A/N: Pre-ROTF: With the All-Spark shattered and Megatron out of the picture (for the moment) Starscream has taken command of the Decepticons. His first order of business: finding the scattered pieces of the All-Spark. To do that, he's followed the example of the Autobots and enlisted the aid of humans--organized crime humans to be precise. Syrie, an ex-thief trying to go straight, finds out just how bad that can be when attempting to pull off her last job…

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Somewhere outside of Las Vegas...

Staring down the barrel of a .45 really isn't the way I wanted to finish off my evening. But then again, when did I ever get anything I wanted, anyway? Lady Fate and I had long ago come to the agreement that she was going to screw me every chance she got and I was going to bend over and like it. Not exactly the best working relationship the world had ever seen, but it beat the alternatives. Death was always a bad alternative, no matter which way you looked at it.

I tried to keep that last thought in mind as my vision swam in and out of focus. The left side of my face itched terribly, dried blood caking it from the gash just below my hairline. My arms were numb and would have been useless even if I could feel them. With my hands handcuffed behind my back, and then cuffed to the steel back of my chair, my arms were pretty much out of the 'assistance category.' My legs weren't the best of help either. Hard to walk or run with the room spinning in hellacious circles.

Oh, sorry. It wasn't the room spinning. It was my head.

"No you don't," said a rather emotionless male voice from behind me. A rough hand grabbed a fistful of my hair, yanking my head backwards. "You don't get to sleep until the boss gets to talk to you."

The world did another of those rolling hick-up things as he pulled my head back, and a fresh wave of nausea flooded me. I hadn't realized I was slumping forward again. "Better tell him to hurry," I half-gasped out. "I think I'm going to be sick soon, and if I do, there's nothing in this world that is going to keep me awake, buddy-boy."

"Sick?" Buddy-boy asked, seeming surprised at my answer.

I tried to nod, and then thought better of it. "Yeah, sick. You know, from the concussion I'm obviously suffering through. Or did you not realize how hard you and your boys hit me."

Buddy boy looked over my head at the other two men in the room. I'd called them Fat Man and Little Boy since none of the above had wanted to give me their names. Fat man—easily carrying about 400 pounds on him—held the .45 pointed at me. I called the other one Little Boy, even though he was about six feet tall, just because he had a boyish face and rather nice grin. I would have told him as much had we not been exchanging blows about twenty minutes ago. His tux still sported red splotches from my blood and his.

Little Boy shuffled his feet a bit under the gaze of Buddy Boy. That almost made me smile. Apparently, they really didn't know how hard they had hit me, and they were going to pay the price if I died before 'the boss' showed up. Suddenly the .45 in Fat Man's hand didn't seem all that threatening. I giggled. I couldn't help it.

"You should have thought of that before you tried to rob us," Buddy-Boy said, and pulled back on my hair again, stretching my neck backward until it almost popped painfully. His other hand reached toward my face with a small pen-light.

I winced and tried to pull away, my eyes trying to focus on the light even with my best intentions otherwise. He wasn't holding the light too steady and the motion made my stomach roll. "Like I said before," I said through gritted teeth as he tried to check my pupils. "I didn't have a choice."

The offending light vanished, and Buddy Boy let go of my hair. Between white bursts in my vision, I saw him scowl slightly. "Do yourself a favor and think of a better excuse than that for the boss. You'll get one chance to answer before you start to hurt. Save yourself the trouble and tell him the truth."

The truth? Yeah, right. The last thing these goombas wanted to hear from me was the truth. Yes, I had broken into their vaults. But I wasn't there to steal the money, or to wave around the laurel of beating the machinations of the famous Astorre Aprile. I was looking for a single tiny piece of black stone that one of his guests had deposited in the vault. And the very last thing they would want to know was why I wanted it. Somehow I think they'd believe I wanted to eat it for dinner before they'd believe the real story.

"Tell him the truth," I repeated aloud. "Oh, okay. Sorry, I got lost. Was looking for my room."

Fat Man snorted. "Yeah, right. Couldn't find the way so you decided to repel down the elevator shaft? Maybe use high tech torches and chloroform mixes to get through the rest of the security systems?"

"Uhhhhh… I lost my key?" I managed a smile at the way his face darkened, and decided to change tactics. If I couldn't pass out yet, I wasn't going to make their wait with me any easier. "Exactly, Fat Man. I'm the direct sort. Why go the long way when I can go right through the center of the Bellagio?"

Fat Man didn't like his name. I could tell by the way that his meaty hand curled into a fist. Bring it, I dared him. Swing at me, Fat Boy. And after you kill me, I'll be waiting in hell to kick you ass in return. Trust me, it won't be a long wait.

Fat Man took a step forward as if reading my thoughts and taking up the challenge… and then stopped as the door beside him opened. He immediately lowered his eyes and stepped back against the wall again, the barrel of the gun pointing to the floor. One hand—the one that was about to strike me—grasped his wrist, and his eyes rose to meet mine.

Indifference was written there, as if someone had taken a cloth and wiped away the film of his rage. Maybe someone had. That thought didn't make me feel any better.

The man that walked into the room was about my height, about five foot six, give or take a few inches. I couldn't be sure I was accurate, what with my head splitting and my vision almost doubled. Regardless, it wasn't his height that was impressive. The stature of the man was what caught my attention, and I understood in part as to why my captors differed to him. Power seethed around him like a heady aroma of wealth and intelligence, his aura washing over me as surely as his eyes surveyed the room.

I didn't want to screw with this man. Somehow I just didn't. And the fact that he was aware of my existence in the world didn't make me any happier.

It took me a moment to snap out of my staring fit and remember I wasn't here to gawk at Astorre Aprile, the man rumor said was the "true wealth behind Las Vegas." He had been kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to torture the shit out of me, and I was here to take it like a bitch. I almost asked him if he knew Lady Fate personally. The irony was almost too much to resist.

A young woman stood at Aprile's side, as slender and lovely as the twin guns holstered beneath her shoulders. She had long blonde hair, dark eyes and a rose-bud mouth. She looked pleasantly amused at the situation, smiling warmly at my three captors like this was some sort of little family get-together. Maybe it was. Who knew?

She took the time to help Fat Man navigate a lovely leather armchair into the room, standing politely beside it as Astorre sat. I decided to call her Sunshine.

What I wanted to call Aprile wasn't repeatable.

"So…." I said roughly into the silence. "Let's get the show on the road. You ask me questions I can't answer, and I scream loudly as your boys work me over. That's how this thing works, right?"

Astorre squinted his eyes at me a moment. "Fat Tony," he said, eyes never leaving my face. "What happened to the young lady?"

Fat Man stepped forward. "The Bull happened," He replied, voice as neutral as I'd ever heard it. "She… resisted the arrest Anthony was puttin' on her."

Aprile nodded. "I see… Anthony, why were you arresting her?"

This time Little Boy stepped forward. I fought the urge to roll my eyes. Two grand said Fat Tony's name was really Anthony as well. I was almost willing to bet that Buddy Boy behind me was an Anthony, too. Yes, Lady Fate was a bitch, alright. I got beat up by Anthony and Anthony, and was probably going to be tortured to death by the Anthony behind me. Could this have become anymore Godfather-ish?

"She was in the vault of the Bellagio," Anthony 'The Bull' answered. "We figured out she repelled down the elevator shaft, used some kind of torch and a lot of other … stuff… to bypass security."

Again, Aprile nodded. "Well, Miss…?" he trailed off, waiting for my name.

"Smith," I replied. It wasn't my real name, but wasn't going to give him anything for free.

"Smith," he echoed, a slight smile tugging at his lips a moment. "Miss Smith, why did you break into my vault?"

"Because you don't hold tours?" I asked mock-innocently, and then screamed as Buddy Boy slipped his hand against the back of my neck, somehow pinching the nerves there. White spots exploded behind my eyes, my mind reeling.

"Enough," Aprile said smoothly, his voice carrying over my screams. The pain stopped, but my body continued to quake, echoes of that searing pain flooding my nervous system. Aprile seemed not to care or notice. "I am sure you've been warned that I don't have a lot of time to waste on this matter. Answer the questions. I'm only gonna ask you one more time. What were you doing in my vault, Miss Smith?"

Buddy boy's hand rested against the back of my neck, a cold warning that things were going to get worse if I didn't start talking. I took a few moments to close my eyes, gasping in as much air as I could. The pain seemed to help, ironically enough, clearing my head. The room swam into focus, bright white tile on the walls and floor. I was willing to bet that there was a drain on the floor somewhere. There was a tray beside me, various surgical instruments laid out with the precision of a doctor. Apparently, Buddy boy was well trained in whatever the hell he was going to do to me.

My eyes flickered back to Aprile, feeling his own boring into me. He wanted the truth, and suddenly I didn't want to lie to him. What was the point? He was going to kill me anyway, so might as well lay out my sob story. With any luck he might actually be moved enough to help me.

"I wasn't breaking into your vault to steal anything that belongs to you," I said, lowering my eyes. "Someone stole something from me, a black chip of stone with some kind of ancient writing on it. They stashed it here in your vault. It's imperative that I get it back."

I looked back up at him. He sat as calmly as before, silent and waiting for me to continue. I sighed. Christ, he was going to make me tell him everything. So much for holding onto any dignity before I died screaming. "Look, just give me the stone and you'll never see me again, alright? Just hand it over or kill me and get it over with."

"First, you are not in the position to demand anything of me," Aprile began, a slight edge in his tone. "And secondly, I don't appreciate your tone. I don't take that from my Family, and I'm not going to start with you. If you have something negative to say, smile first. Now, tell me why I should give you something that belongs to one of my guests?"

I must have looked at him like he had grown a second head. Was he for real? Was he for freaking real? Did he not know where we were? I didn't know if anyone gave him the memo, but this was Interrogation 101, not Miss Manner's Charm school.

Buddy boy's thumb pressed against the nape of my neck, his hand pushing me forward until my arms were stretched painfully behind me and the path of my spine was visible. Something cold and hard, something that felt like a steel bar pressed against my exposed back. A humming sound started, and I had only a second to snap my eyes shut and grit my teeth. Regardless of what you see in the movies, that did nothing to blunt the pain.

Scream after scream tore free of my lips, his hand on my shoulder holding me rigid, helpless to endure the torture. My mind spun, my limbs vibrating as the electric current ran through my body. I had time for one stay thought to click into place inside my head. Those cold hands of Buddy boy's? They weren't just cold. They must have been covered with thick rubber gloves to keep the electricity from bouncing out of me and into him. Then I couldn't think anymore. All I could do was scream.

I opened my eyes slowly, consciousness returning to me in painful waves. Cold tile pressed against my cheek, my pulse thick in my ears. The chair I was tied to must have over turned. I wasn't sure.

Shapes swam in and out of my vision, nothing focusing for long. My body twitched, muscles still jumping from electrical overload. I couldn't hear anything other than the beat of my heart, and I was grateful to hear even that. It meant I was still alive. It meant there was still a chance I could get out of this and save my cousin.

"Who is your cousin?"

"Sam," I thought back to the voice in my head…or was it out loud? Did I say that out loud? Was I gasping the glorious 'I'm alive. I can save my cousin Sam' out loud?

I didn't know, couldn't know. But if answering the questions made the pain stop, I was all for it. I wasn't a spy or a solider. I had no pain suppression training. I was just a stupid thief who had wanted to save her cousin and got in way over her head. I had thought I could handle torture, thought I was tough enough and loved my cousin enough to endure anything. Apparently, the old saying was true. Everyone breaks under torture.

"Tell me, who is your cousin really, and why do you need this particular black rock to save him?"

"No," I whispered aloud, trying to ball up on myself. I couldn't tell him about Sam. I'd rather die than drag anyone else into this mess. I was ashamed that I had said as much already.

The world rocked violently around me and righted itself with a harsh, metallic scrape. I was suddenly sitting upright, a hand on my face holding my head steady. Someone had to, or it would have rolled back on my neck. My muscles felt like they were made of acidic jelly.

I heard Aprile chuckle. "You've impressed me, kid. Not many take as much as you without breaking. And still you refuse me. Why?"

I blinked at him, trying to work moisture back into my mouth. "Why what?"

"Why do you refuse me?"

"Family."

He paused and squinted at me again. "Family?"

"Yes, family."

"Gonna elaborate for me?"

"Why?" I asked this time.

"Because I'm asking nicely. That doesn't happen often for someone in your shoes."

I felt Buddy boy shift behind me, heard him pick up something from the tray of surgical instruments. The whimpers left my lips before I could stop them… and so did my words. God, help me, but I couldn't shut up, not with the promise of more pain in my future if I did. "Sam's my cousin. Someone has him. They want the rock in exchange for him."

Aprile pursed his lips. "Sorry to hear that, kid. I'd hoped you could give me something more to work with. As it stands, I've wasted enough time on you today," He stood, and lit a cigar. "Vito, Anthony. Take care of this matter for me, and then meet me in my office. We've got work to do."

For the second time that day, my vision exploded in a cascade of sparks and other things. Screams filled my ears, and it took me a moment to realize that they weren't coming from me. In fact, the sparks in my vision weren't just in my head. They were all around me, and they were directed at Aprile and his merry band of jackholes.

Hope flared to life in my heart, a brief fleeting thing that quickly faded. I didn't know what to hope for as the sounds of gunfire echoed around me. I was literally a sitting duck. Any stray round was going to end me quicker than lightning. All I could do was pray that I caught one between the eyes. At least that would end the pain.

I was so far gone that I didn't flinch when something tore the roof off of the place. Harsh cold air hit me, the dry scent of the Nevada desert mixed in with the aromas of burnt plaster and gunfire. I had a moment to glimpse the stars, to see them without the filter of smog or the lights of the city to dim their glow. It let me know that we were in the deep desert somewhere around Vegas. It also let me have a moment of peace before my concussion got the better of me.

Because now I was hallucinating. I had to be. Either that, or someone had brought Mobile Suit Gundam to life without telling the rest of the world. I was staring up at some kind of giant robot, some kind of… mecha. It was the only way I could describe it. It peered down at me with the most amazing blue eyes I had ever seen. Funny, how in my misery and pain, I could take a moment to think that its eyes were beautiful. They reminded me of stars I'd just glimpsed, so clear and burning white-blue.

Yeah, I had to be dying if I was waxing poetic about a giant robot's eyes and not freaking out about the fact a GIANT FREAKING ROBOT was staring down at me.

"Syrie Witwicky?" He asked me. I knew it was a 'he' because of the tone of voice.

"Yeah," I managed to choke out. I figured that he was my hallucination. Why shouldn't I talk to him?

"Don't be alarmed. I'm here to help you."

Normally I would have said something suitably sarcastic, but the sleep of unconsciousness was calling, and I didn't have the strength to fight it anymore. He reached a huge metallic hand towards me and I saw his mouth move again, the words lost to the blackness that was eating at my vision. Suddenly my arms and legs were free… and just as suddenly I was plunging into darkness.