Chapter Title: 'Hide and Seek
Characters: Will Lennox and Ironhide
Chapter rating: PG for filthy language
Chapter summary: Will learns that the Autobots aren't as serious as they make themselves out to be.

Captain Will Lennox cursed softly under his breath. While a large truck that drove itself and required no gasoline certainly had its benefits, there were also drawbacks. Such as said truck insisting that it be washed and waxed once a week minimum, and driving off on assignments of his own, leaving Will and his wife, Sarah, to share the Civic. This had given Sarah the opportunity to have a good long laugh at Will when he stood next to the car for a full minute, waiting for the door to open on its own.

And then there was the largest drawback: the truck itself would tease him mercilessly when he got lost in a megastore parking lot and couldn't remember where they'd parked. It was bad enough in his pre giant-robots-from-space days when he would finally find his vehicle and only berate himself, but now he had an alien with little patience for faulty human memory and a very dry sense of humor waiting for him. What was worse, Will just knew that Ironhide was watching him from somewhere in the lot, probably laughing about it with the other Autobots. Ironhide would often play the Autobots' communications chatter on his radio when Will was in the car, and Will had often been privy to their frustration and amusement at their human host's antics.

Just when Will was ready to call Ironhide with his cell phone, a familiar chirp rang out behind him. Will turned, and spied the large black bulk of the GMC Topkick two aisles over, the lights blinking in a perfect imitation of a vehicle locator. How on earth could I have missed him? Will wondered. I know I went down the aisle with the big cart corral. Mentally shrugging and outwardly groaning with effort, Will maneuvered the hand truck full of compost bags between the cars in the aisle and over to where Ironhide was waiting. Will was reminded of one of the benefits of knowing a sapient pick-up when the tail gate flipped down of its own accord, and the truck sank slightly on its rear axles, bringing the bed down lower to make it easier to load up the fifty pound bags of dirt Sarah had sent them out for. Wordlessly completing his task, Will wheeled the cart into the nearby corral and returned to Ironhide.

The driver's side door popped ajar as he approached, and Will opened it the rest of the way and swung himself inside. As the door closed again, the engine started and simultaneously the Topkick backed smoothly out of the tight parking space, executed a neat three point turn which missed a double-parked Expedition by a hairsbreadth, and drove off smoothly through the parking lot.

"Not. One. Word." Will growled through clenched teeth.

"I was not saying anything." The deep, cultured voice reverberated through the cab, amusement evident in the tone. "But really, Will. How many times are you going to lose me in that lot before we stop going to Costco?"

"We are not going to stop going to Costco, 'Hide." Will sighed. "I know you don't like parking here, but it's the only place nearby that sells landscaping products in any quantity at a decent price. Unless you'd prefer making a trip into the city to visit Lowe's or Wal-Mart."

An almost imperceptible shudder ran through Ironhide's chassis. "I'll pass." He growled. Will suppressed a chuckle. All of the Autobots had varying degrees of dislike for crowded parking lots. Bumblebee had explained it to him once, it was something about how close all of the cars were to one another and the unpredictable humans wandering everywhere that made the Autobots feel claustrophobic. A little boy had once run out behind Ironhide when they were pulling out from a parking space, and even though 'Hide had immediately stopped and was nowhere near hitting the tyke; it had taken Will a full three minutes to convince the truck to move again. He felt a pang of conscience at how unsympathetic he was being. The 'bots were doing their best to fit in to human society, and they were largely so successful at it that it was easy to forget how confusing and illogical it must seem to them.

"Don't worry, Big Guy." Reaching out, Will gave the dashboard a reassuring pat. "Only one more stop to go and then home." A rumble from the engine was the only response; the sound was one that Will had come to equate with the equivalent of an approving grunt.

Ironhide approached the exit of the parking lot, and slowed down a bit. "Where are we going next?" He asked, hanging back a bit before committing to a turn lane.

Will glanced at the shopping list in his pocket. "The Von's shopping center on Paseo." There was a harsher grinding sound from the engine – this was definitely a robot snort of disgust. "Look, I know you really don't like that parking lot, but they're the only supermarket in town that carries the brand of tuna Sarah likes."

"Why can't we park across the street? That lot is ridiculous. The last time we were there some adolescent humans initiated first-stage mating rituals against my fender!" Ironhide growled.

"'Hide, that 'street' is three busy lanes! I'd never get a cart across it and back, especially with the new wheel locking strips they've put down in the parking lot! What if we park in a back corner by the delivery entrance? Would that be alright?"


They drove in silence for a few minutes, with Will either gazing out the window or straightening up and pretending to drive depending on whether or not the drivers of the vehicles next to him seemed likely to notice that his truck was steering without his intervention. Suddenly the radio crackled to life, signaling one of the other Autobots contacting Ironhide.

"Optimus Prime, southbound on Interstate 5, going through Ashland, Oregon." The deep tones of the Autobot leader were over laced with the static tones of the Cybertronian language. Will had noticed that the Autobots went through a sort of roll-call before initiating general conversation over their radios. It had always struck him as odd that such a seemingly-formal process preceded what was usually just a casual chat, while more important and urgent messages were relayed without any observable preamble.

"Ratchet, Joshua Tree Marine Corps Base."

"Ironhide, eastbound on Via Real, Oak Hills, with Captain Lennox."

"Bumblebee, south bank of Tranquility Reservoir. Miles and Sam are swimming."

"Optimus, was the meeting with the Canadian Prime Minister satisfactory?" Ratchet asked.

"I enjoyed conversing with him, but I came away with the impression that he does not really believe that the Decepticons are a real threat to his nation." Will couldn't pinpoint the reason, but to his ears Optimus' voice sounded tired. "However, he did say that when other Autobots arrive, they are welcome to land in some of the sparsely populated areas in the north of Canada, and that the Canadian government will be happy to provide any assistance they may need. He will be initiating a survey of ideal landing locations and his people should have a report to Secretary Keller within the month. I will give a full briefing when I return to the base." Optimus clearly was not ready to talk about his latest diplomatic excursion.

"How's the shopping trip going, 'Hide?" Bumblebee's tone held nothing but guileless concern, and Will had long ago learned that that usually meant he was going to try and needle Ironhide into an incoherent rage. He sighed, and rested his head in his hands.

"We'd be done by now if Will could ever remember where I'm parked." Ironhide growled.

"Again, Will?" Bumblebee asked incredulously.

"Hey!" Will protested. "You've only had to honk at me once today. I found you fine at Blockbuster."

"The Oak Hills Blockbuster only has thirty spaces, Will." Bumblebee chuckled. "If you couldn't find Ironhide's big bumper there, I'd be concerned."

"Still," Ratchet interrupted. "Your continuing problems with corrupted memory files regarding Ironhide's location are troubling. Are you sure you don't need maintenance?"

"Ratchet, I'm fine." Will insisted. "Humans don't have memory files like you. We have to, well, remember to remember. And when I'm not parking myself, I tend to forget to make a mental note of where 'Hide is. That's all. I just need to get back in the habit."

Clearly dubious, Ratchet responded with, "If you are sure Will. You humans use so many unshielded magnets that I wouldn't be surprised if they were affecting your memory."

"Humans don't operate that way, Ratchet!" Bumblebee exclaimed. "They are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, for the most part. We don't need a repeat of last week's incident with Mikaela."

"We don't need to be bringing it up again, either Bumblebee." Optimus Prime said, a hint of a warning in his voice. Ironhide made a snickering sound (Will figured he must have picked it up from the humans somewhere along the line), and a short chirr of amusement from Bumblebee joined it on the speakers. Obviously there was a story there; he would have to see if he could pry it out of 'Hide later.

The Autobots were still chatting when Ironhide entered the strip mall parking lot that housed the Oak Hills Von's, and showed no sign of stopping as Will climbed out of Ironhide and made his way across the parking lot. Honestly, he thought, for all that 'ancient and noble race' front the 'bots try and put up, I've never seen a worse bunch of gossips in my life!

Will fished for the list Sarah had given him in his pockets. It wasn't there. Dammit, I'm never going to hear the end of it from 'Hide. Will thought as he turned to go back and look for the list in the Topkick. He had only gone half a dozen steps before he stopped cold, looking back to where he had left Ironhide.

The space was empty.

For a few seconds, Will simply stood still, staring at the empty spot as if his mind couldn't accept that the extremely large pickup had just vanished. Then he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. A very distinctive black tailgate was disappearing around the rear end of one of the large delivery semi trucks parked in the back lot.

"YOU SON OF A BITCH!" Will screamed, earning a shocked gasp from a matronly woman loading her groceries nearby. Will took no notice. Sprinting across the parking lot, shouting obscenities the whole way, he followed the truck, dodging other shoppers, carts, and cars as he wound his way around the back lot in hot pursuit of the Topkick.

Rounding a corner, he spied the absentee Autobot just rolling into a vacant spot on the edge of the lot, practically the opposite corner from his original position. Will ran up to Ironhide's side, and jerked the door open, prompting a surprised shout from the truck, and causing the other Autobots to fall silent. "You- you- you bastard!" Will hissed at Ironhide through clenched teeth. "I haven't been forgetting where you parked at all! You've been moving!" Will supposed that the reaction he had been hoping for was chagrin and repentance on the part of Ironhide. Instead, after a beat, all four Autobots erupted in hilarity.

"Oh, Primus, 'Hide – you've been moving?" exclaimed Bumblebee.

"It took him longer than I thought it would to figure it out," admitted Ironhide.

"Jazz would have been proud," added Ratchet. "This is better than when we convinced Glen that Robert Wise knew our language and that 'Klaatu Barada Nikto' really is the universal greeting."

Will was taken aback when he realized that even Optimus was chuckling. "Optimus!" he fumed, "Aren't you supposed to keep these buckets of bolts in line?! Do something!"

"Alright, Will." Optimus answered, amusement still making his voice buzz and dissolve into static intermittently. "Autobots, no more baiting the humans..." Will made a satisfied sound. "…until I get back to the base and can watch the fun in person."