Getting to Know You

The place was a higher end garage and bodyworks shop that mostly serviced imports. German imports. Mikaela looked around at the Mercedes Benzes, the Porsches, and a couple of Audis – all of them new models, all of them looking as though they had rolled off the lot yesterday, so pristine were they. She was almost afraid to breathe on them, and she certainly wasn't going to touch them – not with all the grease, oil, and dust that covered her head to toe. Not without a rag to wipe those gleaming surfaces clean.

Well, she supposed she could get a rag easily enough: this was a pretty sweet place for a grease monkey, and there were bound to be a million rags tucked away somewhere. So maybe she would borrow one and take a closer look at some of these babies...

Or maybe not. Mikaela grimaced and held a hand up before her face: she had never grown her nails and though she did paint them, she never expected the smooth color to last long before she chipped it. But today was a bad day even by her standards. And that was all aside from the little nicks and cuts and scrapes and bruises all up and down her arms. She looked around the garage, with its neat arrays of tools and open floorspace, then turned and looked over her shoulder. Beyond the tow truck, just a few long blocks away, smoke drifted between sky scrapers to the tune of sirens. Some of those buildings had holes torn out of them, and as for the roads below...

Mikaela folded her arms over her chest and shivered. She had tried not to look too closely, but some things you couldn't help seeing. Little old ladies lying unmoving in the rubble, business people in their suits, boys and girls her age, too... little kids... She remembered seeing that one fellow in Captain Lennox's crew go down in a spray of blood; she hadn't dared to ask about him, and she felt like a coward for it.

But weirdly, she couldn't feel too upset, either. Mostly, she was just glad to be here, in this very nice garage, where you'd never even think anything had happened today.

Ok, maybe you would if you walked in and saw a giant chartreuse robot scowling over a giant yellow robot and eying the equipment lying about with a definite air of offense.

After the battle, Ratchet had gone straight to work. He had taken a quick look at Optimus Prime and Ironhide, said a few things in what sounded like a combination of electronic squeal and R2D2, and which had made her eardrums throb a bit, then stalked over to crouch by Bumblebee. After another quick 'conversation', he had set about undoing the cables and settling Bumblebee more to his liking, further up on the truck bed. He had collected missing parts and Jazz's remains, laid them carefully in beside his patient, and then beckoned to Mikaela.

"Can you drive to the following coordinates?" he had asked.

"Um, I guess. If you can give me a street," she had hedged, unwilling to say 'yes' and get some grid coordinates that might as well be on the moon for all she could place them.

Ratchet had cocked his head, seeming for a moment to be listening to something only he could hear, and then said: "One six seven west San Rio Drive – Kondrek's Body shop and Repairs."

And that was how she had come to be standing in said Kondrek's shop, just a few blocks from the destruction, wondering whether she should expect the Men in Black to come by and bag her again, or whether either of the other Autobots would roll up... or Sam. And what if the owner shows up? she wondered. No doubt he'd flip out, and she wasn't sure how to handle that. Owners showing up were generally a bad thing in Mikaela's universe, and even though she supposed this wasn't technically illegal since they weren't stealing anything, still, she was nervous. Of course, he probably flipped out awhile ago and took off, she reminded herself. Pretty much everyone who could had fled the area – only Lennox's team had hung around to face the fight. And Sam. And her. God, I must be crazy!

Crazy or not, though, Mikaela was still here and feeling restless. Being in a place like this, surrounded by a small fleet of fine automobiles, all awaiting tune-ups, made her fingers itch, like she should be doing something. That was what her dad had taught her – "It's hard work, this job," he had told her. "You gotta get in and get your hands dirty, kiddo." Hardest working car thief this side of Vegas, that was her dad. But whatever else he might've taught her, he'd taught her to use her hands, not to let them idle. The question was: if she wasn't 'jacking cars or fixing them, what should she do?

A low growl caught her attention and she glanced back over at Ratchet, who seemed to be probing Bumblebee's damaged cabling and steel and wiring and whatever else an Autobot was made of.

Snips and snails and puppy dog tails? She fought the urge to giggle inappropriately and instead focused on the medic's puttering about. Apparently, some of his fingers were lasers of some sort, or maybe welders, and he had his lights on – handy, to just be able to sprout whatever tool you needed, though it was a little weird to watch. If Ratchet were concerned about anyone walking in on them, he didn't show it and appeared to be taking his time as he examined the smaller robot, who sat very still and didn't twitch a bit. Mikaela frowned.

"Doesn't that... hurt?" she asked, after a moment. Bumblebee's head swiveled her way and blue eyes came to rest upon her. Though Autobots had faces and she'd noticed they did have expressions, too, sometimes, they were just unnervingly blank – or else she just didn't get it, whatever it was they were trying to show when they looked at her sometimes. Like now. Maybe they didn't expect her to talk? "If I'm bugging you, I'm sorry – I can just head over -" she began to say, but Bumblebee shook his head then.

"No, you do not need to go anywhere," he said, and she thought his voice sounded a little off. As if he still weren't used to the idea of talking instead of dialing into whatever was on the airwaves.

"I just don't wanna get in anybody's way, or anything," she tried explaining, and this time, it was Ratchet who answered.

"If you get in my way, you'll know it," he said, without taking his eyes from his work. "Go ahead and talk – it'll keep him from pestering me." So he said, then muttered something that sounded rude even to her. Bumblebee's eyes glowed a little more brightly.

"Ok. Thanks." I guess, Mikaela added silently. She glanced up at Bumblebee once more and pursed her lips slightly, thinking furiously. You're, like, two steps away from an alien – there's got to be a million things to talk about, so think of something! But for some reason, she was drawing a blank.

Fortunately, Bumblebee saved her. "It would hurt," he said, returning to her original question, "but my system shut down those receptor-circuits some time ago."

"You guys just... shut things off?"

"Some things, yes," he replied. "If those subroutines are not themselves compromised or we do not need to move much."

Mikaela looked again at Ratchet, who was cutting away wiring and pieces of Bumblebee's metallic – 'hide,' she thought, thinking of 'Ironhide '– and then cracked her own aching back. "Wish I could do that," she muttered.

"Your species does seem to prefer a certain redundancy in its signal processing," Bumblebee said. Mikaela thought about this a moment.

"You mean you think it's weird we don't just shut off pain like you do?" she said finally.

"I have seen many other species. I understand that among organic lifeforms, it is unusual to be able to do so," Bumblebee replied. "So it is not 'weird,' merely not Cybertronian."

"Wonder why we can't," Mikaela said, suddenly regretting all those boring anatomy lectures she'd slept through. She'd taken the class because at least she got to dissect things, which she was good at, whereas biology was just textbooks and tests. Still, she'd found she tuned out whenever they weren't dissecting things. Maybe Mr. Coerper had talked about the way human nerves worked while she'd been dozing? "Seems like a good trick to me."

"Organic creatures are more fragile than we are," the injured Autobot replied. "Your sensitivity to your environment enables you to survive it. As for a good trick," he shrugged, and Mikaela thought he smiled a little, "your sense of touch is far better and more acute than ours, which you seem to enjoy very much."

Mikaela cocked her head, trying to figure out what he meant by that last part. Then she remembered her introduction to Ratchet, blushed, and decided some things were better left unasked. "Yeah, I guess so," she said instead. "So... if you're not feeling any pain right now, are you feeling anything at all?"

"I can feel a break and pressure in places it shouldn't be, as well as no pressure in places there ought to be some," Bumblebee replied, absently pressing and rubbing a couple of digits just above the damage of his right leg, eyes narrowing. "And it is... well, you can always tell when you've got a short somewhere, and it's still unpleasant, even if not painful." He looked at her closely then, so much so that Mikaela glanced down at herself, wondering if she'd grown a third arm, but all she saw was her torn and sooty shirt. "What about you, Mikaela?" he asked her. "Are you experiencing discomfort?"

"Me? Oh definitely," she sighed, and cracked her back once again, then stretched her arms overhead, wincing a bit. "I'm really gonna feel this tomorrow!" She snorted, thinking of Sam flipping over his handlebars... to say nothing of falling off buildings into the not exactly padded hands of Optimus Prime. "Sam's gonna be even worse."

Bumblebee looked to Ratchet, who paused in his work and turned to stare at her as well, before glancing back at Bumblebee. "I hadn't thought of that," he said, sounding somewhat chagrined. He gave Bumblebee's knee a pat, then rose and took one long stride to reach Mikaela before he sank down to his knees before her. He touched a finger to the side of his head, gave her another long look, and said, "You do not appear to have any fractures that I can detect, nor do my scanners indicate any serious internal leakage, though I believe your heart rate and temperature are lower than I have observed among humans thus far. Of course, most of the humans I have observed have been in situations of extreme stress, and the drop is not so precipitous as to be beyond a deducible standard deviation for such things."

"Are you... was that, like, an MRI or something?" she asked. "You can just do that?"

"I'm a medic," Ratchet replied, as if that explained everything. Maybe it did among Autobots. How would I know? she wondered. "You are showing signs of some disruption of internal fluid pathways – most of them close to your surface." A large hand reached out and caught her right wrist, raised it, and Ratchet ran a remarkably gentle finger over her forearm, following the discolored edges of bruises, probing some cuts she had gotten from breaking the tow truck's window. "I do not believe these are serious."

"They're not," she assured him quickly. "It's just bruising and a couple of scrapes."

"Bruising, yes," the Autobot medic rumbled softly, sounding for all the world like an idling engine.

"I'm ok, really," she insisted. "I'll be sore for a couple of days, but I'm not really hurt or anything. Just a little shook up and battered."

"Well, I will confess that my acquaintance with human physiology is hardly expert at this time," Ratchet said, releasing her wrist, and she felt a rush of warm air, as what appeared to be strategically situated vents opened briefly. "But," and he raised a warning finger at her, "you should submit yourself to one of your own doctors and allow him or her to confirm that you are well. Human tissue is not very resistant to blunt trauma."

"If I can get the cash, then sure," she sighed.

"I'm sorry?"

"Well, I mean, yeah, I'll go if I can. I just don't have the cash on me right now, and what with Dad in prison..." She trailed off, realizing that Ratchet's stare this time was not simply incomprehension in the face of unfamiliar words or ideas. On the contrary, he seemed all too understanding, and she unconsciously backed a little away from him. Not that she thought he would hurt her, it was just... well, he was twenty feet tall and the last time she'd seen that look, he'd been shooting at someone even taller. "W-what?"

"You mean to tell me you cannot access a medic of your kind?"

"Not... immediately. It's expensive, and we're, you know, a little strapped right now, and it's not... uh, Ratchet?" she asked, backing another step. "Could you maybe stop glaring? It's ok, I'm really fine. I mean, Bumblebee's the one missing his legs." She gestured to the yellow Autobot, hoping to distract him. Bumblebee just looked on in silence.

"With the right parts and a little patience and cooperation from him, I'll have him walking by next week," Ratchet replied dismissively. "Bumblebee will be fine – he has a medic on hand. You may feel fine, but I am not the one to say whether you truly are so. You could have nerve damage that would not show on my scans or psychological damage that I would be unable to diagnose or measure. You should be seen by someone knowledgeable among your own kind!"

Mikaela stared, unsure how she was supposed to reassure him about such things, especially when her chest suddenly felt tight and hot, and her eyes stung for no reason she could think of. What's wrong with me? she wondered, afraid she might start crying over nothing and right in front of Ratchet, who would undoubtedly see that as a reason to take her straight to a hospital or something. So it was to her vast relief that at just that moment, Bumblebee spoke up quietly.

"Ratchet? I got Prime on my comm channel – he says Captain Lennox said he'll make sure they get a doctor out to check Mikaela and Sam both, and it'll be on the house."

"On the what?" Ratchet demanded, turning to give his patient a glare. Bumblebee did not bother with English – he let out a brief flurry of sound, which must have eased Ratchet's mind, for the Autobot seemed to deflate a little. "Oh. Very good, then." Those vent-like things flared briefly again, and then he looked at her once more. A searching look, she supposed, and he probably was scanning her again, which made her blush.

But the Autobot medic did not comment on what he saw, only said, in a gruff voice that was somehow strangely soothing, "Nevertheless, Mikaela, sit down – I believe you have not recharged in over ten hours, and your energy intake has been low for your species and output in that time, if I am not mistaken."

"I'm all right," she repeated, more for herself than for him. Then: "Could I come watch you?" she asked, and when she got a skeptical (or she hoped that was skeptical, rather than angry) look, she said quickly, "I – I don't know if you heard, but I'm pretty good with cars."

"We're not cars," Ratchet grumbled, but he waved her over, and so Mikaela scrambled gratefully up onto the deck of the truck, Bumblebee incurring a growl and a reprimand from his doctor when he scooted over a little for her.

"So," she said, after a few moments, when Ratchet had resumed clearing away damaged... tissue, Mikaela supposed, "you're not cars. But you do change into them. How's that work?" She looked up at Bumblebee, who shrugged, his doors... wings... door-wings lifting a bit, like a damsel fly's.

"It just does," he replied.

"So you don't have to, like, think about where everything goes?"

"Nope." He shook his head.

"But you're not cars, you said. You're normally something else, but not cars. But it still just works like that?" she pressed. "And you don't feel, I dunno, cramped?"

"Well, it feels a little strange after you reconfigure to a new alt-mode," Bumblebee admitted, seeming amused by her questions. "But give it a little time and you get used to it. I've been here longer than the others – I'm pretty comfortable by now as a Camaro. And no, once you scan that form and confirm you can take it, you just do it. It's like walking or dancing or anything else that you do that you don't have to think about – it's all mostly subroutines. And – hey, easy, doc!" he protested, jerking his right leg back a bit.

"You want me to go easy, stop fragging standing in front of Starscream's bloody cannons!" Ratchet spat back sourly, then continued under his non-existent breath, "Ironhide's going to hear from me about that once I get him in here. Using that rusted out excuse for a truck as a shield! Ha!" There was a snap-fizz! and electric sparks jetted up into the air. Bumblebee gave what sounded like a grunt, like a motor choking, and she felt him shift a bit. Ratchet brought a large, restraining hand down on the smaller robot's leg with a resounding clang! "Primus, 'Bee, you're not a new-built, so hold still!"

Mikaela, eyes rather large now, looked from the complaining, swearing medic up at Bumblebee who, though he didn't quite smile, seemed on the verge of it. He just shook his head and lifted a hand, palm upward. So apparently, Ratchet was always like that, she read that gesture. Reassured, she went back to watching him. And after a few moments, when nothing else sparked and Bumblebee didn't move, the medic took up the explanation he'd disrupted.

"All Cybertronians have a transformation subprocessor in their lower cortex that links up to a series of neural nodes dedicated to topological calculating. Topology," he informed her, when she frowned slightly, "is a set of mathematical theorems that allow the transformation node system to track surface form and describe the limits on shifting from one kind of surface to another, among other things."


Seeing that his explanation was not helping, he sighed and looked at Bumblebee. "A little help with an appropriate human example, here?"

Bumblebee, after staring into space for a minute, replied: "Think of a donut."

Unsure where this non-sequitur was going, Mikaela just shrugged. "Jelly or sprinkles or – ?"

"Not jelly. Something with a hole in it."

"All right."

"Now, think of a coffee cup – not the Dunkin' Donuts kind, but the kind with a handle."

She nodded, crossing her arms over her chest. "Okaaay..."

"All right, now, topology is what tells you that those two things are equivalent, and so you can change from one to another."

Mikaela stared at him. "A coffee cup is equivalent to a donut?" she said, dubiously.

"Topologically, yes."

Note to self, Mikaela thought, do not stand under any Autobots with hot liquids in case they think a tire will do for a cup. "So," she said slowly, trying to translate, "this math the subprocessor does is supposed to tell you what you can become?"

"Precisely," Ratchet said, still rooting around amid burnt out wiring. "Also, what shifts are impossible – some are ruled out automatically by a Cybertronian's internal structure. Bumblebee can't, for example, simply become a jet without significant reconfiguration. It's not within the range of specs he was designed for."


"Those aren't the only limits the transformation subprocessor tracks," Ratchet continued. "It also tracks where your mass goes and in what order the stages of any shape-shift take place."

Mikaela thought about this, then asked, by way of seeking confirmation of her guess, "So when you guys change, there's a reason it looks kind of the same all the time?"

"It isn't 'kind of the same,'" Bumblebee supplied, "it is the same sequence, every time."

"And that," the medic concluded, "is what those neural nodes mainly handle on a local scale. They do it, so that we don't have to think about any of it. They're embedded throughout our bodies – like this one." Ratchet turned a helpful light on a rent in Bumblebee's left-lateral thigh plating, and Mikaela leaned in to look. It didn't seem very big – no bigger than a pager, and there were a few lights on it, a few grooves in the surface. She had, of course, no idea why, though some of the marks seemed a little odd...

"Those aren't supposed to be there, are they?" she asked, indicating a couple of the indentations that seemed a bit charred around the edges of the grooves.

"No, those are the result of damage," the Autobot medic confirmed, running a laser over the surface of the node. Bumblebee twitched slightly, which earned him a glare. "Don't even think it," he said sharply.

"Tingles," Bumblebee retorted.

"Well, it should!" Ratchet groused.

"What happens if one of them is damaged?" Mikaela asked quickly, seeking to divert another round of grouchy medic.

"Then you can't transform," Ratchet replied. "Block one of them from functioning, and the whole system goes down, automatically. It wouldn't do to shear off a limb just because your system couldn't account for it, after all."

Mikaela had to admit that that sounded quite unpleasant, though she couldn't help but smile a little at the incongruous mental image. Then something struck her. "But if you can't transform at all, then how did you manage back there, what with all the shooting?" she asked Bumblebee.

"The same way Ratchet gets his tools out, despite having a few dents in his chrome," Bumblebee said breezily, and this time, Mikaela was quite sure he was goading the medic, who gave him a decidedly truculent look. "What, doc? Those can't be doing you any good!"

"Do you want me to fix you or not?" he demanded, and when Bumblebee held up his hands in surrender, the medic harrumphed. "Answer her question, then, and let me work!"

"Weapons systems are a different set of nodes," Bumblebee obediently explained. "Just like Ratchet's tool suite works on a different set of nodes. It's one of the things we figured out pretty quickly when the war started. It's bad enough to get shot and be unable to change to alt-mode, especially if your alt-mode might get you out of trouble faster than running; but being stuck in one form and without access to weapons?"

He shook his head. "Not anyone's idea of a good time, so they started designing and upgrading us so that weapons were on a separate localized system of nodes. Medics and other 'bots with specialized tools they might need to use even after they were damaged started doing the same. They're not as powerful, so you can do yourself some damage if you're unlucky or badly wounded already, but at least you've got a chance to do what you need to do, whether it's fix someone or take out the guy who dropped you."

"Huh." Mikaela watched, fascinated, as Ratchet felt about within the wound, seeming to be searching for something. Whatever it was, it apparently was eluding him, for his scowl became more and more pronounced, and she heard a sudden crunch – like aluminum bending, and then the truck bed wobbled as Bumblebee shifted. Ratchet swore, and after a moment, threw up his hands in disgust before slamming them down on the bed of the truck as he leaned in toward Bumblebee.

"For the last time, Bumblebee, if you won't hold still - "

"I'm not moving!" Bumblebee protested, and quickly released the now-heavily dented hoist of the tow truck.

"No, you're just wriggling like a live wire, that's all!" The two of them locked eyes. Ratchet gave a rather menacing snarl and ground out, in an entirely too reasonable voice: "You can either sit still, without shifting a single one of your wretched, grit-ground gears, or I can offline you. Which is it going to be?"

"I thought it wasn't supposed to hurt," Mikaela said, but neither of them bothered to answer, still staring each other down. She looked back and forth between them, then down at Bumblebee's leg, and the (relatively) tiny shaft or cavity Ratchet had been trying to access, and the itch in her fingers grew stronger. "Um, guys? If there's something up there you need to get at... I could do it." Two pairs of glowing blue eyes shifted her way, and Ratchet's left hand twitched slightly.

"We're not cars," he repeated flatly.

Mikaela, however, bolstered by the knowledge that Bumblebee at least was not protesting, drew herself up a bit (for all that didn't matter) and replied, with all the confidence her dad's training had given her, "I know. Just show me what to do. I'll learn."

"It's up to you, Ratchet," Bumblebee said after a moment. "I wouldn't mind, though, if you think she could help."

"Quiet, you," Ratchet snapped, without ever breaking eye contact. Finally, however, he eased back and flexed his hands a bit, then gestured for her to come take his place while he tapped a few panels or buttons on the inside of one wrist. Of a sudden, hovering in the air before her eyes, was a glowing schematic, surrounded on all sides with strange characters.

"It's like a... a knock sensor. Or something," she guessed, narrowing her eyes slightly against the blue glare of the image.

"Essentially, yes," Ratchet confirmed, still sounding somewhat irritated. "It's part of his neural system and should be located just along the side of his primary rotators, but it appears to have been impacted back up into his secondary support shafts."

Mikaela, glancing quickly between the projected image and Bumblebee's damaged limbs, put two and two together, and winced. "I think," she said, guiltily, "that that might've been my fault."

"Not at all," Bumblebee countered. "You got me into position. If you hadn't, Brawl might've taken Lennox's team down and he and Blackout would've gone on to pin Prime."

"Yeah, but I could've had you strapped in better, and those cars we hit – "

"This is touching, truly," Ratchet interrupted, clearly impatient, "but if we could return to the matter at hand?" Mikaela muttered a quick apology, and fell to listening attentively as Ratchet described the hazards of Bumblebee's internal workings and what not to touch at all costs, starting with gears and ending with " - energon injectors. They should be capped – he isn't leaking – but I don't know what the effects of direct contact with human flesh might be, even for dried energon."

"I'll do my best," she promised. Ratchet appeared on the verge of saying something, but he restrained himself and gestured for her to go ahead as he turned off the projector and lowered his arm. Mikaela approached Bumblebee and bent her head a little to get a look between armor plating and the intricate bundling of gears, wires, and support structures. As Ratchet helpfully positioned himself behind her so he could shine light on the problem, she took a deep breath, then carefully reached under the edge of what remained of the upper edges of knee-guard plating...

Ironhide rolled to a stop behind the fire truck and after a last, quick sensor sweep, transformed. He grimaced – Ratchet had declared him dented but an easy priority 3 on his triage list. Walking wounded, but no serious injuries that required immediate attention.

"Just don't grind your gears while you're waiting and you'll be fine," the medic had told him. And since Ironhide was in no mood to face the CMO in one of his infamous post-battle tempers, he had been careful, and even gone to the trouble of logging anything that felt odd or stressed for Ratchet's future consideration.

The future, however, could wait awhile longer. He had not come to the garage to see about pushing the dents out or anything of that sort. He had come because Prime had ordered him to recharge, and while he fully intended to do that, he wanted to check in on Bumblebee first. Not that he doubted that Ratchet could fix him – he had certainly repaired more serious injuries than the loss of limbs, and indeed, Ironhide had absolute confidence in the CMO's abilities. If Ratchet said Bumblebee could be repaired, then he looked to see their spy up and about in due time.

But no one who had fought a war as long as the Autobots had took even the most capable medic's assessment for granted. It was not distrust, it was simply respect for the tragic uncertainties of warfare that could snatch a life away without warning. The absence of a certain Solstice bore haunting testimony to that: Jazz, who would ordinarily have been the first to find his way to Bumblebee's side after a rough mission, was a palpable and painful absence.

And so when the human emergency team had declared their intention to go and seek out the girl, as per Lennox's request, Ironhide had followed along. It was not as though the garage were far, and since the municipal and military authorities had granted them leave to use the place, Ironhide had decided he might as well take them up on the offer. He could park in the back of the lot, somewhere out of sight, get in a few hours' recharge and be ready at hand should Ratchet or 'Bee need him for whatever reason.

As he followed the humans over the lot, he could hear Ratchet's familiar growl, but after a second, he frowned. He did not hear Bumblebee, but there was another voice – a very high one, sounding almost... cross. Indeed, as he approached, it became clear that a lively argument was underway:

" - but that doesn't make any sense! If this is supposed to feed into that, then shouldn't that coolant line pass through here?" said a young, organic voice.

"You're forgetting that temperature regulation in a Cybertronian's body doesn't rely solely on coolant lines," came Ratchet's sharp reply. "And you make no allowance for individual tolerance and solutions – those lower 'door-wings,' as you call them, are heat exchangers and draw a lot of heat away from his core, so he needs fewer cool – don't touch them, for Primus's sake! Your own radiation tolerance, no matter what the spectrum, is laughably low!"

"I wasn't touching, I was just looking, and there's not that much warmth coming off them."

'Bee? Ironhide sent silently through their HUD's electronic messaging system.

Oh thank Primus! came the instant reply, and as Ironhide ducked down to peer into the bay, he saw Bumblebee sprawled on his undercarriage on the floor of the garage, head resting on folded arms, while Ratchet and the girl stood behind him and argued over a pile of damaged parts and loose cabling they'd extracted from him. The little yellow 'bot let his head loll to one side and blue optics unshuttered as he looked up at Ironhide.

"Ratchet?" Ironhide spoke aloud this time, aware of the humans clustered about his ankles, hesitating at the sight of a three ton Autobot bickering with a human a mere fraction of his size. Not that size seemed to matter much to her as the girl grunted and began reconnecting tubes and wiring, apparently unfazed by the wrath of Ratchet. For his part, Ratchet watched a moment, his arms folded just under his front chassis, then raised his head and gave Ironhide a brisk nod.

"I was wondering when you'd show up," the CMO said, and then noticed the humans. "Are you the medical team Lennox promised?"

"Ah, yes, we are... sir," one of the paramedics replied, a touch nervously.

"Good. Mikaela," Ratchet said, leaning down to lay a hand very lightly upon her back, "leave that for me to finish. Your medics need to have a look at you."

"I'm ok," she replied absently, as she carefully plugged a cable back into place. Ratchet set his motor whirring, an impatient sound, and she sighed. But she straightened up without further complaint, giving Ratchet a weary smile.

"All right, all right, I'm going!" she assured him. "'Bee – behave!" was her parting admonition. She ignored the solid metallic thunk! of Bumblebee's faceplate against the floor as she made her way over to the waiting paramedics, who began guiding her back to their vehicle. Ironhide watched them a moment, then ducked his head and slunk into the garage.

"Don't mind me," he told Ratchet, and meant it. The medic harrumphed.

"Don't give me a reason to," came the quick reply, as the CMO bent swiftly over his patient, uncapping a laser scalpel.

"So," Ironhide said conversationally to the prone 'bot, "what's with the girl?"

"She's not just good with cars," came the slightly muffled non-sequitur of a reply. Did my logic relays take a hit out there? Ironhide wondered briefly.

Aloud, he asked sensibly: "What?"

Bumblebee's panel-array flexed, then drooped a bit, before he settled his head in his arms, gazing up at Ironhide out of the corners of his optics. "She needed something to do, and Ratchet needed a smaller pair of hands, so he let her poke around in my innards." A pause. "She's not bad."

"And the anatomy lesson?" Ironhide prompted, frowning as he peered at Bumblebee's panel-array. "None of us'll be winning any second looks for awhile, I'll grant you that, but for getting tossed into a fixed structure, those don't look too bad."

His smaller comrade grunted. "They're not. It's the coolant lines that are a mess. And you know Ratchet," Bumblebee said softly, "'F he takes someone on and lets 'em into his bay, he doesn't do anything by halves. Think I've learned more about my insides – and yours, and Optimus's, and Ratchet's, and Prowl's – than I ever wanted to know."

"Huh." Ironhide craned his servos and caught a glimpse of the girl, sitting on the back of the truck while one of the paramedics wiped some sort of fluid over her arms. "So... it's been a good day in the bay, is what you're saying."

"Good as it can be, all things considered," Bumblebee said, and smiled sadly as blue optics strayed to the motionless silver form laid carefully out to one side of the garage. Ironhide said nothing; there was nothing to say that wasn't a curse, and he didn't want to slide back into that initial furious grief he had known when Jazz's signal had blinked grey, then dropped right off his HUD. Much as it hurt, this grief was better – less bitter. Bumblebee perhaps sensed that, and perhaps he agreed, for he simply lowered his head, staring at the floor.

For a time, there was silence between them. But then, Bumblebee's vents cycled, and he looked up at him again. "How's Sam?" he asked.

"Dinged up and leaking a bit in places he shouldn't, but these guys – " Ironhide stuck a thumb back over his shoulder, aiming at the medics " – said he wasn't too badly off, given everything. They said bed rest with them for a day or two, a couple of tests to be sure of him, and then they'd release him. Optimus or I'll go get him when that happens, since –" and now Ironhide reached and clapped a hand on Bumblebee's shoulder " – you won't be going anywhere for awhile."

Bumblebee shuttered his optics, optical ridges canting down in a pained fashion. "Guess not," he said softly. Then, even more softly: "Thanks, 'Hide."

Ironhide, who freely admitted he took a certain pride in being the bluff, blunt-fisted powerhouse on Prime's team, cocked his head a moment, then grunted and gave Bumblebee's shoulder a pat. "Don't mention it." He glanced down the length of his supine comrade at Ratchet, still busily plying his laser-scalpel over Bumblebee's wounds, and said: "I'm gonna go find a spot to recharge in before the doc starts looking for someone else to torment. You want my advice, you'll do the same."

"I will in a little while," Bumblebee replied. "Catch some sun, 'Hide, while you're at it tomorrow – even I can see your power signature's dropped way down."

"Oh, I plan on it. I hear they use carbon-based fuel here. Hate that stuff." Ironhide unfolded as much as he could from his crouch, wary of putting a crack in the ceiling if he stood up too tall or quickly. He backed ungracefully out of the garage and straightened up, hearing gears grind a bit. There was grit in there, and he grimaced as a few rubbed against parts they oughtn't to rub against. He glanced once more at Ratchet, intently at work upon Bumblebee, and thought mournfully of the impending tender mercies he'd endure at the CMO's hands. Then he looked over at the parallel scene of the medics who had the girl, who was clutching a blanket about her shoulders, at their center. He frowned. Hadn't Ratchet said something about the boy and the girl when they'd first met up with them? And 'Bee had sent them that log of his efforts to establish some good will relations with Sam that he could fall back on, to ease the shock of first contact and convince him 'Bee was there to help. That had been before Barricade's arrival had blown all chance of a gentle first contact to slag...

Now, there was a reason Ironhide was not in the business of recon and diplomacy. Build aside, it just wasn't something he was good at. Less hardy beings tended to come away feeling bruised from encounters with him, and that was on a good day. He was just as happy therefore to leave that sort of thing to Jazz and Bumblebee, and follow them at a distance along the nicely paved road they created between the Autobots and other species.

Still, he'd seen a lot of strange places since leaving home, and he wasn't without manners. He could appreciate a job well done, and he knew how to get on in a military unit – you learned or you died, after all. He thought of the girl fishtailing out of that alley and charging straight back through havoc to let Bumblebee get the crucial drop on Brawl. She had guts, he'd give her that – and not just in the literal organic sense. And now that there was no home to go to any longer, and Prime had determined they had a duty to stay...

Cybertronians understood the importance of bonds. The world turned on functional bonds, allowing everyone to do the work they were built for. Thus in strange places, you relied not on received bonds, but on the bonds you built, and if you didn't know how to build them, you learned quickly. And the first rule of building bonds, Ironhide knew, was that you started with something solid – you didn't build on air.

Which was why he said casually, "Think I'll go see how the girl is first, though."

Bumblebee and Ratchet both looked up at him with some surprise. Ironhide scowled. "What?" he demanded. "Girl did a good job today in a tight spot. Might want the status on her friend, that's all."

"So long as you go straight to recharge afterwards," Ratchet said after a moment, though the warning lacked its usual threatening edge.

"Will do, doc." Ironhide tossed off a salute and turned to make his way over to his intended target. It took him all of three steps, and then he was looming over her, staring down and trying to think of a good way to get out what he needed first to say. She raised her eyes and stared back, looking perhaps a little shell-shocked. Ironhide understood that human beings, like most organic lifeforms, were a good deal less tough than cybernetic ones – they didn't withstand shocks of any sort very well, surviving mainly by frantic reproduction of numbers.

Which presented him with a dilemma – he didn't want to lay another shock on her, but Primus, it'd been a long day, after a long night and a longer forty Earth years on the hunt since Ghost 1. He didn't have Jazz's head for interpersonal matters or his sharp memory as a special ops agent, and the little things tended to escape him... Why is it, he wondered, that they can't have sensible names? Something that means something?

Perhaps she sensed his trouble. Or perhaps it was just that she, too, had been graced with some manners to fall back on in troubled times. For after a moment, she lifted a hand to him, holding it out, and when he had taken it, she gripped a knuckle as firmly as she could, and said, "Hi. I'm Mikaela." And then, before he could say anything in response: "Don't worry – Ratchet said Bumblebee will be fine."

Ironhide stared down at the diminutive creature, and he felt a smile spreading over his face. "Mikaela, is it?" he said after a short pause. "Ironhide." He didn't squeeze back, but he did very gently and fractionally 'shake' her hand, as he had seen other humans do upon meeting. "Good driving today, girl."

"Thanks." She smiled up at him, began to laugh a little and suddenly, part giddy, part tired, but all delighted, if the shine to her optics were anything to judge by.

It appeared that the building was off to a good start.

A/N: Disclaimer: Don't own, don't profit, please don't sue. Obviously, this is the 2007 movieverse, with shadings of the original cartoon characterization playing in, though again, I must stress my limited exposure to the cartoons and my debt to other talented fan authors for supplying a certain character consistency that helps orient me where Bay's movie provides no direction. Ironhide and Bumblebee are probably freer of fandom influence than Ratchet, and it shows, I think, in a less distinct characterization of them. Plus, Bay's Bumblebee is a hard nut to crack, period.

I've got a general idea that this story has one or two more chapters, and should focus mainly on Mikaela's relationship with the now homeless Autobots. However, on the chance that a plan certainly less than the best laid of them should go awry, I wrote this chapter in such a way that I think it can stand as a one-shot.

This is designed to be a character piece of sorts, but if you detect a certain fascination with just how these robots 'actually' function, then you've discerned the hidden motive. I like my fictional characters and cultures to make sense to me, and giant robots don't really make sense as they're presented. Mikaela seems like the logical character to give me an exploratory angle on Cybertronian physiology, which should also lead into ways this physiology might intersect with more interesting cross-cultural issues. Also, is it just me, or is she a little ignored unless she's with Sam around here?

Look up topology on Wikipedia for the idiot's guide to faking a conversation about how transformation works, as well as the traditional donut-cup joke.