Getting to Know You

Chapter Five

By Dreaming of Everything, betaed by mmouse15

Author's notes: Sorry this is so late! RL is eating me alive. I have no plans to discontinue this story, though! There's one or two more (long) chapters to come, and they'll definitely get written and posted. Probably before the year is out! (I know, I know, that should not be an accomplishment.)

That said, I'm testing out something a little new with the footnotes. I don't know whether you like them or not, but I like putting them in—the trouble is, they are not made for an online format. This chapter I'm trying sticking them between the sections. Do you have any opinions, readers?

"We're being called into the Autobot base," Judy announced, walking into the kitchen. Her tone was worried. "There's been more sighting of Decepticons—a lot of them. The government's getting worried, and Optimus has decided it's no longer possible to let us try and keep things normal—he says the risk to our lives is too great. Finish dinner and then pack what you need, alright? We leave in an hour, an hour and a half—around then. Barricade's been staking out our region, and Tranquility in particular, so they might need to take the long way around to avoid him."

Trent looked horrified; he didn't have good memories when it came to that Decepticon in particular. Sam clapped him on the shoulder, a little awkward, trying to be reassuring. Trent looked at him, but stayed silent: the other boy appreciated it.

Bec looked blank, withdrawn. She stood without saying a word, scraping the last of her dinner into the kitchen garbage and setting her plate down gently in the sink, wandering out of the room as if in a daze. Judy gave the teenagers a worried look and then hurried after her, calling over her shoulder as she went.

"Sam! Call your father and tell him he needs to get home now!"

Judy caught up with Bec in the garden. The young woman was staring distractedly at a pot of annual flowers, old-fashioned summer things—marigolds, snapdragons, sweet peas. The heliotropes made the cooling air sweet.

"Are you alright?" Judy asked. She thought about reminding her that it wasn't all that bad, that she was getting along well with Jazz and Bumblebee, at least, but didn't. It would be a kind of back-handed insult to the woman, who was by no means stupid. Of course she remembered how she was starting to adjust to the Autobots, starting to grow comfortable with them.

"Yes," Bec said tiredly, absentmindedly starting to pick the dry, dead flowers off of the nearest petunia plant. "I'm fine. I don't think I'm very happy, but—I understand the necessity. It's not—"

She broke off, staring out at the garden for a long, slow minute, then turning to look at a bloom that had faded earlier that day, still colorful and slightly sticky. "I know that there are, um...I know that the Autobots can be nice. I can—adapt to that, to living with them. But...but Sunstreaker—"

"He won't be getting anywhere near you," Judy promised.

"I hope that's enough," Bec replied, biting her lip. "But...

"Thank you, Judy, for everything. You've been—incredible."

"Oh, psh—it's nothing! You're a friend, Bec, not a burden."

They were a mismatched group, waiting in some vastly over-sized room in the Autobot base. There were a handful of soldiers (Bec assumed there were more, somewhere else) and then other government officials; Mikaela had met up with Sam, who was being shadowed by Miles and Trent; a man she didn't remember (was his name Glen?) was there with an elderly lady who had to be his grandmother; Maggie, with a woman she'd never seen before—the unfamiliar one of the pair looked truly nervous, almost afraid, and Bec could understand; Judy and Ron were talking with a woman who had to be Mikaela's mother; Sarah Lennox was holding her baby and juggling a radio and a bottle full of milk; and then, finally, another person she didn't recognize, a sour-faced man who wouldn't have stood out except that he was standing away from the main group, staring suspiciously at everyone and everything. A lot of people were glaring back.

There weren't any Autobots there, not yet. Bec knew that was going to change. After all, this was—it had to be their home. For some of them, at least.

Maggie was waving at her. Bec smiled shyly, and waved hesitantly back. Maggie waved again in return, gesturing her over, and Bec obeyed, weaving her way through the crowd.

"Bec! How are you? Better, I hope."

"Yes," Bec said. "Much better. I'd have to be." She smiled at her again, shyly. "Judy's been wonderful, and I've been—I've been getting to know some of the Autobots..." She trailed off.

"Fantastic! That's really great to hear, I'd been worried about you—"

"Thank you. How have you been, though?"

"Well, I can't say this whole business doesn't have me worried. Oh! Bec, this is Elizabeth, my girlfriend."

"Oh!" Bec said, surprised—whatever explanation she'd been expecting for the shocked-looking woman's presence, it hadn't been that.

"It's nice to meet you."

"Um, it's my pleasure," Bec replied, reaching out to take the hand she'd been offered; she shook it. Elizabeth's grip was firm, confident, not at all in keeping with the tired anxiousness in her eyes and the weariness, the wariness, in her voice. Bec could sympathize.

"Right—I'm new to all this. Found out yesterday—"

"It was quite the shock," Maggie said dryly. "She was on a business trip."

"And when I got back the apartment was empty. Maggie'd left a note, so I drove over to Glen's house. She asked me if it was okay if we took a drive, and I said sure, even though I was kind of confused. I mean—why not? So then I realized there was an emergency hummer—I didn't even know they made those—in Glen's driveway, so I asked why..."

"And I told her I'd explain if she really wanted to know. I think she thought I was joking—"

"I did."

"—so she said yes, she really did want to know. So I said I'd explain on the drive. I didn't, of course—Ratchet did."

"We drove up to the look-out, and—that transformation thing is just incredible, isn't it? That was yesterday, yesterday morning—I think. Ugh, I'm so tired! ...Anyways, that's my story. What got you all mixed up in this?"

Bec paused to collect her thoughts, not sure what to say. "An—Autobot found me," she said lowly. "Or my father accidentally bought one for me, I suppose. He—forced me to drive him to where he could meet up with the Autobots, and then I hung around for a few more days, and that point I was...involved." She shrugged slightly, just quickly hunching one shoulder. "It happens, I guess."

"Her introduction was hard," Sarah added as she turned around to join the little cluster of people, voice laden with sympathy, as she jostled her baby. Bec figured, not insulted, that she'd been listening in.

"Sunstreaker is an ass," Maggie said bitterly. "I know that, and I've barely talked to him. He scared Bec badly enough that she was having asthma attacks," she continued, for Elizabeth's benefit. "And throwing up. –Don't worry!" she hastened to add. "He's the only one out of all of the Autobots here that's anything like that. And you won't be going anywhere near him—I think he's been basically forbidden from interacting with any civilians."

A silence fell, slightly uncomfortable. Sarah turned away after a few seconds, to answer some message she'd received on the hand-held radio she had.

"Anyway," Maggie said, after a while. "Which Autobots have you been getting to know?"

"Jazz and Bumblebee," Bec replied, voice going quiet again. "When they have time—I feel a little guilty about monopolizing them, or keeping them from their work at all—"

"Oh, don't be!" Sarah said, swinging back around. "Making sure everyone's happy—not panicking, at the very least, is one of the more important things we do around here."

Bec shook her head firmly. "I thi—I know I've come far, far below saving the world, when it comes to priority," she said. "That's alright. I just really appreciate the effort. They've both gone out of their way to be kind to me..."

Elizabeth looked remarkably relieved.

"Sounds like Bumblebee," Sarah said happily. "I don't know about Jazz, though—his sense of humor seems to be kind of, well, odd."

"It is, a bit," Bec said sheepishly. "But I think he tones it down for me."

"—Speaking of Jazz, looks like he's decided to show up. Finally—he was supposed to be here five minutes ago." Sarah turned back to her radio, pausing just briefly to point to the silver car that had arrived. It—he—transformed and turned almost immediately to speak with one of the soldiers.

Bec waved back at him, shyly, when he glanced over his shoulder at one point during his conversation and waved at her.

Bec chatted a little over the course of the evening. Mostly, though, she sat, and watched the crowd of people, talking when someone approached her but staying quiet for the most part. She was a little—overwhelmed. And everyone seemed very nice, but she just didn't want to speak to them. Not for any real reason—she felt sort of guilty for feeling like that at all—but just because she was too overwhelmed. She wanted nothing more than to be home, in her own house and her own garden and her own room. If she was there, she could retreat to the back patio, where there were chairs and her potted plants and she could get herself a glass of lemonade and read, or she could sit on her couch and watch rain falling on her garden with a cup of hot cocoa if it was a bad day, and just relax and be herself, not have to worry about expectations or appearances or what to say or how to ignore her growing headache or the ever-increasing pressure on her bladder (she couldn't bring herself to ask where the bathroom was, not now and not here) and maybe cry if she felt like it, or listen to embarrassingly bad teeny-pop music, or whatever she felt like. Home, where she had her books, for school or for gardening or bad romances just for guilty-pleasure reading, and her own kitchen and bedroom and bathroom, her yard and garden and a certain measure of privacy, where she didn't have to deal with the Autobots or the threat of Decepticons—she woke up gasping when the Decepticon who'd been at the Lookout jumped out of her from shadowy corners in her dreams, even when it was totally illogical, sometimes several times a night—even if sometimes the Autobots were nice to her, or at least trying to be, where there was no Sunstreaker at all and she could pretend she'd never met him in the first place, that he didn't exist at all, because it would be so easy, the whole thing was so fantastical, to put it out of mind and remember it, only vaguely, as a plot from a bad sci-fi film.

Eventually, Judy found her. "Bec! There you are—I managed to get some more details on what's happening and what's going to happen. Apparently the Autobots intercepted a Decepticon message, and from what they've been able to figure out—it's coded—the Decepticons are moving in on us, and their current plan of attack is to go after the humans the Autobots have made friends with, because we're more vulnerable. So this is a twofold security measure—for one, it keeps us better protected, and for two it means that the Autobots don't have to divide their forces. Although there's some concern about them deciding to involve ordinary people as hostages...

"And then I found out where we're staying. ...Well, I requested that we get shown to our quarters. Fairly forcefully, actually, it's close to one in the morning by now and they—" she meant the Autobots, Bec assumed "—don't need sleep the way we do." She sounded guilty for a second, and Bec guessed she'd been overly short with someone or other. Or maybe several someones. She had the feeling that Judy could be like that, when she put her mind to it. Or didn't, as the case may be.

"Anyways, they don't have space for individual rooms yet, since the base is so new—it's still under construction. There will be more human-sized spaces in a year or two, but for now we'll be doubling up. So it could be worse—anyways, I think you'll be with one of the soldiers. Will wanted to put you in with Maggie, but I pointed out that she'd probably want to stay with her girlfriend. I think he was trying to keep that from happening, actually—but Sarah elbowed him and he relented. Oh, I hope that turns out okay. Maggie's a good girl, excuse me, young woman, and I like Elizabeth too. Will's a good man, though, so I think it should be alright. Anyways, I'll see if I can find out who you'll be rooming with, but it should be Mikaela, if everything goes well. There's a chance you'll get your own room, depending, I'll do my best! And don't worry, it shouldn't be too much longer before we all have real beds, and then we can finally get some sleep."

"Thank you," Bec said, trying to smile at her. She was pretty sure she ended up just grimacing. She felt glassy-eyed with exhaustion and immaterial, unimportant worries she just couldn't let go of. "That sounds good."

"Great," Judy said, managing a real smile to return the attempt Bec had made, and she wandered off again, waving down the mech just entering the room as she did so. Bec made no moves to follow her; the new mech—red and blue, and big, so that had to be Optimus Prime; Judy had given her descriptions of each of the Autobots on earth, to help her—was intimidating, and she had no wish to get into a conversation with anyone, right now. Especially not with any of them.

It was after four before Bec finally stumbled into her newly assigned room. She slid off her shoes before climbing into bed, but nothing more. She didn't know where her bag was, anyway, even if she had wanted to change into her pajamas.

She stirred briefly when her roommate came in, but nothing more. She was beyond exhausted, so tired it felt like it had seeped into her bones, painful, and she didn't even fully wake.

Mikaela didn't try waking her. She understood: she was just as tired.

"So how come you're not rooming with Mikaela?" Miles asked. Sam "What, she didn't want you there?" he added, unable to resist the temptation.

"Will handed out the room assignments," he replied grumpily, turning over to face the wall on his side of the room. He knew Miles wouldn't actually get what that explained, but hey—he was kind of a genius, when he thought about things. He'd figure out that Will was kind of old-fashioned, and didn't think teenagers—even if they were older teens—should sleep together. "Now shut up, I'm trying to sleep."

Trent looked at the soldier he was sharing a room with. There was a certain measure of trepidation in the expression.

William Hartt looked back. He did not look particularly impressed.

"Ratchet is a slaghead," Sideswipe announced, waltzing into the room he was sharing with Sunstreaker. His brother looked over, disinterested.

Sideswipe waited a long minute before continuing. "Of course, Sunstreaker, thank you for asking. Of course I will tell you all about what happened." He waited another short moment, to see if Sunstreaker would react. He didn't, and Sideswipe continued. "He won't let me meet any of the humans. It would have been interesting. And hilarious! Even better than that one time, with the really little mech—"

"So the medic's not as stupid as he looks, then."

"He-ey, Sunstreaker, that's mean…"

"Yes. Look, slagger, I don't want to get stuck on punishment detail because you fuck around with the squishies. And you will be in deep slag if you try it because they think we are the same person and they think I'm out to kill the useless little fleshbags."

"—They probably think that because you are, bro. Or pretty damn close to it. I mean, you almost pulled it off with one. At least one. On the other hand, though, I am sooo impressed with you!"

"Shut up," Sunstreaker ground out. Sideswipe dragging out the sing-song, mocking voice he'd used for his last sentence was never a good sign.

"I mean, you're thinking ahead! And we're not even in a fight! It's about not getting in trouble. Every commander we've had would be checking their audio receivers for glitches right now, if they'd been here to hear that!"

"I want to get clean. And keep it like that. This planet is disgusting. And punishment detail means I have no time for the washracks. Don't keep me from getting clean. And staying that way."

"Geez, sheesh, whatever—you're ridiculous. You know, you're basically being punished right now—have you seen the map of the base? Yeah, I'd say you're not allowed in a good sixty percent of it."

"But I can get to the wash racks."

"...Yeah, whatever. Crazy. Oh well—I guess I'll find humans tomorrow. It shouldn't be too hard, this place is overrun with them."

"Sideswipe. Everyone here is ready to sign, stamp and slagging seal the authorization form for my offlining. They would be happy too. Everyone." He paused, voice sounding ragged. "Optimus Prime, Prime, thinks I am—"

"I'm not sure I do. I'm sorry to intrude like this, but I wanted to talk to the two of you."

Sunstreaker tensed before pivoting suddenly, body language stiff and aggressive. "What the slag are you doing here?"

"I am your commanding officer. I am here because I feel I need to be. Stand down, soldier. That is an order." Optimus Prime, standing in the doorway to their room, cut an impressive figure.

Sunstreaker subsided even before Sideswipe—who was hiding his nervousness, barely—prompted him by elbowing him in the side. "Yes, sir."

"Thank you. I'd like to request that the two of you meet me in the small meeting room, at eleven this morning. Is that acceptable?"

"Yes," said Sideswipe, grinning and managing to look only slightly on edge. "Sir," he added, belatedly.

"Thank you."

"Um," Sam said, because it had been awkwardly quiet and someone needed to say something. He just didn't know what.

He didn't know where to go with that lead-in, either, so he feel silent again. Nobody replied. It was just the four of them: Miles, Mikaela, Trent and himself. They were sitting in a glum and painful silence on some couches the Autobots or someone had set up on a much larger table in the empty rec. room, and they all kept on yawning, because of the late night they'd had, waiting for room assignments—and for things to be worked out at all, really. They'd all been up before ten in the morning, too. Judy had taken it upon herself to rouse them and, really, considering the circumstances, only Sam had whined about it.

Mikaela sighed and shifted. Sam, tired of babying Trent's too-delicate sensibilities, took the opportunity to sneak an arm around her waist. She relaxed into him, and he felt the familiar rush of warmth tug on the bottom of his stomach—the butterfly-feeling that kept on hitting him, a year later. He'd been so lucky—

Trent was twisted awkwardly, so he was staring in the opposite direction, away from the two of them. Miles' expression was somewhere and wistful and envious and—to Sam's annoyance—disbelieving.

His girlfriend was oblivious. Or apparently oblivious, but Sam had learned not to underestimate her.

Mikaela sighed happily. "It seems like too long since I just let myself relax!"

"I'm too tired to relax," Miles grumbled, mock-annoyed and smothering another yawn. "I need to sleep."

"But why would you recharge when you could be doing something?" asked a far-too-amused-sounding voice over the intercom system. All four of them jumped, Trent most spectacularly. He looked spooked; Miles, on the other hand, had a slightly wicked grin spread helplessly across his face. "Something interesting." Sam didn't recognize the voice, a neutral baritone: that meant it was one of the newcomers. Sideswipe, he thought. Good, because then he wouldn't need to get snippy with him.

"Recharging isn't like sleeping," Mikaela said immediately. Sam smiled, proud and happy, and Miles looked interested. She drew in a deep breath before continuing, sounding just slightly nervous, unsure. "Recharge is an optional state which can be entered at will at any point, up to the moment when a mech's energy stores are completely exhausted, at which point he will temporarily offline until a certain point—determined by individual mechs by a variety of factors, including circumstances, base programming and personal programming modifications—before onlining again. Sleep, on the other hand, is a necessity on a regular basis for humans, and functioning is impacted even with a slight surfeit of rest. Sleep is essential to human functioning, and loss of sleep impairs judgment and thinking, coordination, reaction time and energy levels, increases stress, has a negative impact on the immune system and, in extreme cases, causes reactions up to and including severe hallucinations."

Trent was staring at Mikaela like he'd never seen her before. Like she was someone he'd never met, only more so: like he'd thought he'd known something about her, and been proved completely wrong on accident. Even though he'd dated her, he knew her.

He didn't know this side of her, though.

Miles just looked extremely impressed. "That is so cool!" he announced, grinning and looking far too interested and excited for his own good. Or for the good of anyone else on the Autobot base, possibly the whole of North America, Sam decided privately. He'd had experience with Miles' projects.

"Damn," the Autobot said, sounding impressed (if slightly mockingly so) and, still, amused. "Humans do that? That is cool. Seriously? Hallucinations?"

Mikaela shrugged, face eloquent. She didn't know.

"Yeah," Miles said, suddenly. "People start going really crazy without sleep. Including full-on hallucinations. That's no sleep at all for days on end, though. Once a DJ for some radio station in New Jersey was doing some marathon thing where he was going to stay up for days on end, and he ended up getting paranoid and barricading himself inside the broadcasting room and apparently things got really weird. And then the world record for days without sleep is eleven or something, but that was in a lab and the scientists kept on shocking him or something to keep him awake. I think legally that's considered torture."

"Why the hell do you know this stuff, Gillon? Er, Miles," Trent demanded, sounding disbelieving and almost a little suspicious—like he thought he'd make up something like that to say.

"Good question," added Sideswipe, snickering a little.

"It just—sticks, sometimes," Miles said, off-hand. "And I remember it. I was on the knowledge bowl team for a while, but it was boring and I never knew anything helpful."

"You are such a nerd."

"Hey! –Well, okay, maybe you're right, but you don't need to be mean about it, Trent. So I'm a nerd. So what? You're a jock. ...A jock with better grades than me. Damn. I need to work on that..."

"I have better grades than you?"

"Yep. I'm not very reliable when it comes to turning in homework. I always get a perfect score on tests, but daily work? It just—never seems to happen, I guess, funny how that works—"

"Funny how that works? Are you stupid, Miles? It's your own damn fault! What the fuck are you thinking? Just not going to bother with college? You think I do want to do the homework? But I sure as hell always get it done—"

"Whoa, Trent, relax. I've got it all figured out. I go to hippie school, where I actually apply myself and pass. Voila, it works out!"


"He has a point, Miles," Mikaela said, sounding a little surprised that she was agreeing with Trent.

"I don't know," Sam said, feeling guilty. Miles was his best friend, after all, or one of them—his best human friend who wasn't also his girlfriend—and he did need someone to stick up for him. "Miles, you're smart enough that you'll probably be able to figure it all out even without a good college education. Going to change the world, right?"

"Damn straight!"

"You humans really are weird."

Everyone ignored that little statement, except for Trent. "—Damn, that's creepy," he whispered, sounding distinctly unnerved. Sam felt guilty again, this time for not being more understanding of what Trent was going through. It had been hard for him, and Trent wasn't him, really, it was messing him up more—and he should probably work on that, kind of like what his mom was doing for Bec, because it was the right thing to do, even if Trent had flicked spit balls at his head for years and tripped him in the hallways and—things like that. Just stupid stuff, but annoying, sometimes painful and always annoying stupid stuff.

Trent continued speaking, back at a normal volume. Sam realized that he should probably find a discreet moment to pull Trent aside and tell him that the Autobots were able to hear thing much, much quieter than a whispered human voice. And Miles. He didn't think he'd told Miles that, either. "Whatever. It's just—damn, Miles! This shit's important. I fucked around when I was a freshie, but that's going to get you in trouble. Seriously. I was looking at flipping hamburgers until I died—"

"Thanks," Miles said suddenly, twisting around in his chair to look Trent square in the eye, looking deadly serious. "I mean it. I got things under control, but—thanks."

Sam opened his mouth to speak, but Mikaela elbowed him in the ribs, and he shut up. She shot him a look he took to mean that she'd talk to him later.

They lapsed into a slightly awkward silence again. This time, Sam let it go.

Optimus looked at the two mechs sitting in front of him, clearly considering them.

I understand you've had some difficulties with past commanders."

"Sort of," said Sideswipe, brightly.

"Certainly your records show you do. I'm going to talk with each of you, separately, about that later. That will be for specifics.

"If I am honest, I can't afford disobedience right now. This is a sensitive situation, both with the Decepticons and with Autobot relations with human governments. I need a strong, cohesive unit—one I can trust. Beyond that, I need to know that my rules will be followed. We do not harm the humans. Understood, Sunstreaker?"

There was a long silence.


"Yes, sir."

"Thank you. ...Do you have an explanation for your behaviors? Or anything else to say? Especially as it relates to Rebecca."

Sideswipe looked like it was physically costing him to keep silent. He also looked mildly horrified.

"...Is that girl here on base now?"

Sideswipe took the opportunity to cut in. "What girl? Are you talking about the one you almost killed—Bed? Er, permission to ask a question. Sir."

"For the last time, you stupid waste of bolts, her name is not 'bed.' That's some weird human furniture or something. Her name is Bec."

Sideswipe snickered into one hand, losing his pretense to seriousness. Sunstreaker glared at him until Optimus shifted slightly, drawing their attention, and started to speak again.

"Yes, Rebecca is here. She chose to remain with us, to see things through: she offered to help."

Sideswipe snorted. "Ridiculous! Is she really that stupid, or did Sunny knock something loose?"

"I wouldn't be so fast to dismiss humanity. Samuel Witwicky did what I could not: he killed Megatron. I owe him my life."

"...That's so weird." The red Autobot shook his head.

"It does take a little...adjustment, but I have learned not to underestimate humans. You probably don't know that the best hacker on the base is human. The best two, actually.

"Back to the subject, though, I'm going to talk to Rebecca soon, and offer her the chance to leave, because of—recent developments." 'Because she's being forced into close proximity with you' went unspoken. "You are both forbidden to approach her."

"I don't want to go anywhere near the—her," Sunstreaker hissed, voice vehement. Sideswipe just shrugged. "—And her name is Bec. Not Rebecca. I don't even care, and it's like I'm the only one who can get it right—"

"'Bec' is a nickname. Something used to denote informality and friendship. It would be inappropriate for me to take that liberty." Optimus Prime was cool, formal, and it was a clear reminder: If I am not close enough to use that familiarity, you certainly aren't.

"Fine. Fine. Humans have stupid naming conventions. Whatever."

"Anything else?"


Sideswipe elbowed his brother, again.

"No, sir."

"Good. Alright, then. Thank you for speaking with me, Sunstreaker, Sideswipe." Optimus Prime nodded once, cordially, and stood, his meaning clear: they stood as well, turned and left. The automated door hissed shut behind them, leaving them in the dark corridor. It didn't matter: they didn't have human eyes.

There was a moment of stifling hostility as the two started walking back towards their quarters.

"What the slag was that?" Sideswipe said finally. "And what in the Pit is up with you and the human's name? I'd think you cared if I didn't know better. And I do know better, because you almost killed her. And then you pull that with Optimus frigging Prime, glorious leader of the entire Autobot Army, and you're all 'I don't want to go anywhere near her' and 'Is that girl here?' and do you want to get us both killed? Are you seriously glitching that badly? Because you have already done a lot to make us irredeemable social pariahs and we are damned lucky that they are so short on troops that they can't afford to put us in stasis or pit, just offline us, or whatever, banish us—because they could. That was what Optimus Prime was telling us with that 'I can't afford it' stuff. He is saying that good relations with human governments is more important than the two of us, and that we are not going to come out ahead if it turns into that."

"I know. I am not stupid, Sideswipe!"

"Then act like it! Primus, Sunny."

"Just—shut up."

"No," Sideswipe said, grumpy, but he did fall silent.

"—It's weird how the Prime didn't call us to his office. Huh."

"His office is probably in some area we're forbidden to enter," Sunstreaker pointed out, cynical.

"Yeah. You're probably right."

Neither of the two spoke for a long, long time, finishing the journey and entering their room in silence. It was very quiet in the room.


No response.

"Why do you always remember that girl's name? Bec's?"

"I don't know. I just—do." He hesitated, looking troubled, before his face cleared again, contorting into his familiar scowl. "Why don't you?"

"—So this is the kitchen. Of course, all of this is inside of the general hang-out area, I guess that's what you'd call it, for the Autobots, so make of that what you will. Anyways, there's always food in the fridge, and there's usually ice cream, I can't decide if I love or hate that—"

"Maggie," Elizabeth said, voice quiet but very serious. It carried a lot of weight. The Australian woman quieted and turned, expression set and faintly wary.

"Yes? Lissie?"

"How could you have not told me about this? You're comfortable. You've been here before. How many of those 'business trips'...?"

"—They were business. But they were usually here. I'm sorry, you know. I couldn't— I can't—it was the government, sweet. I wanted to—I wanted to! The Autobots—they're great, they're a part of my life now, and I didn't want to keep that secret, but I had to..."

"Maggie. Maggie. You were lying to me. And you just didn't tell me. I don't care about the damn government, and I thought that I knew that you felt the same, but you promised me you would tell me the truth. Remember? You could have even said that you couldn't tell me...! That's all it would have taken, I wouldn't have asked..."

"I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry!"

"I know," Elizabeth said, softly. "I know you're sorry. It's the only reason I'm here. But"

Maggie paused, suddenly. "Elizabeth—Lissie? Could we talk somewhere else?"

"What? Why?"

"Because—Because we're being monitored." Maggie almost cringed at the confession, knowing what her girlfriend's reaction would be even before it happened. She was right: the woman went pale, a hand flying to her face. "It's not like what you're thinking! It's just a security measure in the public spaces—I just don't want to have this conversation where somebody's listening in—"

"I don't care about your stupid human issues," announced a voice over the intercom system. Elizabeth went even paler and trembled a little. Maggie didn't react to the voice, but reached forward as the other woman rocked back on her heels, shaky.

"Shut up, Ironhide," she growled through gritted teeth as she pulled Elizabeth into a full hug, one that was returned, almost desperately, tightly enough that it almost hurt a little.

"I don't care, woman. Stop it!"

"Christ, Ironhide! Where do you get the damn misogyny from? Where? You're asexual, in that you're not gendered! None of you are! It doesn't make sense!"

There was no reply. The silence ticked on for three full long, slow minutes.

"Good," Maggie announced at last. "He's ignoring me. –Us, I guess."

Elizabeth drew in a long, shaky breath. "I don't think I'm ever going to get used to this," she said, voice weak. "But...but let's go talk."

"I love you," Maggie whispered, softly. It felt like a weight had been lifted off of her, almost like she could fly.

The boy next to her on the couch was sitting so stiffly, so palpably uncomfortable, that Judy wanted to elbow him in the ribs, on top of reminding him that she didn't bite.

Trent would probably have a heart failure if she did, though. Really. She had no idea why he was so nervous right now. After all, she'd had him as a guest in her home! He hadn't seemed to nervous then—although he'd seemed considerably more dazed, stunned, really, so maybe that had something to do with it. Now that the panic had started to wear off (and she was certainly pleased to see that) the more mundane problems—such as nervousness around the mother of the boy he used to bully—could set in.

And she did know that a lot of the bruises that Sam had turned up with, almost all conveniently explained away with some excuse about PE class, or whatever, had been the handiwork of Trent or one of his friends. Nothing had actually been said to her, or around her, but really, she wasn't stupid. Judy was more than capable of figuring out something like that. Especially with the boy living in her own house!

It had given her a special glow of pride, that Sam had been so accepting of him. True, there were little tiffs and ungracious moments, but he'd handled himself remarkably well for a teenage boy facing a barely-ex bully. On top of him being an ex-boyfriend of his girlfriend! Really, it was more than she'd expected, more than she'd even let herself hope for. She allowed herself part of the credit, for raising Sam right, her little Sam-boy, but she knew that most of the credit was rightly due to the Autobots. He'd grown up.

And Trent was learning to grow up. Slowly—well, no; very quickly, actually. He just had a lot longer to go than Sam had had, or Miles, and she put a lot of the blame for that on his parents, even though she'd never met them—but quickly or slowly, and definitely nervously, he was growing up.

Judy could help a little with the nervous part, at least.

She put down the scarf she was working on (she'd decided to take up knitting when Sam had started his senior year, figuring she'd need something more to do when he'd left the house, and it was going very slowly: she was still on her first, very basic pattern, and she never really seemed to find the time to work on it) with a decisive movement, turning to face Trent, catching him by the eyes.

"So, Trent. We haven't really had the chance to talk."

He swallowed, hard, and seemed almost to lean back. He wanted to escape: that meant he felt trapped. Yes, Judy's best guess was that he was afraid of her judging him for what he'd done to Sam and Miles. She'd need to allay that fear, while making it clear what she thought of his past actions. A fairly tricky but far from impossible task. And he seemed like a sensible boy, one who'd have a good head on his shoulders in a few years. That helped.

"Y-yes, ma'am?"

"Oh, please. You're worse than Optimus! It's Judy. And—oh, relax. I just want to chat, get to know you! It's always nice to meet more of Sam's friends." She didn't pause there, didn't even give him the chance to correct her. Or to think about the need to correct her. "What are you planning on doing after graduation?"

He swallowed, open his mouth to speak, closed it, swallowed again before actually starting. Judy felt sorry, suddenly—she hadn't meant to give him a hard question. She'd thought that he'd have it figured out by now. It wasn't going to be too long until it was June and he was a graduate—

"I was...I was thinking about the army. But—I don't know. It's. Um."

"The army? Well, this is a great opportunity for you! Surrounded by all these military people. Have you asked any of them questions yet? Are you thinking the Army specifically, or something like the Navy instead? Are you going to try to get into West Point or some place similar, maybe?"

"I...I don't know," Trent said, looking still more uncomfortable. "I hadn't..." He trailed off, looking lost and a little afraid. When he continued, his voice was faint. "I hadn't really thought about...dying. I guess I hadn't..."

Judy's heart went out to him. It took every ounce of strength she had not to wrap him up into a motherly hug.

She didn't try to keep herself from laying a sympathetic hand on his shoulder, though. "I understand," she said, voice just as soft. "I hope it all works out for you. I'd still recommend you talk to one of the officers. Maybe Sergeant Epps, or Captain Lennox. Maybe ask that William Hartt since you're sharing a room. I know the first two would both be happy to talk to you, and I'd assume the same about William, although I don't know him well."

He didn't look convinced.

"Alright, then. I hope you figure it out, though. I—I know this might sound strange, since we hardly know each other and I'm hardly an expert in much of anything, really, but if you've got any questions for me, I'm more than happy to answer them."

"Thank you," he said, looking away kind of desperately.

"Good," Judy replied, smiling warmly at him and waiting until he met her gaze. "Now, then. Do you have a girlfriend?"

"No," he said, a little rebellious-sounding now, looking away. Judy backpedaled, realizing that she'd hit a nerve.

"I hope you find the right person for you, then. It can take a while—oh, the absolute losers I used to date! That was long before Ron, of course." She smiled again, happy. "It worked out in the end. It almost always does, you know! And I'm sure there's any number of young ladies who would date someone like you."

He was blushing, heavily. Judy hid another inner smile.

"There's time for that later, right? Oh, I remember now! I was going to ask one of the Autobots to show you around the base—would you be fine with that? I know I was a little overwhelmed my first days here—" Well, honestly, a little more than overwhelmed... "—so I'd like to see if there's something that can help it, right now. Would you be up for a tour with one of the Autobots? Jazz, maybe—or no, Bumblebee might be better—oh, I'll ask around."

"Thank you," Trent said, looking a little dazed, and Judy reminded herself to stop running over the kid quite so much. Even if it made things easier. That tactic would only work for so long, and for so much...

"I'm babbling though, aren't I? I have trouble with that! Are there any questions you'd like to ask me? Anything you'd like to talk about?"

"Thank you for letting me stay at your house..."

"Oh, of course, Trent! I'm always happy to have Sam's friends over, and it was so much more than that—I can't imagine what it was like for you. Is like for you, I imagine. I'm just sorry I couldn't do more."

"...Ma'am—Mrs. Witwicky—I don't really think Sam is my friend. I...I... Used to—"

Judy leaned over and patted his hand, looking at him kindly. "I know, dear. But I think you might be wrong about what he thinks of you. Sam's a good kid, and you are too. And you've been through a lot."


"Can't people change?"

Trent couldn't seem to come up with anything to say to that.

Bec looked over at Judy and then down at the table, drawing in a deep breath. She let it out with a sigh and then turned, determined, back to the older woman.

"Alright," she said, an unexpected note of strength in her voice. Reaching over, she drew a piece of paper closer to the two of them. "This is an overview of your current gardens. Here are the side views—"

Her voice was confident, professional, excited. Not at all what Judy had come to expect from the girl. It was a nice change. Still, she couldn't help herself— "Did you draw these yourself?"

And there was the Bec she'd gotten to know again. "Yes," she said, blushing and looking down.

"They're good!"

"No, no, not at all! I just had a lot of lessons as a child. My mother was an artist before she went into fashion design. It's—it's just the ability to give the sense of something, right? It's not art. Look, the perspectives off, and my sizing—it's just scribbling!"

Judy wasn't sure she agreed, entirely, but Bec had a point and she let it go. "Alright, then. Continue, please?"

"Alright," Bec said, again. "Okay— So, looking at the overview, your beds and patches are all very disjointed. You keep on adding one, every few years, right? It wasn't planned out all at once. So you're lacking flow...see, if you connected this bit here, put a path through here—nothing much, just sawdust, or stepping stones and a hardy groundcover—there's a greater continuity for the garden as a whole. On a more practical level, it means that people are more likely to explore the more hidden areas—it invites you in. If you feel ambitious—when you retire, maybe, or when Sam leaves home—you could add in something here, here and maybe here—that's a lot more garden to take care of, but it would vastly increase the illusion of space, of distance, in the yard. See? It separates it all off into separate areas with very little visibility in-between if you plant it right, so the usable individual spaces increase…"

"Wow," Judy said, squinting at the piece of paper and the rough pencil strokes—in varying colors, for each set of suggestions—Bec had filled in on it. "Yes—I think you're right! That's genius. I never would have thought of it like that—thank you!"

Bec blushed again. "You're—You're welcome," she said, sounding pleased, and almost as if she was unused to praise. "Now," she continued, after a brief pause, voice oddly almost-businesslike again. "Your garden uses mostly plants commonly found in what I'll call the 'average' garden. Things with history—daisies, a lot of annuals like petunias, marigolds, modern hybrid roses, a few hydrangeas… All very nice plants. Where did you grow up? Somewhere on the East Coast?"

Judy smiled, a little sheepishly. "You're right. How did you guess?"

Bec hesitated for just a brief second, wavering. "The plants you're growing—they're all very nice, but they're not well-suited for growing conditions in Nevada, especially not in a sustainable, low-effort and natural method. I know that I can't grow good roses up where I am, in Oregon. And they'll never be their best, even with all the babying they probably need to survive..."

"I don't really want one of those, those..." Judy trailed off, apparently searching for appropriately diplomatic wording. "I don't want some garden filled with shrubby and unattractive plants, even if it means that they don't need much watering or weeding. –I mean, some of the things I've seen in gardens are weeds themselves!"

"Oh, no, that's not what I'm talking about!" Bec said immediately, laying a hand beseechingly on Judy's forearm. "No, I'm just talking about mixing in a few more non-traditional plants in with everything else. And some that are a little more unusual, but still a good history of use in gardens, like red hot pokers—Kniphofia species. Here." She reached over and pulled up a laptop, flipping it open and then pulling up a webpage. "Like this."

"Oh—that's pretty," Judy said, sounding slightly surprised.

"It's a succulent, or close to it, I think, so it won't need much supplemental water. And it's got a nice vertical, very structural shape to the leaves—so even when it's not blooming it won't be dead space. And then… California poppies. You probably know the plain orange, but if you don't like that color there's salmons, yellows and reds available, now, and they'll self-seed, so you won't have to replant each year, and they'll be fine off doing their own thing. And California lilacs, they might work, their Latin name is Ceanothus...have you ever thought about ornamental grasses?" (1)

(1) I'm taking liberties when it comes to the hardiness of these plants in Nevada, seeing as none of them would survive long in true Nevadan conditions. (Zones 1 and 2 using the system in the Sunset Western Garden Book.) Since canon is very very iffy when it comes to where the movie was actually located—the plants they showed weren't going to be growing in those zones either, and then Californian license plates—I'm going to go with it. If this bothers you, play pretend. You can use Russian olives, crababbles and Clematis armandii instead.)

Sunstreaker sat silently, but he felt like cursing. Loudly. At length. But that would just catch the attention of the grumpy Autobot he was sitting with for monitor duty—Bumblebee seemed to hate him even more than most of the other Autobots did. And then he'd probably get shot, because he would be cursing at Bec and they would almost definitely take that as a threat to her.

He'd never—never—heard her sound like that. It was like she was somebody else! Was she crazy or something? Because he'd watched her for weeks. And then driven her to the rest of the Autobots.

And he'd never heard her sound so confident. Or happy.

It was, Elizabeth decided, kind of like having an audience—a rapt audience—as she ate.

The table—actually several mismatched tables, pulled together in a best-fit answer and covered with a tablecloth—was full of humans, all eating and chattering. Elizabeth herself had been having a conversation with the man next to her, one of the soldiers (she should know his name, but remembering names had never been a real skill of hers...) but now he'd turned to talk about some sort of orientation or training the government-types were going to be running for new recruits with some other men further up the table, and the woman next to her—Judy; she remembered her because of what she'd been told, on top of witnessing the woman in action, which was quite impressive—was talking with the shy girl—Bec?—and was deeply involved in the conversation, which seemed to be about plants. It also seemed to be totally, unnecessarily complicated, and involve far too many words that weren't in real English.

So she'd fallen silent, not really all that upset about the lack of a conversational partner. It was nice to just lean back, eat her food and—not interact, she guessed. Catch her breath. Assess the situation. Something like that.

She'd been doing that. But the way there were Autobots clustered around the table they were at—a lot of them; comparatively, she meant—had derailed her. It was kind of—creepy, honestly.

Well, it would be normal, if—

That was the key word. If. If they were—well, human. Even if they were able to eat with them. That would make it okay. It would just be normal, then, a chance to talk (which they were doing, but that wasn't the point of a dinner table) but the way things were? It was creepy. Because they were watching them eat. Which just rubbed her wrong. Instinctively, she supposed. Or maybe it was because of her mother's table rules, which included feeding anyone who stopped by and never, ever, under any circumstances eating in front of someone else.

That was kind of it. She wanted to feed them. But she couldn't. Because—of course!—they weren't human. Or even something vaguely humanish. If they just had something remotely analogous to eating! But they didn't (well, Maggie had been telling her something about energy intake, which was necessary, of course, but that didn't translate, not with the form it took and then cultural implications on top of that and really overall it just wouldn't help, it'd just make everything worse) so—

They didn't eat, in short, so she'd need to learn to deal with a whole group of giant robots—mechs—observing her.

While she ate.

God damn. It went across every bone in her body! And that it bothered her so much just irritated her even more.

"I think I'm short a card again," Miles said, looking at his hand with a good measure of confusion.

"Oh, please," Fig muttered, eyes cast heavenwards, as if he was communing with God. "Look, chaval, this is the fifth time. How do you keep on ending up short? You always take a putamadre card. Always. Everyone does."

Mikaela snorted into her own hand. Sam cast her a sideways look.

"Yeah, but I've only got eleven—"

"¡Madre! Me cague en la leche—"

"What?" Miles looked even more confused.

Trent cut in. "Do the, uh, steps have to be the same suite?"

"Yes, yes, how many times do I have to tell you that? Miles, you're only supposed to have ten cards—"

"How do you end the hand, again?" Mikaela asked.


"Fine. Cieres."

"Aww, dang!" Sam said, throwing his hand down. "I was so close—"

"No, no, Mikaela, chica, it's 'ciero' if you're the one speaking because of the conjugation—"

"How does this work again? I'm not sure if I have a set—"

"Wait, can I combine my two twos with Miles' two to make a set?"


"This is why we just stick to poker," Epps said, looking up from the Sudoku puzzle he'd been working on. "Not any damned weird games, like this shit. Hey, Fig, I think someone walked off with your scorecard again."

"¡Ay!" The man stomped off, muttering viciously in Spanish.

"...Anyone want to play Go Fish? Or Spoons?"

"Fuck off, Witwicky."

"I'd love to play, Sam," Mikaela said pointedly.

"Me too," Miles added, although he didn't place an arm around Sam the way the his girlfriend had.

Trent paused. "Alright. Sorry. Who's dealing?"

Bec was feeling slightly panicky. Again.

She was pretty sure she was lost. And she had been walking briskly for the past two hours. In a straight line, she'd thought, but nothing looked familiar. Or rather, everything had the same kind of generic similarity that meant that everything wasn't quite exactly the same, but close enough to it that Bec wouldn't be able to tell if she passed by something she'd seen before.

She was really tired. It was so late: she'd woken out of an uneasy sleep and decided that she'd rather walk around the base, as stagnant and sterile as it was, than try to sleep, tangled up in suffocating blankets and sticky with sweat from dreams—nightmares—she didn't remember.

Bec regretted that decision.

Would they find her corpse? How long would it take? What sort of condition would it be in? No, no— The woman shook her head forcefully, to push the thoughts out of her mind. She was being so macabre—that wasn't like her.

Where was she?

A sudden noise made her snap around, but there was no one there.

Sunstreaker ducked back around the corner very quickly, mind racing.

She wasn't supposed to be here. Worthless scrap of a carbon-thing. What in the Pit was she doing? If mechs scared her that slagging much than why was she looking for them—?

Maybe it was the light, but she looked as pale—as unhealthy—as she had when she'd just "thrown up." Or any number of other euphemisms—what possible use did humanity—English—have for so many words for such a spectacularly nasty and relatively uncommon biological function?

He couldn't just let her die.

Because he'd never see the light of day again. That was it.

And she'd offline anyways if she saw him. With that ridiculous respiratory system business. And she didn't have a bag or anything with her, so she probably didn't even have her medication with her. He should call someone, get the whole mess taken off his hands. But—

Not Sideswipe. The officers—Optimus Prime, Jazz—would just throw him in the brig on general principle and probable cause. Bumblebee would help the girl, but probably shoot Sunstreaker himself. Ironhide—hah! He wasn't likely to even bother with the girl. He'd definitely go after Sunstreaker, and in the aftermath of that little confrontation he'd end up the one blamed for it all.

Slag. It had to be the medic. But maybe that would mean he'd know how to help her.

He meant, her continued health meant he was less likely to get in trouble. He really didn't want to deal with that.

Bec had finally given up and sat down; there was no corner to curl up into, so she'd done her best, with her back to the cold metal wall—it seemed to stretch on up to forever, like a skyscraper, only even blanker, from down here, because there were no windows—and her knees drawn up to her chest, her arms wrapped around them.

The lights were too bright for her to fall asleep, but she'd reached a dazed, almost hypnotized state, staring ahead at nothing and mind blank, everything muted with exhaustion and the sort of numbness (like everything had been wrapped in cotton) that would turn into headache. She was cold, too, and she kept on shivering, intermittently.

She started as she suddenly heard clanging footsteps. Sound carried oddly, in the metal walls of the Autobot base. It didn't seem to echo the way it should. Maybe she was just too tired and hallucinating, or maybe it was some sort of weird alien metal. Regardless, the approaching mech sounded as if he'd come out of thin air, almost on top of her. She looked fearfully up and down the long featureless hallway, but couldn't see anything. It seemed to take far too long for the source of the steps to come into view.

Bec relaxed, minutely, at the appearance of—Ratchet, she though. The medic. She thought, distantly, that she should thank Judy again, for taking the time to teach her a little about each of the mechs at the base.

She didn't know much about him, other than that. She'd never interacted with him, except for that one night, at the Lookout, when she hadn't realized who she'd been talking to—

The blush, as much a product of fear as it was embarrassment, was so heavy that it almost hurt. It did make her feel a little warmer, though, the surge of blood dispelling a little of the cold.

"I'm sorry," she said, indistinctly.

"You haven't done anything worth apologizing for," he replied, coming a little closer, and something made Bec feel like he was purposefully modulating his tone, trying to sound nicer, less threatening. She wasn't sure, though. It was hard to think. "Oh, slag—ah, you're running a slight fever."

"Oh," Bec said. "—That would explain it."

"Explain what?"

"I don't feel very good…"

"Yes, I would imagine so. Can I take you to the med bay? I can give you some acetaminophen to help bring it down. And it's probably just a cold, but I want to make sure it's not something more worrisome."

Bec realized that he hadn't brought up the fact that she'd been lost somewhere she probably wasn't supposed to be, and felt a rush of silent gratitude.

"Yes," she said, and the words still came out panicky, more so than she meant them to be. She shouldn't be so afraid!

Bec also couldn't hide her flinch when the mech suddenly collapsed inwards, transforming.

"Here," he said. Irrationally, Bec thought that his voice should sound muffled when he was like that, all crunched in on himself. She wondered how comfortable it was. "I figured this would be more comfortable for you. Climb in."

It took her two tries before she made it to her feet, mostly because of fear. She didn't want to go towards Ratchet. Towards the robot. And she felt wobbly and weak—now she could tell she was feverish.

She did it anyways.

"I'm sorry," Bec said, again, interrupting the dead silence of their trip through the featureless hallways.

"Don't be."

"I—I should have been more respectful. I shouldn't have snapped at you. Back at the Lookout. When I was hurt."


"I wasn't—wasn't quite myself, and I shouldn't have—I promise it won't happen again—"


She fell silent immediately, pulling inwards on herself, like she expected to be slapped. Ratchet felt the growing urge to shoot something, but he kept it to himself.

"Considering my patients—and even if you don't—you were absolutely not out of bounds. I was not and am not insulted or in any way upset. Especially when you take into account the fact that there were definite extenuating circumstances at the time."


"Really, Bec.

I'm still sorry." She said it softly, quiet enough that Ratchet figured the average human wouldn't have caught it.

He wasn't human, though. And she'd still said it.

On one hand, her need to heap guilt onto herself was destructive and incredibly frustrating. And it wasn't going to help her get over her fear. And on the other hand, she was disagreeing with him. Standing up for herself. They were making progress.

Even if it amounted to one step forward and two steps back.

"I forgive you, then," he said when they reached the med bay, with an approximation of a sigh. She looked at him with wide eyes, but he had the feeling that she'd understood.

Sam looked up as someone walked up to him, slowing and then pausing as he drew closer.

It was Trent, shifting slowly on his feet, and looking half belligerent, half—something.

"Look. I'm sorry. I'm really fucking sorry. I never should have pulled any of that shit, and, just—fuck. I'm sorry."

Dead silence reigned. Trent didn't wait to hear it finish, marching determinedly back towards the door he'd walked in through, moving so quickly he was almost running.

Miles and Sam stared after him with clear confusion.

Miles summed it up. "Dude. What the hell was that?"

"Rebecca Kurtz?" someone said, from behind her. She whirled around, perhaps slightly faster than was mannerly. Or much faster than was mannerly.

"Yes?" she quavered, nervous. It was the leader—Optimus Prime. He was imposing, even more so than the other robots—he just was...was...

Was utterly, entirely and unmistakably the mech he was. Leader of the Autobots. He was just... Yes. Just imposing. Not in a bad way, really, but...

"I'm Optimus Prime. I'd like to talk to you, if you're willing."

" Yes?"

"It's your decision, Rebecca," he said, softening somewhat. Even though he was clearly trying to put her at ease, it was still working. There was just something about that voice that made you want to trust him.

"Yes," she said, a little more firmly this time. "Thank you."

"I'm the one who should be thanking you," he said, gravely. "I'm sorry you've been involved in this situation."

"I'm...I'm not," Bec said, almost whispering. "I..."

He waited for her to continue, but started speaking when it was clear she wasn't going to. "I'm glad," he said. "I am happy to see you adjusting. Judy tells me you're feeling more comfortable with Autobots."

"Yes," she said, suddenly lifting her head to meet his gaze. "I am. Jazz and Bumblebee—have been wonderful. And I'm...adjusting. It was mostly—mostly shock. At the beginning. I didn't—react well...

"But I'm trying. Because you're people, right? Just like anyone else. Not just like, I suppose, but—close enough!"

Was he smiling at her? It looked like it—

"Thank you," he said, and he sounded like he meant it. "I am glad to hear that. It can be lonely, here on Earth. I'm glad you're coming to see us as individuals."

There wasn't much she could say to that. She managed a weak smile, but a fairly nervous one—maybe he should have waited to give her his thanks.

She was partly nervous because of who he was, though. Not just what he was.

...Not that that wasn't intimidating, too.

"Why are you staring at me?" The human—the Miles one, he thought—looked a little nervous and sounded defensive.

Sideswipe was quick to supply a reason. "Because you look weird."

"You look weirder."

"I do not!"

"—So that's when my commander decided he'd had enough of me, and told me that if I put one toe out of line he'd drum my ass out of the Autobot army. Actually, I kind of think he thought I was a traitor, because I might have been acting like I was staking out the base for weaknesses and comming Megatron in my free time. But I don't think he'd really read our files because he didn't really know that me and Sunny were brothers, so he didn't end up doing anything after our unit leader spoke to him about how losing me meant he'd lose Sunshine as well, and that one or both of us was likely to do something dramatic when we left, and mine might be the only non-lethal reaction. So the next time he found me trying to sneak into intelligence headquarters—"

"Sideswipe, that's quite enough. I don't need to hear anything more about your discipline history."

"Yes, sir, Optimus Prime!"

"Oh—and I think it's safe to say that you can consider yourself on probation." Ratchet's tone was somewhat smugly amused.

"What? Why?"

Ironhide growled. "Because you're a menace and an idiot. Any arguments?"

"...Yessir, I'm on probation. No arguments."

"Are you avoiding me?" Sideswipe said, his tone suspiciously bright.

Sarah Lennox didn't say anything, continuing to fold the laundry in front of her, movements quick, brisk, businesslike and unamused.

"...Are you ignoring me? Can't have that, can we—come on, squishy, talk to me!"

Sarah turned away from the laundry with a faint sigh, fishing her cellphone out of her pocket. Sideswipe watched, bemused, as she dialed, still not even recognizing him enough to look at him.

"Hello? Ironhide, it's me, Sarah—could you do something for me? Yeah—it's the new mech."

"Oh, slag," Sideswipe said as he realized what she was doing, bursting into laughter as he lunged for the door.

Sarah ignored that, too.

Depending on who you asked, if you asked about how good Jazz was at monitor duty, you would either get a raging tirade about his utter inability to deal with boredom and pay attention, or a grudgingly reluctant acknowledgment that he was startlingly effective. Sometimes it was the same person, sometimes at the same time—his old security director, a raving paranoid, had developed a weird working relationship with him. He ranted, railed, and did everything short of actively frothing at the mouth when it came to Jazz's approach to monitor duty, but he also trusted him implicitly, or at least as much as he ever did.

People tended to forget that Jazz had been built for spying, and duo-outfitted for interrogations—which was actually something he encouraged. Being underestimated was a huge advantage.

...And, true, he was somewhat easily distracted, when he wasn't on the field.

That didn't mean he wasn't paying attention.

So Jazz was bored, and maybe poking around that human network—the Internet—but he still caught the slightest flicker of motion in the bottom right corner of the one of the cameras. It was pointed at an empty hallway, where there should have been no one: it was where they stored emergency energy supplies, both for humans and Autobots.

Jazz hadn't gotten to where he was by accident. And he hadn't done it by inaction.

Suspicious movement located in corridor 114, he sent out on his comm. system, rising quickly and pausing just long enough to start up emergency defenses before sprinting for the door. Who's closest?

The sound of an explosion set Mikaela catapulting out of bed, not even bothering to grab her bathrobe before running for the hallway outside her door.

"What's going on?" she called, to the only Autobot she could see, a very dim shape on the other side of the darkened, vast room the relatively tiny human quarters were located in.

"Jazz caught an intruder on base," came the perfunctory response. "I think they've got him now." He tilted his head to the side, a gesture Mikaela recognized; she waited. After a second, there was an affirmative grunt.

"Do they know how it got in here?"

"An MP3 player."

"Ah. Alright then. Thank you. —Uh, why are you here?"

The mech took a few steps closer. "Because I'm supposed to be guarding you until the base's declared safe. Why, human?"

Mikaela finally recognized the mech as he drew nearer. It was Sunstreaker. That was...deeply surprising.

She didn't say anything, though, just turning away with a tired sigh. "My name's Mikaela, not 'human.' Thank you, though."

And then she went back to bed. It was three in the morning, and she was tired.

"Why am I here?" hissed Sunstreaker at Ratchet, glaring suspiciously.

"Because I need to check you over. Sit down."

The yellow mech crossed his arms and glared.

Ratchet glared right back.

Sunstreaker sat down.

...But only because he wanted to. Because he needed to play nice for a while, because he wasn't officially on probation, but in reality? All it would take for him to end up in the brig awaiting reprogramming was a twitch in the wrong direction at the wrong time.

"Good. Thank you. Recent injuries?"


"Send me the files."


"That's 'sure, sir,' soldier," Ratchet grumbled, but he didn't seem to mean it too seriously. Sunstreaker thought so, at least. But it was hard to tell. He couldn't even see the medic's face, the way he was bent over him, looking at the thin ridges of old weld marks that ran down one of his legs.

"Any history of health problems associated with processor damage?"


"History of health problems associated with energon contaminants, pump failure or other circulatory system issues?"

"Had my pump replaced at a battle a while ago. It was shattered."

"Send me any files you have about it. Programming glitches?"

"Depends on who you ask." Sunstreaker's glare intensified with the words, although the medic, slag him, wasn't looking at his face, he was still fidgeting with his leg, and so he just stared at the mech's back.

"Ah. That'll be your interpersonal problems?"

Sunstreaker grunted in a way that could possibly be seen as affirmative.

"We'll get back to that. Any other programming glitches?"


"Rust-prone areas?"

"Don't know."

"Old wounds that might have healed wrong, or excessive scar-material build-up?"

"Left wrist..."

"Is that it?" Sunstreaker growled as the medic set down his welder at last, finally looking away from his arm.

"More or less. Come here—there's something I want to talk about. We're doing it in my office."

"Yes, sir." Sunstreaker didn't think that Ratchet was stupid enough to miss the sarcasm, but he didn't react to it if he did. Weird. He sure as slag didn't like Sunstreaker, so why was he letting him get away with disrespect?

He didn't let Sunstreaker go in second, either, instead punching in the code and waiting, slightly annoyed, by the touch pad and watching him—watching suspiciously? It was hard to tell, the mech was weird—walk in before he followed, the door hissing shut behind them.

Sunstreaker waited to sit down until Ratchet had chosen his seat. He wasn't sure why he bothered with the respectful gesture, but it a good idea.

"Send me anything you've got when it comes to your little personality issues," Ratchet said, after he'd taken his seat and Sunstreaker, considerably more reluctantly, had followed suit, still glaring slightly at the medic. "But I'm forming my own opinion about this. You should know that. I haven't let myself rely on the possibly flawed reactions of anyone else for any of these sorts of things, and I'm not going to do that for you. And you probably know this, but I'm going to tell you anyway, because it needs saying, too: I'm probably going to end up reporting whatever I come up with to Optimus, and anyone else who ends up needing to hear it. Probably Ironhide, if you get put under his command. Pity the mech who has him as an officer, but you seem more the big-guns type than a spy.

"That's beside the point, though. Am I correct in understanding that things are easier for you when you're around your brother?"


"Good. That's a good sign. It doesn't say much for your sanity or normality, but it says that you're quite possibly fairly stable. Not that I see Sideswipe as stable, the mech's clearly a menace. And there's no actual evidence that you've got a programming glitch, not something personal?"

"I...don't know."

"Nobody's found anything to try to reprogram, to try and fix your tendency to kill people you're not supposed to?"

"I don't let them get that far," Sunstreaker hissed, suddenly leaning towards the mech, fury in his eyes and threat soaking his words. "I do not need fixing."

"You need something." Ratchet's tone was cool, removed but final. "Something is wrong. I need to confirm that it isn't something that will lead to you snapping. Preferably, I'll confirm that you're not given to homicide at all. But something is wrong. Maybe you're simply an inhuman jerk, maybe you have trouble emotionally connecting to others, or maybe just to humans, or maybe you've got glitches that will end up sending you spiraling into madness. I've seen that happen, and it's not pretty. It will be even uglier here on earth, with all those delicate human bodies."

Ratchet paused, waiting for Sunstreaker to speak. The other mech didn't. "I don't want to reprogram. It's likely that there's something far less invasive we can try.

"And I'm going to go over all those tricky little details of human anatomy until you know the species inside and out. Why? Because you could have killed Bec, and while it may be that the ideal situation is that you stay the slag away from anything sentient and organic, you will end up coming into contact with humans eventually, the planet's crawling with them. So, to that end, you're going to learn what they can take and what they can't, on a purely physical level. And I'll see if I can't fit in a few essential communication tips."

Sunstreaker looked at Ratchet. The medic couldn't tell what he was thinking, which could be a good thing or a bad thing. Honestly, Ratchet had no idea. The yellow mech had him stumped, starting with the way he'd called him for help when he'd found Bec.

"So, let's call that it for today. I'll be talking with you regularly."

"Yes, sir," Sunstreaker said, voice emotionless if you ignored the ever-present hint of belligerence.

He was almost out the med bay doors before Ratchet spoke up again, his voice reaching him from across the room.

"And Sunstreaker?"


"If you have any problems or questions, feel free to come to me with them."

"So I ended up talking to Sunstreaker," Mikaela said. Sam, shaking himself out of the peaceful, drowsy calm of cuddling with his girlfriend after a crazy week and too long without any time alone together, sighed.

"Really? What happened? When?"

"That night they caught the Decepticon spy. He was the one assigned to watch over us...I guess it was just coincidence. I mean, I don't see him being given that job on purpose."

"Did he try anything?" Sam sounded concerned, and it made Mikaela smile. He was worried for her. That sounded kind of selfish, but it meant the world. She loved him so much...

"No. The worst he got was calling me 'human'—I didn't even realize it was him until the end of the conversation. It was...weird."

"Yeah," he said, relaxing against her again. Mikaela smiled, feeling warm inside, and shifted a little, pulling him closer. She let herself get lost in the moment.

"What's your roommate like?" Miles asked, only partially concentrating on making his way down the weaving rope ladder he was clinging too. He had to raise his voice, since Trent was still up on the table they'd been on, looking down at him, waiting for his turn to go down.

Trent kind of wished Miles would pay more attention—although Gillon had always been good at climbing, he reminded himself, with a mental sneer, memories of him climbing a tree at the lake coming back, seriously, what the hell had he been thinking? He still didn't have a single fucking clue, that had just been weird.

But there was a difference between falling six feet out of a tree and falling down a three-story drop to a hard metal floor.

And he was feeling kind of dizzy. Damn it, there was no fucking reason for heights to freak him out! Seriously, what kind of fucking girly fear was that? Especially when it was just because Gillon was on a ladder.

...And he needed to speak. "Okay, I guess."

"You guess?"


"What's that mean?"

"I dunno."



"That's kind of...vague. You don't know what you mean when you say your roommate's okay you think?"

"I don't think he really likes me." Trent stood, swallowed hard, then stepped onto the ladder. One foot down, feel around for the next rung, continue. It shook just as much as it had looked like, from above.


"I... He just acts like it, okay?"

"Did you do anything to piss him off?"

Trent would have shouted at him, or at least told him to fuck off, but he just muttered a curse that Gillon—Miles probably didn't even hear, gripping the rope hard enough that it was leaving an imprint in his palms.

"...I'm not saying that you meant to, but—hey, there's a thought. Maybe he's just kind of, uh, heard stuff about you? I mean, uh..."

Trent didn't say a word, and remained silent as he jumped the last few rungs of the ladder, landing on the floor. He started walking, quickly, and Miles hurried to catch up.

"Look, Trent, I'm really sorry."


"...Alright. I'm kind of being a jerk, and I'm not going to say anything about how you've been one too, and I really am sorry. If that guy you're billeted with is going to act like that, he's a jerk, right? And then it shouldn't matter what he thinks of you! I mean, I don't really—I'm only starting to really get to know you. We are meeting each other again. And this time—you seem like a kind of cool guy. And, yeah, I'm sorry."

Trent had stopped walking. Miles, who had his eyes closed in deep thought, trying to make his words say what he needed them to mean, walked into him with a squeak of surprise.

"Thanks," Trent said gruffly, raising a hand to squeeze Miles' shoulder, briefly, as if he wasn't sure if that was an okay thing to do, as if he wasn't sure what he wanted to do.

He started walking again. Miles stared after him, before hurrying off again to catch up.

"Dude! What are you thanking me for? Seriously!"

Bec hadn't been hungry at noon, when lunch was served—her stomach was still picky with stress. She'd gotten herself something to eat later that afternoon, and she was washing her dishes in the small communal kitchen when the attack came.

The siren was the first sign, an unearthly wail that shattered the peace and quiet that had been filled with small domestic noises: dishes clinking, splashing water in the sink and faint, off-tune humming, something Bec let herself indulge in when no one else was there.

Bec dropped the plate she'd been holding, and it shattered against the metal floor.

She started to hurry towards the edge of the table she was on, confused and scared—what was happening?—but stopped when a car came careening into the room, a soldier jumping out almost before it came to a full stop.

"Get in the car! We're under attack, there's no time to waste!"

It felt like her heart froze in her chest. Under attack. It was... A horrifying thought. She started moving, climbing down the ladder, quickly but as if in a daze, still trying to gather her thoughts.

Under attack. What did that mean?

And what was going to happen to her?

...No. That wasn't the question she needed to ask. What was going to happen to the people fighting? The humans and the—Autobots. What happened if they lost? What happened if...

Oh, she didn't know. It was too much! She wasn't ready, wasn't prepared for this; what had she been thinking, she didn't know—

She couldn't help. Could she?

Or was there something she could do? If she could try...

Could she? If there was something. And would she.

They were under attack! That fact hummed through her veins, danced over her nerves.

--End chapter 5--