A/N: Alas, another one ends. Yes, sequel ready and going through final edits/desuckification. One of the flaws that I freely admit to in this story is that the forced alternation between Autobot and Decepticon scenes made the story move…rather slowly. It was good in that it forced me to pay attention to Autobots and give them some conflict and depth, but…it did not exactly zip things along. I can promise you that that error is not repeated in the sequel. If you're still actually with me, that is. ^__^

Anyway, I hope the end here has some sort of payoff and you enjoyed reading. It's always sad for me to see another story finish. I hope you'll join me for the sequel, which, alas, will update a bit more slowly—2x a week most likely. Thank you, those of you who have stuck out this story so far for giving it a chance through its rougher chapters!

XXXVIII

Over the Atlantic

"You don't know," Ironhide was remonstrating, as Barricade faded back in. His sensor net had offlined him, into blissful non-feeling. He'd wanted that. He'd had it—blessed, blessed numbness. And now it was gone again, and hard-edged ugly reality was back in all of its technicolor brutality. "I know: I was there. This is a monster." Barricade became aware of his surroundings beyond the voice—the hard metal of the floor, the curve of fuselage behind his shoulders digging into his upper arm tires, the fairings behind his neck. No one on him, no guards. Why bother? He couldn't go anywhere. It took supreme effort to focus his eyes—he wasn't in any shape to mount a daring escape. Didn't trust himself to pull himself to his feet.

Optimus's voice was tense to Barricade's audio. "What does it matter?" The large mech was in the same position as before, crouched, cramped, in the low ceiling of the plane. Unable to move easily and with one hand swathed in healing foam.

Sideswipe chimed in, "Yeah, 'Hide—we know he's the enemy. What's the big freakout?"

Ironhide's voice, louder. "The big freakout? This---this THING hijacked primary controls. Of all of us. Ever watch yourself shoot your own men?"

"Whoa." Barricade felt Sideswipe's eyes on him.

"He did what? A primary-systems hijack?" Ratchet seemed interested in the science of it.

"Yeah. Combat control. Let down firewalls so you can all be controlled tactically by one bot. From a distance. We got our afts shot up—he was sitting in some Primus-damned computer room."

That's not what it was like, Barricade thought, dully, but then…it doesn't really matter. Would they care that he felt every injury his mechs took? Not if it didn't stop him. That wasn't the Autobot way. For Autobots pain meant stop. For Decepticons, it meant you aren't trying hard enough.

Maybe he hadn't tried hard enough. In the end. The fairings on the back of his neck were getting torqued by the drag of supporting part of his bodyweight. He tried to push himself upright. His bad shoulder sparked again, pulling an involuntary cry from his vocalizer.

Ironhide turned. "See? You can ask him yourself. Deny it, Decepticon."

He shook his head. No point. A lie right now wouldn't serve him any better than the truth. And he was…so tired of running from the truth. So tired of all the megacycles he'd spent trying to bury Meta. "You…" he managed, "At Saejon…?"

Ironhide lunged toward him—Sideswipe restrained him with force, the silver Autobot's damaged tires skidding on the metal plating. Tires Barricade had himself shot out. Yeah, sure Sideswipe's really in the mood to be doing me favors, he thought. Wonder why he's stopping Ironhide…. "Yes," Ironhide choked, his chassis heaving. "I was there. I was at Saejon Three. You might remember I tried to warn you. I warned you." He turned to the Autobots. "You know what he did? He cut my voc. Because he didn't like what I was saying."

"H5?" A spasm shook his body, causing the medic to bolt forward in alarm.

Ironhide's mouth ground in bitterness. "You do remember."

Yeah. I remember. Every time there's a battle and I'm left out. Every time I'm left off the weapons-upgrade list. Every time I get denied an armor upgrade. Every time I look in a Primus-damned reflective surface and see these four eyes that took me a decacycle to stop spinning to 270 vid field. Every time I have no fraggin' friends, I remember. He hiccuped as Ratchet knelt by him.

"Try to relax," the medic said. "Stress won't help. This is just a basic sensor block, all right? It'll help." The medic waited for him to nod. I'll do better, Ratchet thought. I'll do better this time. He didn't care—he couldn't care—what kind of monster Barricade was—all he forced himself to see right now was a bot with injuries. A bot in pain. And in the end, that's what they all had in common. Ratchet found himself looking over his shoulder at Flareup, who stood, hands wringing, lost. Maybe Flareup was right with all of her philosophical talk. Red optics, blue optics—what mattered wasn't the color.

Barricade felt the medic's pity as powerfully as the sensor block. He hated them both. Hated how he desperately wanted them both. Half of his controls went numb. He wished the medic had some sensor block for his cortex, for his memory. Oh what he'd give not to think right now…. For the medic he managed a weak smile of gratitude, which tore open a clot of energon in his jaw. Blue fluid began leaking from his mouth again. The medic blotted it with a coagulant, his eyes strange.

"Don't help him," Ironhide spat. "Let him suffer. For what he put us through, he deserves to suffer."

"Put who through?" Ratchet asked, quietly. "Whose side were you on at Saejon Three?" Ratchet knew the answer. Ironhide did, too. Ironhide shot a look of hot betrayal at the medic.

"It was a massacre on all sides," he managed, tightly. "One orchestrated by that disgusting freakish little…."

"Droneling," Barricade muttered. "You forgot droneling." Oh, how well he knew this litany of abuse. Heard it…how many times? Repeated it to himself a few thousand more.

"Don't need your help, you filthy four-eyed genocidal freak." Apparently not, at least in the insult department.

"Stop," Ratchet said. "This isn't the time for it."

"Oh, when is the time for it? Huh? You see what happened to Sideswipe here? You think he's not at all to blame for Cliffjumper?" Ironhide gestured over to where a portable regen chamber hulked near the cockpit of the plane.

"Saejon Three was a great tragedy," Prime said. "But, it brought us you." Barricade, if he'd had the energy and coordination, would have rolled his eyes. There's the Autobot leader, self-anointed Prince of Peace, trying to turn anything into a positive. Silver lining even in Meta's insanity? How many hundreds dead? Prime will find something positive to say. Primus. It struck Barricade as an altogether different kind of insanity. One perhaps less immediately dangerous than Megatron's variety, but lethal in entirely different ways.

Ironhide approached, Sideswipe still dragging along holding on to one of Ironhide's arms, ready to restrain him again. "Tell them, Barricade. Let's hear your excuses. Let's hear you blame someone else. Let's hear you dodge what you did."

Barricade forced himself to meet Ironhide's eyes. "No. I did it. All of it."

"You hear?" Ironhide turned back to the others. "He's proud of it! This filthy sack of---" He kicked Barricade hard in the leg. His formerly-good leg. An armor plate snapped, sending pieces flying across the cargo hold. Barricade winced.

"Stop it!" Flareup lurched across the hold, stumbling over Barricade's legs, sprawling over his body. "Stop hurting him!"

"No," Barricade murmured. "It's all right. I deserve…this."

Ironhide tore away from Sideswipe, landing another kick in Barricade's chassis, nearly getting Flareup's fingers. Barricade's grille crumpled. He gasped in pain. "I don't need your fragging permission," Ironhide hissed.

"Ironhide," Prime said, firmly. "The battle is over."

"Yeah, right? So that's how it works? Someone calls time or waves a flag and all the stuff that happened before, it's all…nothing? Game's over? Time to shake hands and get wasted together?"

"Who are you?" Flareup asked, her voice shocked. "You say you're one of us, Ironhide. But are you? Are you sure you've left behind their ways? Or did you just change paint jobs?" She looked down at her own armored swirls, and back up at him, accusingly.

Ironhide staggered away from her, his face a mask of shock. He rebounded. "Well, ask him yourself. Ask him. In fact, why don't we ask about you?"

The sensor block was making Barricade light-headed. Either that or the wires still dangling from the disarm decrypter in his cortex were firing strange signals. He felt his larger pair of eyes start to drift to the sides, back to 270. Fought it, as if it were the last humiliation he could bear. "Yeah," he said, his voice faint and thready. "I did it. All of it." He pushed feebly at Flareup's torso. "Leave me alone." He didn't have the energy to fill it with enough rancor.

She reached over him and wove her fingers through his. He splayed his hand away. "Go away," he repeated. "I set you up. The whole thing…was me." His eyes rolled sideways again, flickered in horizontal stripes. "Leave me alone."

"No," Flareup said, tightening her grip. "You did this for me. You didn't leave me alone when I was hurt. And scared." She rested her head near his cracked grille. He felt energon from his damaged jaw drip onto her shoulder armor.

"It was a set up!" Ironhide howled. "How stupid are you? You can't tell me you seriously think—"

"ENOUGH!" Optimus's voice boomed loud enough to blank Barricade's audio. When it kicked back on, the Autobot leader was still speaking. "We will speak about this more at Diego Garcia, Ironhide." Barricade couldn't even manage curiosity at what he'd missed, only a dull relief that Ironhide's shadow was no longer looming over him.

Flareup was still with him, on him, her ventilation slow and even and steady, her fingers tangled in his.

He pushed again at her, weakly. "Set you up. Go away."

She lifted her head and met his optics with hers. The two freaks—he with his four eyes, she with her two different colored ones. Only…she could fix hers if she wanted. Why didn't she want to? He had a feeling he should know. "You've done bad things, yes. You've also done good things. I know." Her optics glistened. "I choose," she said, softly, "which I want to see. It's a choice I have. The only choice I have." She laid her head back against his chassis. "The choice you gave me."