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Well Oiled Machine

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She should have grabbed another jacket. She was still kicking herself for being so stupid. Yes, she had been sweating and cursing out the midday sun early that day, but now all she wanted was a blanket and somewhere warm to stay. It was bad enough that it had started raining but now that the cold fabric was sticking to her skin it was becoming unbearable.

“Wonderful work Cat, there was a perfectly good jacket in the donation bin you could have grabbed, but no!” Cathleen scolded herself rubbing her arms for circulation. She had been walking for miles, her feet were tired, and she was beyond hungry.

She couldn’t go back though, not to that. She had to stay strong.

Cursing the blisters on her feet, she pushed forward down the side of the highway. At least her choice of footwear was practical. When she had walked into the last gas station no-one gave her a second look. She looked like a very typical twenty-six-year-old. The road was dark, minus a stray light post every couple of yards, letting her blend in to avoid the notice of the rare passing cars. She figured that it had to be around two in the morning.

The rumble of thunder off in the distance brought Cathleen to a stop. From the sound of it, this rain was going to get a lot worse, and she couldn’t see shelter anywhere near her current location. Cathleen considered for a moment getting out the light hoodie that was safely tucked away in her bag but decided against it. She would need dry clothes to change into and she couldn’t risk having everything ruined. She tightened the straps of her bag and adjusted her duffle then set off in a light jog. There had been a sign telling her a rest stop was about two miles. Fifteen minutes of a light jog and she would finally have somewhere to rest. The wet road wasn’t forgiving against her feet but it was either jog in the mud or walk in a downpour.

She could spot the station by the time the rain began to hurt as it hit her skin. She continued to push her hair from her face hoping that the lights were simply off to allow the drivers to sleep, and not abandoned like she feared. Slowing to a walk, she could see that there was a dull light coming from an overhead light from the gas station section. The roof of the filling stations was cracked and caved in with one of the support beams tilted on its side. The building itself gave little shelter but Cathleen wasn’t above scavenging around for some food or water. The place looked like it had been hit by a tornado.

She shoved her shoulder against the door, but the damn thing wouldn’t budge. She tried to pull the planks off of the windows but she was too tired and weak to get very far. From the jog and the physical activity of attempting to break in she let out a few hacking coughs. She could feel her nose beginning to clog and her throat becoming scratchy. She knew she was sick, she most likely had been for a few days and now that she was pushing her body to the extreme it could no longer fight it off. Cursing, she slumped against the door catching her breath. She shifted her bag pulling out a few water bottles to let the rain water fill them. She was still getting soaked lurking in the doorway, so she stood to find shelter in the damaged filling station. The knocked over pillar gave a nice place to curl up under and the roof kept the rain off.

Ringing out her hair, Cathleen felt tears brim her eyes. She pushed them away along with the thoughts that urged them. He lied, manipulated, and alienated her until none of her friends even believed her. She had done everything she could to plan. She had given notice to her boss, kept the things she packed simple and in the locker at the gym, and she had left while he had been called in to work. Cathleen had jumped on the nearest train and left everything behind. She knew she had about twenty dollars left on her person and that would need to last her until she got to a large enough city to find work. She would focus on getting her hands on some cash from a branch of her bank and find her way to a motel room to hole up in and possibly sleep off this cold. Coughing again, Cathleen leaned back on her duffle and closed her eyes.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

:We’ve sent a team out to meet you. They won’t reach you until tomorrow.: That had been the best they were able to do. Optimus had driven half way across the country to follow a lead that had gotten them nowhere.

:Very well.: He hadn’t meant to be so short with his team.

:Recharge, Prime. That’s an order.: Ratchet’s stern warning came through the commlink. :There seems to be an abandoned stop less than a mile from your current location.: He was sent the coordinates.

:Understood, old friend.: He saw the rest stop. The place was indeed abandoned, but not deserted it would seem. Optimus scanned the area surprised to find a human female tucked away by the filling station. He was not unaware of the homeless population of Earth, nor the extremely high count of them in the country he and his Autobots were seeking refuge in. He scanned the woman becoming alarmingly concerned with the readings. She was dehydrated and running a very high body temperature. Her body already showed signs of illness with the risk of hypothermia greatly high. After a quick internet search, Optimus became aware that this woman would not survive the night if she were to remain as she was.

:Ratchet.: Being honest with himself, he hadn’t the faintest idea of how to help this human. :There is a situation.:

:What seems to be the problem, Prime?: Ratchet’s tone was curious.

:There is a human female residing at the station. After scanning, she is suffering from malnutrition and hypothermia. I fear she will not survive the night like this. The rain is dropping her temperature.: Optimus knew it was best to describe all of the symptoms and the situation for the best result.

:Has the human seen you?: Ratchet was already forming a plan.

:No, she is in stasis.: Optimus responded.

:You need to wake her up, now! If she sleeps she will parish.: Optimus had sent the data to Ratchet hearing his alarm. :She needs to get warm, out of the wet clothing, and liquids. Optimus, to save this human I fear you must let her into your cabin.:

:Very well.: There was no question. If there was a human life in danger, Optimus would assist them. No matter the cost. Yet, how to stay hidden? :I am going to use the holoform. Inform Lennox.: He cut off with Ratchet activating the holoform protocol. He normally only used it when he knew he would need to interact with humans while driving. He had never considered the need to use one to fully interact with a human. However, this woman needed his help, but he could not simply reveal his true self to her.

It was always an odd feeling to use the holoform. He could still sense and see everything from the truck yet the holoform allowed him to interact with the humans on a personal level. He climbed out of the truck cabin and into the rain jogging over to the female from where he had parked himself. The Peterbilt settled under the section of roof that had not collapsed on itself. Out of the rain he would be able to focus on keeping the human warm and safe, but first he needed to wake her up.

“Miss.” He kneeled before her, gently moving her shoulder. Her skin was burning. Optimus felt himself grow concerned by just how much her skin was warm, but she shivered as if she were frozen. “Please, you must wake up.” He spoke up a bit, still trying to grab her attention. After seeing no affect, he blared the horn of the Peterbilt seeing the woman jolt from the loud sound. Optimus relaxed his shoulders seeing the woman shift and open her eyes slowly. “Miss, you need to get out of the rain.”

“What?” She was still delirious and her voice sounded horse.

“Do not be afraid. I am here to assist you.” The woman coughed harshly as Optimus spoke.

“I’m fine.” She protested attempting to back away from him.

“Please, you are ill and require aid.” The woman looked at him startled for a moment.

“I’m dreaming.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Cathleen was so cold. She could tell how sick she was and her body was becoming numb to the ice cold pain. Her lungs burned as she breathed and her body felt sore. How had she gotten this bad so quickly? How long had she been asleep before this man showed up? The man in front of her was handsome, not movie star glamorous, but more rugged good looks. His voice was low and almost lulled her back to sleep as he spoke.

“There will not be much room, but my truck bed is warm and can provide you shelter and warmth.” The man spoke again. A lot of warning bells were going off in Cathleen’s head about getting into a strange man’s truck, but the promise of warmth and somewhere out of this storm sounded heavenly. The thunder sounded like it was right on top of them and the wind was picking up. She nodded, slowly unfolding herself making sure to grab her bags and water bottles. She would cough every so often but followed the man to the custom painted Peterbilt a few feet away from where she had been sleeping. Looking at her watch she had been out in this weather for over four hours. No wonder she was sick. The man opened the door and helped her into the cabin. She was about to sit in the passenger seat when he guided her to the back where the sleeper was.

“I don’t want to take your bed.” She mumbled. She heard the male chuckle behind her before she heard and felt the heat blast fully on her.

“I insist you take it. If possible, you may wish to change clothes. Staying in your current attire will not assist your recovery.” Cathleen listened to the male and smiled. Wordy, wasn’t’ he? “I will give you some privacy.” He stepped back out of the truck shutting the door with a soft click. Cathleen quickly rooted through her duffle for her warmest clothing. A long sleeve shirt and a pair of sweatpants. Peeling off her now soaking wet clothes stripping bare in the back of the cabin she pulled on a new pair of underwear and the clothes. Having something dry on was already making her feel better with the soft fabric running across her skin. She placed her clothes by one of the heating vents to dry. She pulled her hair up into a bun so it wouldn’t drip onto her clothes and become tangled. Satisfied that she was covered and felt cleaner she crawled back up and opened the door.

“I’m presentable.” She attempted to joke but the hacking cough that followed ruined the moment. She was startled when the man reached forward placing his cheek on her forehead. She tried not to chuckle feeling his scruff rub against her skin.

“You are still too warm. You require liquids and rest.” She had to chuckle at his stern tone.

“I swear, I’m already feeling better.” She held up her hands but retreated back to her bag and the bed sitting comfortably on top. “So, what is the name of my rescuer?”

“I am Optimus Prime.” It was short and simple, but what an odd name.

“Cathleen Cauldern.” She offered her hand to shake. “I’m in your debt for allowing me to stay in your truck for the night.” He shook her hand but she had to pull away to cover her face as she coughed.

“Cathleen.” She looked at him seeing he was holding out one of her water bottles to her. “Drink, please.” She took the bottle and sipped lightly feeling the water burn her throat and settle in her empty stomach. “Why are you out here alone?” Cathleen stayed quiet looking down at the bottle in her hand.

“I don’t want to talk about it.” She could tell he wanted to ask more but he respected her wishes and changed the subject.

“Are you warm enough?” The genuine concern in his voice was startling to her.

“Yes, thank you.” She smiled to him. “Really, I owe you a debt.” She coughed a bit but was otherwise feeling much better being dry and warm. Optimus wasn’t so bad.

“I could not leave you out there to die.” He smiled to her. His scans were telling him that she was no longer in immediate danger, but she was still far off from being healthy.

“That’s a first.” She had meant to keep the comment internal but the look he was suddenly giving her made her shift uncomfortably.

“What-“ He began but she shook her head cutting him off. She tried not to focus on how dizzy she had made herself and put on her best smile.

“If it’s all the same to you, I would really like to sleep. I’m dead on my feet here.” She chuckled at her own joke but Optimus didn’t seem to find the humor in it.

“Very well, I will keep you safe for the night.” Cathleen could only compare his tone to something out of a fantasy flick when the knight was declaring his oath to a princess. He was so sincere.

“Thank you.” She smiled to him.

“You are welcome.”

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Optimus had not meant to watch the human female as she slept, or at least not in such detail. Once she had drifted off he had dismissed the holoform and scanned her. She was safe from severe illness but flu symptoms were already beginning to show harshly. Her nose was blocked, she would cough and wheeze as she slept, and her temperature was still above the average for a human. Optimus knew that the woman needed food and judging from her attire and the two bags she carried, she had none. He had explained in further detail the situation to Ratchet and now Lennox was taking care of it while some of his team drove out to meet him. He would recharge and get Cathleen to a safe location. Somewhere he knew she wouldn’t be harmed or injured when they would part ways.

Cathleen had his processor filled with so many questions. From their brief encounter she seemed charming and kind. When she had mentioned not wanting to take his bed in her half delirious state he had chuckled. She clearly needed it more than he did, but just the idea of inconveniencing someone seemed to bother her. What had led her here? Why was she alone? Did she have a family or loved one looking for her?

Optimus caught himself thinking she was an attractive female. She had all the characteristics that male’s seemed to find pleasing. Upon comparing Cathleen to Sam’s mate Michaela, Cathleen would seem plain by default. Optimus assumed her attire and ill state helped with that. Perhaps she did have someone looking for her.

His systems alerting him to recharge pulled him from his thoughts. He needed to rest and Cathleen was safe within his cabin getting the rest she needed. The storm was harsh around them but having parked in the center of the station and the collapsed roof had created a tunnel like affect. He was well out of harm’s way giving them both shelter. He would see what would become of her after he was done recharging.

Chapter Text

Cathleen felt like she had been hit by a truck. Her head ached, her body was sore, and she couldn’t breathe through her nose. She felt sluggish and still tired even though she knew she couldn’t sleep anymore. She coughed, slowly sitting up from the bed she was laying on.

Wait, bed? Hadn’t she fallen asleep outside last night?

That was when she opened her eyes seeing the inside of Optimus’s truck. That’s right, a handsome stranger had come out of nowhere and helped her more than she could ever repay. She rubbed her eyes picking up her water bottle to take a few more sips. She didn’t want to drink too much in one go due to her need to save it. She had no idea when her next chance for water would be, so she didn’t want to blow it all. She pushed the blanket off of her feeling the warmth of the cabin. She could tell it was damp and chilly outside due to the trucks windows being foggy and it was still early. The sun wasn’t even fully up yet. Her clothes were dry and she didn’t spot Optimus anywhere. This was a good chance for her to move on without too many questions.

Optimus was a nice guy, but she was never good with goodbyes. She shoved all her stuff into her duffle and grabbed her bag cringing every so often at the throbbing of her head. Her vision was a bit blurry but once she woke up it should be fine. She left the truck shutting the door lightly in case Optimus was nearby. She got to the edge of the station when she heard a voice call out.

“Cathleen.” She turned seeing Optimus walking towards her. He looked tired but alert looking right at her. She couldn’t tell if he looked mad or annoyed but it was not a happy look he was giving her.

“Morning.” She attempted pleasantness. “I didn’t see you there.” She couldn’t make it through the sentence without hacking and her voice sounded like sandpaper, but it wasn’t like she was going to be talking much after they parted ways.

“Get back in the truck.” Her eyes widened at the demand. “You are still sick. I am meeting my team and there is a physician amongst them that can help you.”

“You already let me spend the night in your truck; that’s more than I can ever repay. If I put anything else on my tab, I’ll be in debt to you for the rest of my life.” She attempted to joke to defuse his anger. She was useless if he became angry with her.

“I will not abandon you on the side of the road. You are in need of assistance and I can offer it to you.” Cathleen rubbed her arms feeling a bit awkward.

“Look, I don’t know what you want. I’m very grateful for the help, but you don’t have to look after me. I can take care of myself.” She went to take a step back but Optimus began talking again.

“You do not have to. I am unaware of what has brought you to this, but please allow me to assist you. If it will make you feel better, I will stop trying to help you the moment after my team’s physician looks at you. Agreed?” He sounded so honest. He had to want something from her. Nobody was this nice.

“What do you want in exchange? I don’t have a lot of money on me at the moment.” She really hoped this wasn’t going where she feared it might.

“Nothing.” He stated simply.

“What?” She was scared she didn’t hear him.

“I require nothing from you, nor would I ask. I simply want to help.” She watched him while he spoke. He seemed sincere and nothing he had done up until this point had made her question him.

“You’re just willing to help a complete stranger? I could be an axe murderer for all you know.” She crossed her arms hearing him chuckle.

“Somehow I doubt that.” He smiled to her making her pause. What did she have to lose? She would be getting a free lift to a populated area and a doctor would look her over without her needing to go to the hospital. She stuck out her hand.

“Deal.” Optimus shook her hand and helped her back up into the Peterbilt. He motioned for her to get back into bed so she listened and curled up while he started the engine. He drove out of the station and back onto the highway heading east.

“So, what’s this team of yours?” She didn’t want to travel in silence.

“I cannot share much, but they are my team of soldiers.” He spoke softly.

“Oh, I assumed you were a trucker. What’s a military man doing with a fancy Peterbilt?” She asked running her fingers along the floor of the truck.

“Fancy?” There was a chuckle to his voice.

“I’m not sure if you are aware, but there are flames painted on this bad boy. That means this truck is fancy and I would go as far to say a bad ass. You have a badass truck, Optimus.” She coughed making annoyed sounds at how dry her throat was. She smiled however hearing his laughter.

“Do I now?” If she didn’t know any better she would say he was enjoying his own private joke.

“Anyway, military man and a fancy badass Peterbilt. What’s the story?” She smiled curling up tighter in on herself.

“It is my own personal mode of transportation.” He answered simply making her eyes roll.

“And a simple pickup just wouldn’t cut it?” She was smiling and meant it in good humor.

“No.” The way he answered so seriously had her laughing and hacking for a good five minutes.

“Alright, so you work for a secret branch of the government on some secret mission, and you decide to pick up a homeless girl?” She chuckled at how ridiculous it sounded.

“You are homeless?” He asked.

“Recently, possibly more in the category of runaway. I’m figuring this out as I go. Isn’t it obvious?” She attempted joking but the bitter tone in her voice could not be mistaken.

“I had come to a few different conclusions as to why you were alone in the rain.” Optimus responded.

“Oh? Any good ones?” She beamed at him in the rearview mirror. “Like I’ve escaped from a traveling circus or I’m a mythical creature?” Cathleen relayed heavily on humor to get her through her hard times.

“Nothing quite like that, but I will not lie. I am curious.” There was a clear smile in his voice but his curiosity was there.

“Well, it’s a bit of a long and sad story leading up to the homeless bit. I wouldn’t want to bore you with the details.” Cathleen winked hearing Optimus chuckle.

“I will listen if you need to talk about it.” There was that sincerity again. Cathleen wondered where he got his seemingly limitless levels of kindness.

Cathleen was quiet for a bit after that coming to a decision. She wanted to tell someone that didn’t know him. Cathleen needed someone to believe her. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

“He was my friend, or at least he started out that way. We met three years ago and hit it off well enough. The first time he asked me to go out with him I refused because I didn’t want to be in a relationship at the time, but he persisted. At the time, I thought it was cute instead of seeing it as the warning sign that it was. Last year I finally agreed to go on a date and he seemed so perfect. He was always fun and seemed interested in what was going on in my life. He wanted to be friends with all of mine and had seemed to just want to be an active part of my life. Three months into the relationship I noticed that he began making comments about how I should change this or not spend time with this person. At first I thought it was just jealous boyfriend and concern talking, but when it didn’t stop I knew I was in trouble. He took away a lot of my freedoms and I wasn’t able to do anything outside of work and being at home without him looming over my shoulder.” She coughed every so often and felt tears beginning to brim her eyes.

“I tried telling my friends that he was controlling and that I wasn’t allowed to do anything but they just brushed it off. They couldn’t believe that such a nice guy was so horrible. Three weeks ago, he got physical with me and that was it. I packed my bag while he was at work and left and have been on my own since then.” She opened her eyes but closed them again feeling tears fall. “Told you it’s a bit of a bummer.”

“He hurt you?” There was anger in Optimus’s voice that surprised Cathleen.

“He almost broke my arm but I was able to talk him down.” She smiled softly. “He always did like when I listened. I was his pet in that way.”

“Do you not have a safe place to go?” Optimus glanced back at her but she shook her head.

“This is the safest I have felt in a very long time.” She took a deep breath covering her face in the pillow for a moment. “You’re a good person, Optimus.” Cathleen felt herself becoming a bit emotional. “I . . .I really needed my faith in humanity restored and you’ve done just that.” Her voice got quiet not noticing the look on Optimus’s face. “Thank you.”

“You are welcome.” She smiled and felt herself beginning to drift off again.

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Optimus watched Cathleen return to sleep. He had been surprised this morning when she had attempted to slip off without saying anything, although from hearing her story he knew why. She was on the run to protect herself. She had given up everything for her freedom and Optimus felt his spark reach out to her. He knew what it was like to abandon everything you knew to continue to live. He dismissed the holoform knowing that she would be asleep for some time. Her cold was beginning to disturb him. Her fever had returned as she had been speaking and her voice sounded as if it was giving out. He knew she was in trouble.

:Ratchet.: He activated his commlink knowing that his medic would be awake by now.

:Is everything alright?: Optimus thought of how to respond.

:I am in route to the rendezvous location, however Cathleen’s condition worries me.: Optimus once again scanned Cathleen and sent the results to Ratchet.

:She will need medication and rest. She will also need a steady diet to help her recover from the illness.: Ratchet reported.

:She does not have access to any of those things.: Optimus was becoming frustrated. He wanted to help Cathleen, now more than ever, but how?

:Lennox has asked if you know the females last name.:

:Cauldern. Cathleen Cauldern is how she had introduced herself.: Optimus responded.

:Lennox is running her name through their government system. The team will meet with you by this evening. Try and get her to hold on for that long.:

:Very well, old friend.: And with that they ended communications.

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Cathleen could feel herself drifting in and out of sleep before she finally decided enough was enough and she got herself up. Sitting up she saw Optimus just watching the road but she noticed that there were a lot more trees than what she had last recalled.

“Where are we?” She asked cringing at how ridiculous her voice sounded.

“We are an hour outside of the state of Tennessee.” Was his simple response. “We will be meeting my team in four hours.”

“I slept the entire time?” She had assumed it had been a few hours, not the entire day.

“Your cold has moved into flu symptoms. You needed the rest.” Optimus gave her a small smile in the rearview mirror but she could hear his worry. She was worse than she thought.

“I see.” She moved the blanket off of her and took another drink. This time she drank about half the bottle but she still felt parched. She took a deep breath and put it down knowing that it was better to hold off a bit for now. Reaching into her bag Cathleen pulled out one of the many small packets of tissues she had. She was lucky the last shelter she visited was giving them out for free. Blowing her nose she cringed and made disgusted noises hearing Optimus chuckle.

“Don’t laugh!” She whined coughing at trying to clear out her nose.

“You seem so disgusted by something that is natural for you.” Optimus was smiling at her but she rolled her eyes.

“There is nothing natural about a clogged nose.” She put her used tissues in a zip lock bag then put that back in her bag. There was no way in hell she was leaving tissues on the truck floor. Cathleen wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and leaned forward so she would be able to see Optimus better as he drove.

“Am I allowed to ask where your base of operations is?” Cathleen asked suddenly.

“Washington D.C., however I cannot give you anything more.” He answered her not seeing the harm in it. She knew nothing about him or his Autobots and she would likely stay in Virginia where they were meeting his team rather than traveling all the way to the capital with him.

“You must be very important to be stationed in the capital. Only the bigwigs are there.” Cathleen smiled. “I’m not breaking any top-secret government laws just by knowing your name, am I?”

“And if you are?” She had no way of knowing how close she was to breaking many intelligence laws by knowing his name.

“Well,” She smirked to him, “I can just say it’s only polite for strangers to introduce themselves.” She closed her eyes again but she didn’t feel like sleeping. She was jolted away however when the truck hit a pothole and Cathleen’s head slammed against the roof of the bunk.

“Are you-“

“Ow.” Cathleen interrupted Optimus with a chuckle, rubbing her head. “Optimus I think your truck hates me.” She reached up and placed a kiss where her head had hit. “I hope that’s a good enough apology for spreading my germs and causing injury to metal.”

“I can say with certainty that the truck does not hate you, Cathleen.” She smiled to him seeing an odd look on his face.

“You okay?” She asked moving forward again this time running her fingers along the leather of the seat. Optimus’s hands flexed on the steering wheel before he answered.

“Fine. My medic informs me that you require more liquids.” She still couldn’t get over how formal his speech was.

“That may be, but I only have three water bottles and they need to last me until I can get to another clean water source.” She attempted to sass back.

“Drink, we will get you more in the city.” Optimus answered, not taking the bait. Cathleen huffed dramatically but picked up her water and finished off the first bottle. She noticed a sign for a travel rest stop and it wasn’t just a gas station but one of those where there was a food court and small shops.

“Hey Optimus, I know you’re on a really important mission and have to get back to your team, but can we stop at this next place? I can grab some really cheap food and hopefully a sweatshirt or something warmer than just my jacket.” She tried her best to look convincing but Optimus was frowning.

“Are you well enough?” She smiled knowing he was genuinely concerned for her.

“I won’t take longer than ten minutes I promise. The air might be good for me.” She was still cough and sounded horrible. She wasn’t fooling anyone but she was freezing and had to pee.

“Alright.” He agreed and she was happy to see him take the exit.

“You’re the best.” She smiled to him and grabbed her wallet crawling up to the passenger seat so she could get out easier. Optimus parked the Peterbilt in the section that was blocked off for rigs. Cathleen made her way out surprised to see Optimus walking over to her side. She closed the door gently then looked to him.

“You want to come in too?” She asked but he just chuckled.

“I am going to keep an eye on you. I fear you are pushing yourself.” Optimus spoke as they entered the building. Cathleen was surprised to see there were a few food places, restrooms off to the side, and her luck, a small gift like shop where she would be able to purchase a few necessities, like a sweatshirt and cold medicine.

“I’m going to use the restroom quick. Want to meet me over in the shop?” She asked seeing him nod and walk over as she entered the women’s restroom. After getting herself sorted she splashed some cold water on her face and neck after washing her hands. She coughed and finally got a good look at herself. Her eyes were bloodshot, she could tell she lost weight, and her hair needed a good wash, but not here. She glanced around seeing that there wasn’t anyone else in the bathroom so she pulled up her shirt. She hadn’t been completely honest with Optimus. There were a few bruises along her sides and one on her stomach. He had tried to break her arm, but that was after he had beaten her to the ground. Cathleen tugged down the shirt and glared in the mirror. She didn’t have time for this and Optimus was waiting. Exiting the restroom, she hurried over to the shop spotting Optimus looking through the sweatshirts.

“Find anything?” She coughed throwing off her attempt at humor.

“Will this do?” Optimus held up a zip up sweatshirt that was a simple black. “It will allow you to regulate the temperature better than those without the zipper function.” Cathleen took the hoodie and checked the price seeing that it wasn’t bad. She would still be able to pay with cash and have plenty left for Mcnuggets.

“It’s perfect, thanks.” She smiled to him and hurried over to the register seeing that they did in fact have cold medicine behind the counter. She pulled out her card knowing it was for the best, but something next to her grabbed her attention. She started laughing adding the bumper sticker to her pile as the casher grabbed the medicine for her.

“Something amusing?” Optimus asked having stopped being distracted.

“I’m getting your truck this!” It was a bumper sticker in cursive silver font that said ‘fancy’. Optimus joined her small laugh.

“You do not need to.” He smiled to her but she shook her head.

“I can’t pay you back for everything, but at least I can give you something so you won’t forget me and what you’ve given me.” The two looked at each other just smiling before the girl at the register chuckled and said her total. Cathleen handed over her card and paid before asking the girl for some scissors to cut the tag off. Once that was done Cathleen slipped on the jacked and the two made their way over to the McDonalds. Cathleen ordered and grabbed her chicken nuggets and a new large water bottle and then they headed back to the truck.

“Twelve minutes.” Optimus said when they left the building. Cathleen paused before laughing again but it turned into a hacking fit. “Cathleen?” She could hear the panic in Optimus’s voice and she suddenly felt very dizzy. She felt herself being picked up while she coughed. Optimus put her down by the truck and she finally began to calm down.

“Sorry.” She muttered but only half the word came out. She looked to Optimus to see his concern but she pulled out the bumper sticker and moved to the back of the rig.

“Cathleen you need to-“ Optimus was cut off as Cathleen slapped the bumper sticker onto the back part of the rig.

“Come on, I’m going to fall asleep again in this fancy truck.” She smiled reaching out to rub his arm. She had to grit her teeth and force on a brave face. She felt awful. “I’m okay.” She climbed up but when she laid back down she could tell something was very wrong. Optimus moved to the space between the seats to help her get comfortable but he wouldn’t let her lay down.

“Take this and eat.” He ordered and she was too tired to give a response. She ate slowly but she could only force herself to eat four before she felt ill and she didn’t want to push it. She drank the entire water bottle then laid down. Optimus had begun driving again once he saw her eating but he had been very quiet.

“Optimus?” Her voice was hardly coming out anymore.

“Are you alright, Cathleen?” He was still worried.

“I am so sorry.” She felt tears slip as she passed out.

 

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:Ratchet!: Optimus didn’t like how she passed out like that. She was having difficulty breathing and she had lost her appetite.

:Optimus, has she gotten worse?: Ratchet was still back at NEST with Lennox.

:Her fever is too high and she refuses to eat what she requires. She took medicine but has collapsed.: Optimus had begun to grow fond of Cathleen. It was rare for him to be allowed simple moments that she had given him and the chance to interact with a human this closely amazed him. However, she was very ill and if she didn’t get help soon, he was very afraid for her.

:The team is half an hour out. They were instructed to meet at your location. They will find you.:

:Thank you, old friend.: Optimus was about to cut the connection when Ratchet spoke again.

:Lennox informs me that she has a missing person report filed on her. Lennox is attempting to get in contact with the one that filed it.: Ratchet responded and Optimus felt his energon run cold.

:Stop him. Cathleen is an abuse victim on the run from her abuser. He is most likely the one that filed the report.: Optimus felt anger once again.

:I will pass on the message. Ratchet, out.: The connection was broken leaving Optimus to his thoughts. He had promised to not force assistance onto Cathleen once their medic looked her over, however the more attached he became to her the more he wanted to help. Would she allow him to take her to the capital?

Her abuser was looking for her, no doubt under the disguise of a concerned lover. Optimus felt his engine growl. Even though they had only spent a short time together, Cathleen seemed to be the type of human that did not deserve what had happened to her. Optimus continued down the road, concern and anger brewing inside him until he saw NEST solder vehicles heading his way. There was a pull off exit that would do. He pulled into a spot moving the holoform to attempt to wake up Cathleen while the others pulled in around him.

“Cathleen?” He slowly sat her up feeling how hot her skin was, but she was shaking again. “Cathleen, wake up.”

“Op-us-“ She had attempted to get his name out but her voice did not cooperate. She still seemed asleep but she moved her arms to loop around the holoforms neck to help him carry her. He chuckled picking her up and taking her outside.

“Sir.” Some of them responded seeing him but he ignored them in favor of the ambulance. Two medics rushed over to take a look at her.

“We’ll get her hooked up and try and reduce the fever as we drive.” Optimus placed Cathleen down on the stretcher in the vehicle. Before he could pull away Cathleen softly grabbed his hand.

“I’m sorry.” She whispered again still locked in sleep. Optimus squeezed her hand before dismissing the holoform and they got under way.

 

*********************

Cathleen knew she was in an ambulance. She had still been out of it when Optimus had brought her in here but after being hooked up to a few things her fever was under control and she felt more aware. Her throat still felt like sandpaper and her eyes were heavy, but she was out of danger for now.

“I’ve never seen him that worried, have you?” One of the medics spoke to the other not realizing Cathleen was awake.

“Only with his Autobots, but never with a human.” The other responded making Cathleen frown. Human? Cathleen didn’t know how long they had been on the road again but if those watching out for her were able to talk about pointless things like this everything must be fine. She shuffled a bit to get their attention.

“Ma’am.” One of them greeted, already checking vitals. “How are you feeling?”

“Gross.” She smiled but it didn’t last long. She didn’t have much energy and she really wanted to go back to sleep.

“The fever has gone down but once we’re able to stop in the next city we can get something into you. Medicine and bedrest will be the best to help fight this off.” The other informed her.

“I hole up in a motel. Sleep it off.” She smiled to them watching them go about their work.

“So, if you don’t mind us asking. How did you stumble upon the commander?” The medic to her left asked.

“He more stumbled upon me. I owe him my life.” Cathleen meant it.

“More than you know.” The other muttered but was hit on the arm as if sharing too much information.

“Am I really that bad?” Cathleen asked wondering if she had slipped into the territory of pneumonia.

“You’ll be fine. My partner is just being an idiot.” The two shared a laugh.

A loud popping sound startled Cathleen and silenced the two medics. One of the medics suddenly slummed forward bleeding from the neck.

“GET DOWN!” The driver shouted from up front. Cathleen was suddenly pulled from the bed and brought to the floor. The medic that dragged her down, Tanner if his name tag was correct, was busy stopping the bleeding from his coworker. She looked out the windows of the doors watching the most bizarre thing happening. She saw vehicles turning into terrifying machines and they were shooting at the ambulance and the other military vehicles, but they were focusing on a specific Peterbilt.

“Optimus!” She yelled as best as she could but froze watching the truck that she had spent the last 24 hours in transform in motion on the highway into a massive robot. The Peterbilt quickly tackled one of the other robots when a stray shot hit the glass and shattered the window. Cathleen was flung back hitting her head hard and felt something lodged in her leg and side. She felt dizzy from the fever and the pain and felt herself slipping again. The last image she thought of was Optimus’s smile and the massive flame colored robot.

Chapter Text

“Optimus!”

Cathleen’s eyes shot open at the loud crash. Whatever was below her was soft and slightly damp. Right, it had rained. She tried moving but she wasn’t able to feel anything. Panic began to take over and her eyes still hadn’t completely focused. She couldn’t see or hear correctly. What happened? She had woken up in the ambulance but what happened after that?

She put her head back down and shut her eyes trying to focus. Facts, she needed to focus on things that she knew. Things that she remembered.

My name is Cathleen Cauldern. I am twenty-six years old. I recently lived with my fiancé Jason in an apartment. I left him three weeks ago. I am homeless and on the run. I met and traveled with Optimus. I am somewhere in Virginia now. I was in an ambulance.

She took a deep breath reciting this in her head. What had happened?

“Cathleen? Cathleen, can you hear me?” She nodded not trusting her eyes or voice to cooperate with her. The voice sounded familiar.

“She’s awake!” The voice shouted. So, she had passed out then? Right, hadn’t she hit her head? She still couldn’t feel much. How injured was she?

“Cathleen, there was an accident. The ambulance is still safe for transport but we needed to remove you for your own safety. You’re safe.” Ah, it was the voice of the medic. Tanner. She slowly opened her eyes finding things becoming clearer. It was like looking through a fog and her eyes teared up, but she could make out Tanner’s blurred figure.

“The . . . the other medic?” He had been bleeding.

“He’s fine.” Something in his voice told her otherwise.

“Optimus?” She attempted to sit up, but Tanner pressed lightly on her shoulder to keep her down.

“He’s discussing the situation with the higher ups. You won’t be able to see him for a while.” Tanner explained.

“Was he hurt?” She wanted to clarify what information she wanted.

“No.” The weight that lifted off of her surprised her. “I know you want to move, but until the ambulance is cleaned we’re going to need you to sit still for a bit. Do you want anything?”

“The feeling in my legs to come back.” She chuckled dryly having to hack out a few coughs. Her eyes widened in panic when she tasted copper.

“It’s alright, that’s normal for your condition.” Tanner rolled her to the side letting her spit the blood out on the grass. “I need an oxygen mask here!” Tanner shouted to someone off to the side. Cathleen squeezed her eyes shut feeling a pressure on her chest and her lungs felt like they were burning. She spat out another mix of blood and mucus. What was happening?

“Tanner?” She attempted a question.

“It’s alright. We’ll take care of you.” He reassured her placing the mask over her mouth. Cathleen closed her eyes. It was easier to breathe but she still had a lot of questions to ask. She got the feeling that many would remain unanswered. “Better?”

She could only nod as her response.

“Good, rest here for a bit. I need to check on a few others.” She nodded again watching Tanner stand and move about the others. She noticed they were once again at a side exit filling station. It wasn’t busy but she guessed that was from the military shutting down the exit ramp to get here. She looked around seeing soldiers and medics milling about. There were a few injured, some were talking on the phone, but her eyes caught sight of a very familiar Peterbilt. She noticed two men talking around the grill of the truck, but Optimus wasn’t anywhere to be found.

He’s busy.

Cathleen shook her head, closing her eyes. She wanted to block out the sounds going on around her and sleep. Tanner had told her to rest but she was too concerned to do so. What had attacked them? Why on the highway?

Why had Cathleen imagined giant robots?

“Don’t be stupid.” She muttered to herself. She pulled her knees to her chest leaning her head against them. She was comfortable on the ground and with the mask she felt calm. A light doze wouldn’t hurt, would it?

**

“Cathleen?” She was jolted awake by Tanner’s voice. “We’re clear. Have you been sleeping this entire time?”

“Sorry.” She muttered rubbing her eyes. She felt drained and didn’t have the motivation to move.

“Your fever has come down but hasn’t broken.” He checked over her vitals. “Not like the ground is helpful.” The comment was not directed at her. “Think you can stand?” Cathleen slowly made her way to her feet and followed Tanner to the ambulance.

“Where are we?” Cathleen asked climbing into the back. Tanner instructed her to lay down.

“Virginia, did you forget?” There was concern.

“No, just double checking.” Cathleen’s voice was soft while she lay there. She heard the engine rumble to life and the vehicle begin to make its way back onto the highway.

“Homeless, huh?” Tanner asked removing the oxygen mask from her. She was glad it was still easy to breathe.

“Yeah.” She didn’t really want to think about this right now. She would be dropped off in the capital and hopefully from there she could stay low until she would be able to contact her family and explain what happened. She just didn’t want the risk of Jason finding her. “Did Optimus tell you that?” She wasn’t angry with him, but she wasn’t too thrilled to know that Optimus was speaking about her behind her back.

“No, I was given the information from Captain Lennox. If I’m to give you the best care I need to know what supplies to send you off with. If you’re homeless, I can’t tell you to fill a prescription when you probably don’t even have insurance to cover the cost.” Tanner explained in a rush. He seemed a bit flustered. Cathleen reprimanded herself. Optimus wouldn’t betray her trust like that. He wasn’t the type.

“I assumed you would be giving me some sort of medication then send me on my way. I’m not planning on sticking around when we get to the capital.” Cathleen spoke feeling guilt building again. How many people was she going to be indebted to?

“Does Optimus Prime know that?” Tanner had a joking tone to his voice but he stopped laughing seeing Cathleen’s confused face. “You were given top priority. The only way you’ll get to leave is when Prime say’s that we’ve looked after you properly.”

“Optimus isn’t in charge of me.” She hadn’t meant for it to sound as harshly as she had.

“I didn’t mean to imply that . . . what I meant was . . .” Tanner took a breath. “He isn’t in charge of you, but he is in command of us to some extent. What he says, goes.” Tanner smiled at her. “He said to take care of you, so that’s what we will do.” Cathleen felt her cheeks flush.

“He’s too nice.” She looked away from Tanner not wanting to talk about Optimus anymore. She owed him a great deal and he was a nice person, but she needed to stop getting attached to people. She was leaving by tomorrow, no matter what Optimus said.

“How are your supplies?” Tanner tried getting Cathleen’s attention again.

“Excuse me?” She looked back to the medic having spaced out.

“Your supplies? Do you have enough to get you through the next few days if you’re going out on your own?” Tanner was checking the different machines. He was specifically avoiding eye contact with her.

“I can get by.” She knew that Tanner was just being helpful and kind, but he was asking too many questions. “Hey, Tanner?”

“Yes?”

“I owe a lot to you and you have every right to ask the questions you are, but please,” she paused taking a deep breath. “Let’s talk about anything else other than me.”

“Deal.” Tanner shook her hand with a bright smile. “We’ll talk about Prime.”

“Tanner.” Cathleen groaned realizing that the medic was now making fun of her.

“I give.” He held up his hands in surrender. “I’m going to give you something to help you sleep. If the fever can break by the time we get to NEST, I’ll feel better with you leaving.” Cathleen nodded watching Tanner stick something in her arm.

“Tanner?”

“Yeah?” He spoke calmly and Cathleen let out a yawn. She was already tired and having permission to sleep and a sedative was only pushing the urge forward.

“Is it normal to have hallucinations with a fever?” She asked.

“In some cases, why?” The concern was back in his voice. Cathleen chuckled a bit at herself before she responded.

“Before I hit my head, I thought I saw one of the cars that attacked us transform into a giant robot.” She quietly laughed closing her eyes. “Then, Optimus’s Peterbilt transformed too. How weird is that?”

“Yeah . . . um . . . get some sleep, Cathleen.” Something about Tanner’s tone made her want to question him, but the lull of sleep was too tempting.

She could always ask him later.

Chapter Text

She never did get to ask him later.

She had woken up alone. The room they placed her in was clearly the medical wing of whatever building they had taken her to. Cathleen felt her head pounding and her nose was clogged. She attempted to clear her throat only for it to feel like razors shooting up her esophagus. Cringing, Cathleen grit her teeth and sat up.

There were a few things to take note of. Her shoes were placed next to the bed on the floor, but there was no sign of her bags. She looked at her arms seeing a few things attached to her skin, and a few monitors keeping an eye on her. Other than feeling exhausted and unable to speak properly, she assumed she was fine. Continuing her surveillance of the room Cathleen spotted a small call button resting on the side table. She wouldn’t get answers sitting alone in this room. She pressed it a few times hoping it would grab someone’s attention. She didn’t realize that each time she pressed it she was setting off a very loud sound a few rooms away.

“Miss Cauldern!” A petite looking woman rushed into the room quickly looking over the monitors and doing a quick once over to make sure Cathleen wasn’t in serious danger. Cathleen on the other hand just smiled to the female and gave a small wave.

“Sorry, I’m awake.” She croaked.

“Thank you for alerting us, although for future reference you only need to press the panic button once if it’s just to get someone’s attention.” The nurse reprimanded. Cathleen nodded but the smile remained on her face. “A pleasure to meet you, my name is Suzan. Is there anything I can get for you?”

“Water?” Cathleen rubbed her throat.

“Of course.” Suzan quickly set about the task of getting a glass of water. “I’ll be giving you another dose of your medication while I’m here.” Handing over the glass, Suzan shook her head at Cathleen. “Honestly, getting pneumonia in the dead of summer.” The smile on Suzan’s face showed that she only meant it as a joke. Cathleen assumed it was to lighten the blow.

“Where’s Tanner?” Cathleen asked after a long drink.

“He’s a field paramedic. You don’t see him much here in the medic wing.” Suzan shrugged. “I could get a hold of him if you would-“

“It’s fine.” Cathleen waved it off. Suzan nodded handing over a vile looking liquid and getting her arm ready for a shot. Once the needle was in, Cathleen downed the contents of the liquid as a distraction.

“That should help coat your throat so speaking will be easier.” Suzan rubbed her arm taking care of the needle. “We have a few things to discuss, but first do you have any questions?”

“Where am I?” Cathleen began.

“I believe you were made aware of N.E.S.T from Commander Prime.” Suzan still kept it vague but Cathleen was now aware that she was at N.E.S.T.

“How long was I out?” She shifted a bit feeling how sore her body was.

“Two days, this is your third day at the facility and it is almost six am.” Suzan was busying herself with a chart. Cathleen’s mind stalled. She’d been at this military base for three days? No wonder nobody had been around when she came to. “Now, besides focusing on your pneumonia, we’re also going to get your nutrition back on track. You’ve warn down your immune system.” Suzan got quiet for a moment then sat down at the foot of Cathleen’s bed.

“I do not want to alarm you, however as your care provider these past three days I’ve noticed a few things.” Suzan’s eyes flicked to Cathleen’s side. “There are a few places I could contact should you want to press charges or handle any legal matters that should arise. I don’t want to pry, but I cannot, in good conscious, send you back to an abuser.” Suzan spoke very delicately.

“Who have you told?” Cathleen didn’t want this getting back to Optimus. She had made sure to not tell him how physical it had gotten.

“I have not shared any aspect of your physical abuse with anyone as follows patient confidentiality.” Suzan grew very serious. “Is there need for a rape kit?”

“No, no that’s okay. Besides, I’ve been gone for a month now.” Cathleen played with her fingers in her lap.

“Cathleen, I know you have just met me, but please consider me a friend in this situation. If you ever need to talk I will listen and it will never leave this room.” Suzan reached forward gently stopping Cathleen’s hands.

“I appreciate that.” Her chest felt tight.

“Anything else before I let you get more rest?” Suzan stood from the bed.

“Where are my things?” Cathleen asked quickly.

“Your belongings are over in that closet. You are free to use the facilities behind that door.” Suzan gave her another smile. “I’ll be back in to check on you later, just press that call button if you run into any trouble. The medicine should start making you drowsy in an hour.” Suzan removed the hookups to the machines now that Cathleen was awake and seemed to be in the clear.

“Thank you, Suzan.” Cathleen called after the woman’s retreating figure. Suzan smiled while she closed the door leaving Cathleen alone once more.
The second the coast was clear Cathleen got out of bed and made her way over to the closet that held her belongings. Pulling open the doors she found both of her bags along with a few extra things. New water battles, her clothes had all been cleaned, but there were also a few pairs of standard issue military pants and a few tang tops and t-shirts that looked like they would fit her. She grabbed the new pants and a tang top and hurried off to the shower.

The hot water had done wonders for her. Not only had it made her sore muscles finally feel relief but it had cleared up her nasal passages as well allowing her to breathe easier. She changed into her fresh clothes feeling better already and ran her finger through her hair. She still had a shroud of sickness around her but not enough to make her look like she was dying. Grabbing her dirty outfit, she returned to her room and tossed them into the corner of the closet to deal with later and pulled out the hoodie she had purchased on the road with Optimus. Shrugging it on, she pulled the hood up and shoved her feet into her boots before making her way to the door. She turned the knob and opened it slowly peeking out to see if there was anyone to notice her quick escape.

She wasn’t going to go far, but she knew that if she was stuck in that room all alone then she was going to feel miserable. She needed to do something, and taking a quick walk wouldn’t hurt her too much. She didn’t see anyone other than the desk down at the other end of the hall. However, the nurse at the station was focused on the computer in front of her, not Cathleen’s door. She slipped out silently and hurried down the hall seeing a door for the stairs.

Cathleen made her way down to the main level and there was the choice to go into the next hallway or exit outside. She secured the hood and left the building. She was met with the site of a cloudy over cast sky and the looming presence of downtown D.C. Whatever building she was in was tucked away behind a much larger brick building. She took a few quick steps realizing that there must not be many guards at this time by how quiet everything was. She hid behind a few crates and military vehicles slowly making her way towards the large hanger doors at the back of the larger building. Pressing her back against the building, she glanced in seeing multiple vehicles parked and only one or two soldiers milling about. Their relaxed posture and tired eyes told her that she had caught the building in between shifts. The night crew was getting ready to head out while the morning shift was arriving. In other words, she’d gotten lucky.

Cathleen’s eyes widened when she spotted a familiar Peterbilt. She walked in seeing computer stations and a running catwalk along the entire building. This was the most high-tech military base she had ever seen. She ducked down hiding behind one of the stations when a solider turned the corner heading up the steps to the offices located on the second floor. When the glass door closed and he vanished from sight she hurried behind a Topkick and finally stood next to the Peterbilt.

Cathleen couldn’t stop the smile from forming while she reached out and ran her hand against the metal of the door. She wondered if she would be able to see Optimus again before she left the base. She did need to properly apologize to him for all the trouble she caused and thank him for everything he’d done. If it wasn’t for him she wouldn’t be here right now.

“Last I saw you, you turned into a giant robot.” Cathleen chuckled to herself quietly. Covering her mouth to stifle a cough she froze up hearing voices coming towards her.

“We’ll be sending a few out to do recon in the area. The Decepticons are keeping a low profile, but we’ll find them.” A male voice spoke softly.

“It ain’t like them to just give up.” Another male’s voice joined him. Cathleen moved behind the Peterbilt and jumped up onto the rig curling up in a ball by the smokestack to look as small as possible. Two soldiers passed right by her not spotting her as they continued their conversation.

“Morning, Hide.” One said hitting the Topkick lightly as he passed. The two paused however glancing at the truck as if waiting for something to happen.

“Long trip?” The other asked.

“They’re all on edge, what with Optimus so distracted with his precious cargo.” There was a teasing voice to the one on the left. Cathleen held onto the smokestack for dear life seeing the two about to glance her way when the horn of the Camaro towards the end of the hanger blared to life. The two soldiers laughed heading in the direction.

“Alright, morning to you too, Bee.” Cathleen silently retreated to the other side of the Peterbilt and quickly hid on the other side of the desk in front of it knowing she was completely out of their sightline. She heard their voices fade up to the second level and up into the offices. Cathleen counted to five before glancing over seeing that the coast was once again clear. She reached up onto the desk to help her stand when she slipped from her hand landing on a folder that fell into her lap while she hit the ground hard on her ass.

“Graceful.” She chuckled to herself grabbing the folder and a few of the papers that had slipped out. Her eyes widened however when she glanced at what the folder contained. At the top of the first page there was the N.E.S.T logo along with another that she recognized, but hadn’t given much thought. Glancing up to the Peterbilt she noticed the symbol on the tip of the grill. Her eyes returned to the page skimming a bit of the information. Terms like Decepticons, Energon detectors, mission briefings, and a lot of things Cathleen realized she should not be seeing. She closed the folder and took a deep breath before putting it neatly back where it was and got up. She was pushing her luck with her little ‘walk’ and she could feel herself beginning to get tired from her medicine. Running her fingers across the grill she made her way along the side of the truck before pausing.

“See you around, Fancy.” She chuckled before lightly hitting the bumper sticker and jogged out of the hanger and back over to the medical building she had exited from. Opening the door she had come out of, she ignored the stairs and entered the main floor. To her right, she could see the corner of the main lobby so she moved her feet left. Cathleen took her time getting to know the layout of the building and where everything was located. She found the small cafeteria, the nurse’s lounge, and had bumped into a few other patience. She had been surprised when they had just nodded at her not realizing that she wasn’t supposed to be there. Making her way back to her room she made sure to avoid the stairs leading to the desk and snuck back in without anyone higher up being aware of her little escapade. She realized that she was lucky with how early it had been.

Cathleen hung the jacket back up in the closet and pulled off her boots. She took a moment to make sure everything was in place before she crawled underneath the covers and closed her eyes letting the medication do its job.

******************************************

The next time she awoke it was much darker outside. She groaned at how foggy her mind felt from the amount of sleep she got but regretted it when her throat protested against the action. Pushing herself up into a sitting position she reached over for her glass and took a few sips of water. Slower than she had this morning. Rubbing her eyes from sleep, Cathleen glanced around trying to see if anything had changed from this morning. The curtains on the window had been drawn, but other than that it didn’t seem like anyone had touched anything.

Cathleen hauled herself to her feet and moved over to the door. She was surprised when she tried the handle finding it locked.

“Shit.” She grumbled to herself. Someone had seen her slip out. Stepping away from the door she made her way into the bathroom to brush her teeth a freshen up. She was just finishing up when she heard the main door unlock and someone step inside.

“Cathleen?” Suzan’s voice called out.

“Right here.” Cathleen appeared seeing Suzan frowning at her.

“Well, tire yourself out with your little walk?” Suzan’s tone wasn’t belittling, but it did make Cathleen feel like she was being scolded.

“I wanted to take a look around, you never said I wasn’t allowed to leave.” She sat back on her bed.

“You’re a civilian on a classified military base. You are not permitted to enter the hanger. Lennox hasn’t stopped barking out orders that security needs to be tighter if a patient with a fever of one hundred can just waltz right in unnoticed.” She was glaring.

“You got in trouble, I take it?” Cathleen asked. From the look she received, it was obvious. “I apologize for that. I honestly just wanted to get a lay of the land and figure out where I am, nothing more.” She paused. “Who did notice I was there?”

“What?”

“You mentioned the hanger, but nobody saw me leave this building. So, who was in the hanger that ratted me out?” Cathleen chuckled trying to keep the situation light.

“Commander Prime informed us after you had returned that you had slipped out.” Suzan said after a pause.

“Optimus?” Cathleen felt a sting in her chest and she didn’t quite know why. “I never saw him. Why wouldn’t he have told me to leave while I was there instead of telling you later that I had slipped out?” She muttered to herself.

“He was concerned you would leave.” Suzan said quickly. “We locked you in under the impression that once you woke up you would simply take your things and vanish without a proper discharge. The commander was simply preventing that situation.”

“You can’t keep me here.” Cathleen stated simple, suddenly feeling a bit on edge.

“We are keeping you for treatment until you are well enough to be discharged. Letting you wander the streets of D.C. with pneumonia is reckless endangerment.” Suzan said again but put on a small smile. “We just want to get you better, then you can be on your way.” Cathleen didn’t trust something in her tone. She got the feeling she wasn’t allowed to leave for another reason other than just her health if Suzan knew about her abuse.

“Now,” Suzan started up again, “I’m going to check a few things then escort you down to the cafeteria so we can get some food in you.” Cathleen kept her lips sealed not wanting to ruin her chance of getting out of the room.

Her fever had gone down and everything else had checked out that soon she found herself walking side by side with Suzan down to the cafeteria. She had thrown her jacket back on, less for the warmth and more for just the comfort the article of clothing was giving her. She was allowed to get soup and toast, but with a bit of begging she was permitted a grilled cheese with her tomato soup instead of just toast. Cathleen smiled at the comfort food but made sure to take her time and pause if she was beginning to feel ill. Suzan had attempted conversation but realized that all of Cathleen’s attention was focused on eating and keeping her food down.

After her trey was clear she stood and Suzan once again escorted her back up to her room.

“If I promise not to run away or leave this building will you keep the door unlocked?” The look Suzan was giving her was answer enough.

“You’ll have to take that order up with Commander Prime.” She teased helping get Cathleen comfortable before heading back to the door. “Call button if you need anything.” And again, Cathleen was alone. She leaned back and closed her eyes letting her mind wander back to sleep.