A/N: This is set just after the 2007 movie, and is an AU. ROTF will be incorporated into it later on, but with some obvious differences. This will also eventually cross over into the MCU and X-Men.

Warnings: Eventual adult content - sexual situations, graphic depictions of violence; psychological torture...things of that nature. Be ye warned.

Any critique y'all can give me on my portrayal of the characters, the plot, technical glitches, etc. is welcomed with open arms and mind. Feedback is a writer's lifeblood. You guys are the reason this is here. 3 So please, enjoy!

Lyrics © Audio Adrenaline.

Secondhand Sparks

Prologue: Start a Fire

It only takes a spark to get a fire going.

It was three o'clock in the morning when the signal was picked up by Ratchet's comm. They'd been driving for a while, her and him, wending their way down the country roads that marked the outskirts of Mission City. The metropolis at night was quiet, almost too much so, but the occasional 911 call or gunshots still came across his radio, broadcasting so that Mikaela could hear everything he did.

Optimus had 'insisted' (his own pleasant way of saying 'do this or your aft is slag,' in Mikaela's opinion) on helping with the cleanup of the city. There hadn't been too much back-talk; down to the last mech, they all felt responsible for the destruction of the unsuspecting town that had become their battleground. But Ratchet had worried that they would be recognized. Mikaela wasn't so sure about that - not much of their alt modes had been in view during the battle royale; most of it had been spent in their natural 'bot forms, and that was something they were going to be sure to keep under wraps.

The government, bless them, had done a nice, neat cover-up of the whole episode, and now everyone thought they were Japanese (or Swedish, or German, or Canadian, depending on who you talked to) Gundam prototypes, created by their enemies overseas. Of course, the original news feed had stated in no uncertain terms that it was just a military experiment gone awry, there were no terrorist plots to overthrow their government via mind-controlling robots, these were not the droids you were looking for, etc, etc. And, as was the norm, people came up their own interpretations and filled the Internet with them until the original story was a pleasant memory.

Business as usual for the humans.

Briefly, Mikaela wondered when she'd gotten so cynical. Then she took another look at her surroundings, in the back of a EMV Humvee that was actually a grumpy alien robot medic, and remembered. Oh, yeah. Spending as much time as she did with Ratchet, it was a miracle she had any idealism left in her.

But it wasn't in her nature to be so sardonic. Sure, she was a down-to-earth gal (and didn't that little phrase take on a whole new meaning); she worked with machines and technology. It was a part of who she was to be sensible, the voice of reason. But the Autobots had given her a little taste of what life was like on the other side - to believe in something else, something bigger than yourself and what you could hold in your own two hands.

That was something else she wondered about, when she let herself. Did the Cybertronians believe in a God? They'd mentioned a Primus in her presence several times, and something about the Matrix (something she was almost afraid to even think about), but what were -

And suddenly, right there in the middle of her theologically ground-breaking thoughts, was a sharp, keening sound. It brought her up to the front of the Hummer immediately, all thoughts of God and Primus out the figurative window as she tilted her head to listen.

Almost as suddenly as it had come, it was gone again, lost to soft static. With an irritated grunt, she touched a control on Ratchet's console. "You get that, Ratch?"

"I did, Mikaela. But I seemed to have gone out of range. I shall attempt to remedy that." And he did, by throwing himself in reverse without any warning whatsoever and causing the girl to sprawl ungracefully across his dashboard. She pushed herself up with a huff, and gave the medic a dirty look (which consisted of glaring at the steering wheel), even as she strapped herself into the passenger's seat.

"A little warning wouldn't have gone amiss, you know."

"You are undamaged, Mikaela. And there is no need to express your frustration with me; I can smell it all over the cab."

And with that unnerving remark, he continued driving backwards down the little road they had been traveling (they would be in the city proper, but for all that Ratchet was a genius, he could not remember to keep his hologram driver stable.) After only a few seconds of this, maybe ten, the signal was picked back up. The medic promptly threw himself into park, barely giving himself enough time to come to a complete stop, and Mikaela was once again a victim of inertia, this time smacking the back of her skull on the headrest. At least the damned thing's padded, she thought sourly to herself.

"Ratchet, I keep asking you to let me drive every once in a while - "

"Quiet, youngling. Listen."

Her mouth thinning in annoyance, she obeyed.

She quickly realized that this wasn't normal. Whatever it was, whatever it was coming from...she'd never heard anything like it. "Ratchet, do you have any idea what this is?"

No reply.


Still nothing, save the snarling, hacking signal that rent the air around her.

She touched the console, worried now. There was a sinking feeling in her gut, and she didn't like it one bit.

And suddenly there were words.

"...Inj...pl-s...pond...kzssshhh...KZSHH...Ba-ade...nyone, please reKRRZZSHHHH - "

Mikaela jerked away from the dashboard with a yelp. "The HELL. Ratchet, what is this?"

He finally answered over the static. "I believe it is a Cybertronian distress signal, youngling. Of Autobot or Decepticon origin, I am not certain."

She let out a hiss. "You're serious. Here? I thought that Optimus had all channels open, that he could pick up any Cybertronian signals coming into the atmosphere."

"He does, and he can. This...is something else altogether." There was an odd note in Rachet's voice that lent credence to the knot in Mikaela's stomach. "No one has landed here. I believe...they may have been here for some time. Since the Battle of Mission City."

Mikaela sputtered, running a hand through tangled hair. "Since - wait, is that supposed to make sense?"

"I believe, " and the certainty in his voice became stronger, "that we may be hearing the distress signal of one of the Decepticons that Optimus fought with on his way to the city. Why we haven't heard it before now, I cannot say. Regardless...we must investigate."

Her heart had stopped at 'Decepticon,' and now it kick-started back up with a vengeance, hammering double-time in her chest. "You're serious," she repeated, pressing herself back into her seat unconsciously. Decepticons. Jesus.

"Indeed I am, Mikaela. What we just heard could have come from an online Decepticon, one still functional enough to do serious damage to the Autobots and all we have worked for." He paused for a moment, then, realizing her fear, attempted to allay it. "Do not worry, I have already informed Optimus on a secure channel. We will have back-up in twenty-two minutes. All we must do is sim - "

And then the speakers roared, overriding Ratchet's voice completely as the signal burst through. "If you are within range, I am injured. Decepticon, Autobot, ASSIST ME." Then a steady stream of what Mikaela instantly recognized as the Cybertronian language; coordinates, perhaps.

Like before, it died as quickly as it came. Mikaela slowly let her hands fall away from her head, where she had attempted to buffer the deafening sound. Her chest was tight with dread, and something else...almost like anticipation, but worse. She swallowed the bile that suddenly rose in her throat, but it still stung when she finally spoke.

"Ratchet...I know this is going to sound insane, but I think I recognized that voice."

She should have known sneaking out of her grandmother's house to go joyriding with a giant alien robot was going to have consequences. But only if she got caught, or so she thought at the time.

Now it didn't seem to matter.

Mikaela thought she'd died and gone to her own special Happy Place when Ratchet had agreed to take her on as an apprentice. Sam had suggested it, Optimus had backed him, and Bee had nodded enthusiastically throughout the whole thing. It was with much grumbling and slamming of instruments into walls that he had, rather reluctantly, conceded their point - If they were going to live among the humans, to trust them, work with them, there would have to be some sort of cultural exchange. Mikaela was already, in her own opinion (and Sam's, and Bee's), a kick-ass mechanic. But to train to become an Autobot medic? An alien robot doctor? She'd literally gone weak in the knees at the thought. It was simply practical, they said. And Bee...he wouldn't have anyone else work on him. He wanted to be her 'first,' as he'd coyly put it in song (the imp! He'd known exactly what he was doing), and she had wanted so badly to help him walk again.

So Ratchet put her to work, and as a result, she hounded him day and night, sometimes calling in the wee hours of the morning with a question that kept picking at her brain until she couldn't sleep. He regretted ever remodeling that cell phone with Cybertronian technology, he bemoaned again and again to her. It helped her communicate with him and the rest of the Autobots over distances, translating their comm. speak into text on her screen, and in return, she could call them up and talk to them over the same system, or just text them back. Talking to aliens over the phone. How intense could you get?

But throw her grandmother and Sam's parent's into the mix...chaos. Absolute, utter fragging entropy. The 'rents had freaked, and grounded him for the next month, and Gramma Jodi...Mikaela was still worried that the old lady was going to have a spark - heart - attack every time the phone rang. When she had tried to subtly mention this to her Gramma, the woman had looked at her like she'd just suggested cannibalism, or Democrats. She was a Banes, and Banes' didn't get heart attacks. They were salt of the earth Southerners, good, solid stock, and made of sterner stuff than todays grandma's, all soft fluffy hair and store-bought cookies. (Her Gramma's cookies were made from nothing but scratch.) But still...giant alien robots. The woman had to have a breaking point somewhere.

Thus, the sneaking. The 'bots disapproved, especially Optimus, who had an honorable streak a few miles wide, and they all wished there were a less deceptive way to get around things. But things were what they were, and you did what you had to do. So Ironhide said (he was the least upset by the goings-on, unsurprisingly).

Not to mention the fragging military. The politics and procedures involved in that headache...well, gave her an even worse headache. Of Megatron-sized proportions. She and Sam thankfully didn't have to deal too much with them, save the Captain, who really wasn't that bad. They'd even met his family a couple of times, and God was his kid cute. But.

There was always a but, she thought ruefully.

Right here, right now...not much fun was being had, by anyone, by any means. If the government caught wind of this - and it was only a matter of time before they did; the squad of Marines, tentatively named N.E.S.T., assigned to assist (spy on) the Autobots had to report this at some point - then the fecal matter was going to hit the rotary device. And she was going to be right in the middle of it, Primus help her.

(She was already beginning to sound like them; wasn't that something?)

She watched Ironhide unload the poor fragger onto what passed for an examination table in Ratchet's 'lab' - just a sectioned-off space that housed his various medical equipment of DOOM - and couldn't help but wince at the resulting noise. 'Hide wasn't being gentle, to be sure, and she didn't really blame him.

This was Barricade, after all. Or what was left of him, after Optimus handed his aft to him all of two months ago.

Had it really only been two months? It felt like longer. Then again, everything she did (after meeting the Autobots and nearly becoming scrap in a life-or-death battle of epic proportions) had a vague, almost dream-like quality. Yet at the same time, she had never felt so focused. Like everything had a new, refined edge to it, and she had to step lively, or she'd get cut to ribbons.

She had the feeling that she'd never really lived, until now.

...Which meant she'd better savor every damned moment, because once the military found out they had a Decepticon - incapacitated or not - in their facilities, she had a foreboding feeling that she was somehow going to be roped into the middle of it. And then she might be detained for questions, which could lead to accusations, which led to charges, which led to -

- An absolutely ridiculous, histrionic line of thinking. She was overreacting. Letting her hormones take over, as Ratchet would no doubt say.

She blew out a frustrated, shaky breath, and turned her attention back to the wreckage that lay in front of her.

He looked...like scrap. Like something you wouldn't even find at a junkyard. She really didn't want to think about what Optimus could have done that resulted in this...carnage. He must have been pissed to do something like this, even if it was to the enemy.

She thought she had a handle on the guy, sort of. And from what she knew of the Autobot leader...this looked almost like he'd been tortured. Torn apart limb from limb, literally, and left to rust, spark still intact, but completely immobilized.

And Optimus wouldn't do that to someone...not his own kind. Surely.

She bit her lip, and tasted blood.

And maybe I'm so far off the mark I'm in another galaxy, she thought with a sinking heart.

"You want to WHAT?!"

Yeah...yeah, she thought Ratchet might respond like that.

"I want to bring him back online. If he knows something, maybe we can get him to talk. Use his...disability, as it were...to our advantage."

"Absolutely not. We - you - are not repairing him. I forbid it. We can get whatever answers we need from his central processors - I simply need to create and upload a program to his mainframe that will draw them out. He doesn't need to be awake for that."

He said it with such vehemence, such loathing, that Mikaela actually started to back up, before catching herself. She drew in a breath to calm herself, and reminded herself that she had expected something like this. But she was Mikaela Banes, and resistance was futile, dammit. She had her argument all planned out, emotional blackmail and everything, and she was not about to give up before she even got to the good part.

"Okay. Okay. Look, Ratchet. I have actually thought about this, you know. It's not like I walked in here ten seconds ago and said to myself, 'Gee, Mickey, why don't we wake up the big bad Decepticon and see what he does! Hey, the worst he can do is roll over on us.' "

Her sarcasm was not appreciated, she noted, as Ratchet drove a spanner into the wall beside him. "Slag it, Mikaela, don't you think I know that? You're an intelligent creature, which leads me to beg the question, 'why, for the love of Primus, WHY?' I simply see no logic in this. It is an unacceptable venture, and I will have no part in it."

She waited a beat, then dropped her little bombshell. "Optimus agrees with me."


Then, "This is a joke. This is one of your little human jokes, and you're going to wait a few more astroseconds for me to wind myself up some more before pointing and laughing hysterically at me. Aren't you."

Mikaela made a small, apologetic noise in her throat. "No, Ratch, I'm afraid I'm really, deathly serious about this."

"...you do realize I might have to step on you."

"I wouldn't blame you in the slightest."

"Good. You'd best start running, then."

She obeyed, with all haste.

Eventually Ratchet caved, like he always did with her. After the initial blind, all-consuming rage had worn off, he and the others, especially Optimus, had talked at great length. Though talking may have been an exaggeration; shouting, hollering, roaring...take your pick. And throwing things. There was a lot of that.

So it was with a little trepidation that she watched Optimus and Ratchet approach her three days later, in the charging bay. She'd been tinkering with a random servo joint of Barricade's, idly picking at a severed neuron cable, when she felt their shadows fall across her. She swallowed, and immediately set the piece off to the side, hoping they wouldn't have noticed. They did, but neither mentioned it, save for a raising of optic ridges from Optimus and a wordless scowl from Ratchet.

"Before we partake of this endeavor (oh, Primus, he was being formal; that could either bode well or very, nauseatingly ill), we must speak to you on the subject of Barricade himself, and just who he is."

That sounded...intriguing. She nodded, and fell in step beside them, only subconsciously noting how slowly they moved, so that she might keep up with them.

Optimus continued speaking. "Once I realized that there was logic to your argument, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before I would have to tell you what you are about to hear.

This is classified, youngling, make note of it. The government of your United States does not have any need for this information, as it does not pertain to anything concerning them. It is a matter that deals specifically with my own command, and the ranks within. And it is...a sore subject, for all of us. Especially after losing Jazz."

Mikaela took a moment to glance down in remembrance of the fallen Autobot warrior. They had been unable to repair him, as several of the parts needed had been irreparably damaged, and there were no suitable replacements that Ratchet could, or was willing, to use. They had spoken of something called The Ark, mentioning that the crew aboard her (a ship, she had reasoned) would have the necessary pieces to put him back together; but they had not heard from them in years...almost a millennium, if she did the math right. The Autobots stationed here on Earth had no idea of her current location, and there was no feasible way to hail her. Mikaela reckoned, from what she had gleaned from different conversations between the mechs, that Earth was a bit like the galaxy's version of the sticks - out in the middle of fragging nowhere. That was...rather depressing. But it also made it that much more fascinating as to how the Autobots, not to mention Megatron, had found it in the first place, All Spark or no...

Anyway. She looked back up, watching Optimus' face the best she could from her (disad)vantage point so far below him. He must have sensed this, because both he and Ratchet paused, then without any further warning shifted into their alt modes. She had never gotten tired of seeing it, and watched in awe as the last cogs and servos disappeared into the seemingly innocuous bodies of a Semi and a Humvee. After a moment, Optimus' driver-side door swung open, inviting her in. She obliged him, grunting a little with the effort took to climb up into the cab. She was far from out of shape, but damn. Truck drivers must have absolutely wicked quads.

They made their way off base, and ventured a ways into the countryside. All was silent, save for the rumble and growl of the engine. She wondered what was so important that they wouldn't want to speak in front of the others, including Ironhide. Bee and Sam were at his house, working on college transcripts (college! Already! They weren't even seniors yet, but the Witwickys were adamant that Sam be the first in their family to get into a college - any college.). The military personnel present for the moment only consisted of the Master Sergeant and a handful of underlings; Captain Lennox - Will, he'd insisted they call him, you don't save the world with someone and keep calling them by their last name - was currently at home with his little family in Southern California, taking some much needed time with his young daughter, not even a year old yet.

But still. She knew where they were headed, so she didn't complain.

Soon enough they were at the Lookout, and Mikaela hopped out of the cab right before they shifted again. From behind her came the whine of gears pulling and shifting, and that strange electronic noise that told her they were powering up. She didn't look back; instead, she found a comfortable spot against the trunk of the small, drooping tree that sat at the cliff's edge.

Optimus took a minute to gaze out over the valley, and she wondered, yet again, what he was thinking. You think you know a guy, and then you see his limbless, rusty-pulp carcass of an enemy. Despite the warmth of summer all around her, she shivered.

They took stations on either side of her, settling down till they were a little more at her eye-level. It did a little to alleviate what would have been a serious crick in the neck, but it was mostly the gesture itself that counted. It was a sign of equality, of respect, that they would bring themselves down to her level, and for that she was grateful.

Then Prime began to speak once more, and the chill that had come and gone in an instant revisited her.

"Barricade was not always as you know him - he was not sparked into being as a Decepticon. Once, he was one of my most able, most trusted advisers.

A highly competent military strategist; between Jazz and he, there was no battle they could not maneuver to their favor. Not only were they both my highest-ranking officers, they were spark brothers as well, together in everything.

His designation was Prowl."

I got the initial idea for Barricade's identity after hearing about the Transformers movie for the first time, and i'm like, cop car? GEE, GUESS WHO. Alas, it was not to be, but this is what i ended up with, after seeing the movie a bazillion and one times too many. Also, further ideas for what happened to him were sort-of spawned from a fic i read on here a long while back. I've looked and looked, but can't find it again. Maybe once i post more, people will know what I'm talking about, and y'all can help me track it down. I have to give the author credit for the original idea, after all, but i need to know WHO IT IS. (no, i will say nothing more until the actual story gets posted. NO SPOILERS FOR YOU.)