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Down for the Count

Chapter Text

BumbleBee and Bulkhead waited, parked in the shadow of Jasper High School. Undisturbed by the downpour that had taken Jasper by surprise, the bots were getting impatient.


Bulkhead turned his radio on in preparation for his charge, muffled bass making the raindrops vibrate on his windshield. BumbleBee allowed himself to be lost in thought. He became so distracted, the usually familiar blare of the school bell made him jump on his tires. Thankfully, none of the students seemed to notice as they poured out the double doors. All the kids were focused on the rain; some were cheering and splashing in puddles, others held anything they could over their heads in desperation. After another couple of kliks, their teenagers emerged from the school.


Raf was first, using his arm to try and protect his glasses from the rain as he descended the front steps, taking care not to slip. He was about halfway down when Miko burst through the doors and all but slid down the stairs past him. She zig-zagged across the lawn toward Bulkhead, stomping in every puddle along the way. Jack came last, speeding up slightly to catch up with Raf.


"Let's blow this joint!" Bulkhead's door popped open and she barely came to a stop before jumping inside.


BumbleBee opened a door for each of his passengers with a whirr as they walked over. Raf turned to Jack as he climbed into the front passenger seat, "He says Arcee had patrol." Jack shrugged and climbed into the back.


"Hey Bee!" Raf chimed, lowering his backpack to the floor between his feet. The boys were dripping from the rain, but the scout didn't seem to mind. As they drove off Raf launched into an explanation of his day excitedly, occasionally pausing to answer the bot's questions.


Jack was quiet in the back seat, and BumbleBee thought it was odd. The teen stared out the window at the stormy landscape speeding past. Perhaps he was upset about the substitute ride. Or maybe his pride was hurt about being in the back seat. Or maybe he was sleepy. Humans, you just never knew with them.


By the time they pulled into the base, the weather had worsened to a thunderstorm. Bumblebee clicked and chirped as he let the kids out.

"Don't worry, Bee, we can still have fun inside" Raf assured him with a smile.


The base was filled with the whirring and sliding of metal as the bots transformed.


It had been quiet at the base before they arrived. Ratchet was focused on tinkering with a bit of machinery. He mumbled by way of greeting and waved dismissively. Arcee didn't turn from the computer as she filled out her patrol report but called a welcome over her shoulder. There was a puddle at her feet but she had already dried off. Optimus Prime was nowhere to be found.


Two sets of squeaks echoed through the room from the kids' wet sneakers as they climbed the ladder to their designated platform. Wait, two?


Arcee spared a glance over her shoulder as she continued to type. Miko was already at the top of the platform with Raf not far behind, but Jack hadn't started to climb yet. He stood at the bottom of the ladder, holding onto one of the lower rungs with his hand, his bag still slung over his shoulder. From that angle, his black hair hid his expression from her. She turned to face him with a frown.


"You good, Jack?"


He seemed to snap out from whatever daze had ahold of him and smiled up at her, "Yeah, sorry I must have gotten lost in thought. I didn't get a lot of sleep last night." He pushed his damp bangs from his face and started his climb as Miko plopped herself into one of the couches, the worn out springs groaning under her.


"You don't say? Maybe that's why you kept falling asleep in like, every class. You've been acting zombie-weird all day, dude." She shook the rain from her hair with vigorously.


Raf blocked the spray with his jacket. Jack pulled himself up the last few steps of the ladder with a huff, "I'm just, ugh, fine. Chill, guys"


Turns out running for your life was a great core workout, and while Jack wasn't particularly athletic, his time with the Autobots had put him in good shape. It was odd, then, that the familiar climb left him winded. He all but collapsed on the couch beside Miko, causing the cushion beneath her to pop up slightly. She raised an eyebrow and looked ready to retort, but Jack cut her off. "Hey, doesn't that monster truck rally you haven't shut up about start soon?"


With a gasp, Miko dove for the remote and began frantically flipping channels, her worries all but forgotten. Raf had already become engrossed in his homework.


"Sweet!" Bulkhead cheered, but Ratchet cleared his throat. "Oh, uh, right. We 'gotta get some stuff for Ratchet, but tell me what I miss when we get back!"


"Got it, big guy." Miko kept her eyes glued to the screen and shot a thumbs up in his direction as he and Bumblebee left the room.


The tension eased from Jack's shoulders as he thought all eyes were off of him. He relaxed back into the couch and rubbed at his eyes. Arcee, who wasn't so easily dissuaded, eyed her charge suspiciously.


He was acting sort of.. off. He was smiling lightly and occasionally responding to his friends, but was altogether much quieter than usual. His color was also lighter, but the humans had changed color a bit before. Perhaps this was the opposite of a 'tan'? Arcee knew enough about Jack to tell he was exhausted, but he obviously didn't plan on elaborating. After a bit she shook her head and returned to her report.


Even with the sounds of destruction blasting from the TV, and Miko's equally chaotic cheering, Jack dozed in and out during the special. He was shocked awake by one such scream.




Miko kicked her legs out and pumped her fists in celebration. She must have used too much force, because one of her boots flew off and knocked right into the cable box. The tv channels began to change on their own. She made a sound that was somewhere between a hiss and a sob, "NOO." Her wide, panic filled eyes landed on Jack. "Fix it!"


Jack sighed, but this was far from the first time and he knew the drill. He knelt behind the tv and wiggled the dusty wires until it stopped its fit. Miko squealed and flipped the channel back to her show. "Thanks dude! You rock."


"Mhm," was all Jack said as he pushed himself to his feet. He must have moved too quickly, because the world tilted on its side and blurred. Uh oh.










Next thing he knew he was on the floor. As the world refocused itself he became aware of three faces hovering over him, one much larger than the others. Miko and Raf leaned back to give Jack space to sit up. He must have swayed again because he found himself leaning against Miko.

"Woah there, buddy," he couldn't help but notice her voice was unusually soft.


"Jack what's happened? Are you injured?" Arcee demanded before turning to call for Ratchet. The medic approached to find Miko holding the back of her hand to Jack's forehead as he shivered against her.


"Really, I'm fine," he insisted.


"Dude, you're burning up!"


Ratchet scoffed at the inaccurate diagnostic technic. "Hold still, kid" he ordered, ignoring the boys mumbled protests as he scanned him. Beside him Arcee was leaning over the railing as close as she could to Jack, anxiety rolling off her in waves.


"Your body temperature is 102.4F, well above human average." He concluded. Arcee turned and planted her optics on Ratchet, her servos still gripping the railing tightly.




Miko piped up before Ratchet could answer. " Awww , widdle Jackie is sick." In spite of her teasing tone, her and Raf helped Jack to his feet and led him back to the couch.


"I'm fine, it's probably just that 24-hour thing going around." Ignoring him, his friends forced him to lay down across the couch. Jack couldn't stop the relieved sigh that escaped him.


"What do we do? Is he in danger?" Arcee's increasingly alarmed voice rose, drawing the attention of BumbleBee and Bulkhead as they entered the room. They put down a handful of large metal crates near Ratchet's workstation.


"For now he probably just needs to rest," Raf explained, "and to drink fluids. It's probably just the flu."


"What's a ‘flu’?" Bulkhead asked, scratching his helm in confusion.

This time it was Ratchet that answered, "A human illness that can range from mild to severe, typically lasting anywhere between 1 and 7 Earth days."


BumbleBee whirred in confusion, looking between the dazed boy and the medic. It was easy enough to guess what he was asking.


"Mild! This is mild," Jack interjected, and was rewarded with a coughing fit. He rolled onto his side and buried his face in the pillow to stifle it.


He was surprised to feel a huge finger run soothingly up and down his back. Tension he didn't know he was holding slipped from his body. Jack twisted a bit to meet Arcee's optics. Her mouth was stuck in a concerned pout, but she struggled to return his reassuring smile. He knew her well enough to see the fear in her eyes.


"Arcee really , I'll be okay. Getting sick is just a sucky part of being human." His voice was rough, and Miko went over to the kitchen area to get him water. Just as she opened the mini fridge, all the lights shut off.


Chapter Text

"What was that? Deceptions?!" Bulkhead exclaimed, spinning on his heels in the sudden darkness as if he expected them to be behind him.


"More like a power outage," Ratchet answered cooly, looking towards the dully glowing monitors as they flickered back to life. "We have backup power but just enough for essential functions." As if for emphasis, the lights clicked back on, but were only half as bright as usual. "It seems much of Jasper has been affected."


"I believe it would be wise if you three spent the night at our base." All eyes turned to the doorway where their leader stood. No one had heard him approach in all the commotion. "I recommend you call your parents to alert them."


Miko tried her phone and whined in frustration, "No signal, lines must be down." She shoved her phone into her pocket with a pout. Raf had no luck, either.


"We may be able to reach Nurse Darby via our communications system," Optimus turned to Ratchet as he spoke, silently requesting the Medic's assistance.


With a nod Ratchet turned to the computers and began typing, "Very well, its best we contact her anyway to inform her of her son's condition."


"Don't you dare," Jack groaned, only to be shushed by Arcee.


"Are you unwell, Jack?" Optimus eyed the boy with hidden concern. Humans were just so fragile .


"He's got the flu," Raf explained before Jack could complain again. Optimus nodded slowly, though he still wasn't entirely sure what that meant, he could infer from his team's reactions.


Just then Ratchet spoke up. "Nurse Darby, can you hear me?"

Though there was no video, through the speakers they could hear the ambient sounds of a Hospital in chaos.


"What? Okay.. hold on, I've just-" there was a click of a closing door and the background sounds became more muffled. "There, sorry everyone's all worked up about the blackout. Even with the generators we're scrambling to keep up. Is that what you're calling about? Is everything okay?"


"Yes and no, Nurse Darby. The kids are indeed here at the base. We feel it's safest to keep them overnight but due to the storm Rafael and Miko can't reach their parents." Ratchet hesitated.


"Oh that's no problem, I'll get ahold of them and say they're staying with me tonight."


Ratchet shifted on his peds. "That's not the only reason we've called, I'm afraid. It seems Jack has been affected by this 'flu'," He waited, fully expecting yelling.


"What symptoms is he displaying? What's his temperature? Is he dehydrated?" June slipped easily into nurse-mode, but her voice was tense with motherly concern.


"My scans show he's at 102.4°F, and adequately hydrated. He's developed a cough and is shivering, he's also a lighter color if that means anything." Ratchet rubbed his helm awkwardly, uncomfortable with his lack of knowledge on the subject.


Jack covered his eyes with his arm dramatically, partly from embarrassment partly because even the dimed lights seemed to burn his eyes. "And a headache," he added in defeat.


June's voice softened as she addressed him, "Aww, I'm sorry honey, but you know the drill. Rest up okay? And Ratchet, thank you. He should be alright as long as he takes it easy and stays hydrated. If anything changes let me know, and if not, call me in the morning anyway."


Ratchet nodded, though she couldn't see him, "Of course, thank you Nurse Darby. I'll keep you posted on his condition."


"Thank you, all of you. Love you Jack, feel better sweetie." As June hung up they could hear her colleagues calling for her.


"Sleepover! Woo!" Miko cheered, which caused Jack to wince, and Arcee to glare at her. "Ah, headache, right. My bad," she grinned sheepishly and turned to Bulkhead. "I'm SO bunking with you, big guy."


Keeping go-bags at the base was Miko's idea. The Autobots had insisted it was unnecessary, until the kids got stuck there overnight for the first time. The three of them woke piled up on the old couch, its broken springs digging into them. The next day they had brought some things to the base, including sleeping bags. The Autobots had thought it better let them than to argue with three grumpy teenagers.


Miko grinned as she dragged the bags out of their storage cabinet, one of the many leftovers from when the base had been an active military silo.


"We're fine staying up for a bit, but Jack should probably go to bed." Raf added, pulling his laptop out of his school bag and doing his best to ignore Jack's pointed look.


Jack began to mumble a protest but Arcee was already gently lifting him from the couch. She took his things with her other hand. "Nice try partner, but you heard your mom. Time to rest up"


Next thing Jack knew they were in a room he hadn't seen yet. She had placed him sitting on the floor, but he got right to his feet again. Looking around, he realized that this was Arcee's room, even though it was distinctly impersonal.


Along one wall was a massive metal platform with a touchpad on the side. Her bed, maybe. He has heard the Autobots refer to them as berths. There was some training and weapon maintenance equipment scattered about, as well as what looked like a giant version of a desk. On the desktop was a shimmering image on a data screen. Jack had seen something like that once before, in Optimus Prime's office. The leader has told him it was the Cybertronian equivalent of a picture frame. He hadn't seen what Optimus's photo was, but on Arcee's desk was one he recognized.





Jacks face was lit up with laughter. He sat in the yellowed grass leaning back on the palms of his hands, totally at ease. This sight had become painfully rare to Arcee.


" -and then the jerk fell back on his ass, and Miko knelt down next to him and took a selfie of his stupid shocked face!"


Arcee tried unsuccessfully to sound serious. "Jack, I didn't teach you hand-to-hand combat so you could use it on other high schoolers." She chuckled.


" Well I wasn't about to let him pick on Raf so," he shrugged, "I like to think of it more as protecting my teammate."


" So wait, what was it Miko did to him? I haven't heard of that move before."


" What move- oh! Do you mean a selfie?"


She nodded.


" Ohh no," Jack shook his head with a laugh, "it's not a combat move or anything. It's when you take a photo with someone using a front-facing camera. This way you're both in the shot and don't need someone else to take it. It's especially helpful if you're using your phone to take it. Basically, Miko took a picture with him to remember the face he made"


She tilted her head to the side. "Show me."


" Huh?"


" Your phone has a camera, right? Well let's take a 'selfie' then. And I'd like to have a photo with you."


Jack recovered from his surprise with an amused smile. "Sure, but you have the longer arms so you'll have to take it okay? Just don't break my phone."


He pulled out his cell phone and showed her how to use the camera. Arcee lowered from a crouch to sit on the ground and Jack climbed up onto her thigh. With some careful positioning and a few missed shots the picture was taken. Arcee sent the image to herself before she handed him the phone back.


" See? All in one piece." She teased.


Jack didn't seem to notice, he was grinning down at the photo on the little screen. "This is awesome! Thank's Arcee." He plopped back onto the grass and turned to face the sunset.


" There's no need to thank me, Jack."





Jack snapped out of the memory and turned to see Arcee struggling to fold out his sleeping bag. She was clearly trying not to tear it, but her frustration was growing.


"Here, let me." He unwrapped his arms from around himself and knelt beside her. So bots can't use velcro? The thought brought a smile to his face. "And don't give me that look, this isn't exactly a strenuous activity. Although looks like you could probably make it one."


Hearing him tease her so casually put her processor more at ease. He had been quiet so far, and it worried her more than any of the other symptoms he was showing. She didn't want to let him set up his own bed, but he had finished before she could protest.


He sat down heavily on his sleeping bag and turned to her with a tired smile. "See? Easy."


"All I see is a partner who needs to get some sleep." Arcee teased, smiling back.


Jack sighed, untying his black converse, "Alright, I admit that sounds nice."


Arcee nodded and stood, pleased that he was finally accepting help. Jack turned to look at her and just..stared.


"...Is something wrong, Jack?"


"Ugh..yeeeeah, would you sort of leave?" She raised an optic bridge. "No offense, but I wanted to change. Sleeping in jeans is the worst..." He trailed off awkwardly.


The femme blinked. She had forgotten how private humans were with their bodies. "Oh, yes of course. I'll be right outside," She waved over her shoulder as she headed out the door. "Yell when you're done."


The door slid shut behind her, and Arcee leaned against the wall with a deep sigh.


"You look troubled, my friend."


She quickly stood up straight. "Optimus, I didn't hear you approach. I'm sorry."


"No need for apologies. It seems you were distracted by your own thoughts."


"It's just...Jack,"


"I know. It pains me to see our young friend suffering, but Jack is strong. He'll be okay, Arcee."


The femme nodded slowly. She knew Optimus was right, but her spark ached every time she looked at Jack. She was his guardian. She had sworn to protect him, but this wasn't something she could protect him from. Helplessness was not a burden she bore well. "Thanks, Optimus."


Optimus only nodded in quiet understanding and continued down the hall. A klik passed when she heard Jack call out. She spun on her heel and hurried back into the room. Jack sat with his legs crossed on his sleeping bag. He had changed into a white t-shirt and black pajama pants with white stars printed on them. He had a wrinkled green blanket wrapped around his shaking shoulders.


"H-hey 'cee"


She knelt down beside him. "Hey, now down ," She put one finger against his chest and applied just the slightest bit of pressure. Jack allowed himself to be knocked onto his back. He alternated between laughing and coughing.


"Okay! O-okay, Arcee. I got the message."


Chapter Text

Miko looked away from her video game as Rafael jumped for what felt like the thousandth time.


"Raf.. you aren't afraid of thunder are you?"


“What? No! That'd be silly." His body betrayed him as another muffled clap of thunder echoed through the room.


Miko snorted. "Yeah sure, how can I not see how totally chill you are right now? My bad."


The younger boy ignored her sarcasm, "It must be getting rough out there if we can hear it in here." He turned back to his laptop and began surfing local weather sites.


"I know, think they'll close the school? Or maybe it'll flood and wash the whole building away! Or the whole town!" She laughed maniacally.


They had both changed into their pajamas, more because they could then because they were tired. Miko was wearing an oversized metal band T-shirt as a nightgown and mismatched fuzzy socks. Raf had on simple gray sweatpants and a sweater, but he was barefoot.


"Hey Raf?" Miko purred.


"Mm?" He didn't look up from his research.


"I just came to an awesome decision. Wanna know what?"






He peeled his eyes from the screen only to be met with Miko's tongue uncomfortably close to his face. He stumbled back, his laptop clattering to the ground. " Eww! Miko!"


She leaned back on her palms and grinned. "I'm gonna get a tongue piercing! Won't that be cool? Think I can get one shaped like brass knuckles?"


BumbleBee drew the kids attention with a wave of his arms and a series of beeps.


"He says we should keep quieter so Arcee doesn't come out to yell at us" Raf translated.


Bulkhead shuttered, "He's got a point. She can be scary."


"Like Jack's mom," Miko snickered.


"I don't know," Raf murmured, "I think Ms. Darby can be scarier."


"Yeah but June doesn't have swords and cannons." Miko spun around and mimicked shooting a cannon from her arm at Bulkhead.


"Aghh!" He cried, clutching at his massive metal chest, "You got me! Spark.. fading..." He collapsed with a dramatic flourish and an echoing bang .


"Well now you've done it," Ratchet sighed, deliberately ignoring the other mechs as Arcee appeared in the doorway. BumbleBee jumped back behind Bulkhead, who was just sitting up.


Arcee stood calmly, eyeing them with narrowed optics. "Are you insane?" They could tell this wasn't a question.


Bulkhead rubbed his helm awkwardly. " bad?"


"It's not a big deal, Bulk and I just got carried away," Miko shrugged, "Besides, Jack probably won't stay asleep anyway."


Arcee put her hands on her hips, "And what makes you think that?"


It was Raf who answered. "He has insomnia, he told us so himself."


"Is that another illness?" Bulkhead asked, nervously keeping back from Arcee as he got to his feet.


"Yes and no, it's not like a cold or the flu or anything. It's just something some people have and deal with. It means you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. Some people even have to take medication so they can sleep. Jack's isn't that bad, though. He just wakes up a lot." Raf shrugged.


Ratchet grew curious and couldn't keep out of the conversation any longer. "I thought humans needed sleep to function."


Miko leapt to her feet and approached the railing of the platform. "We do, that's why it stinks. When I first came here from Japan I had jet lag like crazy. That's when switching time zones messes with your body's sleep clock and makes you all wonky." By way of example she wiggled her fingers in front of her face and made a dazed expression.


“Ah,” Ratchet nodded, “like rocket lag.”


“Yeah, just like that! I think.”


BumbleBee made a series of curious sounds. Raf smiled up at him. "Well yeah, Bee, we tell each other everything at this point."


"Jack never mentioned this to me." Arcee pointed out cooly.


"Weeell," Miko made a show of examining her chipped pink nail polish, "that might be because he thinks you'd flip out."


"I don't 'flip out', Miko. I'm no more concerned for Jack's safety then June is, or Bulkhead is of yours, or BumbleBee of Raf's."


The teen whistled, "I wouldn't use June as an example of not flipping out. Just saying."


Before Arcee could sharpen her glare, Raf attempted damage control. "We'll still keep it down, though. Sorry." Arcee rolled her optics and stalked off without another word.


Miko huffed, "Well someone's especially touchy today."


"Leave her alone, Miko," Raf sighed, gathering up his things, "You know how she gets about Jack."


"What're you doing?"


"Getting ready for bed."


She whined, "What? But it's only 1am!"


Raf ignored her and climbed into BumbleBees waiting hand.


As she started to pout Bulkhead offered his own. "C'mon, recharge time. Didn't ya' want to see my room?"


Her face lit up and she practically flung herself into his palm. From there she scrambled up his arm to stand on his shoulder. She puffed out her chest and pointed dramatically toward the hallway. "Roll out!" Bulkhead did a mock salute and headed from the room, BumbleBee close behind him.


Once things were finally quiet, Ratchet shook his head and muttered to himself. "Fragging teenagers.."




Arcee entered her dark quarters as quietly as she could, pleasantly surprised to see her charge still fast asleep. She couldn't help the smug smile on her face. Won't stay asleep, Miko? So sure about that?


She slipped past him and onto her berth. She dimed the glow of the data pad she was reading, just in case, and settled with her back against the wall.


She hadn't planned to recharge, but hours later she found herself snapped awake by a quiet sound. The lights had come on automatically and her internal clocks told her it was already morning. Slag. Before she could continue to mentally berate herself, movement drew her attention. Her spark went cold with dread.


Jack was turning fitfully, his sleeping face twisted in pain. Sweat glistened on his pale skin even though he shivered. The sound that had woken her was his muffled whimpering. In all their time together, Arcee had never see Jack like this . In an instant she scooped him up, activating her comm as she raced down the hall.


Ratchet, medbay, now.


He must of known it was serious because he didn't protest the younger bot ordering him around.




Arcee beat him there and started pacing around the room, Jack locked securely in her arms. He had gone quiet and stopped squirming, but she could feel his labored breathing against her chassis. Her systems buzzed with energy, her body looking for a fight that wasn't there. After a painfully long nano-klik the door slid open and she spun to face the medic.


"Arcee what happened? Lay him down."


"I-I don't know," Hesitantly she placed Jack on the exam table. The cybertronian size of it made him look even smaller then he was. Arcee watched as the blue light of Ratchet's scanner engulfed him. "I powered up from recharge to find him like his, except he was moving and seemed to be in pain." The unsteadiness in her own voice surprised her.


Ratchet focused on the task at hand, never tearing his eyes from the computer screen while he addressed the femme. "Was he awake?"


"No, he was just sort of..twisting in his sleep. And he was making quiet sounds like he was hurt."


Ratchet just nodded. "This is bad, his internal temperature has risen." Not waiting for a response he activated the computer's communication program and dialed June Darby. She answered before by the third ring.


"Good morning guys, how's Jack feeling?"


"Not well, I'm afraid, Nurse Darby."


After the briefest of pauses she spoke again, sounding tense and serious. "Tell me everything."


Arcee tuned out their back-and-forth of medical terms. Instead, she stood in silence staring down at Jack. This was a whole new kind of suffering for her. With Tailgate and Cliffjumper, it burned . The desperation that she could have done something, anything. But this was different and unnatural to her, this helpless realization that there just wasn't anything she could do. No amount of fighting or begging could fix Jack. It was like the floor had fallen out from under her.


"What's going on?" Miko's voice brought Arcee back to reality. Raf and their guardians stood in the doorway behind her, the two humans now fully dressed. It was June who answered.


"You need to get Jack to the hospital, I'll meet you there. Hurry."


Chapter Text


BumbleBee transformed into his vehicle mode and opened his back doors. Miko slid in first, helping Arcee slide Jack in with surprising carefulness. She positioned her friend with his head in her lap. Once he was situated Raf climbed in the back with them and looked out at the rest of the Autobots. The Ground Bridge would have been faster, but it was too dangerous with the storm brewing.


Crouched beside the scout, Arcee took one more look at Jack and found two pairs of fear-filled eyes staring back at her. She swallowed her own worries and smiled at the kids. "I'll be riding right beside you. Everything will be okay once we get to June, don't worry."


"Contact me as soon as you've arrived at the hospital." Ratchet instructed while Arcee transformed into her sleek altmode.


BumbleBee chirped a confirmation and the two bots sped from the base and into the mouth of the storm.


Any earth car would have struggled through the mud and sand being blown across the long stretch of road ahead of them, it's driver unable to see through the gray curtain of rain. The Cybertronians, however, barreled through it effortlessly.


In the scout's interior the kids were silent aside from Raf's occasionally sniffling. Miko absentmindedly twirled her fingers through Jack's dark hair.


The Autobots turned hard to the left as the highway changed into Jasper's main road. Raf and Miko clung tight to Jack as they slid across the back seat with a panicked squeal. BumbleBee beeped a shy apology as they righted themselves again.


"We're fine, Bee," Raf assured him, fixing his crooked glasses. Miko only nodded, staring out the window at the whirlwind.


As they entered town Arcee activated her Sadie hologram, though no one was around to see it. The streets were deserted, garbage blowing around unobstructed. The lights were dark in each building they passed, making it feel like a ghost town. The kids cried out again as BumbleBee slammed on the breaks. Tensing, they struggled not to be thrown forward.


"What gives?" Miko yelled but grew quiet seeing the downed tree across the road in front of them.


"Follow me." Arcee's voice came through the comm system as she took a hard right down a side road. BumbleBee's tires spit up water and leaves as he raced after her.


As they tore down the roads their path became less clear. The Autobots were forced to weave between debris scattered around. Finally, the hospital came into view, its lights glowing with warm light. As they approached they could make out the form of June Darby just outside the front doors. Her hair was whipping around her, pulled loose from her ponytail. Even though she stood under the concrete overhang her clothes were damp with rain. As the bots skid to a stop in front of her, she motioned for her colleagues waiting just inside. Two men in matching green scrubs rushed out with a stretcher and followed her to the car.


BumbleBee popped the doors before June could reach for the handle. Miko carefully laid Jack's head on the seat as June helped her out. She stood to the side, being assaulted by the wind as she watched the medics carefully pull Jack from the back. Rafael climbed out the other door before struggling over to her. As soon as he was within reach Miko locked her arms around him, afraid of losing the small boy to the storm.


June whispered a thank you as she turned to follow the other men inside with Jack, but she knew the Autobots heard her. As she passed the other kids she pulled them to her and hurried them inside.


Half an hour later, Miko and Raf were drying off in a small, empty waiting room. Chairs lined the walls, occasionally broken up by an end table with tissues and magazines. A muted TV hung overhead in either corner, displaying news coverage of the storm. There was a water fountain near the door and the pale green walls were covered with posters of health tips and bad puns. Two more lines of chairs stood back to back in the center of the room, making the tiny space feel cramped. Heaters hummed underneath the two windows, their plastic blinds were closed.


Miko paced in a circle around the room, the towel June had given her abandoned on the chair beside Raf. He was sitting with his legs crossed as he used his towel to dry his hair.


After what felt like an eternity, the door opened to reveal June. She had changed into dry scrubs but her hair still hung heavy with water. She smiled at them, but her eyes were bloodshot. "Miko, Raf, I-" She was cut off when the kids did something she hadn't expected. They both rushed forward to hug onto her. She hadn't even thought Miko liked her.


"Hey, it's alright." She soothed, holding them lovingly.


Miko pulled back to look up at her, looking unusually vulnerable. "How's Jack?"


June sat down before she answered. "He's going to be okay. They're running some tests right now, then we'll know more about how to help him."


"Has he woken up yet?" Raf asked hopefully, but June only shook her head no.


After a bit there was a click and all three turned to see a doctor standing in the doorway. Clipboard in hand, he called for June.


Miko and Raf watched anxiously as they spoke in hushed tones. The doctor must have known June as his eyes were soft with worry. She put her hand up to cover her mouth as she gasped, and he gripped her shoulder in support. They exchanged a few more hurried words before he slipped back into the hall.



Ratchet stood in front of the main computer, glaring at the blank screen. Optimus put a reassuring servo on his friend's shoulder. At the other end of the room Bulkhead and BumbleBee were half-heartedly kicking a round clump of scrap metal between each other.


Arcee had refused to leave the hospital parking lot, storm be damned.


Ratchet rumbled under his breath with impatience. Just then the communication system activated, a picture of Miko's grinning face popping onto the screen. Ratchet leapt forward and answered. "Miko, what's going on? Any news?" Within seconds the other Autobots came to stand around the computer.


"Ratchet, it's June. The kids are here with me," They heard two little hellos as proof. "They just finished a round of tests." There was a pause before she continued, speaking slowly. "It wasn't the flu like we thought it was, but an infection. One of his ribs had broken and moved, causing an internal tear in his chest. They said the original wound is nearly two weeks old."


Arcee voice burst through the line, patching in through the commlink system. "He was wounded for two weeks and didn't say anything?" She seethed.


"I know it's-" June sighed, "It's so like Jack. He probably didn't realize how bad it was. But please, can you think of how this may have happened?" She was nearly begging, her voice trembling with pain. "I'm not angry I just..I need to know."


Arcee growled, "Yes."




Miko peeked from behind the boulder, trying to focus her camera. A hand grabbed her by the shirt and yanked her back. An offlining Vehicon flew past, carving a hole in the ground where she once stood.


"Miko ," Jack hissed as she snapped a picture of his motionless form. He spun her around using his grip on her shirt. "Are you insane?!"


" I could've dodged," She insisted calmly, leaning around again to watch the battle. "Besides, you didn't have to follow me."


" If I didn't you'd be a pancake right now."


The battle raged on in front of them. Starscream and his lackeys laid in wait when the Autobots came to check out the energon signature. It was a trap, but the Autobots were ready.


Starscream shot at Optimus from above. The Prime was unfazed, dodging his shots and returning his own. The rest of the team was making quick work of the Vehicons. Bulkhead took a Decepticon in each servo and smashed them into each other. Arcee stood on the back of one, stabbing her blade down into its helm. BumbleBee raced around the group, drawing Vehicons into each other's fire.


Miko's eyes widened as a Vehicon raised its gun and the scout zoomed past them. "Run," she squeaked. The teens dashed to the side as the boulder exploded. The force of the blast sent them flying.


Bulkhead turned hearing their screams. "Miko?! Get out of here!"


The teens groaned and stood. Bruised and dazed, Miko looked toward his voice only to be knocked back to the dirt. A metal claw scrapped the air in front of her face. She scurried back with a gasp.


Starscream stood to his full height with a triumphant smile, Jack thrashing in his grip.


" Jack!" Miko cried out, drawing the attention of her teammates. Arcee raised her arm cannons at the Seeker with a vicious growl. The Vehicons paused their assault.


Optimus Prime took a step forward, his hands up. "Release him, Starscream."


" And if I don't?" His tone was teasing. His claw tightened around Jack. The teen gasped in pain.


BumbleBee surged forward and grabbed Arcee before she could attack.


" Now, unless you want to be short one pet, I suggest you all get on your knees."


" Don't!" Jack cried out. Starscream shook him.


" Quiet, vermin. As I was saying, weapons down. Kneel and face your deaths peacefully, or the boy dies."


Jack watched in horror as Optimus went slowly to his knees, and lowered his arms. After a second the rest of the team followed.


Starscream laughed. "Finally! Say hello to Primus for me, Optimus Prime." He aimed the gun on his free arm at the Autobot leader's spark and took a step forward.


No one saw Miko sneak up behind Starscream, a jagged chunk of rock in her hand. While he was busy gloating, she thrust the pointed end of the stone into the exposed wires of his ankle.


" You little glitch !" Starscream shrieked in pain, dropping Jack and reaching back for Miko. Jack tumbled through the air. Arcee darted forward and grabbed him just before he hit the ground. The seeker continued to hiss, "I'll peel the skin from your frame, you-" Optimus swung upward with his glowing sword, striking Starscream under his chin. The Seeker lost his balance and stumbled backward toward Miko as she fled.


Bulkhead came from the right and decked Starscream, knocking him away from his charge.


Jack smirked up at Arcee as he caught his breath painfully, "Good catch,"


She smiled, placing him down at the edge of the battleground. "Thanks, partner. Are you hurt?"


He shook his head no, "Just really sore thanks to grabby over there."


Bulkhead approached with Miko beaming from his shoulder. "Jack!" She cheered, "did you see that? I-"


" This isn't over, Auto-scum!" The four turned to watch Starscream retreat into the skies. The final few Vehicons we're dispatched by BumbleBee and Optimus. The dust began to settle.


Arcee turned and looked between the children with narrowed optics. "You're in so much trouble."



Ratchet slammed his fist on the desk in front of him, causing Bee and Bulkhead to jump. "I scanned him when he came back. How did fragging I miss this?"


Optimus shook his head, "Do not torture yourself, Ratchet. Your knowledge of the human body, though it surpasses the rest of us, is understandably limited."


He whirled to face the commander. "But it's not understandable, Optimus. What kind of medic can't take care of their team? I should have learned human medicine when the children first joined us!"


"It isn't your fault, Ratchet." The medbot was so surprised to hear Miko attempting to reassure him that he went quiet. "It's mine . He wouldn't have been there if it wasn't for me in the first place, and then he pushed me out of the way instead of running from Starscream."


"Miko," the Wrecker cooed, "don't blame yourself."


"Bulkhead is correct, Miko," Optimus added sincerely, "True you should not have been so reckless. However, it was Jack's decision to follow you, as was the decision to move you from Starscream's reach. You showed great bravery in your assault on the Seeker's ankle, as well." Though she couldn't see it, his eyes twinkled with pride. "Nurse Darby, thank you for the update. I am confident in your colleagues' ability to assist Jack in recovering."


"Thank you, Optimus. A lot of the doctors and nurses knew him as a baby, so they're working extremely hard. He'll probably be in surgery most of the night, but I'll be sure to call if anything changes." The woman sounded exhausted.


"June, before you go," Ratchet added, rubbing his metal chin in thought, "could you tell me Jack's location in the hospital?"


"Sure," she said, a bit confused. "He'll be staying in room 340." Ratchet thanked her and the call ended.


"Arcee," Optimus added, knowing the femme was still on the line, "return to base."






"No can do, Optimus sir."


Ratchet huffed, "What good will it do to sit out in a storm? You aren't doing anything but denying yourself rest."


Optimus held his hand out to Ratchet, stopping his rant. "Arcee, I understand this is a difficult time for you. As such you may remain posted at the hospital until such time that Jack has emerged from surgery. Then you must return to base to recharge."


"Yes, sir ." She retorted before the comm line went dead.

Chapter Text

The beeping was getting on his nerves. Jack had been growing slowly more and more aware of it as it pierced the silence of his unconscious. He decided it was time to find the source.


It was like his eyes were glued shut. He tentatively began to peel them open, little by little. After what felt like an eternity he succeeded, but his vision was blurry and slow to adjust.


His limbs tingled as he became settled in his body again. As shapes formed out of the fog, he pieced together his surroundings. For a moment, the room felt oddly familiar.


“Of course ,” Jack realized, “all hospital rooms look the same.”


His brain was still sluggish as he worked to remember why he was there. His last memory came back in flashes. Laughing, pain, blue optics and a worried smile. With a frown, Jack started to pick at the tape holding the IV into his arm. Surely he must have missed something, it didn’t add up.


“Jack!” a familiar voice sobbed.


His dry lips twisted into a smile as he turned to face the now open door. “Hi, mom.” His voice cracked.


June rushed forward, stopping herself just before she could pull him into a bear hug. Instead, she hovered, her hands delicately cupping the sides of his face. “My baby,” Though she smiled her eyes were shining with tears. “You’re awake, how do you feel?”


Jack thought on the question for a minute, allowing her touch to calm him as it always did. “Kinda like what I imagine dirt feels like. Can I have some water?”


She spun on her heels and got him a drink from the tray against the wall. Frustratingly, his hands trembled holding the glass, but his mom helped him bring it to his lips without incident.


“You’re still getting your strength back, Jack. It’s okay,” She soothed, sensing the teenager’s embarrassment. “Just take it easy.”


“How long have I been here? What happened?” His blue eyes searched June’s face desperately. She hesitated but, knowing he would never let the subject drop, slowly recounted the story. Jack listened on in silence.


“Your surgery went really well, and after a day your fever broke. That was yesterday, so you’ve been here a total of three days.”


“You mean I was unconscious for two whole days?” Jack’s voice was thick with panic.


“Considering this injury was left untreated for two whole weeks count yourself lucky, mister.” She scolded, though her tone was soft.


Jack shrugged slightly, “Can this bed sit up?”


June couldn’t help but smile at his non-reaction as she pushed one of the buttons lining the wall. The top half of the bed began creeping upwards until Jack was sitting up and facing her. “Now that the doctors took care of the tissue damage, all you have to worry about is letting the rib heal.” She kissed his forehead lightly and started toward the door as she spoke, “I’m going to let your doctor know how you’re doing. I’ll be back in a bit.”


“Okay, mom.”


“Stay put.” She teased, closing the door behind her.


Jack struggled to take in all she had told him, but it was only about a minute until a shrill ringing interrupted his thoughts and made him jump. With a wince, he grabbed clumsily for the phone. He huffed, annoyed with his own inability, before putting it to his ear.




“Hey, partner. Good to hear you're finally awake.”


“Arcee,” He breathed, relief flooding through him. “Hey”


“You sound like scrap,” She teased, failing to hide the pain in her voice.


“Gee, thanks . I feel like it, too.” Jack squirmed in the silence that fell between them. “Ya’ know, it's funny, you called the exact minute my mom left the room.” He babbled, mentally kicking himself for the lame excuse for a conversation starter.


“That’s no coincidence, Jack. Ratchet told me the second you were awake, but June needed her moment with you. She’s been out of her processor with worry lately.” Arcee chuckled a little.


“Oh- wait, how did Ratchet know I was awake?” Jack asked cautiously, mentally running through all the things the medic could have done to him while he was unconscious. Like some kind of Cybertronian tracker, or a microchip for a pet.


“He’s been monitoring your room 24/7. Raf and him patched into the Hospital’s camera system.”


“You mean he’s watching me?” Jack’s eyes fell on the small black camera attached to the ceiling in the far corner of the room. He gave an awkward little wave.


“Yeah, I had a feeling you wouldn't be the biggest fan of that. I know I wouldn’t. But it gave him and Raf something to do so they felt like they were helping. Everyone’s been really worried about you, Jack.” Her voice faltered. Finally, the moment came Jack had been dreading. “Why didn’t you tell me?”


“I don’t know Arcee, I just.. I didn't think it was a big deal. It only hurt sometimes at first, and when I started to feel sick I figured that was the problem. I didn’t want you to worry about me, or think I couldn’t protect myself, or..” His voice trailed off into nervous silence. He had gone over the idea in his head a thousand times; the idea that one day, Arcee would decide the safest thing for him would be to leave. That she would push him away. Or, worse yet, she’d think he was weak.


This time, he didn’t move to fill the silence between them.


“Jack, you...” Arcee paused to collect her thoughts, “you are more than capable of protecting yourself. I think Arachnid can attest to that. But your mind is always on everyone else. You didn’t get hurt because you weren’t paying attention, you saved Miko. Look, I won’t lie, sometimes you get yourself into stupid situations, or take insane risks, and sometimes you make mistakes. But that's just who you are. You’re selfless, Jack. And sometimes, yeah, it drives me absolutely crazy, and I can get angry at you.”


She stopped to take a deep breath. “But I wouldn’t want you to be any different. And, honestly? I wish I was more like you, in that way. I can get so wrapped up in my own stuff that I put myself and others at risk without thinking...I know you, Jack. I know that no matter how much anyone fusses, or lectures, or punishes, you won’t change. You’ll always push the other person to safety before yourself. Even me and I’m the one who's supposed to be protecting you. So while you watch everyone else’s back, the least you can do is let me watch yours. That’s what partners are for, after all.”


The weight of her words hit Jack like a truck. He expected the lecture to end all lectures, and was wholly unprepared to respond to her blunt honesty. “I, uh..” He stuttered, “Thanks...I mean! That, that means a lot to me, ‘Cee, more than I could probably say. I didn’t know you thought that much of me.” He winced at the awkwardness of his own words, but Arcee laughed.


“Of course I do, I don’t just let anyone be my partner, ya’ know. Junior or otherwise.” She sounded lighter then she had in ages. “Of course, if you tell a spark about this you’ll be a skid mark on the road faster than you can blink.”


“Empty promises, Arcee.” Jack laughed, causing his ribs to ache, but he didn’t mind. “You like me too much, you’re stuck with me.”



Jack woke with a start the next day when the door came flying open, bouncing back against the wall.


“We’re heeere!” Miko announced, bursting into the room in a flurry of color. She looked out of place in the dull, predictable hospital setting. Raf was close at her heels.


“Jack!” The younger boy cried out excitedly. The teens flew to either side of him, both hugging him.


Jack ignored the jolt of pain in his chest and wrapped an arm around each of them. “Hey guys,” he chuckled, “I missed you too.” They dropped their backpacks and pulled up a chair each.


“I just want you to know, I tried to tell Raf not to do it,” Miko warned darkly. Before Jack could ask, Rafael opened his bag with an apologetic smile. From it, he pulled a neat stack of papers.

“His mom asked me to, Miko. He’s going to have to catch up on homework somehow.”


She sighed dramatically, “I still say we should have just burned it.”


“Noo,” Jack laughed, “Thanks for bringing it, Raf. I mean, I’m not exactly happy to do it, but I also don’t want all those zeros. So, no burning, Miko, sorry.” At Jack’s direction, Raf put the papers on the table against the wall. “Aside from homework, did I miss anything?”


He listened contentedly as the two described the last few days, allowing the feeling of normalcy to wash over him. Raf went on about how he and Ratchet hacked into the hospital, clearly proud of his ability to help in some way. Miko moaned about how boring and quiet the base was lately.The offical story around town for his hospital stay was a motorcylce crash. “But Vince has been telling everyone its for a sex change.” Miko added helpfully.


After a bit, June joined them as well. Jack was grateful for his friends’ visit and the air of comfort that came with them, but he longed to escape his bland prison. He missed the Autobots, and their base, which was as much their home as his. He yearned to go riding with Arcee. And he wanted his clothes back.


Those were the thoughts that got him through the painful breathing exercises. They looked silly, but the doctors reassured him they were entirely necessary to strengthen his ribs.




When he had been at the hospital a week, three days of which he spent irritatingly conscious, he was finally allowed to leave.


Sitting on the edge of the bed, Jack bent over to tie his shoes. There was only a dull ache in his chest to contend with. He got to his feet with a pleased grin but wobbled slightly. A familiar hand steadied him by the arm.

“Easy there,” June smiled before letting go of her son cautiously, “That’s what happens when you lay around for so long, your legs forget how to do their job.”


“My bad,” Jack huffed, his smile cutting through his fake annoyance, “I’ll remember that next time I have surgery.”


“Be sure you do,” June nodded confidently and led him from the room. Their path out of the hospital was dotted with hellos and warm wishes of the hospital staff, some of which Jack recognized others he only pretended to. By the time they socialized their way to the main exit Jack was utterly impatient.


Shifting on his feet, he watched June as she signed him out at the front desk. He groaned quietly when the paperwork turned into a conversation. “Mom, I’ll be waiting outside,” He called quickly, running off before she could argue. The glass doors slid apart and Jack burst into the Nevada sunlight. Stretching carefully he took a deep breath of fresh air and grinned. Free at last.  


The parking lot stretched before him, dotted occasionally with cars. In the closest parking space to the entrance, right beside his mom’s beat-up Sedan, was a sleek, blue motorcycle.


A grin split across his face and he ran toward his friend, never once looking back.