A/N: So I started working two jobs, and then got sick, but here's an update finally!

Thanks to sidekicks-anonymous for her work on this chapter!

...

CHAPTER 4
Bullies, Friends, and Enemies

"Come on guys, stop!"

"Make us, all we want is to look!"

It had been a couple of weeks since Sideswipe had let himself go back to the group home, but this was the last thing he wanted to hear. Standish had told him Charlie was in the back but he hadn't told him the boy wasn't alone. He supposed the man hadn't been aware though, as when the large Autobot rolled over he could see the discomfort on Charlie's face. Two boys, both older, were standing on either side of him, tossing a notebook between themselves as Charlie attempted to snatch it back.

He already knew that this wasn't just a game - but the fact Charlie had taken his hood off cemented that. The boy didn't seem to take it off unless he was around people he trusted. People he was comfortable with. And the look on his face? That told him this was not the case. "Those are mine!" Charlie snapped, trying to shove one of the kids. "No one's supposed to see them!"

"Why? What are they? Love letters? You got a little crushy-wushy?" One boy sneered.

"Come on, tell us Ingrim. Maybe we'll rip it if you don't!"

"HEY! That's enough!"

Both boys froze at Sideswipe's angry voice. At least they were smart enough to recognize that to him, they were only insects. "It's OK Mr. Autobot we were just playing!" One tried to reply, dropping the notebook which Charlie snatched back up.

"You call that playing?" Sideswipe asked. "Charlie's only eleven from what I know. You two aren't younger than what, fourteen? He's a little kid! And you practically had him in tears! So I suggest unless you want someone to know about it, you scatter like the cretins you are."

Neither boy argued, rushing away. Charlie himself was wiping away tears as he scanned the notebook as carefully as possible. Apparently, he was trying to make sure that they hadn't done any damage to it. "Hey, are you OK?" Sideswipe asked as he rolled over to him. "Didn't do anything else, did they?"

Charlie was silent, staring over at him quietly. He shook his head, and held his notebook close. "No... But they were threatening to rip it. I-I couldn't let them... The fire took my first book. If I lost my new one..." Charlie stuttered a little over his words. "Thanks, for helping... I really don't deserve it after last time."

"You were upset and angry. I understand." He motioned at the notebook. "So... Uh, what's in the notebook?"

Charlie was silent, clearly unsure of what to say. He looked down at the notebook for a moment, then chewed his lip. "It's private... I don't share it with anyone." Charlie was silent again after that, but spoke up. "But I guess you stuck up for me so I'll tell you if you don't ask to see them."

"I'm not here to invade your privacy." Sideswipe replied honestly.

"I... I write songs." Charlie replied honestly. "My dad used to play guitar, and he taught me. Taught me to write music too..." He explained.

"Was he a musician?"

"He was before my big sister was born... He played in a band." Charlie replied quietly. "Quit so he could be home with her and mom more."

Sideswipe nodded, now most definitely understanding Charlie's protection of it. Music was a link, he realized, to Charlie's father that had now passed. He seated himself beside Charlie, who had sat down on a bench. "Wow, that's pretty cool, having a dad that used to play guitar in a band. Would I have heard of them?" He asked.

"They were called Streetheads... They weren't that big. But they made an album." Charlie shrugged, looking saddened by talking about his father. "Dad was really proud of it, too."

Sideswipe didn't think he should tell him that he hadn't ever heard of that band. But he didn't want to lie about it either. So instead, he gave a small smile. "Hey, maybe I'll go back to the base tonight and listen to some of their music." He told him with enthusiasm. "I bet I'll like them, I like most Earth music."

Charlie tried to form a weak smile at that. But it was clear to the front-liner that the subject was just making him feel sadder. "Hey..." the Autobot finally spoke up. "You think Standish would let you leave the home for a little while?"

Charlie blinked. "I dunno, why?"

"I got an idea of how to cheer you up." Sideswipe explained. "Let's go ask him."

"But don't you have to stay here? You have work to do!" Charlie replied as Sideswipe started to roll towards where he knew Standish would be. "They're going to start soon."

"Eh, let me worry about that." Sideswipe winked. "Come on, kid. Just trust me."

...

"I really can't accept this..."

"Sure you can, both Standish and Prime said it was OK..."

"That's not what I mean."

Charlie glanced at Sideswipe, then at the rack of CDs. Unlike most kids, Charlie owned a CD player instead of an iPod. It was donated to the group home, and he'd snatched it in hopes of eventually being able to afford CDs. But when Sideswipe had asked Charlie if he had one, he had no idea this was his intention. "And why not?" Sideswipe asked.

Charlie raised an eyebrow. "Do you even have money?"

Sideswipe reached into his holoform's pocket to take out a small card. "It's a government-issued card we all keep in our subspace. As long as I don't spend excessive amounts of cash, I'm good. They let us use it for Earth amenities I might need." He explained.

"You can't use government money."

"Charlie, take a deep breath. And just pick out a couple of CDs that catch your eye." Sideswipe insisted, pulling one off the shelf. "What about Taylor Swift? I hear she's big with teens and tweens."

"Uh, yeah, not my kinda thing." Charlie shifted the hood of his jacket further over his head as another patron walked past. Even if no one in the music store was actually looking at him, he still felt a great level of fear.

"Well, what is your kind of thing? Rock? Punk? Metal? Nah, can't really see you being a metal person." Sideswipe stated as if thinking out loud.

"I guess I like Imagine Dragons... Maybe some Florence and the Machine." Charlie managed finally. "Uh... And I kind of like country too... You know, Rascal Flatts, Carrie Underwood..."

"Hold up, you like Carrie Underwood, but not Taylor Swift?"

Charlie shrugged his shoulders. "Not my kind of country music... I mean, when she did sing country music." He then paused. "Why? What kind of music do YOU like?"

Sideswipe shrugged his shoulders right back. Then picked up a couple of different music CDs, revealing Metallica, 3 Doors Down, and Good Charolette, among others. "Kinda a little metal and alternative... Some rap's OK and so is country... But country isn't exactly my forte—Too sappy most of the time." He explained. "Why? Is that the kind of music you like playing?" He asked at the saddened look on Charlie's face.

"Country's cool... I can express myself with it."

"I did say I like SOME country!" Sideswipe defended himself. "And besides, I bet I'd like your kind of country... You strike me as a kid that would strive to be different."

Charlie simply looked at him for a moment, then at the CDs. "So, can I help pay at least? I think I have five dollars..." He explained.

"Keep your money. This is my way of cheering you up." Sideswipe replied honestly, his voice firm. "Come on, let's go pay for them. I'm sure they'll be wondering where we are by now."

Charlie looked ready to protest, but hardly had time to open his mouth before Sideswipe took the CDs. He watched the mech walk off with them, and only after a minute, followed. He didn't say much while Sideswipe paid, but when he did hand Charlie the bag of CDs the boy spoke very clearly. "Thanks..." He managed. "I really don't know what to say other than that."

"Don't have to say anything else." Sideswipe stated as he led him out the door. "So, did I do the job of cheering you up? Or should we stop somewhere else?"

Charlie shook his head, his face flushing. "Nah, this is awesome. I'm just not sure what I did to deserve it." He explained, then moved his hood even further over his face. "Besides, I want to get back before someone notices... Well, y'know." He started, his voice small.

"There's no reason to be ashamed. I've known lots of people with a disfigurement. Even Cybertronians." Sideswipe let him know, shaking his head. "You shouldn't be afraid of people seeing what you look like."

Charlie looked at Sideswipe with a frown as he climbed into his real form. Sideswipe wasn't sure what Charlie had going through his head, but he got a feeling it was nothing that would build him up as a person. Letting his holoform disappear, and pulling out of the space out front, he began to speak up again. "I know it's probably hard... I can't even relate really. But you can't walk through life afraid." He explained.

There wasn't a reply for the first leg of their drive back, but then Charlie spoke up. "It's not my fault... Most people just get scared, or look at me funny." Sideswipe was silent, letting Charlie speak his mind. "I don't like that I can't go anywhere without getting stared at."

"Let them stare; that just shows how backwards some people are." Sideswipe replied. "Not everyone in the world is against you, Charlie. Look at me, I'm not."

"You feel sorry for me."

"No, I don't." Sideswipe replied. "You're my friend. At least, I think we're friends."

Charlie shifted a little, not sure how to respond to that. He hadn't known the mech long, but they were definitely "friendly". But... People who were just friendly didn't do stuff like this, did they? Charlie didn't know anymore... It had been such a long time since he'd made friends. He'd had plenty at his old school, and neighborhood, but then the fire happened and he'd moved homes, and schools. And though he'd known his old friends would look at him no different, the other kids? They were a different story. He felt nervous about trying to meet new people, especially when he'd moved so much on top of everything else.

And then there were kids like the bullies...

But Sideswipe at least didn't seem like them. "I don't know... I guess so. If you want to be." Charlie shrugged.

"Just said we already were."

Sideswipe was pretty sure, though Charlie tried to hide it, he gave a small smile at that.

...

"So much for not getting attached."

"Oh shove it up your aft, Charlie's a good kid."

Sunstreaker only gave a knowing smirk at Sideswipe. His twin had been looking up the music of the "Streetheads" ever since he'd gotten home. "Right, so how is the dad's music? Anything worth looking up? Or mainly just gaging what you'd have to live up to if you convince Arcee to adopt?"

Sideswipe almost threw an Energon cube at his twin's helm at that one. Arcee could come into their quarters at any minute and he didn't want Sunstreaker giving her the wrong impression. Sure, Charlie was a great kid, but he wasn't even sure he wanted to adopt at this point. "He's got some pretty good music... I'd recommend it." He explained. "Now if you'd stop bringing up the adoption thing—"

"Even if it's a good solution to your issue-."

"I'd really appreciate it, slagger." Sideswipe groaned. "I hardly know this kid. I just got him to consider us friends..."

Sunstreaker chuckled at his own brother's denial of the obvious fondness he had for the boy. "Whatever... I'm downloading this guy's music now... Just in case you're a lying piece of slag." There was a long moment, and then Sunstreaker spoke. "Hey, squishy's band actually isn't that bad, you're right. I like the melody on this one...Pretty good. For human music anyway."

Sideswipe leaned back, then looked up at his twin. "So, did I miss anything good today? I was really itching to get in on the action... After Charlie and I got back, I was really bored."

"Not really, a couple of 'Con sightings outside of town. We haven't found where they were yet, though." Sunstreaker replied. "Lennox is doubling security though. They think whoever it is was behind that terrorist threat last month..." He explained.

Sideswipe grinned. "Well the closer they are, the easier it will be to kick their afts. So I can't complain about that." The sound of a door opening grabbed his attention. "Hey babe, pull up a seat. Sunny was just telling me about the Decepticons outside of town..."

Arcee strutted inside, taking a seat next to Sideswipe. The exhaustion was evident in her optics as she stared over at her bondmate. "Did you tell him the more important news...?" Arcee asked, though by the look in Sunstreaker's optics, he hadn't. "For the love of Primus, Sunstreaker. Prime told you to tell him."

"I uh, forgot?" Sunstreaker asked.

"Tell me what?" Sideswipe asked, now starting to get up.

"Just don't shoot the messengers." Arcee replied, putting a hand on his arm. "I think I should at least take away your arm blades before we tell you."

"Enough! I'm not a sparkling. I can feel how tense you both are... So before my spark rips apart from the bond, will someone tell me what is up?" Sideswipe asked, his voice raised and very tense. "Better let it be Arcee, she breaks bad news to me better."

Arcee shot Sunstreaker a pointed glare that said "Thanks for putting me in this position." Before finally turning to look back at Sideswipe, still holding his arms. "Rollback was with them, Sides. They recognized his energon signature and..."

Sideswipe's shoulder cannon popped out and fired at the wall. Luckily they were used to this when Sideswipe was angry, so it had been reinforced. But the dark look in the mech's optics already told them that he was angry enough to burn a hole in the metal if he wanted to.

"Sides..."

But it was without a word that Sideswipe got up, and rolled out of the room, clearly ready to raise hell if someone didn't do something.

"Frag it all, Sunstreaker! You talked about it but left that out?" Arcee yelled. "You weren't even supposed to bring it up at all until tomorrow's meeting!"

"Yeah... My bad."

The backhand that Arcee gave him before transforming down, and high tailing it after Sideswipe was all that needed to be said.