped down.

Ratchet nodded. “Now, does anybody have anything new to report?” he asked, as if he was walking a group of particularly dense interns through a lesson. It had been million of years since his days at Iacon General, but some of the same techniques came in handy in battlefield medicine. The ability to deal with unruly know-it-alls was one.

None of the doctors knew anything he didn’t already know, so Ratchet kicked the lot out of the room.

“Except you,” Ratchet said, motioning towards a nurse. “Your name is?”

“Addie Tate.”

Ratchet examined the human instrumentation himself, and ran a few scans at a distance using his own medical sensor suite.

Ratchet hated to admit it, but he was as confused as the doctors.

“You’re Mikaela’s nurse?” Ratchet confirmed.

Nurse Tate nodded.

“Have you noticed anything?”

“Yes, just before you came in.” Nurse Tate moved towards Mikaela’s head. “It’s her eyes. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Ratchet pushed past the nurse and carefully pulled Mikaela’s eyelid open so he could see what the nurse was so interested in.

Mikaela’s eyes had changed. There was no iris or pupil. Instead, they glittered softly under the fluorescent lights of the room as if they were two white opals.

Ratchet could tell that Nurse Tate was unnerved. He just humphed and crossed his arms. “I’ll check through my archives and do some further scans.”

“Find something fast,” said the nurse, gently making sure Mikaela’s eyes were closed. “If she keeps moving like she has, she can do herself permanent damage, if she hasn’t already.”

“I am aware,” Ratchet said dryly. “Do your best.”

Ratchet dissolved his holoform and drove back to the medical hangar where Drift was lying in stasis. The truth was, he didn’t have any medical knowledge of humans that the other doctors didn’t also have access to. However, he did have the mech who had been living with Mikaela for the last few months. If it had happened before, it’s possible asking Drift could provide the clue that would lead to the answer.

If Drift did know something, Ratchet didn’t know if he’d wait until Drift had fully healed before whacking him for not telling the CMO.

***

December 2010

Drift regained consciousness slowly.

His mind was sluggish and his chest and shoulders were sore. Drift recognized the effects of strong medical pain blockers.

The first thing he saw was a slew of urgent alerts across his HUD until a line of medical code wiped it clear. Then, Drift was able to recognize the Autobot standing above him as Ratchet.

That meant he probably wasn’t dead. (Unless this was one of those dreams, but there wasn’t nearly enough lubricant present for that to be the case.)

Drift looked blearily around, but he couldn’t recognize anything.

“With me now?” Ratchet asked. He stayed plugged into Drift’s medical port so he could continue to monitor Drift’s status. While Drift was stable enough, he didn’t want to bring him out of stasis this early after surgery.

“Barricade?” Drift asked softly.

“Escaped. They’re looking for him now.”

“Mikaela?” Drift asked next, wondering where his charge was.

“She just got out of surgery. She’s alive and in stable condition.” Drift relaxed backwards into the berth. Ratchet knew that Drift assumed that Mikaela was doing better than she actually was. Drift would learn about that later, for now Ratchet needed him to answer his questions.

“I need you to answer some questions about Mikaela,” Ratchet said, then pinned Drift to the berth as the mech tried to sit up suddenly.

“You won’t be able to help her if you knock yourself offline,” Ratchet said sternly. Something he said, or maybe the look on his face, got through to Drift.

“What happened?” Drift demanded.

“Mikaela is having episodes where she starts thrashing and mumbling.” Ratchet noticed the quick flare of recognition in Drift’s eyes before he was able to cover it up. “The nurse noticed that her eyes were no longer normal. They’re multicolored.” No sign of recognition that time.

“You obviously know something,” Ratchet said.

“I can’t say,” was Drift’s reply. He looked deeply conflicted.

“If she keeps this up, she can cause herself permanent damage.”

Drift was deeply pained, but he looked away and held his silence.

In Drift’s drugged, unguarded EM field, Ratchet could read the conflicting emotions roiling through the mech. Uncertainty, fear, determination, and many others that Ratchet wasn’t able to separate from the mass.

Ratchet let the silence drag on until Drift finally came to a decision and turned his head back towards Ratchet.

“Can you bring her here?” Drift asked.

“No,” Ratchet replied firmly, “and you’re in no condition to go to her.”

Drift took a moment to think. “The great sword, where is it?” he demanded suddenly.

“Ironhide has it, why?” Ironhide had taken all of Drift’s swords, once Ratchet had removed them from the mech’s body, so Ironhide could clean and maintain them until Drift was healed.

“Get the sword and put it as close to Mikaela as you can. Within touching distance is best.”

“That makes absolutely no sense,” Ratchet said. There was no reason a sword could stop whatever was causing Mikaela’s seizures.

“You asked me what would help,” Drift bit out. “Either do it, or figure out something else.”

Ratchet didn’t have anything else. Doing strange things with swords it was, then.

“Very well.” Ratchet used his connection to slip Drift back into stasis without warning. Between one moment and the next Drift’s field evened out again and he relaxed into the boneless sprawl of the medically sedated.

As Ratchet retracted his cord he cast a quick glance over Drift. The ex-’con was a stubborn enigma.

Grumbling, Ratchet headed off to find Ironhide.

Chapter Text

December 2009

Optimus Prime stood at the end of the base’s airstrip, watching as Ratchet drove towards him. Coming close, Ratchet transformed and moved to stand close to his commander and friend.

“Prime,” Ratchet said, and nodded his head in a perfunctory acknowledgement. It was a basic level of courtesy due Optimus’ rank, and typical of the tacturn medic. Optimus smiled inwardly. Back in the day, the Primal Court protocol officer would have been scandalized by Ratchet’s casual attitude.

“Ratchet. You requested a meeting,” Optimus stated, turning slightly to face his friend.

Ratchet grunted and scanned the surrounding area to make sure there were no eavesdroppers, human or Cybertronian. Optimus noticed his CMO’s caution, and turned to run his own scans as well. Ratchet clearly wanted what was said here to remain confidential.

After both sets of scans came up negative, Optimus turned again towards Ratchet.

“It’s about Mikaela,” Ratchet said, speaking in Cybertronian. “I’ve been talking to her medical team.”

“How is she doing?” Optimus asked, concerned.

The attack on Mikaela and her guardian had caused anxiety among a select number of United States bureaucrats with high enough clearance. Optimus was concerned that their anxiety might end up spilling over into other allied nations, such as Britain. What was also concerning is that some in the military seemed more alarmed by the fact that they hadn’t known about Drift than the fact that there had been a Decepticon attack on American soil.

None of them seemed very worried about the civilian caught up in the middle.

“The fact is, Mikaela is human and there’s only so much an organic body can take,” Ratchet laid out the situation bluntly. “She’s still alive, which is a good sign, but she still might not recover full use of her body. It’s too early to tell.” He sighed. “Some of her injuries... if she’d been Cybertronian I’d have had to replace struts and run whole new lines. With humans all they can do is align everything, screw or sew it all together, and hope that the human equivalent of self-repair is up to the job.”

Cybertronian organ transplants were less risky than the equivalent human procedure, even if Cybertronians did run a risk of rejection, it was a lot less likely than with humans though. You didn’t need to suppress the immune system for one. Replacing limbs and even entire bodies could be highly traumatic for Cybertronians, but it was still possible, unlike for humans. The issue was, Ratchet knew Cybertronian medicine, and understood the limits of his understanding of xenobiology. He had to rely on what humans had discovered, even if he had access to techniques that were more advanced, because he didn’t know how Mikaela would react to them. It would be a gamble.

“There is a technology that I can use to improve her chances,” Ratchet admitted, “but because of the treaty we have with the humans, I need your permission first.” And that was why he had called Optimus out here, and why he was keeping things confidential. Optimus needed to be able to make a decision without pressure from the others. If they knew that Optimus had declined a treatment for Mikaela that could have helped...

In the aftermath of the battle of Mission City, as they shifted through the debris to retrieve the wounded and the dead, Ratchet was put face to face with the visceral fragility of human life. Then, Bumblebee had become Sam’s guardian, and Ratchet had taken Mikaela as his apprentice.

Ratchet was over 6 million years old. Mikaela would likely die before she was 100.

“What is it?” Optimus said, withholding immediate approval.

“You know that I’ve been working on creating repair nanites designed to work with the human body,” Ratchet stated.

Optimus Prime nodded. Ratchet had started the project a few months after Mission City, with his permission, and had kept him updated on his progress. Fortunately, Sam’s injuries during The Fallen’s rampage had been serious, but easily treatable by human medical science. Mikaela’s injuries on the other hand, were potentially crippling.

“Is the project ready?” Optimus asked.

“Not for use by the general human population, but I do have a prototype that could be used. Since Mikaela was working with me during the initial design phase, I used Mikaela as a template to create the prototype.”

“So you have a prototype, but it will only work on Mikaela,” Optimus Prime summed up the situation.

Ratchet nodded. “I’ve just sent you a file with the technical specifications. In addition to the nanites themselves, I’ll need to install a communications port so I can update and reprogram the nanites as needed.”

“What about testing?”

It was a valid question, and fortunately one that Ratchet had already spent the last day validating. “I’ve run the calculations and trialed the computer models. I have a high degree of confidence it will work. However, I’m at the point where the only way to see if it does work is try it.”

“You say Mikaela could be fine without it?”

“Define fine? Some of the broken bones were quite severe. We were lucky that no major veins were severed as it is. Still, Mikaela could have nerve damage, which could lead to blood circulation issues and numbness in the area near the break. She’s also at risk for chronic pain, osteoporosis, arthritis...” Ratchet said grimly.

Optimus had to look up several of the terms Ratchet mentioned. Ratchet also helpfully sent over a condensed summary of his findings for Optimus to review.

“Aside from her physical issues, I’m also concerned about Mikaela’s mental state when she wakes up,” Ratchet confessed. “She was clearly tortured, and probably watched Drift being hurt as well. Granted, it’s not as sophisticated as some torture cases we’ve seen over the course of the war.” After all, the war had been long, nasty, and brutal on both sides. “But Mikaela is a civilian. A brave civilian, but just a civilian.”

They were both silent for a long moment. Ratchet was waiting while Optimus digested all the information he had been given.

Finally, Optimus spoke. “What you have proposed would qualify as transferring technology to the humans. Which is heavily regulated under our agreement,” Optimus pointed out gently.

“I know.” Ratchet was stubborn. He hated to lose a patient, and he hated giving substandard care when he could help it. “You’ll just have to deal with it.”

“I will, won’t I?” Optimus Prime’s field brushed Ratchet’s with good humor barely masking the deep sorrow. “You have my permission. Go,” he ordered gently, “and heal Mikaela.”

It was clearly a dismissal, and Ratchet didn’t wait for Optimus to change his mind once permission had been given. Spinning on one heel, he rapidly transformed into his search and rescue hummer alt form and raced back down the tarmac to the main body of the base and the base medical center.

Optimus shook his head, Ratchet obviously had everything ready for the procedure before he had approached Optimus, and was rushing off to perform the procedure before Optimus could change his mind. Not that he was going to.

Optimus turned his attention back to the desert around him, observing the tiny, hidden lifeforms that called it home. It was a small meditative break from the calls and meetings he knew waited for him when he returned to the converted aircraft hangar that served as the Autobot’s administrative headquarters.

For a brief moment, Optimus Prime wished for Ultra Magnus or Prowl. While he was skilled at diplomacy, Ultra Magnus and Prowl were better the tedious detail work that went along with it. Dealing with human governments was an unfortunate reality of their time on this planet. Unfortunately, Megatron showed no sign of leaving. Neither did the Matrix want Optimus to go. His dreams were haunted with the knowledge that leaving would lead to greater disaster. So, the Autobots stayed on Earth, and slowly, day by day, became more integrated.

The American government couldn’t keep the Autobots a secret for long. There would come a time when they would be forced to go public. But that time was not yet.

Optimus turned and transformed, driving back towards the administrative hangar and the meetings waiting for him.

***

January 2010

A fucking week.

Roman knew that the wheels of bureaucracy spun slowly, but this was insane. It had been a week since something had happened to Mikaela. A week since he’d had to watch as his daughter was taken away.

Since then, the only news Roman had was an email every few hours. The emails detailed the surgeries and treatments she was receiving. Every single one had a picture of Mikaela.

Mikaela — her hair in a net, a mask on her face, being prepped for another surgery.

Mikaela — post operation, being wheeled down a corridor.

Mikaela — laying in a hospital bed in an oversized recovery room.

Lines of stitches and bandaging showed where she had been cut open in order to put her back together again. Casts and splints held her fragile body together.

He should be there for her. It didn’t matter that Mikaela was unconscious. According to BB, she hadn’t woken up yet.

A few pictures had other people in them. All had their faces blurred. A handful were censored even further, with their entire body obscured.

Roman tried to take some small comfort in that. At least Mikaela had other people around. He could only hope that they were friends.

Roman huddled over the laptop with the latest email. The picture attached showed Mikaela laying in what Roman now recognized as her bed in front of a window. There was a mound of stuffed animals arranged on a chair next to her bed. Appropriately, given Mikaela’s interests, many were of vehicles.

BB, the person whose name Roman still didn’t know, wrote that Mikaela was out of her most recent surgery, and that the doctor said that she was healing well. In the picture, Roman could see that more of the casts had been removed. It seemed fast to him.

Roman knew that healing Mikaela’s body might only be the first step. He didn’t know how Mikaela had been hurt. Had it been an explosion, like Major Lennox had implied? Or had she been attacked? The uncertainty ate at him. He couldn’t sleep. Could barely eat.

Elaine was starting to notice Roman’s preoccupation. She was close to the point where she’d pin him down and make him talk... one way or the other.

It was quiet in the house. Elaine had allowed the kids to stay up until midnight, so they could watch the ball drop. Afterwards, she had herded everybody upstairs and to bed. Elaine didn’t care that a couple of the boys were now around Mikaela’s age. All the boys went to bed when their mother stared them down.

Suddenly, there was a weight on the couch next to Roman. The cushion dipped, drawing the other person closer to him, and, horrified, Roman realized that he hadn’t minimized the screen with the latest email. The attached image was displayed on the computer screen in vibrant color. Roman closed his eyes as he heard a horrified gasp next to him. It was Elaine.

“What happened?” Elaine demanded in a harsh whisper, aware of the kids sleeping, or pretending to, upstairs.

“I don’t know,” Roman admitted hoarsely. “Mikaela’s in the hospital.”

“When did this happen?” Elaine asked first, then it occurred to her, “this didn’t happen over Christmas did it?”

Roman could only nod shortly.

Elaine shoved at his shoulder hard. “Why didn’t you tell me!”

“How could I?” Roman replied. “The military took her away. She’s in a base hospital somewhere. The most I get are these emails.” He minimized the image and showed Elaine the folder he’d made with every single email.

Elaine wailed quietly, one hand firmly over her mouth to hide the noise, as Roman paged through the collected emails with their images and reports.

“How could they!” she finally said, indignantly.

“The guy I talked to — Major Lennox — seemed to know her.” Roman opened the last picture again. It was the one where Mikaela looked the least damaged. “At the very least they seem to care about her... That’s good, isn’t it?”

“They took her away!” Elaine was clearly still incensed.

“I have an interview tomorrow for a security clearance. Hopefully I’ll find out more then.”

“Do you really think they’ll do that?” Elaine sounded doubtful.

“Maybe a visitor’s pass at the very least.” Roman knew he shouldn’t be hopeful. He had a record. It wasn’t a secret. A simple background check would find it. The chance that he’d be granted a pass onto what sounded like a restricted military base was non-existent.

“Could this have something to do with Mission City?” Elaine said in a whisper, and looked over her shoulder at the stairs to make sure young ears weren’t listening.

It was possible. Elaine knew that Mikaela had been at Mission City. It had been impossible for Mikaela to hide the fact from Elaine after she came home a week later with half healed bruises and scrapes. Mission City had been described by the government and media as a terrorist attack. A lot of what had happened in the destroyed city had been hushed up, though. Video footage had been scrubbed and hidden. Internet rumors had been squashed. But there were still stories. Of explosions, everyday heroes, and giants that had walked the earth.

Most gave little credence to the stories. But Mikaela had been there. And the military was clearly interested in Mikaela.

Roman looked down, and passed the laptop over to Elaine. The folder of emails was still open.

Elaine took it and spent over an hour paging through everything. She started crying after the first couple of emails, and Roman awkwardly pulled her into a one armed hug. It was hard, but the most recent emails were hopeful. He clung to that hope.

Chapter Text

January 2010

In retrospect, it was unusual that the interview had been by phone instead of in person.

Most of the questions were things that his interviewer probably already knew from his background check. Roman was sure they just asked because they wanted him to confirm their records, or test him to find out if he was going to lie. Other questions were just plain weird. Why had they wanted to know what science fiction films, books, or TV series he watched? He didn’t understand how that was relevant.

Things moved very quickly after that.

That same night there was a messenger at the door — an actual person, not a delivery service — with a package for Roman. In the package was a small stack of very official-looking paperwork. Paging through the stack, Roman noticed that some documents had gone all the way up to the President for his signature. Others were signed by what looked like the entire UN security council.

Roman wondered again what the hell Mikaela had gotten herself — and by extension, Roman — wrapped up in.

Little sticky notes marked what documents Roman was supposed to sign. They included a couple of intricately worded NDAs that Roman read through before signing. If he was reading them right, the second NDA was actually an NDA to stop him from disclosing the existence of the first NDA. At this rate Roman wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there was a set of paperwork in some top secret archive that was written on human skin and signed in blood.

On the top of the stack was a plain sheet of white printer paper with tomorrow’s date, a time, and GPS coordinates scrawled across it in pen, along with a note that he was supposed meet Major Lennox at that location to receive his security pass.

That night Roman read the latest update from BB, then used an online mapping service to locate tomorrow’s meeting point. As far as Roman could tell, it was in the middle of nowhere in the desert. Roman knew that there were several military facilities in the southwestern United States that did not show up on any map, but he was still uncertain about this. It could be a set-up, though it seemed too elaborate.

The drive out to the desert the next day didn’t do anything to assuage Roman’s misgivings. The last town he had passed through had been miles ago, and Roman hadn’t seen any sign of human occupation besides the strip of nameless road he was travelling on. The road, however, was very well maintained. It took Roman a few miles to realize that it was very strange that a deserted road would be perfectly smooth and without any potholes.

As he crested a slight hill, Roman noticed an old, rusty cattle gate appear across the road a few hundred yards ahead. A simple barbed wire fence stretched from either side of the gate out to the horizon, but looked too delicate to be much of an obstacle to anything stronger than a tumbleweed. A large, weathered sign next to the gate identified it as U.S. government property and warned would-be trespassers away.

As Roman slowed down, however, his attention was not on the sign, but the shiny, sleek, crimson-red Lamborghini Gallardo parked incongruously next to a dusty military humvee. Somehow, despite the red dust that was kicked up in the wind and covered the humvee, the Lamborghini was spotless.

“Roman Banes,” a loud voice said suddenly. Startled, Roman turned to see Major Lennox, whose politely blank face was clearly covering a shit-eating grin.

Major Lennox gestured towards the motorcycle. “Mind turning that off for a minute so we can talk?” The Major’s voice was raised so he could be heard over the sound of Roman’s still-running motorcycle.

As Roman turned off his motorcycle and got off, Major Lennox walked over to the old cattle gate where Roman joined him shortly after.

Major Lennox pulled a security card on a lanyard out of his pocket and held it up in front of Roman’s face. “This is your pass onto the base.” Putting one hand on a non-descript post next to the gate, Major Lennox said with a straight face, “and this is the security post.” The Major popped a panel on the side of the post to reveal a well-hidden security sensor with a light. “Swiping the card will let base security know that you’re entering the grounds.” Major Lennox passed the card over the sensor and it briefly turned green. Then he closed the post.

Major Lennox turned to Roman. “Do not forget to card in. Security is extremely proactive and I don’t look forward to explaining to Mikaela how her father got himself shot,” he said, deadly serious. “While you are on base, have your security pass on you at all times.”

Roman nodded. Major Lennox didn’t look entirely convinced, but let it go.

“Follow me in. The big boss would like to meet you, but he figured you’d want to stop at medical first so you can see Mikaela.”

“Thanks,” Roman said simply.

The Major hopped the gate and climbed into the humvee while Roman headed back to his motorcycle.

All that held the gate in place was a loop of wire over the post. Once that was lifted, the gate swung open on well-oiled hinges. Major Lennox waited until Roman drove through and secured the gate before driving off down the road.

Strangely, the Lamborghini was just left sitting next to the gate, as if it was a broken down Honda Civic, not a very expensive supercar.

Two miles later Roman saw buildings appear on the horizon. As he got closer, Roman thought he could identify several blocks of what could be apartments, something that looked like a high school gym, and several large buildings that were probably offices. Most buildings had a disused feel to them, as if it hadn’t been lived in for some time.

Major Lennox pulled up in front of what must be the medical building. It was a two story beast of cold war-era concrete construction. Inside, however, it had clearly been renovated. The lights were comfortably modern, the walls were painted light colors to combat the oppressiveness of the architecture, and the flooring had clearly been replaced; it wasn’t the asbestos-laced linoleum of earlier times.

Roman followed the Major down a hallway and up the stairs, bypassing the elevator, and down another hallway. It was as strangely quiet inside the building, as it had been in the rest of the base. Roman only saw a handful of people in the hallways, and all the recovery rooms they passed were empty.

Major Lennox stopped next to the nurses station at the end of the hallway. There was only one nurse on duty, and she was typing away at her computer.

“Quiet,” Roman remarked.

“They just discharged the last idiot after the fuckup on the firing range,” said a new voice gruffly.

The man who had just spoken had just walked out of a patient room close to the nurses station. He was around the same height as Roman, but with salt-and-pepper hair and a no-nonsense attitude. Incongruously, he wore a white doctor’s coat over a set of scrubs with a cheerful pattern of red and white ambulances on them.

The man extended a hand. “Ratchet,” he introduced himself as Roman shook his hand. “I’m Mikaela’s primary physician. Her room is over here.” Ratchet nodded towards the room he had just come out of.

Doctor Ratchet followed Roman into to Mikaela’s room. Major Lennox, however, stayed outside of the room.

Mikaela’s room looked very much like the pictures BB had sent him. It was larger than he was expecting, possibly because Mikaela was the only patient in the room. A second bed had been pushed up next to Mikaela's, and the pile of plush vehicles he had seen in the pictures had been relocated to it. Along the back wall was a large window that looked out over the parking lot, and in the distance was an airstrip with a row of five large hangars.

Roman, however, only had eyes for Mikaela.

It was a cliché, but Mikaela looked like she was only sleeping. She was reclined on the medical bed with layers of thin, off-white blankets pulled up around her. The tubes that wound their way around her body put lie to that peaceful impression, though. As did the dark bruises, just beginning to fade away at the edges, that peeked out from underneath sheets and bandages. The bruises looked worse because of the unnatural pallor of Mikaela’s naturally tanned complexion.

Roman walked over to Mikaela’s side, gripping the side of the bed. He lifted a hand, wanting to touch her, but stopped, hand hovering just above Mikaela’s forehead. He didn’t know what he could do without causing further damage. The last thing Roman wanted to do was to hurt Mikaela.

The doctor must have noticed his hesitation, and realized the cause. “It’s okay,” Ratchet reassured Roman. “Go ahead.”

Roman gently touched Mikaela’s forehead with his fingertips, running his fingers down and around her ear, tucking her hair back. “Her hair’s clean...” he said numbly. It probably sounded like a completely random thing to say, but Mikaela had been unconscious for over a week.

“Bumblebee helped the nurse wash Mikaela’s hair,” Ratchet replied.

At Roman’s confused look, the doctor nodded towards the foot of the bed and a quiet, young man Roman hadn’t noticed before. The man appeared to be in his early twenties and was slightly shorter than Roman, with yellow-blonde hair and a wide smile. He wore a yellow t-shirt with black jeans.

“Bumblebee?” Roman repeated. His mind didn’t want to work, but something was bugging at him... “BB?”

The young man smiled wider, if that was possible, and made a large, exaggerated nod.

“Bumblebee doesn’t speak,” explained the doctor.

“You’re not a nurse?” Roman asked Bumblebee.

Bumblebee shook his head.

“Bumblebee is a friend of Mikaela’s.” The nurse that had previously been sitting at the nurses station walked into the room. “He’s been keeping Mikaela company since the beginning.”

“Addie Tate,” she introduced herself to Roman, “I’m Mikaela’s primary nurse.”

“Nice to meet you,” Roman replied automatically.

Roman turned back to Bumblebee. “Thank you for the updates. It’s been a huge help the last week.”

Bumblebee just smiled another large megawatt smile. Roman thought he seemed friendly enough, but he didn’t know if he approved of the guy hanging around his daughter. Bumblebee’s email updates had been a large help, but Roman didn’t know how he fit into the mystery that Mikaela’s life had clearly become while Roman was away.

Roman turned back to Mikaela, and noticed something strange on the second hospital bed.

“Is that a sword?” Roman asked, incredulously. Only the oversized hilt, with a blue gem set in a hexagonal guard, was visible at the head of the bed. The rest of the large blade was hidden under layers of blankets. Based on how far the blanketed blade continued several feet past the end of the bed, it was clearly longer than the bed itself. Roman could think of no earthly reason something like that would be in his daughter’s room.

“Yes,” Nurse Tate said. “Watch your step, it is sharp even with the blankets.”

Roman was surprised by the nurse’s casual attitude towards the massive weapon. “What is it even doing in my daughter's room? I thought weapons weren’t allowed in a hospital.”

“I was skeptical as well,” Doctor Ratchet said, “and it is unorthodox, but as a comfort object it’s been very effective at calming Mikaela down.”

Roman stared at the doctor. He understood the individual words Doctor Ratchet was saying, but as a sentence they did not make sense. “A what?”

“We haven’t figured out why, but with the sword nearby Mikaela shows fewer signs of stress,” Doctor Ratchet tried to explain.

Roman didn’t get it. “How the hell did you even get something like that in here?”

“Through the window,” Ratchet said simply, as if it was the most obvious thing ever.

Roman stared at the doctor, shook his head, and turned back towards Mikaela. She was more important.

She looked so tiny. Roman carefully ran his finger tips down her arm. He couldn’t hold her hand because her fingers were still splinted. Bumblebee quietly slid one of the extra chairs behind Roman for him to sit down in.

“As one of the doctors working on Mikaela’s case,” Doctor Ratchet said compassionately, “I can answer any questions you have.”

“She should be dead, shouldn’t she?” Roman said bleakly, staring at Mikaela. The list of injuries that Mikaela had sustained ran through the back of his mind. It was long, and daunting.

The doctor pulled up another chair and sat down heavily. “I know it looks bad, but her odds are good.”

“Who did this to her?” Roman asked.

“Don’t worry about that,” Doctor Ratchet said. “We know who it is, and we have people hunting him down. You need to be here for Mikaela.”

Anger welled up in Roman. He didn't want to let it go. He wanted to hurt whoever hurt his daughter. But he also knew that his anger wouldn’t help him here. Mikaela needed him first.

“She’s going to live the rest of her life handicapped, isn’t she?”

“Not if I can help it,” Doctor Ratchet said seriously. Roman looked the doctor in the eye, and believed him.

After a few minutes spent watching Roman interact with Mikaela, Doctor Ratchet stood up. “Take as long as you like with Mikaela. We can talk more later.”

Roman ignored the doctor has he left the room. Instead he wrapped one hand around the railing of the bed. With his other hand he gently brushed Mikaela’s hair back from her face again.

He felt helpless. It had, unfortunately, became a familiar feeling.

Time passed. Roman was dimly aware that people continued to move around him. The nurse checked a few things and left, while Doctor Ratchet and Bumblebee had a quiet, one-sided conversation near the open door. They must have known each other well, because the doctor always seemed to understand what Bumblebee wanted to say.

Roman didn’t keep track of how long he sat there, holding Mikaela’s hand.

Suddenly, a toy remote-controlled truck sped through the doorway and across the room.

Roman looked over at the noise, just in time to see the toy truck collide with his leg. It bounced off, and promptly fell apart into hundreds of pieces. Roman then watched as the pieces rearranged themselves into a small, vaguely human-shaped robot. The skinny little thing was just a bit higher than his knee, with red eyes, a jagged mouth like a kid’s jack-o-lantern, and two wheeled feet.

The little robot rubbed its head “Owwww. What you doin, gettin in the way?” it said, belligerently, shoving at Roman’s leg.

It talked? Roman stared blankly at the small robot-like thing. Its actions were too smooth to be remote controlled or programmed. Its mouth moved, its eyes squinted, and its limbs waved fluidly and naturally.

“Wheelie!” Doctor Ratchet said sharply.

Roman looked at Ratchet. The doctor didn’t seem surprised by the sudden appearance of the robot, just incredibly pissed off. Bumblebee, still standing next to the doctor, was literally facepalming. Major Lennox, who had poked his head into the room to see what was going on, only shook his head ruefully before slipping into the room and standing next to the door.

Wait...

...Wheelie?

Wasn’t that the name of the foster kid staying with Mikaela?

“What? He gonna find out anyway,” the small robot sassed the doctor, waving a hand toward Roman. It then turned around to face Roman. “Nice to finally meet you Mikaela’s father guy.” The greeting was delivered with all the grudging grace of a surly teenager.

Roman stared at the little robot as it swaggered a few steps on its two wheeled feet. The way that all the pieces fit together to make a person, yet there was still evidence of the vehicle in the wheels and headlights... “You’re Wheelie? Mikaela's Wheelie?”

The little robot — Wheelie — snorted.

How did that work, Roman thought, the little robot didn’t have a nose!?

“I’m my own Wheelie,” Wheelie said abrasively. Then, more subdued, he said, “yah, I lived with Mikki.”

“Don’t let her hear you call her that or she’ll flatten you,” Roman warned. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Bumblebee quickly cover a smile. Somebody was familiar with Mikaela’s temper.

Doctor Ratchet huffed, “can’t you learn some manners?”

Yes, Roman thought, Doctor Ratchet definitely knew Wheelie.

“Nope,” Wheelie retorted, somehow popping the ‘p’ despite not having lips.

“So, if you’re Wheelie, who lived with Mikaela, and you’re... you.” Roman waved his hand towards Wheelie. “What about the other guy Mikaela talked about... Drift?”

“Oh, you saw him, you just never recognized him,” Wheelie said cryptically. He rolled around the beds and pointed out the window. “Drift’s out there.”

Roman walked over to the window, careful not to run into the sword. In the parking lot directly below Mikaela’s window there were three vehicles; a yellow and black Camaro, a search and rescue hummer...

...and Mikaela’s white and red Subaru Impreza WRX.

Roman was frozen by the implications. He’d rode in that car. He’d noticed that Mikaela had spent more time primping and polishing that car than she did herself. And he’d never realized...

“It looks like he went through the shredder.” Roman could see the weld lines that marred the surface of the car’s skin, standing out in stark silver against the white.

“Barricade did a number on him,” Doctor Ratchet said softly as he walked up next to Roman. “I was afraid we might lose both of them.” Roman could see the other man shake his head. “Stubborn idiot. As soon as I brought him out of medical stasis he insisted on being here. Won’t leave.”

Roman looked down at Wheelie, then out at the Subaru.

Then he looked at Wheelie again.

“I take it Drift’s a bit larger than you?” Roman asked.

Wheelie cackled. “Just a little bit.”

The Subaru outside suddenly twisted like the laws of physics had been rewritten. Parts moved and rearranged themselves until there was another robot standing there. This one, however, was tall enough to look into the second story window.

Drift’s body was the same white with red detailing as the car had been, but Roman noticed how the weld lines were now concentrated on Drift’s chest and shoulders.

Scars, he realized. They were scars.

Roman looked at Drift, who still stood patiently where the Subaru had been parked. Then he looked at the two cars next to Drift. Given everything that had happened...

Roman turned back to face the room. Neither ‘Doctor’ Ratchet or Bumblebee looked at all surprised by anything that had happened.

Roman looked at Bumblebee.

“Your name is Bumblebee...” he said.

Bumblebee nodded, smiling mischievously.

“And that’s a yellow and black Camaro out there...”

Roman watched in shock as Bumblebee’s body flickered and disappeared. He spun to the window just in time to see the yellow and black Camaro shatter into a thousand pieces and reform into another big ass robot.

It bounced on it’s toes and waved at him.

Perkily.

How could a giant robot be so perky?

Major Lennox’s resigned voice came from behind Roman. “I thought the plan was to let the big boss introduce himself first?”

“I’m less intimidating,” Wheelie pointed out.

“But more annoying,” Ratchet countered. “If you need to sit Mr. Banes...”

“Roman, please,” Roman said, somewhat automatically.

“Roman, then.”

Roman turned back to Ratchet. He was turning so much, he was surprised he wasn’t dizzy.

The doctor just stood there nonplussed.

“Hummer?” Roman said, seemingly randomly.

Ratchet understood, though, and nodded. “The hummer,” he confirmed.

Roman turned and looked at Major Lennox next.

The soldier held up his hands and shook his head. “Not me, I’m just another inmate in this lunatic asylum.”

Roman turned back towards Doctor Ratchet.

“What’s this, then?” Roman said, leaning forward and rudely shoving at Ratchet’s shoulder.

Ratchet didn’t pretend to not understand. “Hardlight hologram.”

“But holograms aren’t solid,” Roman said. What did he know, though? He was a mechanic, not a scientist.

“Don’t ask him to explain,” Major Lennox said, sounding resigned. “They’ve tried before, but I think we're missing a few laws of physics.”

Roman walked away from the window, barely missing the sword as he circled around the beds. He sat down heavily in the chair next to Mikaela.

“When did life stop making sense?” Roman said randomly to no one in particular.

“For me it was when a helicopter changed into robot and mowed down the base I was at,” Major Lennox said, with morbid humor in his voice.

Roman just stared at the soldier, then shook his head.

“Mikaela, what did you get yourself into?” he said, rhetorically.

“An alien civil war that has been going on longer than our species has existed,” said Major Lennox, “and that’s the short version of the story.”

“You’re not helping,” Roman said, but without heat.

Major Lennox just shrugged.

Ratchet broke into the conversation. “Prime and Ironhide are on their way as soon as Prime gets out of his current meeting. They’ll be able to fill you in on the details,” he told Roman.

Lennox stepped forward and clapped Roman on the shoulder. “Take your time. Let it sink in. Be glad you don’t have to adjust to this in the middle of a firefight.”

“That doesn’t help.”

Lennox grinned and left the room.

Ratchet pretended to be busy reading the nurse’s notes, so Roman went back to staring at Mikaela and wondering at what point he’d fallen down the rabbit hole.

Chapter Text

Roman lost track of how long he sat there, just watching Mikaela and carefully running his finger tips down her arm. Not even giant robots from outer space could pull him away from her now.

In the meantime, Bumblebee sat back down in his chair at the foot of Mikaela’s bed, which seemed to be his usual spot. Ratchet watched Roman and Mikaela for a while, but dissolved his holoform after a few minutes. Major Lennox, who had gone back to waiting in the hallway, checked in on Roman and brought him a bottle of water before leaving. Nurse Tate checked Mikaela’s vitals, making notes and doing other small tasks before leaving again.

The young robot — Wheelie — climbed up onto the second bed. He avoided the sword as he pushed around the plushies, making a nest to lounge in.

“So,” Roman said suddenly, looking at the small robot, “you and Mikaela.”

“‘And Mikaela,’ nothing,” said Wheelie curtly. “She was a roommate... and jailor. You make it sound like I was her boyfriend or something.”

“No, that’s Drift, isn’t it,” Roman said with a smirk.

Roman heard a choking sound from the foot of the bed. Interesting, because Roman didn’t think that holograms were capable of breathing or swallowing. But then again, they did speak...

Wheelie broke out in gales of laughter, toppling over sideways. “Better Drift than that loser she was dating before,” he said with a pointed look at Bumblebee. The mute man just pointed at the little robot menacingly.

Wheelie gradually calmed down long enough to sit back up. “Nah. Mikki and Drift may have slept together, but they didn’t sleep together. Not even a bit of slap and tickle despite the fact that Mikki kept Drift polished all over,” The small robot said suggestively.

Roman glared at Wheelie and the small robot cowered back. “Never convinced her to give me a taste, though,” he said, trying to placate Mikaela’s father.

“You were the bratty little brother, weren’t you?” Roman commented.

“Heyyyyyy...” Wheelie whined, proving Roman’s point. “I’m not bratty.”

Bumblebee coughed into his hand lightly.

“What was that crack about Mikaela being your jailor, then?” Roman asked.

Wheelie squirmed.

It was very obvious to Roman that Wheelie wanted to avoid the conversation.

“Mikaela said that she met you when you tried to steal something from her,” Roman prodded.

“So, I was a ‘Con. Better me than Soundwave,” Wheelie explained in quick, sharp bursts. “I just wanted to steal it all hidden-like. Soundwave would have just flattened the place and picked it out of the rubble.” Wheelie didn’t mention what ‘it’ was.

“You were a ‘Con?” Roman asked for clarification. He wondered if it meant the same thing.

“Decepticon,” Wheelie said.

It didn’t explain much to Roman though. “What’s a Decepticon?”

“Not an Autobot,” Wheelie said snarkily.

Roman made a ‘tell me more’ gesture, trying to pull more information out of the little robot. Wheelie seemed reasonably well-versed in human slang, so he figured the robot would probably catch on.

Wheelie huffed. It was a curious noise to come from someone without lungs. “It’s war. There’s Autobots,” he waved halfheartedly towards Bumblebee, who was quietly watching from his post at the foot of the bed, “and you got Decepticons. If you’re not an Autobot, you’re a Decepticon, and if you’re not a Decepticon you’re an Autobot. Decepticons kill Autobots. Autobots kill Decepticons. That’s the way it’s always been.”

Roman was sure that things were much more complicated than Wheelie’s cynically simplistic explanation, but how he said it was ‘the way it’s always been’ was disturbing.

“Why aren’t you a Decepticon anymore?” Roman asked.

“I don’t know if you noticed,” Wheelie said sarcastically, motioning at the window and presumably the vehicles that were not really vehicles outside, “but I’m not exactly warrior material. I’m squishable. I also failed. And for the Decepticons, that means real punishment. Autobots are soft, though. All they do is talk.”

The conversation was broken by the throb of a heavy-duty engine and the hiss of air brakes as what sounded like a large semi pulled up beneath Mikaela’s window.

Roman was just standing up to see what was going on when Ratchet suddenly materialized next to him. Startled, Roman lashed out and landed a solid punch, throwing Ratchet’s holoform to the ground.

Ratchet sat on the ground, grumpily gaping at Roman while on the bed Wheelie broke into gales of laughter.

Bumblebee gave a light huff and stood up and walked over to Ratchet.

There was a knock on the door frame and a deep voice asked dryly, “are we interrupting?”

Roman turned around to face the two men standing in the doorway.

The man in front, the one who had spoken, looked like a Harlequin Romance cover model version of a trucker. He was tall, slim, and black haired with an easy smile. Somehow he made a red and blue plaid shirt, blue jeans, and black boots look like regal attire. One look into his unnaturally blue eyes, however, and Roman knew that this was undeniably the person in command.

The man standing behind the trucker was built like a brick shithouse. He looked to be in his 40’s with salt and pepper hair and the same electric blue eyes. A black t-shirt was stretched tight across an impressive collection of muscles with jeans and a weather-beaten black cowboy hat to complete the look. This was a guy who would take any shit you threw his way and return it with interest.

While Roman was busy checking out the newcomers, Bumblebee pulled Ratchet to his feet.

“Couple of yours?” Roman asked Bumblebee.

Bumblebee nodded in confirmation.

“Indeed.” The guy in front smiled easily. “Optimus Prime,” he introduced himself, holding out his hand.

“Roman Banes,” Roman said as he walked forward and took the man’s hand, testing how well this hologram of a person knew how to shake. The restrained power in the grip convinced him not to try one-upping the guy.

“Ironhide,” grunted the bruiser. He kept his hands firmly in his pockets. “Nice love tap,” he commented with a wolfish grin.

Roman shrugged. “He startled me.”

Ratchet glared at Ironhide, then at Roman.

“May we come in?” Optimus Prime asked politely.

“May as well,” Roman said. He stepped back to give them room, then turned around and walked back to his previous position next to Mikaela’s bed. Roman touched her arm briefly, as if to make sure she hadn’t disappeared, before turning to face the newcomers again.

Bumblebee pulled Ratchet to the side, against the back wall opposite of the window, so that everybody was standing in a rough half-circle around Mikaela.

“Shall we sit?” Optimus Prime proposed.

“First,” Roman interrupted; he didn’t want them getting too comfortable. “I want to know who you are and why I should care?”

Optimus Prime met the verbal challenge head-on. “I am Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots,” he said gravely, his voice a low rumble. “Circumstances have brought both us and the Decepticons here, to your world.”

It was said as smoothly as any politician, but with far more warmth than any of the cold-blooded bastards in power could ever muster up. Roman didn’t trust it.

“That sounds nice and all, but my priority is Mikaela.” The rest of the world could go hang as far as Roman was concerned. The actions of those in front of him had lead to Mikaela being here, in this hospital.

“We care about her too,” Ironhide counterd. “Girl’s too fearless for her own good.”

“Ironhide,” Optimus Prime lightly chided the other man.

“Don’t ‘Ironhide’ me, Prime. The girl may have saved Bumblebee’s ass during Mission City but she’s more breakable than he is.”

Roman happened to agree with the big bruiser.

Optimus Prime just sighed in a very human way. “Please forgive Ironhide. He is prone to being overprotective and doesn’t always express it in the most sensitive manner.”

“He’s right, though,” Roman pointed out. “Mikaela is, was, a teenager. You are...” Roman waved his hand towards the window, where he assumed their vehicle forms where currently parked, “robots from outer space. What the hell is she doing with you?”

“I don’t know,” Optimus Prime admitted, letting his politician’s mask slip at least a little bit. “After Hoover Dam... and then Mission City... I expected her to leave when she finally had the chance. To go back to her home and her life. But she never did. Mikaela’s stubborn... and loyal. And for some reason she has chosen to grace us with her loyalty.”

“But are you worth it?” Roman asked ruthlessly.

“Probably not,” Optimus said honestly, “but it’s not our choice to make, is it?”

Roman had to finally sit down while Optimus Prime went on to explain about the Autobots, Decepticons, Cybertron, and their ongoing, bloody civil war.

Roman was sure the long explanation barely counted as a high-level overview of the conflict, but even that was horrific. Four million years of bloodshed. Four million years of death. After all of that, he could see why Mikaela called to them. She was young and untouched by their war. Maybe, in a way, a reminder of what they used to have, and what they were fighting to have again.

During his years inside, that is what Mikaela had become to him. Something that was pure and untouched by what he had been through. Maybe Roman was being unfair, placing her on a pedestal like this, but she was his daughter.

“After Mission City... there is a saying... she grew on us.” Optimus Prime smiled a small, secret smile. “Absolutely stubborn, and so very curious. Mikaela was always asking questions about everything.”

“How did she end up on her own, then?” Roman was sure Mikaela had been alone, except for Drift and Wheelie. She hadn’t mentioned anybody else. If they wanted to keep her safe, why didn’t they keep her close, where they could make sure she was protected?

“The American government moved us to a military base overseas, and Mikaela could not come,” Optimus Prime explained. “We kept an eye on her from a distance. Once Drift landed, he became her guardian. We... I had hoped that keeping her at arms length and in relative obscurity would protect her.”

Roman called bullshit on that excuse. In less than a week Optimus Prime had been able to push through a mountain of governmental red tape to get a security clearance for an ex-con to be let into what was arguably the biggest secret on the planet.

“They found her, didn't they? The guys you’re fighting; the Decepticons. That’s what really happened,” Roman said. He wasn’t accusing them... but he was accusing them.

Optimus Prime nodded gravely. “A Decepticon scout named Barricade, who had been at Mission City, somehow found Drift and Mikaela. We know from surveillance footage that he entered the building while they were out, and laid an ambush for them.”

Roman saw movement out of the corner of his eye. There was a suspiciously Wheelie-sized bump shaking under the blanket. Roman stood up and leaned over Mikaela, grabbing the small robot, blanket and all, and lifted him onto his lap. Roman could feel Wheelie trembling.

“You did a great job of keeping her safe,” Roman said sarcastically. He understood that it wasn’t entirely Optimus Prime’s fault, but he wanted to hurt somebody, and Optimus Prime was convenient. “How are you going to throw her to the wolves next time?”

“We didn’t—” Ironhide growled. His attempt to get up was stopped when Optimus Prime raised his hand.

“We do not know why Mikaela was targeted,” Optimus Prime explained. “She doesn’t have access to any classified information that would make her an asset to the Decepticons.”

Roman ran a hand down what he assumed was Wheelie’s back. It was hard to tell underneath the blanket.

“Except... you care for her,” Roman pointed out, “and I bet the Decepticons would do anything to hurt somebody that you care about.” It was callous, but likely true.

Optimus Prime didn’t even bother to try to refute Roman’s observation, just nodded gravely. “Drift will remain her guardian. It is his duty to safeguard Mikaela. They will both stay here on base which is guarded by the rest of the Autobots.”

“And how long will that last? You’re Drift’s commanding officer. Don’t pretend like you can’t reassign him at any time you want.”

Optimus Prime did not answer.

Roman nodded. That confirmed his guess. “So, you’re just going to keep her here?”

“Until she is healed, yes. After that, it’s her choice.”

“Is it really?”

“Yes.”

It was said with utter confidence, and Roman wanted to believe Optimus Prime, but didn’t have much of a reason to do so. “I don’t pretend to understand everything that’s going on here, but I’m not going to let Mikaela be taken advantage of,” Roman warned them, looking around the room. Mikaela wasn’t able to advocate for herself, so Roman would just have to do so until she woke.

On the bed, Mikaela twitched slightly. She instantly became the focus of everybody’s attention.

“What’s happening?” Roman asked as Ratchet stood up and shooed him out of the way. Roman held the blanket-wrapped Wheelie in one arm as he stood behind Ratchet, trying to get a better look at whatever the doctor was doing.

“Just a twitch,” Ratchet announced after a moment.

“I thought she was in a coma?” Roman asked.

“Currently Mikaela’s technically not in a coma, she’s just sleeping. I say ‘technically’ because we’ve been unable to wake her. Every now and then, though, she’ll twitch in her sleep like she just did,” Ratchet explained.

“Do you know when she’ll wake up?” Ironhide asked this time, and Roman noticed a trace of concern that he wouldn’t have credited the older man... robot... with before.

“Unknown.” Ratchet stepped back so Roman could take his place next to Mikaela again.

Optimus Prime stood up, followed shortly by Ironhide. “We will leave you now, so you can spend more time with your daughter. You have the run of the base, including the Autobot hangars. Come visit sometime.”

The two holoforms dissolved into nothing, like a character on Star Trek. Outside, Roman heard a couple of large engines started up, then drive away.

The bundle of blankets in Roman’s hands started wriggling. Roman used his other hand to help Wheelie untangle his head from the blanket.

“Who's ya daddy?” the young robot said irrelevantly, grinning up widely at Roman as he reclined in Roman’s arms.

“For such a small robot, you’re a lot of trouble, aren’t you?”

“I’m not a robot,” Wheelie said, indignantly, “I’m a mech!”

Roman made a non-committal hum.

A light tapping caught Roman’s attention. He looked over to see Drift standing at the window.

Roman walked around Mikaela’s bed, depositing a pouting Wheelie and his blanket on the bed next to Mikaela’s so that he could open the window for Drift.

“I’m sorry,” Drift said simply.

“For what?” Roman asked.

“I was too weak to save her.”

Roman could tell that Drift was really torn up about it. Then he thought that it was strange how well a robot’s... mech’s... body language mimicked that of a human’s.

Roman looked Drift up and down. The large robot carried two wicked looking swords at his waist, and he moved like he knew how to use them. How had anyone gotten past him to Mikaela, Roman wondered?

The spider web of scars caught Roman’s eye. Drift had clearly paid the price.

“Would she agree with that?” Roman replied.

Drift paused for a moment, then shook his head ruefully.

“Then there nothing to be sorry about. And if you think there is, try apologizing to Mikaela when she’s awake again and see how far that gets you.”

Drift huffed what might have been a laugh. “She’d rip my head off... metaphorically.”

“You don’t sound so sure about that.” Roman leaned up against the wall next to the window.

“She’s spent a lot of time with Ratchet.”

The gruff, no-nonsense doctor? Roman could see Ratchet and Mikaela getting on like a house on fire. Possibly literally. “Learning more bad habits?”

“I’m sworn to secrecy,” Drift said solemnly, a twinkle in his eye.

“No offense, but I’ve hit mental overload,” Roman warned Drift. “I need time to process.”

Drift nodded and stepped back. Roman was glad he didn’t push it.

Roman shut the window as Drift transformed back into a car. Roman walked back across the room to his chair next to Mikaela.

The stress of the day was starting to get to him. Roman needed time. Hell, he was almost convinced that he needed a drug test. Being the unwitting test subject of a new form of LSD was beginning to sound like a more likely scenario than giant robots from outer space landing on Earth and being emotionally compromised by his teenage daughter.

Roman thunked his head against the back of his chair. That was another conversation he wasn’t looking forward to.

He sat there until long after the sun went down and Nurse Tate dimmed the lights.

Bumblebee and Wheelie remained silent witnesses. Roman thought that Wheelie might have even fallen asleep. Which led to the question, do robots dream of electric sheep?

He needed a nap.

Roman was awoken by a hand on his arm. Major Lennox and another soldier pulled him up out of his chair and dragged him, protesting blearily, out of the room, down the hallway, down the stairs (using the elevator this time), out of the building, and to another building a few hundred yards away. Once there, he was taken inside an apartment, given a set of keys, and told that somebody would be by at 0800 to bring him back to the medical center.

Roman didn’t even have time to take off his clothes before he passed out face down on the bed.

...fortunately, the next morning he discovered that the apartment was fully stocked, including spare clothing and toiletries.

Chapter Text

January 2010

Sideswipe was bored. Bored... bored... bored... bored...

He’d already completed the day’s drills with a squad of NEST soldiers, irritated Ironhide to the point where he risked getting shot if the older mech saw him anytime soon, and sat on Skids before he blew up their living quarters in a misguided prank. Sideswipe was bored, and the human information network was duller than Ironhide’s finish.

Sideswipe needed a challenge. He was addicted to the rush of energon through his veins and the electric feeling of dancing on the edge of death, but the Decepticons weren’t being obliging. The search for Barricade had been running since Mikaela and Drift had been attacked, but the wily ‘Con had evaded every one of the Autobot’s attempts to locate him, and the trail was getting cold.

And Sideswipe was bored.

It was too quiet.

A red Lamborghini Gallardo cruised up and down the streets of the base, like an inmate pacing the floor of his cell.

Bored... bored... bo—

Wait...

Sideswipe nimbly turned into the medical building parking lot and pulled in next to the other two mechs there, pinning the new guy between himself and Bumblebee. He pulled his EM field in tight. No need to give the other guy a warning, after all.

:Hey, ‘Con?: Sideswipe called out. He used a general, short-range comm broadcast frequency so that both Bumblebee and Drift could hear him, but none of the humans could, unless they’d learned how to hack Autobot frequencies. Sideswipe wasn’t stupid enough to risk Optimus’ wrath by airing Autobot dirty laundry in public.

The white mech didn’t reply. Sideswipe could tell that Drift’s sensors remained largely on the medical room above, but that didn’t mean that the mech wasn’t paying attention to him.

:Heyyyyyyyyy...: Sideswipe tried again.

As far as Sideswipe could tell, Drift just continued to sit there in Zen-like contemplation.

Meanwhile, Drift opened a private comm line to Bumblebee. :Is he always like this?:

:He’s trying to stir up trouble,: Bumblebee answered Drift. :He must be bored.:

:You don’t say,: Drift replied dryly.

:Driiiiiiiift...: Sideswipe tried yet again.

:So, you do know my name,: Drift finally replied to Sideswipe on the same general-use comm frequency.

:I’m bored,: Sideswipe said with an audible pout in his voice. :Let’s play.:

:No.: Drift’s flat denial left no wiggle room for negotiation.

Not that Sideswipe cared. :Why not?: Sideswipe pouted, but he could tell that the white mech wasn’t paying attention to him anymore. With Bumblebee there as a witness, he had to behave. So, Sideswipe shifted tactics.

:I bet you’re steaming because you failed,: Sideswipe taunted Drift. Drift’s field pulled in tight around him. :You failed to stop Barricade and now the girl is in the hospital and you’re stuck out here waiting to see if she’ll ever wake up again.:

:What do you want?: Drift asked, his voice deadly serious.

Now that was more like it. :A match. You and your swords. Me and mine,: Sideswipe purred.

:When and where?:

:Now. At the southwest sparring grounds.:

Bumblebee had been listening in on the open conversation, and he knew that the damage was already done. :I will watch Mikaela,: Bumblebee offered to Drift. After all, he had been watching her since she had been brought to the hospital.

Drift turned his attention to Bumblebee, and the scout quivered under the other warrior’s suddenly intense focus. :Do so,: Drift said shortly, the implied threat of what he would do if Bumblebee didn’t thick in his voice.

Sideswipe quivered with barely-restrained glee and whipped himself backwards out of the parking space and forwards from a standing start out of the lot, squealing his tires as he took the corners.

Drift followed more sedately, but with the intense, laser-focused concentration of a hunter.

Meanwhile, Bumblebee opened a private comm line to Ironhide to warn him what was about to happen in the southwest sparring grounds.

***

As Optimus pulled up to the field that had been designated the southwest sparring grounds he could see the two contestants clearly. Drift and Sideswipe stalked each other in a circle in the middle of the grounds. Small puffs of red dust were kicked up by their feet. The match had clearly been going on for some time. Both mechs had streaks of red dust as well as nicks from their opponent’s swords on their armor.

Optimus walked up to Ironhide and stood next to his weapons master, who had called him out to witness the match. His experienced eye measured up his two warriors.

Optimus was familiar with Sideswipe’s technique, and he could tell that the red mech’s bloodlust was beginning to show. He was straining to stay within the bounds of a friendly spar.

“You wanted to talk,” Optimus said to Ironhide.

“Yep,” Ironhide drawled, his attention largely on the two duelists in front of him.

Sideswipe suddenly broke the deadlock and spun, feinting with one sword while bringing his other sword around to try to get underneath Drift’s guard. Drift successfully countered the move and avoided Sideswipe’s follow up attack, cheekily smacking Sideswipe on the side with the flat of his blade. The red mech visibly fumed at the implicit insult as his finish was only smudged instead of sliced.

“Been thinking about our little ‘Con problem,” Ironhide stated.

“The trail is cold. Barricade could be halfway around the world by now,” Optimus said.

“Nah. He’s around. I can feel him,” Ironhide said with implacable certainty.

Optimus spared a glance at the black mech. Ironhide was old and experienced. His instincts were based on ages of multi-layered experiences that provoked logical leaps that didn’t always seem possible. Ironhide was often correct, though. Even if he wasn’t, Optimus couldn’t take the risk of stopping the search for Barricade. It was likely that the mech was still on Earth. They would have noticed if Barricade had left the planet. That kind of movement was very obvious.

Drift and Sideswipe continued their duel. It barely counted as a friendly spar anymore. Sideswipe dripped energon from a few strategically placed cuts that, if they had been deeper, would have severed important motor relays and brought the spar to a sudden halt. The scuffs on Sideswipe’s plating were more damning. Many of them would have been fatal hits, had they landed in combat.

“Had an idea,” Ironhide announced.

Optimus waited. He knew Ironhide, and he knew that Ironhide would get to the point without his help. It would take a few minutes, though.

In the meantime, Sideswipe had completely lost his focus. Optimus was ready to step in, just in case things escalated to unacceptable levels. However, unlike his opponent, Drift was still collected and focused. Optimus and Ironhide could see that Drift wouldn’t land a hit that he didn’t mean to. On the other hand, Sideswipe was getting close to a berserker fury usually only seen on the battlefield.

“Send Drift out after Barricade,” Ironhide said. “Maybe an ex-‘Con will have better luck catching a ‘Con.”

“Drift lost his last encounter with Barricade,” Optimus pointed out.

“You saw the footage. Mech was ambushed, then handicapped by protecting Mikaela.”

Speaking of that... “Drift won’t leave Mikaela easily.” Not with the way he’d defied Ratchet to camp out outside Mikaela’s hospital room.

But Ironhide had an answer for that too. “Bumblebee can take over. He pretty much already has. ‘Bee’s been moping since Sam kicked him out. It’ll do him good to have somebody to watch over.”

“I will take it under consideration,” Optimus said diplomatically.

Across the field, Ratchet had joined Jolt, Arcee, Skids, and Mudflap to watch the duel.

Drift feinted, and Sideswipe, who was getting more and more reckless as the fight dragged on, fell for it. Drift left an opening in his guard and ended up taking a glancing blow to his side, Sideswipe’s first energon of the fight. However, Drift was able to use Sideswipe’s blow as a distraction, locking up one of Sideswipe’s arm blades with one of his short swords. Drift’s other blade came to rest across Sideswipe’s throat, just touching the exposed motor cables and energon lines that ran through his neck.

“Yield,” demanded Drift, a subsonic, growling threat buried beneath the ritual words.

“I yield,” Sideswipe said reluctantly, tugging at his pinned arm.

Drift disengaged and stepped back carefully, swords held ready between himself and Sideswipe, guarding from any attempt at a sneak attack.

Sideswipe stood up slowly as Skids and Mudflap, oblivious to the undercurrent of tension between the two mechs, trampled their way onto the field, assaulting the two competitors with incessant questions.

Above the mayhem, Ratchet’s voice rang out, “MOVE! You stubborn glitches! What have you done now?”

Skids and Mudflap fled in terror before the wrath of the Autobot CMO as Ratchet bore down on the bleeding competitors. Upon reaching Drift and Sideswipe, Ratchet swiftly took a firm grip on each warrior by their metaphorical ears and not-so-gently dragged them in the direction of the medbay.

Optimus Prime and Ironhide watched as Ratchet hauled the competitors away. Sideswipe protested the entire way, pointing out that if Ratchet dented his head, he’d just have to repair it anyway. Drift, however, was strangely silent, and just walked along with his head slightly bent, still holding his unsheathed swords loosely in his hands.

Optimus Prime opened up a private comm line with Ironhide. He didn’t need the rest of the Autobots overhearing what he was about to ask Ironhide. “How much does Barricade’s claim that Drift is Deadlock weigh in your proposal to send Drift Decepticon hunting?”

During Wheelie’s call to Ironhide, the weapons master had shared the transmission with Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Ratchet. The other two mechs hadn’t said anything, but they must have all heard Barricade call Drift ‘Deadlock.’

Deadlock was a legend; one of the Decepticon elite, a berserker with a talent for strategic thinking, and the protege of none other than Megatron himself. Until the mech disappeared without a trace. Rumor said that he’d lost favor with Megatron for some reason, had been demoted, then killed.

However, Drift looked nothing like Deadlock. He didn’t move like the Decepticon warrior, or use the same weapons. When provoked he was calm and deliberate, aside from brief flashes of temper. Besides being a speedster, Drift had very little in common with Deadlock.

Barricade had known Deadlock, though, and had taken Deadlock’s place at Megatron’s side after Deadlock’s disappearance. Was it possible that Barricade knew something they didn’t?

“I don’t like him.” Ironhide said bluntly. “He’s an ex-’Con. But he fought to deactivation for Mikaela. You saw the footage, same as I did.” They had reviewed the footage recovered from the warehouse together. “And now all the mech will do is mope outside her window. Name a Decepticon that would do that.”

Optimus ran the options through various scenarios. “I will take your advice into consideration, provided Ratchet has cleared Drift from medical,” Optimus hedged.

Ironhide nodded. “Send Sideswipe with him, when Ratchet’s cleared him for duty,” Ironhide said wryly, acknowledging that Sideswipe had been the worse off after the duel. “Between the two of them they’ll stop Barricade... If they can find him.”

***

A couple of hours later Optimus Prime called Drift and Sideswipe into to the administrative hangar to meet with him. Drift reluctantly drove across base and rolled up in front of the doors to the hangar. He transformed slowly and slipped through the door.

Sideswipe was already present, facing Optimus Prime at the far end of the building.

Halfway across the building Drift stopped, and gingerly knelt down, head bowed. “Lord Prime,” he said, formally.

“Drift,” Optimus Prime acknowledged him.

Drift rose to his feet and stood at attention. Meanwhile, Sideswipe just stood casually.

Optimus Prime stood tall before them, his hands clasped behind his back. “Sideswipe. Drift. I called you here because I have an assignment for you.”

“Yes!” Sideswipe cheered, throwing an arm up in the air, then cringing as he was reminded of his fresh wounds.

Optimus gave Sideswipe a stern look, but it didn’t dampen the red mech’s spirit, so Optimus quickly gave up and turned his attention to Drift.

“Both of you will be assigned to work together to hunt down Barricade. You will use your skills, as well as Drift’s experience, to locate Barricade and bring him into custody. During this mission you will be comm silent.”

As Drift moved to speak, Optimus preempted his question. “I am aware that you would rather stay in your current position guarding Mikaela, Drift, and I am not permanently removing you from that duty. However, as she currently resides on base with the rest of the Autobots in residence, Bumblebee will be able to provide adequate protection. Your skills are better needed elsewhere,” Optimus paused.

“Has the CMO cleared us for this assignment?” Drift asked blandly.

Optimus nodded. “With the condition that you both rest for another three days before departing.”

“May I make a request?”

Optimus was intrigued, but had no reason to turn him down. “You may ask.”

“If Mikaela should wake up before I return, I ask that you inform her of my assignment and the reasons for it.”

Optimus thought it an odd request, but it didn’t strike him as an unreasonable one. “I will,” he said solemnly.

“Very well, I will make my preparations, then. If I am dismissed?”

“You are.” Optimus nodded in dismissal.

Sideswipe stayed behind as Drift briefly bowed, pivoted smartly on his heel, and stalked out of the hangar.

***

Bumblebee watched as Drift, in his Subaru alt mode, returned to the parking space next to Bumblebee, scanning Mikaela’s room for a quick check in as usual.

Bumblebee’s relaxed field lapped against Drift’s armor companionably, but Drift’s field was tight and pulled back.

Bumblebee let Drift stew on whatever had him riled up this time.

Eventually, Drift sent a wordless request to open a comm line, which Bumblebee responded to.

:I’ve been assigned to the hunt for Barricade,: Drift said briefly, but formally. :During my assignment I request that you look after my charge.:

:I am honored by the trust you have placed in me, and I will look after her as my own.: It was more formality than Bumblebee usually used, but the other mech seemed to respond to it better.

The reminder of Bumblebee’s last charge, Sam, also hurt... a bit. It was slowly going away, but Bumblebee knew that only time would help.

:I will contact you when Mikaela wakes up.: Because Bumblebee firmly believed that it would be ‘when,’ not ‘if.’

:That will not be possible,: Drift explained. Bumblebee could hear the regret in his voice. :Sideswipe and I will be on comm silent protocols.:

Bumblebee knew very well what that meant. After all, as a scout most of his assignments were comm silent. It meant that Drift and Sideswipe would have no contact with base until they either captured Barricade or reached the end of the assignment period. They’d be on their own. Communications were not disabled, but were discouraged for anything besides mission success, or the most critical of failures.

:I will hold her safe until your return,: Bumblebee promised solemnly.

:Thank you,: Drift said quietly, then cut the connection.

Bumblebee and Drift sat companionably close outside Mikaela's room, waiting.

***

Three days later, Drift departed with Sideswipe.

Afterwards, Bumblebee noticed that Drift’s great sword was still next to Mikaela’s bed, but paid it no further attention.

Chapter Text

She was.

She was effervescent light.

She was flowing emotion.

She was a breath of sound...

There was a formless whisper next to her ear.

She turns, but sees nothing...

There was a gently wicked amusement.

There was a steady whisper next to her other ear.

She turns, and there was overwhelmingly clear light.

It did not overpower her.

There was gentle welcome.

She asked an obvious question.

And received an obvious answer.

But she didn’t know what it was.

A frustrated sigh.

She pulled back slightly.

Attentive apology.

She was slowly slipping.

A gentle caress.

She slips away.

Faintly “...hear me...”

***

January 2010

Mikaela woke up slowly, awareness gradually returning as if rising from a great depth.

There was movement nearby.

Mikaela could hear Ratchet gently calling her name. That was strange. He shouldn’t... couldn’t be here.

Mikaela knew something was missing.

“Come on, sweetie, let me see those eyes.”

...that was her father. He shouldn’t be here either.

Mikaela tried to tell them, but the words wouldn’t come.

It took Mikaela a few tries before she was able to open her eyes.

Everything was blurry. Her eyes felt sticky and the room was too bright.

She was lying in a bed. There were blankets, thin and rough, but plentiful. The heavy weight of them pushed her down. Down into the mattress below.

She was staring at the ceiling. The ceiling wasn’t that interesting. It was a ceiling. There were lights. Fortunately they were off.

Her father’s head suddenly blocked her view of the ceiling. She was so sluggish, she couldn’t even twitch in surprise. He couldn’t be here. He was still... no, not anymore, she remembered.

Her father wasn’t there... but... her father couldn’t be here, Ratchet was here... wasn’t he?

...where was here? Diego Garcia?

Where was Barricade?

Where was Drift?

Mikaela didn’t notice as her breathing and heartbeat accelerated. She didn’t care. She needed...

A wash of unsubstantial warmth rushed over her like sunlight breaking from behind a cloud; warm, soft, and uncomplicated.

Mikaela turned her head towards whatever was creating the field enveloping her, and she saw Drift’s great sword. It was never far away from him. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t be in the room. At least his sword was here. She felt warm as the sword’s field flowed over her.

She relaxed back into the unsubstantial cradle of comfort and let the feeling of peace calm her.

Ratchet was trying to get Mikaela’s attention again, but she was just too tired. She slipped back...

***

The next time Mikaela woke up — or, at least the next time she remembered waking up — it was like flicking a switch. One moment she was asleep, the next moment she was awake.

The suddenness left Mikaela disoriented. She didn’t know where she was. She didn’t know when she was. She couldn’t turn her head. She couldn’t raise a finger. She couldn’t MOVE!

Panicking, Mikaela was unaware of the alarms going off at the nurses station just outside of her room as the monitors picked up on her sudden change of status.

Because he was in Mikaela’s room, Bumblebee made it to Mikaela’s side first, followed a moment later by somebody else she couldn’t see. Mikaela recognized Bumblebee’s holoform avatar, complete with the Charlie Brown shirt she’d suggested on a whim one day.

Bumblebee crouched next to her, holding her hand and squeezing gently. With his other hand he touched her face, tracing a path down her hairline to her ear and jaw. Stroking gently, repetitively.

Bumblebee smiled at her.

She became aware of an aura of calmness next to her. It was still there.

Mikaela’s breath slowly evened out. She relaxed.

A second person leaned over Bumblebee and Mikaela finally got a good look at them. It was a woman. Mikaela didn’t know that one of the Autobots was using a female holoform...

“Good afternoon Mikaela,” she said.

The new voice grabbed Mikaela’s attention, but it was the nurse’s hair that she stared at distractedly. It was dark brown and pinned up in a twist.

“My name is Addie Tate,” she smiled. “I’m your nurse. And I’m sure you recognize Bumblebee.”

So... probably not a mech. Not with a name like that. Unless they were really deep in their cover story. Possibly Mirage would, but he wouldn’t choose something as pedestrian as brown hair. Probably pearl, to match his paint.

Mikaela reined in her wandering mind with difficulty. Nothing wanted to obey her today.

Mikaela tried to speak, but could only make an inarticulate noise. Her throat was so dry.

“That’s okay,” the nurse soothed her. “Take your time.”

Mikaela thought the nose thing blowing air was annoying. There were also more needles stuck in her than she liked thinking about. It made her paranoid about twitching too hard and getting stabbed extra deep.

There was a clatter of running feet in the hallway, and Mikaela’s father burst through the doorway, using the door jamb to pivot himself at a flat out dash into the room. Roman practically slid the last few feet to Mikaela’s bed, bumping up roughly against Bumblebee in his eagerness.

“Mikaela, you’re awake!” Roman exclaimed. He sounded relieved.

“‘Course she’s awake. You got eyes, don’t ya?”

Mikaela rolled her eyes at Wheelie’s abrasive attitude. Come to think of it, she could feel something huddled up against her right side. Hard and poky, and not in a fun way.

What the fuck did they have her on? Damn, she was floaty.

Somewhere in the distance Mikaela heard emergency sirens coming closer. Mikaela thought it was an overreaction.

“That’ll probably be Doctor Ratchet,” the pretty-nurse-with-the-brown-hair-who-had-introduced-herself-earlier said.

Mikaela wanted to laugh, hearing Ratchet referred to as ‘doctor.’ ‘Hardass’ would be more appropriate. It made breathing hurt, though, so she had to stop.

It was probably only a few minutes later, but as far as Mikaela was concerned, it may as well have been hours before Ratchet rolled up and his holoform appeared in the room.

Ratchet promptly banned Roman and Bumblebee to the back of the room while he evaluated Mikaela.

Mikaela didn’t know it was possible to hate somebody as much as she did Ratchet while he poked and prodded and asked way too many questions. Fortunately, the nurse fetched something wet for Mikaela, otherwise Ratchet would have had to settle for grunts. As it was, Mikaela’s answers were sparse and monosyllabic.

Ratchet eventually finished and allowed Roman and Bumblebee to crowd back around Mikaela, but she was feeling drowsy with exhaustion. Even her hair felt exhausted.

Mikaela gradually fell asleep to the sound of her father humming. He never could carry a tune...

***

More than a week passed before Mikaela could stay awake for more than a couple of hours at a time, and now she was bored. Bored... bored... bored... bored... bored...

There was only so much daytime TV that she could watch using the old TV mounted in the corner of the room, or music that she could listen to on the radio. Ratchet had forbidden Mikaela from using her pad to study. She didn’t have her phone; she didn’t know if it had even survived the warehouse. Her laptop had definitely died in the explosion. Mikaela had bribed Bumblebee to bring her books, but he hadn’t gotten back yet.

Mikaela would be climbing the walls... if she could even climb. Would she even...

With a mental snap Mikaela shut down that line of thinking. Doubt wouldn’t help her recover.

She needed a distraction and she needed it fast. Why was it taking Bumblebee so long?

Why was it taking Drift so long?

Ratchet limited her visitors at first. He even went so far as to kick her father out of the room. Mikaela suspected that it had been more for her father’s sake than hers. He was still a little clingy after the whole ‘nearly died’ thing.

When she first woke up, Mikaela had been surprised to see her father. But it made sense, once she thought about it. Optimus Prime was not one to let barriers stand in the way of what he saw as right. She wondered how that meeting had gone.

Despite Ratchet’s protectiveness, nearly everybody had taken time to see her.

Skids and Mudflap had visited her, despite the fact that they’d only known her for a couple of weeks before being shipped off to Diego Garcia.

Hell, even Jolt had visited her, just to see what all the fuss was about, and he’d never met Mikaela before.

Drift never came.

Drift’s great sword lay next to her, like it had in the days that she and Drift had spent together in the warehouse. However, nobody mentioned him.

If it wasn’t for the sword, Mikaela could almost believe that Drift had been a ghost she had dreamed up in one of her visions. She reached out periodically to touch the great sword and prove it wasn’t also a figment of a dream.

When Ratchet came by to check up on her, Mikaela wanted to ask, but she was more afraid what his answer would be, so she never did.

Bumblebee practically lived with Mikaela. The other Autobots even brought him his energon in the parking lot. He never left her side, just like Drift...

Drift would never willingly part with Wing’s sword.

Yet his great sword rested beside her...

Drift never came...

And the clawing emptiness slowly grew larger...

***

Mikaela was sitting on her bed with one of the books Bumblebee had ‘smuggled’ in when she heard somebody knock gently on the door frame. Mikaela looked up to see Ironhide’s holoform.

“Ironhide.” Mikaela smiled and waved him in, marking her place and setting her book to the side.

“Mikaela!” Ironhide replied heartily as he strode across the room to the side of her bed.

Ironhide’s hug was careful. Everyone had all gotten the lecture on how not to cause more damage to Mikaela’s healing body from Ratchet before he started allowing anyone to visit her.

After Mikaela let go, Ironhide pulled up a chair so he could sit next to her.

“So, what’s happening outside?” Mikaela was eager to hear the latest gossip in the hope that it would distract her.

“Skids and Mudflap tried to prank Jolt... again.” It was the third time this week, Mikaela knew. “And he shocked them... again.” Ironhide walked through the entire event for Mikaela's amusement, complete with audio clips of the highlights. He could see that she was starting to tire, though. She tried so hard.

“I got something I need to ask you,” Ironhide said gruffly.

“Okay,” Mikaela said, leaning back against her pillows. She could tell it was something serious.

“Considering Drift is gone now, I would like to offer myself as your guardian.”

Mikaela just blinked, staring at Ironhide as her mind went completely blank. For what felt like several minutes everything stopped. It took a great effort before Mikaela was able to say anything around the sudden lump in her throat. She was actually proud when her voice didn’t waver.

“Drift is gone?” she confirmed in a small voice.

Ironhide nodded.

Mikaela turned her head away and looked out the window. She couldn’t look at him now, or she’d definitely do something she’d regret. Like cry in front of him.

She was silent for a few minutes, hand on her breastbone. The pain was so real she swore it was physical.

Ironhide waited patently. Taking a guardian wasn’t a decision for Mikaela to jump into lightly, and he would give her as much time as she needed to make her decision.

“What about Lennox? Aren’t you his guardian?” Mikaela asked, not turning around.

“You need me more. He understands.”

That’s right, Mikaela thought. Ironhide was a guardian like Bumblebee. Leaving his charge would not be easy emotionally, but as far as coding was concerned it was a simple switch. Unlike Drift...

Mikaela bowed her head, still not looking at Ironhide. “I...can’t. I’m sorry, but no.” Her voice was starting to waver despite every short meditation, breathing exercise, and self-soothing trick she knew.

Ironhide frowned, concerned. Something wasn’t right here. “It’s an open offer. You can change your mind at any time.”

“Thanks,” Mikaela said in a voice that was barely a whisper.

Mikaela wanted to shout. She wanted to scream. She wanted to collapse into a messy huddle of tear-stained misery. But she didn’t want anybody to see it. Her pain was private.

Ironhide nodded, then stood up and started to leave.

“Ironhide,” Mikaela called back over her shoulder as he walked towards the door.

Ironhide turned back to face her.

Mikaela was still facing the window. One hand was still absently rubbing her chest. “Thank you...” she said, gritting out the words past the lump in her throat, “for letting me... know.”

Ironhide nodded, though Mikaela couldn't see it. “You’re welcome,” he said gruffly, then turned and left.

Mikaela listened to the sound of Ironhide’s holoform dissipating in the hallway.

“Bumblebee,” she said softly.

Mikaela heard the soft sounds as Bumblebee’s holoform shifted position in the chair he’d claimed as his.

“Can you...” her breathing hitched. “I need some time alone... please?”

Mikaela didn’t look at him, but she could hear it as his holoform disappeared. Bumblebee was still out in the parking lot, and he could still sense anything that happened in the room. But this was the most privacy that she could expect now.

Funny, how she was constantly surrounded by somebody... but... so... alone...

Her breath hitched again, her chest tightened, and she couldn’t keep it in anymore. Mikaela pulled a spare pillow from the other bed and curled up around it. Her cries manifested only in ragged, gulping breaths. All of her screaming was on the inside. Tears that had been threatening to fall since Ironhide had spoken started falling steadily down her face.

Mikaela had suspected the truth as soon as she had realized that Drift’s great sword was in the bed next to her, but Drift never came. The sword shared a bond with Drift. More importantly, it was the last remnant Drift had of Wing. There was no way Drift would leave it behind... and her...

Drift was dead.

Now she just had to learn how to live with that.

Chapter Text

February 2010

Two weeks later, and the doctors had finally removed the last of the bandages and stitching. While in the room with Mikaela they were professional enough. In the hallway, however, they had a habit of gossiping within earshot of her room.

Mikaela heard what they said.

She was healing too fast to be natural.

She was a medical anomaly.

It was dehumanizing, but Mikaela couldn’t find it in herself to even care.

Mikaela didn’t notice Bumblebee giving her a worried look as he reported the doctor’s conversations to Ratchet.

Her physical therapist was better. At least they talked to Mikaela instead of around Mikaela. Having somebody encourage her to push herself just that little bit further reminded Mikaela of afternoons spent with Drift watching her as she practiced on the mats in the warehouse. It almost put her in a pleasant mood, at least until Mikaela remembered Drift was gone.

Mikaela was determined to get better, though. Drift wouldn’t want her to fall apart.

Nighttime was the worst. Mikaela could maintain the pretense of everything being normal during the day. She had to, she was constantly around other people. Bumblebee, the physical therapist, her dad, Ratchet... somebody was always there watching her.

At night, though...

As the days dragged on Mikaela couldn’t even cry anymore. It was as if all of her tears had dried up inside her, leaving a filmy crust of emotional residue. She just felt... gray.

At night, Mikaela often laid in bed for hours in a fog of nothingness; unable to sleep, but unwilling to be awake.

And nobody noticed.

The electromagnetic field of Drift’s great sword radiated soothingly from the bed next to Mikaela. It was a bittersweet sensation. It hurt because it reminded her of Drift, but it was also completely comforting. If she closed her eyes she could almost pretend that she was sleeping next to Drift.

She understood now why Drift had been so obsessed with the sword after Wing’s death. It had been the last physical reminder he’d had of Wing.

Now it was the last physical reminder she had of Drift.

***

Once Mikaela was able to walk down the hall and back on her own, she was discharged from the medical center and given an apartment in the same officer’s block that her father was living in. Similar to her hospital room, it was a second story apartment that overlooked a flat area that, while not a parking lot, would become home to Bumblebee.

The morning of the move Mikaela was not feeling social at all. The last thing she wanted to do was to put on her mask and interact with people.

She had to, though.

Bumblebee stuck his head around the corner of her doorway with a cheerful ‘beep’ that was completely strange coming from a human.

At some point while Mikaela was unconscious, somebody — probably Bumblebee — had commissioned plush versions of Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Ratchet, and Bumblebee’s alt modes. They were reasonably accurate, down to the flame detailing on Optimus and the search and rescue logos on Ratchet. Mikaela was trying to gather the plushies that had been sitting on the bed together, but it wasn’t going well.

“Bumblebee!” Mikaela exclaimed, at her wit’s end. Wheelie kept stealing the plushies and acting out scenes from Hamlet. Mikaela was going to strangle Wheelie, then she was going to hunt down whoever introduced the miniature terror to Shakespeare and lock them in a closet with the small mech.

Besides the plushies and some clothes, Mikaela didn’t have many other belongings. Most of what she’d owned had been blown up in the warehouse; except for her shop tools, which were now in storage.

Mikaela had been given replacement clothing and personal supplies while she was on base. She didn’t, however, have a laptop or phone, so she was unable to shop for her own online. Not that she could even do that, her credit and bank cards were missing, as was her driver’s licence.

Mikaela was completely cut off from the rest of the world. The rest of the world could have collapsed into anarchy, and she’d hardly know, as long as they kept airing Maury.

Bumblebee perked up at Mikaela’s cry and walked into the room, holding something behind his back.

“What is that?” Mikaela asked, innocently. She could see very well what it was. It wasn’t wrapped, after all, and Bumblebee wasn’t that large.

Bumblebee hummed a little tune, and rocked back on his heels.

“None of that ‘little innocent me’ act,” Mikaela said mock-severely. “Why are you carrying a wizard’s staff?”

Bumblebee pulled it out from behind his back with a little flourish. It looked just like Gandalf’s staff from The Lord of the Rings. Instead of a crystal on the end, however, it had a chunk of silvery metal.

Bumblebee held it out to her, encouraging Mikaela to take it from him.

“Bumblebee!” Mikaela exclaimed, pulling back, then stopping as she almost unbalanced herself and fell backwards. “What would I even do with something like that?”

Bumblebee just grinned and kept holding it out towards Mikaela.

Mikaela quickly gave in with an irritated huff and took the staff in one hand, her other hand holding on the back of a chair for support.

Bumblebee then slid in to stand behind her. “I’ll be gentle,” he said, using a sound clip of a woman’s voice Mikaela didn’t recognize as he ran his hand down her arm.

Mikaela thought that Bumblebee had clearly watched one too many romantic movies.

Bumblebee carefully lifted Mikaela’s hand from the back of the chair, helping her lean backwards against his chest for support. Bumblebee then reached around Mikaela. He wrapped both of her hands around the staff and planted it firmly against the ground. Once Mikaela found her balance again, he carefully stepped back, leaving Mikaela standing, using the staff as support.

“...it suits you...”

Mikaela clenched her eyes shut as the soft voice whispered in her ear. She didn’t know whose voice it had been, but it hadn’t been Bumblebee’s.

“This looks ridiculous,” Mikaela complained. She wasn’t really upset, though.

Bumblebee gave her his best kicked-puppy look. He must have been practicing against Optimus again, because it was super effective.

“Thank you, Bumblebee,” Mikaela said softly. “It’s very thoughtful and it’s better than the old person walker they want me to use.”

Bumblebee perked back up.

“When is—” Mikaela started to ask before she heard a heavy-duty engine coming closer. “Never mind.”

The sound stopped outside her window and was replaced with the sound of Ironhide’s transformation sequence. He crouched over to look in the window.

“Let’s get this done,” Ironhide said gruffly.

Bumblebee bounced over and quickly wrapped Wheelie and the plushies up in a blanket bundle and deposited the entire mess on Mikaela’s bed, leaving Drift’s great sword exposed. Then, Bumblebee pulled and pushed the bed with the great sword on it over to the open window so Ironhide could reach it easier.

“Careful!” Mikaela exclaimed fretfully as Ironhide reached in and took a solid grip of the hilt and gingerly maneuvered it through the window.

“Don’t go anywhere! I’ll be right out!” Mikaela called back to Ironhide as she quickly hobbled across the room to the door, using her new staff for balance.

Mikaela was nervous, very nervous. What if Ironhide dropped it? What if something damaged Drift’s sword?

At the same time, Mikaela understood that her fears were groundless. It was a sword... falling a few feet wouldn’t harm it any more than the countless battles it had been through. Still, Mikaela worried.

Mikaela was determined to hobble her way out of the medical center as quickly as she could, but was intercepted by Addie — Nurse Tate — who was pushing a wheelchair.

The nurse was not deterred by Mikaela’s exasperated look.

“It’s required,” she reminded Mikaela.

“I know...” Mikaela said sulkily, as Addie helped her sit down.

Bumblebee deposited the suspiciously quiet blanket roll on Mikaela’s lap then picked up a duffle bag full of Mikaela’s clothing and followed them out of the hospital room.

As they finally reached the front of the building and stepped outside, Bumblebee’s alt form smoothly pulled up in front of them. Bumblebee’s holoform carefully helped Mikaela out of the wheelchair and into Bumblebee’s alt form, throwing the duffle bag and blanket bundle into the back seat before dissolving.

After Bumblebee finally rounded the corner of the building Mikaela could see Ironhide still standing in the parking lot holding Drift’s great sword. It was barely a 20 second drive to the apartment block, which both mechs had refused to let her walk. The entire time, Mikaela watched Ironhide and his precious cargo like a hawk, which the older mech endured with gruff patience.

As Bumblebee pulled up to the front door of the apartment block, his holoform appeared at the side of the car and gallantly opened the door for Mikaela, stooping to offer a her a hand up and out of the car. Mikaela was able to walk to the door on her own easily enough, but Bumblebee dashed past her to open the front door.

Climbing the stairs inside the apartment building, though, was a test of Mikaela’s patience. She could only do two steps before she had to take a short break, and she absolutely refused Bumblebee’s offer to carry her.

Fortunately, Mikaela’s new apartment was the first door in the hallway. Unfortunately, Mikaela was so exhausted that she unbalanced herself while trying to knock on the door and ended up thudding her forearm against the door to hold herself up instead of knocking. Bumblebee quickly caught her by the shoulders and pulled her back as Roman opened the door.

“Welcome home, Mikaela!” Roman said heartily, holding the door open wide so Mikaela could walk in, Bumblebee following close behind.

Roman had been cleaning the apartment up for Mikaela during his free time. The apartment had been remodeled at the same time as the medical center, and there had still been a thick layer of construction dust when Roman had first opened it up.

“What is that?” Roman asked as Mikaela hobbled past him braced on her new staff.

“You’re a wizard, Harry!” Bumblebee said cheekily, having saved that clip since he’d had the harebrained idea.

Mikaela glared and jerked her thumb over her shoulder in Bumblebee’s direction, almost falling over again. “What he said.” Mikaela then pointed at Roman. “And don’t tell me you don’t recognize it. I know for a fact that Lord of the Rings was before you went away.”

Roman ruffled Mikaela’s hair carefully. “My old brain needs reminding every now and then.”

Mikaela snorted rudely — she had no patience for these shenanigans — and limped as quickly as she could towards the bedroom. Roman and Bumblebee followed attentively.

In the bedroom a metal sword rack had been set up between the bed and the window. Ironhide had made it for Drift’s great sword, saying that it was a better option than bringing in a second bed. The rack would at least support the full length of the sword.

Ironhide was standing next to the window, holding Drift’s sword, waiting for Mikaela. Mikaela tried to make a beeline for the mech at the window, but was held back by Bumblebee.

“Give him room to work,” Roman said soothingly to his daughter as Ironhide carefully maneuvered Drift’s sword through the open window, careful not to make any holes in the wall or stab Mikaela’s bed, and onto the sword rack. The entire time Ironhide was working, Mikaela was silent, but Roman could feel her vibrating with tension. Mikaela only relaxed once the sword was safely on the rack and Ironhide was pulling his arm back out of the window.

Once Ironhide was done Mikaela immediately went over to the sword, visually checking it over and lightly running her hands down the freshly-oiled blade.

“I checked it over while I was waiting for you,” Ironhide’s voice rumbled. “It’s in good shape. I’ll be over to check in on it next week.” It was a good excuse for him to check in on Mikaela, too, without telling her that he was checking in on her.

While Roman helped Mikaela stand up and walk back to the kitchen, Bumblebee’s holoform turned and raced back out of the apartment and down the stairs intending to fetch Wheelie and the duffle bag from his alt form, only to find the small mech already halfway up the stairs carrying both. Bumblebee scooped up the bundles, plus the protesting Wheelie, and carried everything up to the apartment.

Mikaela and Roman were sitting at the kitchen table by the time Bumblebee and Wheelie made it back. Bumblebee unceremoniously plopped Wheelie down in Roman’s lap then carried Mikaela’s clothes and plushies into the bedroom.

Roman could hear Bumblebee pulling out drawers and rattling hangers in the closet. “... is he putting your clothes away for you?” Roman asked.

“Probably,” Mikaela said tiredly, slumping against her seat.

Mikaela accidentally nudged her staff, which slid sideways onto the ground. She just sat passively and watched it happen. After climbing the stairs, Mikaela didn’t feel like she had the strength to move again. Roman moved Wheelie off his lap onto another chair, stood up, and picked her staff up for her. He leaned it against the wall close to Mikaela. It was far enough away that she wouldn’t accidentally hit it again, but close enough she could reach for it. Mikaela nodded an absent thanks.

“Do I need to have a conversation with him about appropriate boundaries?” Roman asked seriously, sitting down again.

Mikaela just shook her head, as Bumblebee, who had obviously overhead them, poked his head out of the bedroom with an inquisitive chirrup.

“No, it’s ok, Bumblebee,” Mikaela reassured her friend with a tired smile. Satisfied, Bumblebee went back to arranging Mikaela’s closet.

“Why are you fine with another man handling your clothes?” Roman persisted.

“Can you get me a glass of water?” Mikaela asked her father. “If we’re going to talk about this, I’m going to need something to drink, and unfortunately I can’t mix alcohol with my meds.”

Roman got up and fetched Mikaela a glass of water. “When is your next round of pills?”

Mikaela grimaced. “Not for another couple of hours.” She looked up from her water and saw the look on her father’s face. “Really, I’m fine. I’m doing a lot better since they got me off the narcotics.” Those had only made Mikaela violently nauseous, which wasn’t good when parts of her were still held together with what felt like duct tape and superglue.

Mikaela also understood that they were avoiding the topic.

Mikaela put on her serious face and faced her father. “What do you find inappropriate about the fact that Bumblebee is handling my clothes?” she asked point-blank.

“Because it’s just wrong.” Roman replied, squirming.

Mikaela was fascinated that, with one simple question, she had her father squirming.

“Why is it wrong?” she dug a little deeper. Mikaela was going to make him think about the ‘why’ behind how he was reacting.

In the back of her mind, Mikaela realized that she’d learned this technique from Drift, but she didn’t want to think about that too hard, and chased the half-formed thought away.

“Because he’s a guy.”

“You’re a guy too, and you’ve handled my clothing since I was born,” Mikaela pointed out.

“That’s different, I’m your father,” Roman said, defensively. Bumblebee was a young punk. Granted, he was better than the S&M twins, but why was Mikaela so calm about him handling her underwear?

“So, what I’m hearing is that you object to Bumblebee handling my clothing because he’s an unrelated male,” Mikaela concluded for Roman.

“Yes,” Roman confirmed.

Bumblebee popped his head out of Mikaela’s bedroom again, this time with one of her bras on her head.

Roman’s face turned red, while Mikaela just sighed and flipped the bird at Bumblebee. “Go put it away, you little shit, you’re not helping,” she said, exasperated.

Bumblebee retreated back into the bedroom.

“If you get it dirty, you’re cleaning it!” Mikaela called after him.

Mikaela turned back to her father. “I hope you’ve figured out by now that, while they may be giant robots, they are still people?”

Roman nodded.

Mikaela continued. “They may mimic human behavior, but they are fundamentally not human.”

Roman looked at Mikaela like she was crazy. “I know they’re not human. They’re giant robots.”

“Look,” Mikaela said seriously, leaning forward to try to make her point clearer, “they are giant, sentinet robotic beings from outer space. They have a history and culture and customs that are different from human history, culture, and customs. And that’s without getting into the different sub-cultures within their species or the human species. There are things that humans do that are confusing to them, just as there are things that they do that are confusing to humans.”

Mikaela could see that she was losing her father. He wasn’t completely following her, but he was at least letting her explain without interruption.

“Okay, so, you remember watching old reruns of Star Trek episodes?” Mikaela asked. “It was the only reason you’d let me stay up past 9 PM as a kid.”

Roman nodded again, without interrupting.

“Remember how, when the crew would encounter an alien civilization, the computer was able to translate the language, but they’d still get into trouble with the alien culture? Sometimes it was something that wasn’t immediately obvious at first, but you could tell that something was wrong, and the crew would have to puzzle out what it was?”

“So, you’re trying to say that there’s cultural stuff that I’m not realizing?” Roman clarified.

“Exactly.” It was Mikaela’s turn to nod. “The first few times they did something weird I usually freaked out and tried to lecture them how to act properly.”

While Mikaela was speaking, Bumblebee crept out of her bedroom and knelt down next to Mikaela’s chair, and she put an arm affectionately around him.

“Eventually, I figured out I was being an asshole. I could keep insisting they change themselves to make me comfortable, or I could meet them halfway and find a compromise we could all live with. Once I started doing that, our relationships improved.”

Roman was proud of how his daughter had matured. However, he still wasn’t quite comfortable with how close she was to Bumblebee.

“Why are you so comfortable with this situation, then?” Roman said, trying to understand.

“Because I know that Bumblebee doesn’t see my clothes as sexual objects the way that a human male would,” Mikaela said bluntly.

Bumblebee ran a short clip of an 80’s sitcom laugh track while Roman sputtered.

“A basic human assumption is that males are attracted to females, and vice versa. This assumption is not true for Cybertronians because they don’t have genders.”

“But, there’s a female. Arcee...” Roman pointed out.

“I haven’t met Arcee yet, so Bumblebee, correct me if I’m wrong, but I bet Arcee is not a different gender from Ironhide, Optimus Prime, or anybody else. I bet that she has a higher-pitched voice, probably slimmer, smaller, a ‘softer’ color... stop me if I’m wrong.” Bumblebee waved his hands in the classic ‘hourglass’ shape that humans would use to describe a woman who was ‘stacked.’ Mikaela nodded. “So, humans call Arcee ‘female’ because she fits the human stereotype of what is feminine, and not because she is actually a woman.” Bumblebee nodded vigorously.

“That’s... pretty accurate,” Roman conceded. He had the look of a man who was rewriting his entire world view. It was a look Mikaela was familiar with.

Mikaela nodded. “I’m also betting that what she has between her — metaphorical — legs is the same as what any of the ‘male’ bots has between theirs.”

Bumblebee smirked, and nodded.

Now Roman looked like his mind was breaking. It was also a look Mikaela was very familiar with.

“Bumblebee helping me put away my clothes is just that, helping me put away my clothes. I trust him not to do anything creepy.” Mikaela put a hand under Bumblebee’s chin and tilted his head up so that he was looking her in the face. “And if you’re sexually attracted to me or something like that, we’ll talk about that later,” Mikaela said strictly.

Bumblebee made some comically distressed beeping noises.

Something made Roman ask, “are humans even compatible?”

Mikaela shrugged.

Bumblebee’s face was suspiciously blank.

“Forget I asked,” Roman said faintly. But that also led to the question...

“You two seem very close. What’s the history between you two?” he asked suspiciously.

“Bumblebee’s probably got more blackmail on me than I probably want to know about,” Mikaela admitted blithely.

“What kind of blackmail?” Roman said, alarmed.

“One example would be the time my now-ex-boyfriend and I once went to second base while laying on top of his hood,” Mikaela admitted.

“BOOM-chicka-bow-WOW!” Wheelie exclaimed from underneath the kitchen table where he’d been hiding during the conversation.

“You WHAT!” Roman had spent enough time around base, and riding herd on Wheelie, to know that the Autobots were thinking, feeling beings.

Mikaela grimaced and buried her head in her hands. “Like I said, I was an asshole. It had been a crazy few days and I didn’t really understand yet that they were people, not just cars. That was an embarrassing conversation once it hit me. I couldn’t look Bumblebee in the face, or ride inside him, for over a week.”

Bumblebee gave Mikaela a puppy dog look at that, illustrating what had finally broken Mikaela’s resolve.

“That led to a conversation about Cybertronian relationships and what they view as acceptable levels of PDA. Optimus Prime got involved. It was so embarrassing.”

Roman could see that. Optimus Prime could overwhelm anybody, and that was before he met him in his 30 foot tall robot form

...Roman could also see that Mikaela was getting even more tired. She was still slumped forward on the table, only now she had laid her head on top of her arm and was nodding off.

“Do you want to take a nap?” Roman asked Mikaela, with a significant glance at Bumblebee.

Mikaela grinned tiredly. “I suppose I ought to.” She looked in Bumblebee’s direction. “Help me up?”

Bumblebee smoothly rose to his feet and lifted Mikaela into his arms. He walked into Mikaela’s bedroom, and laid her down carefully on top of the duvet and threw a blanket over her. Mikaela rolled over and leaned out of bed to give Drift’s sword a brief touch before curling up further under the blanket.

“You want to be under the covers?” Asked Roman, who had followed them into the room.

Mikaela shook her head. “Just gonna take a short nap,” she said as Bumblebee pulled her shoes off.

“Thanks,” she said as Bumblebee left with her shoes, shooing Roman out of the bedroom.

“Take Wheelie with you,” she called as Roman rinsed the dirty dishes and Bumblebee fetched her new staff to lean it next to her bed so that she could reach it later.

“You don’t love me anymore,” Wheelie whined playfully.

“More like I’m not going to be conscious enough to babysit your ass,” Mikaela replied, her words starting to slur as she gradually dropped off to sleep.

“Yah, yah...” Wheelie called as he followed Roman out of the apartment and Bumblebee locked the door... just in case. He would be able to hear anything that happened in the apartment.

Mikaela was too asleep to hear Wheelie’s grumbling.

Chapter Text

February 2010

Two cars drove down a back road in rural Idaho.

The white and red Subaru in the lead was dusty and dirty, just like any other car on the road, and attracted minimal notice.

The red Lamborghini, on the other hand, was spotlessly clean. It attracted a lot of attention and created waves of gossip wherever it went.

Sideswipe’s inability to blend in bothered Drift. They were hunting a Decepticon scout who was very, very good at blending in, not prancing around the streets of Iacon during the decadent Golden Age of Cybertron.

Drift set aside his feelings of contempt. He wanted this assignment to be over, and the quickest way to do that was to catch Barricade.

Sideswipe’s attitude made that difficult, though. The mech had completely ignored Drift’s advice, and charged recklessly after any sign of Barricade.

Deadlock hadn’t survived as Megatron’s protege and part of the Decepticon command cadre by being an idiot, however.

Drift decided to use Sideswipe’s flashy presence to his advantage.

He discovered that he could ‘find traces of Barricade,’ which Sideswipe would then use as a pretext to rush off on a wild goose chase in a direction chosen by Drift. Drift then patrolled tangentially to Sideswipe’s route, using the attention that Sideswipe’s movements generated to hide his own. His hope was that Barricade would adjust his strategy in reaction to Sideswipe’s actions, and end up breaking cover where Drift could find him.

In effect, Drift used Sideswipe like a hunter would use a hunting dog to flush prey out of hiding.

And it worked.

The two cars pulled off onto an overgrown logging road. Sideswipe bitched about the scrapes on his undercarriage. Drift didn’t mind them nearly as much, as long as it meant he was getting closer to the end of this assignment.

Ten minutes later both mechs stood above a jury-rigged energon converter. Traces of Barricade were all around the clearing where it stood. Sideswipe estimated that the energon converter would be able to produce just enough energon to keep Barricade on the run.

“Let’s blow it up,” Sideswipe said, a little too eagerly.

“Would Barricade be more pissed off if we destroyed it, or if we stole it...?” Drift asked as he handed the half-full collection tank to Sideswipe, before he started dismantling the energon converter and stowing the pieces in his subspace.

Sideswipe took a long pull at the tank, draining half the energon inside. When he passed it back to Drift, he had an evil grin on his face. “Let’s leave a little note for him, then,” he chuckled as he knelt down to scrawl obscene Cybertronian glyphs in the hard-packed dirt.

Drift sipped at the tank of energon as he watched Sideswipe draw. He approved of the level of obscenity, but personally thought Sideswipe’s creativity was lacking.

They both pulled out of the clearing several minutes later, leaving behind several anatomically-improbable suggestions scrawled in the dirt for Barricade to find.

As Drift pulled away, the ache in his spark twinged. While his bond with his great sword was mature, it was not happy that he had left it behind, and was not shy about making its opinion known.

His bond with Mikaela, on the other hand, was fragile and brittle. Mikaela didn’t have a spark to bond with and the distance stressed the infant bond to its limits.

He needed to find Barricade and end this, quickly.

That night, Drift and Sideswipe stopped to rest for a few hours at a truckstop off the interstate. They sat in the back corner of the parking lot, out of sight of the 24-hour diner where a few late night travellers were eating.

:I know what you’re doing,: Sideswipe suddenly said to Drift over an encrypted comm line. :I’m not an idiot.:

:I never said that you were,: Drift hedged, without admitting to anything. He wasn’t sure what Sideswipe was referring to.

:You thought that I’d never notice that you were manipulating me?: Sideswipe accused Drift.

:If you had listened to my advice, I wouldn’t have had to,: Drift pointed out, defensively.

:I don’t need your advice. I’m capable of hunting Decepticons on my own,: Sideswipe shot back, voice heated.

So that was it, Drift thought, he’d dented Sideswipe’s self-confidence. :I’ve been avoiding Autobot hunters just as long as you’ve been hunting Decepticons. That’s why Prime wanted me to come along. You can either focus on your own ego, or you can focus on the fact that we deprived Barricade of his source of energon. Now he’ll be driven into human settlements to find energy, so it’ll be much harder for him to hide,: Drift pointed out logically.

:How do I know you’re not working with him, Decepticon?: Sideswipe snarled.

:I will find Barricade. And when I do I will claw his guttering spark from his chest and hold it as the color fades from his body,: Drift growled his bloodthirsty vow in a voice that promised unending pain. :And I’ll tear apart anything, or anyone, that stands in my way.:

Sideswipe knew that tone of voice. He’d heard it across the battlefield before, he was sure of it. But when?

:That’s not what a good Autobot should want,: Sideswipe said.

:I’ve heard of you, Sideswipe. Don’t be a hypocrite,: Drift drawled back. It was widely known that Sideswipe and his brother Sunstreaker were berserkers with short, bloodthirsty tempers on the battlefield. Coincidentally, so had been Deadlock.

:How do I know you won’t turn on me ex-’Con?:

:Going back to the Decepticons will only earn me a pleasantly long stay in the Decepticon Justice Division’s torture chambers,: Drift said, sarcasm heavy in his voice and in his electromagnetic field. He’d seen the DJD back when he was a Decepticon, and he’d seen what happened in the holding cells aboard the Peaceful Tyranny. It was not a place that any sane mech wanted to find themselves.

Sideswipe shivered. The Autobots traded warnings about the DJD. Only a few Autobots claimed to have crossed paths with the notorious group and survived. The DJD didn’t hunt Autobots, their prey was Decepticon deserters, but that didn’t mean that they wouldn’t take an Autobot if the opportunity presented itself.

:I see you’ve heard of them,: Drift remarked. :Then you know they don’t take bribes. In fact, the larger the bribe you offer them, the longer they draw out your sentence.:

:You could appeal to Megatron,: Sideswipe pointed out.

:Because Megatron is known for taking back traitors,: Drift scoffed.

:Starscream...:

:Starscream may jockey for power, but he’s never betrayed the cause,: Drift explained. To him, it was perfectly obvious. Judging by the disbelief that echoed clearly through Sideswipe’s field, it wasn’t so obvious to an Autobot. :Besides, you think I can just call up Megatron...?: Actually, Drift might be able to. He’d never scrubbed his Decepticon contacts from his comm suite. He doubted Megatron still had the matching codes active, though.

Drift was glad when Sideswipe shut up for at least a few minutes so he could focus on calming his mind again. The conversation had upset his mental balance, and he needed to release some negativity before it started spilling out on Sideswipe. Or worse, Drift carried it back to base and his negative attitude impacted Mikaela.

Unfortunately, Sideswipe didn’t give Drift more than a few minutes.

:Why do you do it?: Sideswipe asked, calmer than before.

Drift was confused. :Do what?:

:Protect the squishy.:

:Mikaela?: Drift clarified.

:Yah, her,: Sideswipe confirmed. :I get that Optimus ordered you to, but now that Bumblebee’s free of the other one, he could take her. He likes them.:

Drift was offended. Was Sideswipe saying that he wasn’t good enough for Mikaela?

:It’s none of your business,: Drift said, his tone indicating that he didn’t want to talk about it.

Sideswipe didn’t let him shut the conversation down, however. :I know they’re short lived little things, but still, isn’t it a drag to have one attached to you all the time; like an energy leech?:

Drift didn’t dignify Sideswipe’s question with an answer. Instead, he let his field speak for him, and it projected just how uninterested he was in continuing the conversation.

After a few more goading remarks, Sideswipe eventually settled down into a low-power state to rest for a while. Soon they would head out to hunt Barricade again.

***

Mikaela woke up in darkness.

Her vision briefly whited out as she rolled over to see the clock. Pain cascaded down her side and back. Her back bowed as her muscles spasmed tight, stealing the breath from her lungs for several long, agonizing moments.

Eventually, the worst of the pain passed.

The clock on the bedside table said it was 8:45. Mikaela had slept straight through dinner.

She wasn’t hungry, though.

Mikaela laid there, on her bed, still in pain, and didn’t want to get up. Her pain pills were... somewhere. She thought Bumblebee might have put them in the bathroom, but she didn’t know if he did. Sometimes he was shaky on what was considered ‘normal’ for humans. He could have left them in the kitchen. She was supposed to take them with food after all.

Mikaela didn’t want to get up. She didn’t want to make herself food. She didn’t want to do anything...

Mikaela knew that all she had to do was call out for Bumblebee. She had faith that he was listening and that his holoform would be in her apartment before she finished saying his name.

She didn’t.

The bedroom was dark. Street lights outside cast a dim yellow glow across her ceiling. The window shades were still open. She should close those...

Sighing, she endured the pain of rolling back to face the window. Dim light reflected off of the uncovered blade of Drift’s great sword and winked from the blue gem set in the hilt.

In pain, Mikaela laid there, on her bed, completely disinterested in life, and watched light refract through an otherworldly jewel.

Her mind wandered.

Mikaela remembered Drift. It was one of their weekly trips away from the warehouse so that Drift could stretch his legs outdoors. Mikaela remembered watching him practice with his two short swords. How they flashed in the sun. She wondered what happened to them.

Mikaela remembered the slight quirk of his lips that was Drift’s smile, the hair-raising tingle of his electromagnetic field, and... how warm she felt inside when he trusted her.

Mikaela’s mind floated into a meditative state. Not directing her thoughts, but allowing them to come to her as they would. Scene after scene flicked through Mikaela’s consciousness, passing before her unfocused eyes.

She saw Drift reclined, casually propped up on one elbow, the other hand illustrating an idea in the air.

She saw Wheelie standing, scared, in front of her, caught in Drift’s hand.

She saw Bumblebee bouncing mischievously and giving her a guilty look behind Ratchet’s back.

She saw Optimus Prime looking solemn with two dozen cans worth of silly string decorating his body — in contrasting colors.

She saw Ratchet leaning over an anatomical hologram, pointing out the details to her.

She saw Ironhide, or rather, she saw his cannons. She was sitting on his arm, behind his cannons, while he fired them. (Ratchet had threatened to reformat Ironhide into a toaster for that stunt.)

She saw the look on her father’s face when he’d told her that her mother was not coming back...

Mikaela watched all of this as if she was on the other side of a pane of glass. She knew that the scenes should have stirred emotions. She couldn’t even start to pretend what those emotions should be. She was blank, untouchable white in a sea of colors.

Mikaela should be ecstatically happy.

Mikaela should be blindingly angry.

Mikaela should be profoundly hurt and betrayed.

All these emotions swirled around her in a cycle of unending emotional whiplash, but they did not touch her.

Before...

Before... Drift would have been there. Even if all he could give her was a steady hand and a supportive field, it was enough. He would have helped her navigate safely to the other side.

Now... she was alone.

Her father was clueless.

Ratchet didn’t understand.

Bumblebee was oblivious.

Ironhide didn’t know.

Optimus didn’t care.

Mikaela stared, mesmerized, at the gem in the hilt of the great sword.

How ancient it was.

She reached out...

...and fell through reality.

The landscape around her was rocky, but metallic.

The sky was blue, but a starry void.

There was nothing here, but everything was here.

“Welcome, fierce one.”

The voice filled the space around Mikaela.

It filled the space inside of Mikaela.

She both knew the voice, and did not know it at all.

Mikaela shook in denial.

No... no... no... no...

On the bed, Mikaela suddenly snapped back into reality. Reflexively, she tried to sit up, but her body protested as her muscles seized up and cramped again, causing another wave of debilitating pain.

“Bumblebee,” Mikaela croaked out, finally driven to a point where she was willing to accept help.

Bumblebee’s holoform appeared at Mikaela’s side instantly, supporting her body as tremors continued to wrack her body. She relaxed into his hands as he helped her uncurl and lowered her to the bed before leaning over to rummage through the nightstand. He pulled out a large heat pad that he turned on and draped over her torso. He then laid a blanket over Mikaela before getting up and leaving the room.

Bumblebee came back with Mikaela’s pills, a large bottle of water, and a box of crackers.

Bumblebee placed everything on the nightstand and carefully climbed onto the bed, trying not to jar Mikaela. He scooted in behind her, gently cradling her so she could to lean against him as he carefully helped her swallow her pills, alternating with sips of water and a handful of crackers.

He continued trying to feed her crackers after the pills were gone, but Mikaela eventually waved off the water and the crackers. She’d had enough. Bumblebee didn’t think so, but he didn’t want to push it and end up upsetting her.

Bumblebee continued to hold Mikaela. Fortunately, being made of light, holoforms did have body heat, so Bumblebee could help keep Mikaela warm while the painkillers and muscle relaxants slowly took effect.

Cradled in Bumblebee’s arms, Mikaela could feel the relaxation making her drowsy again. She couldn’t risk going back to sleep, though. If she slept, whatever it was would come for her again.

She was afraid.

She was alone.

She was losing her fucking mind.

She clung tightly to Bumblebee through another sleepless night.

***

A few days later Roman showed up in Ratchet’s medbay. He was at his wit’s end. Hopefully the alien doctor would know what to do. He’d claimed to be concerned for Mikaela, after all.

The large sliding doors were shut today, so Roman slipped in through the human-sized door on the side of the building.

“Hey, Ratchet!” Roman called out, walking down the length of the building towards where Ratchet was standing. There was something on the mech-height work table next to Ratchet that Roman couldn't see, and a large floating hologram of something that looked like the misbegotten lovechild of a 1975 AMC Pacer, a jackhammer, and a goat...?

Roman didn’t think he’d ever get tired of the weird shit that happened when working around aliens. And if he could believe half the stories the soldiers told him, he hadn’t seen much of anything yet. Roman certainly understood now what attracted Mikaela to the Autobots. Even he was insatiably curious about how something so obviously mechanical could still be so... alive. It didn't mean that he liked them; though Wheelie was starting to grow on him (almost literally it felt like some days).

Mikaela, on the other hand, was certainly close to Bumblebee, even if Roman thought that she seemed somewhat distant from the others.

Ratchet turned at Roman’s call. “Why are you here?” Ratchet called over his shoulder in his usually brusque manner. Roman didn’t take it personally. Ratchet didn’t have much patience for anybody most days.

“Mikaela,” Roman replied, equally short.

Ratchet made a thoughtful sound, and Roman looked at him warily. “I have been talking to Bumblebee about her,” the large mech admitted, turning away from whatever he had been working on, and turning off the hologram.

“Good,” Roman commented. “He’s the closest person to Mikaela right now. If he didn’t know something was wrong, he’s fucking blind.”

Because of Roman’s new job working in the motor pool on base, he wasn’t able to be with Mikaela all day. He made sure to be there for her first thing in the morning, and during the evenings, though. Roman also noticed that visits from the other Autobots had been nearly non-existent.

“What specifically concerns you?”

“Mikaela's health,” Roman said as he stared up at the mech that towered above him.

“She’s healing well,” Ratchet said. It was partially true. Mikaela’s healing was surpassing all human expectations. Ratchet’s expectations, taking into account the customized nanites in her body, appeared to have been wildly optimistic. If Ratchet measured Mikaela’s health using that set of criteria, she was lagging behind.

Roman hoped that Ratchet wasn’t actually that fucking stupid. “Her body, maybe. Her mind is a mess,” he retorted heatedly.

“Bumblebee is worried about that as well,” Ratchet confirmed, in a serious voice.

Roman took that as a good sign. At least one of these glorified Teddy Ruxpin wannabes wasn’t a giant idiot. “What are we going to do about it?”

“Honestly, this is not my area of expertise,” Ratchet admitted, a hint of tired bitterness in his tone. “I heal soldiers... Sometimes, they even survive. Then, they’re sent back to the battlefield to do it all again.” Ratchet turned to his project on his work bench, but Roman recognized the move for the distraction it was. “I’ve had precious little time to worry about people’s minds when I’m busy trying to keep them from bleeding out.”

“So get her a therapist, a psychologist, somebody...” Roman, at least, wasn’t ready to roll over and give up on Mikaela.

“The Autobot army itself has precious few people who can fill such a role, and none of them are here,” Ratchet explained.

“Why can’t it be a human?” Roman asked. After all, Mikaela was human, so wouldn’t a human be better at helping her recover?

“Clearance,” Ratchet explain succinctly.

Roman didn’t accept that excuse. “You’re telling me that the military doesn’t have a shrink on base to help the soldiers dealing with, I don’t know, GIANT ROBOTS!”

“They do, and they are willing to let Mikaela use their medical staff, however, it’s a risk for her,” Ratchet said seriously. Something about his tone warned Roman that there was more going on here than he understood, but Roman was also hearing was that there was a resource that could help Mikaela and that the Autobots were holding her back from it.

“What do you mean?” he demanded.

Ratchet set down the part that he had been fiddling with and turned. Roman felt the tingle that came from being in close proximity to a mech who was performing powerful scans. For whatever reason, Roman realized that what Ratchet was going to say, he didn't want anyone else listening in.

Once he was satisfied that no one, or nothing, would overhear what he had to say, Ratchet knelt down in front of Roman and lowered his voice. “You need to understand, Mikaela is close to us... to the Autobots,” he spoke urgently. “She knows things, and has access to knowledge that the American military would kill for... and has literally killed for. Your government already hides away any tiny bit of Cybertronian technology — of Cybertronian bodies — that they can get their hands on. The lengths that your government has been willing to go... We had to fight them to keep Jazz’s body. They didn’t want to let us keep it. They wanted to take him away and dissect him. And the records we have of Megatron’s imprisonment... are horrifying. Taking Mikaela, forcing her to cooperate, would be trivial to them.”

Roman didn’t know the backstory behind everything that Ratchet was referring to, but he could still draw a clear enough picture of what Ratchet was saying.

“Mikaela would never cooperate.” Roman knew this with bone-deep certainty. Mikaela had risked jail and received a juvenile record trying to help him. She was that type of person.

“I don’t see that stopping them.” Ratchet pointed out grimly. “Guantanamo Bay... extraordinary rendition... how far do you think they’d be willing to go for this technology? For technology that could allow them to conquer the stars...”

“...or wipe out all life on Earth,” Roman said bleakly, taking a not-so-wild guess.

“Given your species’ history...”

Ratchet could see Roman thinking, so he hammered home his point. “What do you think it would do to Mikaela if information she disclosed caused someone else to be injured, or worse...?”

“It would destroy her... Damnit!” Roman thrust a hand back through his hair in frustration. “Mikaela fucking loves Drift, and she loves Bumblebee. Not so sure about the rest of you...” Roman saw Ratchet flinch. “...but she’s soft-hearted that way.”

Ratchet was very carefully not looking at Roman. “Give me your perspective of what you see going on with Mikaela... please?”

“What, can’t you see it yourself?”

“An alternative perspective is helpful,” Ratchet explained. “Even more so in this case. You are her father, so you are familiar with how she has acted over a longer period of time. You are also human, and come from the same culture as her. While I may see things you don’t because you are blinded by your culture, you may also pick up on cultural clues and context that I’d be wholly ignorant of.”

Roman nodded. That made a lot of sense.

“I also admit that I haven’t been spending as much time as I could with her these last few days.” The words were sour on Ratchet’s tongue, but they needed to be said. He was old enough to recognize his failures when they were pointed out so clearly to him, even if he hated to admit it.

Ratchet’s apology gained him a few points with Roman, and helped his credibility with the other man. Besides, Ratchet had already laid out a compelling argument for why Roman shouldn’t go to the human side of the base looking for help for Mikaela.

“Mikaela is withdrawn,” Roman explained, trying to make sure he included enough context for Ratchet. “Normally we’d have to tie her down to keep her from running around while recovering, but instead she’s been unusually sleepy. It's like... she doesn’t care anymore. When it comes to physical therapy, she does the absolute minimum and that’s it. It’s in her eyes. I’m afraid...” Roman thought that he might be going to far but he was afraid that, if he didn’t say it, and something happened... “I’m afraid she doesn’t care anymore. I don’t know if it’s PTSD from the attack, or even depression, I just pray it doesn’t... I don’t want her to leave me.”

It took Ratchet a moment to parse the connotations of what Roman was saying. “Are you saying she’s suicidal?”

“No!” Roman said, perhaps too quickly. “At least, I hope it’s just depression. I hope it’s just my fear talking,” Roman admitted helplessly. “I don’t know what’s going on any more.”

Both man and mech were silent for a time. Both were caught up in their thoughts.

“Ratchet?” Roman finally broke the silence.

“Yes?”

“There’s something wrong with Mikaela.”

“...we were just talking about that.” If Roman was trying to say something else about Mikaela, Ratchet was clearly not following.

“No. I mean something really wrong.”

“What do you mean?” Ratchet was starting to get impatient again. He wasn’t following Roman’s ambiguous phrasing.

“When Mikaela woke up that first time in the medical center, I saw her eyes, and that shit wasn’t human.” When Mikaela had first woke up, Roman had been present. She had been groggy and only awake for less than a minute, but Roman had noticed it as soon as she opened her eyes. Mikaela’s eyes had been white. Not the white of a human eyeball, but like a white disco ball, shining multi-colored pinpoints of light.

Ratchet was conspicuously not looking at Roman, but he could see the look in the mech’s face... “You know what I’m talking about,” Roman realized.

“If you are referring to Mikaela’s eyes changing... I have seen it too,” Ratchet admitted.

“What the hell was that?” Roman demanded.

“I don’t know,” Ratchet bit out.

“What do you mean that you don’t know?”

“I’m a Cybertronian doctor, not a human doctor. I hardly know everything when it comes to humans. I’m reliant on human databases for my information, and nothing I have found can come close to explaining what I saw,” Ratchet was frustrated. He was limited by human science and human imagination. Speaking of which... “When I did a broad search on the internet, the only reference I could find to such things turned out to be in science fiction and fantasy stories. Fiction. Nothing based on actual reality.”

Roman caught Ratchet hesitating. “So you don’t have anything at all? Not even a theory?” he pushed.

Ratchet paused, then shook his head slowly.

“You thought of something just now,” Roman said perceptively.

“It was nothing. An old mech’s rambling mind.”

“It was significant enough that you considered it,” Roman pointed out.

“On Cybertron,” Ratchet slowly ground out. “...in the old days, before the Golden Age, there were tales that those touched by Primus had completely clear optics... eyes.”

“Touched by...”

“You would say ‘God.’”

“... you’re right, that’s ridiculous,” Roman agreed. “What made you come up with that?”

“Various things...” Ratchet said obliquely. Roman didn’t have clearance to know about the Allspark, after all. But, now that Ratchet was examining his logic in greater detail, it was sounding more and more likely... “I never took seriously the stories of the Primus-touched. Priests had clear optics because they had them installed when they became priests. I should know, I did a handful of those surgeries... However... Mikaela had a fit when she was recovering shortly after surgery. You weren’t here for it. Her eyes... I looked at her eyes and all I could think of were those old stories. I don’t even know why. I’m not a believer.”

Roman was disturbed and trying not to show it. “You sound more sure of this the more you talk about it,” he pointed out. “If you were going to test this theory, what information would you need?”

“I could scan her...”Ratchet started to say, then it hit him. “I could scan her for traces of—” he started to say, then cut himself off.

It was a revelation. How could he have forgotten? After Mission City, Mikaela had registered faint traces of Allspark radiation. The levels had stayed fairly constant every time he scanned her, and she didn’t have any adverse reactions to it, so it just slipped his mind. He couldn’t remember when he had decided to stop scanning her. Even after Samuel... Ratchet wanted to hit himself.

Ratchet had started slowly swaying on his feet. Roman was concerned he was going to be dealing with a falling mech. Ratchet was too big for him to support or to catch.

Fortunately, Ratchet steadied himself against his worktable.

“Scan her for what?” Roman asked.

“Something very classified,” Ratchet said solemnly. “And if you value Mikaela’s life, you won’t repeat what we talked about in here with anybody else.”

Roman started to bristle with indignation at the implied threat against Mikaela before his brain caught up with him and reminded him of Ratchet’s earlier warning. He kept his mouth shut as Ratchet stood up straight and walked past him, heading for the large hangar doors.

Chapter Text

February 2010

As Ratchet left the medbay he passed Optimus who was headed the opposite direction, towards the habitation hangars. Ratchet had just passed the other mech when he stopped, and turned to face Optimus.

“Optimus?” Ratchet called out in Cybertronian.

Optimus obligingly stopped and turned.

“Ratchet,” Optimus acknowledged Ratchet in the same language. He noticed that his friend was unusually hesitant. Ratchet was shuffling subtly, as if uncomfortable about something, though he was hiding it well.

“I’m going to visit Mikaela. I was hoping you would be able to come along.” Ratchet wasn’t the only one who had been avoiding Mikaela, after all. This could be one small step towards making things right.

Optimus pulled up his schedule on his HUD. He had meetings with several of the Joint Chiefs, as well as members of the UN. However, he knew the look on Ratchet’s face. The last time he’d ignored Ratchet’s ‘suggestion’ when the medic was like this, Ratchet had taken it upon himself to rearrange Optimus’ schedule in order to give Optimus time off. It had taken months before the Ontali’i ambassador would talk to Optimus again.

Optimus mentally sighed and rearranged his calendar, sending notifications to the appropriate secretaries and assistants. As the acknowledgements (and protests) started rolling in, Optimus shuffled the messages into a queue to sort later.

“I can give you two hours,” Optimus replied.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Mikaela,” Ratchet reminded Optimus as he started walking in the direction of Mikaela’s apartment. The fact that it would also get Optimus away from work for a while was just a bonus in Ratchet’s mind.

“I’m aware. How is she doing?” Optimus asked as he walked next to Ratchet, both mechs in their root form.

Usually, the Autobots would transform into their alt forms to travel across the base. The Autobots had swiftly learned that the majority of the humans on base were more comfortable with their alt forms instead of their root forms. However, Ratchet showed no sign of transforming, so Optimus followed suit.

“Physically... Mikaela’s doing fine,” Ratchet admitted.

“What is your hesitation?” Optimus had known Ratchet since before he had been made Prime. His old friend was worried about something. He could tell.

“Bumblebee and Roman have both approached me with concerns about Mikaela’s progress,” Ratchet admitted. “I’d like to run some scans, but I don’t want to disturb her. I was hoping you would be willing to distract her for me.”

“Gladly,” Optimus replied. “I can sense that’s not your only concern, however.” Ratchet’s field was roiled and uneasy where it brushed against his.

Ratchet’s reply was unusually subdued for the gruff mech. “I’ve been reminded that we’ve — that I’ve — been standoffish with Mikaela since she woke up. And they have a point. Besides her father or Bumblebee, who has been spending time with her?”

Optimus pondered Ratchet’s question as he strode along. “Mikaela was always very busy when she lived with us before,” he observed.

“That’s because she practically lived in the medbay when she wasn’t hanging out with Sam and Bumblebee. She spent most of her free time learning anatomy or working on her own projects. Now, she’s not allowed in the medbay until she’s recovered, and Sam is no longer in the picture.”

Optimus suddenly halted. It took a couple of steps before Ratchet realized and stopped, turning to look questioningly at Optimus.

Optimus, meanwhile, was reevaluating his own interactions with Mikaela over the last few weeks, and he was disappointed by what he realized.

Optimus started walking again without saying a word to Ratchet. He was walking slightly faster than was comfortable for Ratchet, an unusual thing for a mech that was normally very courteous and aware of his larger stature around smaller mechs. Ratchet recognized it as a subtle sign that Optimus was unsettled. Optimus’ suddenly tightly-controlled field was another sign that he was uncomfortable. It was something that he had learned to do as Prime, when faced with stressful diplomatic situations. Ratchet said nothing, though, letting Optimus come to his own conclusions without further guidance from him.

The two mechs stepped up off of the pavement and onto the scrub that passed for a lawn behind Mikaela’s apartment building. Bumblebee was sitting on the ground outside Mikaela’s window in his root form. He turned as they approached, but the motion was an automatic reaction. Both mechs could see that the scout had the characteristic distracted demeanor of somebody who was concentrating on their holoform.

Bumblebee lazily pushed himself up to his feet and moved to a nearby patch of sun. He laid back down on his stomach, making sure as much plating as possible was exposed to the warmth of the desert sun. His specialized plating could convert the solar radiation into a trickle of energon to supplement his systems.

Optimus nodded his thanks.

Bumblebee just waved it off absently.

Optimus stepped forward and knelt down so that he see in Mikaela’s window. The lights in her bedroom were off, and the only light was the sunlight coming in the window. Mikaela was in bed, facing the window. Bumblebee’s holoform was in bed with her, spooning her from behind with one arm over Mikaela’s waist. Glowing blue eyes stared into Optimus’ face from over Mikaela’s shoulder.

:How is she doing?: Optimus asked Bumblebee after opening a three-way comm line with Ratchet.

:Mikaela did her entire physical therapy routine this morning while Roman was here. Afterwards, she didn’t feel strong enough for a shower, so she decided to read for a bit until she fell asleep,: Bumblebee said, as if giving a report.

:She needs a shower,: Ratchet pointed out, reminding Bumblebee.

:I pick my battles, and that one wasn’t worth the fight,: Bumblebee said, his clipped voice showing that he was clearly annoyed by Ratchet’s insinuation. :If you want to criticize my care, try actually spending time with Mikaela as Ratchet and not the Autobot Chief Medical Officer,: Bumblebee spat out Ratchet's title caustically.

:Nobody is criticising your choices, Bumblebee,: Optimus said, his deep voice attempting to soothe Bumblebee’s discontent. :We are also concerned for Mikaela, and want what is best for her.:

Bumblebee sent back a profane visual image that encapsulated perfectly what he felt about that piece of BS.

Optimus was distressed by Bumblebee’s response, even as he tried to hide it. Bumblebee was spirited, and could be a bit reckless, but he was unfailingly loyal to his friends. His hostile reaction to Optimus and Ratchet boded ill for Mikaela’s own mood.

:What are you here for?: Bumblebee asked the two mechs.

:To spend some time with Mikaela,: Ratchet said, trying to be diplomatic.

:If she wants you gone, you’re gone,: Bumblebee warned them flatly as his holoform stretched and started to wake Mikaela up. He murmured to Mikaela, using gentle words and a light touch to slowly rouse her and make her aware of her visitors.

:You don’t need to wake her up,: Ratchet said, too late. It would have be easier for him to do his scans while Mikaela was asleep and unaware.

Bumblebee snorted over the comm line. :It’s time for her next round of medication soon anyway,: he pointed out. :Besides, it’s your first visit since she moved into the apartment. She’d kill me if I let her sleep through it,: Bumblebee not-so-subtly ground his point home with the two larger mechs.

Ratchet stepped forward to kneel next to Optimus as Mikaela groggily opened her eyes.

Bumblebee nuzzled the back of her neck and Mikaela relaxed backwards into his warmth. Bumblebee murmured something quietly, and gently lifted her chin so she was looking directly at the window. Mikaela’s eyes slowly focused on the mechs outside and smiled languidly, stretching out a hand across the bed.

:Do you want me to bring her outside to you?: Bumblebee asked curtly. :Roman is worried that Mikaela isn’t getting enough fresh air.:

:Not if she’s comfortable where she is right now,: Optimus said.

Meanwhile, Mikaela had pushed herself up on her elbows and leaned towards the window. “Optimus...? Ratchet...?” she said uncertainty. Neither mech had said anything out loud, their entire conversation having been over the comms.

“Hi Mikaela,” Optimus said gently, reaching his hand forward, mimicking Mikaela’s earlier action. “May we come in?”

Mikaela nodded.

Mikaela could hear the soft sound as Optimus’ and Ratchet’s holoforms appeared in the room behind her. She flopped back down on the bed, narrowly missing smacking Bumblebee in the face as he pulled back, startled.

:Ratchet,: Optimus said, :Mikaela seems to be acting off...: Worryingly, she was still smiling at the mechs in the window, instead of turning around to interact with their holoforms.

:That’s pretty normal these days,: Bumblebee replied before Ratchet could say anything. :Sometimes the old Mikaela attitude comes through, but it doesn’t last long.:

:Painkillers make humans groggy. That could explain how disconnected she’s acting,: Ratchet said, sounding unconcerned.

:She hasn’t had her next dose yet,: Bumblebee pointed out. :Speaking of medication, Mikaela’s is in the kitchen, can one of you fetch it and a glass of water?: Bumblebee sent a visual image of what he was asking for.

Ratchet went to fetch the requested items while Optimus stepped forward and, at a loss for what to do, knelt down next to the bed similar to how his root form was still kneeling outside the window.

“Hi Mikaela,” Optimus said, his deep voice catching Mikaela’s attention.

As Mikaela started rolling over, Bumblebee scooted backwards, sitting against the headboard. He supported Mikaela as she gingerly rolled to recline against him. Her last dose of painkillers was clearly wearing off.

“Hi again, Optimus,” Mikaela replied, slowly becoming more coherent. “How are things going?”

“They are going well.”

Mikaela gave Optimus’ holoform a knowing look before turning and giving his mech form the same look. She turned back to his holoform. “I understand. You can’t say anything,” she said, gently.

Ratchet came back into the room, carrying Mikaela’s pill organizer and a glass of water. He tried to hand the pills to Bumblebee first, but Mikaela intercepted him. “Not him, give it here,” she said, taking the pills.

Bumblebee took the glass of water from Ratchet.

Mikaela deftly popped open the organizer and tipped the pills into the palm of her hand. She set the organizer down on the bed next to her, then sorted through the pills with a finger.

Bumblebee moved the pill organizer to the nightstand so it wouldn’t get lost or rolled over on.

“Bumblebee, have you been adding pills?” Mikaela asked plaintively. It had the air of a question that was asked frequently.

Mikaela could feel Bumblebee shake his head no, even though he was behind her. She sighed. “Well, here we go.” Alternating pills with large sips of water, she made it through the entire lot, then drained the glass dry.

Bumblebee took the empty glass from her and placed it on the nightstand.

Optimus watched the flawless coordination between Mikaela and Bumblebee. He mused that it had been a good idea to make Bumblebee Mikaela’s interim guardian while Drift was away.

Ratchet pinged Optimus with a reminder. Now that Mikaela was awake, he needed Optimus to distract Mikaela so that Ratchet could do his scans.

“So, how are things going for you?” Optimus asked, trying to draw Mikaela into a discussion like they used to have.

“They’re going okay,” Mikaela said absently, avoiding Optimus’ eyes, as if she was looking for something else.

“What have you been doing for fun?”

“Nothing.”

Optimus asked a few more open ended questions, but Mikaela just kept answering with non-committal, one-word answers.

Optimus was increasingly at a loss for what to do. What did he have that could distract Mikaela, while not stressing her out or pushing her recovering body?

Then he remembered that Mikaela loved the conversations they used to have about Cybertronian culture. He could work with that.

“Would you like to hear some poetry?” Optimus asked, unpacking a very old data storage partition. He kept it in his own memory, instead of a datapad that could be lost, but encrypted and locked so that he couldn’t access it easily. It held too many precious, but painful memories.

He hoped it would be just what he needed to pique Mikaela’s interest.

“Poetry?” Mikaela asked, finally looking at Optimus again. Normally, poetry was not something she was interested in, but... “Cybertronian?”

Optimus nodded, placing a hand on the edge of her bed.

“I don’t understand Cybertronian,” Mikaela pointed out.

“I will translate,” Optimus said, lowering himself to sit on the floor next to her bed. Ratchet remained standing a couple of steps behind him.

Mikaela nodded, and settled back against Bumblebee as Optimus’ deep voice started the first verse. It took him some starts and stops while he got the translation into the correct rhythm of the poem, then the words started to flow. Rising and falling as they wove different stories. Struggle, triumph, joy, pain, horror, peace, honor, justice... love. While some of the metaphors were hard to understand and the idioms were occasionally inaccurate when rendered in English, the emotion behind the words still came across to Mikaela clearly.

Optimus tried to distance himself from the memories of when he first read these poems, the author sitting behind him, looking over his shoulder in vicarious glee as Optimus savored each verse, his arm around Optimus’ shoulder and his broad hand resting across Optimus’ chest, above his spark...

Mikaela was enjoying herself, and she thought that Bumblebee was enjoying himself as well. He was quiet behind her. He had even stopped breathing so it didn’t distract him. It was a bit disconcerting for Mikaela, but understandable.

Ratchet, on the other hand, was so shocked that he almost forgot to start running his scans. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The poetry Optimus was performing wasn’t just any poetry. It was the lost poetry of Cybertron’s Lord High Protector. Megatron had published several underground anthologies of poetry and treatises before he ascended to the Primal Throne with Optimus. Many of these same poems, along with treatises co-authored by Optimus, had gone on to create the backbone of the Decepticon cause.

Few knew that Megatron left several volumes of poetry unpublished. Megatron had written the volumes for Orion Pax; for the mech who would become his bonded Prime. The only other mechs who had ever heard bits of the poetry performed out loud were Soundwave and Ratchet... Bumblebee had no idea the significance of what he was witnessing.

Mikaela laid back as Optimus Prime’s steady voice lulled her into a state of relaxation.

The golden lines started first, appearing in the corner of Mikaela’s vision. At first they hid in the corners and danced along the edges of the room. Before long, massively complicated Cybertronian glyphs flowed across the breadth of the ceiling, outlined in vivid colors, one minute contrasting, the next complementing, but always ever changing as Optimus recited.

Eventually, they were joined by vivid animations of mechs and animals, tunnels and skyscrapers, and things that Mikaela had no words in English to describe.

Eventually, Mikaela wondered if Optimus realized that she understood just how explicitly raunchy the poetry he was reading her had gotten, or if he was relying on the rather opaque metaphors to hide the meaning from her. The images on the ceiling that played out scenes from the poem didn’t leave much to the imagination, however. She inwardly shrugged and figured this was her introduction to Cybertronian Sex Ed 101.

The voice in the back of her head started laughing.

Mikaela pointedly ignored it.

It had been so long since she’d had this type of vision — or was it a hallucination? Maybe Bumblebee had slipped something into her pill case. Medical marijuana was legal, somewhere...

Neither Bumblebee, nor Optimus, nor Ratchet reacted to the vivid movie of words, colors, and images projected on the ceiling, so Mikaela didn’t react to it. For once, the visions weren’t interfering with something she was trying to do, so she just let it be.

Behind her, Bumblebee’s field was calm, Ratchet’s was active, and Optimus’ was heavy with concentration.

Meanwhile, unknown to Mikaela, Ratchet was monitoring her, recording every little fluctuation and variation for later evaluation and study.

It had been over an hour by the time Optimus was done reciting poetry, and Mikaela was very relaxed. The pills she had taken had kicked in and she was feeling no pain.

As his voice slowly ground to a halt, the hallucinations gradually disappeared.

Mikaela laid there for a few moments in perfect silence before she started noticing noises again.

Her heartbeat.

Her breathing.

The refrigerator kicking on in the kitchen.

She didn't want to break the moment, but she needed to ask. She needed to know and she needed to stop running away from the question.

“Optimus,” Mikaela said softly, loath to break the atmosphere of peace and safety that had been created in the room.

“Mikaela,” Optimus replied, his deep voice equally soft.

“What happened to Drift’s body?”

There, she’d finally asked it.

The three mechs in the room froze. More than just human stillness, everything extra they did to their holoforms to make them seem more human just... stopped. Breathing... blinking... Mikaela was sure if she touched one of them they wouldn’t even have a heartbeat.

Sitting up and looking around at the holoforms in alarm, Mikaela could tell that their attention had turned inward. The very atmosphere of the room snapped with electric potential. All three mechs were clearly talking to each other over the comms.

The silence made Mikaela uneasy. What was so terrible they couldn’t just tell her?

:She doesn't know!: Ratchet yelped over the comm line.

Bumblebee was reviewing every moment he’d spent with Mikaela, as well as any phone calls or emails she may have gotten (which were none). He came to the startling conclusion. :Nobody said anything to her.:

:It’s been weeks!: Ratchet pointed out.

:Don’t yell at me! You could have told her too!: Bumblebee said defensively.

:His assignment is up on the public notification board. She must have seen it there.: While encrypted, Mikaela’s pad would have given her access to this information easily.

:Using what device? She doesn’t even have a television.: Bumblebee said, sweeping his hand across the room. And he was right. For somebody so curious about technology and so hands-on, the most complicated electrical equipment in the apartment was the kitchen appliances.

Mikaela was getting alarmed by the mech’s lengthening silence, and obviously spirited conversation that they were hiding from her. While she couldn’t hear them, they were not holding back their body language while talking over the comms.

What was wong?

Was she not supposed to know?

Was the truth of what happened to Drift that terrible that they needed to cover it up and invent a palatable story for her?

Mikaela’s thoughts chased each other around in circles. She could feel herself becoming worked up as her brain came up with increasingly worse scenarios.

Bumblebee could feel Mikaela becoming more and more upset, though he didn’t know why.

:ENOUGH!: Optimus commanded sternly.

Ratchet and Bumblebee fell silent.

Optimus turned to Mikaela. “Drift didn’t die,” he explained solemnly. “While you were recovering, I reassigned Drift to the hunt for Barricade.”

Mikaela froze where she sat on her bed.

Her body didn’t want to work.

Her mind didn’t want to work.

That didn’t make sense.

“He’s alive?” Mikaela asked in a small, stunned voice.

Bumblebee made a strangled sound, sat up, and hugged Mikaela tightly to his chest. His face pressed up cheek to cheek with hers. His head rested on her shoulder.

Mikaela didn’t even complain that Bumblebee was holding her so tight it hurt. If he let her go, she felt like she would fall apart into a thousand little pieces.

“Yes, Mikaela,” Optimus said solemnly. “Drift is alive.”

Alive.

Drift was alive.

Mikaela had lived with the fact that Drift was dead for weeks.

She had mourned his death for weeks.

Mikaela had thought she had reached the end of her mourning, that she had come to terms with his death, and that she was starting to recover.

Mikaela didn’t know what to do now.

Then she realized what else Optimus had said.

“Reassigned?” she said softly, not even realizing she said it out loud.

“Yes, he’s been reassigned,” Optimus confirmed.

Bumblebee gave Ratchet a concerned look from where his head was still sitting on Mikaela’s shoulder. He was concerned. Mikaela had gone still again in his arms. She was so still, her body vibrated with the effort.

Inside, Mikaela continued to fall apart.

Reassignment.

She remembered her last talk with Optimus. It felt like it had been years ago, but it had only been last fall. Mikaela had asked Optimus for help, had admitted to knowing things Optimus rather she didn’t, and he had threatened to punish Drift with reassignment, splitting them apart.

Mikaela had been so careful after that. She hadn’t said anything incriminating... had she? She’d been on a lot of drugs — painkillers, anesthesia for the surgeries. What if she’d said something? She must have said something. Somehow Optimus had found out... something.

“Barricade?” Mikaela repeated.

Now Optimus was trading equally concerned glances with Ratchet and Bumblebee. “...Yes, Drift is hunting Barricade.”

Barricade.

For the last few weeks, Mikaela had thought he’d killed Drift. Had hated him for it.

But Drift was alive. Barricade had only almost killed Drift.

And Optimus had sent Drift to hunt the mech that had almost killed him, in revenge for something Mikaela had said.

Mikaela realized Drift wasn’t really alive, he was just not dead yet.

Mikaela’s unknown action, and Optimus’ inexplicable retribution, had doomed him.

The sudden stress suddenly got the best of Mikaela, and she lunged out of Bumblebee’s arms and to the side of the bed in a panic. Heaving, she threw up again... and again... and again... The threw up on the floor until there was nothing else to throw up, and her sinus’ burned with the acidic backwash.

The reaction of the others happened around her as if they were merely ghosts inhabiting her room. Mikaela was too buried in her own misery to care.

Drift had survived Barricade, but then... she had said or done something to bring down Optimus Prime’s wrath on Drift.

It was her fault.

She needed to fix her mistake.

She needed to save Drift. No matter what.

And she couldn’t rely on the Autobots for help.

“Go,” Mikaela said softly, still leaning over the side of the bed her tears hidden among the snot and puke.

Ratchet and Optimus didn’t. They ignored her, talking about stuff that didn’t matter.

“Go, go, go, GO~.” Mikaela wailed, voice cracking as the word became a primal scream of pain and rage and fury.

“Mikaela, I can’t leave you like this,” Ratchet tried to bargain with her, but it fell on deaf ears.

Mikaela was thrashing in Bumblebee’s arms. He held her, trying not to hurt her while trying to stop her from hurting herself.

The sheer power driving her was unnatural. Just a few minutes before, Mikaela would have tired herself out standing up for a shower. Now, she was hurtling herself forward with enough force to rock Bumblebee and the bed.

She was also screaming incoherently, the occasional words Bumblebee could make out made no sense. He focused on extending his electromagnetic field and trying to calm her down.

:Leave,: he said curtly. Right now he didn’t care that Ratchet and Optimus Prime outranked him.

Ratchet tried to protest, but Bumblebee pinned Ratchet’s holoform with a dark look.

:You are upsetting her. Leave.:

Optimus nodded slowly, and reluctantly dissipated his holoform.

:Let us know when she’s calmed down,: Optimus asked, as his mech body stood up and held out a hand to help Ratchet up as well.

:Only if she wants to,: Bumblebee said grimly as his mech form shouldered the two larger mechs away from Mikaela’s window, standing on guard outside of it and blocking their view of Mikaela’s room.

Optimus heard as Roman burst into Mikaela’s apartment, obviously alerted by Mikaela’s screams.

With nothing else they could do, Optimus and Ratchet helplessly turned, and walked away.

Chapter Text

February 2010

Turmoil swaggered off his shuttle and onto the deck of the Nemesis.

The pride of the Decepticon fleet was a hive of activity. Mechs moved with purpose across the docking bay, maintaining and outfitting the light craft used for escort and patrol duties.

Turmoil ignored his second in command, who disembarked behind him. He only had eyes for one mech.

Megatron, Lord High Protector of Cybertron and warlord of the Decepticons, strode across the deck toward Turmoil. He carried himself with the effortless grace of leadership, causing working mechs to part before him.

Turmoil hated Megatron.

Turmoil also understood that Megatron had the advantage — this time. He could be patient. Megatron’s time would come. Until then, flattery would not be amiss.

“Lord Megatron, it is good to see—”

In one, smooth motion, Megatron raised his fusion cannon and blasted Turmoil, full power, in the chest.

Turmoil was dead before his body hit the deck.

Megatron quickly followed up with another blast... and a third... and a fourth...

Even though the rapid fire meant that the subsequent shots were not as powerful as the first, the floor beneath the body still began to smoke and buckle. The reinforced armored floor, meant to survive the force of shuttle and seeker thrusters, was no longer able to withstand the sheer power of Megatron’s wrath.

After five shots, Megatron stopped. The end of his cannon was glowing white-hot, still aimed at the partially-vaporized body as Megatron stood there, unmoving.

All mechs on deck had frozen. Their attention was focused on Megatron. None dared to move and draw his attention.

Turmoil’s second in command stood still, the body of his former commander laying at his feet. Only the fact that he’d been left behind by Turmoil had saved him from the blast radius of Megatron’s weapon. He shook, anticipating that, at any second, Megatron’s destructive rage would be turned against him as easily and unexpectedly as it had against his commanding officer.

“Starscream!” Megatron summoned his Air Commander.

“What is your bidding, Lord Megatron?” Starscream oozed out of the shadows at the back of the hanger and bowed elegantly, one hand across his chest.

Megatron turned towards Starscream, and away from the still-smoking body. “Take out the garbage,” Megatron ordered. “Perhaps it will amuse the Autobots.”

“Your will, Lord Megatron,” Starscream said smoothly, and motioned a couple of grunts to pick up the pieces of Turmoil, which they did, with several nervous glances towards the departing Decepticon warlord.

Satisfied with how things had turned out, Megatron strode out of the hanger.

Behind him, Turmoil’s second in command collapsed to his knees in relief.

***

Walking away from Mikaela’s room was not the hardest thing Ratchet had ever done — he was a veteran of a four-million-year-long civil war after all — but that didn’t mean it was enjoyable. They were halfway to the hangars and Ratchet could still hear Mikaela’s distraught screaming.

As they passed the first hangar, which was used as an administrative building by the Autobots, Optimus turned to enter the building. Ratchet, however, grabbed Optimus by his arm and steered him into the third hangar, which was the officer’s barracks, instead. The only other mech in the building was Ironhide, who was sitting on his berth calibrating his cannons.

Ironhide was fully capable of maintaining his own weaponry, but integrated weaponry straddled the line with Ratchet’s domain. Ratchet glared at Ironhide suspiciously. If Ironhide fucked something up, it could quickly become Ratchet’s problem... not that Ironhide usually cared.

Ironhide returned Ratchet’s glare with a roguish look of his own. “Wanna look them over?” he said, flirtatiously.

A hookup was the last thing Ratchet was interested in currently. He just grunted, and manhandled Optimus into the building. The larger mech came along meekly. Optimus was attempting to subdue the guilt threading through his field, and Ratchet wanted to know why.

Ironhide straightened up when he saw Optimus, swiftly placing his tools away in his maintenance kit, which he subspaced.

“Close the door,” Ratchet ordered Ironhide, who moved swiftly to comply. The Hatchet was out in full force, and Ironhide knew better than to draw his fury like Optimus had apparently done.

The large rolling door clanged shut as Ratchet shoved Optimus down to sit on his berth. “What just happened, and why do you feel guilty about it?” Ratchet confronted Optimus.

Optimus stared his feet, acting more like the young archivist he used to be, and not the Prime he was.

“What happened?” Ironhide cut in, walking back to stand next to Ratchet.

Ratchet didn't take his eyes off of Optimus. “We were visiting Mikaela. She asked us where Drift’s body was.”

“But Drift is alive,” Ironhide pointed out, looking blankly at Ratchet.

“We know that, but apparently she didn’t know that.” Ratchet was still glaring at Optimus.

“She didn’t?” Ironhide said, puzzled. “I told her myself.”

Ratchet rounded on Ironhide. “When?” he snapped.

“About a week after she woke up,” Ironhide explained, taking a large step back when faced with hurricane Hatchet. “I offered to be her guardian while Drift was away.”

“What — exactly — did you say to her?” Ratchet asked, clearly enunciating each word.

Thinking back, Ironhide quoted, “‘considering Drift is gone now, I would like to offer myself as your guardian.’”

Ratchet frowned. “You said that he was gone, not that he was dead. So where did she get that idea?”

Ratchet turned to face Optimus again. “And why do you feel so guilty?” he pressured the other mech, not willing to let him evade the question.

Optimus hunched like he was trying to make himself smaller. He only allowed himself the reaction because he was among those closest to him. It was not behavior befitting a Prime, as his mentor had told him several times when he was new to his title.

“When I assigned Drift to hunting Barricade with Sideswipe, he had a request.” Optimus looked away from Ratchet. Guilt threaded through his field like invisible smoke. “He asked that, when Mikaela woke up, I tell her about Drift’s assignment and the reason for it. I didn’t.”

Ratchet was quiet for a long moment, until, with a swift movement that was hard for even Ironhide’s targeting system to track, he thwacked Optimus Prime up the back of his head with an open hand. It was not a soft strike, and Optimus knew that he’d be feeling it for a while.

Ironhide watched Ratchet warily, obviously expecting the volatile medic to chastise him as well, but Ratchet just stepped back and crossed his arms across his torso.

“To sum up the most likely scenario, Mikaela — for whatever reason — didn’t know that Drift was out on assignment. Without knowing that, she assumed that he was dead, most likely as a result of Barricade’s attack.”

“That would explain Mikaela’s reaction. She was surprised to hear that Drift was still alive,” Optimus pointed out.

“Surprised, nothing.” One of Ratchet’s hands slashed the air in front of his face. “She was fucking distraught. With what we know, we can assume that she has been mourning Drift these past few weeks,” Ratchet pointed out. Guilt was starting to tinge his own field and the weight of his own oversight became clear.

“It’s possible that Drift saw this coming?” Ironhide asked. “He asked Prime to tell her.”

Ratchet shook his head. “It’s more likely he didn’t want Mikaela to worry about where he was when she woke up. Unless he and Sideswipe caught Barricade pretty damn fast, they aren’t scheduled to be back for quite a while, at least as far as humans measure time.”

“Either way,” Optimus said, turning to Ratchet, “the damage has clearly been done. How do we fix it?” Determination was starting to replace some of the guilt.

Ratchet huffed. “Emotions are not as simple to fix as a broken cog. It’s not my specialty, but, given past experience, a good first step is to give her time to process her emotions.”

Optimus nodded. “I’ll notify Bumblebee. When she is calmer, we can set up a time to talk again,” he decided.

Ironhide slipped out the door while Ratchet and Optimus continued arguing. He headed towards the firing range. There was more than one way to work through a problem.

***

Mikaela woke the next morning still exhausted and in pain. Her throat hurt, her head hurt, her chest hurt... She felt cleansed on the inside, but her body couldn’t keep up. There wasn’t a part of her that didn’t hurt.

Through sheer willpower Mikaela forced herself to sit up, then stand up. Once Mikaela was sure she wouldn’t fall flat on her face, she slowly walked to the kitchen where she knew Bumblebee kept her medication.

Mikaela didn’t think that her usual painkillers would be able to help this pain, but hopefully it would be able to dull some of it.

The time for reacting was over. She needed to act. But first, she needed a plan.

Bumblebee’s holoform avatar appeared as Mikaela rinsed the water glass she’d used. He wanted to give Mikaela some space, but he was also nervous about what she’d do after her breakdown last night.

Mikaela set the glass on the towel next to the sink to dry. “I’m fine,” she said, not looking at Bumblebee.

Bumblebee tentatively walked closer and lightly touched her shoulder. Mikaela flinched, and Bumblebee pulled back with a sad noise.

“I need time, Bumblebee,” Mikaela tried to explain in a way that wouldn’t have Bumblebee calling the others over to ‘help.’ “I need time to think... alone.”

Bumblebee hovered near Mikaela within what would be field range if Mikaela was another mech. He played a clip of an upbeat song.

You've got a friend in me
You've got troubles, I've got 'em too
There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you
We stick together and we see it through
Cause you've got a friend in me

The nostalgia of the sound clip Bumblebee had chosen made Mikaela smile, but only briefly. Shortly afterwards she heard Bumblebee’s holoform disappear.

“Thank you Bumblebee,” she said, knowing that he’d be able to hear it.

Mikaela had just finished a bowl of cereal for breakfast when Roman knocked on the front door. Mikaela walked to the front door and let her father inside. She had a plan, and she’d need his help to pull it off. She needed to fix her mistake before Drift died for real.

“Hi dad,” she said softly.

“Mikaela.” Roman was surprised to see Mikaela open the door. Usually it was Bumblebee who let him in. He was happy to see her up and moving, though.

Roman had been up late the night before, working with Bumblebee to calm down Mikaela, until she’d finally passed out, still crying. Roman felt like shit for blackmailing Ratchet to visit Mikaela. He had thought spending time with the other mechs would have helped lift Mikaela’s depression. Whatever happened had only made things worse, though.

At least, that’s what he thought last night. Looking at Mikaela now, however, he saw a fire in her eye that he hadn’t seen since before he had been sent away. Whatever had happened between herself, Ratchet, and Optimus Prime, it had clearly given her a purpose. From prior experience, Roman suspected it was probably not going to be something that the leader of the Autobots would not approve of.

“We need to talk,” Mikaela said, waving her father towards the kitchen table.

That sounded ominus to Roman. “Have you had breakfast yet?” he asked. Mikaela had lost too much weight already with her uneven eating schedule and absent appetite.

“Just finished,” Mikaela reassured her father. “Go ahead and sit down. I need to grab a few things.”

Roman sat down at the kitchen table while Mikaela went into her bedroom. She searched through her nightstand for a few minutes before coming back with an old iPod with a small speaker attached, a pad of paper, and a handful of pens. Curious, he watched as Mikaela set up the iPod, turning on some 90’s pop/rock playlist at a moderate level. Curiously, she pointed the speaker toward the windows. Roman wanted to ask what she thought she was doing, but held his tongue. Mikaela sat down next to Roman, set the notepad down between them, and started writing.

Bumblebee can hear anything we say, Mikaela wrote. He’s also a gossip. They all are. Only say out loud what you are comfortable with them all knowing. She looked up at Roman, a serious look on her face.

Roman was alarmed. Not because Bumblebee could hear them. He’d figured out pretty quickly that the mechs had better hearing than humans. What concerned him was that, by writing this statement, and using music to cover the sound of her writing, Mikaela was showing a deep distrust of the Autobots. Pen and paper couldn’t be overheard. Pen and paper couldn’t be hacked. Something was seriously wrong here.

Roman nodded to show he understood what she’d said and nudged the pad towards Mikaela without a word, urging her to keep writing. He needed to know what was wrong.

Did you know Drift was alive? Mikaela wrote, and slid the notepad towards Roman.

Roman nodded.

Mikaela’s hand clenched around the pen she was holding as she had a sudden, irrational surge of hatred towards her father. She knew it was irrational, but that didn’t stop her emotional response. Mikaela roughly pulled the notepad back towards herself. Did they order you not to tell me? she scrawled harshly. The pen bit deep into the paper with the force of her emotions, leaving uneven black blotches and threatening to tear the paper.

What the hell had happened? Roman thought. Roman shook his head negatively, and reached over to grab a pen from the pile on the table.

Roman pulled the pad closer and started writing. I met Drift at the medical center when they finally let me on base. He was outside your room with Bumblebee. Roman explained. Why? he wrote, scribbling an arrow from his question towards Mikaela’s previous question.

Mikaela tugged the notepad back towards herself, but slower this time. I didn’t know he was alive, she admitted in writing.

Did somebody tell you he was dead? If somebody had, giant robot or not, Roman was going to take them apart with his bare hands. That was just plain cruel.

Mikaela shook her head. Nobody told me he was dead. Nobody told me he was alive. I assumed... her sentence trailed off. He’d never leave behind his sword, and he’d never leave me behind, so when he never showed up, I assumed... Mikaela wrote hunched over the pad of paper, scribbling fast, until her thoughts trailed to a stop, the conclusion still too horrible for her to put into words.

Roman’s heart dropped and he dropped his pen to the table and pulled Mikaela in for a strong hug. She collapsed into his arms, and he could feel the wet tickle of tears on his shoulder. Mikaela was quiet, though, except for some heavy breathing.

Roman thought through what he had just learned. Mikaela had thought Drift had been dead. She had been in mourning, and that explained how she had been acting since she woke up.

Roman felt guilty. He was familiar with grief, but he had been too blind to see it in his daughter. The pattern of how Mikaela had shut down, but somehow still kept plowing through the day doing only the minimum needed. He recognized those patterns too well now. When his wife, Mikaela’s mother, had died, he’d only had Mikaela to live for. She’d been dependent on him, and the responsibility had grounded him. Overwhelmed him at times, but kept him moving through each day until, slowly, the hurt became bearable. It would never be completely gone, but it was manageable.

Mikaela didn’t have anybody who was dependent on her to that level. Wheelie didn’t count. He was not a child, for all that he acted like one.

Mikaela eventually pulled back, and Roman let her go reluctantly. She gave him a watery smile and turned back to the pad of paper on the table, picking up a pen once again.

What are you going to do? Roman wrote first. He knew that look on Mikaela’s face too well. She was bound and determined to do something.

I’m going to find him and I’m going to save him, Mikaela wrote simply, as if it was that easy.

That was a different way to put it. Why do you need to save him? Drift was an adult, a soldier, and more than capable of saving himself. Why did Mikaela think it was her job?

One time, I asked Optimus Prime about something. Because of what I said, he got angry with Drift and threatened to punish him. Now, he followed through with his threat.

Roman could scarcely believe what he was reading. He was also furious with Optimus Prime. While he knew that Mikaela was leaving out a lot of details, he could tell that Mikaela completely believed what she had written. What are you going to do, kill Barricade yourself?

If I need to, Mikaela wrote with a grim smile on her face at the absurdity. Optimus sent him to die, and it’s my fault. I need to fix it.

Looking in her face now, he saw no sign of the young, depressed woman of the last few weeks. Mikaela looked mad enough to chew steel and spit out nails. He could stand in her way, and she would bulldoze her way through him, or he could help her.

Tell me what you need from me, Roman wrote, and committed himself to whatever came.

I need transportation, and supplies.

As if it was that easy. You need a car. I could misplace a hummer... but they all have NEST logos. Too obvious. Roman had told himself that, when he got out, he’d go straight. But this... he would do it for her.

What about your motorcycle? Mikaela asked.

“Mikaela!” Roman forgot himself and answered out loud. “You can’t even walk a straight line.” There was no way she would be able to handle a motorcycle in her condition.

Mikaela looked dejected. You’re right. I also couldn’t fit the sword on the bike.

Roman made a strangled sound. No, Mikaela wouldn’t be able to fit a ten foot sword on a motorcycle, even if she was perfectly healthy.

Not to mention.. Do you even know where you’re gong?

Yes.

Roman looked Mikaela in the eye disbelievingly, but she didn’t elaborate. He could see that she was confident in her ability to find Drift.

I have food and clothing, Mikaela wrote, but I don’t have money, or an ID, or a phone.

She didn’t have much of anything to her name anymore, Mikaela thought, looking around the apartment. Most of it had probably been destroyed in the attack. She vaguely remembered some explosions in between the pain.

Mikaela had also never kept much ‘stuff’ growing up. There was only so much room in a household with six other kids. But now, she didn’t even have a TV in her apartment. No radio either. Mikaela didn’t even know if they were in range of a radio station. No internet, no phone...

Roman cut off her musing as he pulled out his wallet and fished out a small wad of cash. “Not much to spend it on around here...” he said, pushing it into Mikaela’s hands. She did the only thing she could under these circumstances, and folded up the bills and hid them. She didn’t even have a wallet to put it in. Roman reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone. “No reception around here,” he idly commented, and set it next to Mikaela. She hid the phone as well.

“Thanks,” she whispered. “I...” Mikaela stood up abruptly, grabbing at her chair to steady herself on shaky legs.

“Tell me, before...” Roman said.

Mikaela nodded, fighting back tears. “Tonight,” she warned him.

Roman understood. Sometimes life came faster than you expected. “How are you going to go...” he said, trailing off, trusting Mikaela to be able to fill in the gap.

“I have a plan,” she said, confidently. Mikaela carefully leaned down. It’s best if you don’t know, she wrote.

Roman knew that the odds that Mikaela would been able to get off base were slim, and the chance that she’d find Drift before the Autobots found her were astronomical. But he also knew that Mikaela believed she’d be able to pull it off. All he could do was make sure that she was as prepared as possible.

“Let’s go for a walk,” Mikaela said. She picked up the notepad with their scribbling. As they left the apartment she grabbed a metal waste basket and a book of matches that were sitting next to the door. Roman had noticed them before, but had never asked. It seemed like an odd thing for Mikaela to keep around.

Roman walked with Mikaela down the stairs, out the doors and around the corner of the apartment building, waving to Bumblebee as they passed. Mikaela stopped on a bare patch where a cement slab had been poured, then apparently forgotten and unused. There were a few scorch marks on it.

Mikaela knelt and placed the metal waste basket in the center of the cement. Taking the notepad, she tore out the sheets and crumpled them up in the basket, then set it on fire.

“What...?” Roman started to ask, but Mikaela quickly turned and cut him off with an urgent gesture.

Roman didn’t know about the visions Mikaela had. He also didn’t know that she’d been documenting the contents of her visions, like she had when she lived with Drift. Now, though, after she was done writing, she came out here and burned the evidence.

Mikaela didn’t explain any of this to her father, however. Instead, he watched her for nearly half an hour as she watched the pages turn black and fall into ash.

Bumblebee eventually wandered over, curious to see what was going on, but showed no alarm at the small fire and their focus on it, and wandered away a short distance to wait. After all, Bumblebee had provided the matches, and the metal pail, after Mikaela had almost started a small brush fire. Fortunately, Bumblebee had been able to stamp it out.

As the fire died down, Mikaela turned the ashes carefully, making sure every bit of writing had been destroyed. When they were almost done, Lennox came walking up. Somebody must have seen something and called him.

Major Lennox just stood there for a minute, without speaking, before asking, “What’s up?”

Mikaela didn’t look at him, focusing on the last embers instead, so that a spark didn’t go flying. She shrugged. “Therapy?”

“You telling me, or you asking me?” Lennox said, sounding like Mikaela’s 8th grade English teacher.

“I don’t really care,” Mikaela replied.

Major Lennox let out a heavy sigh. With Optimus Prime backing her presence on base, there wasn’t much he could do. Not that he wanted to do anything, but he still had to go through the motions. It made people less jumpy.

“Don’t burn the base down,” he warned, and wandered off again.

Roman watched Major Lennox walk off. “What was that about?”

“One thing I know about special forces... he’s probably seen crazier,” was all Mikaela had to say.

Once she was sure that all evidence had been destroyed, Roman helped Mikaela back to her feet. They walked back inside and up the stairs, Mikaela leaning on Roman to make it the last few steps into her apartment.

Exhausted now, Mikaela retreated into her bedroom to shower and pack.

Roman left to go to work.

Mikaela laid down on her bed and set an alarm for the evening. It wasn’t even noon yet, but she could use the time.

Bumblebee peered in the window, but seeing Mikaela sleeping peacefully, he laid back down to enjoy the sun.

Chapter Text

February 2010

Mikaela couldn’t sleep.

Instead she laid in bed, her eyes closed, and tried to sleep. The entire time her mind kept running over the events of the last day.

Questions haunted her.

Would her plan work?

How would she find Drift?

Would she even make it off the base before she was found and hauled in front of Optimus Prime?

Her mind was on an endless hamster wheel of possible scenarios and she couldn’t get it to stop.

Mikaela finally gave up an hour before her alarm was set to go off. The sun was lower in the sky, but still shone in through her bedroom window. Slowly returning pain indicated that her painkillers had worn off, and she better get the next round ready.

Mikaela crawled out of bed and visited the bathroom before walking into the kitchen. The organizer with her pills sat on the kitchen table, where she had left it after breakfast. Opening the appropriate section, she peered closely at the pills inside and considered her options. Mikaela didn’t even know what most of the pills were, what they did, or what they were called.

Before... she hadn’t cared what they were. They could have been poison and she wouldn’t have cared. She thought Drift had died, and looking back...

Mikaela ruthlessly cut off that train of thought. She needed to focus on the now.

The pills could be a problem. Mikaela didn’t have a prescription, and she didn’t have marked pill bottles for them. It was bad enough that Mikaela would be travelling without ID, but she couldn’t find Drift if she was locked up for transporting unknown drugs.

With a sigh, Mikaela got a glass of water and sat down to take her last dose of medication. It would be too dangerous to take the pills with her when she left, so she would have to enjoy her final pain-free hours.

There were some leftovers in the fridge that she could also eat before she left. Mikaela couldn’t take them with her, so she may as well leave with a full stomach. Then it would take longer for her to become hungry. The money her father had given her wouldn’t last that long, even with the non-perishable food she had packed.

Finishing her dinner, Mikaela cleaned her dishes and put everything away.

She lingered over the pens still strewn across the kitchen table. Should she leave a note?

The urge passed.

No. Roman already knew. The others could suffer, if they even cared that much.

It was mean and spiteful, but she was feeling mean and spiteful. Fuck them, the thought.

Mikaela changed into clean, sturdy clothing and took one last look around the apartment. Everything that should be turned off was turned off. The mess was cleaned up. There wasn’t anything else to keep her in the apartment.

Hoisting her bag over her shoulder, Mikaela took her walking stick in her hand and left.

As the door closed behind her, the apartment key was visible, still sitting on the kitchen table, within sight of the entrance.

Mikaela walked out.

Once outside, instead of heading down the street, she rounded the corner of the building.

Bumblebee saw Mikaela walking towards him and perked up from his casual lounging and made a concerned noise. Mikaela was acting even more out of character than she had been for the last few weeks. He was happy to see her out of the apartment, but concerned by the large bag on her shoulder. Bumblebee knew that Mikaela wouldn’t be able to carry it for long.

Mikaela also looked like a woman on a mission.

“I need to talk with you,” Mikaela said forcefully, coming to a stop next to Bumblebee.

Bumblebee nodded, and made a gesture for Mikaela to make herself comfortable on the ground next to him. It was frustrating not to be able to talk like they once had, but she had always been skilled at reading him. Unlike... Bumblebee cut that thought off.

Mikaela wasn’t having that. She wasn’t going to say this in public where anybody could overhear. “In private,” she stressed.

Bumblebee understood what that meant. At the first base they had lived in after Mission City, the Autobots had been confined to one hangar. There had been fewer of them, but they had lived practically on top of each other. The only way to have a private conversation with a human was to do it in a mech’s alt mode.

Bumblebee transformed in a flurry of clicks until his yellow and black Camaro alt mode settled to its tires where the mech had just stood. Mikaela hadn’t even flinched at the flying metal so close to her, though she had left him enough room to transform.

The driver’s side door popped open in invitation.

The bag was too heavy for Mikaela to throw, so she instead dropped it into the driver’s seat, then pushed it across Bumblebee’s interior into the passenger’s seat. The staff was carefully swung over the back of the seats and dropped into the back seat before Mikaela slid into the driver’s seat.

Bumblebee closed the door after her.

Mikaela sat for a moment, closing her eyes and taking in the smell of sun-warmed mech and the feel of metallic life surrounding her. She had missed this. Holoforms just weren’t the same.

She resolutely did not think of Drift, or of Ratchet, Ironhide, or Optimus Prime; all for different reasons.

She opened her eyes. “Bumblebee,” Mikaela said seriously. “I’m leaving.”

Baby, don't go breaking my heart, breaking my heart. Bumblebee’s stereo crooned in a high-pitched whine.

Mikaela winced. “Backstreet Boys... really?” Fortunately, Bumblebee didn’t let the song go on once he’d gotten his point across.

Also, that wasn’t the point she was trying to make, so Mikaela got herself back on track. “I need to go, Bumblebee. I need to find Drift.”

Tell me why. the Backstreet Boys crooned again from Bumblebee’s speakers.

That... wasn't a no. But it wasn’t a yes, either.

“I thought he was dead,” Mikaela said, still-raw anguish clear in her voice. “I thought he was dead, and I mourned him. And now... he’s alive.” Her breath hitched. She swore she wasn’t going to cry again. She’d done too much crying. First, when she thought Drift was dead, and now, when she found out he was alive.

Mikaela was sick of crying.

“Bumblebee...” Mikaela’s voice was thick with unshed tears. “I need to see him. I need to be with him. I need to know... he’s actually alive and this isn’t some sick joke Optimus is playing.”

Mikaela didn’t want to believe that Optimus would be that cruel, but her faith in him had been badly shaken months ago, and his actions now had just been the final straw. When she realized Optimus was punishing Drift for something she had done... it had broken something inside her.

Mikaela had learned years ago that the world wasn’t fair. It wasn’t just. Optimus liked to make pretty speeches, but when it came to his actions... he was just like the rest.

Mikaela realized she was mourning the loss of the Optimus she had thought she knew. The person who believed in justice and fought for peace. She’d wanted to believe in him so much, she had blinded herself.

And Drift had paid for it.

Her voice was firm now. “I’m leaving, one way or the other. You can stop me. You can tell the others what I’m doing and make me even more of a prisoner than I already am. If you do, though, you will never be able to rest. You won’t know when, you won’t know how, but even if I have to walk across the desert barefoot I’ll leave.” Mikaela paused for a moment, letting her ultimatum sink in. Now she needed to twist the knife.

“One way or the other, I’m going. You get to decide if you’ll be there to protect me... or not.”

After her emotional, and somewhat disjointed but impassioned plea Mikaela slumped in Bumblebee’s driver’s seat.

The silence stretched out.

Mikaela didn’t know if Bumblebee was calling Optimus, or Ratchet, or Ironhide right now. What if he was calling in the military police to round her up and take her back up to the apartment?

Mikaela curled up on Bumblebee's seat, her feet on the edge of the seat, her arms around her legs, and her head buried on her knees.

There was a burst of static from Bumblebee’s speakers. It wasn’t a song. A few more short bursts of static, then...

“Mikaela,” a rough voice called out.

Mikaela’s head shot up. “Bumblebee?” Mikaela said, incredulously, not believing what she was hearing.

Mikaela had heard Bumblebee's voice once. She and Sam had been talking about... something... and Bumblebee had been adding his comments using music clips and soundbytes. Sam had gotten frustrated and insisted Bumblebee use his own voice. He’d declined, but Sam hadn’t let it go. A few days later, Bumblebee had finally told Sam to shut up, this time in a rough rasping voice. Mikaela doesn’t know if Sam realized it, but that had been Bumblebee's real voice. Mikaela could tell because there was a different resonance between a mech’s voice and a recorded sound clip.

Bumblebee kept his answer short and succinct, so as not to tax his stressed vocalizer. “Mikaela, it’s okay. You don’t need to convince me. I’ll go.”

Bumblebee knew Mikaela. They’d spent a lot of time together when Mikaela was still dating Sam. He’d also fought by Mikaela’s side at Mission City. He wasn’t doing this because he felt like he owed her. Instead, he knew Mikaela well enough to know that she would carry out her plans. If he stopped her now, she’d just escape later without him. One girl evading seasoned Autobot warriors sounded ridiculous, but Mikaela only had to be successful once. If Bumblebee went with Mikaela now he could at least keep her safe, which would satisfy his assignment from Prime as well as his promise to Drift.

“Do you have everything you need?” Bumblebee asked.

Mikaela shook her head. “I need Drift’s sword. I can’t leave without it.”

Bumblebee considered the window to Mikaela’s bedroom where the sword sat in a stand next to her bed. Ironhide had reached in the window to place it there, but he was much taller than Bumblebee. Mikaela’s apartment was on the second floor. That meant that the windows were twelve to thirteen feet off the ground. What had been chest height on Ironhide was head height for Bumblebee. It’d be a stretch.

Bumblebee had Mikaela get out so he could transform. While he could put her bag and staff in his subspace, it was not meant to store live people. He then had to wait while Mikaela went back up to her apartment to open the window for him.

It took almost half an hour and multiple, careful attempts for him to remove the sword. Bumblebee was able to avoid breaking the window, but the same couldn’t be said about the apartment walls. He was sure there was a dent or two in the sheetrock, if not an actual hole. Hopefully it didn’t go all the way through to the neighboring apartment. Bumblebee didn’t think Roman would appreciate it.

Finally, Bumblebee had the sword in his subspace. He transformed back into his alt mode and let Mikaela climb back in.

Bumblebee started his engine with his typical muscle-car roar.

Mikaela flinched at the noise, despite the fact that she’d traveled with Bumblebee hundreds, if not thousands of times. She was paranoid about being caught.

Bumblebee pulled away from the apartment building, buckling Mikaela in before gingerly rolling over the curb down to the street. He then took the turn towards the lesser-used base exit. While it was the predictable option if somebody was waiting for them to escape, nobody was, so it was a better option than the more frequently used front entrance. Bumblebee would still need to get past the perimeter guard, though. He mulled over strategies in his head.

Bumblebee ignored a general alert ping from Autobot command, routing it to his message queue. His current assignment was protecting Mikaela. He wouldn’t be deployed off base.

As he cruised down the road towards the exit Mudflap came roaring down the road towards him. Bumblebee braced for the younger mech’s intrusive brand of questioning, but instead Mudflap sped straight past him, headed towards the main base. He didn’t even slow down or comm Bumblebee to ask what he was doing.

Bumblebee, having worked many scouting missions in enemy territory before, decided not to question his luck, and instead took the opportunity to get a good head start before they were discovered missing.

As they passed the perimeter of the base, Mikaela relaxed.

Bumblebee turned the seat heater on low to help combat the chill of the rapidly advancing winter evening as he put miles between them and the base.

***

First contact caused a ripple of activity among the humans manning the computers in the administrative hangar. It drew the attention of Jolt, who was on monitor duty. He stepped over to the nearest workstation.

“What is it?” he asked.

The human monitoring the new signal jumped, apparently unaware that the mech had been there, despite the fact that Jolt had been on duty for six hours so far.

“Unknown contact,” they said, unhelpfully.

“Do you have a visual?” Jolt asked.

The soldier pulled up the feed from the spy satellite and put it up on the large screen. “It appears to be Cybertronian in origin,” they said, redundantly.

Jolt reviewed the image on the small monitor and nodded. “It is a Decepticon trace,” he confirmed, stepping back from the scaffolding. Hovering over the humans too long caused them anxiety he had noticed. Jolt reviewed the signal’s position, heading, and speed. “They are headed in this direction. ETA, 30 minutes,” he said. Jolt’s announcement caused another ripple of activity in the hangar.

“You raise the alert, I’ll contact Prime,” Jolt ordered, perhaps redundantly as he was pretty sure one of the analysts was already on the phone with Major Lennox.

Less than a minute after Jolt’s alert, Optimus Prime strode into the hangar. He had been recharging in the officer’s quarters two hangars away when he’d received Jolt’s alert. Ironhide followed close after. The human commanders would take slightly longer to arrive, but they needed to come from across the base. It didn’t prevent Major Lennox from already being on the radio, though.

Jolt pulled himself up straight and reported. “We have four Decepticon contacts just reaching American airspace. Three seekers, one shuttle. Most likely Starscream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp along with Astrotrain.” Jolt put up a map on the large projection screen on one wall. “If they continue on their current course their closest point to this base will be in 28.54 minutes.”

Optimus Prime studied the readouts while his tactical and battle processors started breaking down the scenarios. However, there was too little information and too many possibilities for him to work with.

There was another ripple among the humans as one of them called out, “Director Mearing on the line!”

Optimus Prime replied to the implicit summons. “Tell her that we have less than 30 minutes until Decepticon contact. If she wants to spend that time talking, she can find somebody else to talk to.”

“Jolt,” Optimus Prime said, turning toward the smaller mech, “Open a line on Decepticon frequencies. Let’s see if Starscream has anything to say.”

Jolt bent over a mech-sized console cannibalized from Skids and Mudflap’s unfortunate shuttle. The decrepit thing had lasted long enough to get them to Earth, but not much longer. Its pieces came in handy, after they’d slagged the more sensitive bits to keep them away from the human’s grasp. Jolt opened a line on the last known set of Decepticon frequencies and nodded to Optimus Prime.

“Starscream! Why have you come here?” Optimus Prime demanded, then waited to see if the Decepticon Air Commander would respond.

“Starscream! I know you can hear me,” Optimus Prime continued after a moment of silence. “You are outnumbered. Turn around now,” the large mech growled out.

This time the speaker crackled as a connection was made.

“Turn around?” Starscream’s infamous voice oozed from of the speakers. “Already?” he giggled. “We haven’t even had fun yet.”

“Starscream. What do you want?” Optimus Prime asked.

“I have a little present for you.” Starscream’s voice dripped with self-satisfaction. “You’ll have to come and pick it up though... poor Astrotrain is all tired out.”

“Hey!” the Autobots could vaguely hear yelling in the background. It was likely Astrotrain objecting to being called ‘tired,’ along with snickering, probably Skywarp’s.

“Come and get it!” Starscream’s voice sing-songed before he abruptly cut the connection.

The sudden silence in the administrative hangar was stiff with tension. Everybody looked at Optimus Prime.

Optimus Prime stood tall and opened the general command channel he shared with all Autobots. “Autobots!” he said, sending his message by voice and by comm, “Roll out!”

The Autobots converged on the airstrip in front of the medbay. Ratchet stowed some last supplies before he joined the others on the tarmac.

Skids and Mudflap even showed up, to Ironhide’s displeasure. They had been assigned to guarding the base perimeter. There were too few Autobots, though, to turn down their assistance. Instead of being sent back, they were included in the team.

Optimus Prime, Arcee, Ratchet, and Ironhide transformed and rolled out, hitting speeds on the remote desert roads that human-made vehicles couldn’t match. With Starscream’s team coming in fast, they needed to get into position to intercept as quickly as possible. Major Lennox and NEST were left to follow, with Skids and Mudflap as escorts.

Jolt, who was left behind in the administrative hangar, fed the forward team updated data on where Starscream and company were. Their path didn’t deviate as they passed over the southwestern United States.

Optimus Prime’s team was prepared for a fight, but in the end, it was completely anticlimactic.

Astrotrain opened his cargo bay in midair and tilted to let his cargo, whatever it was, slide out. Then he and the seekers pulled back into a climb, exiting Earth’s atmosphere as quickly as they could.

The Autobots rushed to make it to the crash site.

Optimus Prime rolled up first and transformed to inspect what the seekers had dropped. At first it looked like scrap heap of old parts and twisted metal. However, Optimus Prime had been at war long enough to recognize what the scrap actually was. The pile of parts had once been a mech. There was no chance they were still alive, however. Too much of their essential parts were missing, or completely vaporized in the blast that had hollowed out their torso.

Ratchet pulled up not long after Optimus, transformed, and knelt down next to the body. One hand hovered over what might have been the mech’s shoulder assembly. “Dead,” he said, redundantly.

Ironhide offered his opinion where he stood next to Optimus Prime’s shoulder. “Probably killed on the Nemesis. Why bring it here?” The soldier was looking up at the sky where the four Decepticon flyers had disappeared. Disappointment was clear in his field. He had been looking for a fight, and the flyers hadn’t obliged him. He was feeling frustrated.

Optimus Prime put one hand on Ironhide’s shoulder in an effort to anchor the other mech’s restlessness. “Contact Major Lennox. Tell him he can stand his people down.”

Ironhide nodded, and opened a line to his charge.

“And ask him to find transportation for the body.”

Arcee carefully poked at the body, only to be shooed off by Ratchet. “Do we even know if it’s an Autobot? Could be a ‘Con,” she asked, sounding only idly curious. A bystander might have thought her cruel, but war had desensitised them all to atrocities like this. It was tragic, but so was war. Those that couldn’t cope, often didn’t survive.

“Can’t tell without doing an autopsy,” Ratchet said. “Could be an Autobot... could be a Decepticon that got on the wrong side of Starscream.”

“Ironhide’s right,” said Optimus Prime. “A better question is why they decided to dump the body here?”

Major Lennox and the NEST soldiers reached the Autobots and piled out of their vehicles while Skids and Mudflap ran in excited circles around the area. The NEST soldiers’ honed readiness had relaxed only slightly due to the news. Due to harsh experience, they were still ready for anything.

“They wanted us to have it,” Arcee pointed out the obvious.

“But why?” Ironhide replied.

“Don’t know,” Ratchet said gruffly. “But if we can identify the mech, we can probably answer that question.” He wasn’t too sure he’d be able to, though. There was more missing of the mech than was present. Whatever had offlined them had destroyed or otherwise vaporized a large part of their frame. What was still intact was heat damaged. Being dropped from Astrotrain’s cargo bay hadn’t helped, either.

Optimus saw Ratchet’s skeptical look. “I realize the possibility is a remote one, but we must see if we can. If they are an Autobot, they deserve to be remembered. If they are a Decepticon, it may help us untangle Decepticon power plays.”

Before, that job had fallen to Jazz. Now, it would fall to Jazz’s second in command. Ratchet would take what information he could find on the mech’s frame and send it to Mirage, who would be in charge of actually ferreting out the truth.

“In the meantime, we will bring the body back with us.” They would have to make room in the back of the medbay, where Jazz’s body was stored until it could be dealt with. Away from prying human hands.

Ratchet nodded.

Major Lennox walked up. “So, what’s that?”

“That,” Optimus Prime said gravely, “was a person. We don’t know who, and we don’t know why Starscream decided to bring it here. We will take it back to base where we will work on identifying the body for our records.”

Lennox nodded solemnly, sensing that this wasn’t the time for flip remarks, and got on his radio, ordering a large truck from the base to meet them and take the body back.

Chapter Text

February 2010

Mikaela stared out of the window as Bumblebee drove down the desert highway. The afternoon shadows lengthened into twilight as the miles passed underneath his tires.

Mikaela didn’t know what to do. Bumblebee had agreed to help her and they had gotten off base, both problems that she thought were going to be harder. But now she was faced with the next step of her plan. She needed to find Drift.

“Bumblebee?” she said softly, not wanting to break the peaceful calm.

Bumblebee gave a questioning chirrup.

“Do you know where Drift is?”

It would be the quickest way to find Drift, but Bumblebee’s reply was negative.

Mikaela would be able to solve this, she just needed to think. Maybe they could find Barricade, and he’d lead them to Drift?

No, that wouldn’t work, Mikaela realized. Barricade had been hiding from the Autobots for well over a year. The Autobots had advanced sensors and millions of years of experience. There was no way she’d be able to find one Decepticon, even with Bumblebee’s help. Not to mention, Barricade had almost killed Drift. She didn’t want him to kill Bumblebee.

“Can you contact him?”

Again, Bumblebee’s reply was negative.

It was hard for Mikaela not feel discouraged. She was beginning to realize that she had been depressed for a while now, but she hadn’t realized it. Now, though, she could feel the fog coming on. Mikaela’s body felt suddenly heavy, as if an invisible lead blanket was pushing her into the padding of Bumblebee’s seat. She couldn’t fight it.

Mikaela sat and obsessed over her problems, circling them over and over in her mind like a well-worn worry stone.

She had a few days worth of food packed.

She didn’t have a lot of money.

But her worst problem was that she didn’t know where to find Drift.

Defeated, she curled up in Bumblebee’s seat and started to cry, trying to keep quiet.

Bumblebee felt Mikaela shaking and pulled over. He slowly drifted to a stop on the shoulder of the highway. There was a town just a few miles down the road, so there would be more traffic on the highway, even with how late it was becoming. Traffic that might notice that the driver of a car was not paying any attention to the road.

...you know where he is...

That fucking voice was back.

Mikaela was going crazy, and she really couldn’t give a fuck any more. May as well play along.

“No I don’t,” Mikaela replied, her breath hitching wetly.

...he is a part of you...

“What the fuck does that mean?” Mikaela snarled out roughly. She was sick and tired of the enigmatic act.

...you will always know where he is...

“Damn you,” Mikaela threw her head back against the padding of the headrest.

Bumblebee chirruped worriedly. Mikaela was acting strange.

“Not you, Bumblebee,” Mikaela tried to reassure her friend. “The voice in my head.”

That didn’t reassure Bumblebee. Humans didn’t have wireless communications capabilities. There was no way that Mikaela should be able to hear a voice in her head, at least that he knew of.

Bumblebee ran the most powerful scan he dared to on the surrounding area, trying to ferret out hidden mechs or abnormal signals. All he found was the usual mishmash of human radio chatter and wireless signals he’d expect to find. Nothing stuck out as unusual, and that alarmed him. What was Mikaela sensing that he couldn’t?

“Just... give me a minute,” Mikaela said, unaware of what Bumblebee was thinking.

Bumblebee wondered if she was talking to him now, but sat quietly anyway.

Mikaela sat there, and thought about nothing. It was easier than it had been when Drift had first started teaching her. They discovered several fundamental differences between how Cybertronian minds and human minds worked. In the end they’d figured it out. YouTube tutorials had been helpful.

Mikaela stopped thinking about that. Instead, she let thoughts of Drift float across her mind.

...lounging together on the makeshift mattress they’d set up for him at home, and the sound of his voice as they talked about nothing in particular.

...watching Drift practice, swords flashing an intricate dance in slow motion.

...the feel of his sun-warmed plating as she ran a polishing cloth over it, buffing the last few spots after a thorough wash.

Where are you? she thought, willing him, willing someone, to hear her.

Suddenly...

Bumblebee bleeped in alarm as Mikaela suddenly sat up and opened his door without looking. Fortunately, he was parked far enough onto the shoulder of the road that the passing semi didn’t knock his door off. The force of the semi’s passing still rocked Bumblebee on his shocks. He’d feel that in his hinges later.

Mikaela, apparently blind to what had just happened, stepped out of Bumblebee and walked around him until she stood in front of him. She stood in the glow of his headlights and looked off into the distance, slowly studying the horizon until she appeared to have found something. Turning, Mikaela lifted one arm, pointing straight. “That way,” she said, decisively.

Bumblebee scanned in that direction. There wasn’t even a road. It was all scrub, rocks, and dust.

Bumblebee looked at it with distaste. He could travel over it. That didn’t mean that he wanted to. Or that it was the best option.

Mikaela walked back to Bumblebee and, out of long habit, got in the passenger’s side instead of the driver’s side. She stared at the empty driver’s seat for a moment.

Bumblebee’s holomatter avatar suddenly appeared, sitting in the seat.

“You don’t want me to drive?” Mikaela asked.

Bumblebee's avatar shook his head, maybe too vigorously. He then pointed towards his windshield.

Mikaela turned to look.

On the inside of the windshield Bumblebee projected a map of the area around them, for about a hundred miles out. There was road, and a dot showing where they currently were. Bumblebee then displayed a line in the direction that Mikaela had pointed. He highlighted a route, using the roads between where they were now and where Mikaela’s line intersected a road furthest out on his map.

Mikaela nodded, understanding what he wasn’t saying. Bumblebee would follow her direction, but he’d stick to the roads instead of being literal. She could live with that.

“When we get there, stop, and I’ll see if I can do that again,” she asked him.

Bumblebee had doubts about whatever method Mikaela was using to point the way. However, it wouldn't be any worse than wandering aimlessly. Or, he shuddered, being talked into driving off-road. Bumblebee preferred a nice, paved road over rocks and debris any day.

...and if they never found Drift, Mikaela wouldn’t be able to blame it on him, Bumblebee thought, somewhat uncharitably. Not that he wanted Mikaela to fail, he just wasn’t sure about their chances.

Bumblebee smoothly pulled out into traffic, avoiding the semis this time, and down the route he’d mapped.

***

:Anybody seen Bumblebee?: Ironhide asked over Autobot command’s open comm channel.

In hindsight, Ratchet realized that it was the first sign that something had gone wrong... again.

Optimus was busy meeting with the politicians, so Ratchet stepped back from the body that he was in the middle of autopsying to handle the call. It wasn’t like the mech was going anywhere with half his torso vaporized.

:I assume you’ve already checked Mikaela’s apartment,: Ratchet asked redundantly as he wiped fluids off his hands off using a rag. Ironhide wasn’t the type of mech to overlook the obvious, but the obvious still had to be checked.

:Already checked,: Ironhide confirmed. :He’s not outside, and the apartment’s empty. He’s also not responding to comms.: Ironhide didn’t sound overly concerned. At their previous base it was not unusual for the energetic scout to run off, many times along with Sam and Mikaela in tow.

Ratchet frowned. Bumblebee was Mikaela’s guardian now, and since Barricade’s attack, Mikaela had been positively reclusive. She had barely left her apartment in the last few weeks. :Mikaela is missing as well?: Ratchet asked Ironhide to confirm.

:The apartment’s dark and nobody’s home,: Ironhide replied.

:What about her father?:

:Checked. She’s not with him either. He says he hasn’t seen her since this morning,: Ironhide was starting to sound frustrated. :I asked Skids and Mudflap to take a look around for Bumblebee. They checked the base proper, and haven’t found him yet.: The base proper included the cluster of administrative, housing and other buildings and the area immediately surrounding them. In order to extend the search to the thousands of acres that made up the rest of the base they’d need more searchers.

However... “It is suspicious that Bumblebee and Mikaela went missing right after a Decepticon incursion left the base only lightly guarded,” Ratchet observed.

:I don’t like the coincidence,: Ironhide said, clearly following Ratchet’s line of thought.

They’d worked together too long, Ratchet mused. :Is there any sign that Decepticons came on base while we were gone?: Ratchet asked.

:No, but that wouldn’t mean anything when it comes to the more stealthy ‘cons, like Soundwave’s cassettes,: Ironhide grumbled. The cheeky bastards had run circles around even Red Alert’s security more than once.

Ratchet knew that Soundwave’s cassettes could be formidable, but for them to have taken down a mech Bumblebee’s size... :Bumblebee would have put up a fight. They wouldn’t be able to take him down so easily.:

Ironhide cussed loudly and colorfully over the comm line. :If they kidnapped Mikaela, he’d fold,: Ironhide pointed out. He knew what being a guardian did to a mech’s code, to a mech’s priorities. Hell, Ratchet had no such coding, and he’d still be torn if the ‘cons held Mikaela hostage.

Ratchet finished cleaning up his tools and putting them away. After listening in on their conversation, Ratchet would be surprised if Optimus didn’t call a meeting.

Just as he expected, Optimus’s came across the open comm line, having been able to hear everything said. :I am wrapping up my meeting now,: he said gravely. :Ironhide, Ratchet, come to the administrative hangar for a command meeting.:

Both Ironhide and Ratchet sent confirmation pings, which Optimus replied to with a time for the meeting. Ratchet had ten minutes to walk to the next hangar, while Ironhide had to drive from across the base. Ratchet didn’t envy him. Even on this small base, dodging human traffic could be exasperating.

Ten minutes later Ironhide joined Optimus and Ratchet in the administrative hangar. Major Lennox was also with them, standing on the catwalks that ringed the outside wall of the building. He gave Ironhide a nod, which his guardian returned.

The four of them were standing on the far end of the hangar, away from the techs and other staff, so they had a pretense of privacy. But Ratchet understood that the human military wasn’t that much different than the Autobots. Whatever they discussed here would be base-wide gossip within hours.

Lennox turned to Prime. “Everybody’s here now. What’s going on?” he asked, straight and to the point as usual. Ratchet appreciated that Will Lennox was somebody who bypassed the small talk. He endured enough verbal dancing on the rare occasions he had to play politics with Prime.

“Mikaela and Bumblebee are gone,” Optimus Prime said, gravely.

Lennox looked around at the mechs. “I assume that you’ve already checked to make sure they didn’t just run off to play hookey.” Lennox had been around when Mikaela was living with the Autobots, and while she had been the more level-headed one, she’d had her moments.

“We’ve checked the main area of the base. Also, Bumblebee is not answering his comms,” Ironhide replied.

“The Decepticons?” Lennox asked worriedly.

“Our current theory is that Starscream was a diversion to draw our attention away from a Decepticon infiltration. We can tell from the signal that Bumblebee is not dead or had his comms disabled. The assumption is that the Decepticon has Mikaela and is holding her hostage for Bumblebee’s good behavior,” Ironhide confirmed gruffly.

Lennox gave Ironhide a doubtful look. “It’s happened before,” Ironhide said. It’d been a long war. The situation had come up before. That time, the hostage had not survived. Ironhide didn’t want to see that happen again.

“None of our detectors went off.” Lennox was starting to get worried. NEST relied on those detectors to keep themselves safe independently of their Autobot allies. If they couldn’t rely on the detectors, they could only rely on the Autobots, and there were only so many of them to go around.

“There are ways around such things,” Ironhide pointed out wryly. After all, they had needed to program them to ignore the Autobots, otherwise the detectors would be going off all day. No matter how well designed, that loophole could always be exploited.

Ratchet gave Ironhide a sharp look. There was time for levity, and this was not it.

“I’ll raise the alert and organize search parties.” Lennox looked over to one of the aides stationed across the room. They looked back at Major Lennox with a question in their eye, clearly having listened in on the conversation. Lennox wryly nodded, kicking off the process. “I assume you will want to include an Autobot in each team?” he said, turning back towards Optimus Prime.

Optimus Prime nodded. “Coordinate with Ironhide,” he ordered, “if it was the Decepticons, time is critical.”

***

Bumblebee worried about Mikaela. She alternately dozed and stared out his window. Sometimes she spoke, but not to him. It was as if she was talking to people that weren’t in the car with her. It was spooky.

Evening had turned into night, and it was getting late. Bumblebee was on the lookout for a hotel. Something that wasn’t too seedy, was convenient to the highway, and safe enough for Mikaela.

Mikaela woke up as Bumblebee pulled into the parking lot of a motel. It was old and worn around the edges, and had clearly seen better days. Bumblebee had researched it, though, and it had good reviews online.

As if on autopilot, Mikaela got out of Bumblebee and did what she had done every time he’d stopped so far. She pointed the way, and got back in.

Bumblebee refused to start.

Mikaela hunkered down in her seat, and put her seatbelt on.

Bumblebee’s holomatter avatar looked over at her.

Mikaela avoided eye contact.

Bumblebee kept looking at her.

Mikaela closed her eyes.

Bumblebee’s avatar got out of his alt form and walked around to Mikaela’s side. He could see that they’d attracted the notice of the front desk clerk, but ignored them.

He opened Mikaela’s door and crouched down. He slid his hands underneath Mikaela, ready to pick her up.

“No Bumblebee,” Mikaela’s light shove to his shoulder stopped him. “I’m not getting a room.”

Tell me more
Tell me more

Bumblebee’s radio sang.

Mikaela sighed and looked at his holoform. “How much does it cost per night?” she asked, waving towards the front door of the hotel and the guy pretending not to watch the two of them. Mikaela didn’t wait for Bumblebee to answer. “I have less than a hundred dollars. I need that for food. What I brought isn’t going to last forever,” Mikaela laid out her situation in stark terms. “Besides, they’ll want to see my ID, and I don’t have one.”

Bumblebee cocked his head to the side questioningly.

Mikaela was briefly struck by just how much Bumblebee had internalized human body language before she replied to his unspoken question. “I don’t know where it is. Not since...” she trailed off. Sadly, ‘not since Barricade’ described too many things in her life right now.

Bumblebee looked at her sadly.

Mikaela sighed and closed her eyes. “Please Bumblebee?” she asked.

Bumblebee made an unhappy noise, but his holoform avatar stood up. Mikaela’s door shut behind him as he circled the car back to the driver’s side.

Bumblebee’s holoform got inside his alt form and drove off.

Chapter Text

The morning after Mikaela and Bumblebee disappeared, Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Ratchet, and Major Lennox reconvened in the ‘private’ corner of the administrative hangar. The sun hadn’t risen yet; the frosty scrub outside was lit by the ambient light of false dawn. There were only a handful of people in the hangar this early in the morning. Most carefully nursed large mugs of coffee, some with the tell-tale jitteriness of excessive consumption. It had been a long night for everybody, and they were all tired and worn out.

Lennox cradled his own hot mug of coffee, trying to ward off the lingering chill of a desert winter night. No matter how many heaters they installed in the hangar, the building wasn’t that much warmer than being outside, because the large rolling doors had to be open most of the time in order to allow the Autobots to walk in and out.

As far as Lennox could tell, the chill didn’t seem to affect them though, the lucky bastards.

“We’ve been over the base with a fine tooth comb,” Lennox reported. Years of experience meant that he noticed the small body-language cues that meant that the mechs around him were looking up the idiom. “All the detectors are working and there are no signs that any suspicious vehicles entered or left the base.”

“They’re good at covering their tracks,” Ironhide rumbled darkly. Lennox thought that the large mech looked very surly. Probably because Ironhide preferred his battles face-to-face.

Optimus Prime turned towards Ironhide to reply, but Lennox was distracted. Something didn’t seem right. “I thought the majority of the Decepticons were all hiding out on their warship? Are we sure that the Decepticons took them?” he asked, cutting into Optimus and Ironhide’s conversation.

The three mechs stopped what they were doing and looked at Lennox.

“What do you mean?” Ironhide rumbled.

“What if it’s not the Decepticons?” Lennox rephrased.

The three mechs traded glances, and most likely comments over their internal comms.

“That could be possible,” Optimus Prime conceded.

“If somebody, Decepticon or human, took Mikaela, it was probably from her apartment,” Lennox observed. “There could be clues to who did it. Who searched her apartment?”

The other three mechs looked at each other again.

Lennox had a sinking feeling. “Somebody did search her apartment, right?” Lennox asked, pinching the bridge of his nose. It was too early in the morning for this shit.

Optimus Prime and Ratchet turned to Ironhide, who held up his hands defensively. “I checked to see if she was there, I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.”

“Would you be able to spot anything out of the ordinary?” Lennox said, not really trying to keep the snark out of his voice.

Ironhide, looking abashed, stepped back and transformed into his alt mode. “Let’s go take a look, then,” he said, opening a door and waiting for Lennox to climb down off the catwalk and get inside.

Lennox mourned the fact he would have to leave his coffee behind. However, he’d learned his lesson before. The first, and last, time he’d spilled something inside Ironhide, he’d ended up detailing Ironhide’s interior by hand, with a lot of guidance from an amused Mikaela. Fortunately, he didn’t drink coffee with cream or sugar, or he might never have gotten it out of Ironhide’s carpet. The Autobots may be safe for people to ride inside, but not with open containers.

When they reached the apartment block, Lennox got out and was met by Ironhide’s holoform when he reached the second floor. Lennox inspected the door to Mikaela’s apartment. It looked fine to him. It hadn’t been beaten in or broken down. That wasn’t conclusive evidence on its own, though. Mikaela might have been tricked into letting her attackers in.

“Do you have a key?” Lennox asked Ironhide.

“Do we need a key?” Ironhide replied, grabbing the knob and turning.

Surprisingly, the door opened. It hadn’t been locked.

Lennox and Ironhide carefully entered the dark, quiet apartment.

Lennox found the light switch next to the door and flicked on the lights. He was surprised by how normal the apartment was. Bumblebee had been living with Mikaela for a while now. Then again, he didn’t know what he was expecting from alien robots living with humans. It wasn’t like they plugged themselves into the wall or anything like that.

The kitchen chairs were neatly pushed in. There were a pile of pens on the kitchen table, but while unusual, it wasn’t abnormal. The dishes were all cleaned and laid out next to the sink to dry.

A key, presumably to the apartment, sat, clearly visible, on the kitchen table.

“It looks like she just cleaned up and walked out,” Lennox said. “Nothing turned over. No signs of struggle.”

“Maybe they got her in her bedroom,” said Ironhide, walking past Lennox.

The bedroom was also undisturbed. The bed was made, and closet door closed. Except for...

“Why the hell are there holes in the wall?” Lennox exclaimed.

Ironhide walked around the bed and knelt down next to a metal rack-like structure next to the bed. Lennox couldn’t tell what it was supposed to be, but Ironhide obviously recognized it.

“The sword is gone,” Ironhide said, lightly touching the metal.

That statement made no sense to Lennox. “What do you mean, ‘the sword is gone?’ What sword?” Lennox demanded.

“It was one of Drift’s swords. He left it with Mikaela,” Ironhide replied, turning to look at Lennox.

Lennox shook his head. “So, if Mikaela was kidnapped, whoever did it took the sword too. Why?” It seemed like a reasonable question to him.

Lennox vaguely remembered the white mech they had hauled out of the warehouse Mikaela had been living in. He hadn’t seen Drift around in a while, though. “Why would he leave a sword with her anyway? It’s not like she can use it.”

Ironhide shrugged. “It’s probably a guardian thing,” he said, offhand.

Lennox stopped and stared at Ironhide. “He was her guardian?”

With that new information, Lennox started to reconsider his assumptions. Given that Drift was Mikaela’s guardian, the fact that the mech had left didn’t make sense. Ironhide had mellowed as he accepted the fact that Lennox was a soldier, and was therefore going to get himself in trouble. In the beginning, though, he’d been damn near grafted to Lennox’s ass 24X7.

Mikaela wasn’t a soldier, so if Drift was anything like Ironhide, he’d still be attached to Mikaela unless...

“Where is he, then? Mikaela didn’t sever their bond, did she?”

“No, nothing like that.” Ironhide looked strangely untroubled. “Prime sent him out hunting Barricade.”

“Wasn’t Barricade the one that nearly killed him and Mikaela?” Revenge might explain why Drift had left.

“He’s got Sideswipe with him,” Ironhide said defensively.

“I don’t imagine Mikaela was very happy about that,” Lennox commented, then got suspicious as Ironhide avoided looking at him. “What am I missing?” he asked, narrowing his eyes at his guardian.

“Optimus and Ratchet,” Ironhide stuttered uncharacteristically. “They talked to Mikaela a couple of days ago. Turns out, she didn’t know he’d survived Barricade’s attack.”

Lennox froze. “She thought Drift, her guardian, was dead,” he said flatly.

Ironhide nodded, clearly embarrassed.

Lennox spoke with pure killing intent. “If you died, I’d kill the fucker that did it with my bare hands.” Between two soldiers it was as close as a declaration of love. “And you let her think her guardian was dead.”

“I didn’t—”

Lennox interrupted Ironhide. “No, you didn’t, not alone. But how many of you knew that Drift was Mikaela’s guardian? How many of you knew that Drift had been reassigned? All those people, and none... NONE of you ever sat down with Mikaela and told her.”

“I thought I had!” Ironhide roared back, surging to his feet. “I told her he was gone!”

Lennox pushed Ironhide’s holoform back with one hand on his chest. “Did you tell her that? Did you use those words? Did you say that Drift was gone?” It was strange to be staring at Ironhide’s eyes without having to look up. Lennox didn’t feel any more intimidated by Ironhide’s holoform than he was of Ironhide’s mech form, though.

Ironhide didn’t back down, but he did lower his voice. “I told her he was gone.”

Lennox sighed and closed his eyes. He didn’t like dealing with messy shit, and this was about as messy as it got. Fucking cultural misunderstandings. He couldn’t farm this explanation off on Mikaela, though.

“Ironhide,” he tried to break the news gently. “Saying that somebody’s ‘gone’ can be a polite way to say that somebody’s dead when you don’t want to say the word ‘dead.’ LIke when Annebelle’s puppy died last year; she was too young to really understand what death was. She kept expecting him to come back until we explained that Alphie was gone and that he wasn’t going to come back. When you said that Drift was gone it would have been very easy for Mikaela to make the assumption that you were just trying to break the news gently.”

Ironhide’s holoform stood still in that inhuman way that showed when the mech in control of it wasn’t concentrating on acting ‘human,’ while Ironhide worked on understanding what Lennox had said.

“It’s my fault,” Ironhide said eventually.

“It was a mistake,” Lennox replied. The consequences of this mistake had been harsher than usual. Usually, these mistakes just caused a bit of confusion followed by laughing it off.

“No... I...”

Lennox took mercy on Ironhide. He had a good idea what happened now. It fit Mikaela’s character, and it fit Bumblebee’s as well. “What is the chance that Mikaela and Bumblebee ran off to find Drift?”

Ironhide considered it for a moment, then his head dropped. “High,” he admitted.

“It would also explain why the sword is gone,” Lennox pointed out.

Ironhide nodded. “Mikaela’s protective of it. She wouldn’t leave without it.”

“We need to talk to Ratchet and Optimus,” Lennox said as he stepped back from Ironhide.

Lennox turned the lights off and locked up as he left the apartment, pocketing the key that had been left on the table. He could hear Ironhide’s holoform disappear as he stormed down the stairs. Ironhide’s alt mode was waiting for him outside the front door to the complex.

As Ironhide made his way back across base, he could practically feel Lennox vibrating in his seat. Ironhide called ahead to make sure Optimus and Ratchet were still in the hangar.

When they reached the hangar, Lennox barely waited for Ironhide to come to a halt before he jumped out. Lennox resolutely climbed up to the catwalk. This was something he wanted to say to the others face-to-face.

Ironhide transformed and joined the other two mechs waiting for Lennox.

“New theory,” Lennox announced as he strode up to them. “Mikaela ran away with Bumblebee.”

“What brought you to that conclusion?” Optimus Prime asked gravely.

“Her apartment was clean. No sign of forced entry, no sign of struggle. There were holes in the wall near where I’m told she stored Drift’s sword, which was missing. Ironhide,” Lennox turned towards the black mech, “would you say those marks could have been made by Bumblebee removing the sword from the apartment?”

Ironhide nodded. “He’d be a little short, but it’s doable.”

“She went looking for Drift,” Ratchet concluded. He’d seen the evidence of their bond when he’d woken up Drift after surgery and the mech’s first thought had been for Mikaela’s recovery. He’d also seen it recently, when Mikaela had collapsed from the stress of being told Drift was alive when she had thought he was dead. “We should have expected her to leave as soon as she found out he was alive.”

“Yes,” Lennox clipped out. “And it would have been very helpful to know about Drift and Mikaela’s relationship before we started a base-wide panic over Decepticons,” he said bitingly. Maybe he was being harsh, but the emergency had also kept him up all night. Lennox was only human. A sleep deprived human.

“I did not think it was relevant,” Optimus Prime said, delicately. “Besides, I do not think that Bumblebee would agree and put Mikaela in danger.”

Ratchet snorted. “We are talking about the same people, aren’t we? Mikaela would do it, with or without our help. Bumblebee would do it because Mikaela asked.”

Optimus Prime shook his head. “I have been attempting to contact Bumblebee,” he said gravely. “If what you suspect is correct, than he is ignoring me.”

:That’s because you’d order him back to base. Then he’d be torn between a direct order from you and keeping Mikaela happy,: Ratchet pointed out over the command channel so Ironhide could hear. It wouldn’t do to chastise Optimus Prime in public and risk undermining his authority in front of the humans. :Right now he is operating on his orders to keep Mikaela safe.:

Optimus Prime wordlessly acknowledged what Ratchet had said, then turned towards Major Lennox. “What are our other options to locate and return Bumblebee and Mikaela? Could there be something that the human authorities could do?”

Lennox clenched his teeth. He was afraid that Optimus Prime was going to ask that.

“Legally speaking, there’s very little that would be effective,” Major Lennox explained. “We could report Mikaela as missing, but the police aren’t going to start a manhunt for a missing woman.”

“Even one that needs medical care?” Ratchet asked.

“Even then. Mikaela is legally an adult. She has the right to decline medical treatment, even if it kills her. We could report Bumblebee as a stolen vehicle, but then we run into the same problem as reporting Mikaela missing, with the additional complication that, if he is found with Mikaela, she ends up in jail for theft.”

“We are not doing that!” Ratchet said, uncompromisingly. The last thing he wanted to happen to his medically delicate protege was to have her put through more stress than she was already putting herself though.

“I agree,” Optimus Prime said, then turned back to Major Lennox. “This could have been prevented if your people had been able to keep her from leaving,” Optimus Prime’s voice was reproachful.

“Even if we knew that she was going to leave, we don’t have a reason to keep her from leaving. Unless she’s a prisoner now?” Lennox said defensively.

“What about a mental health hold?” Ratchet asked.

“You need to find her first,” Lennox snorted. “Even then, it doesn't work like it does in the movies. It’s not that easy to get somebody committed. Especially because she’s not a threat, either to herself or to the public.”

Lennox really didn’t like where this conversation was going. “If you want to go through with this, I’m not helping you,” he said bluntly.

The three mechs turned to look at him. Also, many of the analysts on the other side of the room, who were carefully pretending not to pay attention, listened in.

Lennox became aware of somebody approaching and turned just before the new person spoke.

“Good,” Roman said, as he reached the top of the stairs and joined Major Lennox on the catwalk.

Optimus Prime looked at Mikaela’s father. “I would have thought that you wanted Mikaela to be found.”

“I would have thought that, if my daughter went missing, I would be one of the first people contacted,” Roman replied, bitingly. The only reason he had known Mikaela was missing was because he knew Mikaela planned to leave. When he saw search teams moving around all night, he’d suspected what had happened. Nobody, either Autobot or NEST, had mentioned a word to him about it.

Considering he lived next door, it was easy for him to watch Mikaela’s apartment. After Major Lennox and Ironhide had walked in, then stormed back out, he’d followed them back to the Autobot’s administrative hangar. It was only Optimus Prime’s standing orders to admit him that had allowed Roman into the building. Orders Optimus Prime would probably be rescinding now, Roman thought.

“I asked you where she was, and you said you hadn’t seen her,” Ironhide said, sounding betrayed.

Roman smirked at the large mech. In his eyes, right now Ironhide wasn’t entitled anything more than any other stranger. “What I said was true. I haven’t seen her since breakfast yesterday. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t know that she was planning on leaving.”

Now he had the attention of all three mechs... and a good number of the other people in the building.

Optimus Prime gazed down at Roman with every ounce of disappointed authority he could muster, not that Roman gave a shit. “Then where is she?” he demanded.

“Don’t know,” Roman shrugged. “I know she planned on leaving. She didn’t tell me where she was going.”

“I find that hard to believe,” Optimus Prime replied.

Roman narrowed his eyes at the huge mech. He wasn’t going to be intimidated by nearly 30 feet of alien steel. “I respect her and trust her to do what she needs to do,” he said heatedly.

Lennox slow clapped, loudly.

Roman, startled, looked at the other man.

Major Lennox looked up at the three mechs. “If we’re done with this little hissy fit, I need to get back to actually running this base.”

“But, Mikaela!” Ratchet protested.

Roman swung back around to face the mechs. “Since I came here, aside from Bumblebee, not one of you has expressed more than a passing interest in Mikaela’s well being.”

“But—” Ratchet started to protest.

“As a person, not as a patient,” Roman shot back, not letting himself be distracted. “The only time you interacted with her as a person, you left her emotionally devastated. Mikaela decided to leave, and she decided not to tell you. She doesn’t trust you. Think about that. I do.”

Lennox stepped back during Roman’s tirade, careful not to draw attention. This was not a conversation that he wanted to get involved with. He wasn’t here to manage the Autobot’s interpersonal conflicts.

Roman abruptly turned and headed towards the stairs. He was done talking.

“What if something happens to Mikaela?” Optimus Prime called after Roman.

Roman stopped on the stairs and looked at Optimus Prime, who towered over him. “She was miserable here. Maybe out there, she can find her happiness again.”

“What about the Decepticons?”

“You don’t know Mikaela very well, do you?” Roman scoffed. “She cares more about her friends than what the Decepticons could do to her.”

Roman continued climbing down the stairs.

“Well said,” Lennox said loudly, cutting into the conversation and diverting the attention of the three mechs back to him. If he didn’t cut it off here, they’d likely keep hounding Roman all day.

Ironhide turned towards Major Lennox, “You agree with Roman Banes?” he asked. His usually gruff exterior was hiding hurt, Lennox could tell. He’d lived alongside Ironhide long enough to be able to spot the large mech’s more hidden feelings. Ironhide was taking his part in this mess hard.

“I don’t agree with him that you don’t care for Mikaela,” Lennox said bluntly. “But then, I’ve seen you with Mikaela during better times. He’s her father, though, and he’s doing exactly what I’d do; taken his daughter's side,” Lennox tried to explain. He didn’t know if he was going to get through to them. He didn’t even know if they had children or a concept of what family was. “He’s also not afraid to say it, even to somebody who holds considerable influence and power over him. I respect that. I think he’s wrong, and you do care about Mikaela, but I understand why he doesn’t trust that you do.”

With that damning indictment, Lennox turned to leave. His bed was calling him.

Chapter Text

Frustrated, Roman stormed out of the hangar, followed by Lennox. He ignored the not-so-covert glances that were sent his way by various analysts. He didn’t need or want their opinions.

Shoving the human-sized exit door open, Roman checked himself as he nearly ran over a woman and her child who had been standing outside.

“Hidey!” screamed the toddler, in a decibel range only achievable by excited children.

Roman winced at the ear-piercingly shrill tones. He didn’t miss those days.

The woman released her daughter’s hand.

The young girl ran through the open door that Lennox was now holding open and straight towards the three mechs in the hangar.

Lennox watched the kid run by. “I know where I stand on your list of priorities,” he said ironically under his breath.

The woman, on the other hand, ignored the mechs completely. Her eyes were only for the Major.

“Large robots are more fun,” the woman said teasingly.

Roman quickly backed out of the way. There was no way he was going to get in between the two as they embraced passionately.

Out of the corner of his eye Roman saw Ironhide, 20-plus feet of walking armory, kneel down with his hand flat on the ground. The child climbed on fearlessly, chattering all the while. Roman was worried as the giant mech gently picked her up and brought her to his chest.

Lennox and the woman didn’t seem concerned at all. The couple was engrossed in a steamy kiss, completely ignoring the girl climbing all over the tall mech. Roman was pretty sure by now Lennox had mapped out the current state of the woman’s dental work. He wanted to slip away while they were busy, but he couldn’t walk away from what was happening in the hangar.

Trying not to be embarrassed, Roman coughed discreetly, trying to get the couple’s attention. After he got no reaction, he tried again, louder.

Major Lennox and the unknown woman finally broke their kiss and turned their heads to look at Roman.

“You are aware that your daughter is currently using a giant alien robot as a jungle gym?” Roman asked.

The woman seemed surprisingly untroubled. “I’m sorry about that,” she said, not answering the question. Instead, she held out her hand. “I’m Sarah Lennox, and the little monkey is Annabelle,” she introduced herself, and presumably the toddler happily babbling at the giant Autobots in the hangar.

“Lennox as in...” Roman waved towards the Major, who looked amused. Roman recalled that Lennox had just mentioned that he had a daughter.

“Yes, as in,” Lennox replied, waving his hand. The sleep deprivation was clearly getting to him.

“And you are?” Sarah asked Roman pointedly.

Roman was embarrassed. “Sorry,” he said shortly. “Roman Banes,” he introduced himself and shook Sarah’s hand.

“Oh,” Sarah said. “Related to Mikaela?”

“Her father,” Roman replied tersely.

“Why are you even here?” Lennox asked his wife.

As Sarah Lennox turned back towards her husband to reply, Roman figured it was a good opportunity for him to escape the conversation. He’d brought their attention to the fact that their daughter was climbing all over war machines. If they didn’t want to do anything about it, it wasn’t any of Roman’s business.

“Optimus called me,” Roman heard Sarah reply as he started to walk away.

“What for?” Lennox asked.

“He asked me to come and talk to Mikaela.”

When he heard Mikaela’s name, Roman was suddenly, intensely interested in the conversation. He stopped in his tracks a few steps away and eavesdropped shamelessly as Sarah explained.

“I don’t know everything that’s going on, he was pretty vague over the phone, but I gathered that she’s been going through some difficulties.”

“Just a couple,” Lennox said dryly. “Ironhide!” he called back over his shoulder through the door he was still holding open. “Run her around until she’s tired. Sarah and I need to talk.”

Lennox closed the door to the hangar and gave Roman a questioning look. “You want to talk about it?”

Roman held up his hands. “I’m out. I said my piece to Mikaela before she left. You can do what you want to.” He turned away and walked to his motorcycle parked outside the hangar.

Will and Sarah Lennox watched as Roman Banes left.

Sarah turned back to Will with a question on her face.

Will sighed, and gave her a quick summary of what happened before she got there. “Yesterday Mikaela ran away with Bumblebee. She left to go looking for her guardian, a mech named Drift. Apparently, after they were attacked by Barricade, Mikaela thought he was dead. Drift was actually gone on an assignment for Optimus Prime. We just spent all night looking for them, thinking Decepticons had snuck on base and kidnapped them. I’m ready to pass out on my feet.”

Sarah took a long moment to digest the concise retelling and the implications of it. She noticed just how tired her husband was, despite his effort to hide it.

“Is Mikaela safe?” she asked.

Will nodded. “Bumblebee’s a good person. He’ll ask for help if they got into trouble... probably.”

“Sounds like a mess,” Sarah said neutrally.

“It’s so much easier when you can just shoot your problems.”

“Cool down soldier boy,” Sarah teased Will. “Let’s get you to your bed, and we’ll deal with the rest later.”

Will kissed Sarah soundly. He loved this woman.

***

Roman shook his head as he passed what was obviously Sarah Lennox’s suspiciously shiny olive-green H1 Hummer.

Really? Who did they think they were kidding?

Roman rode back to the apartment block and parked in his usual space out front. As he walked down the hallway to his own apartment, he passed Mikaela’s. The quiet drove home the point that she was gone now. Not that Mikaela was terribly loud, but there was a certain life that a lived-in apartment had.

Unlocking his own apartment, Roman ignored Wheelie, who was sitting on the couch watching television. Roman had never given the little mech a key, but that never stopped the tiny terror from making himself at home whenever he felt it.

Roman grabbed a beer from the fridge and sat down next to Wheelie, taking the remote and turning off the television. He didn’t feel like whatever crap was on this early. Roman needed some good old brooding.

“Heyyyy,” Wheelie protested as Maury’s face faded away, grabbing futility for the remote. “I was watching that.”

Roman shoved the remote underneath him and took a swig from the bottle.

Wheelie looked up at Roman, who was staring at the blank television. “What crawled up your exhaust and died?” he asked crudely.

“Mikaela ran away.” Roman took a larger swig of beer.

“Good for her,” Wheelie replied. “She’s too good for these fuckers.”

Roman agreed, but he still elbowed the little mech in the side. “Language,” he warned.

“Hah!” Wheelie replied. “Not like anybody else gives a fuck.”

Roman turned his head and stared down the tiny pain in his neck. “Go shack up with the Lennox’s then,” he said.

“Lennox’s?” Wheelie repeated in a worried voice. “Mrs. Lennox is here?” The small mech was cowering and looking around as if the woman would come striding out of a closet at any minute.

Roman gave Wheelie a skeptical look. That was more respect than Roman had heard Wheelie give anybody.

“She’s with her husband,” Roman reassured Wheelie. “You don’t want to go say ‘hi?’” he teased the small mech.

Wheelie shuddered. “No thanks. If I get anywhere within ten feet of the kid, the Mrs. will flatten my ass.”

Roman peered down the neck of his bottle of beer. Hadn’t he just started this bottle? Where’d it gone? “Sounds like a story,” he said absently.

“Not a good one,” Wheelie replied. “Made the kid cry. Got locked in a box... again, and delivered to the Autobots... again.”

That sounded wrong to Roman. Though he couldn’t say that he hadn’t been tempted several times. “I wouldn’t worry about that. The kid’s being babysat by Ironhide right now. You won’t even be able to get within ten feet of her.” Roman got up and headed to the fridge for another bottle.

Wheelie shuddered and changed the topic. “Ya wanna tell me why you’re working on getting drunk when it’s hardly morning yet?” Wheelie asked. “Ya still got work.”

“Probably lost my job,” Roman replied, surprisingly not bothered by the idea. “May as well enjoy it now. Wouldn't be surprised if I mysteriously got taken back to jail for violating my parole or something.”

“That’s dark,” Wheelie said cheerfully. “What’d you do, pee on Sideswipe?” While the front line warrior wasn’t as vain as his spark twin was rumored to be, he still had a notorious temper.

“Sideswipe’s not on base,” Roman pointed out. “No, I told off Optimus Prime.”

Wheelie blinked a few times, and reset his audial sensors. Did he hear...? “You did what to Optimus Prime?” he squeaked.

“I told him he was a bad person and that Mikaela doesn’t like him and that he should be ashamed,” Roman summed up roughly. “Oh, and I also told Ratchet and Ironhide the same thing.”

“You fucking did what!” Wheelie jumped off the couch and zoomed around the room, jittery. He didn’t wanna get squashed by any mechs coming for Roman. “You gonna be paste,” he predicted.

“I told Optimus Prime that it was his fault that Mikaela left. And that I knew she was going to leave and hid it from Ironhide when he asked,” Roman added.

“Oh man, oh man, oh man,” Wheelie stuttered, gesturing wildly, trying to make the squishy human understand how much trouble he was in. “You in sooooo much trouble. He’s the Prime. The fucking Prime! You don’t talk to Prime’s like that.”

“Why not?” Roman challenged Wheelie.

“He’s the Prime!” Wheelie repeated, which didn’t explain anything for Roman. He scrambled though his limited knowledge of Earth stuff. Unlike the larger mechs, he didn’t have a connection to the internet to help him out. “He’s like the emperor of the galaxy, general of the republic, and Jedi master all rolled into one.”

It took a minute for Roman to parse what Wheelie had said. “That’s Star Wars...”

“I don't care if it’s Star Trek. It’s bad!” Wheelie wailed. The stupid human wasn’t understanding. “He’s the head of state, head of the army, and head of the religion. Why the hell did you have to go and do that for?”

Well, that explanation was moderately more helpful. Roman peered into his bottle of beer. It was getting low again.

“Maybe it’s about time somebody talked to him like that,” Roman explained. “Authority that can’t be questioned, can’t be challenged, is just a dictatorship.”

Wheelie scooted across the sofa towards Roman on his knees. “But, you don’t question the Prime! He’s the Prime!”

Roman threw an arm around the small mech and pointed in the vague direction of his nose. “Wheelie. I’m a nobody. I don’t have political power. I don’t have money. I don’t have a military. If I’m a threat to Prime, what does that say about the strength of his power?” With that question, Roman cocked his head to the side.

Wheelie was a realist, and a former Decepticon, though. Power among the Decepticons was based on posturing and convincing others that you were more powerful than they were. As a tiny mech, there was no way Wheelie would ever have had any power in a system like that. However, he had lived that way so long he couldn’t comprehend a system where this wasn’t the case.

“This is going to end bad,” Wheelie concluded mournfully, sitting back down on his ass next to Roman.

Roman leaned backwards and settled into the cushions. “Don’t worry,” Roman replied with a self-depreciating grin. “It can always get worse.”

“That’s not reassuring,” Wheelie grumbled.

“You’re not the one with their ass in the fire,” Roman reminded Wheelie.

“Nice knowing ya,” Wheelie saluted Roman lacklusterly.

They sat there, in silence, for several minutes, both staring at the blank television.

“What’d Mikaela run off for anyway?” Wheelie suddenly asked.

“Hunting down Drift,” Roman replied. “And Drift is currently hunting down Barricade.”

“...she’s crazy.”

“Yep.”

“...she’ll win.”

“Yep.”

***

It was close to noon, and the going was slow. Every couple of hours or so Bumblebee stopped so that Mikaela could get out and point the way.

They’d already backtracked twice. The first time was because the rural road they driving down had been washed out. The second time was because the road they were on had turned into an un-maintained logging trail in the mountains. Fortunately, they had turned around before Bumblebee was forced to transform himself in order to get out of the slushy snow that was bogging them down.

Bumblebee had ignored the attempts of the other Autobots to contact him for hours. The other Autobots had apparently discovered them missing sometime close to midnight. At least, that was when Bumblebee had received the first connection attempt from Ironhide. After that, the pings had been fast and furious through the small hours of the night and into the morning, testing Bumblebee’s patience. Their attempts finally slowed down as the morning went on.

Bumblebee hadn’t received a ping for the last couple of hours.

Then, Optimus Prime sent a message.

Before, all attempts to communicate with Bumblebee had been demands from the Autobots for Bumblebee to accept a comm connection. This time however, Optimus Prime sent a message without relying on setting up a dedicated line first. By doing that, Optimus Prime left the decision in Bumblebee’s hands. He could always pretend that he hadn’t gotten the message.

Bumblebee respected Optimus Prime too much to do that, though. He played back the message.

In the short recording, Optimus Prime’s deep voice was concerned. :Bumblebee,: Optimus Prime opened his message simply. :My primary concern is for the safety of yourself and Mikaela, and for Mikaela’s health. I understand that Mikaela felt like she had no other choice but to make the decision she did. Please, speak with her. Come back, and I will recall Drift so he and Mikaela can reconnect on base where it is safe.:

Bumblebee understood it was a request, not a demand. And, damn it, it was Optimus.

Bumblebee contemplated what to do, and whether he should play the message for Mikaela.

Around lunch time, Bumblebee parked at a roadside rest stop so that Mikaela could get out and stretch her legs. It was along a major highway and surrounded by trees and farmland. There was a steady stream of traffic coming and going, despite the fact that it was the middle of the week. Winter was just beginning to relinquish its hold on the surrounding area. The ground was wet with snowmelt.

As Mikaela walked to the bathrooms Bumblebee noticed that she was moving even slower now, with a noticeable hitch to her step. Mikaela hadn’t been that fast before they’d left, but now she was clearly doing worse. Bumblebee was torn. It was probably the pain, he thought. Bumblebee hadn’t seen Mikaela take any of her pills since they set out from base. However, Bumblebee knew that she would rebel against going back, even for medical help.

The powerful sensors in Bumblebee’s alt form kept watch while Mikaela enjoyed her short walk around the grassy park area next to the parking lot, escorted by Bumblebee’s holoform. As she tired, Bumblebee guided Mikaela back to his Camaro alt form.

Holoform Bumblebee helped Mikaela into Camaro Bumblebee. He turned on the seat heater to warm her up and combat the lingering winter chill. Hopefully the warmth would also help soothe and loosen up her muscles. Since Bumblebee wasn’t a terrestrial car, he also cheated and extended the heating element up the back of the seat so he could reach more of Mikaela’s body with the soothing heat.

Bumblebee let Mikaela rest peacefully for a few minutes before he broke the news.

“Message from Starfleet, Captain,” he announced perkily.

Mikaela groaned and threw an arm up over her eyes. “Bumblebee...”

“Trust me.”

“...fine.”

Bumblebee played Optimus Prime’s short message for Mikaela.

She held her breath as Optimus Prime’s voice came out of his speakers. Once the message ended, Mikaela opened his door and stepped out of the Camaro. Closing the door, she fell back heavily against Bumblebee’s side and slid down the door until she sat on the damp pavement.

Alarmed, Bumblebee’s holoform avatar left the driver’s seat of the car and circled around to crouch next to Mikaela.

“I can’t do it ‘Bee,” Mikaela said, gulping in air as if she couldn’t breathe, or as if she didn’t want to cry. “I can’t talk to Optimus.”

“Why?” Bumblebee said in his ruined voice.

Mikaela reached out and touched the face of his holoform, running her fingers across his hairline and cupping his chin before dropping her hand into her lap. She clenched her hands repeatedly, stretching her fingers wide, then clenching them into fists.

“I...” Mikaela’s voice stumbled as she tried to find the words to talk about the turmoil she felt inside. She couldn’t look at Bumblebee. “I can’t.” She suddenly snarled, her face twisting with conflicting emotions. “I... I’m anger... I’m pain... I’m rage. If I... If I talk to Optimus, I can’t... I’ll let it out. And I don’t want to do that. I don't want to be that. But if I talk to him, I’ll become that. So... It’s best if I don’t. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.” Mikaela buried her head in her hands.

Bumblebee pulled Mikaela’s hands away from her face. “You love him.”

Mikaela nodded helplessly.

“You don’t want to hurt him.”

She shook her head.

Bumblebee pulled Mikaela into a tight hug. “You are a good person,” he said simply, his broken voice soft.

Mikaela clung to his holoform, but he was aware that the asphalt parking lot wasn’t the most comfortable place for her to be. Not to mention it was chilly and he was sure she’d just sat in a puddle of water.

Bumblebee pulled Mikaela up and opened his back door, helping her into the backseat. She would have more room, and the tinted windows would give her some privacy so she could change. While Mikaela wriggled around on Bumblebee’s heated back seat, his holoform got back in the driver’s seat. Bumblebee carefully backed up and pulled out of the parking lot.

Mikaela stayed in the back, sprawled across the bench seat as Bumblebee drove. It was almost an hour later before she asked in a small voice, “How could he do this to me? To us?”

“I don’t know,” Bumblebee said simply.

Honestly, Bumblebee didn’t understand what Mikaela was referring to. He didn’t understand what was going on. Bumblebee did know that there was something going on that Mikaela wasn’t comfortable sharing with him. He hoped that would change, but if he couldn’t get her to open up, maybe Drift would.

Mikaela curled up on the seat.

Bumblebee pretended not to hear her stifled sobs as Mikaela cried herself to sleep.

He opened a comm line to Optimus Prime.

“Bumblebee,” Optimus Prime said, sounding relieved to hear from him. “Did you get my message?”

Bumblebee felt bad about how Optimus Prime and the others must have felt when they found out that he had left with Mikaela. Not that he was going to turn back around, though.

“Yes,” Bumblebee confirmed. “We’re not coming back.”

“Why?” Optimus Prime asked simply.

“Because Mikaela needs me,” Bumblebee replied equally simply.

“And Mikaela?” Optimus Prime asked.

“She needs Drift,” Bumblebee replied. He didn’t think it was the whole reason, but it was enough for now.

“He’s only out on patrol. He’ll be back. She didn’t have to leave,” Optimus Prime reasoned.

Bumblebee understood, but, “She didn’t feel that way.”

“Can I talk to her?” Optimus Prime asked.

“No. She doesn’t want to talk to you,” Bumblebee replied. He felt bad about the situation. He knew that both sides cared about each other, they were just caught up in circumstances. “Don’t push it right now,” he advised Optimus kindly. “Mikaela is dealing with a lot, and pushing her won’t help.”

“I just want her safe and healthy.”

“I do too,” Bumblebee replied.

There was silence for several minutes. “I can’t convince you to return, can I?”

“You are still my commander, and my Prime. You could order me,” Bumblebee reminded Optimus Prime.

Bumblebee was an Autobot, and Optimus Prime was the commander in chief of the Autobots. There was no higher authority that could overturn his Prime’s command.

“If I did that, I would win the argument, but lose something more precious,” Optimus said perceptively. “Take care of Mikaela. Contact us if you need anything.”

“I will,” Bumblebee replied, then closed the comm line.

***

“Hello?” Mikaela said tentatively. She stepped forward slowly. Her footsteps raised small clouds of dust in the non-descript landscape.

“Hello.” The voice was amused.

Mikaela could feel it smile, despite the fact that there was no face for the voice to smile with.

“I have waited for you.”

“That’s nice,” Mikaela said weakly. “I’m going crazy.”

“Nice to meet you ‘going crazy,’ I am Primus.” The voice was laughing now. It wasn’t a mean laugh.

Mikaela’s brain stalled. She knew this person, despite the fact that she had never met him. The knowledge was frozen at the tip of her tongue. Mikaela could not put it into words because the words to do so had not been invented yet.

However...

“Did you just make a fucking joke?” Mikaela said incredulously.

“I made a joke, not a fucking joke,” the voice, Primus, said lightly. Or as lightly as an all-encompassing sound was able to be.

“Now I really know I’m going crazy,” Mikaela said.

“No,” Primus reassured Mikaela. “You’re not going crazy.”

Mikaela stood there for a few minutes that took only a moment.

“You’ve been waiting for me. Why?” Mikaela asked.

The voice — Primus — became serious. “The power of the Allspark is drawn to you, as you have been drawn to it.”

“My hallucinations... The symbols...” Mikaela realized.

“Yes,” Primus acknowledged.

“You’ve been driving me insane,” Mikaela accused him, angry.

“I am sorry for that, little one,” Primus said, sadly. “There were... translation issues.”

“Little one?” Mikaela shied away from the heavier topic. It was easier to take offense at the pet name. “Little one!” she repeated, indignantly.

Primus chuckled. “Indeed.”

Suddenly, the knowledge came to Mikaela and she facepalmed. Literally.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuck.” She was used to being dog-sized compared to her Autobot friends. With Primus the ratio would be closer to virus-sized.

“Only if you ask.” Primus was laughing again.

“Not right now,” she said curtly. Mikaela’s ability to deal with relationships at the moment was non-existent. Fortunately, Primus seemed to realize that.

“You have a choice to make,” he said instead.

That didn’t sound very promising. “I haven’t had much of a choice so far,” Mikaela pointed out bitterly.

“I regret that I distressed you, I was merely attempting to get your attention. However, I wasn’t speaking a language you were able to comprehend.” Primus’ voice was gentle.

Mikaela felt another thread of knowledge tickle her brain until she gave in. Then, she understood better. It was like her brain was a radio that only received one station. In order to communicate, Primus had figuratively tried every frequency he was capable of until he was able to confirm that she received his signal clearly. In the meantime, Mikaela had gotten the staticy echos as he got closer and closer.

Mikaela sat down on something. It hadn’t been there before, and she wasn’t certain what it was, but it was comfy. “So, we’re able to talk now. What’s next?”

“You have a choice.”

“What are my options?” Mikaela asked. She hoped it didn’t involve more cryptic bullshit.

“You can accept the power of the Allspark and become the new Allspark or...”

“Or I can go back to being just Mikaela Banes,” she concluded.

“Essentially,” Primus confirmed.

Mikaela realized, if she didn’t become the Allspark, she wouldn’t be special anymore.

There was a sound, as if something had shifted, and Mikaela felt something on her shoulder. Was it a hand?

“You just want me because you can’t have Sam.” Mikaela curled her body defensively. Sam had been the special one. Mikaela had just been the girlfriend. Along with Bumblebee, she’d been part of Sam’s award for saving the world. It hadn’t felt like it at the time, but highsight was a bitch.

Would they still care about her if she was ‘just Mikaela?’ Would Drift?

Experience said no.

The hand tightened on her shoulder. “Sam is not the person sitting here with me,” Primus said.

Mikaela couldn’t hide anything from him. Not here.

That understanding, however, went both ways.

“The Allspark. It was a piece of you,” Mikaela stated.

“Yes.”

“And of...”

“Yes.”

“Where is he, then?” Mikaela asked.

She felt Primus’ smile against the back of her neck.

“I beat him to it.”

With a sinking feeling, Mikaela realised what that meant for her. “More visions...” she groaned.

Primus hugged her tighter. “You are not alone now. I can help you.”

“What is this going to look like? Will I still be me, or will I just be a piece of you both?” As soon as she said it, Mikaela realized she’d made her decision.

“I’m not entirely sure. This is the first time we’ll have a sentient Allspark.”

“That’s not reassuring.”

“You have chosen to take the first step. It will be a choice you will need to make again and again, until you make the choice for the last time.”

“When?”

“You will know when. You still have time.”

The landscape faded and the stars began rushing in to fill the void.

“Wait!” Mikaela called, standing as what she was sitting on disappeared. “What if I need to talk to you again?”

“You know where to find me,” Primus said, enigmatically. Then, he was no longer there, but he was not gone at all.

Chapter Text

February 2010

Bumblebee allowed Ratchet to open a comm line.

:Bumblebee—: Ratchet started to say, but Bumblebee cut him off.

:No.:

:I haven’t even said anything yet,: Ratchet protested.

:You want to talk to Mikaela. The answer is still no,: Bumblebee said sternly.

:Why not?: Ratchet asked.

:Because you’ll upset Mikaela.:

:I promise not to upset Mikaela. I’m just concerned about her health.:

Bumblebee wavered. Ratchet was Mikaela’s doctor, he would know better than Bumblebee what was wrong with Mikaela. Bumblebee could see that Mikaela was having more trouble walking than before, but he didn’t know what caused it or how to fix it.

:...I’ll ask,: Bumblebee compromised.

Bumblebee picked a radio station and turned up the volume slowly in order to wake Mikaela up gently. She must have been deep asleep because it took a few minutes before she started stirring.

“Bumblebee?” Mikaela said groggily as she reached up to shove her hair away from where it had fallen across her face. She tried to lean up on one elbow, but it didn’t want to hold her weight. Mikaela laid back down on the back seat instead. “What is it?”

Doctor Doctor, gimme the news, Bumblebee’s speakers crooned out.

“Really?” MIkaela buried her face into the not-leather of Bumblebee’s seat. “Tell him to go away.”

“He promises,” Bumblebee said, his scratchy voice coming from his speakers. He really needed to get Mikaela a new earpiece so that he could talk to her using his comms. He hated using his damaged voice.

“Damnit. Fine,” Mikaela said grudgingly.

After a moment, Ratchet’s voice came out of Bumblebee's speakers.

:Mikaela?: he said tentatively.

Mikaela hadn’t heard Ratchet be tentative about anything before. Somebody must have put the fear of tiny squishies into the surly medic.

“Here,” Mikaela mumbled into the not-leather of Bumblebee’s seat.

Bumblebee must have really good microphones, Mikaela thought, because Ratchet still heard her.

:I’m sorry,: Ratchet said.

“For what?” Mikaela asked. She wanted him to admit to what he was apologizing for instead of issuing a blanket apology and thinking he’d gotten off.

:For ignoring you. For not telling you about Drift.:

“You didn’t ignore me,” Mikaela replied after a moment. “You were always there.” It was true. Ratchet had been in and out of her room at least once-twice a day while she was in the medical center. After she’d moved into the apartment had been different.

:I was too busy being your doctor to be your mentor.:

“You were still there,” Mikaela said, her attitude towards the large mech thawing a bit. She still loved the grouchy bastard. “Why didn’t you tell me about Drift?”

:I didn’t realize that you didn’t know,: Ratchet explained. :I’m not too worried about the brat, though, he’s always been a survivor.:

“Sounds like you two have a history...” Mikaela said probingly. Drift had never said anything to her about knowing Ratchet.

:It was a long time ago,: Ratchet said, shutting her down before she could start prying for more information.

Mikaela shrugged, it wasn’t like she couldn’t get the story out of Drift later, once she’d found him.

:How are you feeling?: Ratchet asked, not unkindly.

“Fine,” Mikaela mumbled into the seat again. She did not want to talk about it. Mikaela also knew that Ratchet was still going to pull it out of her.

Bumblebee twitter-cheeped something in Cybertronian that Mikaela didn’t catch. She suspected he was ratting her out, and thumped her fist against the back of the seat in retaliation. “Shut up.”

“I’m not going to,” Bumblebee shot back. “You need help.”

“I’m fine,” Mikaela protested, pushing herself up wearily until she was sitting properly. She glared balefully at the back of Bumblebee’s holoform’s head.

Ratchet sighed. :On a scale from one to ten—: he started to say, but Mikaela interrupted.

“Zero.”

:Mikaela.: That was Ratchet’s ‘I’m listening, but I’m not taking your bullshit’ voice. :I can’t help you if you don’t tell me when something’s wrong.:

“Are you tired of not being able to just plug in and see what’s wrong?” She realized she was getting catty.

:You overestimate my average patient's willingness to swap cables during an exam,: Ratchet said wryly.

“That says so much about your relationship with Ironhide,” MIkaela teased. It was so easy to fall into old patterns. She didn’t want to hate him.

Ratchet grumphed. :What’s your pain level?: he repeated.

Nope, he wasn’t in the mood to let her get away with anything. “...six...sometimes seven,” Mikaela confessed.

:When was the last time you took your medication?: Ratchet asked.

“Dinner yesterday...”

It had been a little over 24 hours since Mikaela's last dose. Anything she had taken had worn off long ago.

Ratchet was disturbed that Mikaela had stopped taking her medication. :Do you have your medication with you?:

“No.”

Ratchet reminded himself that he wasn’t going to yell at her, despite the fact that, if one of the mechs had tried to do the same thing, he’s have torn them a metaphorical new exhaust port by now. :Why not?: he asked patiently instead, leaning on the patient interaction protocols the others said that he lacked.

“I couldn’t risk travelling with unknown medication without a prescription and without it in a labeled container.”

It took a few minutes of checking, but Ratchet was able to confirm that Mikaela’s reason was a good one.

:I can call in a prescription to a pharmacy nearby and you can pick it up.: That would take care of any concerns about the legality.

“Even if I was willing to tell you where we were right now, and if you could game the medical insurance system to make it free, and if you found a pharmacy that doesn’t ask for ID, even then, I still wouldn’t take them.”

:Why not?:

“Because they make me feel like shit. Sure, the pain’s gone, but that’s no use when I’m too nauseous to leave my bed.”

Thinking about it, Bumblebee could see the pattern and he could just about slap himself for not noticing it before. About an hour after taking her medication Mikaela was always flat on her back in bed, or on the couch. She wouldn’t move for a few hours, unless she really needed to. Otherwise, she was most active towards the end of the cycle, when her medication was starting to wear off.

Bumblebee packed up his observations and sent them to Ratchet.

Ratchet took a few moments to review what Mikaela had said and what Bumblebee had sent him.

:Why didn’t you mention this sooner?: Ratchet asked, trying very, very hard not to sound accusing.

“Because I didn’t care,” Mikaela replied bluntly.

Ratchet suppressed a flinch. He shouldn’t have asked.

Ironhide gave him a quick glance where he was sitting on the medical berth, borrowing some of Ratchet’s tools to work on his arm cannons.

Ratchet shook his head at him, and returned to the conversation with Mikaela.

:And now?: Ratchet asked.

“I need to be able to think again,” Mikaela said.

That told Ratchet a lot about Mikaela’s state of mind over the last few weeks. :I can make a recommendation for some over the counter painkillers that can help. They won’t be as effective, but they shouldn’t have the side effects.:

“Sure,” Mikaela said, accepting Ratchet’s compromise. “I’ll look them up the next time we pass through a town large enough to have a pharmacy. If they’re too expensive, I won’t be able to get them, though.”

:If you charge them to your credit card, I can pay that off for you,: Ratchet offered. Optimus would approve, and Ratchet really, really wanted to make sure Mikaela was at least comfortable.

“Thanks, but I don’t have my credit card.”

Ratchet recalled something Mikaela had said earlier. :You don't have your ID either, do you?:

“Nope.”

:Where...: Ratchet started to ask, then caught himself. He had a pretty good idea what happened to them. :Nevermind. I’ll look into it.:

“Thanks,” Mikaela said simply.

***

:We need to talk.:

The message from Ratchet had been short and simple. The implications were anything but.

After Ratchet’s comm, Optimus Prime found himself cornered in the officer’s quarters he shared with Ratchet, Ironhide, and Bumblebee. Ratchet stood head to chest with Optimus Prime, crowding him up against his own berth.

:What would you like to talk about?: Optimus Prime asked politely, looking down at his CMO and covering his discomposure.

As Ironhide slipped through the open doorway, pulling the door shut behind him, Optimus Prime realized that he and Ratchet had been talking over the command comm line instead of a private comm line. At least the rest of the Autobots hadn’t heard, then.

“Is this a private party or is there room for one more?” Ironhide drawled, walking up behind Ratchet. His field betrayed the fact that he was amused at Optimus Prime’s predicament.

“There’s room,” Ratchet grunted and motioned towards the berth behind Optimus Prime. “Might want to sit down, though.”

Optimus Prime thought that sounded ominus, but then, many things Ratchet did made him sound ominus. The medic claimed it kept his patients in line.

Optimus Prime and Ironhide sat side by side on Optimus’ berth, and watched Ratchet pace.

“You gonna tell us what has you all worked up?” Ironhide broke the silence as Ratchet showed no signs of stopping.

Ratchet turned to face them. “A couple of days ago—” Ratchet began.

“You mean, when Mikaela left?” Ironhide interrupted.

Ratchet glared at him. “No, the day before that. Mikaela’s father came to talk to me, and I mentioned a theory of mine. He said something that got me thinking, so I went to go visit Mikaela so I could analyze her energy signature. Optimus went with me.”

“That’s when you upset her so bad,” Ironhide put together the timeline.

“Yes,” Ratchet huffed a sardonic chuckle. He didn’t sound very happy. “That’s when we upset her with the news that Drift is alive.”

“Since you called us here to talk, I assume you have the results of that scan?” Optimus Prime inquired.

“Yes. After I finished the autopsy I was able to complete the analysis of the scans I ran. What I found...”

Ratchet abruptly changed the topic.

“I wanted to scan Mikaela because she’d been having fits in the hospital while recovering. She’d thrash around like she was distressed. More alarmingly, her eyes changed color during those fits.”

Seeing Optimus and Ironhide’s uncomprehending expressions, Ratchet explained. “While humans are able to change the color of their eyes using external means, such as colored glass or plastic temporarily layered on the surface of the cornea, human eyes themselves are not capable of spontaneously changing color, aside from some minor variation in color as humans get older, however—” Ratchet cut himself off and got back on topic.

“After the fits started I woke up Drift to see if he knew anything about them. He didn’t say anything about the fits, but he did have an idea how to stop them.”

“That was when you had me put Drift’s sword in Mikaela’s room,” Ironhide said, again connecting the dots.

Ratchet nodded. “After that, incidents ceased,” he admitted.

“Do you suspect Drift of being behind these fits?” Optimus Prime asked gravely.

“No,” Ratchet said unequivocally, glaring at Optimus Prime.

“Then why did you scan Mikaela?” Ironhide asked.

“Her eyes, when they changed color, were white. The color reminded me of something. My talk with Roman helped me connect a few more elements of the theory, which my scan of Mikaela confirmed.”

“Stop talking around and around and just tell us the point already,” Ironhide said impatiently.

Optimus Prime was afraid he already knew where this was leading.

“According to my scans, Mikaela is displaying elevated levels of the energy signature characteristic of Allspark radiation,” Ratchet announced.

Ironhide and Optimus Prime were briefly silent while they thought through the implications.

It was Ironhide who recovered first. “I thought you said that those exposed to the Allspark had lower levels over time.”

Ratchet nodded. “The few Sector Seven agents who worked with the Allspark at Hoover Dam that I have been able to scan have decreasing levels the longer they are away from the Allspark. Also, in the last scan I have from Samuel Witwicky, his levels are nonexistent.”

Ironhide wasn’t an idiot, despite his facade of being nothing more than a bruiser. “So, Mikaela has somehow been exposed to the Allspark, despite the fact it was destroyed, or the energy has started increasing independently.”

“Something like that,” Ratchet said. “I need more information before I can draw a solid conclusion. As it is, this is not my area of speciality. A scientist such as Perceptor would be a much better option instead of me. I’m just a medic.”

Ironhide snorted. “You’re more than that, and you know it.”

“Flatterer,” Ratchet said dryly.

Turning from Ironhide, Ratchet realized that Optimus Prime hadn’t said anything yet.

“What are you thinking?” he asked.

Optimus Prime spoke slowly. “I spoke to Samuel very soon after Mikaela’s attack. The memory ended up shuffled to a low priority queue. Most of the discussion is not worth remembering, however he did say that Mikaela had in her possession an Allspark shard, and he wanted it back.”

Ironhide sat up straight. “Did he say where it was?” If it had been in the now-destroyed warehouse, the Autobots needed to find it fast, before the Decepticons were aware it existed.

Optimus Prime shook his head. “Not specifically, just that she had it.”

Ratchet and Ironhide traded a look. “I’ll go search her belongings we pulled out of the warehouse. If it’s in that pile we’ll want to find out quickly,” Ironhide volunteered.

“Thank you,” Optimus Prime turned to Ratchet. “Is there a possibility that Mikaela had it on her when she was attacked?”

Ratchet shook his head. “No. What was left of her clothing was cut off her body. The only jewelry she had on was a long chain around her neck. Actually, I’ve still got the chain. I’ve been meaning to give it back to her, but forgot.” Something more important always seemed to come up instead.

“Is it possible Drift knows anything about the Allspark shard?” Ironhide asked.

“He should. He and Bumblebee,” Ratchet said. “If Samuel gave it to Mikaela, it’s likely that both of their guardians were present.”

Ironhide turned to Optimus Prime. “Permission to contact Drift?” he asked.

“Denied,” Optimus Prime said. “We can see if Bumblebee is willing to talk.”

“We could also try asking Mikaela,” Ratchet said dryly.

“She’s still not talking to me,” Optimus Prime pointed out.

“Have Ironhide do it,” Ratchet pointed out. After all, Mikaela had talked to him, and Ironhide hadn’t been involved in the same incident as Ratchet and Optimus Prime.

“In the meantime, I’m coming with you,” Ratchet said to Ironhide. “I’d like to bring back more of Mikaela's belongings if possible. Make her feel more at home.”

“That is a very good idea,” Optimus Prime agreed.

***

Lennox met Ratchet’s holoform outside Roman Banes’ apartment that evening. It wasn’t a planned meeting. Lennox was looking for Banes, not for Ratchet. He raised an eyebrow as Ratchet raised a hand to knock on the door.

The door was jerked open by a small mech.

“Whaddaya want?” Wheelie said caustically. From across the room Lennox could hear the characteristic chant of ‘Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry.”

Lennox winced. “I need to talk to Banes,” he said, voice slightly raised over the raucous commotion coming from the television. Thankfully, Banes muted it.

“Let him in Wheelie,” Roman said.

Wheelie stood fast in front of the two men, however. “What about you?” he said rudely to Ratchet. “Whaddaya want?”

“I’m looking for you,” Ratchet said smoothly.

Wheelie looked shifty. “Don’t know what you want with me, but I ain’t done it,” he said, finally letting both men into the apartment.

Banes had presumably gotten up from the couch and wandered into the kitchen. He saluted the two newcomers with a full glass of water, before tipping it back and taking a deep gulp.

“So,” he said, setting the half-full cup down on the spartan kitchen table between them. “How soon do I need to be out?”

“Pardon,” Lennox said, confused. He traded a look with Ratchet.

“I’m getting kicked out, aren’t I?” Roman asked Lennox. At least, that was what he assumed the other man was there for.

Now Lennox was thoroughly confused. “For what?”

“Telling Optimus Prime where to shove it.”

That was a mental picture that Lennox didn’t need in his head, thank you very much. “Is that why you have the forest of beer bottles on your table?” he asked instead.

“You’re not the first person to come looking for me. At least the other’s brought beer.” Roman hadn’t even been the one to drink it all. Though, the terrible choice in television programs could be blamed on Wheelie and the fact that Roman didn’t give a rat’s ass at the moment.

Lennox supposed that was where all of his mechanics disappeared to in the middle of the day. “No, you’re not getting kicked out,” he said. “I was sent to look for you because you never showed up for work.”

Roman snorted. “A little over your pay grade, isn’t it?”

Lennox smiled thinly. “I’m the chief robot wrangler. And you apparently count as robot-adjacent enough that I get sent instead.”

“Well, you found me.” Roman shrugged. “Want a beer?”

“Tempting, but no.” Lennox turned to Ratchet. “Wasn’t there something that you were here for?”

“Right.” Ratchet turned his attention to Wheelie. “Did Mikaela have a shard?” he asked the little mech bluntly.

Lennox whipped his head around to stare at Ratchet, then Wheelie in shock.

“Yes,” Wheelie responded, equally blunt. “Why do you think Soundwave sent me? I was supposed to steal the damn thing.”

Ratchet did recall that, it was why he was here talking to Wheelie. “Do you know where she kept it, then?”

“Yah couldn’t find it, could you?” the little mech said tauntingly. “Sent Drift away, ran Mikaela off, and now you’re here asking little Wheelie about the shard.”

“Well?” Ratchet said, his patience wearing thin.

Lennox and Roman watched the two bickering mechs like they were on the sidelines of Wimbledon.

“Okay, geez,” Wheelie whined. “You’ll have to ask Mikaela. She kept it on her.”

“All the time?” Ratchet asked to clarify.

“Yah,” Wheelie confirmed. “She wore it on a necklace. Find her necklace, you find the shard.”

Ratchet’s holoform pointed behind Wheelie where his mech form was standing in the window of the apartment. In one large hand it held a delicate-looking chain draped over its fingers. “Is that the chain.”

Wheelie scooted closer to the window to get a better look through the evening gloom. “Yep,” he confirmed.

Ratchet was worried, there was no shard on that chain. His mech form slipped the chain back into his subspace pocket, then dispelled his holoform. Turning, he transformed into his alt form so he could drive back to the hangars.

The two men and the mech left behind in the apartment watched silently as Ratchet drove away.

“...rude,” Wheelie finally said. Even he had better manners than that.

***

Joe was heading back to headquarters after his last call of the day when it happened. He couldn’t say what sixth sense had prodded him to run the plates of the yellow Camaro in front of him, but he did. When he saw the results, all he could do was groan. Why did this have to happen at the end of his shift?

Sighing, Officer Joe Fisher flicked on his lights and proceeded to pull over the Camaro.

Bumblebee had been watching the other car since it had pulled in behind him. The road was only a two lane country road in the middle of nowhere, so it wasn’t like there was anything more exciting to watch. That meant that he knew immediately when the cop switched on his lights and siren.

Bumblebee proceeded to pull over to the side of the road. He also made sure all of his holoform’s subroutines were running; such as breathing and blinking. Bumblebee didn’t always bother when Mikaela was the only person around because he didn’t need to pass as human with her. It was different with strangers.

Nothing to see here officer, Bumblebee thought seriously. Don’t pay any attention to the large robot behind the curtain.

Bumblebee came to a halt and turned off his engine as the police car pulled over neatly behind him. He wasn’t worried. His cover included identification documents for his holoform, as well as registration and plates for his alt form. Everything was real and corresponded to actual records in the state’s computer systems. Bumblebee may not be Soundwave when it came to hacking, but then, the humans weren’t exactly Soundwave when it came to protecting their computer systems.

Joe warily walked up to the driver’s side window, keeping an experienced eye on the driver and his passenger.

Bumblebee followed the officer the entire way with his proximity scanners. Including when the officer briefly fondled his rear end. Cheeky, Bumblebee thought. He’d have to ask Mikaela if she could polish that off later.

Bumblebee rolled down his window as the officer approached.

“My name is Officer Fisher. Do you know why I’ve pulled you over today?” the officer said, gruffly.

“Sorry, but I don’t,” Bumblebee said in his wrecked voice, careful to remain polite. He didn’t like using his voice, but he was sure that the nice police officer wouldn’t like him acting out a conversation using pop culture audio clips more.

“License and registration, please,” Officer Fisher asked in a no-nonsense voice.

As Bumblebee handed over his licence and registration he could tell the man was tense about something, but didn’t know what it could be.

At least Mikaela was back in the passenger’s seat. She’d somehow slept through the siren and Bumblebee getting pulled over, however.

The officer gave Bumblebee’s documents a cursory look, but his attention was clearly on Mikaela.

“Is she okay?” he asked Bumblebee, motioning towards Mikaela.

“She’s sleeping,” Bumblebee said, stating the obvious.

“Ma’am,” Officer Fisher said, raising his voice, clearly trying to wake Mikaela up. “Are you okay? ...ma’am?”

Mikaela stirred, then slowly turned her head and looked at Officer Fisher groggily. “What?”

“Are you okay?” he repeated suspiciously.

“Yes,” Mikaela said sleepily.

The officer didn’t look convinced. “I need to see your ID.”

Mikaela was slowly waking up with the cold air coming in through the open window. “Don’t have it right now.”

Officer Fisher asked Mikaela some questions he could use to verify her identity and walked back to his patrol car.

Mikaela and Bumblebee shared a look after the police officer was out of earshot.

“Were you speeding?” Mikaela asked Bumblebee.

He shook his head.

“Wonder what crawled up his ass, then,” Mikaela said caustically. She had no great love for law enforcement. Mikaela kept her mouth shut as the officer walked back to the Camaro, though. She wasn’t stupid.

“Sir, I’m gonna need you to step out of the car,” Officer Fisher ordered politely... with one hand on his pistol.

Bumblebee followed Officer Fisher’s directions meticulously as he had Bumblebee exit the Camaro and handcuffed his holoform.

The police officer had no way to know that Bumblebee had opened up a comm line to Autobot command and was talking to Ironhide. :Any reason why I’m getting arrested by the police?: Bumblebee opened the conversation as the comm line connected.

The line was silent for a moment, Bumblebee assumed because Ironhide was checking on something.

Mikaela wisely stayed silent while the officer arrested Bumblebee.

:No,: the large mech’s voice was sure. :Where are you?:

“Can I ask why?” Bumblebee said, face down on his own trunk as the officer finished cuffing him.

“This car has been reported stolen.”

“What!” Bumblebee heard Mikaela exclaim from inside the car. ‘What’ indeed. Bumblebee's standing orders were to cooperate with the authorities and maintain his cover. However, if doing that clashed with his orders to keep Mikaela safe, he might have room to argue with Optimus Prime.

“Stay there, Mikaela,” Bumblebee ordered just before the officer pulled him up and walked him back to his patrol car, where he placed Bumblebee in the back seat and closed the door.

Joe walked back to the yellow Camaro, this time to the passenger’s side to talk to the young woman who had been unconscious.

He knocked on the window, and the woman lowered it. She couldn’t be much older than his oldest, Joe thought, and Emilia was due to graduate this summer.

“How do you know the man with you?” Joe tried to ask kindly. Girl was clearly drugged up on something.

Mikaela was wide awake now. “He’s my friend.”

“Is that so?” Joe said mildly. “How long have you known him?”

“Three years now,” Mikaela said, trying to keep her answers short.

A siren not too far away interrupted them and had Mikaela craning her head to see.

Joe glanced that way too. He hadn’t called for any backup.

“One of yours?” Mikaela asked casually.

Joe jumped as the car stereo crackled to life without anybody touching it.

...I have a very bad feeling about this...

...That's no moon…it's a space station...

Joe turned to look at the rapidly approaching patrol car. It was close enough that he could hear it’s engine screaming underneath the sound of the siren. Something wasn’t right...

Behind him, Joe heard a car door open and he suddenly realized that he had committed a fatal error. The young woman was standing behind him as he turned, his hand on his gun, ready for an attack.

The yellow Camaro he was standing next to suddenly exploded.

Metal whirled around him in a tornado as he reflexively dropped and covered his head. For a heart-stopping moment, Joe didn’t expect to live.

Then, the sound of metal-on-metal stopped.

Joe opened his eyes, and looked up.

That... was a very large, very yellow robot, he thought, stunned.

Joe noticed that the yellow robot was holding a very large gun.

Then he realized that it wasn't looking at him. Instead, it stared back down the road, at the approaching car.

Too late, Joe realized what was wrong, besides the sudden appearance of a giant robot.

The patrol car coming down the road...

None of the departments around here used a Mustang...

Chapter Text

Barricade was only a few hundred yards away when Bumblebee opened fire. Out of the corner of her eye, Mikaela noticed Officer Fisher cover his head as explosive rounds started detonating along the street.

That was a stupid move, Mikaela knew. Standing still would get him killed.

Mikaela reached forward and grabbed the officer by the arm and tried to haul him to his feet. “Move it!” she screamed over the sound of exploding shells as she tried to pull him to safety, ignoring the spikes of pain radiating up her legs and back.

Joe just sat there on the ground at Bumblebee’s feet and stared at Mikaela blankly. Coherent thought had left him. He barely recognized the person standing above him as the passenger from the Camaro.

After what seemed like an agonizingly long time, but was actually lasted just a few seconds, Joe finally stumbled to his feet.

Mikaela pulled the officer harshly towards the side of the road and the deep country ditch there.

Joe protested, yanking his arm out of the girl’s grip, knocking her down.

Mikaela struggled to her feet. “Hurry, before Barricade gets here!” she yelled at him over the sound of Bumblebee’s cover fire. She knew Bumblebee could only give them a precious few moments to get out of there, and they shouldn’t waste them. Mikaela also really didn’t want to be used as a hostage against Bumblebee or tortured again.

“What the fuck are you talking about!” Joe yelled back, getting in her face.

Mikaela looked the taller man straight in the eye and said, with every ounce of serious authority she could scrape up,“Stay here, and die. Run, and you might live.”

“What the—” Joe stopped talking in shock as he noticed the incoming patrol car suddenly transform in a whirl of meal and moving pieces. He was frozen by the Escher-esque view, until the new robot came up shooting in his direction. One of the new robot’s first shots hit Joe’s patrol car and reduced it to a flaming wreck.

“Run!” Mikaela screamed again, then suited word to action and scooted between Bumblebee’s legs and ran as fast as her rapidly flagging strength would let her.

Joe ran too, as the two titanic figures clashed just behind them. Then, inexplicably, he stopped, turned around, and started running towards the battling robots.

“What the fuck!” Mikaela yelled. She grabbed at the officer’s arm and was dragged a few steps before her added weight caused him to stop and turn to face her. “What the fuck are you doing?!” she yelled in his face.

“There was somebody in that car!” he yelled back at her.

“He’s fine!” Mikaela insisted.

Joe had no idea what delusional bullshit the girl was talking about. His patrol car was a flaming bonfire, and anybody inside was probably so much roasted meat by now, but he still had to try.

A moment later, the rescue became moot as the yellow robot shot his patrol car again, causing it to explode dramatically in the other robot’s face.

Mikaela pulled at the officer’s arm again as he stood transfixed by the deadly attack happening mere yards away. “Run!” she screamed again. Did the stupid man want to die?

Finally, the officer turned and ran, holding Mikaela’s arm tightly as she stumbled, dragged behind him.

Barely a hundred yards down the road an increasingly exhausted Mikaela tripped over her feet and fell. Her palms and knees burned as she was dragged to her feet by the panicking officer. He continued to half-drag her down the road.

A hundred yards away was still too close to the action. Projectiles flew through the air, and the crashing sounds of battle sounded like a thousand car accidents happening all at once.

Mikaela fell again, slipping out of the officer’s grip.

Joe leaned down to help her up.

Mikaela shoved his hand away. “Go!” she cried urgently. “He doesn’t want you!”

“What are you talking about!” Joe shouted back at the crazy lady, but her attention was no longer on him. She was looking over his shoulder and smiling!

Over the officer’s shoulder Mikaela watched as an high-end red sports car rapidly approached. It was too far away for her to get the make and model, but she knew it wasn’t a car. It was a mech. The new mech was approaching from behind Bumblebee, and Mikaela had a feeling she knew who it was.

Joe ignored the smiling crazy lady and stood up, attempting to wave down the oncoming car before it drove straight into the danger zone. Intead, the car suddenly catapulted into the air like in a scene straight out of a movie. In midair it broke up into a million pieces as it flew over Joe and the crazy lady.

Now there were three robots!

As Sideswipe joined the melee, Mikaela knew that Drift couldn’t be far behind. He was so close now... she could feel him.

Joe grabbed the crazy lady as she staggered to her feet and started to shamble towards the fight.

Mikaela shook off the officer’s grasping hands. “He's coming!” she cried out. “I need to see him!”

“You need to stay alive!” Joe tried to reason with the crazy lady. She wasn’t paying attention to him, though. Instead she was looking over his shoulder as if she was looking for the most important thing in the world.

Mikaela could see him now, coming up fast from behind Barricade. Her stomach dropped.

There was a sudden increase in noise. Joe looked over his shoulder and realized yet another robot had shown up. This one was white and red. The yellow one who started the fight pulled back, putting himself between the other three fighting robots and Joe and the crazy lady, partially blocking their view of the battle.

“How many of these fuckers are there?” he asked nobody in particular. Which was okay, because crazy lady wasn’t paying attention. Instead, she was shouting at the robots like they could possibly hear her over the cacophony of noise. Besides, did robots even know English?

“Bumblebee, the sword!” Mikaela screamed as loud as she could.

Sure enough, Joe saw the yellow one pull a big ass sword from somewhere and throw it at the white and red mech. The white mech already had two swords, which it dropped as it caught the third, larger sword. With a flash of the jewel in the sword hilt, the robot spun the sword, using the momentum from the throw to bring the sword down hard, effortlessly severing the arm of the black and white robot.

The severed arm fell to the pavement sparking and leaking fluids from the end. The black and white robot let out a sound that Joe could only describe as an electronic shriek. In desperation, it shoved the red robot aside and ran, transforming back into a patrol car. Its engines screamed as it gunned its engine and raced away from the scene of the battle.

The red robot and white robot transformed into cars as well and took off racing after the patrol car.

Joe just stared as the yellow robot standing in front of them suddenly turned and knelt in front of the crazy lady, offering a hand to her. Then, it spoke.

“Mikaela?”

The robot was speaking. How was the robot speaking? Joe wondered. He supposed that answered the question of if the robot knew English.

Mikaela stepped forward. “I’m fine Bumblebee,” she said softly cradling his mechanical hand between hers. Her spirits were suddenly lighter. She’d seen Drift. She knew he was alive. He was chasing Barricade, but Barricade was on the run. She knew it would be okay.

“What about you?” Mikaela’s voice was concerned as she looked up into Bumblebee’s face. “You were actually in danger.”

Joe could hear the sirens in the distance. Somebody had clearly called the fire department after they saw the oily black smoke coming from his burning patrol car. Or maybe it was the explosive rounds of ammo. Or possibly the giant robots brawling in the center of the highway.

Joe looked around. The road was torn and gouged by giant feet and blades, and large potholes showed where rounds had burst like small IED’s. It looked like a fucking warzone.

Mikaela and Bumblebee also heard the approaching emergency vehicles. Bumblebee didn’t have time to respond to Mikaela’s question as he quickly transformed back into his alt mode. In less than a second there was a battered yellow Camaro on the road, and no sign of any giant robots.

“Bumblebee!” Mikaela exclaimed. “Barricade’s arm!”

That didn't mean much of anything to Joe, but apparently it did to the robot. It quickly transformed back and walked over to the disembodied limb that had come to rest in the ditch. The robot picked it up... then the arm just disappeared.

Unphased by performing the impossible, Bumblebee walked back up onto the road and transformed back into his alt mode.

“What. The. Hell. Happened?” Joe didn’t shout, but it was close. The crazy lady was unphased, however.

“I literally can’t tell you anything,” Mikaela replied. It was true. After Mission City she’d been forced to sign a stack of NDAs. Even though the officer had just watched the landscape demolished by four battling robots, Mikaela was effectively gagged.

“You,” Joe stepped up to the smaller woman and loomed over her. “You are up to your pretty little neck in whatever the hell is going on here. And you will tell me,” he ordered. Joe was on his last nerve. He would haul her off to cool her heels in jail if he needed to.

Mikaela was unphased by the officer’s threat. “I cannot tell you anything,” she just repeated.

A blond man appeared out of nowhere. It was the same blond man that Joe had arrested. The same blond man who had been in the back of Joe’s cruiser as it had been reduced to a still-smouldering bonfire. Where the fuck had he come from?

The seemingly immortal man put one hand on Joe’s chest and steadily shoved the other man back and away from the girl. Joe was too shocked by yet another impossible thing to resist.

It was at that time that the first emergency vehicles started arriving on scene. Joe just stood there staring at the impossible man who had died in an explosion, then reappeared again literally out of thin air. He could feel the man’s hand on his chest; feel the man’s implacable strength.

Joe was vaguely aware that the scene was being cordoned off. The hiss as water started hitting the hot metal and flames of his burning cruiser was distinct. But it wasn’t until Joe heard his name being called that he turned around.

Joe stepped back from the man and turned to watch as Sheriff Holcomb walked over, picking his way gingerly through the debris field. The Sheriff was an old man, with decades of law enforcement experience, for all that his position was an elected one. He was also no idiot. Holcomb’s keen eyes swept over the scene.

The Sheriff was followed closely by an unfamiliar man in a suit.

In the meantime, Bumblebee stepped back from the officer so that he could take Mikaela’s arm. She leaned heavily against him. Bumblebee could tell that she was bleeding and she moved like she was in pain.

Sheriff Holcomb took this all in as he joined the group standing on the side of the road. He nodded courteously towards the two young people. “Why don’t you take the little lady over to the ambulance? She looks like she needs it.”

Mikaela protested as Bumblebee took advantage of the Sheriff’s permission to leave with her in tow.

After the young couple was a discreet distance away Sheriff Grant Holcomb turned towards the officer. “You okay Joe?” he asked gruffly.

“Well enough,” Joe responded. “You wouldn’t believe what happened—” he started to say, only to be cut off by Holcomb’s upraised hand.

“That’s enough,” Holcomb said. He stepped back and waved forward the other man. “This is Mr. Randell Acevedo, from the local FBI office. He’s got paperwork for you.”

Joe knew what Holcomb thought about outsiders coming into was his turf. But Joe also thought about what he’d been through; giant transforming robots and people that appeared out of thin air included. It made sense the government would be involved up to its swampy asscrack. It would be wiser not to fight this one. He didn’t want the responsibility if the government just wanted to cover it up.

The suit nodded towards his car officiously. “Officer Fischer, if you would come this way, we can expedite the process and get you on your way.”

Chief Holcomb stepped back out of the way and waved the shell-shocked officer after Agent Acevedo.

It took too long for Joe to sign all the NDAs and acknowledge all the warnings. He tried to read all the paperwork he was handed — as his lawyer had advised him long ago during his messy divorce — but Joe gave up somewhere around page ninety-seven. He was cold. He was tired. And the adrenaline that had carried him though the battle was long gone.

The fight itself had taken less than five minutes. The cleanup and paperwork had taken over an hour now. Joe wanted to go home. He wanted to take a shower. And he wanted to forget all about giant robots and crazy ladies who were only too at home surrounded by monsters.

After Joe had finally finished signing all the paperwork to the satisfaction of the agent hovering over him, he was allowed to leave, this time in the passenger seat of the Sheriff’s car.

It was a quiet ride.

Joe wondered if there were any desk jobs available.

***

Mikaela was also busy filling out paperwork, only this paperwork was for the ambulance. She didn’t want to go to the hospital for what was just some road rash. After all, she’d had worse after she’d laid her motorcycle down on a two lane road once when she was sixteen. She also didn’t want to face the enormous hospital bill.

Fortunately, the paramedics hadn’t caught on to Mikaela’s preexisting injuries. While they had been unhappy to hear that she was declining a ride to the hospital to be checked out, Bumblebee had reassured them that he would personally be taking Mikaela straight to her doctor.

Mikaela had just finished signing the refusal of medical assistance paperwork for the paramedics when the unwelcome disturbance made itself known.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t little ‘Miss Criminal’ again.”

Mikaela could hear the quotation marks in his voice. An unwelcome chill snaked its way down her back. The smarmy voice was unfortunately familiar.

“Where’s your boyfriend now?”

Mikaela could hear the sneer in his condescending voice.

The paramedic she had been talking to had an uncomfortable look on their face and a question in their eye.

Mikaela shook her head at the paramedic as she passed them her completed paperwork, then turned to look at the person who had come up behind her.

Seymour Simmons was leaning on the back of the ambulance, eyeing Bumblebee’s holoform up and down, as if he’d never seen it before. Come to think of it, he probably hadn’t.

“Simmonds,” Mikaela said acidly. “So nice to see you crawl out from underneath your rock.” She really, really, really didn’t want to deal with Simmons now. Not when she was still on the emotional high from seeing Drift.

“Nice.” Simmonds’ smile looked more like a grimace. “I’m here to escort you and your friend to the Wyoming Air National Guard Base in Cheyenne.”

“Nice,” Mikaela parroted back, giving Simmonds an equally smarmy look. “What makes you think we’re going?”

“Besides my natural good looks and charm?” Simmonds’ said suggestively. The effect was ruined, though as one of the paramedics hip checked Simmonds away so that they could close the rear doors of the ambulance.

“Besides that,” Mikaela said dryly.

“Orders,” Simmonds’ said flatly, unamused. “Besides, your friends are waiting for you.”

“Why didn’t you say that sooner?” Mikaela said syrupy-sweet.

Bumblebee’s holoform stepped closer to Mikaela, slipping his arm around her waist.

Mikaela leaned into Bumblebee. “I’m sure Bumblebee and I will be able to find it perfectly well without your help.”

Bumblebee started leading Mikaela away, towards where his alt form was parked.

“What happened to the Wittiky boy? I thought he was besties with the yellow one,” Simmonds called after her, annoyingly persistent.

“Things change,” Mikaela called over her shoulder.

Simmonds scrambled after them and followed close, like a piece of toilet paper that sticks to the bottom of your shoe when you leave the bathroom, fluttery and disgusting. “Who is your new piece of meat, then?” he asked offensively, seeing Bumblebee’s ongoing silence as a weakness. “You aren’t breaking your NDAs are you? You know Uncle Sam frowns down on those shenanigans.”

Bumblebee halted and turned to face Simmons.

Mikaela watched, curious what Bumblebee would do.

Bumblebee smiled and opened his mouth to respond to Simmonds. What came out of his holoform’s mouth wasn’t words, though, but the signature twitter-cheep of R2D2’s dialogue from Star Wars.

Mikaela started laughing at the look of shock on Simmonds’ face, clinging on to Bumblebee’s holoform, as they turned and continued walking over to Bumblebee’s alt mode.

Behind them Simmonds sputtered for several moments before exclaiming, “They can do that?!”

It just made her laugh harder.

Bumblebee’s holoform added insult to injury by following up with R2D2’s distinctive warbling chuckle.

Bumblebee was still grinning as he helped Mikaela carefully climb into his back seat. The well-stocked first aid kit that Bumblebee usually carried in his subspace was sitting in the footwell, as well as Mikaela’s backpack, which had more first aid supplies in it. The backseat would give Mikaela more room to move around in as she carefully cleaned and dressed her wounds.

Simmonds scrambled to catch up, but Bumblebee pointedly shut the door before the agent could get to Mikaela.

Mikaela ignored Simmonds’ yelling at the window as she sorted through her stuff, pulling out what she’d need. The adrenaline that had kept her on her feet during the fight was fading quickly. However, the euphoria of seeing Drift again, of being able to confirm with her own eyes that he was alive, kept her from wanting to sleep. She didn’t want to miss seeing him again. In the meantime, however, she needed to get the road grit washed out before it got infected.

Mikaela took out her towel and laid it across her lap. She didn’t want to get Bumblebee dirty as she cleaned the shallow scrapes on her palms. Once she was done with those, she could start working on her knees.

Wincing, Mikaela rinsed off the blood and dirt with some water from a bottle, then patted it dry with a hand towel. She hoped it wouldn’t get too messy. She didn’t have any more towels along.

Carefully, Mikaela flexed her fingers. Her palms felt swollen and stiff. Though it was a comparatively smaller pain than the chronic pain she had been in since the heavy-duty painkillers Ratchet had given her had worn off, there was something different about the pain that came along with split skin and blood.

Mikaela carefully applied a thin layer of antibiotic ointment to help slow the last sluggish bleeding, but left off any bandages until she’d finished her legs. Otherwise, she’d just get the them wet and have to replace them again.

Outside, Simmonds attempted to browbeat Bumblebee’s holoform into opening the door so he could, supposedly, talk to Mikaela.

Bumblebee wasn’t having any of it. His holoform slipped out of Simmonds’ grasp and slid into the driver’s seat. With a muted rumble and a cheeky wave, Bumblebee pulled onto the road and away from the scene. Being so rural, or possibly because of the federal agent trying to keep things under wraps, there weren’t even police officers at the perimeter to stop them as Bumblebee cruised away.

Chapter Text

February 2010

“So, what the fuck happened?” Mikaela asked once they were down the road and out of sight.

Bumblebee’s holoform turned to look at her and cocked his head sideways in the classical puzzled gesture. A lot had happened. They’d been pulled over by the police, attacked by Barricade, saved by Drift and Sideswipe...

“Bumblebee!” Mikaela said sharply. “Look out the window before somebody freaks out!”

No matter how often she saw it happen, it still unnerved Mikaela when one of the mechs would have their holoform take their eyes off the road for more than a glancing moment while driving. Even though she knew that the holoform was not actually in control of their alt form, and even though she knew that their sensors were much more accurate than human eyes, there was a visceral part of Mikaela that became alarmed. She supposed it was a testament to how life-like they had made their holoforms.

With a playful pout, Bumblebee’s holoform turned to face forward. As he did, the radio volume decreased.

Mikaela scooted sideways so that she was braced against the door and shimmied out of her now ragged jeans. While her jeans had protected her from the worst, there were still many shallow, dirt-covered cuts on her knees. Her knees had taken the brunt of the abuse and they were starting to throb. The bruises tomorrow would probably look spectacular, she mused.

Mikaela slipped the towel she was using under her extended leg. She pulled another bottle of water out of her bag to use to flush the wound out.

“So... where are we going?” Mikaela asked.

“Cheyenne,” Bumblebee replied.

Mikaela winced as she carefully poured water little by little over the scrapes, washing the dirt clear. At least she couldn’t see any gravel, and the dirt was washing away easily enough.

“Simmonds said something about the ‘others’ being at Cheyenne?” she asked.

“Ratchet and Ironhide are flying in,” Bumblebee admitted. Ever since they had been pulled over he had been in constant contact with Autobot command. Mikaela running away to find Drift he could handle on his own. A Deception attack was something completely different. Bumblebee felt no compunction about contacting the others for backup, no matter what Mikaela’s current feelings about them may be.

“Oh,” Mikaela said simply as she thought about it. On one hand, she didn’t know if she was ready to see them. It was one thing to talk to them, but seeing them, feeling them nearby...

Bumblebee could feel her hesitation. “Drift and Sideswipe were unsuccessful in catching Barricade. They have been recalled and will be joining us in Cheyenne to travel back to base.”

That decided it for Mikaela. “Okay,” she said with a soft simile. Inside she was jumping up and down. There was no way she wasn’t going to Cheyenne now.

“Ratchet can also take a look at your injuries.”

Mikaela hummed slightly in acknowledgement. Happier, she focused on drying her leg, applying antibiotic ointment, then wrapping it up. Carefully, she switched positions so she could work on the other leg.

Mikaela worked several minutes in silence, cleaning and bandaging her other knee. She thought about what had started this whole incident, and broke the companionable silence in the car. “So, how did you end up reported stolen?”

Bumblebee didn’t say anything, but the sad chirrup that came out of his speakers said a lot. Mikaela could also see it mirrored in the holoform’s slumped shoulders and dejected appearance.

“It wasn’t Optimus, was it?” Mikaela said cautiously. She didn’t want to think that he’d do that to Bumblebee. She’d thought Optimus at least liked him.

Bumblebee shook his head, though. “Sam did it,” he admitted. While he watched Mikaela negotiate with the paramedics, he had commed Special Operations and discreetly hacked a few databases. It hadn’t been hard to find.

“Oh, Bumblebee.” Mikaela could tell that he was taking it hard. If anything, Bumblebee’s relationship with Sam had been deeper than hers. While Mikaela now understood that the majority of her relationship with Sam had been hormones exacerbated by ‘we almost died’ adrenaline, it hadn’t been nearly as strong as the connection Bumblebee’d had for the boy he’d guarded.

“I didn’t think you could report a car stolen that you didn’t own, though,” Mikaela commented.

Bumblebee made a sound that could only be described as a cringe made into staticy beeps.

“...he didn’t!?” Mikaela said, outraged as she realized the full extent of the betrayal. “Your registration papers were still in Sam’s name?”

Bumblebee’s holoform nodded while his speakers made a classic sad wah-wah sound.

“That bastard,” Mikaela breathed, upset for Bumblebee’s sake. “What the hell did he think was going to happen? That the police would just haul you back to him kicking and screaming...” Then she thought about it. “No, you wouldn’t even be able to kick and scream. Optimus wants you guys to stay on the down-low. All Sam would have had to do is get you out of impound.”

Bumblebee’s holoform was cringing in the driver’s seat.

“Have you changed your registration?”

Bumblebee nodded. It had been easy to wipe and replace the records in the police and DMV computers. There was a chance that a paper copy existed out there, but he’d already ordered new plates, tabs, and title for his alt form. A small code change to his nanties to change the VIN number on his chassis, and legally he was no longer the same vehicle.

Mikaela shook her head, at a loss for what to say. She wanted to rail more against Sam and his dick move, but that would only make Bumblebee more distressed.

“Shit!” Mikaela blurted out worriedly, sitting up straight, having suddenly realized something. She made a pained sound as her sore body protested the sudden movement, and collapsed back against the seat, muscles spasming in protest. “I never asked you if you were hurt.” She could just about hit herself for forgetting, even with her aching palms. “I’m a bad friend,” she said mournfully.

“No you’re not,” Bumblebee rebutted. “You asked, but it was right before all the emergency responders arrived,” his voice came out of his speakers. “Besidies, I’m fine,” he insisted.

Mikaela narrowed her eyes. “You better be, because I’m going to tattle to Ratchet as soon as we see him.

Not if he didn’t beat her to it, Bumblebee thought.

***

Mikaela didn’t bother keeping track of how much time it took them to get to Cheyenne. She had too much to think about. It was hard to believe that she had been on the road with Bumblebee for only a couple of days. Time had seemed to pass so slowly. Much of it Mikaela had spent in a pain-soaked haze.

Mikaela worried about what would happen when they reached Cheyenne. Bumblebee had said Drift was going to meet them there, which was the only reason she was going along with him. However, she was still worried about what would happen to Drift. Mikaela still didn’t know what she had done to make Optimus send Drift away.

What if Optimus didn’t let him come back?

Mikaela didn’t even know if Drift was still in one piece after chasing after Barricade. What if...

Mikaela tried to forcibly wrestle her thoughts away from the worst-case scenarios, but it wasn’t easy.

As she worked to short circuit her downward spiral of anxious thoughts, Mikaela felt something like a warm hug from inside herself. She shied away from the comforting gesture. She wasn’t quite ready to deal with that now. Mikaela’s first priority right now was Drift.

A warm lassitude gradually spread over Mikaela, whether from the pain medication or the adrenaline crash, and she dropped into a light doze.

As he got close to the Air National Guard base, Bumblebee gently woke up Mikaela using the radio trick where he slowly increased the volume. Mikaela was awake by the time they turned into the entrance of the base. The base itself was behind the local airport, and shared the runways. Mikaela and Bumblebee were met at the entrance to the parking lot by a set of NEST soldiers, who waved them through.

Another set of NEST soldiers armed with prototype anti-Cybertronian weapons made a perimeter around two NEST-branded C-17’s on the tarmac. Those soldiers didn’t let Bumblebee and Mikaela past until they were convinced that Bumblebee’s holoform was just a holoform, and that Mikaela was not a Decepticon pretender.

Mikaela didn’t care about the security precautions, however. She only had eyes for the two Autobots waiting for them.

Ironhide’s large black truck and Ratchet’s search and rescue hummer alt forms sat parked between the two planes. Even though the area that made up the base was on the other side of the runway from the terminal, there were still too many flights taking off and landing for the Autobots to remain unseen if they transformed into mech form.

After they were finally cleared, Bumblebee rolled forward towards the two senior Autobot officers. As they came closer, Mikaela could feel the wash of heavy scanners pass over her even though she was still inside Bumblebee. If she could feel it, she wondered what Bumblebee was feeling. Did the scanners feel the same way to Bumblebee as they did to Mikaela? Ratchet had scanned her many times in the past, Mikaela remembered, including many times that she had probably been unaware of because she couldn’t feel them back then. She definitely could feel them now. In the past, she had only imagined what Ratchet’s scanners must have felt like. The reality was nothing like what she had imagined. Knowing it was Ratchet, it felt like a warm hug... like coming home.

Bumblebee rolled to a stop facing the two larger mechs. Soon after, both mech’s holoforms had materialized and were standing next to Bumblebee’s door, waiting. Ratchet’s holoform gave Ironhide’s holoform a sharp look, and the tall man stepped back, hands out placatingly towards the overprotective medic.

Mikaela wasn’t sure she wanted to see them. She had talked to them through Bumblebee’s comms, but ...

Mikaela realized she missed them.

Bumblebee wasn’t inclined to let her hide away for too long, and opened his door.

Her very stiff and sore legs didn’t allow Mikaela to stand. Her first attempt ended with her plopping back down on the seat.

Ratchet extended a hand.

Mikaela looked up at him. She was disheveled. There was still dirt and blood on her jeans and shirt. Her hair was a mess and she hadn’t had more than a quick sponge bath in a public restrooms since she’d left. Mikaela felt every single speck of dirt on her. Bumblebee probably wanted a bath after spending so much time with her. And Ratchet...

Ratchet just waited patently.

Mikaela gripped Ratchet’s hand solidly and he smoothly pulled her up without any hint of effort. Ratchet’s other hand wrapped solidly around her back as she fell into his arms.

Mikaela yelped. “I’m a mess...” she protested.

“Messes can be fixed,” Ratchet said gruffly as he hugged her.

Mikaela relaxed. “Hi Ratchet,” she said into the side of Ratchet’s neck. Holding a holoform was always a curious sensation. They never smelled, and, though Bumblebee was continually tweaking his to improve it, the other mech’s holoforms always felt harder to the touch. Not that she cared.

“What the hell happened to you?” Ratchet finally exclaimed. He hadn’t needed his sensors to tell that she was exhausted. Given how she was moving, it was also a safe bet that she was sore, too.

“What?” Mikaela said muzzily, letting herself relax and lean on Ratchet as he took her body weight without complaint. “Doesn’t somebody write a report or something?” She knew Bumblebee would have to write a report at some time. “Or has Bumblebee been a bad boy?”

Mikaela could hear Ironhide chuckle. “No. The little ‘Bee wasn’t a bad boy,” he said in his gruff twang. “However, hearing about the damage is one thing. Sensing it is another.”

Mikaela twisted so she could look at the larger man over her shoulder while still clinging to Ratchet. She removed one arm from Ratchet’s shoulder so she could becken the other mech’s holoform over. Ironhide was reluctant, but Mikaela was persistent. Soon enough she had one arm around each holoform’s shoulders, practically dangling between the two larger forms. “Need to do this again back at base so I can give you a proper hug,” Mikaela commented. She had seen more of her mech’s holoforms since being injured than she had in the year she had lived with them previously. “It’s just not the same.”

“Is that good?” Bumblebee chirruped from next to Ratchet. He had taken the opportunity to have his holoform leave his alt form and move around the knot of human and holoforms so he could join the group.

“Yes, that’s good,” Mikaela replied with a grin.

“That’s good, because we got company,” Bumblebee said with a wide grin on his holoform’s face.

Mikaela didn’t bother to hide her sudden interest from the others. Ironhide helped Ratchet pivot Mikaela around so she could see the two incoming vehicles.

It was Sideswipe and Drift.

Sideswipe was in the lead, with Drift a car length back and slightly to his left.

“Down,” Mikaela ordered, eyes on Drift. She didn’t see Ironhide roll his eyes at her.

Neither mech listened to her. Instead they continued to hold her up as Mikaela started squirming to get away.

Sideswipe completely forgot himself and actually got through the first few steps of his transformation sequence before Ironhide’s alt form rolled forward and gave the cocky mech an aggressive love tap with his bumper. The impact rocked Sideswipe backwards several feet with an audible crunch.

Ironhide started trying to justify his actions to Ratchet as Ratchet started bitching him out. After all, Ratchet would have to pop those dents later.

Ironhide glared balefully at the red Lamborghini as Sideswipe started cussing him out over his comms.

Mikaela ignored the byplay between Sideswipe, Ironhide, and Ratchet, and took advantage of Ironhide’s distraction to finally slip her arms free.

Bumblebee had been watching her escape and gallantly offered an arm for her to hold on to as she determedly walked over to Drift, ignoring her sore, throbbing legs.

As she got close enough to touch, she ran one hand along Drift’s side. “Once we get back, you need a bath,” she said dryly.

“You should see the other guy,” Drift responded, equally deadpan. The fact that Mikaela had only made it the short distance between him and Bumblebee’s alt mode with the help of Bumblebee’s alt form was concerning Drift. “Ratchet’s not going to like the fact that you got away from him,” he commented neutrally.

Mikaela practically draped herself over the side of Drift’s alt mode. Being the only mech there without a holoform, she couldn’t exactly fall into his arms.

“He’ll catch up with me eventually,” Mikaela acknowledged. “He’s just twitchy because he hasn’t seen me in two days.”

Drift was confused. “Two days?” He was under the impression that the Autobots back on base were taking care of Mikaela. That Ratchet hadn’t seen her in two days... And earlier she, along with Bumblebee, had been at the battle. It was one more thing that he would have to talk to the scout about.

“It’s a long story,” Mikaela replied, her voice trembling as the weight of all the emotions she had been ignoring started to creep past her mental blocks. She rested her forehead on Drift’s roof. “A lot of things happened.” Mikaela knew that once she started talking, she wouldn’t be able to stop, and she wasn’t about to start without being in the safety of Drift’s cabin. She still didn’t know what had set off Optimus Prime, so she couldn’t risk the others overhearing.

While Drift and Mikaela were getting reacquainted, Ratchet’s holoform walked over to Mikaela, leaving behind Sideswipe, who was busy defending himself from Ironhide’s temper.

“Mikaela,” Ratchet said seriously, getting her attention.

Ratchet had caught up with her. Mikaela lifted her head from Drift and turned it to face Ratchet. The interruption was a prime example why she couldn’t talk to Drift now.

“What medical treatment have you had for your injuries?”

Mikaela could feel Drift’s concern and growing anger as she gave Ratchet a quick rundown of everything she had done to treat her wounds, including the OTC painkillers she’d taken. It didn’t help when Bumblebee, who was still standing next to Mikaela, helped fill in some details.

Ratchet huffed. “I’d like to give you a more in-depth examination.”

Mikaela had been expecting that, but... “Not out here,” Mikaela asked. She knew that Ratchet would hardly let her go without one, but she didn’t want to do it in public.

Ratchet frowned. As his highest-priority patient, Ratchet wanted to address her situation first, however, her condition was not immediately urgent and she would be more comfortable under different circumstances. “We’ll travel on the same plane,” Ratchet decided. “I can examine you then. Before we get in the air, though, I have to clear Drift, Sideswipe, and Bumblebee. Why don’t you stay with Drift until then?” Ratchet suggested. It would probably keep Mikaela calmer, and less likely to try to run away again.

Mikaela nodded and put her head back down on Drift’s roof.

“That said,” Ratchet said, his holoform looking down to address Drift’s alt form. “Is there anything I need to take care of before we are in the air?” he asked. The last thing Ratchet wanted to do was emergency surgery in one of the small C-17s. Even though he’d done surgery under worse conditions, Ratchet never looked forward to it. Especially if there was an emergency in midair and his patient was in the other plane. Earth transports just weren’t equipped for mid-air transfers of someone Ratchet’s size.

Drift knew he was going to be in trouble as soon as Ratchet saw his diagnostics. He could try to delay, but he knew the futility of trying to dodge Ratchet. Instead, Drift sidestepped the inevitable back and forth and opted to go the direct route to slide back the cover over his data interface.

Ratchet’s surprise was apparent in his field as the cover over Drift’s data cables irised open in unspoken consent to a medical examination. Since his holoform wasn’t equipped with data cables, however, Ratchet’s alt form rolled over to Drift. Pulling up as close as he could, Ratchet popped his own panel, extended his data cable, and hooked up.

Curious, Mikaela watched the connection happen, not really understanding what was going on. As nothing outwardly happened, she laid her head back down on Drift. Mikaela was happy to just be near him again, his field enveloping her.

Bumblebee was vaguely aware of Ironhide and Sideswipe’s incredulous stares as Drift voluntarily cabled up with the Hatchet without a whimper of protest. There was no way Bumblebee’d let Ratchet into his systems without a fight. Not that he didn’t trust Ratchet, but he liked being able to control how much information the medic had access to. Otherwise, Ratchet would weld him to a berth when he realized how many minor fixes Bumblebee just left to his autorepair instead of coming to the medbay. Not to mention the handful of Spec Ops modifications that Bumblebee had that gave Ratchet fits every time.

Outwardly nothing looked like it was happening, however Ratchet’s presence moved deftly over the hardline connection as he accessed Drift's self-diagnostic protocols, careful to only touch the outer layers of the mech’s firewalls to do so.

It didn’t take Ratchet long to find what Drift wasn’t really trying to hide from him. :When was the last time you fueled?: Ratchet asked abruptly, over his comms. He didn’t want to upset Mikaela and he knew this would upset her.

:We captured Barricade’s stash of energon a few days ago and I had half.: Drift hedged his answer, not saying just how small the stash had been. He knew this wouldn’t look good for Sideswipe, but he couldn’t afford to be on Sideswipe’s bad side. He couldn’t lie to Ratchet, though.

Drift’s answer may have been unspecific, but Ratchet was able to go back in the mech’s status logs and find the historical usage reports. For a mech who had left base fully fueled, Drift was running on fumes. The small amount of energon they had captured from Barricade had barely been a drop in the reservoir.

:You’re an hour away from stasis lock, is what you are,: Ratchet snarled, then modulated his field as Drift flinched.

The slight movement caused Mikaela to look up, curious.

:I’ve lasted longer on less,: Drift pointed out. If Ratchet remembered anything about their past...

Ratchet reined in his temper, hard. :Not while your autorepair is still dealing with the residual effects of Barricade’s attack,: he pointed out. :Without sufficient energon the repairs aren’t integrating like they should be.:

:Sideswipe!: The red mech, both alt mode and holoform, flinched as Ratchet’s angry bellow reached him over the comms. :What’s your fuel level?: Ratchet demanded.

Sideswipe rapidly called up the relevant diagnostic and sent the information to Ratchet.

It was as Ratchet had suspected. Sideswipe was only down to 90%.

Ratchet turned his attention back to Drift. :I know for a fact that your orders included sufficient energon to see you through the end of the mission. Where is it?:

Drift stood stoically under the accusation. His tone retreated back into the formality he hadn’t been using so far in their conversation. :Sir, per standard procedure, during missions the energon rations for someone of my classification are held by the mech in command.:

Ratchet pinged Ironhide to confirm the regulation, which the other mech did.

The picture that was starting the emerge was not pretty. Sideswipe had been carrying the energon for the two of them. He was at 90% while Drift was just about unconscious. Ratchet would need to address this with Optimus Prime and Ironhide later. First, he needed to attend to Drift, who had suddenly surpassed Mikaela as his most critical patient.

:Due to the fact we’re visible to the public, I can’t have you transform and drink a cube, so I’ll need to do an emergency transfer instead,: Ratchet told Drift guardedly. Ratchet had more than enough reserves to get Drift out of the danger zone without risking himself. The idea of transferring energon straight from one mech’s systems into another mech’s systems, however, often made mechs uncomfortably squeamish.

Mikaela watched curiously as what appeared to be Drift’s fuel door and gas cap irised open.

Ratchet didn’t wait for Drift to change his mind. He extended a hose from behind one of his panels, socketed into Drift's fuel intake, and started the transfer.

As the processed energon flowed warmly from Ratchet’s tanks to Drift’s, the critical warnings splashed across Drift’s HUD slowly downgraded until they disappeared entirely. Drift felt it as Ratchet deftly checked his status before unhooking, first the fuel line, then, after he pulled back from Drift’s consciousness, his data cable.

After Ratchet disconnected he said nothing to Drift about any repairs. Instead, his holoform gave Drift a brisk nod before turning smartly and stalking towards Sideswipe’s alt form.

The warrior tried to discreetly back up but was foiled by Ironhide’s alt form. In the meantime, Ratchet’s alt form had turned and pinned Sideswipe’s alt form from another angle. Sideswipe was pinned in place between the two mechs while Ratchet ran his checks.

Bumblebee’s holoform stayed with Mikaela and Drift, even as Ratchet finished up with Sideswipe and moved on to Bumblebee’s alt form. Mikaela was starting to look shaky again. He was concerned for her.

Bumblebee commed Drift. :It would probably be best if you could convince Mikaela to lay down. I don’t think she’s going to leave your side now that she’s found you.:

:It would be nice if somebody could tell me what the hell happened,: Drift replied over comms as he popped his door open for Mikaela.

:We’ll have the entire flight to compare notes,: Bumblebee said as he helped Mikaela more or less collapse into Drift’s front seat. :That is, if Mikaela doesn’t keep you busy. Let me get her bag.:

Bumblebee holoform ran back to his alt form to pick it up, giving Drift a short time alone with Mikaela. She was silent, though, and just snuggled deeper into his seat. Drift located the controls for the seat heater and turned it on. It was chilly outside and there was a breeze.

Chapter Text

February 2010

After Bumblebee and Sideswipe had been given a relatively clean bill of health — or at least convinced Ratchet that they weren’t going to suddenly die if he took his eyes off of them — the Autobots boarded the planes to fly back to base.

Ironhide and Sideswipe shared a C-17, while Drift, Bumblebee, Ratchet, and Mikaela shared the other. Ironhide had wanted Ratchet to ride along with him, but the Chief Medic refused to be away from his two highest priority patients, Mikaela and Drift.

Bumblebee had also chosen to go with Drift and Mikaela because he was stubborn, and because he didn’t want to be away from Mikaela. He’d spent weeks watching over Mikaela while she battled her body and her depression. He’d risked his reputation to run away with her to find Drift. He was going to see this through.

The mechs backed skillfully into their assigned planes, their holoforms taking the place of a ‘driver.’ Except for Drift.

Mikaela sat in Drift’s front seat while he waited his turn to board. She wondered how many ‘ghost car’ sightings there had been in the last few weeks. Drift didn’t have a holoform, so he was far from the best choice to have sent out if the Autobots wanted to stay under cover.

Fortunately for the Autobots, NEST had stopped trying to strap down them down like they would any other cargo. Instead, they were held down by a handful of light straps. It was enough to keep them from crashing around during unexpected turbulence, but delicate enough that the straps could be snapped in an emergency.

It wasn’t the first time that Ratchet and Bumblebee had been on a C-17, so they settled in and waited patiently for takeoff. It was Drift’s first time, but he didn’t display any nervousness. Instead he had a soldier’s well-worn stoic mask.

Unlike the soldiers, who sat on seats down the sides of the plane, Mikaela sat in Drift as the plane took off. Her only concession to being on a plane was to put on her seat belt. However, taking off while sitting backwards was not fun, as Mikaela soon discovered.

As the plane reached its cruising altitude everybody settled in for the ride. Bumblebee and Ratchet were chatting privately over their comms. Drift could tell that there was a comm signal between them, but he wasn’t included so he ignored it. He had other priorities.

The silence between Mikaela and Drift had been easy at first, but now that they had relative privacy, Mikaela was increasingly nervous. Everything she needed to talk to Drift about was bubbling up in her brain and she didn’t know where to start. She didn’t even know if she’d be able to say the right thing. What if he had changed in the last few weeks? What if he didn’t want her any more?

“Mikaela?” Drift’s smooth voice broke her from her racing thoughts.

Mikaela curled up on his seat. “Yah?” she mumbled, irrationally afraid of what he was going to say.

“It’s good to have you back,” Drift said gently.

Mikaela shook. “I missed you.” She cut off a sob.

Drift was worried. Mikaela was clearly trying to hide that she was very distraught. What had happened while he had been gone?

“Mikaela, what’s wrong?” Drift was ready for just about anything at this rate.

“Drift,” Mikaela said softly. “Do you still want me?”

...he hadn’t expected that. “What do you mean?”

“This... us...” Mikaela tried to explain what she was feeling. “Being together, you my guardian, me being... something. Do you still want this?”

Why was she even asking? Granted, she didn’t have a spark, so they couldn’t bond properly, but he at least thought that he’d done a good job of building an emotional connection despite the fact that they were completely different species. It made the ‘bonded’ part of being a Bonded Guardian more difficult.

“Yes, Mikaela,” Drift said instead. “I want this. Are you asking because I left?”

Mikaela shook her head. “I’m asking because I did this to you,” she said simply, reaching out to touch his dash.

Drift was confused. “What do you mean?”

“It’s my fault you got sent away,” Mikaela confessed in a choked voice.

Drift was very sure Mikaela hadn’t had anything to do with him being sent away. She had been in a coma. “What makes you think that?”

“Optimus said he ‘reassigned’ you,” Mikaela whispered brokenly, hiding her face in her knees. “He only threatened to do that after I talked about the Allspark. I must have done something... said something...”

“Mikaela,” Drift said, trying his best to be comforting. He couldn’t transform and wrap her up in a blanket like he’d usually do. His research had stressed the importance of physical contact to humans, and he’d found it to be helpful with Mikaela. “You were in a coma, you couldn’t have done anything.”

“The visions didn't stop, though,” Mikaela admitted. Being able to talk about it now, it was a relief. “You know what they’re like. Sometimes I barely even know that I’m awake, much less saying anything or doing anything.”

“I know,” Drift admitted. “Soon after I was repaired Ratchet woke me from my healing stasis to ask about fits you were having. I didn’t tell him anything,” Drift said quickly as Mikaela looked up, alarmed. “I asked them to place Peerless Under Heaven nearby.” He had hoped that the sword’s field, while not as strong as a mech’s, would have reassured Mikaela subconsciously.

“That explains what it was doing in my room when I woke up,” Mikaela said. “It helped.”

“That’s good,” Drift was relieved that something went right.

“I thought you were dead,” Mikaela dropped the bombshell of a statement abruptly.

“What!”

“I woke up. You weren’t there. Peerless was. You’d never leave Peerless behind. You’d never leave me behind. The last time I’d seen you, you were dying,” Mikaela summed up in quick, disjointed sentences, trying to remain impassive, but the knot in her throat was slowly threatening to choke her. “I thought you had died,” she whispered harshly.

Drift’s field whipped uncontrollably for a second before he brought it under control. Not before Ratchet and Bumblebee felt it, though. Both mechs pinged him, concerned for Mikaela.

Drift waited a moment before he opened a channel with both of them. He reminded himself of the position he was in. He could not afford to anger the officers.

:What’s wrong?: Bumblebee blurted out first.

:Mikaela just mentioned that she thought I was dead,: Drift said, struggling hard to stay detached. The force of the other two mech’s cringe, as well as their guilty feelings, were clear through their fields.

:I didn’t realize she didn’t know,: Bumblebee said, trying to explain himself to Drift. After all, he’d made a promise to Drift that he would protect Mikaela. :Mikaela took it real hard when she found out you were actually alive. Within 24 hours she talked me into going AWOL with her to look for you,: he admitted.

Drift appreciated that Bumblebee had stuck by Mikaela instead of confining her to base, but...

:She left base and ended up being targeted by Barricade. Again,: Drift said flatly. He couldn’t say that he liked the fact that Bumblebee and Mikaela had stumbled into a fight with Barricade after everything Drift had done to keep Mikaela out of the field.

:She was ready to face down Optimus Prime over you,: Ratchet commented, inserting himself in the conversation. :Mikaela has been going through a lot, and she needs you.:

Drift was already getting that idea. He also couldn’t spend too much time interrogating the other mechs because — while talking over comms was much faster than speaking — Mikaela was smart enough to know when there were other conversations going on.

Drift closed the comm line and turned his attention back to Mikaela. He could catch up with them later. Preferably while Mikaela was asleep.

“I’m here now,” he said soothingly, modulating his field to support his words.

“Don’t go, please,” Mikaela begged him, curled in a tight knot in his front seat.

“I... can’t promise that,” Drift said, voice coming stiff and broken. He owed her the truth. He was owned by the Autobots. If he left them he wouldn’t have access to the resources he needed to keep Mikaela safe. He would be outcast from both sides, hunted wherever he went. It would be hard, but not impossible for him to survive under those conditions. But he couldn’t do it with Mikaela along. What was necessary to sustain human life was much more limited than for Cybertronians. He would need to provide her with specific atmosphere, to avoid certain elements, stay in a certain temperature range, and in a certain gravitational field.

“Is it because of what I did?” Mikaela asked in a small voice.

“No, Mikaela. You did nothing that you need to apologize for,” Drift couldn’t absolve her completely. He had no idea if she had said something in her sleep to Prime that had provoked his temper to fall on Drift. He may not be able to give her that comfort, but he could at least forgive her if she had. “Even if you had said something to Prime, the decision, and the blame, falls on his head. Not yours.”

Mikaela just shook her head in denial. Her breathing was ragged.

“You need to know... I know the secret of the visions. I know what they are, why they’re happening,” Mikaela said in a soft whisper. She needed to tell Drift. He’d been through so much with her. He had supported her. She couldn’t keep this secret from him. “But you can’t tell anybody else.”

Drift was helpless in the face of her desperation. “I promise,” he said simply.

“In the past few weeks, the visions changed. I still got the same visions, but sometimes... sometimes I heard a voice. Just a few words. Like a conversation getting cut off,” Mikaela tried to explain as best as she could. “Eventually, I learned what has been causing these hallucinations. It's been an attempt to communicate. But we’re on two different wavelengths, so the message kept getting scrambled. Until yesterday. We were able to connect. I spoke to him,” Mikaela paused. If she wanted to keep this a secret, this was her last chance. She knew that, if she’d had this experience with any human religious tradition she’d most likely get locked up as crazy. People were touchy about their deities. And she was claiming to have talked to one.

Drift was apprehensive as Mikaela’s confession stuttered to a halt. He suspected that the visions had been caused by the Allspark. But now Mikaela said that she had talked to somebody in her latest vision. “Who did you speak to, Mikaela?”

“... Primus,” Mikaela confessed in a whisper. “I talked to Primus.”

Drift’s immediate reaction was to deny that it was possible. Sure, there had been priests and visionaries who had claimed to commune with Primus, had claimed to carry out Primus’ holy will through their mandates. And Prime was the spiritual leader of the Cybertronian race.

Mikaela picked up on Drift’s hesitation, but she plowed forward anyway. “It gets worse.”

“Worse?”

“Well... more confusing. Because now I know things. Kinda like I’d sometimes come out of a vision knowing something that I didn’t know before.” The pacing of Mikaela’s voice picked up as she tried to explain the inexplicable.

Drift could tell she believed everything she was saying, but it was so fantastical as to be unbelievable.

“It’s like the knowledge is buried in my head somewhere,” Mikaela tried to explain. “I don’t know it until I think it, but when I do, I just know it. It’s there... it’s hard to explain.”

“It’s hard to understand,” Drift acknowledged faintly, implications for what this could mean to Mikaela and her safety, as well as strategies to mitigate any risk to her were running through his head.

“...sorry.” Mikaela was sitting upright now, and practically vibrating with the need to keep talking. The dam had burst, and she needed to keep talking until the backup had become unjammed.

“Don’t be sorry, keep talking.”

More words came gushing out of Mikaela. As she had described to Drift, the words to say just appeared on the tip of her tongue as if she had known this all along. And she had, she just hadn’t known that she knew it. “It’s the Allspark. The Allspark is dead. They need a new Allspark. Because the Allspark is the gateway and there needs to be a gateway or nothing moves.”

Drift wasn’t any less confused. “Who is ‘they?’”

“Primus and Unicron,” Mikaela said thoughtlessly.

“Unicron!” Drift lurched slightly against the straps holding him down before he caught himself. Unicron the Chaos Bringer! The dark twin of Primus. “What does he have to do with the Allspark?”

“Everything,” Mikaela said, not unaware of the difficulty that Drift was going to have with this. She barely knew anything about Unicron, but she knew she was going to be learning much, much more. “The Allspark stands at the balance point between life and death. All sparks that are made come from the Allspark, and all sparks return to the Allspark.”

“But what about those not sparked by the Allspark?” Drift had to ask, even though he knew that Mikaela didn’t understand what he was asking. At least, he didn’t think she knew. Drift had never explained that facet of Cybertronian life to her. Never explained that the Allspark was not the sole source of life, that there was another way to create. That there were others, others who were created as tools, disposable. Made to order.

“It doesn’t matter if they were sparked by the Allspark or not. ALL sparks come from the Allspark. ALL sparks return to the Allspark,” Mikaela said matter-of-factly, waving her arm to emphasize her point.

Drift was shocked. Mikaela was acting as if she wasn’t overturning billions of years of accepted religious dogma with a simple statement. Those made to order, MTO, were less. That had been a fact of his existence.

“So, you talked to Unicron?” Drift said faintly, mind paralyzed by the large implications that Mikaela had already revealed. He would need to meditate on this. Maybe for several days.

“No, just Primus,” Mikaela said blithely. “Unicron hasn’t ‘tuned in’ yet, but Primus said he will eventually.”

So, Mikaela hadn’t talked to Unicron yet, but it didn’t sound like it was far off. Drift wished he knew how to prepare himself, and Mikaela, for what would happen. “What did you think of Primus?” he asked instead.

“I only met him the once. Nice guy. Horrible jokes,” Mikaela said.

Drift was having issues wrapping his brain around it. Mikaela made Primus sound like just any other mech that Drift might meet up with casually.

“What does Unicron have to do with with Allspark?” Drift asked the same question again. It just didn’t make any sense to him.

“The Allspark is the balance. It’s the cycle; creation leads to destruction leads to creation, growth leads to decay leads to growth. Each state feeds into the next in an unending cycle. As the Allspark creates, it also destroys.”

With every sentence she spoke, Mikaela was upturning an entire history of religious scholarship. Drift mused that it was a good thing she was so reluctant to talk about her experiences with other mechs. Drift was afraid that, if she did, a devout mech might kill her for her impertinence.

“You said that they needed a new Allspark. What does that have to do with you?”

“I’m the new Allspark,” Mikaela paused. “Well... if I agree. Apparently I get a choice.”

That was good to hear. Drift felt like there was probably a catch, however. “When do you have to make this choice?”

“I don’t know when. Apparently I’ll know it when it happens, though.”

The uncertain nature of the agreement didn’t reassure Drift. Primus may be a god, but Drift was Mikaela’s Guardian. He wasn’t inclined to trust many other mechs with Mikaela’s safety and wellbeing, and that included Primus.

“What you have told me now, about Primus, Unicron, the Allspark... Have you told anybody else?” Drift was pretty sure the answer was no, but he needed to make sure. He needed to be prepared if the answer was yes.

Fortunately, Mikaela shook her head no. “I didn’t think that the others would understand. Maybe Bumblebee...” her voice trailed off.

“Good,” Drift reassured her, confirming that her choice was the right one.

“What’s wrong?” Mikaela needed to know. She wanted to understand.

Drift hesitated, but only for a moment. “What you told me is heresy. Best case, you would be ignored. Worst case...” his voice trailed off.

“I don’t think they’d do that to me,” Mikaela said softly. She had lived with them. She was making up with them.

“I don’t want to risk it,” Drift pointed out.

With that grim pronouncement, both of them retreated into their own thoughts. Drift, to process what Mikaela had opened up to him about, and Mikaela to reevaluate her relationships.

***

Sitting in the other plane, Sideswipe was jittery.

It wasn’t the usual post-battle high, though. He was concerned.

Ever since the fight with Barricade, what the other mech had said during the fight had lodged in his mind like a small piece of sand wearing away at a joint.

Sideswipe couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Could Drift be Deadlock?

Drift didn’t look anything like Deadlock. Didn’t act anything like him either. Sideswipe had faced the dark-colored Decepticon a few times across the battlefield. He thought he’d be able to spot the notorious mech.

Instead of being a battle-crazed berserker like Deadlock, Drift was disciplined, if ruthless, in his tactics. That could be because he was a Wrecker, though. They were all a little crazy. If anything, Sideswipe thought, compared to most Wreckers Drift was on the sane side.

Also, Deadlock’s signature weapon had been his twin pistols. On the battlefield the mech wielded them with precision focus. Sideswipe didn’t think Drift had even picked up a rifle in his time on base. Instead, the mech fought with swords. Even when faced with ranged weapons!

The mech fought with the same focus as Deadlock, though.

Ultimately, Deadlock had disappeared millennia ago. Most of those who kept track of such things wrote him off as dead, most likely a victim of Decepticon infighting. It was well-known that Deadlock had earned Megatron’s disfavor before he’d disappeared.

Sideswipe reviewed Drift’s file that he had been given, and it was empty of any suggestion that the mech had gone by any other name other than ‘Drift.’ He was just listed as a Decepticon deserter.

Sideswipe noticed that Drift joined the Autobots a few thousand years after Deadlock disappeared from the Decepticons.

It was all inconclusive, but Barricade had been so sure. And Barricade would have known Deadlock better than any Autobot analyst would.

He needed to report this.

Sideswipe’s ping roused Ironhide from a light recharge. The older mech was a strong believer of the old soldier’s wisdom that said that you recharged when you had a moment of downtime, because you never knew when the enemy would let you sleep. Immediately alert, Ironhide opened up a comm line. “What’s up?” he asked, gruffly.

“Got something I need to talk about,” Sideswipe said. “It’s about our resident Decepticon defector.”

Ironhide could tell that the younger mech was wired so high he was practically bouncing off the walls. He grunted. “What about Drift?” he asked patiently.

“Is Drift Deadlock?” Sideswipe asked quickly.

Yep, Ironhide was wide awake now. He’d talked about the possibility with Ratchet and Optimus after the warehouse attack, but Optimus hadn’t been inclined to follow up on it afterwards. “What gives you that idea?”

“During the fight Barricade wouldn’t stop calling Drift ‘Deadlock,’ and Drift got really defensive about it,” Sideswipe reported. “He said he didn’t go by that name anymore.”

Shit, Ironhide thought. “That’s not a light accusation. Are you willing to swear to the Prime?” Ironhide asked gravely.

Sideswipe confirmed he would.

Ironhide started laying plans for what he needed to do once they got back to base. First, he’d need to convince Prime, without alerting Drift. Then, he’d need to get Drift away from Mikaela.

“We’ll talk to Prime then, as soon as I can get us a meeting with him. Don’t do anything before then.” Ironhide stared down the reckless mech as much as he could in alt mode.

Sideswipe agreed.

***

Mikaela dreamed.

Fresh energon stained formerly pristine white plating.

Drift, splayed on his back, limbs in disarray where he had been flung, eyes flickering as his body fell into stasis.

Former friends, standing by.

Mikaela knew it wasn’t a memory.

She woke screaming.

Chapter Text

February 2010

Drift wasn’t able to talk Mikaela out of her sudden hysteria. If he hadn’t been stuck on the plane, he could have transformed and comforted her. This time he was stuck in his alt mode and his voice was not getting through to her.

Mikaela kept screaming.

Drift alerted Ratchet and Bumblebee for help.

The NEST soldiers looked over, alerted to Mikaela’s screaming as soon as Drift opened his door. A couple of them even stood up and started to head over before they were waved off by Ratchet’s holoform.

Bumblebee’s holoform extracted Mikaela from Drift’s front seat and held her, crooning wordlessly, while Ratchet collected the large, fluffy blanket that Drift kept in his subspace from Drift’s trunk. It took careful coordination between the two holoforms to cocoon a limp Mikaela in it.

Once done, Bumblebee’s holoform sat on the floor of the aircraft, Mikaela draped across his lap and leaning back against his chest.

Ratchet’s holoform knelt close to them, his alt form’s powerful scanners keeping track of Mikaela’s vitals as Bumblebee and Drift talked her down in low voices.

Being surrounded by the familiar scent of Drift that had soaked into the blanket was like a warm hug. Mikaela gradually came back to herself. Her gulping breaths slowly evened out, and eventually she felt like she could think again.

Ratchet kept track of her vitals as she calmed down. “Mikaela,” Ratchet said gently, trying to get her attention.

Mikaela looked up at his holoform.

“Can you tell us what’s wrong?” he asked.

Mikaela went still. She considered telling them, but then shook her head instead. She trusted Bumblebee and Ratchet, but she didn’t know if she could trust them with this. Getting it wrong would cost her, and Drift, too much.

Ratchet decided to push. “It was the Allspark, wasn’t it?”

Ratchet’s guess landed too close to the truth. The look of sheer terror on Mikaela’s face stopped whatever else Ratchet was going to say.

“Don’t say that,” Mikaela hissed, glancing towards the other end of the plane. The NEST soldiers weren’t that far away — the plane wasn’t that large, and the knot of holoforms and human was the most interesting thing going on at the moment. There were too many people staring at her for her comfort.

“It was just a nightmare,” Mikaela claimed shakily. “Just a bad dream. It was nothing.”

“Mikaela...” Ratchet started to say, but was quickly cut off.

“Just. A. Dream.” Mikaela repeated as she struggled out of the blanket and stood. “Nothing but a dream.”

To Ratchet, it sounded like she was trying to convince herself.

Mikaela leaned down to gather up the blanket and just about tripped face forward onto the floor.

Bumblebee leapt up in time to catch her.

“Just a dream,” Mikaela mumbled as she shoved the blanket into Drift’s front seat. She sat on the blanket-covered seat, pulling the end of the blanket in behind her and pointedly closing Drift’s door in the face of the other mech’s holoforms, instead of letting Drift do it himself.

Bumblebee and Ratchet shared a concerned look.

Inside Drift, Mikaela curled herself back in the blanket, bumping her knees against the steering wheel.

“It wasn’t a dream, was it?” Drift said, careful to keep his voice low and inside his cabin, considering how close the other mech’s holoforms still were.

Mikaela buried her face in the thick comforter of a blanket. “No,” she admitted, shakily. She felt weird, off-balance.

“What did you see?” Drift asked.

Mikaela let out a long breath. “I saw you, lying on the ground. Your legs were covered with fresh energon and you were falling into stasis.”

Drift thought about it for a moment. “It wasn’t a memory?” he asked delicately. It was a valid question, given the fact that it had happened before. He didn’t want to upset her — Mikaela was clearly not over the trauma yet — but he had to consider the possibility.

Drift was starting to realize that her trauma had been compounded by him not being there when she woke up.

Mikaela shook her head negatively.

“Did you notice any weapons?” Drift asked, trying to get more context around the when, where and how of the dream. If it was a warning, it would be a bad idea to ignore it again.

Mikaela’s voice shook as she remembered the scene, but she was obedient to Drift’s request. “If there was any weapon, I couldn’t see it,” she reported. “It looked like one of the hangars back at base, but I can’t be sure. I could tell it was a large, open area, but indoors. Human made. There can’t be too many places like that.” Mikaela opened her eyes. She didn’t recall closing them.

Drift was unsettled, but there wasn’t much he could do about it. “Do you have any idea when?” he asked.

Mikaela shook her head. “Nothing more than a feeling of ‘soon,’” she said.

“Could you ask...” Drift’s voice trailed away as he started to voice the idea. Before, it would have been blasphemous. Now, though...

Mikaela came to the correct conclusion, despite Drift not saying the name. “I don’t know if I can contact him myself,” she said. “Before it was him reaching out to me. I’ve never reached out to him.”

Drift wanted to reach out and console her, but he didn’t have hands in alt mode. “We can practice later,” he said instead. “For now, rest.”

A blanket-wrapped Mikaela dozed fitfully on Drift’s front seat.

***

It was late in the evening by the time they arrived. After the planes taxied to a stop, the NEST soldiers deplaned, followed by the Autobots.

Once he was clear of the plane, Drift slowly transformed into mech form around the still-sleeping Mikaela, cradling her blanket-wrapped body in one arm as he stood. He carefully stretched some lingering kinks from having been in his alt mode for weeks.

Sideswipe zoomed past and started whipping donuts in the middle of the runway. He was quickly joined by Skids and Mudflap in a three-way game of tag.

As Ratchet cleared the plane he transformed to stand alongside Drift. Catching the other mech’s gaze, Ratchet jerked his head toward the hangar that was being used as the medbay.

Drift followed obediently behind Ratchet while Bumblebee tagged along.

Drift walked through the open door of the medical bay with Ratchet. Bumblebee slipped in after them, closing the large hangar door behind him.

Mikaela’s vital signs were acceptable, but Ratchet wanted to give her an examination and rewrap her wounds. Overall, he thought that she looked tired, but happier than she had before she had left the base to hunt down Drift. Even after her unexplained breakdown on the plane.

Drift, on the other hand, was showing signs of energon deprivation, microscarring along his structure from stress that wasn’t being handled by his starved autorepair, and overall his healing was behind where it should be. The energon that Ratchet had transfused into him had helped kick start his healing again, but Ratchet would still be putting Drift on medical leave so that he could monitor Drift’s progress.

Even if Drift had been in good shape, the last thing he wanted was for Mikaela and Drift to be split up given what he strongly suspected Mikaela was going through.

“Set Mikaela on the berth,” Ratchet waved Drift to the side of the room, careful to speak softly, “and get up there with her. I’ll be looking at you both.”

“As for you,” Ratchet said sternly, turning towards Bumblebee. “What the hell are you doing here? You’re fine to leavet.”

Bumblebee stubbornly resisted Ratchet’s attempts to shoo him out the door.

Ratchet gave up and glared at the smaller bot, his hands on his hips. “You can stay, if Drift and Mikaela say you can.”

“He can,” Mikaela said sleepily, having been woken up by the change in sound and movement with landing. Then, having three cars competing to see who could squeal their tires the loudest, hadn’t let her go back to sleep.

Drift didn’t answer right away.

Mikaela rolled over so she could look up at Drift’s face. “You can or not. It’s up to you.”

Drift knew she meant it. He also knew that Ratchet would back it up. After a moment, Drift shrugged. He’d give the scout a chance. Maybe the two of them were starting to bond over their protection of Mikaela. Besides, it wasn’t like the Autobot gossip network wouldn’t pick up on whatever happened here. “Sure,” he said.

Ratchet turned around and sorted through the equipment sitting on the table next to the medbay berth. To Drift it looked like Ratchet already had everything ready, he was just giving them time to get situated.

The medbay berth itself was huge, large enough for Optimus Prime to lay down and still have room left over. There was more than enough room for both Drift and Mikaela.

Bumblebee sat down on the floor in a corner of the medbay, out of Ratchet’s way, but within sight of the two of them.

Mikaela was quiet as Drift lowered her down to the berth, helping her untangle herself from the blanket and step down onto the table. Ratchet must have prepared for Mikaela before he left, Drift thought, seeing the human-sized mattress at the head of the berth.

Not seeing any other place for them, Drift removed his swords and leaned them carefully against the far side of the berth and sat down on the edge.

Ratchet turned around and got started. “First, do either of you want the other to leave before I examine them?” Ratchet asked Drift and Mikaela.

Both Drift and Mikaela indicated that they were all right with the other being there.

Ratchet turned towards Mikaela with a frown on his face, and focused on her first.

Not intimidated, Mikaela smiled up at Ratchet. “How’s it going?”

“How’s it going?” Ratchet repeated, “How do you think it’s going? You ran off and now... damnit Mikaela,” he gripped the edge of the berth.

Mikaela could tell that Ratchet seemed overwhelmed. He usually wasn’t the best at communicating, however. Not unlike Drift, but with different hang-ups. She scooted to the edge of the mattress and patted Ratchet’s hand.

Ratchet shook his head, shaking off his mood and picked up a hand-held scanner.

“I’m okay, Ratchet,” Mikaela tried reassuring her mentor as he passed the scanner over her and frowned at the readout. From this angle she couldn’t see anything, but whatever Ratchet saw made him connect the scanner to his hardline cable for a long minute, probably transferring data between the handheld scanner and the suite of medical sensors he had installed in his own frame.

“No, you’re not,” Ratchet said, maybe too strongly, he realized as Mikaela flinched away slightly. “But you’re not in bad shape,” he admitted. “Just pushed yourself a little too far. The nanites are already taking care of it, but I’d still like to clean your wounds,” Ratchet said as he put the scanner away.

“Nanites?” Mikaela asked as Ratchet pulled out supplies. “You mean like that project that we were working on before you left for Diego Garcia?”

“Exactly—” Ratchet started to say when they were interrupted.

“Mikaela!” Roman’s voice came from the end of the building where the human-sized side door was.

“Here!” Mikaela called back loudly.

Dropping her voice Mikaela spoke to Ratchet. “That’s something we need to talk about,” she said. “What you’ve done to me and what it means.”

“When it comes to the nanites, you already know their basic function. I’ll tell you the rest, but I can’t while your father is here. I’m sorry, but he doesn’t have clearance for this.”

Mikaela nodded. She may have clearance to work with Autobot technology, but the Autobots didn’t let just anybody know about what they could do.

Roman Banes rounded the end of the berth, and Ratchet switched the topic slightly, away from classified matters.

“Will you be able to pay attention this time?” Ratchet asked wryly.

“Somehow my crushing depression feels much better,” Mikaela said back dryly.

Her attempt at a dark joke fell flat. Mikaela caught Drift looking at her, worried. She scooted over to lay a hand on his thigh. “I’m fine now, really,” she tried to reassure him.

Drift gave her a knowing look.

Mikaela sighed. “I’m doing better. I promise,” she said, holding eye contact with Drift.

Ratchet watched the byplay between Drift and Mikaela. Now that he had the chance to observe them together, he could tell that they were very close. Making Drift Mikaela’s guardian had clearly been a good decision on Optimus’ part. He turned around to collect a few more things that he’d need.

While Mikaela was chatting with Drift and Ratchet, Roman had climbed up the makeshift staircase to the top of the berth. In order to reach Mikaela he had to gingerly make his way around the white mech that his daughter was so fond of.

With one hand Drift helped Mikaela stand so that she could hug her father.

Roman clung to Mikaela, heedless of everybody watching. He was just so happy to see her. Even though it had only been two days, it had still been two days of stress. He had worried about Mikaela. Now, she was back.

Ratchet placed a large cube of energon down on the berth on the other side of Drift and pinned the smaller mech with a hard look. “Drink this, slowly, over the next hour.” It was medical grade, which meant that it was fortified with minerals and metals that Drift’s autorepair would need. However, it tasted like slag. Drift wouldn’t be the first mech who had tried to get out of drinking it.

However, Drift just nodded his understanding.

Ratchet planned on keeping an eye on him to make sure, but first he needed to take care of Mikaela so he could let her go back to sleep.

Ratchet turned his attention to Mikaela. “Excuse me,” Ratchet said pointedly. It was good that Mikaela was reconnecting with her father, but she was still his patient. He had healing he needed to do. “Is it alright if your father is here for this, or do you want him to leave?” he asked Mikaela.

Roman opened his mouth as if he was going to object, but Ratchet pinned the man down with a venomous glare.

“It’s fine, Ratchet. He can stay,” Mikaela was touched by Ratchet’s protectiveness, but thought that the mech could stand to relax occasionally.

“Very well,” Ratchet conceded to Mikaela’s wishes. “Remove your pants, then, so I can see the worst of it.”

Mikaela unselfconsciously stripped under the gaze of the three mechs and her worried father, revealing the white bandages wrapped around her knees. They were probably overkill, but it had kept her pants from rubbing up against the scratches.

“What happened?” Roman asked as he noticed the fresh bandages on Mikaela’s palms as well.

“Nothing much,” Mikaela tried to reassure her father. “Just a bit of road rash.”

Drift’s reply shot down her attempt to downplay events, though. “Mikaela and Bumblebee ended up in a confrontation with Barricade. Fortunately, Sideswipe and myself were already tracking him and were able to provide backup,” he said in a matter of fact tone.

Mikaela stuck her tongue out at Drift, who just rolled his eyes back at her.

“I fell down while running away,” Mikaela explained quickly, before her father started getting too worried. “Barricade didn’t even touch me. Bumblebee kept him away, and Drift and Sideswipe had him on the run.”

“If you could sit down, Mikaela,” Ratchet said, ignoring the byplay going on around him and trying to keep things moving. Normally he’d throw Roman out for getting in the way, but he’d let the man get away with it... for now. “My scans show no signs of infection at this time, however I’d still like to get a look at the wounds and make sure they are clean.”

Roman wasn’t easily side-tracked however. “Barricade? Wasn’t he the one that put you in the hospital in the first place?” he asked, outraged.

Mikaela sat down gingerly and with Drift’s help while she replied. “Yep. And Drift sent him fleeing without an arm.”

That fact even caught Ratchets attention. “Really?”

Bumblebee beeped cheerfully from where he was sitting on the floor watching. As the others in the room looked over at him they noticed that he was using Barricade’s severed arm to wave at them.

“Put that away!” Ratchet yelled, checking an aborted lunge at Bumblebee. Instead he turned back to pulling out what he’d need to clean Mikaela’s wounds. “No waving around disembodied body parts in the medbay!” he thundered.

“That’s not a phrase you hear every day,” Mikaela commented under her breath.

Bumblebee chuckled and put the arm back away in his subspace. It would probably be good for a few more pranks before he was forced to turn it in.

“Barricade is gone,” Drift said solemnly, watching Ratchet as the medic delicately cleaned Mikaela’s abraded flesh and redressed the wounds. Drift carefully left unsaid where Barricade had gone, because Roman most likely wasn’t cleared to know that information.

“You sure?” Roman asked skeptically, looking up at the mech that his daughter had risked her life over.

Drift glanced briefly over at Roman. “Yes,” Drift’s serious reply left no room for doubt.

Both mech and man watched as Ratchet finished up with Mikaela.

“I’d like you to stay in the medbay tonight,” Ratchet said to Mikaela.

“What about...” Mikaela started to say, then trailed off. But the way that her gaze jumped to Drift didn’t leave Ratchet much room for misunderstanding what she was probably worried about.

“Drift can stay,” Ratchet said. “In fact, I’d prefer it if he stayed. I need to talk to him as well.”

Ratchet sent a stern glance to Drift. “And drink your energon.”

Drift raised the cube he was holding to show that it was already half gone.

Next, Ratchet turned towards Roman. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave now so Mikaela can go to sleep. You can see her tomorrow,” Ratchet said quickly, to head off any protest from Roman.

Mikaela stood up gingerly and limped over to her father. “I’ll be fine. Drift will be here and I’d be surprised if Ratchet was more than a raised voice away.”

Roman was reluctant, but he didn't want to smother Mikaela. She was starting to show more signs of life now than she had in the past few weeks. “Okay. But I’ll come to see you tomorrow before work.” he leaned down to kiss her forehead. “I’ll also bring you more clothes and toiletries,” he said, wrinkling his nose exaggeratedly.

“Daaaaad!” Mikaela exclaimed, in the tradition of offended children everywhere.

Roman turned to Drift. “Take care of her,” he said threateningly.

Drift nodded. “I will,” he said solemnly.

With a quick glance around Roman made his way off the berth, then out of the medbay.

The four left behind stayed silent, Drift sipping at his energon, until the echo of the door closing behind Roman died away.

Once the coast was clear, Mikaela turned to Ratchet. “So... nanites.”

Ratchet rolled his eyes. He wasn’t going to get into that discussion now, not when Mikaela was barely able to stand. “We’ll talk tomorrow. You should go to bed now.” He gave her a slight nudge towards the mattress he’d set up for her.

“I’ll go to bed,” Mikaela negotiated. “But I’m not going to sleep. Not until you tell me what’s going on.”

Ratchet stared at Mikaela, and she stared back.

Ratchet relented.

“Lay down first,” he said gruffly. Hopefully then her exhaustion would kick in and Mikaela would be out like a light before too long.

Having gotten her way, Mikaela obediently hobbled over to the mattress, then paused as she considered how she was going to lay down on it without dropping to her sore, newly bandaged knees. Seeing her hesitation, and correctly figuring out why, Drift leaned over and scooped Mikaela up. He then laid her gently on the mattress. Mikaela patted Drift’s hand as he pulled it away. “Thanks,” she said.

Drift nodded and sat back upright, catching Ratchet’s knowing grin out of the corner of his eyes.

Mikaela looked at Ratchet from where she was sprawled on top of the blankets. “I’m laying down now. So spill,” she demanded.

There was a wry twist to Ratchet’s lips that Mikaela didn’t think she’d ever seen before on his face. He got down to business quickly, though.

“As you would remember, we were working on the nanites a couple of years ago.”

Mikaela nodded. “Before Diego Garcia.” She mused that it seemed strange that those words didn’t hurt nearly as much any more. Worse things had happened to her since then. Compared to being tortured by Barricade and believing that she had watched Drift being tortured to death... it put being abandoned in perspective. It still hurt, just... not as much.

Ratchet frowned at the interruption. “Yes, before then.” His demeanor was serious. “When you were brought in after Barricade’s attack, the doctors were able to stabilize you, but the damage was severe. The question, as far as the human doctors were concerned, was not if you would be crippled, but how severely you would be crippled.” Ratchet paused. “I had a limited amount of time to make a decision. The sooner I administered the nanites, the better your outcome would be. And it has been. You’re walking now, when by all expectations you should still be stuck in a wheelchair.” Mikaela had made Ratchet her health care proxy. He wasn’t sure it would hold up in court or not, but she had made that decision with a clear mind, and he honored it when he made the decision. That didn’t mean that it had been easy.

“I remember hearing the doctors talking. They called me a miracle case.” Their attention had made Mikaela uncomfortable. She grabbed the corner of one of the blankets and pulled it over herself.

Ratchet snorted and opted for the blunt truth. This had changed Mikaela’s life, and he couldn’t sugar coat it for her. “They also didn’t like the fact that I kicked them out of the operating room. What happened in there, only I know, so they’ve been trying to get ahold of you in order to study whatever I did to you.” Ratchet gave the white mech a significant look, and Drift nodded back to show that he had understood the warning. That was good. Drift needed to know since he was Mikaela’s guardian.

“I noticed Bumblebee escorting out at least one nurse who tried to take blood.”

Bumblebee rose to his feet. “That was the one you were conscious for,” Bumblebee pointed out. “I was there both to watch you, and to bounce anybody that Ratchet hadn’t already cleared.” More than one doctor had attempted to bluster their way past Bumblebee several times, attempting to use their profession to browbeat Bumblebee, or to threaten retaliation. Optimus eventually pulled strings to get the most persistent doctors reassigned elsewhere. That had quieted most of the remaining idiots.

“That’s also why we moved you into an apartment so quickly,” Ratchet said. “We needed to get you out of there and into an environment that we could control better.”

Mikaela burrowed deeper into the blankets, fighting off the nearly overwhelming lassitude creeping through her bones. “Well, you’re going to need to find somewhere else, because I’m not going back there,” Mikaela announced.

“Oh?” Ratchet said, questioningly. “Why is that?”

“Drift won’t fit, and I won’t leave him outside,” she said firmly. Mikaela wasn’t going to let them bully Drift more than they already had. She also wanted to sleep with him again, and since he didn’t have a holoform, her only option was with his mech form.

Bumblebee made a sad sound.

Mikaela pulled an arm out of the cocoon and raised it towards Bumblebee, making beckoning gestures to the yellow mech. Instead of walking over, Bumblebee projected his holoform next to Mikaela. His holoform knelt down next to the mattress. Mikaela heaved herself up far enough so that she could drape her arm over his shoulders in a half hug.

“I love you too, Bumblebee,” she said lightly. “If you want to join us, talk it though with Drift.”

That... was not what Bumblebee had meant. His mech form looked wide-eyed at Drift.

The other mech gave him a non-commital shrug. Drift hadn’t expected that either. Drift knew that Mikaela had known Bumblebee for several years, which was a significant portion of her life thus far. He hadn’t known she was that close to the yellow mech, though. Not that Drift was against the idea... but he’d see what talking to Bumblebee brought up.

Ratchet, noticing the silent exchange between the stoic Drift and the gobsmacked Bumblebee, was hard-pressed not to break up laughing at both of the mechs.

Despite his good humor, Ratchet still noticed that Mikaela was flagging. She wasn’t hugging Bumblebee as much as she was draped across Bumblebee with the scout holding up the bulk of her weight. “We can talk about that in the morning,” Ratchet said, putting a stop to the conversation.

“No, I—,” Mikaela’s objection was interrupted by a jaw-cracking yawn, as if Ratchet’s comment had alerted her body that it should sleep now.

Ratchet gave her a knowing look.

Bumblebee carefully pulled her arm from around his shoulder and laid her back down on the mattress.

Mikaela glared, then gave up with a huff. “Fine,” she said, rolling to the side and curling up, facing away from Ratchet.

That just meant that Drift could see her face clearly.

“What’s wrong?” Drift said in his smooth voice, drawing Ratchet and Bumblebee’s attention.

Mikaela was silent for a long minute.

Drift just sipped on his cube of energon, waiting. The other two mechs took their cue from him.

“I’m just fucking sick of it,” Mikaela finally said, her breath hitching, betraying her emotional turmoil. “I’m sick of being sick. I’m sick of feeling like crap. I don’t want to be in pain anymore. I don’t want to—” Mikaela cut herself off. She couldn’t talk about that. Not with the others around. Only with Drift.

Mikaela was ashamed to realize that she was starting to cry. “I want to stop crying!” she wailed.

Drift sat there, helpless as Mikaela broke down. He modulated his field in an attempt to give her support, a fact that was not lost on the other two mechs.

Bumblebee’s holoform crawled across the mattress and carefully touched Mikaela on the back, while his mech form walked over to the edge of the berth between Ratchet and Drift. When Mikaela didn’t shrug him away, Bumblebee’s holoform gently pressed closer in a way that he knew that she appreciated. He let out a low croon.

Ratchet sighed and walked up next to Bumblebee. “Mikaela,” he said, repeating himself when she didn’t seem like she had heard. Once he knew he had her attention he continued. “I’d like to give you something to help your body relax and let you sleep. You don’t need to, if you don’t want to. However, this is putting your body through a lot of stress it doesn’t need to be in. Let me help you.”

Mikaela nodded.

“I need you to say the words, Mikaela,” Ratchet said. Or else, given the way Drift and Bumblebee were acting, he was sure he could look forward to an unpleasant time with both of them.

“Yes,” Mikaela said softly, but still audible to Cybertronian ears.

She didn’t look up as Ratchet administered the shot. He even gave her a little band-aid. She drifted to sleep with the low murmur of voices in the background and the warm glow of Drift still sitting next to her.

Chapter Text

February 2010

Ironhide snorted as he passed the younger mechs playing out on the tarmac. Let them stretch their wheels a bit, everybody was going crazy being confined to base. Ironhide had work to do, though. He transformed and stalked towards the administrative hangar, only to be intercepted by Optimus Prime halfway there.

Optimus nodded politely to Ironhide. “Welcome back. How did it go?” he asked his old friend in Cybertronian. It would be good to get the older mech’s feedback before calling Sideswipe and Drift in for a formal post-mission debrief.

“Well,” Ironhide grunted back brusquely in the same language, annoyance obvious in the harmonics of his voice.

Optimus didn’t take it personally, though. He had long ago gotten accustomed to Ironhide’s gruff nature.

“Babysitting duty.” The older mech’s dismissive tone left Optimus with no illusions about what Ironhide thought about the mission. “Need to talk to you ‘bout something.”

Before Optimus could ask Ironhide what he needed to talk about, received a comm transmission.

Ironhide noticed Optimus wince and raise a hand to the side of his head and waited patiently while Optimus dealt with whoever was at the other end. He could tell that, underneath Optimus Prime’s professionally blank expression, the other mech was not happy.

Once he was done, Optimus refocused on Ironhide. “Forgive me, apparently Mearing wants to talk to me now.”

That would explain Optimus’ attitude. Mearing spent a lot of time on political maneuvering that didn’t win her any points with Optimus. He’d have to take Optimus out on the practice field tomorrow to help him work it off. “Isn’t it the middle of the night where she is?”

“Politics never sleeps,” Optimus Prime said wryly.

Ironhide, having been Optimus Prime’s bodyguard since shortly after Optimus’ ascension to Prime, understood very well what the other mech meant. At least Ironhide had the luxury of being ignored and written off by most politicians as a mindless brute. Optimus, being Prime, had no way to avoid his duty, however.

“Walk with me,” Optimus invited Ironhide, still speaking Cybertronian. “What is the nature of your concern?”

“Sideswipe reports that, during the fight with Barricade, Barricade called Drift Deadlock,” Ironhide reported.

“This is not new information. We heard the same allegation from Barricade during his attack on Mikaela and Drift a month and a half ago,” Optimus pointed out. During the attack Wheelie had used Mikaela’s cell phone to contact the Autobots. They had all been able to listen to the confrontation, including the times Barricade called Drift Deadlock. “At that time you didn’t believe that that Drift was Deadlock.”

“Things change,” Ironide said grimly. He understood the implications just as well as Optimus. “Sideswipe reports that Drift’s replies to Barricade during the battle confirm that Barricade’s claim is correct. Drift is Deadlock.”

Optimus walked in quiet contemplation. If what Ironhide was saying was true. If Drift was Deadlock. Why would he hide it? Was it just because he was ashamed by his past, or was he a mole hiding in the Autobot ranks? Decepticon intelligence agents usually weren’t that obvious, though it wouldn’t be the first time that a deserter had tried to use their position in the Autobots to get information or material to trade to the Decepticons in order to be allowed back. But then, where did Mikaela fit in? According to all reports, and surveillance footage, he was as devoted to his charge as Bumblebee had been to Sam.

Optimus needed more information before he made a decision.

It was times like this that Optimus Prime missed Jazz.

Optimus consulted his schedule and moving a couple of meetings around. “I will talk with Sideswipe tomorrow.” Optimus turned to Ironhide. “Then I will call in Drift to explain himself before I make any decision.” Optimus could tell Ironhide wasn’t happy, but then, Ironhide was a mech of action. He was rarely happy with Optimus Prime’s more deliberative approach.

Optimus gave Ironhide a stern look “Don’t attempt to separate Mikaela and Drift. Her actions have shown that she is emotionally compromised by Drift. Also, doing so could alert him that we suspect him.”

Jolt sent a reminder to Optimus that Mearing was increasingly furious at Optimus Prime’s delay. Optimus acknowledged the reminder.

“I am needed. We will meet later tomorrow.” Optimus’ field indicated that they were done talking.

Ironhide stopped and bowed to his Prime, not completely happy with Optimus’ caution, but not surprised.

Optimus acknowledged Ironhide’s gesture and entered the administrative hangar, the door of which shut behind the large mech.

***

After four months of avoiding the medic, Megatron found himself on his back in Knock Out’s medbay.

Again.

But this time wasn’t for fun.

Unlike during their previous tryst, the medbay lights were all on, and the toys had all been stored away in whatever secret hiding places Knock Out used when he wasn’t busy playing with his own ‘toy.’

“What are your findings, Knock Out?” Megatron asked, his dark voice rumbling menacingly. The medic had run a series of scans and was now examining the results.

Megatron was annoyed by the delay. He should be running his army. Despite the downtime, his crew was still able to generate unbelievable amounts of paperwork and disciplinary meetings.

At least it kept Starscream entertained.

Knock Out yelped and looked up, seeming surprised to see his supreme commander still lying on the berth. He collected himself quickly, though.

“Lord Megatron,” the red mech said smoothly. “As I said earlier, I called you here because I noticed something... off in your electromagnetic field previously. Out of concern for your well-being I wanted to run some scans.”

Megatron was increasingly frustrated. Knock Out was stalling. It was never good when the medic avoided just saying what was wrong. “And what have your scans told you, Knock Out?” Megatron demanded.

Knock Out shuffled hesitantly. “My lord, you are suffering from spark stress,” Knock Out broke the news.

Megatron blinked, nonplussed. “That is hardly news, Knock Out. I have suffered spark stress this entire war.” Since the rift between him and Optimus. Since Sentinel...

Megatron smoothly got to his feet and stood over the shorter mech. “You waste my time,” he said ominously.

Knock Out waved his hands placatingly at the growling warlord and spoke quickly. “There has been a change, Lord Megatron. In your readings. A deterioration.”

“A deterioration...” Megatron said contemplatively. It wasn’t like his relationship with Optimus could get any worse than it already had. The other possibility was that the spark bonded to his — Optimus’ spark — was fading. “Is it Optimus Prime?” Megatron covered his concern through long habit. The last thing he needed was his Decepticons thinking that he still had feelings for the leader of the Autobots.

“No... rather, not exactly.” Knock Out stumbled over his words. Spark bonds were a delicate matter for any mech. Even more so when it involved the spark bond between the Lord Protector and his very estranged Prime.

“Well...” Megatron prodded.

“I’m not aware of another case where one half of a spark bond has died, only to be brought back to life.” Knock Out tried not to cringe as Megatron’s upset field rolled over him. His death was a very sore subject.

“Then to have the same thing happen, only to the other half...” Knock Out left unsaid the fact that it was Megatron himself who had killed Optimus Prime.

Megatron’s incandescent field gave Knock Out a bare moment of warning so he could dive out of the way as Megatron blew up the berth using his cannon.

Knock Out pretended that he couldn’t hear the keen buried under the warlord’s angry bellow.

Megatron stood there for several tense moments, wrestling his battle systems, which had been triggered by his anger, into submission. It was only after he had relaxed and powered down his legendary cannon that Knock Out carefully emerged from his hiding place.

“Is there a cure?” Megatron asked menacingly. He was not hopeful. There had never been a cure found for the stress of strained spark bonds. Not even Shockwave’s research had found a way to mitigate the damage.

Knock Out shook his head. “Generally death would dissolve a spark bond. That you are still bound, even after everything that has happened, is completely unprecedented.” Knock Out carefully didn’t mention Primus. While Decepticons could be as religious as Autobots, he was a mech of science, not a priest. “The only thing I can recommend is the same thing you have been doing; spark merging with willing mechs you trust. Maintaining healthy bonds can help outweigh the strained bond.”

So, nothing that Megatron didn’t already know. He reminded himself that it was not Knock Out’s fault that the mech didn’t understand the full scope of Megatron’s situation. Megatron was dealing with more than one strained bond, and there were few mechs who he could trust to help balance the damage. The longer the war dragged on, the more that number was slowly whittled down.

Megatron collected himself, drawing his authority around him like a cloak. Cool professionalism replaced battle-ready heat.

“Keep researching,” Megatron ordered Knock Out. He didn’t hold out much hope that the medic could make a difference. In four million years Shockwave and Soundwave had been unable to find a solution. But, perhaps a fresh mind might find new solutions to explore.

Knock Out bowed as Megatron turned and strode out of the medbay, headed towards the bridge and his duty.

After Megatron had gone, Knock Out straightened up and considered his half-destroyed medbay, already mentally compiling the requisition forms he’d have to fill out in order to get it fixed.

***

Megatron sat in his command chair — it was not a throne — on the bridge of the Nemesis. Due to Soundwave’s efficiency, his paperwork was done, and he could finally escape his office. Spending time in the common area with the crew kept the worst of the crew’s restlessness to a minimum. Mechs were less inclined to start something when faced with the disgruntled warlord, and his cannon, in their face.

Megatron was not a fool, though. He knew most of his crew wondered why they were still parked in orbit on the outskirts of this system. They wondered why Megatron hadn’t descended to the planet to face Optimus Prime and his pitifully outnumbered Autobots, or left the system entirely and joined up with the rest of the army elsewhere so they could ravage the Autobot lines without having to worry about Prime rallying his troops.

Megatron just wanted to go home.

What he got was 70 years of backlogged paperwork.

So, he sat in his favorite brooding spot. The bridge crew worked around him, voices subdued so as not to disturb him.

Then the bridge door opened.

Megatron hoped it wasn’t for him, but his hope was in vain as Barricade rounded the outer edge of the bridge, making his way to the central walkway that led to Megatron’s command chair.

Megatron pulled himself up from his slouch so that he could loom over his overdue scout.

Barricade looked much worse for wear. Besides the normal post-battle damage to his armor, the mech was missing an arm. He clearly had not been to the medics yet; the shoulder was only crudely capped off to prevent energon loss.

Megatron was interested to find out who had left Barricade in such a state. If nothing else, the tale would be more entertaining than breaking up the underground fighting ring on deck E... again.

Barricade came to a stop five paces in front of Megatron and dropped clumsily to his knee, his missing arm throwing off his balance.

“Lord Megatron, I have returned,” Barricade announced redundantly. After all, the entire bridge could see that, and knowing how quickly gossip flowed, the rest of the crew would know soon.

Megatron leaned back casually, as if uninterested. “What news do you bring?” he asked.

Barricade looked up, though he did not rise. “The Autobots have a new warrior. A Decepticon deserter.”

Okay, Megatron was curious. Barricade was a formidable opponent. There was a reason that the scout was also considered a shock trooper. He raised a heavy eyebrow. “The same warrior tore off your arm?”

Barricade snarled at the implication in Megatron’s voice. “Deadlock is no match for me.”

Megatron stilled, suddenly laser-focused on Barricade. He leaned forward slowly.

Barricade, who no fool, froze under the Decepticon warlord’s suddenly intense scrutiny.

“What. Did. You. Say.” Megatron bit out the words harshly.

Barricade straightened his back and faced Megatron directly. “Deadlock has joined the Autobots,” he reported. “Calls himself Drift now.”

Drift. Megatron remembered that name. A low growl rumbled through Megatron’s chest as he settled back against his seat. “So he was the one to take your arm,” Megatron observed. “You never were a match for him.”

Barricade bristled, offended, but did not dare to contradict Megatron to his face. “Deadlock has been reduced to playing babysitter for one of Prime’s pet humans.” It was quite a decline for Megatron’s former favorite, from his high position in the Decepticons to being Prime’s bitch.

“The male?” Megatron asked darkly. He thought Prime had assigned the irritating yellow scout to watch his precious chosen one. If Bumblebee had been reassigned, his troops should be warned. The little yellow scout had a habit of tripping over Decepticons at the most inconvenient moments.

Barricade shook his head. “The female,” he corrected.

It took a moment for Megatron to even remember that there had been a female that had followed on the heels of the male during Megatron’s escape from the fleshlings. Megatron waved his hand dismissively. “She is of no interest. Tell me more about your confrontation with Deadlock.” Megatron settled back against his command chair, hiding his eagerness.

“I encountered Deadlock in an Autobot safe house, away from the protection of the main group,” Barricade reported.

“And he took your arm off...” Megatron probed.

“I left him on the ground, impaled through by his own sword. Him, and his little pet,” Barricade snarled.

“Deadlock was never partial to swords while he was with us,” commented Megatron. Deadlock had always preferred his paired pistols, and was an expert shot.

Barricade interpreted Megatron’s comment as an insult to Deadlock. “He’s also had a full-frame rebuild,” Barricade explained derisively. “He’s white now, of all things.”

Barricade snorted at the idea, and Megatron had to agree. White was the most difficult color to maintain. In the lower levels of Cybertron, white quickly turned into a dirty grey. Those who had not been born into citizenship could barely scrape together enough to live. Usually only citizens, particularly medics, had the time and resources needed to maintain a white finish.

“Interesting...” Megatron rumbled. Full-frame rebuilds were rare these days. The war had made even basic medical supplies hard to come by. The resources, not to mention the trained medics, required for a full-frame rebuild did not come cheap. “How did you lose your arm to him, then?” Megatron pried.

Barricade’s field squirmed, even though the mech himself had training enough not to. “The Autobots had him hunt me down. Along with Bumblebee and Sideswipe.” Barricade was quick to justify. “I had the scout on the run, along with Prime’s pet human, but I felt that bringing back intelligence was more valuable than finishing Deadlock.”

Barricade paused, waiting for Megatron to indicate his approval or displeasure.

“You are unable to defeat Deadlock alone, much less with Sideswipe and Bumblebee’s help. You did well to run.”

Barricade opened his mouth like he was going to deliver an angry retort, but quickly thought better.

Barricade did not dare to even twitch a plate as Megatron sat, deep in thought. He did not notice that Megatron’s hands were gripping the reinforced arms of his command chair tightly.

“...leave me,” Megatron growled in a low voice.

Barricade jumped at the sudden command. Hastily, he stood, and with a bow withdrew from Megatron’s presence.

Megatron watched Barricade balefully as the other mech left. It was at times like this that he missed Deadlock’s quick wit and vibrant presence at his side. Barricade was loyal enough, when allowances were made for his bloodlust. Deadlock... Deadlock had been like Soundwave, a mech that made Megatron’s life easier just by existing.

So, that was where his little warrior had ended up. Megatron stirred on his command chair, making the bridge crew closest to him throw him quick glances. It was yet another reason why Megatron was unable to leave this wretched system.

In order to break the current stalemate, Sentinel needed to die.

Chapter Text

February 2010

Ratchet watched Mikaela sleep.

He was deeply disturbed. First, there had been the strange fits she’d had after Barricade’s attack. Fits that had only stopped after she’d started sleeping next to Drift’s sword. Then Mikaela had thought that Drift was dead, and she’d run away with Bumblebee after she found out he was alive...

Ratchet shot the scout a dark look.

Bumblebee, confused, gave Ratchet a tentatively innocent look back.

Ratchet snorted and picked up his pad so he could finish making his treatment notes in Mikaela’s file.

...then, during the flight, there had been Mikaela’s unexplained breakdown followed by her defensive reaction to Ratchet’s questions. And just now there had been her emotional outburst. Mikaela obviously had a lot of things that had been building up, and it was just starting to all come out.

Ratchet wished he could get Rung on planet. The psychologist would be much better at figuring out what was wrong.

Ratchet was good at piecing mech’s bodies back together.

Rung specialized in piecing their minds back together.

...maybe Ratchet could convince Optimus Prime to have Rung reassigned. He filed that idea away for later.

Ratchet checked Bumblebee to see what the mech was doing now. From his unfocused eyes and the way his head jerked randomly Ratchet knew that Bumblebee had probably started watching something entertaining on his HUD. At least it would keep him occupied and out of Ratchet’s way.

Ratchet turned towards his other problem patient, Drift. :I’ll do your exam now,: Ratchet said, switching to comms so that they wouldn’t wake Mikaela up.

Drift was still sitting stoically on the medbay berth. Ratchet liked that. Drift would hardly be the first mech to attempt to sneak off while Ratchet’s back was turned. Not that it always worked. (Ironhide always complained too loudly as he tried to sneak away.)

:Anything you want to confess before we get started? Any sticky gears, embarrassing leaks, or sensory ghosts?: It made Ratchet’s job easier when patients just told him what was bothering them when he asked, instead of making him guess. He’d worked too long with stubborn warriors, though. Some warriors, like Ironhide, valued toughness more than they valued being pain free and well maintained. Others, like Optimus, were prone to self-sacrificial stubbornness.

So Ratchet wasn’t surprised when Drift just shook his head.

Making sure to telegraph his movements so that he didn’t startle Drift, Ratchet attached a specialized sensor to his chest armor so it could take readings. Ratchet knew something was wrong with Drift besides the physical, but the signals fluctuated so much, they could just be sensor ghosts. Despite that, Ratchet had a hunch what was wrong, and the sensor would collect the data he needed.

While the sensor did it’s work, Ratchet started with a physical exam. He already had Drift’s self-diagnostic readings from a few hours ago. The medical grade energon Drift had just ingested would have just started working its way through his digestive system, so Ratchet didn’t expect any large changes to Drift’s status, besides his fuel levels. Regardless, he pinged Drift’s systems for an update, which the other mech sent without hesitation.

As Ratchet ran his sensitive hands across the transformation seams in Drift’s shoulders and arms, Drift’s field brushed against him. The mech was clearly curious, so Ratchet filled him in on the highlights. :The energon deprivation you suffered during the mission means that you are 56% behind in your healing from where you should be at this time, even accounting for normal mission stress.:

:I was cleared for the mission,: Drift commented, making sure his voice remained neutral. He wasn’t trying to point any fingers. After all, Ratchet had been the one to clear him.

:Had you received adequate energon, you would have been fine, even accounting for your battle with Barricade. However, the deprivation, combined with normal battle stress, caused you to sustain more microdamage than usual,: Ratchet explained. :I’m placing you on medical leave until I’m satisfied you’re recovered.: Usually Ratchet would let warriors off of medical leave when they were far enough along that energon and rest would finish off their healing. This time, though, Drift wasn’t getting out of his hands until Ratchet was satisfied, which could take a while given his new damage.

Drift looked up at Ratchet.

Ratchet couldn’t tell if the expression on Drift’s face was alarm or not, it was smoothed over so quickly. Drift’s field was also suddenly suspiciously smooth and unreadable. Ratchet could tell that Drift had clearly had a lot of practice at that.

:That sounds like a lot of work and resources,: Drift pointed out. After a long moment he cocked his head sideways. :Am I being depreciated?: he asked softly.

Ratchet physically recoiled. Depreciation was a socially polite term for what happened to so-called ‘disposables’ when their useful life was determined to be over. :I’ve never given up on a patient, Functionalist directives be damned!: he snapped back harshly. For Drift to ask a question like that... Ratchet suddenly wanted to read Drift’s entire file. He was apprehensive about what he might find in it.

From the corner where he was sitting, Bumblebee looked up, concerned by Ratchet’s sudden movement.

Ratchet paid him no attention, however.

Drift relaxed imperceptibly, reassured by Ratchet’s outburst. Before the war, Ratchet had been the only honest medic Drift had known. Unless the war had taught Ratchet how to lie like a pro, he was one less thing that Drift had to worry about. After all, there was the new revelation that Mikaela had dumped on his head earlier...

Ratchet didn’t miss Drift’s quick glance at Mikaela. :You will continue your guardianship of Mikaela, should you wish to,: he said, misinterpreting Drift’s gesture. It wasn’t even a possibility as far as Ratchet was concerned. He wasn’t stupid. He’d seen how the two interacted on the plane and in the medbay. Even now Ratchet didn’t think that Drift realized he was almost literally hovering over Mikaela. :She’s not leaving here until she gets better, which I expect her to do now that you’re here.:

:Please make me aware of any way that I can assist in her recuperation,: Drift asked politely, but with a note of urgency to the request. He needed Mikaela to get better. Drift was concerned with Mikaela’s health, but he also needed her strong enough to be able to run during the next attack. Because there would be another attack. There was always another attack.

:I will keep you updated. Her progress will depend on how motivated she is to improve,: Ratchet warned Drift, pleased that he’d have some help with Mikaela. Bumblebee had helped immensely, but Ratchet suspected she’d be more motivated now that Drift was back.

Ratchet pulled the sensor off Drift’s chest and downloaded the data to his pad to examine.

As Ratchet had calmed down Bumblebee had also settled back down, but was still watching protectively.

Reviewing the data from Drift, Ratchet realized that he recognized these spark fluctuations. Combined with what he knew about Drift, he knew exactly what was wrong with the warrior.

Ratchet looked up from his pad and nailed Drift in place with his best glare. :If I was going to ask you where the guardian coding Bumblebee gave you was, where would that be?: he asked abruptly.

Drift was suddenly very aware of Bumblebee sitting across the room, watching them carefully. Drift didn’t know if the scout had the ability to hack comm channels, but he didn’t put it past him. However, even if he didn’t admit to it, it would only take a quick scan for the medic to find the answer. So he replied. :In quarantine.:

:Why is it in quarantine?: Ratchet demanded. Quarantine is where mechs put bad code before they had a medic safely purge it. However, Ratchet knew that the guardian code Bumblebee had given Drift was safe. It had come from Ratchet after all.

Despite not implementing the guardian code, Drift’s reactions were still typical of a mech acting as a guardian. So either Drift already had the guardian code from another source, or he hadn’t needed it at all.

Since Ratchet had not so metaphorically held Drift’s spark in his hands, so it wasn’t hard for him to figure out the answer.

:You know...: Drift said slowly as realization dawned. Somehow, Ratchet had figured it out.

:I’ve known since the Dead End,: Ratchet admitted.

:Why didn’t you—: Drift cut himself off. The Functionalists had had strict rules about reporting bonded guardians. However, in the Dead End, Ratchet’s clinic had been the only place Drift knew of where a mech could get honest medical care; no questions asked, and no money required. It was the only clinic where you could be sure that you would wake up with at least the same number of parts as when you were put under. :You remember me?:

:I remember you,: Ratchet confirmed. :You may have reformatted yourself, but I still know it’s you.:

Somewhere deep inside, a hidden part of Drift was comforted by those words. A hard, painful knot of ugly emotions he wasn’t fully aware existed unravelled slightly at the medic’s words. Unknown to Ratchet, the medic had just raised Drift’s admiration for him a little further.

:I also know what you are,: Ratchet continued. :I’ve left it off your medical record. They don’t need to know,: he reassured Drift as he felt the shadow of the other mech’s apprehension touch his field. Drift hid it well.

Drift was peripherally aware that Bumblebee had picked up on the subtle tension, and was discreetly trying to figure out what was wrong. The white mech knew that he had to be careful and control himself, or Bumblebee might come to the wrong conclusion.

:Can’t you just... forget?: Drift asked.

:It affects how I treat you, so no. If I hadn’t known you were a bonded guardian, I might not have spotted the warning signs of spark strain.:

:...I had suspected that was the case,: Drift admitted, ignoring Ratchet’s dark look at his admission. :There’s nothing that can be done about it, though. Mikaela doesn’t have a spark.:

They both knew that spark strain happened when a bonded mech did not renew their bond on a regular basis. It also only happened when the other half of the bond was still alive. In situations where the other half died, the bond naturally faded away. The phenomenon was reliable enough that it was legally used as proof of life or death when a mech went missing in action.

Ratchet understood spark strain very well. For the last four million years he had treated Optimus Prime for the spark strain caused by his estrangement from his Lord Protector. The strain wouldn’t kill Drift, but it could be highly uncomfortable.

:Creating other spark bonds, primary or secondary, is best, but even merging sparks recreationally will help,: Ratchet proposed.

:I know.: Drift said, leaving off how he knew. Spark merging, even without bonding, was the most intimate method of interface known. To expose the very core of himself to another mech was an act of incredible trust.

:What about your existing bonds?: Ratchet asked. He had seen the trace signs in Drift’s spark signature.

:Politically unwise,: Drift replied curtly. He wasn’t going to get into that discussion.

They were probably Decepticons, then, Ratchet realized. It was sad, but Ratchet understood Drift’s position. He was not the first mech Ratchet had met who had connections on the other side of the war, and he wouldn’t be the last.

:Hopefully the strain won’t become an issue anytime soon. I would ask that you try to find somebody who you can tolerate to form at least a secondary bond with,: Ratchet said with a wry twist to his lips. Many mechs became defensive when it came to advice about their love life, or lack thereof.

Drift just nodded.

:In the meantime,: Ratchet continued. :I’m going to place you on medical leave. The next 100 to 150 years should do it.:

The long period of time struck Drift as odd.

Then it hit him.

Mikaela.

Ratchet saw the terrible realization slowly dawn in Drift’s eyes and in his field. :It is possible that the nanites will extend Mikaela’s lifespan,: Ratchet said gently. :However it is not a guarantee.:

A century, for beings that could live millions of years, was a cruelly short time. Moreso for a bonded guardian. They created bonds with a depth and complexity that even Ratchet, with his long experience dealing with a bonded Prime, didn’t understand them fully.

Ratchet’s voice softened uncharacteristically. :Spend as much time with her as you can. Hopefully the closeness will help both of you.:

Drift just nodded absently, looking down at Mikaela, sleeping on her mattress.

Absently Ratchet made a note that he’d have to investigate whether Mikaela also felt the effects of spark strain. Considering she didn’t have a spark, Ratchet didn’t know what he’d be looking for, though.

Ratchet shelved the question as a problem for tomorrow.

Ratchet started quietly putting away his equipment. He knew Drift and Mikaela would be fine. The real test would come when Mikaela died. Would Drift choose to remain, or would he pass with her? Ratchet had his suspicions. Even in such a short time he could see the connection between them. If they had both been mechs he would not have hesitated to say that Drift would follow Mikaela. A strong bond like that usually caused too much damage to heal afterwards. It required additional bonds, strong bonds, to keep a mech grounded after the loss of a bonded. If Drift couldn’t rely on the bonds he had...

Ratchet might not be able to help with that, but he could stack the deck in Drift’s favor in other ways.

:I would like you to consider a couple of upgrades,: Ratchet said, and send the specs over to Drift.

Drift opened the file, reviewed it, then stared at Ratchet incredulously. Nobody wasted this type of tech on an MTO.

The first was upgraded plating that would convert ambient energy, such as solar radiation, into energon. It was a common upgrade for scouts. It didn’t replace the need to consume energon, but it did extend the amount of time that Drift could survive with limited energon.

The second upgrade was a hardlight hologram system. They were energy intensive and therefore usually only used by scouts, spies, and diplomats. It would be very helpful to a bonded guardian whose charge was a completely different species. The upgraded plating would help Drift’s system support the demands of a hardlight hologram.

Ratchet gave Drift a questioning look and brief brush of his field.

Drift could only nod.

Ratchet stepped away so that he could give Drift some time with Mikaela, and so that he could finish working on the paperwork needed to pull everything together.

Once Ratchet moved away, Bumblebee took a chance.

:You’re shorter than I was expecting.:

Drift looked over at Bumblebee. :Excuse me?: he commed back politely.

Bumblebee grinned, a quick flash of silver across his face. :Was expecting you to be taller,: he said, enjoying the look of confusion on the white mech’s face.

:Stop taunting Drift,: Ratchet commed both mechs.

Bumblebee tried to give Ratchet an innocent look. :You aren’t even looking! How do you know I’m doing anything?: Bumblebee protested, rising up on his knees.

:I might not have been able to hear what you said, Bumblebee, but I know you too well,: Ratchet rebuked him.

Bumblebee just shrugged good-naturedly and sat back on his heels. :I was just remarking that, with everything I’ve heard about the great and terrible Deadlock, I always expected him to be larger,: he said casually, dropping the verbal bomb over a three-way comm line. Bumblebee could tell by their reactions that he’d scored a hit. Drift was pretty good at covering, but Ratchet usually didn’t bother hiding his reactions outside of diplomatic situations, which Ratchet avoided like the rust plague.

Drift stiffened at his old name.

Ratchet spun towards Bumblebee, pissed off.

Bumblebee didn’t take Ratchet’s reaction personally. He could tell that Ratchet had gotten attached to the white mech. It did make Bumblebee want to know why, though. He wondered if there were any juicy secrets between the two.

“mmm... Drift?” came a faint, scratchy voice from the middle of the huddle of blankets on the medberth.

The three mechs froze. The only sound that came from them were the little clicks and whirrs of a living mech.

“Y’ ‘kay?” Mikaela said, her words more than half garbled. She tried to roll towards where she could feel Drift. He felt upset. She didn’t like it when he was upset.

Bumblebee waved frantically at Drift to do something.

The white mech ignored him.

“I’m here, Mikaela,” Drift said softly. “You can go back to sleep.” He put his hand down next to her. Mikaela grabbed it and cuddled it like a stuffed toy and fell back to sleep.

All three mechs stayed silent, waiting for Mikaela to fall back asleep.

A few minutes later, Ratchet finally stirred.

:You just have to keep poking the scraplet’s den, don’t you?: Ratchet warned Bumblebee keeping Drift copied on the conversation.

Ratchet ran a scanner over Mikaela’s sleeping form. He needed to make sure that the medication he had given Mikaela hadn’t caused an unforeseen reaction. Fortunately, he didn’t find anything.

Even though Mikaela had a tight hold on his hand, Drift kept his attention on Bumblebee. His former identity was not a secret, but whenever somebody started making ‘innocent’ remarks about his past... it didn’t lead to anything good.

:Do you want me to kick him out?: Ratchet asked Drift privately.

For a wild moment Drift thought about it. He didn’t know why he had Ratchet’s support, but the seductive strength of having an officer at his back tempted him.

The problem was, Drift had faced similar scenarios in the past. If Bumblebee got him to react, or if Drift asked Ratchet to kick him out, inevitably Bumblebee would push harder. He’d try to get a larger reaction so he could use it as an excuse to push Drift into a fight. Bumblebee wouldn’t be the first Autobot that wanted to bring Megatron’s former student down a peg or three.

Drift had hesitated too long. Ratchet narrowed his eyes, ready to order Bumblebee out.

:He can stay,: Drift said flatly, breaking eye contact with the other mech.

His reluctance was not lost on Bumblebee, which sobered the upbeat mech.

Ratchet gave Drift a considering look, and commed the white mech privately. :Are you sure? I have no problem kicking him out.:

Drift nodded.

Drift looked over at Bumblebee. :So, what are you going to do about it?: he asked, his voice walking the edge between being confident and being challenging. If he wasn’t confident, other mechs would, sometimes literally, try to walk all over him. If he was too challenging, however, it could lead to fights. And fights were his fault.

:Nothing,: Bumblebee said blithely, rocking backwards so he ended up sprawled, leaning on his hands planted on the pavement behind him. It was a completely relaxed position, and a calculated one. From this position it would be difficult for the scout to attack Drift without the mech having ample warning.

Drift blinked at Bumblebee, understanding the subtext of what the other mech had done.

:Okay now, break it up,: Ratchet said grumpily, annoyed by warrior posturing. :You finish that energon?: he asked Drift privately.

Drift pulled his attention away from Bumblebee and turned back towards Ratchet. :Yes,: he said, holding up the empty cube.

Ratchet took the cube from his hand and dispersed the containment field. :Good.:

Drift felt the heavy wash of medical scans prickle across his plating again.

:You’ll have a cube of medical grade in addition to your regular ration until I’m satisfied that you’re healing again,: Ratchet said, still on a private line with Drift.

Bumblebee noticed that Drift was getting a lot of attention from Ratchet. He didn’t remember the white mech being injured during the fight. Barricade had been so overpowered by the three mechs that Bumblebee and Sideswipe had come out of the encounter with barely more than few scratches...

And maybe a strained cable that he wasn’t going to mention to Ratchet...

Unless it didn’t get better...

In a couple of weeks...

But, given the way Ratchet was treating Drift, clearly something was wrong.

Bumblebee would have to get to the bottom of why. Given how Mikaela was acting towards Drift, he wasn’t surprised that she was already demanding to quarter with Drift. If something was wrong with Drift, it would impact Mikaela as well.

With a final sideways look at Bumblebee, Ratchet returned to his paperwork. Hopefully Bumblebee would behave himself for at least a little while. Or he’d kick Bumblebee out and send the yellow mech to go mope in the officer’s quarters with Ironhide.

Bumblebee sat back up from his slouch and crossed his legs.

Drift ignored him. Instead, he focused on Mikaela, who was still cuddling his hand. He’d probably end up sleeping in the medbay along with Mikaela if Ratchet had anything to say about it.

Drift didn’t flinch as Ratchet turned off the overhead lights, leaving just his workbench lights and the soft glow of his pad to light the room.

Drift was surprised to receive a ping from Bumblebee with a polite request for a private comm channel. He was somewhat apprehensive after Bumblebee’s previous actions, but accepted anyway.

:I didn’t like you at first,: Bumblebee said thoughtfully. The antagonistic attitude from earlier was gone.

Drift replied to Bumblebee’s statement with a non-committal sound. He didn’t want to spar with the other mech any more.

Bumblebee’s voice was serious, though. :I didn’t trust you with Mikaela. Prime had to talk me into accepting you as Mikaela’s guardian.:

Drift was doubtful that Prime’s recommendation had anything to do with his opinion of Drift as an individual, and had more to do with the fact that there wasn’t anybody else.

Bumblebee didn’t stop talking though.

:I didn’t get to see Mikaela often, but when I did she always seemed happy. But then Sam...: Bumblebee trailed off. It was hard remembering his charge who had ordered Bumblebee out of his life. Then there was what had happened with the officer. Bumblebee wouldn’t have believed Sam could do something like that.

:When you commed me after Mikaela broke up with Sam, you were protective of her and upset with Sam for hurting her. You even went so far as to threaten my charge on Mikaela’s behalf. That’s when I knew that you were right for her. Barricade’s attack just confirmed it.:

:Barricade was probably after me,: Drift admitted. :We have some history.:

:You’re not the only one,: Bumblebee snorted. Unfortunately, he did it out loud instead of over the comms. The sudden sound made Bumblebee freeze with a comically startled look on his face as Ratchet turned around with a furious look.

Drift watched as Bumblebee silently cowered before Ratchet — whatever was said stayed on a private comm line between them — until the larger mech turned back around.

:Whether Barricade was after you specifically, or was just taking the opportunity to harass an Autobot, I bet you that Mikaela doesn’t blame you,: Bumblebee said perceptively, returning to their conversation.

Drift just shrugged, careful not to disturb Mikaela. He knew Bumblebee was right.

:As soon as she heard you were alive, she wanted to go find you. No. She needed to go find you,: Bumblebee said.

:Who told her I was dead?: Drift demanded quietly.

Drift’s quiet intensity made Bumblebee glad he was on the other side of the room. :No one,: he replied. :And I was with her the entire time.:

Drift tamped down a sudden flash of jealousy. It’s not that he needed to be with Mikaela every moment. That wasn’t a healthy relationship. But he was jealous that Bumblebee had been allowed to stay with Mikaela, while he had been ordered away.

Drift also had to deal with the fact that Mikaela liked Bumblebee, and Drift wanted to trust her judgement.

No, he corrected himself.

He did trust her judgement.

:Part of me wants to hurt you for taking her off base and into danger, but part of me is glad you helped her,: Drift admitted. Bumblebee had allowed Mikaela to put herself into danger, but he’d done it to support her over the wishes of his superior officers. Those were the tough choices that a guardian had to make.

:You’re not what I was expecting from a Decepticon,: Bumblebee remarked.

:What were you expecting?: Drift asked simply.

:They never seemed to care about other people.:

:That is...: Drift barely had words for how backwardly ignorant and downright wrong that was. He shook his head. :Decepticons are like any other Cybertronian. They have relationships, fall in love, and are as capable of feeling joy, sorrow, or pain as any Autobot.:

Drift knew he needed to be careful. Even this much was bordering on sedition.

:Besides, I’m an Autobot now,: he pointed out.

Bumblebee hummed softly, but was swiftly cut off by a sharp gesture from Ratchet. He cast a guilty look at Mikaela, but she was still rolled up in her blankets, sleeping.

:Mikaela likes you,: Bumblebee said. :A lot.: That was an understatement, he thought.

:I’m told that, when it comes to human relationships, death threats are traditional when your friend starts a new relationship. So, hurt her and I’ll hurt you,: Bumblebee said seriously.

Drift looked askance at Bumblebee. :That’s for romantic relationships,: he pointed out dryly.

Bumblebee gave Drift a knowing look.

Drift gave Bumblebee a sly look in return that made the yellow mech nervous. :Besides, in that case I get to threaten you back. Hurt Mikaela and I’ll hurt you,: Drift said grimly.

Bumblebee sputtered a denial, only to get the stink eye from Ratchet yet again for making noise. The scout placated the medic with upraised hands until Ratchet turned back to whatever he was working on. The only reason Bumblebee hadn’t been kicked out yet was because Mikaela liked him, and because kicking him out would probably cause more sound than the mech was already making.

:You’re back now, so you’ll be taking over Mikaela duty,: Bumblebee stated, unable to keep the wistful tone out of his voice.

:Do you want to stay on ‘Mikaela duty’?: Drift asked.

:Are you saying you don’t want to?: Bumblebee asked incredulously.

:No, I’m asking if you want to share.:

The biggest challenge to being Mikaela’s guardian was the fact that humans were much more delicate than even civilian mechs. As such, she needed much more attentive protection. And Drift needed to sleep some time. Before, Drift had relied on Mikaela staying close to him as he recharged and practiced. As much as Drift liked Mikaela, having somebody else he could count on to watch her would give him more flexibility and downtime.

Bumblebee hesitated. :Why me?: he asked. Guardians were notoriously protective, especially after their charge had been threatened.

:Mikaela likes you and I am given to understand that you like her back. You are already familiar with the duties of a guardian, as well as the unique challenges posed by guarding a human. You also haven’t failed in your guardianship.: The last left a sour taste on Drift’s tongue to say, but it was true.

Bumblebee caught himself before he could snort incredulously. Drift clearly hadn’t seen Sam after Mission City or Cairo. :Sam was just as prone to getting into trouble as Mikaela is. And I doubt that Mikaela holds you responsible for anything that’s happened to her.:

:That doesn’t absolve my guilt,: Drift’s reply slipped out of him before he could stop it. He hadn't meant to be that honest with Bumblebee.

The yellow mech’s knowing gaze showed that he had caught Drift’s slip, but Bumblebee just nodded in acknowledgement.

:We’d need to get Optimus to approve it.: Bumblebee didn’t miss Drift’s well hidden flinch at the Prime’s name. :If we get Ratchet on board, it would help.:

:Yo, Ratch!: Bumblebee called out to the other mech over a three-way comm.

:What?: Ratchet snarled back.

Bumblebee could tell, based on long experience, that Ratchet was just putting up a front, and not really angry. Interestingly, Drift didn’t seem intimidated by Ratchet either.

:Drift and I were thinking of tag-teaming Mikaela watching duty. Could help us convince Optimus to approve it?: Bumblebee asked.

Ratchet considered it, then remembered their theories about the Allspark shard, and incidents with Mikaela. More protection for Mikaela would be a good thing. :I’m sure I can find a reason if Optimus tries to push back,: he replied.

:Now you,: Ratchet said, pointing at Drift. :Up on that berth with Mikaela.: It would be tricky for Drift to do without letting go of Mikaela, but Ratchet knew that Drift would figure it out.

:And you,: Ratchet said, pointing at Bumblebee. :Shut up or leave, I don’t care.:

Ratchet went back to his work. He heard only a few quiet shuffling noises before the medbay descended into silence for the night.

Chapter Text

February 2010

The next day Drift was called to hangar five for a post meeting debrief.

While hangar one was the administrative hangar, it was a shared command center between humans and Autobots. Hangar five was where Autobots could hang out or conduct meetings without worrying about humans wandering around.

Drift was wary as he walked into hangar five. Something didn’t feel right about the situation, but he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.

At the other end of the building Optimus Prime was waiting, Ironhide and Sideswipe standing to either side of him. Drift assumed from the way that they were watching him that Sideswipe had already talked to Ironhide and Optimus Prime before Drift was summoned.

Drift kept his head up and back ramrod straight has he approached the group. He stopped several paces short, and dipped into the formal bow of a warrior meeting the Prime. “Lord Prime,” Drift said softly.

“Rise,” Optimus Prime said in formal acknowledgement. His voice was professionally smooth and gave Drift no hint of what the Prime was thinking.

Drift rose, but remained where he was because he had not been commanded to approach.
He stared up at a point just over Optimus Prime’s shoulder. He could feel the gaze of the two mechs flanking Optimus Prime as if it was a physical weight. Drift carefully hid any uneasiness he felt and waited.

Drift didn’t need to wait long.

“Drift,” Optimus Prime enunciated the full harmonics of his name, as if tasting each inflection. “During the latest battle with Barricade, Sideswipe reported that he called you ‘Deadlock’ several times. He also reports that, when you replied to Barricade, you did not deny that you were Deadlock.”

“That is true,” Drift replied, keeping his tone bland. When faced with accusations from mechs who were determined to find fault in anything he said or did, Drift had learned it was best to make his replies as uninteresting as possible.

Surprisingly, the three mechs in front of Drift seemed startled by his straightforward reply.

Optimus Prime and Ironhide hid it well, but Sideswipe’s field crackled with indignation. “See! He doesn’t even deny it! He’s a Decepticon!” the red mech burst out, dramatically pointing an accusing finger at Drift.

With hard-learned control Drift forced himself not to react to Sideswipe. It wasn’t the first time since his defection he had been accused. It also wasn’t the first time that an Autobot had reacted poorly to learning just who Drift had been.

“Sideswipe,” Optimus Prime said sternly, cutting off the rest of the smaller mech’s outburst.

Sideswipe stepped back, barely chastised by Optimus Prime’s stern glare.

Optimus Prime turned to Drift. “So, you do not deny that you are the Decepticon known as Deadlock?” he asked in clarification.

“I was Deadlock,” Drift corrected. Out of, perhaps foolhardy, pride he included all of the formal harmonics and subglyphs in his old name, with all of his rank and achievement markers intact. “I am an Autobot now and my name is Drift.” This version of his name was considerably simpler, lacking rank or accomplishments.

“He doesn’t deny it,” Ironhide summed up in a disapproving voice.

The large mech crossed his arms across his broad chest, making Drift acutely aware of the powerful cannons the mech was brandishing. Out of the corner of his eye Drift noticed that Sideswipe was also keeping his hands close to his weapons. This meeting, strained as it had been, was suddenly a lot more dangerous for Drift.

“I never have denied it,” Drift replied simply. He probably shouldn’t have said anything. He should have waited until asked a direct question. At least he was able to keep his own feelings out of his voice.

“Why hide the fact that you are... were Deadlock?” Optimus Prime asked, correcting himself.

Drift suddenly realized that Optimus Prime hadn’t known that he had been Deadlock. Usually his new commanders were well aware of his background before Drift even showed up. Somehow, the commander in chief of the Autobot army had either never received his personnel file, or had never read it.

Drift concentrated on staying still and on saying the right thing the right way. If Drift did well, he might get out of this alive. “I have never hidden the fact that I used to be known as Deadlock.”

Ironhide snorted derisively. “He’s lying.”

There was nothing that Drift could say in reply to Ironhide’s accusation that would not make him sound defensive, so he said nothing, still staring over Prime’s shoulder.

Optimus Prime shifted his weight, bringing Ironhide and Sideswipe’s attention back to him. “Am I to understand that not only your commanders, but also your teammates in the Wreckers know about your past?” Optimus Prime asked after a long moment.

What kind of question was that? Of course they knew. They made a point to remind him of it at least once a day. His time on Earth was actually the longest time that Drift had gone without getting harassed over his past. Given what he was learning now, apparently that was only because they somehow hadn’t known.

“To the best of my knowledge, every Autobot I have interacted with since I joined has known about my past.” Drift’s more obnoxious Wrecker teammates had made sure of it. “I had no reason to think otherwise before this meeting.”

Sideswipe actually made it to within a few steps of Drift before he was intercepted by Ironhide.

“Enough, Sideswipe,” Optimus Prime said forbiddingly.

Sideswipe barely flinched in the face of Optimus Prime’s displeasure.

“Leave us,” Optimus Prime ordered the red mech sternly. “Do not repeat anything that was discussed in here.”

Sideswipe gave Drift a nasty look as he passed Drift on his way out.

Drift studiously ignored the provocation, still staring resolutely forward.

The doors closed behind Sideswipe with a forbidding thud.

Drift was now alone in the building with two senior Autobot officers. Internally, he was wrestling with what to do. He had denied hiding anything, but it all depended on if they believed him. Autobots never believed Decepticons, even ex-Decepticons. He needed some way to tilt the scales in his favor.

A surprised Ironhide slid into a defensive position in front of Optimus Prime as Drift bowed his head and moved.

Slowly and deliberately Drift knelt on the floor. First he dropped to one knee, then to two. His new position put him at a severe disadvantage compared to the other two seasoned warriors in the room.

Hopefully they would recognize that.

Drift distantly heard Ironhide’s cannon spinning up as he focused on telegraphing his movements as he slowly unhooked first one scabbard, than the other from his hips, gently tossing them and the swords sheathed within them to either side, out of his reach.

The entire time Drift kept his eyes on the ground, and his face as stripped of emotion as his field.

He couldn’t see it as Optimus Prime stepped forward and put his hand on Ironhide’s arm, restraining the other mech.

Reluctantly, Drift disengaged the clamps that held Peerless Under Heaven in place. He slowly and deliberately lifted the great sword over his shoulder and laid it carefully on the ground before him.

Drift knelt before his Prime motionless, hands on his thighs and stripped of all his weapons. He waited with bowed head for Optimus Prime’s decision.

“What’s your game, ‘Con?” Ironhide demanded gruffly before Optimus Prime could speak.

Ironhide was taken aback by Drift’s actions, and suspicious of Drift’s submission. He had powered down his cannons when ordered to do so by Optimus, but he was still ready in case the ex-’Con tried anything.

“I recognize that whatever I say is suspect.” In a few words Drift laid bare the not-so-hidden undercurrent that had been running through their discussion. “There is only one way for the word of a former Decepticon to be believed.” Drift triggered a small, rarely used transformation sequence. A small patch of armor slid away, exposing a small panel at the top of his neck. The cover irised open in invitation, revealing the hidden port.

Taken aback by Drift’s actions, Ironhide looked to Optimus Prime for guidance. Mechs didn’t just offer up their cranial ports lightly. A cranial port was a direct doorway into a mech’s deepest mind. Warriors on both sides had upgraded their armor with extra locks and reinforcements in the hope of avoiding processor hacks. Even long-term bond mates stuck to using peripheral interface systems since they came with their own inbuilt firewalls and buffers.

“Drift...” Optimus Prime’s voice trailed off. The white mech’s actions had completely derailed his mounting displeasure. The type of connection that Drift was offering was only used in interrogation, and then only for high-value prisoners. Optimus realised suddenly that, at one time, that list of prisoners would have included Deadlock.

Drift did not move from where he knelt.

“You don’t have to,” Optimus Prime said, offering Drift a way out.

“Yes, I do,” Drift said, looking up at Optimus Prime. The large mech towered far above him. “You doubt me. Lay your suspicions to rest now. If you don’t, some part of you will always doubt me.” The stakes were high. If Drift was going to stay on Earth, ideally he needed Optimus Prime’s trust, but he would settle for Optimus Prime’s tolerance.

Optimus Prime shook his head, not wanting to face the truth of what Drift was saying.

“He’s right, you know,” Ironhide spoke up with a sour look on his face. He didn’t look too happy about agreeing with Drift. “We need to know if he’s going to betray us or not. If you don’t want to do it, I will.”

Drift preferred Ironhide didn’t. In his experience, the more eager a superior officer was to interrogate him, the worse it went. Still, Ironhide wouldn’t be the most hostile officer he had dealt with since joining the Autobots.

Drift bowed his head again and waited for Optimus Prime’s decision.

“Very well,” Optimus Prime said eventually. Then, to Drift’s surprise, the large mech dropped to his knees in front of Drift.

Drift closed his eyes so that the input didn’t confuse his senses during the interface. That meant that Drift couldn’t watch as Optimus Prime took out his own interface cables. He felt it, however, when the Prime’s warm connector slotted snugly into his open port.

Drift had a bare microsecond to realize what was wrong before his mind was buried by the flood that was Optimus Prime.

Surface concerns rushed by quickly: petty bickering with human leaders, the latest report from Ultra Magnus, the latest report from Prowl...

Deeper subjects flowed steadily behind: worry over the fate of the Cybertronian race now that the Allspark was gone, worry over the fate of Cybertron now that it had been effectively abandoned by the Autobots and Decepticons...

From a wellspring deep inside Optimus Prime’s very spark came one, overwhelming name: Megatron

Recent memories of bloody battles were quickly overwhelmed by older memories of impassioned arguments, quiet meals together, and incandescently hot interfacing.

Drift’s subconscious, thrashing about for sanity in the middle of the deluge, latched onto Optimus Prime’s most powerful thought, and ran with it.

Megatron loomed over Deadlock. They’d been debating for hours, and making out for the last 30 minutes. Deadlock’s charge was running high, and Megatron knew just how to rile him up further. With a sly grin, the warlord spun Deadlock around and pinned him face-first on his large berth.

Drift was barely aware of the moment his back hit the ground hard, armor scraping over concrete with a horrendous squeal.

Megatron whispered wonderfully filthy poetry to Deadlock that night as his body blanketed the smaller mech, making Deadlock squirm and plead in anticipation.

There was something above Drift. It mercilessly pressed him down, into the ground, immobilizing him. If there were any words spoken, he couldn’t hear them.

Megatron fucked Deadlock slowly, enjoying the smaller mech’s impassioned cries as Megatron’s enormous girth plundered the depths of Deadlock’s silken valve. Deadlock thrashed underneath Megatron’s weight, trying to force himself even further onto Megatron’s massive spike.

Deep-coded emergency subroutines that dated back to Drift’s centuries of surviving on the streets triggered and enacted old self-preservation protocols. Drift’s deepest instinct had always been to survive. And when it was done, maybe there would be enough of him left to make it to the clinic.

Megatron roared, throwing his head back in triumph as he overloaded. Lubricant overflowed and ran down Deadlock’s thighs.

A new presence entered the merge. It appeared on the outskirts of the swirling conglomeration that was Drift and Optimus Prime’s conjoined mind like a single solid point of sanity in a storm.

Methodically, Drift and Optimus Prime were pulled apart, each personality slowly separated and held back by smooth-sided medical firewalls. Drift touched the firewall curiously, but obediently pulled back when he recognized the signature.

He trusted Ratchet.

***

Mikaela was in the medbay working on her pad, with Bumblebee looking over her shoulder and pretending to pay attention.

That morning Bumblebee and Drift had escorted Mikaela back to her apartment so she could shower and get a fresh set of clothes. Roman had also taken the opportunity to come over and see Mikaela before he left for his job on base, just like he had before Mikaela had run away.

When the three of them got back to the medbay Mikaela had just about fallen off the table trying to hug Ratchet after he gruffly handed over her purse and backpack. Mikaela’s phone, even with Cybertronian upgrades, needed to be charged before she could use it. However, her pad was still in good condition. Mikaela had promptly dove into her medical lessons, trying to get caught up to where she had been before the attack.

As Mikaela happily spent the last couple of hours engrossed in more medical terminology and diagrams than Bumblebee ever wanted to know, he mused about how much more lively Mikaela was now. While Ratchet wanted her to take it easy, Mikaela was now highly-engaged and no longer listless.

Ratchet was explaining a concept to Mikaela when he suddenly stopped in the middle of his sentence and stood up straight.

Bumblebee’s SpecOps-tuned communications system told him that Ratchet had received a comm, though he didn’t have time to hack it.

Mikaela looked up at the sudden movement, wondering what was happening.

Suddenly Ratchet was a whirl of furious movement as he quickly grabbed the first aid kit that he had been stocking and placed it in his subspace. Turning on his heel, Ratchet ran for the door, which Bumblebee had left standing half way open so that Mikaela could get fresh air. In moments, he was gone.

Mikaela could hear Ratchet’s footsteps in the distance as he ran down the row of aircraft hangars.

Mikaela shared a look with Bumblebee, then rose to her feet and started towards the stairs. Instead of waiting for her, Bumblebee gently scooped Mikaela up in the crook of his arm and followed Ratchet out of the medbay.

Bumblebee was apprehensive when he saw that Ratchet was headed towards hangar five. Drift had left for a meeting with Optimus Prime not too long ago, and the meeting had been in hangar five. What could have happened in such a short time?

Bumblebee set Mikaela down outside the hangar, trying to keep her back as he peeked around the corner of the door that Ratchet had left standing open in his hurry. To his relief, Ironhide and Ratchet were speaking Cybertronian, so he didn’t have to worry about Mikaela overhearing anything. However, the scene inside the hangar was incriminating enough without their commentary.

Bumblebee was so engrossed by the drama unfolding in front of him that he didn’t notice as Mikaela slipped between his legs and into the building. She stayed close to the wall, moving carefully so that she didn’t attract attention. None of the mechs in the building were paying attention, however. Once Mikaela finally got a clear look, she could understand why.

Drift was lying on his back on the floor, his body hidden under the much larger frame of Optimus Prime. Drift’s thighs were spread impossibly wide around Optimus Prime’s hips. Mikaela didn’t want to make an assumption based on her human stereotypes, but the way that Optimus Prime mindlessly thrust up between Drift’s legs reminded her too much of her first boyfriend.

Drift’s head was tilted to the side, facing Mikaela.

His eyes were blank and unseeing.

His body rocked limply with Optimus Prime’s thrusts.

His hands were spread outward, holding nothing.

Ironhide stood to the side, talking to Ratchet in quick, urgent tones.

Mikaela’s mind froze and she collapsed back against the wall in shock, sliding down it to sit on the cold, unforgiving concrete. She wanted Drift to wake up and tell her that what she thought was going on was not going on.

But he didn’t.

Repulsed by what she was witnessing, Mikaela didn’t even notice the cable connecting Optimus Prime and Drift until Ratchet deftly spliced himself into the connection. Mikaela didn’t know what Ratchet was doing inside their minds, but whatever it was, Drift slowly started to wake up and Optimus Prime’s thrusting slowed to a stop.

Ratchet disconnected the three of them then moved to kneel closer to Drift’s head.

Ratchet had to bend over so he could look Drift in the face. “He’s stuck,” Ratchet told Drift in a calm voice.

Mikaela didn’t know what Ratchet meant by that, but the possibilities were alarming.

Drift nodded carefully. “Feels like lockup.”

Ratchet thought that Drift’s field felt suspiciously flat. “You’ve turned off your pain sensors?” Ratchet asked.

Distressed, Optimus Prime’s hips twitched. The movement made Drift grunt and wrap his legs tight around Optimus Prime’s waist.

“Stay still!” Ratchet barked at Optimus Prime.

Optimus Prime’s remorseful field swirled over the mechs around him. His carefully cultivated professional detachment was gone, stripped away by the chaos of the last few minutes. Optimus Prime kept his head down, trying not to move despite the pleasurable ripple of a valve contracting around his spike.

“Yes,” Drift confirmed to Ratchet. “Emergency contingency routines turned them off as soon as the damage started registering to my interface systems.”

Ratchet frowned. Pain told a body when it was damaged and how much. He did not approve of mechs turning off their pain sensors, much less as part of an unconscious automatic process. It heightened the risk that a mech would worsen their damage because they couldn’t feel it. “We’ll discuss why you coded that into your peripheral systems later,” Ratchet said ominously.

“It was necessary,” Drift pointed out. Having been in this situation before, Drift would take the disconcerting numbness over the excruciating pain.

“It shouldn’t be,” Ratchet growled, disappointment hidden in his voice.

Drift sighed. “We don’t live in a world that kind, Ratchet.”

Ratchet looked away. He couldn’t deny the truth in Drift’s words. Both during his time running a free clinic in Dead End, then later as the Autobot CMO, he’d seen similar situations too many times to count. “Well, the two of you are stuck,” Ratchet announced.

“What are our options?” Optimus Prime asked, his deep voice subdued.

Ratchet ran another quick scan over them. It just confirmed what he had already known.

“If I had access to a full medbay and support staff, surgery would be an option. However, I don’t have the facilities or staff to handle major surgery.” If they were going to do that, Ratchet would need to almost entirely disassemble Drift’s pelvis in the process.

“So, it’s going to be the quick option?” Drift asked pragmatically.

“Yes,” Ratchet confirmed grimly.

“And what is the quick option?” Optimus Prime asked apprehensively.

It was Drift who replied. “You pull out, quickly. Then Ratchet stops the bleeding, quickly.” Drift left unsaid how Optimus Prime’s sudden withdrawal would literally rip the valve lining out of Drift’s body.

Optimus Prime shuddered involuntarily at the thought, pulling another deep grunt from Drift.

Ratchet reached over and thumped Optimus Prime hard over the back of his head, making the large mech yelp. “Stay still until I tell you!” he snarled viciously, all pretense at politeness gone as far as Optimus Prime was concerned. He was not looking forward to doing what needed to be done.

Bumblebee suddenly realized that Mikaela was no longer behind him, and made a startled beep before he could stop himself.

“Bumblebee,” Ratchet said disapprovingly as he spotted the scout peeking around the edge of the door.

Drift was the one who realized what Bumblebee’s presence implied.

“Mikaela,” Drift called out softly in English.

Chapter Text

The other mechs in the room froze.

Ratchet whirled towards Bumblebee, a rebuke on his lips, but Drift caught Ratchet by the ankle, stopping him.

“Mikaela,” Drift called again.

Mikaela stood up shakily, bracing herself against the wall. Suddenly she was the center of attention as the mechs in the building focused on her. Mikaela’s attention, however, was focused on Drift as she walked unsteadily towards her guardian.

Drift let go of Ratchet’s ankle and reached his hand out to her. “Mikaela,” he called yet again, coaxing her closer.

Ironhide stirred as Mikaela approached Drift, but was quelled by a sharp glare from Ratchet.

Mikaela reached out to touch Drift’s finger. Her hand was trembling.

Drift was watching Mikaela carefully. “How long have you been there?” he asked gently.

The words wouldn’t come. Mikaela just shook her head. Her chest hurt.

Bumblebee was suddenly there, kneeling beside her as she grabbed Drift’s hand, clinging tightly.

Drift wanted to ask Mikaela if she could understand what they had been saying while they had been speaking in Cybertronian, but he couldn’t do that without giving away Mikaela’s secrets.

Mikaela buried her face in the palm of Drift’s hand when he moved to stroke her cheek, his movements made awkward by his position underneath Optimus Prime.

“Mikaela, Ratchet is here. It’s going to be fine,” Drift attempted to reassure Mikaela. He worried that she was moments away from a complete breakdown, like the one she’d had on the plane just the day before. Mikaela had warned Drift that something bad was going to happen. Looks like he hadn’t been able to escape his fate after all, Drift thought cynically.

Mikaela heard Drift’s words, but couldn’t make herself react. A maelstrom of feelings swirled through her, and she didn’t know what to do. She was worried about Drift. She was incandescently furious with Optimus. She wanted to scream.

Mikaela hated herself. She had seen the result, but what good was that when she couldn’t prevent it from happening?

It wasn’t fair.

She couldn’t look away from Drift’s face.

“Mikaela,” Drift said in his softest, most reassuring voice. “This is not your fault.”

Mikaela shook her head slowly. “Yes it is,” she said sadly.

Optimus Prime made a brutally low keen that he cut off quickly. However, he was less able to rein in his out of control field. It broadcast his horror and self loathing clearly to the mechs around him.

Bumblebee made a distressed sound, and pulled out a blanket, which he draped around Mikaela’s shaking body.

Mikaela huddled into the psychological safety of the blanket, comforted by the familiar smell of mech that permeated the soft fibers as she held on to Drift’s hand desperately. If it wasn’t for the other mechs in the building, she could almost close her eyes and pretend that it was just her and Drift. Alone. Together. Like they used to be before everything happened. Before Optimus sent Drift away. Before Barricade. Before the Allspark.

“Why?”

The mechs in the room almost missed Mikaela’s plaintive question, half muffled as it was by the blanket.

“Why what, Mikaela?” Optimus Prime responded, trying to be soothing. Only those who knew him very well would be able to recognize the strain in his voice.

At the sound of Optimus Prime’s voice, Mikaela’s heart hardened and she pulled the blanket off her head so she could look Optimus Prime in the face. “Why did you rape Drift?” she asked bluntly.

“I did not set out to rape Drift,” Optimus Prime said clumsily, his legendary oratorical skill deserting him.

Mikaela pointed an accusing finger at him. “‘Did not set out’ my ass! You were getting your rocks off in his unconscious body, and now Ratchet is talking about surgery,” she snarled with a force to rival her mentor’s. Her fear and concern for Drift added fuel to the fire that was her anger towards Optimus Prime.

“Mikaela,” Drift said sternly. He wanted to cut her off before she said something that she would come to regret later. “Would it help if we explained what happened?” he asked gently.

Mikaela’s reply was a deeply sarcastic “Yes!”

Drift gave Mikaela a sharp look, and Mikaela’s anger wilted. She let go of Drift’s hand.

Drift didn’t deserve her anger.

“Sorry,” Mikaela said softly, looking down and pulling the blanket around her tighter.

“I would also appreciate an explanation for what the fuck happened.” Ratchet spoke up, a hard edge to his voice. Yesterday Drift had been in critical condition. After this little fuckup Drift would need to be in surgery for hours, not to mention the time it would take to source new parts and install them.

“It’s not like it’s the first time—” Drift tried to say, but Ratchet wasn’t having any of it.

“I don’t care that it’s not your first time. It shouldn’t have happened at all,” Ratchet said in an even tone. Drift was not the one at fault here. He was the victim.

Ratchet turned his ire on Ironhide and Optimus Prime. “What the hell happened?” he asked in a tight, clipped voice. His tone said that he would take no prisoners and accept no excuses.

Ironhide shifted uncomfortably under Ratchet’s cold stare, while Optimus Prime avoided eye contact and tried not to squirm as well.

It was Drift who spoke up in the face of a pissed off CMO. “The Lord Prime and Ironhide were questioning me about my history with the Decepticons. My loyalty was called into question, so I submitted myself to interrogation to settle the issue,” Drift summed up.

“Interrogation?!” Ratchet said indignantly. “We’re interrogating Autobots now?” He addressed his question to Optimus Prime, however it was Drift who answered.

“I insisted,” Drift said. “I wanted to put the matter to rest in a way that could not be misinterpreted later.”

Ratchet turned to the mech who had been in charge of the entire fiasco, Optimus Prime. “And what’s your justification for this atrocity?” Because that’s what it was, even though Ratchet knew that many Autobots would deem it justified.

“There were certain facts about Drift’s past that we had not been aware of...” Optimus Prime started to say. After it was explained, Ratchet would surely understand that the decision to interrogate Drift had been justified. Not that it justified what had happened during the interrogation, Optimus Prime conceded.

“Like what?” Ratchet shot back.

“Like the fact that Drift here isn’t just any Decepticon defector, he’s Megatron’s pet protege Deadlock,” Ironhide said heatedly in Prime’s defense.

“So?” Ratchet replied.

Ratchet’s casual response aggravated Ironhide, making his field crackle and snap with indignation. “What do you mean ‘so?’ Decepticon officers don’t just defect, much less one of Megatron’s favorites. He has to be here for a reason.”

“He’s here because he defected,” Ratchet snapped back. “Why all this animosity? It’s not like he’s been trying to hide the fact he used to be a Decepticon.”

“He was hiding the fact that he was Deadlock!” Ironhide snarled back, leaning over Drift and Optimus so that he could loom over Ratchet.

“No he wasn’t!” Mikaela’s heated voice cut into the conversation turned shouting match between Ratchet and Ironhide, startling both mechs.

Mikaela continued her furious tirade, fearlessly stepping towards Ironhide. “Drift told me about Deadlock not long after we met. Why would he do that if he was trying to hide?”

Startled by what she had said, Optimus Prime looked over at Mikaela. “He never asked you to keep it a secret?” he asked her.

“No,” Mikaela shot back, somehow managing to imply, with a single word, that Optimus Prime was the dumbest person in the world for asking such a question.

“I also knew he was Deadlock,” Ratchet confirmed. “Though in my case it’s not because Drift told me.”

Ratchet settled down into a more comfortable position and kept his scanners on where Drift and Prime were conjoined. As long as Drift didn’t develop too many more microtears they could continue the conversation.

“I knew Drift before the war. He came around to my clinic a few times,” Ratchet continued.

“Saved my life more than once,” Drift said quietly in response.

“By now I’ve saved everybody’s life,” Ratchet said with a touch of dark humor. He reached under Optimus Prime’s chest to pat Drift’s shoulder roughly. “I was disappointed when you joined the Decepticons, but I understood why you did. Still didn’t enjoy seeing your unconscious carcass on my medberth after all this time.”

“Safest place I’ve ever been,” Drift replied honestly.

Ratchet looked awkward for a moment before his gruff personality won out. “Well, the third time’s a charm. You’re still on medical leave, but after this stunt you’re also confined to the medbay for the foreseeable future.”

“Aww Ratchet,” Drift snarked back lightly. “You just want to keep me for yourself.”

Ratchet snorted. “Get comfortable with your spike, because I won’t have the parts to rebuild your valve for at least a year, and that’s the optimistic estimate.”

Optimus Prime’s field was saturated with the mech’s guilty feelings again. At least he didn’t flinch this time.

“I want to know how Optimus and Ironhide were the only ones in this room who didn’t know about Deadlock,” Bumblebee piped up. He’d been sitting quietly in the background, analyzing what was going on like a good SpecOps mech was supposed to do.

Ironhide frowned. “You knew about Deadlock too?” he gruffly demanded.

Bumblebee nodded. “It’s in his Autobot personnel records. His classified ones, that is. I looked them up when Optimus assigned him to watch Mikaela.”

“That’s why you were so opposed to Drift being assigned to be her guardian,” Optimus Prime stated with the benefit of hindsight.

“At first, yes,” Bumblebee confirmed. It would also be fair to say that his opinion of Drift had completely changed since then.

“If it was in Drift’s records, why didn’t you know it?” Mikaela demanded, looking at Optimus Prime. “Don’t you have access to them?”

Optimus Prime tipped his head in the unconscious sign of a mech downloading or accessing data. Sure enough, Drift’s complete records were available in the base database — including the classified portion. Optimus Prime sagged, then caught himself before he put too much of his weight on Drift.

“Yes, I do, and yes, they contain the information that Drift is Deadlock,” Optimus Prime confirmed, bowing his head, ashamed. It was such a simple fuck up, but one with a terrible consequences.

“So, you never bothered to read Drift’s records,” Mikaela summed up, her voice dripping with scorn.

“The situation is... complicated,” Optimus Prime said faintly. There really wasn’t anything that he could say in his defense, however. Not reviewing Drift’s full file from the beginning had been a mistake. Not reviewing it after the mech had been accused of still being a Decepticon had been an even more monumentally stupid mistake. Optimus wasn’t eager for the rest of his mistakes to be dragged into the spotlight. He wouldn’t avoid it, though. Drift deserved the truth.

...and Ratchet wouldn’t let Optimus settle for any less than the truth, judging by Ratchet’s very judgemental field.

“Then uncomplicate it,” Mikaela swiped back. With each new thing she learned, her anger slowly burned hotter. Mikaela was afraid she was going to burn up. It scared her.

As Optimus Prime seemed hesitant to speak, Ratchet spoke up first. “When I arrived, Optimus Prime and Drift were deep in an uncontrolled interface. That is, there were no firewalls keeping Optimus Prime’s conscious mind and Drift’s conscious mind separated,” Ratchet explained, mostly for Mikaela’s benefit. “It is dangerous for such a connection to continue too long because those involved can end up mingling their minds until they lose all sense of self. Protected by medical firewalls and overrides, I spliced myself into the open connection, separated their consciousnesses, and reinstated their firewalls. Once that was done, I was able to safely sever the connection.”

Ratchet turned towards Optimus Prime. “Now, since Drift was the one being interrogated his firewalls would have been required to be down for the questioning. The question then is, what the fuck happened to Optimus Prime’s firewall?” Ratchet sat back on his heels as he delivered his final cutting remark.

It was Drift who replied. “He had none. After he initiated the connection I barely had a microsecond to realize what was wrong before my mind was swamped.”

Ratchet’s field snapped with his indignation. “You could have killed yourself and Drift,” he told Optimus Prime, his disapproval clear in the overtones of his voice. “How could you do something so recklessly stupid?”

“How does that lead to Optimus raping Drift?” Mikaela impatiently asked the question again.

“It’s tricky to explain, but I’ll try,” Drift said, keeping his tone even so as not to set off Mikaela’s temper. She would probably take the explanation better coming from him. Coming from Optimus Prime, she’d just think it was an excuse.

“When Optimus Prime connected to me, the sheer force of his conscious thoughts overwhelmed my own. My mind scrambled for something to hold on to in order to keep some thread of sanity, some point of similarity where our minds could flow together instead of fighting each other. Unfortunately, that point of similarity came in the form of an old memory of an extremely passionate encounter with a former lover of mine. I don’t really remember how I ended up on my back with Optimus Prime's spike literally welded to my valve,” Drift admitted wryly. At the time Drift had been caught up in very vivid memories of Megatron’s hotter than a smelter style of total sexual domination in the berth. Given that both mech’s firewalls had been completely non-existent, Drift suspected that Optimus Prime had been caught up as well.

“Likely Optimus Prime’s systems reacted to the sensory stimulus attached to the memory of your lover,” Ratchet explained. This wasn’t the first time he’d had to deal with idiots who interfaced without protection. Usually it was young mechs experimenting with their first interface, though.

“What did you see?” Ratchet asked Ironhide, the only mech in the building who had been in his right mind during the incident.

Ironhide just shrugged. “Optimus plugged into Drift and they froze for a while. Suddenly both were down on the ground with Optimus on top of Drift. Optimus had his spike out and was fragging Drift before I even realized that they’d removed their interface covers,” he reported.

“You’re saying it wasn’t Drift Optimus Prime was fucking, but Drift’s memories of his lover,” Mikaela summed up, visibly disgusted. She couldn’t bear to be near Optimus Prime anymore, but she clung to Drift’s hand. Drift needed her. “And now Drift is going to need surgery to recover from the damage.” And probably therapy. All the therapy.

“I need to separate them first,” Ratchet said. “You don’t want to be here for that.”

Mikaela shook her head and held on tighter to Drift. “I’m not going anywhere,” she said stubbornly, with a wary eye in Bumblebee’s direction in case he was thinking of taking her away.

“Ratchet, it would be best if Mikaela stayed.” Drift backed her up.

Ratchet gave Mikaela a skeptical look. “Are you sure? It’s going to be gory.”

Drift could feel Mikaela trembling. “Her imagination would be worse than the reality. Besides, she’ll be there in the medbay during the surgery.” Drift hoped Ratchet agreed. It was selfish of him, but Mikaela had already seen the result of this incident in her visions. At least now he knew that she wouldn’t be left alone with his body.

“I’m staying,” Mikaela said, stubborn and determined.

Drift quickly pinged Bumblebee. :You’ll need to take care of Mikaela during my recovery,: he warned the other mech, relying on the tentative agreement they had come to the day before.

:Of course,: Bumblebee replied without hesitation.

That was another weight off Drift’s mind. He could at least trust that the other mech had Mikaela’s best interests in mind, and was willing to defy his commanders when they clashed.

Ratchet looked up. “Ironhide, go get a couple of clean tarps,” he ordered.

“What for?” Ironhide asked gruffly.

“To hide the damage as we transfer Drift and Optimus Prime between here and the medbay,” Ratchet said grimly.

Ratchet understood humans enough to know that it would be best if they didn’t reveal the intimate nature of the damage Optimus Prime and Drift had sustained. Humans acted weird when it came to the topic of sex, so they’d have to hide it. Especially since Optimus wouldn’t be able to retract his spike until Ratchet finished surgery. Ratchet wouldn’t be able to do that until he was done with the surgery needed to stabilize Drift.

As Ironhide dutifully left the building to go fetch the tarps from the medbay, Ratchet pulled his mind back to the problem at hand. “I’ll need to prep you first,” he told Drift.

Drift nodded. “Do what you need to.”

Ratchet removed his kit from his subspace and set it to the side so he could reach it easily. He’d need it to keep Drift from bleeding out. First, though, Ratchet removed a cube of energon from his subspace.

“You’re going to need to drink this to top up your levels and help mitigate the effect of the energon loss,” Ratchet explained. While the energon wouldn’t stop Drift from bleeding, it would be better for Drift’s recovery if he started out fully fueled instead of partially fueled. That way, his body would have plenty of energon to process to refill his lines and Ratchet wouldn’t need to worry as much about Drift running low while in surgery. “Given your position, however, I’ll have to tube you.”

Drift didn’t know if Ratchet was referring to his secondary fueling port, or if he was going to run a tube down Drift’s throat to his tank. Neither one sounded great. “If I have a choice, I’d rather drink from the cube, thanks,” he said.

However, between Drift’s position squashed between Optimus Prime’s vast bulk and the ground, and the fact that Mikaela was holding onto Drift’s free hand, Drift was at a loss for how to prop himself up and hold the cube to refuel at the same time.

Bumblebee noticed his issue and took the cube from Ratchet, moving to kneel next to Drift’s head. He pinged Drift with a simple query glyph. :?:

Drift nodded to Bumblebee in reply.

With some careful shuffling they were able to have Optimus Prime rotate enough of his upper body off of Drift’s body that Bumblebee was able to prop Drift’s head up on his knee. The change in position twisted Optimus Prime’s spike, however, and energon began slowly welling out of widening microtears in Drift’s valve and dripping onto the cement.

Bumblebee carefully poured the energon into Drift, mouthful by mouthful.

While Bumblebee helped Drift drink, Ratchet moved down to the two mech’s hips. It was the work of a few moments for Ratchet to remove Optimus Prime’s plating so that he could access the energon lines that ran to the large mech’s interface equipment and turn it off. It wouldn’t be a good idea to leave it that way for long, because it could cause the metals and materials that made up Prime’s array to deteriorate. As a temporary measure, however, it would prevent Optimus Prime from bleeding out in case he sustained excessive damage when he pulled out.

Ratchet knew that in cases like these, however, the mech who spiked usually ended up in better condition than the mech who was spiked.

It was much harder for Ratchet to reach the appropriate part of Drift’s substructure. All he could access was the side of Drift’s pelvis. It wasn’t enough space for Ratchet to remove the panel he needed, much less access the appropriate feeder lines.

Ratchet waited until the cube Bumblebee held was empty before he let Drift know the bad news. “There’s no helping it. I’ll need to roll you both on your side so I can turn off the energon lines to your interface equipment,” Ratchet told Drift.

Fortunately, Irohide had finished his errand and brought back the tarps, so Ratchet could press the large mech into helping.

Drift clamped his legs tightly around Optimus Prime as Ironhide carefully rolled them over onto their sides. The position put Optimus Prime’s body squarely on top of one of Drift’s knee joints. Drift could feel the stabbing pain as the mechanisms in his knee protested and slowly bent out of shape.

The new position also put stress on his valve, and the amount of energon running down Drift’s legs slowly increased.

Conscious of Drift’s worsening condition, Ratchet moved as quickly as he could. Once he was done, he signaled to Ironhide to roll them back.

Now that Drift and Optimus were prepped, Ratchet laid out the expanding foam that he would use to temporarily seal the wounds in Drift’s valve. While Ratchet had turned off the main hub for the energon lines going to Drift’s interface equipment, there was still energon sitting in those lines. Also, it wouldn’t be uncommon, as old as Drift was, for him to have non-standard energon lines that had been installed without a regard for proper medical blueprints. Ratchet had almost lost more than one patient due to that, so he made sure to be prepared.

In the end, there was no more preparation for Ratchet to do. Now, all that could be done was the actual process of pulling Optimus Prime’s spike out of Drift’s valve.

“Prime,” Ratchet said seriously. “On my mark I need you to pull straight back as fast and hard as you can.”

Optimus Prime nodded his understanding. He had pulled his field in tight around himself, so Ratchet couldn’t get a read on his emotional state.

Ratchet waved Ironhide over to kneel on the opposite side of the two entwined mechs. He looked at Ironhide, but talked to Drift. “Ironhide and I will be holding you down so Optimus doesn't end up dragging you across the floor. Just, go limp and try not to fight it.”

Ironhide looked suitably serious about the situation, which was good. He didn’t say anything as he knelt down and took a grip on Drift’s shoulder as instructed.

As Ratchet looked at Drift, the smaller mech nodded grimly. He had used the time while Ratchet was preparing to make his own mental preparations.

Drift turned to Bumblebee. “Hold Mikaela.”

“Hey!” Mikaela exclaimed.

Drift continued his instructions for Bumblebee. “Keep her out of squishing range. We will likely be moving too fast to watch out for her.”

Bumblebee nodded and stubbornly coaxed Mikaela to let go of Drift’s hand, which she did reluctantly.

It was time.

At Ratchet’s mark, Optimus Prime threw himself backwards.

Ratchet and Ironhide held Drift in place against the immense pressure tearing his valve apart.

Drift screamed as the pain finally overwhelmed the blockers he had been using.

With a shrieking tear of rending metal Optimus Prime’s spike was pulled clear of Drift’s valve.

The sudden release caused Optimus Prime to fall backwards, awkwardly catching himself with his hands before he could fall over backwards. Looking down the length of his body he could see his gore-covered spike. It was extended and unable to retract due to pieces of Drift’s valve still attached to its length. With a shudder he looked away.

Ratchet roughly elbowed Optimus Prime aside so that he could access and seal the torn energon lines in Drift’s valve.

Ironhide threw a tarp over Optimus Prime, hiding the evidence of Prime’s colossal mistake.

Cradled in Bumblebee's arms, all Mikaela could do was numbly watch the gory fulfillment of her vision.

Chapter Text

February 2010

It was an urgent, but silent procession that made their way back to the medbay in hangar two.

Ratchet made Ironhide carry the tarp-wrapped body of Drift, the unconscious mech limp in the black mech’s arms, while Ratchet walked alongside, monitoring Drift’s vitals. Drift was stable, for now.

Bumblebee followed closely, carrying an overwhelmed Mikaela while Optimus Prime limped after them, a tarp wrapped around his waist. To perceptive observers, the tarp didn’t hide the trails of energon snaking down his legs.

Once back in the medbay, Ratchet had Ironhide carefully place Drift on the medbay berth, then shooed everybody back while he prepared to operate on Drift.

First Ratchet had to position Drift’s body so that he could reach the damage. The berth was basic, and not equipped with stirrups. In order to reach Drift’s ravaged valve, Ratchet had to position the smaller mech with his legs spread wide, knees placed at the edge of the berth, and his lower legs dangling off the sides. The position wouldn’t help Drift’s damaged knee, but his valve was the more urgent priority. At least Ratchet had the parts on hand to fix Drift’s knee, unlike his valve.

Ratchet set up an energon drip to keep Drift’s energon levels steady and connected a medical hardline to monitor Drift’s condition and make sure that he remained safely sedated. Ratchet would have to keep an eye on Drift’s levels while he worked in case he missed a line and Drift started bleeding out again.

Then, Ratchet was ready to start.

Ratchet worked swiftly, but delicately. He proceeded systematically, removing the emergency foam sealant that had stopped Drift’s bleeding bit by bit, clamping off or repairing ruptured energon lines as they were uncovered, and deactivating traumatized nerve sensors as he went along.

Ratchet didn’t have the parts, or even raw materials to make the parts, needed to reline Drift’s valve, much less repair the sensors and other delicate moving parts that had been damaged or torn out. For now, Ratchet would spray a special coating to protect the exposed components until he had the parts to repair them. Until then, Drift’s valve cover would be sealed shut, only openable with a medical override.

Mikaela sat in Bumblebee’s lap and watched the entire process intently. They were sitting across the room in the same spot where Bumblebee had sat the previous evening.

It was almost unbelievable to Mikaela. Last night she had been with Drift on Ratchet’s medberth. Now, Drift was up there alone. All Mikaela could do was watch, and try to forget what she had seen. It was hard when Optimus Prime was standing nearby waiting his turn.

Optimus Prime felt a deep sense of guilt and shame. Drift had behaved far more honorably than he had, and under much more trying circumstances. The white mech had remained calm and resolute in the face of Sideswipe and Ironhide’s accusations, even when faced with Optimus’ displeasure.

Then there had been Optimus’ subsequent actions...

Optimus had already contacted Jolt to let him know that Ironhide, Bumblebee, Ratchet, Drift, and himself were unavailable until further notice, and rescheduled his meetings for the day. So Optimus had little else to do while he was waiting except think back over what had gone wrong. His spike itched where pieces of Drift’s internal structure were still attached to it. Optimus tried not to think about the energon-covered gore he still wore, but a part of him thought it appropriate that he be marked in such a way.

Even if Ratchet hadn’t insisted on Drift being treated first, Optimus would still have insisted on it. Optimus could wait, he was in much better condition than Drift.

How could he have fucked up this badly?

Optimus glanced sideways at Mikaela, but she only had eyes for Drift.

The building was quiet except for the noises Ratchet made as he worked inside Drift’s protoform. The battle-hardened mechs watching winced sympathetically at a particularly enthusiastic shriek of rending metal. Mikaela paled.

“Mikaela?!” Roman’s voice suddenly echoed through the building, followed by the sound of the human-sized side door slamming shut. A few minutes earlier a rather subdued Skids had poked his head around the side of the motorpool and told Roman that he should get over to the medbay quick.

Roman had immediately thought the worst.

“QUIET!” Ratchet roared furiously. He currently had one hand buried wrist deep in Drift’s body, sealing off the ends of a cluster of capillary energon lines. Fortunately, medical coding blunted Ratchet’s emotional subroutines during surgery so he could focus better, because he currently had no patience for idiots.

Chastised, Roman tiptoed quietly around the equipment lining the walls until he caught sight of Bumblebee and Mikaela. He was relieved to see that she was sitting on Bumblebee, straddling one of his legs and leaning back against his torso. She looked unharmed.

Roman jogged quietly over to Mikaela, hoping to catch her attention so he could ask what was going on and why Skids had told him to come over, but quickly realized that Mikaela was clearly engrossed by whatever was going on on Ratchet’s table. She wouldn’t even look at him. When he looked, Roman could see that Ratchet was working on a mech. He couldn’t tell which mech it was from this angle, but he could tell that they were white with flashes of red.

There was only one white mech Roman knew of on base. Considering that Mikaela wouldn’t take her eyes off the table, it was a safe bet that it was Drift up there being worked on.

Roman studied Mikaela again, trying to get a feeling for how she was doing.

It had been less than a day since he’d seen her, and Mikaela looked like shit. Physically she may be fine, or at least not any worse than she had been before she ran away, but fresh stress had clearly left its mark on her.

Roman grieved for the young woman that Mikaela hadn’t been able to be.

In letters she had sent him while he was in jail, Mikaela had talked about her dreams of starting her own shop doing custom work. (Roman had secretly hoped she would go to college instead.)

At this point Roman would just be happy if she flirted with boys her own age, instead of giant warrior robots.

He’d never dreamed that his daughter would be wrapped up in intergalactic wars and politics. Some days he’d be working on a humvee and a Cybertronian would go walking by, casually, and he’d get hit anew with how surreal his life had become.

And Mikaela had lived with this for nearly three years now.

Roman shook his head, pulling his thoughts back to the here and now, and turned back towards his daughter.

Last night Drift had looked fine, at least as far as Roman could tell. Maybe a bit tired, but nothing that would put him in surgery.

What kind of trouble had they gotten into while on base?

Since he’d arrived, Roman kept his ear to the ground when it came to base gossip. He hadn’t heard anything about any of the Autobots leaving base, and none of the giant cargo planes had taken off, so it probably wasn’t a battle.

Roman laid his hand on Mikaela’s knee. For a moment, her eyes flicked to him, before they moved back to Ratchet and Drift.

“What happened?” Roman asked softly, trying not to draw the medic’s ire, but needing to know what was causing the hurt look in Mikaela’s eyes.

“Drift’s hurt,” Mikaela said in a distant voice, not looking at her father. Her attention was held by whatever Ratchet was doing to Drift.

Roman probed a little deeper when it became clear that Mikaela wasn’t going to elaborate. “Can you tell me how?”

Mikaela took a long while to respond. Neither she nor Roman seemed aware that Bumblebee, Ironhide, and Optimus Prime were listening in. “They never read the paperwork,” she finally said with a bitter laugh and a shake of her head.

That... made absolutely no sense to Roman.

Fortunately, Mikaela continued rambling. “Drift used to be a Decepticon. He never kept it a secret. He insisted I know soon after we met,” she said distantly, watching Ratchet over Roman’s shoulder. Roman heard something like nails on chalkboard, and was glad he couldn’t see as his skin tried to crawl off of his neck.

Mikaela looked sick.

Bumblebee looked uncomfortable and glanced down at Mikaela with a worried look.

Roman hadn’t known that Drift had been a Decepticon. As far as Roman could recall from the blur that was his early days on base, the Decepticons were the ‘bad guys’ and the Autobots were the ‘good guys.’ At least, according to the Autobots. If Drift was now an Autobot instead of a Decepticon, it was probably one heck of a story.

Mikaela waved vaguely towards the other two mechs in the room.

Roman noticed that the larger one, Optimus Prime, had a suspicious tarp around his waist. He took another glance at Ratchet and Drift, and noticed what part of Drift Ratchet was operating on.

Roman was connecting the dots, and not liking the picture he was coming up with.

Mikaela’s voice cracked. “They heard that Drift was Deadlock and they got scared,” Mikaela’s scorn was palpable.

Large and black didn’t like the sound of that, Roman thought, judging by how Ironhide suddenly stood up straight and imposing, like he was going to object. Roman didn’t spot whatever it was that stopped him, but Ironhide quickly settled back with a disgruntled look on his face.

Roman was just glad that Mikaela hadn’t noticed the byplay.

Mikaela’s voice came in hiccups of sound. “They... Drift... It wasn’t a secret!” Mikaela’s tirade built into a keening scream as Mikaela bowed forward under the weight of her turbulent emotions. “I knew it! Ratchet knew it! Bumblebee even knew it! It was in his fucking file! They never read the fucking file.” Mikaela collapsed forward lengthwise on Bumblebee’s leg with her forehead on his knee.

Optimus Prime flinched back and Ironhide shuffled his feet uncomfortably.

That made a bit more sense, and Roman could see the results for himself.

Mikaela traumatized, again.

Drift heavily injured, again.

If Roman thought he’d have half a chance in hell at smuggling Mikaela out of this hellhole, he would have done it weeks ago. Not that Mikaela would want to leave. At least, not while Drift was here.

Roman wondered if this event would change her mind.

Roman also noticed that Ratchet had been quiet throughout Mikaela’s breakdown. He hadn’t told her off for the noise.

Roman glanced cautiously at the yellow mech she was sitting on top of. Bumblebee didn’t seem inclined to interfere as Roman pulled Mikaela sideways into a firm hug.

Mikaela swung her leg over Bumblebee’s and slid off. She held onto her father tightly. After a minute the last of her composure broke and her body shuddered with silent sobs.

Bumblebee looked down helplessly.

Suddenly Mikaela stiffened, pushing Roman away hard enough that Bumblebee reached for her to make sure she wouldn’t fall. Mikaela looked around wildly. “Peerless,” she said, nonsensically. “The sword. Where are Drift’s swords?!” she exclaimed, turning to face the other mechs.

Optimus Prime traded a look with Ironhide.

“They’re back in the hangar,” Ironhide rumbled and straightened up. “I’ll go get them.”

“No.” Mikaela’s commanding voice stopped Ironhide before he had taken more than a step.

Ironhide gave Mikaela a questioning look.

“Bumblebee, can you get them?” she asked instead, turning to face him.

Ironhide was suddenly hit with the realization that Mikaela didn’t completely trust him anymore. Ironhide had maintained Drift’s sword for Mikaela while Drift had been away. Mikaela had watched him like a hawk when Ironhide had moved the sword from the medical center and into her apartment. Now Mikaela didn’t even trust him to fetch them.

Bumblebee shook his head at Mikaela’s request. “Drift would kill me if I left you alone,” he said.

Mikaela huffed. “I’m not alone. Dad’s here and Ratchet’s here. I’ll be fine.” Nobody in the room missed the implications of Mikaela’s words.

Bumblebee gave Mikaela a knowing look.

Mikaela made an impatient noise, turned, and walked away from Bumblebee. Roman followed as she made her way to the foot of the medberth.

Mikaela was acutely aware that Optimus Prime and Ironhide were staring at her. Their gaze felt like crawling spiders across her shoulders, making her want to run to get away from it. Instead, she kept her pace carefully measured. She wasn’t going to let Optimus know that he was getting to her.

When Mikaela made it to the end of the berth, she climbed the short staircase to the top. Now Ratchet was standing between herself and Optimus Prime.

Ratchet carefully watched Mikaela with his peripheral sensors as she sat down at the end of the berth. “Don’t get any closer,” he warned. She wasn’t wearing the proper safety gear to participate in a surgery, not that Ratchet would ask her to help with Drift’s. He didn’t think Mikaela would be capable of the necessary objectivity.

Ratchet also didn’t want Mikaela too close in case he triggered an involuntary response from Drift. It wasn’t likely — the mech was under pretty far — but it wasn’t completely unknown for a frontline warrior to lash out unexpectedly. After four million years of war, their warning systems were fine-tuned, sometimes past the point of sanity.

Mikaela looked over at Bumblebee. “I’m fine here.”

Bumblebee gave up. He knew that none of the mechs in the room would hurt her, despite Mikaela’s current feelings towards certain people. She would be safe enough while he fetched the swords.

Mikaela watched as Bumblebee got up and brushed himself off before leaving the medbay. She could practically feel her father’s questioning look, but Mikaela ignored it. She didn’t want to start explaining the mess that her relationships with the Autobots had turned into in the last few months. Mikaela patted the berth next to her, wordlessly urging Roman to sit down and keep her company.

What Mikaela hadn’t considered was that her new perch gave her an up close and uncomfortably intimate view into what exactly Ratchet was doing in between Drift’s legs. Granted, human blood didn’t glow fluorescent pink, but Mikaela had been around mechs long enough that she could easily equate the energon-soaked hole between Drift’s legs with a blood-soaked wound.

Mikaela deliberately looked away and leaned up against her father. Roman hugged Mikaela close in response as she burrowed closer, searching for reassurance. He ignored the periodic tremors that still wracked her body.

What the fuck happened, he thought.

***

Optimus scrubbed at the congealed energon on the medbay berth meditatively. It was something to do to keep his hands busy. Maybe doing this little favor for Ratchet would make the mech go easier on him... not that Optimus held out much hope of that.

The dried energon in the seams of his pelvic armor itched. He wished again for proper, mech-sized washrack facilities. Right now the best they had access to was a firehose to clean up with. But there was nothing he could do about that now.

Once Ratchet got back from carrying Drift to the officers’ quarters next door, Optimus was sure that the medic would have plenty of choice words to say about how he had fucked up.

Ironhide stood a few paces away, ever his loyal bodyguard. It was during times like this that Optimus wondered why the old soldier stuck by a fuckup like him.

Optimus reined in his chaotic field as he heard footsteps outside the door, but it was only Ratchet. He deposited the soiled rag in the disposal container and stood uneasily next to the berth as Ratchet stalked in.

Optimus was suddenly, acutely conscious of his extended spike underneath the tarp he still wore around his waist.

Ratchet ignored Optimus however, walking straight past him to inspect the medberth. Deeming Optimus’ clean up job acceptable he jerked his head at the larger mech. “Get on,” Ratchet ordered curtly.

Optimus carefully lowered his bulk onto the medberth and tried to relax as Ratchet sterilized his hands and readied his tools. Ratchet’s actions were smoothly professional, despite the roiled field beneath its veneer of artificial calm.

“Don’t,” Optimus protested as Ratchet moved to inject a sedative into his system.

Ratchet pulled back and gave Optimus a hard look.

Ratchet glanced up at Ironhide. “Go shut the door,” he ordered the other mech. Ratchet technically didn’t have the authority to order Ironhide around, but the other mech was wise enough not to point that out.

The door to the medbay slid shut and Ratchet glared back down at Optimus. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t,” he challenged the larger mech. “If your reason is, ‘I don’t deserve it’ you can stop right now,” Ratchet warned as Optimus opened his mouth to respond.

Optimus closed his mouth with a snap and looked away. Ratchet knew him too well.

Ratchet grabbed Optimus by the chin, forcing the other mech to look at him. “I understand you want to punish yourself for what you did, but don’t even try to make me a party to your self flagellation,” Ratchet said harshly. “I don’t appreciate or deserve it, and I’m not going to cater to your martyr complex.”

Ratchet stared down Optimus until the other mech slumped in defeat. He administered the sedative.

While Ratchet waited for it to start working, Ratchet disabled Optimus’ interface lubrication system. The last thing he needed was for Optimus’ interface equipment to start lubricating while he was handling it. As tempted as he was to ‘slip’ while he was grinding off the pieces of Drift welded to Optimus’ spike, professional pride and ethics prevented him.

Optimus’ pelvis slowly went numb as the sedative interfered with his neural signals. It didn’t stop him from flinching as Ratchet reached for his spike, though.

“Hold still,” Ratchet warned him in a tight voice.

Optimus looked away as Ratchet began the surgery. He could feel tugging and a slight burn, but no pain. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Ironhide taking up a new post, this time on the other side of the medberth from Ratchet, safely out of the way.

Optimus could practically feel the other two mech’s judgemental fields snapping at his. The depth of his shame radiated out through his barely-controlled field.

“I fucked up,” Optimus said hollowly, staring up at the ceiling.

“You fucked up,” Ratchet agreed, sugarcoating nothing as he cleaned Drift’s energon off of Optimus’ spike so that he could assess the damage visually.

“What is Drift’s condition?” Optimus asked.

“I’ve capped off the energon lines and neural connections to his valve. There was some damage to underlying mechanisms that will require a rebuild in addition to relining his valve,” Ratchet reported.

Ratchet wouldn’t normally be allowing his patient to talk this much during a procedure, but he was currently working on clearing away the easy stuff, mainly loose bits that just needed a little wiggle to remove.

“Send me the requisition, and I’ll sign off on it,” Optimus said. His signature would help bypass several levels of red tape. It didn’t always mean that they would get it faster — supplies were tight after all — but it meant that they would get the parts if they were at all available. It was literally the least he could do.

Ratchet paused what he was doing and looked up. “Aside from his valve, the energon loss while he was already recovering from energon deprivation put his systems into shock.”

Optimus jerked his head to look at Ratchet, who tapped the receiver that had been magnetized to Ratchet’s chest. Optimus realized that the paired monitor was most likely attached to Drift, monitoring his vitals. He should know, he’d been on the other end of Ratchet’s monitoring more than once.

Optimus was so focused on his tangential thoughts that it was Ironhide who asked “What do you mean ‘he was already recovering from energon deprivation’?” Ratchet had provided Optimus and Ironhide with Drift’s medical clearance before he had been sent out. According to Sideswipe’s report, the mission had been uneventful until the last day when they had fought Barricade. Ironhide didn’t recall seeing either Drift or Sideswipe with more than minor scrapes after the fight. Nothing he knew even hinted at the fact that Drift would have been suffering from energon deprivation as severe as what Ratchet was suggesting.

Ratchet sent Ironhide and Optimus the post-mission report he had prepared concerning Drift’s injuries — specifically highlighting Drift’s reported energon levels during the mission, what Ratchet had discovered and the end of the mission during his examination, what Drift had told Ratchet while being questioned, and Ratchet’s own conclusions.

Ratchet went back to work while the two mechs unpacked and examined his evidence.

“Ironhide,” Optimus said after a long pause, “follow up with Sideswipe and get his side of the story.” He didn’t want to rush to judgement again, given that he was currently suffering the effects of his prior poor judgement.

Ironhide nodded and contacted Sideswipe to set up a time to meet with the warrior.

“How can I fix this Ratchet?” Optimus asked, settling his head back against the medberth again.

Ratchet paused again, more irritated this time. He wanted to start cutting away the bigger pieces, but he didn’t want to have his concentration slip at a crucial moment.

“I don’t know,” Ratchet said honestly. “Psychology is not my expertise.”

Ratchet didn't know what Drift’s reaction to this was going to be. Ever since Drift had come back into Ratchet’s life he’d been too passive. With Deadlock’s reputation, Ratchet would have expected more fire out of him. Even the mech Ratchet had known living on the streets before the war had more passion in him.

“Drift mentioned that this wasn’t his first time?” Optimus said tentatively. “He recovered from those situations before.” Optimus felt like an emotional open wound. He didn’t want to know what Drift was feeling like right now.

“Likely with the help of a support system: lovers, friends. None of which he has now.” Ratchet didn’t point out that Drift’s existing support system were probably all Decepticons.

Optimus could only defer to Ratchet’s experience with Drift. It was clear that he’d never really known the mech.

Ratchet wasn’t done, though. “He’s not your only victim, you know.”

Optimus nodded sadly. “Mikaela.”

“Yes. She wasn’t involved, but she witnessed it. As much as she’s learned about us, she is not Cybertronian. She is not coming at it from the same cultural context as we are, and I don’t know how that’s going to affect her.”

Optimus was quiet as he digested that.

Ratchet took the opportunity and turned his attention back to Optimus’ spike. There were seven spots where the mesh of Drift’s valve had become welded to Optimus’ spike through the friction of their coupling. Ratchet had carefully cut off the excess, but the remnants still had to be ground down. It would leave a pattern of bald spots on Optimus’ spike until his paint nanites recolonized the surface.

Optimus continued to stew in his thoughts, about Drift, about the rape. He resolutely ignored Ratchet as the medic put his spike in a clamp to hold it still and started grinding away at it carefully. The feeling of exposed vulnerability was excruciating.

Chapter Text

February 2010

Mikaela curled up next to Drift’s unconscious body.

When she closed her eyes, she could almost pretend like they were back in the warehouse. Back when it had just been her and Drift (and Wheelie).

No Decepticons. No Autobots.

Then Bumblebee shifted, and the illusion was broken.

When Ratchet had finished with Drift’s repairs, he had needed the medberth for Optimus Prime’s surgery. They could either move Drift to the floor in the corner of the medbay, or move him to his berth in the barracks. After a short discussion, the other mechs realized that Drift hadn’t been assigned a berth in either of the barracks hangars. In fact, there weren’t even any open berths available. Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Bumblebee, and Ratchet shared the officer’s quarters in the third hangar. Arcee, Skids, Mudflap, Jolt, and Sideswipe shared the barracks in the fourth hangar.

Mikaela hadn’t liked the idea of having Drift in the same room as Optimus Prime, but when Bumblebee offered the use of his berth until they figured out what to do with Drift long term, Mikaela hadn’t argued. Her anger had burnt out during the long hours she had spent watching Ratchet fix Drift. Now she was too emotionally wrung out to feel much of anything.

It was now well into the evening, and Mikaela had kicked her father out hours ago so that he could go back to his own bed. Besides Drift’s unconscious body, Mikaela was alone in the room with Bumblebee. While Mikaela got ready for bed, Bumblebee sat on the floor at the head of the berth, with his back against it, leaving plenty of clearance for Drift’s swords.

Earlier Mikaela had asked Bumblebee to remove the swords from his subspace and lay them out next to the berth, like Drift used to do back in the warehouse. She figured it would make Drift feel better about waking up in a strange location.

Mikaela shifted restlessly, staring into the imperfect darkness of the room, waiting until she was tired enough to fall asleep. Her anger may have burnt out, but that didn’t mean that her mind was any quieter. A part of her knew that she should try to meditate to calm herself, but with Drift lying next to her, hurt and in pain, she didn’t feel like it.

Drift didn’t show any signs of waking up any time soon. With nothing else to do, Mikaela pulled a blanket over her head and finally went to sleep.

***

Roman entered his apartment with a heavy step. It felt like he had stones instead of feet. Granted, Roman had seen some shit in his life, but robot vagina was one that he could have gone to his grave without seeing, much less having a front-row seat for what he was pretty sure was a post-rape medical exam.

So much for being the ‘good guys'.

Wheelie looked up as Roman slammed the apartment door shut hard and slid home the deadbolt. The small mech was sitting on the couch in the living room area. On the television screen in front of Wheelie, Jerry Springer was doing his usual wrap up at the end of the show, pattering on about something schmaltzy and patronizing for his home viewers.

Roman couldn’t give a fuck.

Roman stopped in the galley kitchen and grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge before walking over to the couch. He sat down heavily, bouncing Wheelie slightly as he did so. “Shit like this is becoming too fucking common,” Roman muttered as he set down one beer on the coffee table and cracked the other one open.

By now Wheelie had been around humans enough that he was beginning to pick up on their moods. He’d also become accustomed to Roman’s moods specifically, having crashed on the guy’s couch for most of the last month. For Roman, one beer in the evening was normal. Starting out with two beers... That meant shit had gone down during the day. Given the drama around Mikaela’s disappearance, then more drama around her reappearance... If Wheelie had money (and if he did, he wouldn’t admit it) he’d put it on Mikaela being the culprit.

“What the fuck happened?” Wheelie demanded, muting the television.

Roman raised an eyebrow at the little menace. “Got a tip from Skids that I should make my way down to the medbay this afternoon. Got there and found out that Optimus Prime raped Drift and Mikaela was there to watch it.”

That was the best thing Wheelie had heard in months. “So, Prime finally got himself some action,” Wheelie replied, waving his hands in a crudely suggestive movement. “Was it a one-time thing, or is he going to make Drift his piece of ass on the side?” Wheelie’s red eyes glinted as he leaned forward avariciously, eager for hot gossip. Maybe now Optimus Prime would take that stick out of his ass now that he was getting some steady nookie.

Roman pulled back from Wheelie, discomforted by the little mech’s sudden attitude. Wheelie was a crass little savage, but Roman hadn’t thought that the little mech was completely without empathy. “What the fuck are you talking about?” Roman said, outraged. “Optimus Prime raped him! They aren’t going to start a relationship!”

“Who said anything about a relationship?” Wheelie sat back on his heels with a sardonic laugh and raised one spindly finger. “First, no matter who you are, it’s not rape if it’s the Prime. Second, Drift’s cold constructed. You can’t rape a cold constructed mech. Third, Drift is a hot piece of ass. I’d be surprised if Prime was the first officer to tap that.”

That was fifteeen shades of wrong, and Roman barely knew where to start. “What do you mean ‘it’s not rape if it’s the Prime?’” Roman said coldly, setting his open beer aside. It would make it easier to strangle Wheelie if he was joking.

“Prime’s the big boss. The king. The emperor. The big kahuna of Cybertron. If he wants a mech he gets a mech,” Wheelie explained, gesturing wildly in an attempt to convey just how important Optimus Prime was. “Capiche?”

“So what the other mech wants doesn’t matter?” Roman didn’t like the implications of what he was learning.

“Not really. Maybe Prime would think twice if it was a noble, but the nobility used to throw themselves at Prime’s feet anyway. Besides, they died out when the Towers fell.” Roman could hear the capitalization in that sentence. “Doubt even they would have gotten away with saying no though. It’s illegal to say no to the Prime,” Wheelie explained matter of factly. “Only surprising thing is that Prime’s jumping a cold constructed mech instead of one of the Allspark-sparked.”

There was that term again, Roman noticed. ‘Cold constructed.’

“Why is that surprising?” he asked

Wheelie threw himself back down on the couch, facing the television with his arms crossed. He looked exactly like a petulant pre-teen. Not that Mikaela had ever been petulant...

“Because we’re not people,” Wheelie finally spit out, his voice bitter.

That threw Roman for a loop. “What do you mean by that?” he asked, his voice slightly softer and less indignant. It sounded like he’d hit a sore spot.

Wheelie had already gone this far, he thought, he may as well go the rest of the way. If it lost him Roman’s grudging toleration... Wheelie didn’t know what he would do. Maybe go throw himself on Prime’s mercy, again.

Wheelie avoided looking at Roman. “There are two ways to make a mech; the Allspark, and cold construction. Legally, only those made by the Allspark are people. Cold constructed, or made to order, MTO, are not.”

“Why’s that?” Roman said tentatively. He didn’t know how much deeper this was going to go.

“Because slavery’s illegal on Cybertron, but if they’re not people, it doesn’t count.”

“What,” Roman said flatly. He had the sudden realization that he was in deep over his head.

Wheelie, realizing that he’d said something that he maybe shouldn’t have, whirled and held out his hands towards Roman. “Don’t tell!”

The shrill tone of fear in Wheelie’s voice cued Roman into how serious this was.

“Why?”

Wheelie lowered his voice to a rough whisper. “Because I could be accused of spreading Decepticon propaganda.”

“Why’s that?” What did the Decepticons have to do with this? Roman didn’t want to ask, though. Every question he asked just dug a deeper hole. Roman was only on base with Optimus Prime’s permission after all.

Wheelie bit his lip nervously and shook his head. He wasn’t going to say anything else. He had a good thing going here, and the Autobots didn’t even seem to realize he was still around, which was the way he liked it. Wheelie retreated to the other end of the couch, grabbing the remote along the way and turning the sound back on so he could huddle in on himself and hide from further questions behind the wall of sound from the television.

Roman let Wheelie go. He picked up his half-finished beer and took a swig as Jerry introduced the theme of the next show. He watched the on-screen human trainwreck go on for several minutes, tuning out the details and just letting the noise wash over him as he slouched back into the couch.

“You know anything about a guy named Deadlock?” Roman asked casually during a commercial break.

Wheelie quickly grabbed the remote and muted the television. “What’d you say?” he demanded. How the fuck was the human suprising him so much in one day?

“Guy named Deadlock.” Roman waved his hand dismissively, stretching his back. “Know him?”

“How the hell do you know that name?” Wheelie was wary after the dangerous direction that the previous conversation had gone in. Roman was being too casual about this, Wheelie thought.

Roman carefully didn’t look at Wheelie, not wanting to scare the small mech. “Because apparently Drift is also known as Deadlock.”

It took almost thirty seconds before Roman realized that Wheelie was being abnormally quiet and looked over. The small mech was sitting on the couch staring dumbfounded at Roman, his mouth working soundlessly.

“What?” Roman’s question woke Wheelie out of whatever stupor he had ended up in.

“Drift is Deadlock?” Wheelie asked in a voice shrill enough to set dogs barking three blocks away.

“That’s what Mikaela said,” Roman confirmed.

Wheelie crawled over the cushions between them, getting up in Roman’s lap and shoving his face into Roman’s. “You’re saying that Deadlock — Megatron’s protege and kickass ruthless berserker warrior extraordinaire — is currently following around a human girl like a puppy on a leash.”

Roman shoved Wheelie back onto his side of the couch. Too close was too close. “I wouldn’t exactly put it that way,” Roman said. “Is Deadlock really all of those things?” Not that he doubted the mech was a warrior, but Roman didn’t think Drift was as terrifying as people always made Decepticons out to be.

“Fuck yes,” Wheelie said flatly, a wealth of experience in his voice.

“Is he a danger to Mikaela?”

“Doubt it,” Wheelie replied. “When I lived with them they were wrapped around each other so tight I’m surprised they didn’t spontaneously become gestalt. The guy nearly died for her.”

Not that Roman understood what ‘gestalt’ was, but he was able to understand the idea behind what Wheelie was saying.

“Fucking Deadlock is still alive... damn,” Wheelie said with a reverence that most only gave to their favorite sports team. “And here I thought Drift was a bit of a pussy.”

***

Startled, Drift woke up with his free arm wrapped around Bumblebee’s neck and a dagger scratching Bumblebee’s primary energon line.

The two mechs were locked in a frozen tableau, Bumblebee unable to move, and Drift just barely starting to realize what was going on.

Bumblebee was frozen, half crouched next to the berth. He had been getting up to stretch his legs when he had been grabbed. Bumblebee was sure that any wrong move could set off the warrior behind him.

Bumblebee heard Mikaela grunt as she rolled over in her makeshift bed, blankets whispering against each other.

Mikaela peered blearily at what Drift was holding. “I’z B’mblebee,” she slurred, mostly asleep. She pulled the covers back over her head and went back to sleep.

Drift’s hold on Bumblebee tightened fractionally, worrying the yellow mech. Then the dagger was removed and Drift released Bumblebee.

Bumblebee fell forward onto his hands as the tension left his body with a surge of relief.

“Sorry,” came Drift’s soft voice out of the darkness of the officer’s barracks.

Mikaela mumbled something indistinct but crabby.

:No problem,: Bumblebee replied faux-casually, switching to comms as he picked himself up off of the floor. :I’ll know better next time.: He didn’t want a repeat of what just happened. Next time Drift might not remember to stop.

With a rasping groan one of the large hangar doors opened just wide enough for a mech. Moonlight illuminated the room briefly as a figure slipped in, then closed the door behind them. Bumblebee could tell from the silhouette who it was, even without resorting to checking Ratchet’s EM field or IFF beacon.

This time Mikaela didn’t even stir at the noise.

Drift laid back on the berth, his hand coming up to cover the sensor that Ratchet had left magnetized to his chest. He pulled it off and offered it to the medic as Ratchet came closer. :This is yours,: Drift commed Ratchet.

Ratchet took it from Drift and stuck it right back onto Drift’s chest. :Keep it. You’ll be wearing it a while longer.:

Drift made a face, but didn’t complain. He could feel the concern in Ratchet’s field. The tingling sensor wash of a medical scan rippled over him. :I’m doing fine,: Drift insisted.

:You’re doing well given the fact that you suffered massive bodily trauma and were in surgery for several hours,: Ratchet corrected Drift. :You are nowhere close to healthy enough to be free of my clutches.:

:Mmm... Your clutches can get close to me anytime they like,: Drift replied saucily.

:On a scale of 1-10, I’d give that one a 3.2.: While he was a very attractive mech, Drift was still far too injured for Ratchet’s medical protocols to even allow him to consider Drift an appropriate berth partner.

Drift remembered to keep his laugh internal. He allowed his amusement to bubble through his field, however.

Drift casually raised one hand above his head and bent one leg, posing his body at just the right angle to show off his better features. :My body speaks louder than words, trust me,: Drift smirked towards the darkness that was Ratchet.

Unfortunately, it would have been more effective if there had been more light in the room. Proximity sensors would tell Ratchet where Drift was, but there was still something deeply sensual about being able to visually see the glint of polish and the depth of color on a mech’s plating.

Drift hoped the darkness had been able to hide his flinch as he’d moved his legs. The lingering numbness after the surgery was a blessing. It kept Drift from feeling the raw pain he knew awaited him when the sensory blockers wore off. The feeling of emptiness was worse, though. It wasn’t empiness in an erotic sense of a valve yearning for a spike, but in the visceral and complete absense of internal organs. Drift was literally missing pieces of himself and that was deeply unsettling.

Despite the brave face Drift had put on earlier, it had been many, many millennia since he had been damaged this way. Not since before the war. Sure, during the war Drift had had various encounters with Autobots, Decepticons, and even Neutrals. Rape was always a possibility during war. But this level of physical violation...

Drift tore his mind off the path his wandering thoughts had gone down, hoping that Ratchet and Bumblebee — or worse, Mikaela — hadn’t caught a hint of it in his field.

:Right now your body is saying you need to rest.: Ratchet sounded disapproving over the comms, but the sentiment was not mirrored in his field. :You need to be in better shape if you want to have a chance of keeping up with me.:

:I’m not hearing a ‘no?’: Drift replied tentatively.

:We’ll see how you feel when you’re back in one piece,: Ratchet replied.

Drift lost control of his field for a moment, broadcasting relief. :So, I’m to be repaired.:

Ratchet cut off a snarl. He didn’t want to scare the kids after all. :Yes, you will be. The forms have already been filled out, signed, and filed.: Ratchet reassured Drift. :Until you’re whole, you’re mine,: Ratchet said, with the possessiveness of a healer with a patient. :If anybody — including Optimus — tries to tell you different, send them to me.:

Ratchet wasn’t going to allow anybody to get between his patient and the care Drift needed. Because Drift was still technically a member of the Wreckers — even though he was currently staying with Prime’s team — he could theoretically be recalled by Ultra Magnus, the commander of the Wreckers, at any time. Ratchet claiming Drift as his, combined with the fact that Ratchet was CMO, should make the commander hesitate. Ratchet made a mental note that he needed to talk to Optimus about reassigning Drift permanently. Especially now that Mikaela was in the picture.

While Ratchet was distracted, Drift relaxed back down onto the berth. He trusted that Ratchet would do his best to keep his word. After all, Ratchet was formidable, but he didn’t outrank everybody. Even with Ratchet’s protection, Drift needed to strategize how to deal with the Prime’s attention. There was an opportunity available through Prime’s actions, if Drift was brave enough, and crafty enough, to jump at it. However, tiredness dragged at Drift’s limbs and mind. Despite his bravado, Drift could tell that he wasn’t fully recovered from the surgery yet.

Ratchet laid a hand on Drift’s chest. :Rest now,: he said gently. :Bumblebee is here to keep an eye on Mikaela, and I’m nearby if I’m needed. We can talk more when you’re rested.:

Drift nodded.

Ratchet wasn’t looking forward to the talk, but he knew that they needed to have it. Mental health was not a strength of his, and Ratchet knew he had unhealthy coping strategies of his own. But, by this point of the war, just about every mech did. That didn’t mean that he could leave Drift’s mental health unaddressed, however.

Or Mikaela’s, Ratchet reminded himself with an internal groan. With all the other shit going on he’d almost forgotten that. He swore he needed a list to keep track of it all, so Ratchet made a note to remind himself. Maybe everything would stay quiet long enough that he’d get a chance to get some things done.

Drift was slipping back to sleep as Ratchet left the building and headed next door to the medbay. He still needed to finish up the autopsy on the mystery mech that Starscream had dumped a few days ago that he’d neglected during all the excitement of the past few days.

Bumblebee settled down again to his watch. Not that he seriously thought that anything on base would threaten Mikaela or Drift. But then, Bumblebee had thought that yesterday as well, and look at what had happened.

While Bumblebee hadn’t been included in Drift and Ratchet’s discussion, Bumblebee had been close enough to Drift to feel the flickers of emotion through his field, as well as the flinch Drift had tried to keep hidden. There was a reason he was one of Jazz’s, SpecOps’, better scouts.

Bumblebee focused on keeping his field steady with a faint background of reassurance. It was similar to how he had spent his time watching Mikaela while Drift was away. Mikaela hadn’t needed Bumblebee to physically protect her. Not with the rest of the Autobots and NEST around. Instead she’d needed a steady shoulder and a helping hand. Bumblebee should be ready for Drift to need the same. Though Drift was less likely to take the help as graciously as Mikaela had. Maybe, with the correct incentive, Drift would be willing to see things Bumblebee’s way...