They had been prepared for nightmares. The moment her husband and Ironhide explained what happened to Annabelle that day, she knew the red-eyed Decepticon would stalk the girl's dreams for months to come, if not longer. Sarah Lennox couldn't blame Will or the Autobot for the event, no matter how much they expected her to explode at them over it. The police car-disguised Barricade had tried to harm their five-year old child at random; no one could have predicted or prevented something so unexpected.
Hoping knowledge would help lessen the fear, since fear of the unknown was the most powerful of all, Ironhide and Will carefully explained to the girl a little more about the "bad robots." They described the disguises of known Decepticons on Earth, explained that Wheelie was currently the only Cybertronian with red eyes that could be trusted, and even gave a, less graphic and less intense, description of who Megatron was. None of them were happy about instilling fear of Cybertronians into the trusting and friendly Annabelle, but Barricade's attack had forced them. She sat there listening as she ate her ice cream, treating the entire conversation like another safety lecture at school about letting parents check Halloween candy before eating it or not talking to stranger adults without her parents around.
That night, all three waited for the child to have trouble falling asleep or to have nightmares and wake up crying. They couldn't prevent it. Sometimes, the only thing possible to do is to wait for the inevitable. They would be there, however, to comfort and reassure the girl that they would protect her from harm.
But the nightmares never came. Annabelle slept soundly through the night, apparently undisturbed by any unpleasant dreams. The next night was just as calm. As was the next one. The girl was just as cheerful and active as before, returning eagerly to school before Carl, who wasn't handling things as well as his schoolmate and whose mother was keeping him home until he could make it through an entire night with screaming.
The next point where they feared that the girl would suffer nightmares was when Will and Ironhide had to leave again. One of the theories on why Annabelle was handling events so calmly was because of the presence of her father and favorite Autobot. After all, they saved her from Barricade and she possessed complete confidence in them. Without their comforting presence at home, Sarah knew the child would fall victim to bad dreams. Ironhide didn't even seem that eager to leave Annabelle, even though he would have the opportunity to blast a couple of Decepticons to pieces while he was gone. Still, they had to leave and Sarah prepared herself for nightmares once more.
And, once again, found that her daughter slept soundly through the night. Annabelle acted as if the entire, terrifying event didn't trouble her at all. It was a little odd, but comforting to the woman.
So, when a friend from college called and invited her to a "girl's night out," Sarah actually considered it. She deserved a break and a chance to lose some stress. And Annabelle seemed perfectly fine. Thus, a few nights later, the woman called a baby-sitter she could trust and allowed herself the opportunity to enjoy life.
Red, glowing eyes stared down at her from the darkness. They were huge, but hidden in shadows and Annabelle couldn't make out who they were. Slowly, she backed away from the tall figures. Ironhide wasn't here. Daddy wasn't here. Even Mommy, who scared everyone when they were bad, wasn't here. She was alone with the glowing red eyes.
As she tried to back away, she bumped into something. Nervously, she turned around. It looked like a plane, but not one of the really big ones on TV that carried lots of people around. It was one of the smaller, faster ones that shoot at other planes. It was more triangular. Daddy called these types of planes "jets." This one seemed to be cruel and evil, even as it just sat there. She wanted to get away from it, but the red eyes were still waiting in the darkness. She wanted Ironhide, Mommy, or Daddy there. They made everything better and nothing bad could happen if they were present.
With a familiar sound, the jet transformed and became a Cybertronian. But he also had red eyes and a cruel smirk. With thunderous footsteps, the others began to approach from all sides. Annabelle could see them now. Every single one of them was a bad robot, "Decepticons", and they were all looking at her. In the middle was the transformed police car that Ironhide beat up. But Ironhide wasn't here. No one was here. Only she and the Decepticons were in the darkness. She tried to put on a brave face, to show the big meanies she wasn't scared, but she was. She couldn't be as brave as Daddy and Ironhide. There were so many of them.
One reached down slowly. She wanted to dodge the large hand, like she did before, but she couldn't make her legs move. She was stuck. Ironhide and Daddy should be here. They always fight bad robots and she could see lots of bad robots right now. And they came last time she was in trouble, just like she knew they would. Why weren't they here now? And even Mommy was gone. Unless she was at school or with Daddy or Ironhide, Mommy was always close. Where was everyone?
She felt the giant, metal fingers begin to close around her. Annabelle tried to move, to escape, to fight back, but nothing happened. She was completely still, like she was playing freeze tag. Her whole body remained motionless. And the Decepticon had her.
She bolted awake, still trying to get free from the bad robot's grip. Her blanket was tangled around her, hindering her movements and adding to the panic of being trapped. Once the girl freed her arms, she stopped struggling so hard and tried to calm down. She was in her room, safe. Mikaela was downstairs, talking to Sam on the computer like Mommy said she could while she was gone. Everything was okay.
Annabelle looked around her dark room, her eyes making out the shapes of her toy truck from her birthday, her coloring book and box of black crayons, and even her water gun. Nothing was out of place and she wasn't trapped in the creepy, complete darkness with those scary Decepticons.
Then, she saw a pair of glowing red eyes near her door.
When she asked Mikaela to babysit Annabelle, Sarah Lennox had made certain the young woman knew about the entire "Barricade Incident" and that, while the child hadn't shown any distress to the entire situation since that day, she wanted Mikaela to aware in case of any problems. Knowing exactly how terrifying a close encounter with a Decepticon could be, the dark-haired individual immediately agreed with the parent's concern. And she also made certain that her ex-Decepticon companion understood as well and forbid him from doing anything that might upset the child. It wasn't that she expected Wheelie to go out of his way to scare her, but that he might accidentally make an upsetting comment or startle the girl at some point. While he grumbled that everyone expected him to be as stupid as the twins, he agreed to try remaining out of the way. Not that he planned to bother the Mini-Ironhide anyway, but agreeing formally reassured the Warrior Goddess.
Thus, when his audio receptors picked up the soft sounds of distress from the child's room, he originally thought that he should tell Mikaela and allow her to handle it. But, upon seeing how much she was enjoying the web-cam conversation with Sam (and wishing that his Warrior Goddess's boyfriends was less annoying), he decided to investigate himself. Besides, it gave him an excuse to get away from the "lovey-dovey stuff" and possibly do something that would earn him a little good credit with her.
When he crept into Annabelle's room, she was still tossing around on her bed uneasily and making soft whimpering sounds. Wondering for a moment whether he should go back and get Warrior Goddess after all, she abruptly woke up while frantically trying to get free from her entangling blankets. Taking a moment to note the major differences between the child's pink pajamas and Mikaela's less concealing choice (which would literally get him kicked out of the room if he commented on it, even if it was just to tease Sam that the young man would never get to see it), he realized the girl's heart rate was racing and that she looked terrified. Thanks to his time around Warrior Goddess, he was able to quickly realize the child had just had a nightmare. And it didn't take a genius to guess what about.
Deciding getting Mikaela would definitely be a better choice, he prepared to head back out. Unfortunately, Annabelle caught sight of him in the dark and froze. She didn't start screaming or crying. She just started shaking and staring at him. Or rather, his red optics. Even when she first met him, she'd never looked that terrified of him. And, honestly, he didn't want her to. He wasn't like Bumblebee, who went out of his way to be friends with almost everyone it seemed like, but he didn't want one of the few humans that didn't annoy him to death and could actually beat the twins at the prank game to be scared of him.
Unable to retreat now, he carefully reassured, "Annabelle, it's just me."
"Wheelie?" she sniffed uneasily, trying to focus on the shape in the dark more closely. "Is that you?"
Rather than snapping back with a smart remark, the ex-Decepticon slowly approached and replied, "Yes. You okay, kid? I heard you tossing around."
"I had a bad dream," Annabelle mumbled, pulling her knees up to her chin. "It was really scary. And Mommy, Daddy, and Ironhide weren't anywhere."
"Let me guess: Decepticons?"
She nodded, "Lots of mean, red eyes staring at me. And a jet that turned into a bad robot. And one picked me up and there was no one there to help."
"What took you so long? I'd thought that you'd be freaking out right after you ran into Barricade," asked Wheelie, resigned to the fact he was about to play therapist to a kid. Well, it wasn't like she could discuss this with a normal human therapist. And it was either this or go back to where Mikeala and Sam were making "goo-goo eyes" at each other. "Everyone was apparently expecting it."
"But Mommy, Daddy, and Ironhide were here," she explained. "Nothing bad can happen when they're around."
Resisting the urge to point out that bad things could happen anytime and with anyone, the transformed toy commented, "So, as long as your gun-happy Autobot or parents were around, you didn't have nightmares. But once they left…"
"I had a bad dream."
"Okay, this isn't going to be easy," he muttered softly. In a more normal volume level, he explained, "You know that I used to be a Decepticon, right?"
"Yes, but you're a good guy now," nodded the girl.
"Right. However, I wasn't even that well-liked or even safe among the Decepticons. Soundwave, who is essentially Mr. Monotone-and-Creepy, sent me on a mission with instructions to either succeed or else. Which is how I met Warrior Goddess, but that's beside the point," he rambled. "I can tell you how to stay in one piece when dealing with some of the more… grumpy Decepticons. That way, you'll be safe and won't have to worry anymore."
"Yep. Now, Ironhide would probably tell you to face your enemies head on, fight them directly, and to never back down to bullies and other macho stuff," described the blue ex-Decepticons. "That is what we call 'a suicidal strategy.' That works, I guess, for threats closer to your size. If I tried to stand up to one of the other Decepticons who kicked me around in the old days, I'd be torn apart. You don't have arm cannons and heavy, metal armor. You can't win a direct fight against a giant Cybertronian."
This news seemed to only make the child more nervous instead of comforting her. Her eyes widened in fear as she listened to the transformed toy talk. He knew this part would be unpleasant, but he had a plan.
Hurrying on to the better part, he remarked, "Of course, there are other options. Sam, the 'No'-screaming idiot, managed to kill off Megatron temporarily after all. I wasn't present for the event, but I heard plenty about it. Humans are easy to underestimate, but you guys can pull off some surprises occasionally." He pulled himself up onto her bed before continuing, "But I have some effective strategies that should work for you, kid. Instead of trying to attack directly, run. Just run. Even the best marksman can have difficulty hitting a very small, moving target. Especially if they have other targets they think are more threatening or more important. I can't tell you how many times I simply ran and hid from whatever 'teammate' had decided to take his frustration out on me. It is surprisingly effective."
"But isn't running away all the time kind of like being a coward?" the girl questioned.
"No, being a coward would be running from a fight you can win. Being stupid is trying to attack something you can't win or even hurt. Starscream, the backstabbing Second-in-Command for Megatron, runs away if he doesn't have an overwhelming chance for success. Of course, if you call it a 'retreat,' it doesn't sound nearly as bad."
Nodding, Annabelle asked, "But what if I get caught anyway?"
"Then, you have to start playing their game. The first step is to make yourself more valuable alive than dead. Offer hints of information you know that they want, but don't give them too much. Keep hinting that you know more and might be willing to reveal it eventually. As long as they think that they can make use of you, they won't squish you." The girl shuddered and Wheelie decided that talking about squishing more would be a bad idea. "Once you've bought yourself a little more time that way, you have to work on more solid ways to keep on their good side until Ironhide shows up and blasts them to scrap."
"Well, the best idea would be to play up on Megatron's ego, if you're unlucky enough to end up in front of him directly. Don't mention anything good about Optimus. He hates Prime completely. And, even though I quit not long after his revival, I'm willing to bet that mentioning that Megatron was killed by a human is a bad idea, so keep Sam out of it too."
"What can I say?"
"Talk about what a brilliant leader he is, how his strategies are perfect, and other garbage like that. A lot of the time I was around, he was either stuck in a block of ice, at Hoover Dam, or dead, so I don't really know him as well as others, but I know he's got a pretty big ego."
"Like Mr. Simmons?" suggested Annabelle, grinning slightly.
Wheelie chuckled, "Exactly. Just don't call Megatron a 'big-headed joker.' That probably isn't a good idea." Seeing that she was calming down and actually enjoying the conversation now, he continued, "Starscream also has an ego, but he also has a deep desire to be in charge. He got to enjoy it a little while Megatron was frozen and wants it back permanently. If you have Starscream by himself, tell him what a fool Megatron is and that Starscream is a far superior leader. If you're really creative, suggest whatever information you have could be used to usurp power from him."
"What about anyone else?"
"Again, go for the ego. Comment on their fighting skills, their speed, and their brilliant battle strategy. Be careful of anyone showing signs of a temper. Which, unfortunately, are most of them. And, if you get the opportunity, run. Running is always the best strategy for you. But, I really don't think you should have many problems with being stuck with a bunch of Decepticons for long. A certain weapon specialist would show up fairly quickly and blast them to pieces for even getting near you."
The girl was quiet for a moment, apparently thinking about his advice. It probably wasn't what Mikaela would have told her or even what Sam (the most annoying distraction to his Warrior Goddess in the world) would have said, but that had been the how he'd survived among the Decepticon ranks as long as he had. When you're small and very crushable, you had to be smart to stay in one piece while surrounded by temperamental Cybertronians who would love to take out their anger on any available target.
"Wheelie, is that what you did?" Annabelle quietly asked. "Did you run away from the Decepticons? Is that why you're on the good guy side now?"
"Like I said, they sent me on a mission that would have likely gotten me destroyed if I failed and Warrior Goddess caught me," he described slowly. "And she burned my optic out. Which really hurts, by the way. Anyway, she made me help them find this old guy, Jetfire. Turns out, he used to be a Decepticon, but wasn't anymore. Before then, I didn't even know I had a choice."
"Everyone has a choice, silly. You can pick to be nice to people or really mean to them. You just have to choose which one. Though Mommy would yell at me if I was really mean, so it's better to be nice."
"Well, given the choice between the crazy girl with the flame torch and what I'd dealt with most of my life before I met her, I picked the Autobot side. I didn't so much run away as never let the Decepticons know I'm still alive. They probably think I got killed on my mission. And as long as they think I'm dead, they won't try to hunt me down for betraying them or anything like that. They don't take traitors well. Except for Starscream, but he's more a traitor against Megatron personally rather than the entire Decepticon side."
Annabelle suddenly leaned over and wrapped her arms around the small Cybertronian. For a second, Wheelie tried to figure out what was going on before realizing that the girl was giving him a hug. While Mikaela had given him one a couple of times (which he hoped made Sam a little jealous since it was fun to mess with the boy), it was different coming from someone closer to his size. The child spontaneous display of affection was unexpected, but not completely unpleasant. Actually, it was kind of nice.
"Thank you, Wheelie," she smiled as she let go. "I don't think I'll have any more bad dreams of Decepticons getting me. I'll just run really fast now."
Nodding slowly, the ex-Decepticon briefly wondered if this kid just had a weird ability to win over Autobots without trying or if he'd just completely lost any shred of Decepticon programming. He'd just had a long conversation with a little girl about her nightmare. And it wasn't too horribly annoying or frustrating.
But he wasn't quite finished yet. Somehow, he knew that he needed to do one last thing for her. All he needed was to borrow Warrior Goddess's cell phone from downstairs and to hope his timing was right.
Ironhide had no problem blasting Decepticons. He didn't even have a problem fighting them in areas where they needed to minimize collateral damage. What he did have a problem with was listening to the bureaucrats describe in detail the damage that had been dealt to the surrounding area and them trying to establish if should be considered too extreme for the situation to warrant. Considering that they would have to pay for the repairs of whatever was destroyed, they weren't happy about the warehouse that no longer existed due to a few stray cannon blasts. And considering they speaker currently had fifty pages of figures to still report, Ironhide knew he would be stuck here for a while. Judging from Lennox and Epps' glazed over expressions, they were just as tired and bored by the meeting.
Suddenly, his com-link activated and Wheelie's voice began to address him.
"I don't know if this is a bad time, but you're not in the middle of anything are you?"
"Just listening to a fool describe how they do not believe that a battle between two groups of Cybertronians could possibly exceed certain monetary amounts of damage. Judging from his physical condition, I highly doubt he has ever been near a battlefield before," he replied boredly over his com-link, trying to maintain the outer appearance of paying attention. "Why are you contacting me?"
"Call Mikaela's cell phone," the ex-Decepticon answered shortly.
"If you aren't busy with anything important, and it doesn't sound like you are, then call her cell phone."
"Is this some kind of prank?" the weapon specialist asked, still maintaining the illusion of listening to every word of the oblivious bureaucrat. No one in the room seemed to notice Ironhide's preoccupation. Just as no one was truly paying attention to the man anymore either. "Are the twins involved in this?"
"No," snapped Wheelie. "Just do it, okay?"
Deciding to dismantle the small blue Cybertronian later if this turned out to be some form of joke, Ironhide easily connected to Mikaela's distant cell phone signal. Hers, Sam's, and the Lennox's phones were all recorded in all the Autobots. Due to their particular closeness to the Autobots and the fact that they would make ideal targets for Decepticons, the reason for their knowledge of this information was obvious.
After a couple of rings, someone picked up on the other line. Instead of the young woman or even the ex-Decepticon addressing him, it was another individual.
"Hello," Annabelle's voice answered.
"Annabelle?" he asked, realizing that Mikaela must be babysitting her. He also realized that, due to the different time zones, it was far past the child's normal bedtime. She should be asleep currently. He glanced around the room, still ensuring that no one had noticed his complete disregard for the discussion by the bureaucrat. "Why are you awake?"
"I had a bad dream, Ironhide," she replied softly.
Deciding not to dismantle Wheelie after all, he instructed the girl, "Tell me all about it, Annabelle."