13. Monday-Tuesday, Two Months Post-Battle
Ratchet covered his audio receptors as a cacophony of sound erupted around him. The large pile of scrap metal he had been keeping around for use had, once again, collapsed. Judging from the scraps clutched in one hand, he had grabbed the one piece which had kept the entire pile steady. In a sudden fit of temper, he flung the offending object away, noting with some small satisfaction the crash of metal against old wood. Late afternoon sun was drifting in through the cracks in the barn walls, coinciding with his internal clock striking the hour. It was later than he'd realized, though that was not surprising.
Since the finding of the bomb, he worked quickly and without being completely aware of his surroundings. Often, he would look up, snapped out of his concentration by a noise, or other small discomfort, only to discover his attention had been on the device for well over forty-eight hours. Ironhide had been dividing his time between the explorations of the facility, and making sure Ratchet did not drive himself offline from the work and frustration. At least once, he'd been dragged bodily out of the barn by the scowling weapons specialist, who had decided his friend needed some form of distraction or another. Sam's armor was still dented from that particular misadventure.
The elder Autobots had brought the device back to the Lennoxes' barn, following their day of celebration. Once there, Ratchet had worked at it slowly, the memory of what it had been still haunting him. He found he couldn't look at it for too long, lest he see the twisted husk as they'd found it, chest ripped apart, spark protruding, claws outstretched in wordless entreaty. After making some progress, it became simply a puzzle to be solved, losing some of its stigma.
Within the first week he thought he had it figured out. Its construction was so similar to the first explosive, that pieces had begun to fall into place with satisfying speed. But now, for all his work, for all the hours spent hunched over this pathetic corpse, he was, as the humans said, at a brick wall. The frustration was wearing on his nerves. There was something missing, one little thing that he wasn't seeing! It wouldn't bother him nearly this much if he hadn't gotten so close so quickly. Now, nearly two months later, its sole purpose seemed to be to mock him.
As he heard the sound of a small engine pull up the drive way he quietly regretted that again he had no good news to give.
In the few months since the switch, Sam had managed to find a handful of roads that made for an exciting ride from the main roads to the Lennox homestead. His current favorite happened to be the one that lead from the farm to the school.
Initially they had continued to have the captain drop the two students off at school. But, when it had become apparent that this was becoming both a bother and a long stay away from home for Sam, it had been decided that the best thing would be for an attempt to resume to normalcy. His parents had begun to ask questions that no one had answers to.
He wasn't sure exactly which part of this arrangement was worse—sitting outside, waiting for Bumblebee to finish his classes, or sitting outside, hearing snatches of conversation between his parents and his masquerading friend. Of course Miles had a suspicion that something was up with "Sam"—the boy would have to be blind not to. He said nothing, either laying the blame on the new girlfriend or simply waiting to let Sam explain. His parents were initially concerned over the changes in their son, but Bumblebee was able to convince them that his mannerisms were "just one of those phases teenagers go though". One look at his rapidly improving grades alleviated their fears somewhat, much to both Bumblebee and Sam's relief.
Seasoned reconnaissance Autobot or no, the deception wore on Bumblebee just as much as it did Sam. Imitating human vehicles was far easier than imitating the humans themselves. And so the trio, for Mikaela understandably grew tired of hanging all over Bumblebee every day, came by after school to see what the word was and simply to have a spot to finally be themselves.
Years,he thought to himself as he pulled in. Could he really do this for years? Not being able to speak with his friends—his human friends, not being able to go out, just to "hang out", that was torture. He missed his family too, but the higher-ups, namely Optimus and Lennox, had already decided that if it took much longer they were going to tell them what had happened. It was really the only fair thing to do.
Mikaela and Bumblebee climbed out, the feeling second nature to him now. The thought probably should have disturbed him, and yet, after so long, he simply ignored his misgivings, and transformed.
Before they even stepped into the barn, Ratchet was shouting at them to leave him be. There were no updates then, Sam realized, his spirits sinking. Was it really going to be years before a cure?
"Hey, at least he didn't throw anything at us this time," Mikaela muttered, glaring at the half-closed barn doors.
God, if he ever got out of this… he was going to spend the rest of his bank account on that girl. She sure as hell deserved it. He didn't know how she was staying sane enough to function, let alone come up with smart remarks like that. Not answering her, he just nodded, words were sticking somewhere in whatever qualified as his throat. Now what were they supposed to do? They'd come all the way out here, only to be turned away yet again.
"It isn't his fault, really," Bumblebee was saying. He'd started walking down the hill, hands shoved in his pockets to hide the stoop of his shoulders. It was obvious he was just as worn out as the rest of them, for all he tried to hide it. "We are asking a great deal of him. And Ratchet has never been known to be pleasant conversation when lives are at stake."
"I guess," Sam muttered.
Without warning, he flopped to the ground. The action nearly sent his two companions tumbling. Accepting his mumbled apology, they settled themselves as well, Bumblebee on his back, watching the skies, Mikaela leaning against Sam's ankle. He was glad for the contact, distant as it was. It was nowhere near what he wished he could do for her, or she for him, but for now, it was acceptable enough.
Bumblebee watched the clouds pass, having no access to anything that could feel like normalcy. He had tried to patrol the grounds every once in a while, but each time it was more exhausting than he was ready for, as well as time consuming. Holding up his hand to block the sunlight he again lost a moment to tracing the veins, contemplating his current state. How much longer could he hold to his duties like this? Even if his role within the Autobots had changed, was there really still a place for him?
The roar of engines cut off his train of thought. Levering himself up on his elbows, he caught sight of Optimus and Ironhide approaching over the hillside. Both were covered in dust and mud from their trek through the desert.
For a moment, Bumblebee had to fight off a twinge of jealousy.
The two elder Autobots had been patrolling the area around the facility for as long as Ratchet had been working on the bomb, looking for any signs of the escaped Decepticon. It didn't sit well with any of them that Barricade had escaped. So much of their time had been spent out there, that Bumblebee wondered why they didn't just make the old facility their base of operations.
Shifting metal and heavy footsteps hailed their arrival to the group. Their transformations had been slower than usual, more careful and methodical—betraying their weariness. Unsurprising, considering the length of time they usually spent on patrol, and the diligence of their search. Optimus gave them a nod, continuing on to the barn, but Ironhide stopped, quirking a brow after his commander. He looked down at them, obviously considering why Sam and his friends would be sitting outside, rather than getting a report from Ratchet.
"What's he throwing today?" Ironhide asked.
"Your mom," Sam muttered, studiously watching the clouds. It was rather gratifying to use so juvenile a joke after yet another day of frustration and letdowns. He heard Mikaela groan, though Bumblebee snickered softly.
Metal brows pinched in confusion. "My… what?" the black Autobot rumbled.
Sam waved a vague hand. "Y'know like..." How was he supposed to explain this one? "Uh, never mind," he finished lamely. Some things were just too embarrassing to elaborate on for giant alien robots. "He didn't toss out anything this time."
"He's in a worse mood than I thought."
"No kidding," replied Sam as he allowed himself to sit back against the ground. It wasn't that he was particularly tired, for that took a long time now, but the position was comforting.
With a shake of his head, Ironhide followed after Optimus. "Bumblebee, if I fail to return, you may have use of my cannons."
Three heads stared at his retreating back. "Dude," Sam gaped. "Was he just… kidding… just now? Was that a joke?"
Judging from the atmosphere in the barn, asking for a measure of Ratchet's temperament from Sam had been rather a waste of time. Optimus and the medic were speaking quietly, with the latter gesturing towards the husk in the corner, his expression and posture leaning towards hopeless. There were piles of scrap in every corner, most sprawled across the barn floor, some sorted neatly into what was and what was not workable. Ironhide scowled at the mess. After all the work he'd put into hauling the stuff from the poorly-termed "salvage yard"—most of the scrap there, he felt, was anything but salvageable—it irked him to see it treated with such abandon.
"I admit it, I am at a loss," Ratchet was saying, pulling Ironhide away from his survey. The medic shook his head, running a hand across his face, mimicking a human gesture of frustration. "No matter what I attempt, it is simply too unsafe to use on anyone, be they Autobot or human. At best, it would be lethal." Another head shake, this time in weary amusement. "At the worst, you would be left with a smoldering pile of carbon compounds on the part of the organic participant."
Briefly, Optimus considered asking Ratchet just how he'd come by that bit of information. He dismissed the notion quickly, deciding certain things were best left alone.
"I'm beginning to think this situation is hopeless," the medic muttered. He'd dropped to a crouching position, optics glued to the project at hand. "If we knew what went on when the… switch… first occurred… then perhaps we would stand a better chance of fixing this."
Ironhide again looked around the shop, distracted temporarily from the problem. He didn't know mechanics. He knew fifty different ways to take down an opponent using nothing more than a broken rifle. That sort of thing was his specialty. And Ratchet was not in a state of mind that was receptive to Ironhide's rather violent brand of consolation—both of them had found that out earlier. Therefore, this issue was not one he could help with. Trying to give Optimus and Ratchet space to debate, and hopefully to work, he took a few steps backwards. In doing so, his foot knocked into a well disguised scrap pile, sending it to the floor with another resounding clang.
"Gah! Freakin' hell!" came a shout—a familiar shout—from outside the barn.
As one, the elder Autobots looked towards the half-open door. Sam, kneeling in the grass nearest the opening, had his hands clasped around his audio receptors. He'd apparently been listening in, receptors turned up to their highest level in order to catch the conversation inside. Optimus made a soft, choking sound, stifling a laugh.
"You might as well come in!" Ratchet barked. "No use blowing out your audios for old news."
Slowly, the three filed in, looking deservedly sheepish, though Sam still held a hand to his audios. "We just thought maybe you guys could use some help," said Mikaela. Of the three, she looked the least ashamed of their antics. She looked up at the medic, meeting his optics with an unflinching stare. "It couldn't hurt. And you guys aren't getting very far on your own."
"And what could you possibly help with?" the medic all but snarled. A frustrated Ratchet was most definitely not a cordial one. He managed something along the lines of a vague apology after Optimus shot him a glare, however.
"Before our esteemed medical officer decided to cram a wrench through his aft," Ironhide interjected, receiving yet another look from an increasingly disparaging Optimus. "He suggested knowing what happened that night would be of value."
Sam blinked, optics shuttering. "What? We didn't tell you?" When none of the Autobots disagreed, the teen stared. "I can't believe we didn't… wow. Um. Our bad."
Bit by bit, the story came out, interspersed with much exaggeration on Sam's part, which was then corrected by Bumblebee. Consequently, by the time the story had finished, the sun was beginning to descend towards the horizon. There was silence afterwards, elder Autobots apparently lost in thought, and for a moment, Sam thought he'd said something wrong.
Such an idea was only enforced when Ratchet all but launched himself at the machine in the corner, optics nearly glowing. His hands hovered over it, as if unsure of what to do.
"Is he… okay?" Sam ventured, shifting to stand slightly in front of his less durable friends.
Ironhide's shrug was less than reassuring. Looking as concerned as the younger set, Optimus spoke up, taking a step closer to the medic. "Ratchet? What is it?" he asked.
"The boy stated he was the one who contacted the current first!" Ratchet said, not bothering to face them. Tools appeared in his hands, connecting this wire, tweaking that panel just so. "Bumblebee received it through him, acting as a ground. That must be it…! The organic must precede the non. The energy will ground otherwise… negating the transfer…?" Here, he trailed off into a series of mutterings that sounded suspiciously like electronic pulses that Sam couldn't begin to decipher.
While the others appeared nonplused by Ratchet's sudden burst of activity, it was new for Sam, and for Mikaela. After sharing a glance of incomprehension, he held up his hands, trying to attract their attention. "Hey, look, new guy here!" he said. "What's going on? What's he mean?"
"I mean, boy," growled Ratchet; though for all his words, it was almost possible to hear a grin in them. "That your exclusion of the facts surrounding your condition was what prevented my discovery of a possible solution. Now that I know what transpired, I can determine the best available 'cure'."
Sam suddenly stood up straight, more alert than he had been in weeks. "No shit?" he nearly shouted, body tense, ready to spring. When his question received only blank stares in response, he elaborated, not wanting to explain that particular bit of human slang. "Are you serious?"
It took only a nod from the medic to send the young ones off in a burst of excitement. Sam held up a hand, looking for a "high-five", but was defeated again by a lack of alien understanding. Instead, he settled for dropping into a transformation, peeling out across the lawn in a wild display of teenage exuberance. Mikaela was chasing him, demanding, laughing, that he get his "yellow ass back here" before he remained a car forever. Only Bumblebee remained behind, having fallen to the ground, stunned by the sudden fortune. Looking up, he met his commander's optics, and grinned, triumphantly, the first real smile for months.
True to form, it did not take Ratchet long to complete his adjustments to the apparatus. Just after sunrise the following morning, he summoned the duo, and a rather groggy Mikaela, back out to the Lennox property. No one said a word as the medic ran through what sounded like a list of rules for surviving a theme park ride, and deftly, gently, connected a series of wires to Bumblebee's body.
Said Autobot was currently finishing off the last of yet another cake of Sarah Lennox's making. He had wanted a last taste of what had become his favorite food over the last few months. And, since his predicament was nearing its end, the two most likely results of that end were both going negate his ability to taste this particular food.
Sam stood in the corner fidgeting, waiting for his turn with all the patience of a child in Disneyland. Whether he was aware of the possibility for disaster or not, he showed no signs of hesitation. He was more than done with this. Any chance to change it was welcome and he was going to come out of his skin, so to speak, if he had to wait any long.
"Sam." Mikaela broke his train of thought. One of her hands came to rest on his vibrating ankle. "Stop."
Suddenly aware of the fact that he was twitching like an overexcited squirrel, Sam stilled himself, forcing his body to sit still. He was glad of Mikaela's presence. Had she not spoken up, he probably would have wiggled his way out of whatever it was Ratchet was currently attaching to his hand. And he had a feeling the medic would take out the rotary saw, should he manage that maneuver.
With a satisfied nod, Ratchet stepped away, motioning Mikaela to do the same. She gave Sam's ankle another pat before complying, moving to stand outside the barn, where Ironhide and Optimus waited. The whole setup had a decidedly hospital-feel to it that did nothing for Sam's nerves. Should something go wrong, he could find himself in a very real ER—or, at least, Bumblebee would.
"I'm not going to spare you by telling you this is foolproof," said Ratchet, keeping his voice to an undertone. "It could kill you. Both of you. And that is the least of the potential complications." He regarded them, no malice in his face, only blunt honesty. "If either of you have reservations about this, speak up. Once I begin the process, I sincerely doubt I can halt it without great risk."
Neither Sam nor Bumblebee had to look at the other. Both shook their heads, never taking their gaze from the medic's. What they had at stake was too much to begin to back out now, not when the hope of normalcy hung almost within their reach. Too much had been done to bring them to this point. To abandon everything here would make all they, and the others, had given, a waste.
He looked at the odd technological construction again, recalling countless movies featuring a similar sort of device. Or, rather a part of the machine that occasionally had a small arc of electricity move across it in an upside-down V, dancing up and down a pair of extended wires. "Just like Frankenstein," Sam said softly.
"What?" Bumblebee looked over at him, concerned at the pause.
"Nothin' man, just thinking."
"Don't hurt yourself," Bumblebee cautioned, grinning.
"Oh, that was funny, hilarious even. You've been practicing." The seriousness of the situation had temporarily lifted and Sam was ready to go. No more hesitations, no more reservations. It was now or never. "All right, let's do it."
Air rushed out of Ratchet's vents in what Sam now knew to be the Autobot equivalent of a sigh. "Very well." He stepped back, his footsteps hardly jarring Sam at all—the teen found himself noting in these final moments. "This will be quite discomforting," said the medic. "Brace yourselves."
Without another word, Ratchet bent to the device. Whatever he did, Sam never knew, for in the next moment, his body jerked, and he felt as if he were being dipped in boiling water. Time and all sensation, save that of hot pain, ceased to exist. It was as if he were suspended over both his body and Bumblebee's, so that each movement he made was neither his, nor his friend's. He saw the human form fall, rigid, and the Autobot lurch forward, hand extending, to catch it. He heard himself scream.
And then the ground rushed up to meet him in a swirl of darkness and musty earth.
This time, he was unsure of how long he was out. It couldn't have been very long. His limbs ached, each finger feeling as if a lead weight had been grafted onto each tip. Moving them was too much of an effort. When he pried his too-heavy eyelids open, he was only aware of the sun-dappled ceiling above, and of its proximity to his face.
It was too close to be normal. Ratchet's silence from the other end of the barn only confirmed his suspicions. He felt his heart sinking, and rolled over, checking to see if Bumblebee had survived.
Yellow metal met his gaze—bright, too-cheery armor, beneath his very human hand. Sam's breath caught as the Autobot groggily sat up, shaking his head and slowly blinking, dazed. There was a soft creak of metal as Bumblebee pulled his hand away from the boy, leaving Sam sitting on his chest. For a long moment, the two were too stunned to do anything but stare, struck silent by the sheer improbability of the moment.
And then Sam was moving, rolling off of his perch to land, shakily on his own two feet. His voice worked, struggling for words, coming out instead with an incoherent whoop as he darted out the door. The open doorway gave the two still inside a perfect view of the boy as he all but tackled Mikaela, lifting her into the air with a careful, if wobbly, spin that left the two of them in a breathless, shouting heap. Their hands never left one another.
Bumblebee hauled himself upright, accepting Ratchet's outstretched hand. The medic wore a smirk, which grew into a poorly concealed grin as Bumblebee's own jubilant broadcast hit the Autobot frequencies. Moments later, the scout had whipped into a forward roll, exploding out of the barn doors, and careening into Ironhide's legs with calculated intent. The bigger Autobot went down hard, but scrambled back up in time to intercept a second, playful lunge. He threw Bumblebee, who recovered and transformed to race circles around the group before the watching humans could blink, his every move a study in exuberance. So high were his spirits, that he even dared to weave his way between Optimus' legs, extracting a low chuckle from the commander.
The noise of engines and ecstatic teenagers drew the occupants of the house out onto the porch, even at the early hour. Bemused, the captain and his wife watched as the celebration broke out on their lawn.
"If this kind of activity keeps up I say we throw in the towel on landscaping," Lennox muttered, running a hand across his unshaven face.
"They must have done whatever it was they needed to," Sarah remarked, leaning on the porch rail. "Let them celebrate. You can always lay down new sod."
She shot her husband a raised eyebrow, half-smiling when he shook his head, grumbling to himself. He slid an arm around her as they stood back and waited for it to all settle down. Neither of them fancied strolling out into the middle of a robotic wrestling match, which appeared to be Ironhide's chosen form of expression. It was preferable, however, to Sam and Mikaela's brand of celebrating. Their little display involved a kiss of passion that Lennox honestly did not think two teenagers should be capable of.
"Hey everybody!" he interrupted eventually, cupping his hands around his mouth to be heard over the roar of Bumblebee's engine. "You done? I only ask because Sarah has work and well, I like my lawn in one piece, thanks."
There was a general pause. Even the Autobots stilled, Bumblebee screeching to a halt and tearing up three-foot furrows in Lennox's much abused lawn. For Sam and Bumblebee life had, in a manner of speaking, been on hold for the past months. No one expected this to happen for so long that, even with all the best laid plans of what to do when things where back to normal, no one really was going to follow through. It was like a dream, really, to be standing where they were, arm in arm with loved ones, and tearing through the grass on tireless metallic muscles.
"Well, I guess I could kinda use a round of school," said Sam after a silence.
"Are you feeling alright?" Mikaela asked, breaking their embrace long enough to check his forehead. "Maybe this is a side-effect."
"No really!" he assured her. Smiling sheepishly, he captured her hand, running his fingers fervently over her knuckles. "I kinda miss it."
"Well, I'm not driving you. I think I may vomit if I have to see that place at all during the next week," Bumblebee growled, his engine sputtering obstinately. Then, it sank into idleness as he processed his own words. "If I were still capable of vomiting, that is."
"I think," Optimus finally chimed in. "That a readjustment period is in order. Bumblebee, you may want to do a systems check and make sure that everything is in working order."
At that, the scout transformed, gingerly shaking out his limbs, and studiously ignoring Ratchet's indignant growl that nothing should be out of order. He bounced a few times, nodding his head to his commander. To hide his smirk, Optimus turned to face the boy.
"And Sam," he said, noting that the boy no longer gaped at him when he spoke. He'd come quite a long way, that was apparent. "It is very likely that this process is both physically and mentally taxing on you. Both of you are ordered to take a brief readjustment period. Understood?"
Immediately both the responded with a quick salute. Eyes met optics, attracted by the motion, then parted with identical grins. Bumblebee transformed once again, seeming to revel in the ability, before tearing off towards the desert under the protesting shouts of Ratchet. Music blasted through the air in response, taunting, daring.
"Things are still gonna be so weird," said Mikeala as they walked into the house. Her hands were joined, permanently it seemed, with Sam's, and his arms twined tightly about her waist and shoulders.
"Yeah," Sam admitted, glancing back towards the barn, at the rising cloud of dust that marked his friend's gleeful departure. Then he made a face.
"But, it's gonna suck when my grades start going straight back to hell."
A/N: Well, that's a wrap. But stay tuned for a sequel of sorts, also co-written by IAmLazarus and I. It's tentatively titled, "The Raccoon Incident and Other Stories"—moments the Autobots would rather were left… undisclosed. Thanks for the reviews and the reading!