Author's notes:

This was really supposed to be a shorter story! I just can't write 'short' for the life of me.

I don't generally put that many warnings on my stories, but I will for this one. Bluntly, it's got a threesome in it, and it's got slash, in that 'slash' involves alien robots without true genders, who are using male pronouns. The threesome is the obvious one. Eventually. After lots of angst and personal growth.

Nobody, not even Bumblebee, remembered about the contents of the metal ammunition case in 'Bee's's trunk for four hectic days following the attempt by Decepticons to destroy the world.

There was just so much to do. For twenty-four hours they remained on the aircraft carrier. There were debriefings, Autobot meetings, Autobot meetings with Sam, soldier-plus-Autobot meetings, and meetings with the soldiers and Sam, and all of this taking place amid a series of badly needed repairs for all the 'bots. He'd personally taken quite a bit of damage and when Ratchet summoned him to the makeshift med bay tent on deck, repairs took several hours. At least Ratchet also managed to cobble together a new fix to his badly damaged voice box using a jury-rigged human made part and some plasma.

He'd taken battle damage from Megatron years ago. The replacement part for a proper repair was on order, had been for what felt like forever, and might arrive on the next transport ship. Maybe.

Sam probably hadn't slept much for days before the final fire fight, and yet, after Bee got Ratchet's all clear to return to duty, he discovered that Sam was still up and on his feet. Sam and Optimus were out on the deck, in the dark, having some sort of interview with some sort of general with lots of braids on his shoulders. Bee didn't recognize him. Bee didn't care. Bee wouldn't have cared if the man was the president himself, at this point. Sam had clearly had enough. So, for that matter, had 'Bee.

Sam was clutching a coffee cup in one hand, and rubbing his eyes with the other, and he looked like death warmed over. He was visibly swaying on his feet -- literally weaving back and forth, and as Bee walked across the metal flight deck. He purposefully made lots of noise, yet Sam barely looked up and only gave him the faintest ghost of a smile of greeting. The human had showered and had been given a pair of fatigues at some point, but he was still covered in bruises. That was ample evidence and reminder that Sam had literally died out there on the desert sands. And yet they were asking more of him.

Bee gave Optimus a look of reproach, wrapped a hand around Sam's shoulders, and addressed both the high-ranking officer (whoever the hell he was) and Optimus with a firm, "Sam needs some sleep."

Optimus blinked his optics a couple of times and ran a hand over his face in a gesture that he'd certainly deliberately copied from humans. Optimus's face lacked much expression and he tried to make up for it with copied human body language. Optimus said, "Bee has a point. I believe Sam needs some rest. Shall we continue this tomorrow?"

Bee figured Optimus needed a recharge just about as much as Sam did, actually, as well as some major repairs. He said, "They're waiting for you in the repair tent, Big Boss."

Optimus looked like he wanted to decline the suggestion. Bee, who had known Optimus for almost as long as he'd been alive -- which was a good bit longer than human civilization had existed -- met his leader's eyes with a silent look. He knew Optimus would keep going until he physically couldn't, and Ratchet had to carry the boss bot to the tent. He also knew they needed Optimus in good working order, both mentally and physically fit. Megatron was still out there somewhere. Bee wasn't about to tell Optimus to go get fixed. He didn't have Ratchet's bravado, or temper. But he hoped Optimus would take his muted suggestion, because it was so crystal clear that he'd pushed himself far enough.

They both blinked simultaneously, and Optimus said, "I do need repairs and I believe everyone else is done. General Heinz, we can continue this discussion tomorrow ..."

Bee practically sagged in place with relief.

"I still had a few more questions, if you wouldn't mind. We can wrap this up after that," Heinz cut Optimus off. The general didn't sound like a man used to being argued with, and he was apparently not afraid of robots.

Bee had just faced down the last Prime without flinching too much. He wasn't any more afraid of generals than he was of Mrs. Witwicky's annoying toy dogs. Also, in his experience, when it came to the military and the Autobots, "a few questions" was generally "a few hundred questions" and would take hours. He searched through his music files and came up with an appropriately pithy clip, "Beat it, just beat it ..."

The general went first white, then red. Before he could protest, however, Bumblebee firmly but gently steered Sam several feet away from the officer. Then he transformed, popped open the passenger side door, and was gratified when Sam tumbled into the seat without complaint and with only a mumbled, "Thanks, Bee ..." Sam was asleep before Bee could even tint the windows all the way dark.

He never did think about the metal case, and its contents, in his trunk. He was too busy worrying about Sam, who muttered and cried out in his sleep with vicious nightmares. And he had hours of auto-repair sequences to run through himself before he could take time to recharge. Ratchet had fixed the worst of the gross damage, but he had myriad tiny circuits and relays to fix, or route around, plus quite a few dents and dings that needed to be healed. Long experience on the battlefield had taught him to do his repairs first, rest later, no matter how tempting several hours of dreaming was. He could, if forced, fight sleepy. Fighting while broken was harder.

And to his frustration, somewhere along the way, a repair conflicted with the damned voicebox, rendering him mute again ... he was still running diagnostics on that when Optimus announced they were moving out the next morning. His Cybertronian circuits didn't want to play nice with earth technology, and were throwing up errors and refusing to talk to the voice box's chip and claiming the output voltage was wrong, and he just couldn't puzzle out a solution to the problem. He thought the voicebox might be about to crap out again completely.

He finally got his recharge on the plane, and never did get his slagging voice working.

The next day and a half was occupied by getting home -- they might have taken a direct flight to Egypt, but the trip back was longer and far more tedious, with multiple stops at multiple military bases. Along the way, there were press conferences. The secret was well and truly out of the bag, and somewhat to Bee's surprise, someone very high up the chain of command in the military authorized Optimus and Sam to talk to the media. Indeed, they were being encouraged. Bumblebee got the distinct impression that this was called "damage control" -- somebody On High had decided that since they couldn't hide the existence of the robots anymore, at least they could let Optimus be charismatic and dramatic in public. Given that Optimus's charisma and sense of drama knew no bounds, and given the human love for such theatrics, Bumblebee figured it was a reasonably workable plan. It certainly appealed to him more than hiding in a garage.

But somewhat to his relief Bee's malfunctioning voicebox gave him a perfect and very welcome excuse to avoid the media. He would prefer to remain low profile, or at least as low profile as a large yellow robot that turned into a Camaro could manage. Let Optimus be the face of the 'bots. He was better at it.

Sam returned after one of those interviews to the transport plane with a laptop computer in his hands. He flung himself into onto a bench beside Bumblebee and grumbled, "The President wants Optimus to have a Myspace page. And a Twitter account. And there was something about Youtube ... Optimus suggested that I design them."

"I have an aircard," Bee pointed out because Sam sounded frazzled, and Optimus had been pushing him hard all day. All the Autobots had both internal cellular and wireless modems. The most complicated part of getting the Autobots internet access had been figuring out how to pay for the cell phone bills without the accounts being traceable by the military or Megatron.

The Big Boss was just too busy, however, to do more than use his to make actual cel phone calls. Optimus could certainly figure out the very crude programming languages that the humans used in one human heartbeat. However, dealing with human computers took time and patience as transmission and processing speeds were very painfully slow. On the other hand, Bumblebee generally had lots of free time. It wouldn't stress his processors at all to guard Sam and simultaneously deal with a world wide computer network that had transmission speeds measured by the freaking gigabyte. They were still using binary on this world and quantum computers were mostly theoretical!

And we really need to make sure our cell cards are compatible with global systems, Bee thought, ruefully. Half the drama in Egypt and Jordan could have been avoided if they'd picked a cell phone carrier that worked overseas. Autobot body armor was very resistant to EMP. Arcee was supposed to be working on that project, as well as getting them fitted for satellite phones. Human technology just simply left much to be desired ...

Sam had given him a startled look in reaction to his words. It was a measure of how tired Sam was, however, that his response came slowly. "Hey, you fixed your speech synthesizer. Cool."

It had been fixed for about twelve hours, but the men with the cameras didn't need to know that. As far as anyone official knew, he was still mute. Bumblebee shrugged. He'd finally found the source of the glitch, with a little help from Ratchet and Arcee. He could talk for now, at least until the next time the damned chip burned out.

"You know how to design web pages ...?" Sam trailed off, stared at him, then slapped himself in the forehead. "Of course you do. You're probably loads better at it than I am, given the amount of time I know you spend online. Have at it, Bee. This project's all yours."

And so Bumblebee spent the next several hours getting the Autobots an online presence. It was less of a surreal exercise than one would expect; he and Optimus and the others had been together so long that this was not the first time they'd made contact with an alien race.

Humans were quickly becoming one of his most favorite species. Emotionally and intellectually, they were so much like Autobots it was sometimes unnerving. For other races, however, he had handled PR before. Not the public speaking part, thank you very much, because that was Optimus's job and Optimus could keep it, but the behind-the-scenes make-it-all-run-smoothly parts. Those he was good at. While he was working on the pages, he also got the contact information for the various media outlets from Optimus and made sure to pass his e-mail address on to them. Optimus was too busy to be checking his gmail ten times a day. Bumblebee, entrusted with Sam-watching, generally had lots of free time.

He did all that, and he still didn't think about the metal ammo case in his trunk. The contents remained silent. If asked where the contents had ended up he would have responded with a puzzled and fuzzy, "Did we leave him in Egypt?" He had a vague memory of Mikaela tossing something in his trunk after that last firefight, but he hadn't entirely been sure what it was as his circuits had been thoroughly rattled and his processor had not been firing on all cylinders at the time. Whatever she had thrown in his trunk was small enough that he could subspace it when he transformed, and he had been too busy to get curious about it.

They arrived back in the United States early in the morning, three days after they'd saved the world. There was another press conference. Optimus was charismatic, Sam was tired, the soldiers were soldierly. Bumblebee kept his vocalizer off, nobody asked him any questions, and he was happy with that.

Then they had a funeral to plan, for Jetfire, and human funerals to attend. The Autobots paid their respects by video links to the human funerals to avoid a media frenzy, but they did make a point of honoring all of the dead. After they'd done that, they interred the old Decepticon in his final resting place. At that funeral, out of respect for Jetfire, Optimus only allowed one cameraman -- but he did allow, and even insist, on a single reporter.

"Ironhide," he'd said, sounding tired, when Ironhide had tried to object to the presence of the reporter, singular, "I would prefer privacy too, but if the humans see that we mourn our dead as they do, it will help them see us as people and not mere alien machines. And humanity has a right to pay their respects to him as well, as he has saved their world for them. I think Jetfire would not mind the reporter."

Bumblebee personally suspected that Jetfire's resting place might someday become a shrine. For now, it was on military land, and they were deliberately restricting access. The body held secrets that the Autobots were not yet ready to share with hostile human governments. They'd stripped it of anything they didn't want the Americans to have, as they did not exactly trust their human host country's government.

Pretty much every TV channel in the world carried the feed of the funeral. A picture of Optimus, on one knee beside the tomb, head bowed, made the front page of most major news magazines.

And after that was done, finally, at last, Bumblebee could actually rest. It had been six days of nonstop, utter, complete and total chaos. Bee's heart was broken, for the fallen humans and for Jetfire, and only after everything was done and he had a moment to actually sit down and think did it all hit him. Friends had died. Optimus had died, and Sam had brought him back.

And Sam had died. And then Sam had come back, which was a much more remarkable thing than any robot being revived.

And the world had nearly been destroyed, the sun gone. Humans -- his humans -- had nearly died a cold, miserable, agonizing death on a sunless Earth. Oh, they might have been able to save their friends, in the short term, but humans were so frail. Could humans survive the hard radiation of the void between stars, even with tons of shielding? He wasn't sure. Perhaps if they had decades to prepare a ship, and life support systems, and to select a group of humans who mentally and physically could withstand the rigors. If the Fallen had succeeded, they would have only had days, not years. The entire race might have been destroyed.

He liked humans. He had, from the moment he'd heard their music and their laughter, and had realized they'd found a kindred species. And they'd come so close to losing the entire race -- not just his humans, but all humans.

Suddenly, Bumblebee couldn't stay in the hanger even one second longer. He transformed and rolled out, not entirely sure where he was headed at first. However, they'd buried Jetfire on a peaceful riverbank on base land, and it was there that Bumblebee found himself driving.

"Hey, old timer," he said aloud, to the tomb, because his voice box was working for the moment, "how's it going?"

It was a stupid, inane thing to say, but Jetfire wasn't exactly going to respond back with snark, so Bee parked beside the grave. There had not been much left after Optimus had borrowed Jetfire's parts and then they'd further stripped him of classified bits -- just a chassis and some random pieces of silvery metal. Those remains were interred in a deep concrete crypt. The top of the crypt had both the Decepticon and Autobot emblems etched in it, plus a stylized line drawing of Earth, and a single word in the Autobot language that roughly translated to With Honor.

He sat there alone, or so he thought, for a good hour. He needed the peace and quiet to think, and to process everything that had happened, and ...


Bumblebee jumped.

"Hello?" A thin, small voice complained from somewhere in the vicinity of Bumbebee's back tires, "Hello? Warrior Goddess?"

For a moment, he thought he'd run over somebody. Then he remembered, finally, at last: Wheelie.

Meditation rudely interrupted, Bumblebee ejected the box from his trunk with a quick shake and a partial transformation. Wheelie protested the treatment with scream. "Auuugh! I thought the fighting was over!"

Bumblebee transformed the rest of the way, and picked the metal box up off the ground. He squinted at the latch, and then managed to get it open by flicking it a couple of times with his finger. Wheelie took one look at Bee looming over him and tried to run. Bumblebee stepped on his chain, bringing the Decepticon up short. Grimly, he said, "You've been in my trunk for days."

"You could have let me out any time," Wheelie cowered. "I thought it was still dangerous out there!"

Bumblebee contemplated just squishing the Decepticon. Wheelie had helped them, yes, but he'd done so under threat of death or dismemberment. And he'd done rude things to Mikaela's foot. He was just annoying. 'Bee had no problems with killing little Decepticons -- he'd eliminated a few tens of thousands of the obnoxious pests over his lifetime. If you wanted to fight with Optimus, you couldn't be squeamish about necessary killing. Over that time, he'd met a few like Wheelie, who pretended to be allies until they could betray the Autobots for whatever tiny scrap of approval they might earn from the Decepticon commanders.

Fangface, he recalled, with a mental flinch.

Wheelie was cringing against Jetfire's tomb.

The pest had been in his trunk through several dozen classified meetings, one or two emotionally sensitive conversations with Optimus and Sam, and a few instances of flirting with Mikaela that he heartily hoped Wheelie had not recorded, because the occasional bit of outrageous flirting with Mikaela was simply fun and far more innocent than Sam would likely assume. It wasn't as if the joking between them would, or could, ever go anywhere ... Wheelie could easily have saved any or all of that audio.

Given the first bit -- the fact that the Decepticon would have overheard considerable sensitive information -- he was almost morally obligated to destroy him.

"Please! I'll be good! Don't kill me!" Wheelie had his good eye irised shut and his hands held up defensively.

"Why didn't you say something sooner?" Bumblebee demanded, leaning over -- close enough to swat the Decepticon flat, but not so close that Wheelie could strike back with a surprise attack. He had a healthy respect for the fighting abilities of even the tiniest of Decepticons. "You've been in my trunk for six days."

"I was scared!" Wheelie was begging. "I didn't hear the girl. She would protect me! Did she die? Please tell me she didn't die ... don't kill me!"

Bumblebee withdrew a bit, considering. Wheelie's fear was legitimate, enough to crack the little mech's normal sarcastic bluster. Bumblebee was still tempted to just squish him. The 'bot was pressed up against the concrete of the tomb. Bumblebee could just smack him with the palm of his hand, crack his spark container wide open, and be done with it. He had overheard sensitive information, he was a Decepticon, and that should have been all Bumblebee needed to know.

"Jetfire said ... Jetfire said I didn't have to be a bad guy." Wheelie peered up at Bumblebee through his own fingers. He was visibly shaking, and Bee figured if he wasn't standing on Wheelie's chain, the Decepticon would have been long gone.

"Damnit." His sentimentality could get them killed, but he couldn't bring himself to kill the Decepticon specifically because he was plastered against Jetfire's tomb. Bumblebee reached down. Wheelie shrieked. Bee, however, simply closed his hand around the tiny robot and picked him up. He held the little 'bot up at nose level. "Do anything to hurt my friends and I will personally step on you. Is that clear?"

"I-I-I understand," Wheelie stammered. He was cowering again.

Bumblebee unceremoniously dropped the Decepticon back to the ground. He transformed and popped the passenger door. "Get in. Don't make me regret this."

Wheelie was silent, hunched in the seat, for several moments, as Bumblebee navigated his way back to the the hanger. Finally he said, "What happened to the Warrior Goddess?"

"Mikaela went home. She'll be back this weekend." Bumblebee paused, considered the question, then added, "Hump her foot again and I will render you for scrap."

"But I like her ..."

Bumblebee started to slow down and pull over. He didn't actually intend to squish Wheelie at this point, but the threat worked -- Wheelie went quiet. Good, Bumblebee thought. The robot's very voice, nevermind his cringing, grated on Bumblebee's nerves. Bee thought, irritably. This is all probably an act -- in ten thousand years, he'll be another Starscream. He's just picking the side he thinks is most likely to win right now. It's not about right or wrong. It's about self interest.

He kept an eye on Wheelie with an optic sensor in the cab. The little robot was now hiding in the footwell, and he was still shaking. Slag it. A Decepticon would have absolutely no problems with terminating a similar Autobot youngling.

I guess that's what makes me an Autobot. I won't do it. Even if I know he's going to betray us eventually, I will not kill a being who is asking to join our fight. Particularly not a child.

Optimus might not have much expression on his face, but he could sure manage to express incredulity with his voice. "He was in your trunk how long?"

"Six days." Bee met Optimus's gaze, then looked sharply away. He'd screwed up. Optimus would probably have a few stern words with him as soon as they had a moment alone, face to face, out of earshot of anyone else. There would only be a few -- Optimus could pack quite a lecture into one or two sentences. I'm disappointed in you, Bumblebee. I always expect more from you. He could hear Optimus's words already. He wasn't looking forward to that discussion, because he had let Optimus down.

Optimus turned his attention to Wheelie, who was hiding behind Bumblebee's foot. "What is your name, youngling?"

Wheelie peered out, then said with some surprise, "Hey! You're Optimus Prime! I'm in the presence of the greatest and most glorious leader ever known to our kind!"

"He answers to Wheelie, according to Mikaela." Bumblebee reached down, picked the little Decepticon up between thumb and forefinger, and held him up for Optimus to see. "Says he wants to join us. Jetfire inspired him, I guess."

Optimus made a noise similar to a human clearing his throat. Bee drooped, realizing he had let his leader down again, and this time he wasn't sure how or why. He suspected he'd find out later.

"I apologize for how they have treated you," Optimus said, holding a hand out, palm up. Bumblebee dropped the Decepticon into Optimus's fingers. Optimus did not close his fist around Wheelie as Bumblebee expected, however. He simply held his hand up, flat, at eye level with himself. The chain pooled around Wheelie's feet, and Wheelie's shaking had stopped. Optimus studied him, then said, "You've been injured."

"The Warrior Goddess did it. Badge of honor."

"Wheelie, how old are you?" Optimus asked, voice amazingly gentle.

"Thir-thirteen earth years. Not counting time in stasis." He seemed surprised enough by the question to give a straight answer, and Wheelie also looked like he was relaxing a bit, in reaction to Optimus's utter calm. That time in stasis must have been considerable, but given the number of small, fierce little Decepticons they'd run in to, Optimus had said he suspected the Decepticon leadership of stockpiling young, disposable mechs.

Because of that, and because of his general behavior, 'Bee had believed Wheelie was young, but had never thought he was that young.

Optimus extended one finger, tilting Wheelie's head up with a gentle push under his vocal parts. Wheelie didn't look afraid at all, even though Optimus could have crushed him like a mosquito if he'd so chosen. The diameter of Optimus's finger was bigger than Wheelie's whole head. "Your optic sensor is ruined. We will need to make you a new one. I'm afraid, little one, that we do not have any parts in your size. It will take a few days to fabricate what we need, and as Bee can attest, I cannot guarantee that repairs made using human technology will work as they are supposed to. But we will do what we can. We may even be able to give you temporary vision using a human camera. It must be miserable to be unable to see in three dimensions."

"What's in this for you?" Wheelie stared at Optimus in utter astonishment. He rested his hands on the tip of one of Optimus's half-curled fingers.

Optimus smoothed Wheelie's fingers out straight with an impossibly gentle touch. Some appeared to be twisted and unstable; you couldn't tell at first glance, but it was clear they were uneven on closer examination. When Optimus prompted Wheelie to make a fist, a couple fingers stuck out at awkward angles. Optimus said quietly, "You've broken some joints. Those we can fix immediately. The human machine shop here is very good."

Wheelie glanced at his hands, head tilted a little to one side to compensate for his limited field of vision. "Why? What do you want from me?"

"As long as you are under my command, I will see that you are repaired. It is part of my duty as your leader. And -- I hate to see anyone suffer."

"But I was a Decepticon and Megatron would have just destroyed me if I was this badly hurt. He did others. He said they weren't worth fixing and he didn't want to listen to them complain." The words came tumbling out in a panicked rush. "I thought ... I thought for sure you would just eliminate me. That's why I hid. I thought you'd destroy me because I was a Decepticon, or if not that, because I was broken. That's why I didn't say anything to Bee! I wasn't spying, I swear, I swear, I swear ..." Wheelie paused, collected himself, and said, "Right now? You'll fix me now?"

The little Decepticon suddenly seemed to bounce in place. "Now I'm sure I was fighting for the wrong side. Autobots have a much better benefits package!"

Optimus laughed. "Wheelie, I cannot imagine deliberately leaving any of my people unrepaired if I have the resources available to fix them. Come with me, I'll take you to the repair hanger."

"You'll take me personally?"

"Would you prefer Bee show you to the shop?" Optimus said, sounding a little confused.

"No! He threatened to step on me!" Wheelie shot Bumblebee a glare full of hate.

"Bee!" Optimus exclaimed, but there was amusement in his voice. This, at least, wasn't a scolding. "You didn't."

"I said I'd step on him if he caused harm to any of us," Bumblebee clarified. Surely Optimus couldn't fault him for that statement. He'd heard Optimus say worse in the heat of battle. None of them were boyscouts, including Optimus Prime.

"Hmm. I do not believe that you will ever need to make good on that threat." Optimus lifted Wheelie to his shoulder. The little Decepticon scrambled up, and clung to one of Optimus's windows like a very small monkey. Bumblebee winced, because he didn't trust Wheelie, and if he had a weapon Optimus had just allowed him in lethally close range. Wheelie was tiny, but he was certainly far from harmless.

Damn, but Optimus likes kids, Bumblebee thought, watching the two of them. Unfortunately, this kid is one of the enemy. I can't trust him. Not until he proves himself. Jetfire's the exception. Most Decepticons are just looking out for their own self interest when they say they want to become Autobots.