Title: Another Gate

Rating: R

Disclaimer: Transformers and all related characters therein do not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: Several years into the future, the war between Autobots and Decepticons continues. Through it all, life goes on, and Sam is keeping a secret.

Author's Note: Part III and the finale of "Another Gate." Enjoy! Also, just as a side note: If you are not familiar with the area, "Mackinac" is pronounced "Mack-i-naw." And yes, there is a Mackinaw city, which is pronounced just as it's spelled. Neither name is to be confused with Fort Michilimackinac, in which case you pronounce the hard "c" at the end. As well, "Sault" is pronounced as "Soo." Yes, I know, Michiganders ARE crazy. I blame it on extended exposure to the cold.

This final part became too long for one entry, so it's split up into two. Sorry for any inconvenience!


Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood hath eternal life


"I hate crosswords. They make me feel stupid." With a disgusted sound, Sam tossed the offending section of newspaper to the side, letting it slide along Bumblebee's hood. "How do they expect us to get the answer with clues like, 'Wreaking havoc?'"

"Sideswipe and Sunstreaker," was Bumblebee's reply, alt. form shifting ever so slightly under Sam as Bumblebee settled more comfortably on his shocks.

"Tried it. But the answer's only ten letters."

Sam leaned back against Bumblebee's windshield, stretching out across the metal and glass and breathing in the cool night air. After ten straight hours of driving, their convoy had stopped for a break—the last one before they started the last stretch of the trip to Sault Ste. Marie. They were in Mackinaw City, at the very tip of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, and just in the distance Sam could make out the elegant, long blue lines of the Mackinac Bridge. Once across the Bridge, it would only take approximately six or seven hours to reach the Soo Locks, and the mission would be completed. All they had to do now was wait while the human contingent made their restroom break and Optimus with his groenite-filled trailer was weighed for the Bridge crossing. The Bridge Authority escort was already present and ready to go, Sideswipe was behaving himself, and they were making exceptionally good time.

If only…Sam folded his arms across his chest, pressing his hands tightly against his sides to help ease some of the pain in them. He had switched to gloves, a seemingly unremarkable move since he could blame it on the chill of Michigan autumns, but Sam knew he was cutting it close. Only seven hours to Sault Ste. Marie, but the time still had Sam on edge. Once the dissolution of his hands had progressed this far, he would have little other warning before the Takeover would begin, and he would be powerless to stop it or even hold it off for very long. The power of will only went so far.

A hesitant glance to the side confirmed that Optimus was only a short distance away, his weight cleared but still he had humans running about him and climbing in and out of the trailer for last-minute inspections and safety checks. He felt better to have Optimus so near, and for a moment Sam contemplated going the rest of the trip riding in Optimus, but that would result in too much explaining to Bumblebee. No, he would have to settle for letting Bumblebee drive and claim fatigue, all the while hoping for the best and praying for time. A deep, small tingling in his palms, below the throbbing, let Sam know that Optimus was scanning him—evidently keeping a close eye on him in return. I'm all right, Sam wanted to tell him, wanted to say as he pressed tightly against Optimus' leg plates in a need for comfort and safety. But stay close.

"Sam, are you ready?" Will called out, standing next to Sideswipe and waving a hand to get Sam's attention.

"Yep!" Sam yelled back, and he rolled off Bumblebee's hood as his guardian's engine started up in a low purr.

The escort closed in behind Bumblebee as they departed for the Bridge, their yellow lights flashing across the rear and side-view mirrors. It was an easy trip, with night traffic light and a toll lane opened just for them, and soon enough Sam felt the rise of the Bridge as it lifted them high above the Straits of Mackinac. He felt light, with the bright lights of the Bridge gleaming along the main towers, reflected like stars in the choppy waters below. Almost dizzying, really, as Sam swallowed a small lump in his throat and his heart pulsed low and deep—yes, almost dizzying…so much so that he almost did not hear the distant rumbling, just barely present over the hum of surrounding traffic.

Engines, powerful engines, trailing lines through the high, wispy clouds. Sam frowned, the sound itching at the back of his mind as he fought through the haze to recognize it. He rolled down the window, the wind rushing in and carrying the smell of the Lakes. Sam stuck his head out the window, looking behind Bumblebee and up, trying to determine the source of the rumbling. It was too steady for thunder, too smooth and rich for commercial airlines. No, these were the engines of jets, flying high. Hiding. A dip in the sound, bringing it closer, and Sam struggled against his dizziness as the pain in his hands ran through his blood in a fury.

"Oh, no," he managed to whisper before Bumblebee's voice rang out across the convoy's communication channels, engine revving to a high roar.


Sam reached for Bumblebee's dash, fingers fumbling with the buttons as Sam struggled to control their movements. "Everyone, get Optimus across! We need to draw their fire away from the Bridge!"

The lights of the escorts and non-sentient military vehicles immediately switched from a cautioning yellow to flaring red and blue, sirens screaming. Traffic quickly parted for them, pulling as far off to the side as they could go while Sideswipe skidded to a stop, tires leaving marks on the pavement. Will tumbled out, running to one of the jeeps as Sideswipe transformed, cannon already formed and aiming before the rest of him had settled into place.

"How the fuck did they find out about the groenite?" Will shouted into his communicator, straining to be heard over the sirens blaring from both vehicles and Bridge PA system.

"I don't think they have," Sam replied as Bumblebee sped up to remain close to Optimus. "I think they just found out that we're here and it would be a good time to make some trouble."

"They want trouble, they can have it!" Sideswipe spoke up, and Sam could hear the distinct blasting of cannons firing, working to deflect oncoming shots to the Bridge. The Seekers came low, dipping underneath the Bridge and coming up the other side. They were quick to split, making Sideswipe twist and turn to keep up with the both of them.

"Dammit," Sam swore as he twisted in his seat to catch sight of them. Purple and blue metal sparkled darkly in the Bridge's lights, practically dancing in the air and undoubtedly mocking the meager Autobot force. Sideswipe was alone, trying to fend them off while still moving to cross, and the Seekers were easily evading the human guns. They were playing. "That's Skywarp and Thundercracker. Dammit," he said again.

"I can't go faster than this," Optimus' voice crackled over Bumblebee's radio. "The wind shears are keeping me off balance."

"We only have two more miles to St. Ignace," Sam replied. Ahead of him, he could see Optimus wavering, the trailer rocking back and forth in the wind. "Everyone, go as fast as you can—"

A high scream tore through the air, and Sam instinctively ducked as the shot hit its target. A sharp, metallic twang was followed by a low groan that reverberated through the cement and up through Bumblebee's tires. The Seekers had evidently realized that Optimus was not transforming, not turning to fight, and they were quick to take advantage of it. One of them had fired on the Bridge itself, and at least one suspension cable had snapped, the main towers moaning with the effort of keeping the Bridge upright and in place. Sam straightened and slammed a foot down on Bumblebee's brake, a motion that surprised Bumblebee enough that he came to a sliding halt.

"Sam, what—"

Sam jumped out of Bumblebee, raising an arm to hail Will.

"Bumblebee, you need to go help Sideswipe. I'll go with Will to the other side and help with evacuations."

"But Sam—"

"Go, Bumblebee! I'll be all right—see you in St. Ignace!" Sam shouted, giving a small kick to Bumblebee's tire. Bumblebee seemed hesitant to let Sam go, but another shot just barely deflected by Sideswipe seemed to bring him to his senses, and before Sam had even reached the jeep, he was back in bipedal form and firing rapidly on Thundercracker.

"Hey, Bumblebee!" Sam heard Sideswipe call out, sounding like he was having just a little too much fun. "First one to shoot a birdie gets a prize!"


"Playing a prank on Ratchet while the loser takes the blame!"

"I'm in!" Bumblebee exclaimed, crouching low to take aim.

Pulling up next to Sam, Will leaned over the edge to hold a hand out and offer a lift in. Sam reached for it, but a white-hot throb traveled up his arm, bringing him up short. He stumbled against the side of the jeep, clutching at his left bicep and struggling to take in a breath.

"Sam! Are you all right?" Will shouted, looking ready to leap out and come to his aid. Sam nodded, willing the pain to recede enough that he could wrap his tongue around his voice.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Let's go," he replied, knowing that the crack in his voice was hardly convincing but there was no other option than for his order to be followed. A soldier helped roughly pull Sam in, and once he was relatively seated, the jeep sped off to catch up with the rest of the group. Optimus was almost to the other side, on the downhill of the Bridge as it entered St. Ignace. He nearly flew through the toll lanes, which were wide open to allow the panicked traffic to pass through to safety. Once on land, Optimus detached himself from the trailer with lightening speed and rolled into his transformation, firing a shot high to announce his participation in the battle. It seemed a waste of a shot, of losing the element of surprise, but really, they did not have the time for that. What they needed was to draw the Seekers' attention, to bring them away from the Bridge, and to Sam's delight, it worked.

Evil, obnoxious, and sneaky as they were, Thundercracker and Skywarp were not stupid. Optimus was the biggest threat, had the best chance of taking at least one of them down, and so they were quick to abandon Bumblebee and Sideswipe to turn and team up against Optimus. It was dangerous, and the sooner Bumblebee and Sideswipe caught up the better, but Optimus could take care of himself. As soon as the jeep came to a stop, Sam hopped out and started to run up to the parked highway patrol vehicles to help with area evacuation. With blasts shaking the ground and arcs of flashing light splitting the sky in two, Sam flashed his badge to the deputies as he pulled out his own handgun from a side holster. Most of the general public and civil service workers knew his face, and would give him deference, but he could never be too careful when dealing with panicked crowds. Hence the gun. While little more than a peashooter to the Seekers, the gun was meant to deal with humans, used as intimidation to get them to listen when their brains were focused on nothing else than screaming and getting in the way.

It was hard to hold, though, the gun. Only by looping a finger through the trigger guard could he keep it from falling, the grip in his palm at this point nonexistent. And a stiffness was creeping down his thighbone, past his knee, causing him to limp across the road.

"Ambassador Witwicky," a man acknowledged as Sam approached, snapping a sharp salute. The badge across his chest pocket read 'Sherriff.' One good thing about being in the public eye so often, Sam mused, was that people were finally getting his name right. Sam waved the formality off, the sheriff stepping up beside him as he moved into the throng of police vehicles.

"I want the people in the surrounding buildings in their bomb shelters if they have them, tornado safety areas if they don't. I also want traffic reversed in the southbound lanes, open it to northbound evacuees to increase traffic flow. Send a message to the Mackinaw City units and tell them that I want the opposite there; close off the Bridge and reverse northbound traffic to create additional southbound lanes. I want people moved out of here."

"Yes, sir!"

Several officers moved to complete Sam's order, the rest either taking up station behind their cars or spreading out to surrounding buildings. Sirens from the Bridge and nearby telephone towers filled the night, punctuated by the firing of Autobot and Decepticon cannons alike. Sam chanced a glance backwards, saw that Optimus was holding his ground by the trailer and was using it as a shield from flying debris. His shots were steady, reserved; he saved them for when he was sure of his aim. Bumblebee and Sideswipe were not nearly as conservative, too caught up in their contest and firing without hesitation. Sideswipe was the first to nick Thundercracker, the shot skimming across the Decepticon's right wing and causing him to falter in midair. Sideswipe let out a victorious cry, pointing to Bumblebee.

"It counts, Bumblebee!" he shouted out. "I got first hit!"

A blow from Optimus, sword-arm glowing brightly as he swiped upwards at Thundercracker, who was still faltering and trying to regain altitude. It connected with one of his engines, sparks flying from the contact as Thundercracker shrieked in pain and surprise.

"I got the better hit," Optimus called back. "This means I get to play the prank, and you both have to take the blame."

"No way, Optimus!" Sideswipe exclaimed, ducking a missile from Skywarp. "The rule was first hit!"

"Yes, but I'm in charge."

Sam let himself laugh, turning back to the buildings. They were all right. And with Thundercracker hopefully disabled, both he and Skywarp would retreat soon. Without Starscream to order them around, they were timid and quick to retreat in face of a real battle. Most likely they had come to stir up a little chaos, to cause some mayhem before leaving—they were, in essence, cowards.

"U.S. Government! Sector Seven!" Sam shouted as he opened the door to a small residence building, the first on the outskirts of town. A group of people, a family, Sam assumed, were sitting huddled on their couch, eyes wide and knuckles white from clinging to each other. He supposed the cannon blasts were rather loud to those not used to them. Even in the confusion, the fear, the man frowned at Sam, puzzled. The woman only stared at the gun hanging loosely in his hand.

"Sector Seven? Never heard of it."

Sam cocked a half smile at him.

"Never will."

"You're him, aren't you?" a girl—their daughter, Sam thought—spoke up from the couch, looking at him with more curiosity than fear. "Sam Witwicky."

Ha. Even twelve-year olds were getting it. Sam made a mental note to gloat to Mikaela. This time, Sam's smile was more full, reassuring. At their daughter's statement, Sam could see recognition flood the parents' faces, and most of the fear turned to surprise and just a little bit of awe. It was not entirely surprising; his name was synonymous with the Autobots, with saving the world, and people remembered it. And while it had taken some getting used to, he knew what he was.

"We are currently under a Decepticon attack. If you have a basement, go there and stay until you receive the all clear," Sam said, looking at the young girl and boy to drive home the unspoken point to keep the children safe. An explosion, uncomfortably close, had the small house rocking on its foundation, and the woman clutched more tightly to her children. Sam stumbled, catching himself on a side table and barely restraining a groan of pain as the edge of the wood dug into his palm.

"Will the Autobots come?" the woman asked, fear and hope vying for a place in her voice.

"They're already here, ma'am," Sam responded as he straightened, shaking his hand to ease the pins and needles within. "Including Optimus Prime himself."

He was wasting time, and he knew it—he needed to get to more people more quickly, but Sam had never quite gotten the hang of not being able to offer reassurance when it was needed. It was almost worth it to see the relief visibly slump both husband and wife's shoulders; to see the effect that Optimus' name had on everyone.

"Did you hear that Annabelle?" the wife murmured to her now shaking daughter. "The Autobots are here. Everything's going to be fine."

"Annabelle," Sam said, and the young girl looked up at him. "Pretty name. Now please, get under cover," he finished, strengthening his tone to form an order before turning to run back out of the door and back out onto the short-cut grass of the front lawn. He would have to move swiftly, and if the next group of people did not treat him like—

Sam gasped, his heart skipping a beat and causing him to fall to one knee. He stretched out a hand to catch his fall, but it only sent shockwaves up the sensitized, softening bone. The moment of breathlessness and pain was just that—a moment, and Sam moved to stand up again. Only a few steps were made, however, before a wave of pain swept through him, and he collapsed, falling to his side. His heart was heavy, pumping quickly and feeling so close to the surface of his skin, as though it were trying to escape his ribcage.

"No," Sam whispered, desperate. "Please, God, no. Not here. Not now."

But the prayer fell on deaf ears. As though a cord had been threaded through him, Sam folded in half, mouth falling open in a silent scream against the arrows of pain that were threading their way through his body, tearing open veins and scraping his lungs. A second's passing, though, took the pain with it, and Sam was left panting and sore but free of agony. Oh, how he hated this part, as though the Takeover could not quite determine how to proceed. And it was different every time; it could start at his feet, neck, hips, throat…but first it had to twist its way out of his hands and seed itself elsewhere. This interval of respite, the eye of the storm, always varied in its length, as well. It could last anywhere from three hours to mere minutes. As it waited. As it grew.

"Optimus," Sam murmured, reached a hand out across the grass, feeling the frost that had formed from the dew left by the afternoon drizzle. The ground no longer shook with missile hits, but flashes still blinded him in moments of brilliance. After a moment, they stopped, leaving only their echoes. Distant cheering from near the bridge came lightly across the grass, and Sam smiled. He had been right—Skywarp and Thundercracker had retreated, and he just knew casualties had been light, if any. He wanted to celebrate, wanted to go and put everything back together the way it was supposed to be, but his muscles were not listening to him, nerves lethargic. Ratchet was right, Sam thought distantly. He should not have tried to hold it back, and now he was paying for it.

People were running towards him, shouting, but it had been something else—Sam could tell that they did not see him; his mind raced even as the rest of him struggled to keep pace with itself. At least, they did not see him until Will did, the man's voice welcome in the cold.

"Sam! Sam, are you all right? Were you hit?" Will was asking him, reaching out to touch his shoulder to confirm his 'living' status.

"No," Sam heard himself say through cracked lips. "I wasn't hit. But I need Optimus. Please get him."

And please go away. You can't see this.

He crumpled under the new onslaught of pain—in the ribs, this time—and Will worked the communicator on his wrist, calling for Optimus.

"Optimus, get over here, there's something wrong with Sam."

Astonishing, really, how fast Optimus could move. Sam dug his face into the ground, relishing the tremors of Optimus' approaching steps; they were heavy, quick—he was running. And judging by the very faint echo, barely out of sync with Optimus' step, he was just keeping ahead of Bumblebee. Shit, Sam thought, though he might have believed he said it aloud, judging by the way bloody saliva sprayed out the side of his mouth with the effort of talking. He did not want Bumblebee here. The throbbing pain returned, squeezing the arches of his ribs, and he twitched under it even as he reached for Optimus when the Autobot leader came up next to him and knelt.

"Sam!" Bumblebee shouted, reaching for his charge but was stopped as Optimus placed his own hand gently over Sam's body.

"Colonel," Optimus said, drawing Will's attention upwards. Optimus's gaze was serious, the light of his optics cold. "Have you ever skinned an animal?"

Covered as he was by the gentle touch of Optimus' fingers, eased slightly by the slight current of energy running through them and relaxing tensed muscles, Sam wished he could have seen Will's face.

"What?" Will asked, clearly stunned. "I mean, I used to help my dad skin rabbits and deer when I was little and he took me hunting, but what—"

"Have you any mental reservations about performing the same task on a human cadaver?"

Scratch the previous statement. Sam wanted to see Will's face at that. And everyone else's, as well, judging by the silence that had fallen over the gathered soldiers and Autobots. He would have laughed, had the webbing pain not stretched itself deeper into bones and tissue. Sam whimpered, and Optimus fingers curled more tightly around him, forming a protective embrace before gently picking him up and holding him close to red metal chest plates.

"Optimus, please. I need the water…" Sam said, reaching out to try and run a hand along the glass, but his lack of coordination with it only caused him to scrape his knuckles, the gloves doing little to protect him at this point.

"Don't worry, Sam," Optimus murmured. "I got you, boy. Sideswipe, evacuate the immediate area. Now. Will, take the rest of the soldiers and find the local morgue. I need two human cadavers, preferably John Does but if not, make sure they are listed as organ donors. They do not have to be completely intact, and you have the authority to remove the needed bodies."

Sam knew Will had to be confused, had to be hesitant and unwilling, but the situation left him little other choice than to trust in Optimus and follow orders. The soldiers present followed the command, scattering back to those vehicles that had been undamaged in the Decepticon attack.

"Bumblebee, go with them," Optimus said, already starting to move back towards the Bridge.

"No," Bumblebee replied. "I'm staying with Sam."

"That's an order, Bumblebee."

"One I will have to disobey, sir," Bumblebee said, tone just as forceful and entirely unrepentant. Optimus was going to argue, was ready to use force, but Sam writhed in Optimus' grip, making the decision for him. There was not enough time.

"Then stay out of the way," Optimus conceded, angry but unable to do anything about it for the moment. Sam folded in on himself again, the throbbing having changed to a sensation of millions upon millions of fire ants, biting and eating him from the inside out. Water, he needed water—and he could not stop the cry of sheer relief as Optimus set him down on the pebbly shoreline, the tiny waves lipping at his finger tips. It was so wonderfully, excruciatingly cold. It gave him the strength, the incentive to crawl to his hands and knees and push himself toward the water.

Only to be stopped by the large, heavy hand of Bumblebee coming down in front of him.

"Sam, please, what's wrong?" Bumblebee's fingers curled, ready to pluck him from the icy waters, but Sam's cry of distress stopped him. Sam draped himself across Bumblebee's forefinger, using it to rest a moment.

"Bumblebee, stop," he rasped, trying to give Bumblebee a reassuring pat but failing. "You don't understand. The All Spark—"

Oh, God…it hurt. Anything to make it stop. Anything.

"What about the All Spark?"

"When…when I destroyed Megatron, it left residual energy. It, it kills me, Bumblebee."

Sam could practically feel the alarm, hear the flow of energy spike through Bumblebee's energon lines as warnings flashed in panic.

"It's killing you!?" Bumblebee exclaimed, grip tightening to what would be painful levels, had pain not already enveloped Sam's mind, crowding his thoughts. Sam shook his head.

"No, it kills me. Once a year. And I need the water, Bumblebee, to make it easier. I'll be all right, trust me. Please, let me go."

"Sam, I can't—"

"Optimus!" Sam screamed, desperate and sobbing for it. "Make him let go."

Almost instantly, Optimus was there, pulling Bumblebee away and prying his grip off of Sam. Finally free, Sam crawled into the Straits of Mackinac, muscles weakening with each movement as they dissolved underneath his skin. The alloy stretching its way through him was heavy, made him sink, kept him moving across the rocky bottom. His lungs did not even burn with the need for air. Through the cold water, Sam could hear the crush of metal as Bumblebee struggled against Optimus' hold, heard the Cybertronian curses being spat at the Autobot leader.

Ah, the cold felt good. Its numbness spread, familiar, into his bones, traveling through the alloy webbing that made up his hands. He was hanging on by a mere thread, Sam knew. And it was easy to let go. He did not feel his heart stop—he did not have to. He knew it the moment he heard Bumblebee scream, and scream endlessly, voice garbled by the rushing water around Sam's ears.

It's okay, Bumblebee, Sam thought as a warm netting closed in around his mind, so comforting, a caterpillar's cocoon that blocked out the rest of the world. His mind faded, closed off and folded inwards, like a neatly pressed blanket that was fresh from the dryer. I'll be right back.


By all accounts, the day was lovely. Full sunshine, with just enough warmth to stave off an uncomfortable chill, leaving the air crisp and fresh. The sky was blue, blue as only an autumn sky can achieve, skirted by the brilliant colors of changing leaves that drifted lazily down from tree branches. Even the grass was still soft and green. If the South was unmatched for the spring season, then autumn most assuredly belonged to the North. The smell of apples seemed to linger on the breeze itself.

Bumblebee sat in the sunshine, high on a hill that overlooked the Soo locks. The water glittered in the light, the glare almost too bright, and the ships moved steadily, slowly, in and out. He watched the freighters make their sluggish way into position, keeping his attention focused on them and not looking up when small footsteps padded their way through the grass towards him. Going barefoot was probably a little childish, Sam knew, and already he had endured some teasing from Will and the other soldiers, but it was the last day of the year to go barefoot and he was not about to waste it. And the ground was still faintly warm, soothing on newly formed skin, the grass pressing between his toes like the softest carpet ever made.

Sam sat next to Bumblebee, cross-legged, and leaned back to brace his weight on unbandaged, completely whole hands. Sam imagined he could feel the weight of Bumblebee's scanners rest on his hands, penetrating deeply. He decided to remain quiet, and let Bumblebee speak first. Sam owed his guardian that much.

"Optimus tried to tell me what this was all about," Bumblebee said at length, pointedly not looking at Sam. "But I would not let him. I wanted to hear it from you."

He was angry, had every right to be, and Sam sighed with regret. Whenever he had decided to tell Bumblebee the truth about his 'illness,' he had certainly never planned for it to be this way.

"Bumblebee, are you sure you want—"

"I watched Optimus pull you out of the water, Sam," Bumblebee interrupted, finally turning his head to look down at his friend. "And I didn't even believe it was you, a mess of metal and tissue, hanging from you like torn ribbons as though you had been sent through a shredder. Even most of your face was gone, the lower half of your skull missing. The only thing holding you together was this…web. I watched Will and Optimus skin two human bodies, remove their organs and stuff them into you, then place the skin over you like a blanket. I watched you die, Sam, and a day later you are up and walking around, as new as can be. And you ask me if I want to know what happened."

Sam looked down, avoiding Bumblebee's penetrating stare and instead concentrating on the last of the summer's insects make their way through the grass blades. He took a deep breath, steeling himself to tell the story he had before only told himself, in silence.

"The first time this happened, it was about a year after the Mission City battle. Well, really, it was a couple weeks after, when I noticed that my hands were hurting, itching. At first I thought it was an allergy, or a tendon strain or whatever, but it kept getting worse. You didn't seem to notice anything amiss, so I wasn't too worried. But it began to hurt more, and every time I scratched at it, I would start to bleed. When we visited the new base, I talked to Ratchet about it. He didn't know what was causing it, but as time went on and my hands started to deteriorate, we figured it was due to me handling the All Spark. Some reaction with organic life forms, or something.

"I didn't tell you because I didn't want to worry you just yet, and soon my hands stopped deteriorating—they just stayed like they were. Ratchet was working on a way to get them back to normal, so I just kept it to myself. About a year after that, you were sent on a mission to welcome a new arrival, who landed in upstate New York."

"Yes, I remember. It was Prowl."

Sam nodded, and opened his mouth to continue, but he still could not raise his gaze to meet Bumblebee's.

"While you were gone, Optimus acted as my guardian, and I stayed at the base with him. Ratchet told him about my hands, and we decided to go to the old Sector Seven base at the Hoover Dam, to see if they had any records or information on similar occurrences with their researchers. While we were there, well…it was pretty much like what happened yesterday. All of a sudden, the pain I had felt in my hands started to spread, to all over, and it made me panic. I think it scared Optimus half to death—he didn't know what was happening, didn't know what to do, and we were alone. I don't really remember a whole of it, but I do remember trying to get to the water, trying to jump into Lake Mead. Everything's just…blank, after that. The next thing I knew, I was waking up in Ratchet's medbay, pain gone and hands completely healed.

"The nearest we can figure, when I destroyed the All Spark, it started to try and create a new body—I mean, that's what it did, whenever its energy was focused. I caught the backlash of it, and…I don't have any part of the All Spark in me, but some of its creative energy is caught in me, like a program that keeps looping. And it keeps trying to make a new body. It starts with my hands, since that was the point of contact, and it replaces my tissues and bones with an alloy. It doesn't work, of course, my body keeps rejecting it. The energy spreads, trying to compensate for organic life, and when it doesn't work, it just…deletes it and starts all over again. It creates a new organic body for me to try again, trying a new method every time."

"What about the bodies?" Bumblebee questioned, voice no longer angry, but Sam was hard pressed to identify any one emotion within it. Sam sighed heavily, feeling his shoulders slump with weight.

"The bodies," Sam murmured. "Well, as I said, the All Spark energy creates a new organic body for me so it can start the process over. But it got rid of all my other tissues, and it's impossible to create or destroy matter. It can just be changed. The energy needed a new source of skin and organs. I don't remember any of it, but Ratchet told me. He was working with a human doctor, to learn more about Earth medicine and human physiology. A Dr. Richard Williams. They were both there when Optimus brought me back, already dead. I imagine I looked horrifying, but Dr. Williams and Ratchet both agreed to do as best an autopsy as they could, to determine exactly what the All Spark energy did to me. Ratchet went to gather some tools while Dr. Williams came up next to me to get a closer look.

"Apparently, according to Ratchet, at that moment I just…sat up. I grabbed him and…" Sam stopped, taking a deep, shuddering breath before continuing. "Ratchet said I started peeling his skin off like I was peeling a banana. I snapped his bones in half to get at the marrow and eat it, ripped the organs out and unfolded them to get a closer look. Stretched his muscles over my own form, placed his eyes into my own sockets. Tried to put his skin on like a coat. Poor Ratchet. He had no clue as to what was happening and he had to watch as I ripped this man apart. Then, I guess I just stopped. Collapsed, and Ratchet said I began to reform, most of Dr. Williams' parts reshaping to become my own. And then about eight hours later, I woke up, completely fine with no memory past Lake Mead."

Here, Sam dared a look up at Bumblebee, dreading what he would see but instead only found Bumblebee's expression unreadable. Sam continued talking.

"Each human cell has, within it, DNA. It is the blueprint for our bodies, which proteins to synthesize and when. We think that the All Spark energy read my DNA, RNA…the entire layout of the cells and stored that information. When I receive the new parts from someone else, the energy reconfigures the DNA present to match my own genetic information. Those parts become my own. The All Spark energy then sets those cells to dividing, and when there's not enough, believe it or not, it uses the adult stem cells to create new ones.

"Don't worry about me going all angsty on the whole 'it's not really me,' and 'I'm not human' drama spiel. I already went through all that with Optimus nine years ago, and I'm over it. I know I'm still Sam. It's still me," Sam repeated, softly. He leaned forwards, shifting his balance and bringing complete, unmarked hands into his lap. He flexed his fingers, each movement precise, controlled, and felt. "It's more me than perhaps I was before."

Sam jumped as he felt a weight settle behind him, lightly, across his spine. Bumblebee's hand curled around him, the metal warm from sitting out in the sun.

"You said that stem cells—"

Sam shook his head, cutting Bumblebee off.

"No, we tried it. We tried to give the All Spark energy just stem cells to use and reformat, but it didn't work. I need a full body donor. We try our best to be respectful to the person's family, though, if they had one, and give them something to bury or scatter. And it doesn't matter if the person is male or female, old or young—whoever it is becomes me, and they cease to exist."

"And if there's no donor available?"

"Don't know. I'd either go looking for one or just be kept in stasis until one came near enough for me to seize—Ratchet and I aren't too eager to find out. I'm just grateful it wasn't Mikaela helping Ratchet out that day," Sam mused, bringing his legs up to wrap his arms around them. He rested his chin on his knees, watching the boats go sailing by. One of Bumblebee's fingers curled around his arms, pressing gently in as though he were trying to convince himself of the feel. That Sam was not about to disappear. Another finger dipped low under his hip, shifting slightly while Bumblebee contemplated whether or not to pick Sam up.

"Are you mad at me?" Sam asked quietly, squeezing tighter in on himself. He had really not mean for Bumblebee to find out this way, if at all. So much could change, and Bumblebee was the one thing he was not sure he could handle losing.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Bumblebee questioned in turn, and Sam felt himself wither. This was the question he had been avoiding for going on ten years—all that time, all those sleepless nights trying to come up with a response, and still he had not been able to form a satisfactory answer. Even then, it was not likely Bumblebee would accept any response, no matter how reasonable.

"I didn't want you to look at me differently," Sam answered at length.

Bumblebee pulled away, not confident that his grip could keep from becoming too tight.

"Do you think so little of me, Sam?"

Sam winced. Bumblebee was not angry. Worse. He was hurt. Disappointed. Damn it. This was exactly what he did not want.

"It's not that, Bumblebee, it's just…it seemed better if no one knew. Everyone could keep their normal lives and…"

"And so you could, too?" Bumblebee finished for Sam. Sam dipped his head, barely looking over the tops of his knees and focusing on the water moving through the Locks. Even so far from the next Recycling period, the sight of the water soothed him. Eased the guilt that was tugging at him. Bumblebee was right, and Sam knew he was being selfish—had been selfish for ten years. He had been hiding, but not from everyone else, as he had tried to convince himself.

"I'm not mad at you, Sam," Bumblebee said, answering Sam's earlier question. "Just angry that I couldn't be there for you when you needed me. I don't want to feel like such a failure to you again. Ever."

And forever, Sam added silently, looking up at Bumblebee. His guardian, his friend, his…God, was there even a word? Sam smiled, feeling a warm wetness building behind his eyes. They did not even have to say it—Sam just moved, resting up against Bumblebee's thigh as Bumblebee's hand came back around to support him. Sam laid his palm flat against the bright yellow metal, sighing heavily at the wonderful feel of it.

"You look tired," Bumblebee murmured, stroking a thumb across Sam's back.

"I had a rough night. Couldn't sleep," Sam replied.

"Do you want to go back inside?"

Sam shook his head. Work could wait. After all, he had all the time in the world. No, he much preferred to stay like this, cushioned on grass and resting up against his partner, both watching the freighters move the world along as they glided across the pale blue water.

"Nah," Sam said. "Let's stay here for a bit. The sun feels good."