Author's Note: Many thanks to co-conspirator Dragony. She let me bounce ideas off of her cranium. Also many thanks to the people that have been helping me with ideas for this story.

Updated Author's Note: I suppose I should write down warnings and whatnot, now that I've written most of this story. So here goes:

Warnings: Mentions of: inferred abuse of various nature towards underage individuals, mentions of suicide and the reactions of those left behind after a suicide, underage drinking that is appropriate in context, general violence, suspense, inferred PnP/Sparksex in later chapters, discussions regarding gender identities of non-gendered autonomous robotic organisms, and character death. I do my best to keep everything T-rated, so there's nothing graphic of the aforementioned warnings.

Relationships: So far, it's Sam/Mikayla, and later on, Sam/Carly; Optimus/Elita; Ironhide/Chromia; Ratchet/Wheeljack; Jazz/Prowl; Megatron/Nightbird, Megatron/?; Springer/Arcee; Bumblebee/Barricade; Tom Banachek/OC . . . so far. That's not including minor pairings or pairings between two OCs.

That should about cover it.


Optimus gazed at the new arrivals, Bumblebee at his side and standing loosely, almost negligently. Ironhide was walking up to his other side to address the new mechs, an irritated growl at being pulled from practicing maneuvers with the NEST team escaping his vocoder. He took to the human soldiers, even went as far as saying that he enjoyed working with them. He took the time to genuinely get to know a handful of the men, working with them even if it was merely maintenance on weaponry or machinery.

Returning his attention to the group assembled before him, Optimus reviewed their names, functions, and basic temperament. Arcee could be trusted without question; she had been one of his personal aides in Iacon a lifetime ago, and had a steady head and hand when it came to handling delicate situations. Sideswipe was one of their best frontline warriors but also the traditional troublemaker, especially now that he didn't have Sunstreaker right by his side to even out the playing field of practical jokes. But he had matured into becoming a practical mech and could be trusted, even if he was "a bit of a jock," as Will Lennox had laughingly said during a private meeting. Skids and Mudflap were looking to be the most troublesome of this group, based off of their personalities and tenancies to be the obnoxious Younglings that were just barely upgraded into their Adult frames. Prime could trust them to fight, but not with sensitive information. Those two were his primary concern. Jolt was no youngster, being older than Sideswipe, and was starting to explore the energy options that Earth had to offer with all the attitude of an elitist environmentalist.

The Autobots were outside of the stateside base proper, jamming all the signals around them for this particular talk before they returned to Diego Garcia. He had discussed the topic into the ground and through the core of this planet with his officers. And there was a consensus that there were most definitely things that they were not going to disclose to the humans, for a vast variety of reasons. As he waited for Ironhide to settle, Optimus looked to Bumblebee. The mech, still mischievous, started the meeting over the private com-system. :Alright, here's the deal. The humans aren't ready to hear about certain things not just about our technology, but also about our culture. This briefing is to inform you of the broad strokes of what you will not be talking about aloud while around the humans. Ratchet is still compiling his list, so expect to hear from him before the end of next week. For the moment, don't tell the humans anything about how our frames, processors, or Sparks work.:

"Dude, yanno, they're holdin' up a disruptance field-thing . . . ya can talk aloud," Skids replied cockily, making sure that he was being a pain in the aft. Any sort of attention was attention.

:No, actually, I can't. My vocal communications array was quite literally ripped out of my throat by Megatron before you enlisted. Yes. I am privy to both the civilian and military personnel files.: Bumblebee was slightly pleased at seeing the shudder of horror passing over the vocal young Adult's frame at the idea of losing one's voice. However, he also knew that the twins had made the connection of "I know what you've done," and "I know you're younger than you claim" with his mention of files.

"Are you an actual officer, then?" Sideswipe asked almost belligerently, but there was a respectful gleam in his optics that hadn't been there this morning. Optimus almost smiled at that. Sideswipe knew that Bee could hold his own in a prank-war, whether they were teamed up or on opposite sides. Growing up together helped with that camaraderie. Sideswipe's respect could obviously be transferred from "partner-in-crime" to "officer."

"In the absence of Blaster and Jazz, he is our communications officer as well as the xenocultural specialist in regards to human behavior and psychology. Ironhide, as you know, is our weapons specialist and acting second in command until Prowl can be located. He is working directly with the NEST team to continue training them how to respond to Cybertronian threats." Optimus stood tall, optics solemn. "Our other officer is Ratchet, as I'm sure you have surmised. He is continuing to fill the role as Chief Medical Officer."

"Aw, man," Mudflap groaned, head sinking down between his massive shoulders, looking very much like a petrorabbit cornered by several turbofoxes and realizing that there was no way out.

Sideswipe looked down at the twin before snorting and asking, "Did something that you're going to regret?" His face turned to one of blank resignation. "Join the club. I haven't seen Ratch yet, but he's probably going to have my aft after the last prank I pulled on him."

"Your physical exams will be directly after this meeting, in order of importance," the red and blue leader interrupted, "but that is not the full extent of this debriefing."

Ironhide settled on the ground to replace one of the wires on his cannons, able to do it one-handed after eons of practice. "I have a training session with Lennox and Epps in a half-hour, Prime. I do not wish to be late."

"Understood. First on the list of things is that our weaponry and our weapons technology is not for human use. For all their merits, they are too war-like. The technology is classified. If there is a leak of information, there will be serious and undesired repercussions."

"Gee. That's not familiar."

Sideswipe reached over and batted at Skid's helm. "Sorry, Prime. Punks still need some coding implemented for their respect modules."

Making a wry face and sighing, Optimus continued. "I will not knowingly give them technology that will only continue further conflict among their nations. Nor will I tolerate any instances of tech willingly being given out under the table for them to research. Must I go into any more detail of why I feel this strongly?"

"What happens if they've already got their hands on some tech?" Arcee asked from her pink unit while blue and purple crouched on either side, keeping optics on all angles. "And they're trying to emulate it?"

"They have already done so, using Megatron. That is why their technology is so far advanced at this time. They have reverse-engineered microchips, microprocessors, and basic graphic display interfaces from his frame."

"Well, slag. So their tech is evil?" Mudflap asked.

"Good Primus, mechling, will you just pay attention," Ironhide snarled, resisting the urge to introduce his face to his palm. "No, their tech isn't evil! It's just been force-grown."

"Like a new hybrid plant in a greenhouse," Jolt said suddenly.

The group paused as they all accessed the internet to find that reference. Bumblebee blinked, then nodded. :Essentially, yes. Because of the many technological advances, they have not always been able to psychologically handle the repercussions of what their technology means. They remain aggressive and competitive on the whole over weaponry technology in particular. If it's effective, they want it. If it makes a bigger explosion than what their own country is capable of, they want to emulate it and then make it bigger than their enemy.:

"Da's stupid," Skids muttered.

:It's how the humans are. They're always in competition, whether it's for technology or a mate. Which brings us to the next point. Prime?:

Taking the baton, Optimus suppressed a sigh before leveling his Serious Business face to those gathered before him, and let loose with his patented Serious Dressing-Down Voice. "Do notlet them know about interfacing. Ever."

This time, it was Sideswipe who blinked. "Okay, Prime, I'll bite. Why?"

Ironhide snickered, answering instead of their leader. "First off, they do not understand that we are truly an asexual species."

"If we're not supposed to talk with them about our forms of intimacy, how do you know that, 'Hide?" the tri-bodied scout asked curiously, heads tilting to one side in unison, looking very much like a litter of puppies examining something new.

He shrugged massive shoulders. "Lennox is sworn to absolute secrecy. Since he's my partner in leading NEST ground response on missions, I have permission to talk with him about certain sensitive subjects. He knows better than to tell anyone else. He was shocked that we don't have definite physical genders."

"So . . . how do they deal with intimacy?"

"Bee?" Optimus asked with a light gesture of his hand. The yellow mech forwarded a file to each of the newcomers upon the prompting. It held files regarding reproduction and intimacy of the humans, everything from the plain-Jane vanilla baby-making to some rather lewd practices among those who were considered "practiced in the arts."

Sideswipe made a gagging noise before shuddering. "Eewww! Ugh, that's messy! How are they able to ever keep clean if they're all but—"

"Da's nasty."

"Yeah, bro. Ew. Humans actually do this for interfacing? Gross!"

Optimus and his officers continued to watch their reactions without reactions. Bee continued to tape this for the next batch of Autobots that were inevitably going to touch down. Jolt shuddered and twitched. "Can I delete this file from my memory cache? Please?"

". . . I think I'll do the same," Arcee added. "Human intimacy is just . . . chaotic. Messy. Unfortunate. How many more negative things can I say about it?"

:Primus, yes, delete your cache if you're that bothered by it. Just so long as you understand the mechanics of it and how it differs from our own forms of intimacy.: Bumblebee replied. He crossed arms over his chest and watched the young twins before looking to Sideswipe. :As for the reasons behind the actual physical forms of intimacy, I want you to understand that our two species are much more alike than the humans realize.:

Jolt shook his head. "Yeah, I can get that. So they have a very cut-and-dry way of telling genders?"

Ironhide grumbled under his breath. "Bee, you understand humans better than I can."

:Physically, yes, you can tell with a simple surface-scan what gender a human is. But they also can mentally identify better with the opposite gender, complete with desires towards their own gender.:

"But that negates their ability to procreate. They're a biological race, and procreation cannot happen outside of a body. They don't have that technology, and from what I can tell, won't have that tech for another three hundred years, minimum."

:It's not always about procreation. Like our race, it can be based solely upon love and attraction. But that's a discussion upon culture that I want to have with you later, after you've had a lot more interaction with humans and with getting to understand what is and is not socially acceptable through trial and error.: Bumblebee's optics seemed to quirk up in a smile, albeit not a very nice one.

Sending a tightly-encrypted com to Bumblebee regarding his amusement on this matter, Prime picked up the thread of the briefing. "Their sexuality is a rather large and confusing issue, I'll admit. The point is, I do not want you to start 'comparing experiences' with humans. And if I have to have Ratchet write in restrictive coding to enforce my order, I will. This is not up for discussion. Do you all understand?"

A chorus of affirmatives replied, and he looked at each mech in the optics, including all three of Arcee's units. "Very well. Moving onto the final topic not to discuss with humans: religion."

"Ooohkay?" Sideswipe asked.

:Just ping 'world religions' at a web search,: Bee replied with a definite chuckle and amusement in the silently-transmitted tone.

Skids and Mudflap went quite still before looking to each other and shrugging. "Too much readin'. No thanks, man."


The young twins looked to Arcee Purple, who was processing the information while Pink remained with her optics upon Prime and Blue spoke. "They still war over different faith systems."

"Precisely. I will not cause more strife by letting them begin to assume anything about our own faith system, thus turn others away from us merely upon the basis that we do not fit into their doctrine or theology."

Jolt looked up sharply. "So you're essentially neutering us in their views, turning us from true autonomous beings into robots." He spat the word out as if it was a curse.

"It is a strategy that will make it easier with the humans to cooperate with us, Jolt," Optimus replied, his tone gentle. "I, as much as any of you, understand that we are anything but what we are presenting to the humans. At some point in the future, perhaps we may be able to tell them more about ourselves without worrying about what they will think about our forms of affection and faith. Those issues are fiercely contested between various groups, even on base!" Shaking his head, the leader continued. "There are regulations stating that one may not push personal beliefs upon another, but that doesn't stop the conflict; from experience, I know that just delays the inevitable conversation or argument."

:You mean like when you and Ironhide butt heads, or when Ironhide and Ratchet decide to jackhammer on each other's sensors?: Bumblebee teased, just to give the new mechs some context of how explosive tempers could run with the humans.

Ironhide gave his grown Sparkling charge a glare. "You're still small enough for me to swat, Youngling, officer or not. And I out-rank you. Wanna play 'Con with the humans to rally against?"

:No, thank you, sir, I'll pass!:

"Thought so. In any case," Ironhide got to his feet with a groan, his old joints making him growl at the dirt buildup. He'd need to get a thorough cleaning soon with all the grime that built up from speeding over unpaved surfaces of this dirtball. He leveled his formidable glare at each new arrival. "Those are the rules, and we'll be enforcing them."

"Indeed," Prime growl-intoned, his own serious expression more than enough to convince even the few-watts-less-than-bright twins to not break this rule. "Your duty roster will be posted as soon as the NEST training has been completed. Ironhide will be in charge of that. Bumblebee has a charge, and will be continuing guardianship over one Samuel James Witwicky, who goes by the name of Sam. I will give you the full briefing upon that tomorrow. Now. Go get some recharge. Twins, if I hear one word about unnecessary and unsanctioned brawling, there will be a punishment for it. All training fights will have Ironhide's supervision and the humans know that, so don't try to pass off petty tumbles under that banner. Sideswipe, Arcee, Jolt, I want you three to think about which of your secondary programming subroutines you wish to use while on Earth."

"What, we don't get that option?" Skids asked, his tone obnoxious and brusque.

Prime ignored Sideswipe dope-slapping the twin. "You are both too young to have any secondary subroutines to implement, nor any training to continue. Therefore, you will continue your position as infantry until we have the leisure to help you find and develop other talents that you may use to continue a life outside of war."

"Yeah, like that'll ever happen. War'll never end," Mudflap muttered remorsefully. Everyone ignored him.

"Dismissed. Bumblebee, a word before you go?"

:Sure, boss.:

The others cleared off, Ironhide and Sideswipe moving off together to talk battlefield strategies, Jolt and Arcee going off to find Ratchet and see if they could be of any help. The Chevy Twins tumbled off to finish exploring the base, knowing the hard way that if they tried to cross a runway without clearing it through the proper channels, they get in some serious slag. That had been the incident of second day after their landing.

Sighing, Optimus looked to his young officer. When the rumors of war had started and when the glatorial arenas had begun to breed more than just wanton violence, he hadn't been that much older than the scout was now. It suddenly made him feel very, very old. "Bumblebee, you mentioned that Sam has started to become distant."

:Yes.: Recycling the air through his vents and focusing on relaxing some of his hydraulics, Bumblebee looked up at his leader, then away, watching a historic-looking F-15 land. :He hasn't said much of anything for a reason why. However, I do feel that he's starting to . . . regret being as involved with our kind:

Frowning, Optimus motioned for Bumblebee to continue, turning to face him completely. His voice was uncharacteristically melancholy as he sympathized with the younger mech. "He's starting to realize that he won't have what humans call a 'normal life,' isn't he?"

The yellow mech rested hands upon hips as he looked up at the commander he trusted to guide their race into peace. :Indeed, sir. He . . . continues to enjoy Mikaela's company, and he continues to try to live life normally. Sometimes, that means that I am not with him. I have been trying to convince him that it is not wise for him to be out of my scanner range, but as you know . . . young mechs like to escape their Caretakers.:

Remembering far too many of those moment when he had been a young Caretaker, Optimus grunted. "And your handicap isn't helping much at all, is it, Bee?"

Optics quirking up in a smile at the nickname, Bumblebee nodded once as the smile turned sad. :No, Optimus, it truly isn't. I feel that he and I share similar mindsets on more than a few matters, but . . . I am not willing to part with information regarding the circumstances that cause me to feel the way I do about inadequacy, what Ratchet and Smokescrn define as a "true misunderstanding of self-worth," as well as various other issues that come with having an overactive conscience.:

Lip components quirking, Optimus turned to watch the base as it moved, busy and brisk military movements that spoke of the people. Before Megatron had betrayed them, Optimus remembered the way that the Guard and Militia had functioned. They were very similar to the human military bases. The Autobots had worked hard to become a cohesive military, and it was only with the help of former Guard and former Militia that Optimus Prime was able to spearhead their faction.

"I have a question to ask of you, old friend." Optimus didn't have to look to know that Bumblebee was looking at him curiously, his large optics speaking more than any communication could. After a pause to reanalyze his words and gather himself, he asked, "Do you feel that Sam is capable of being trusted to become a liaison? More than that, can he be trusted with all the secrets of our people, so that he—"

:Prime, don't get ahead of yourself,: Bumblebee interrupted, moving around the leader so that they were again face-to-face. :Sam is still a boy. Still a child, even by his own people's standards. He doesn't have the maturity nor the capability of being mature enough yet to handle the idea of responsibility that comes of being a true liaison to a completely alien government.:

Prime nodded. He knew this. "Do you feel that within the next few years, he has the ability to mature into being the cultural interpreter that we will need?"

:Given time, given more experience, yes. He has an open mind, overflowing compassion when need be, and the ability to not just understand the big picture, but to also be able to figure out how to affect it when he changes something in his personal sphere of influence.:

"Which is why he has started to pull away from your friendship."

Unable to choke back a whine, the closest that he had to a keen of Sparkfelt unhappiness, Bumblebee coughed with discomfort, embarrassed that Prime had hit the nail on the head, as the humans say.

"Awh, Bee. Forgive me."

:You're speaking the truth as you see it, Prime.: Rubbing at his throat, which looked fine, but quite obviously wasn't, Bee looked away. :As much as I don't like it, he is pulling away. He's going to college in just over six months. Freshmen aren't allowed cars, but I'll be doing what I can to stay close to the campus. He won't like me following him, but it is necessary.:

Reaching a hand out and resting it on the yellow shoulder, Optimus smiled and turned them both back to the base, picking up the jamming device, deactivating and subspacing it in one fluid movement. "I remember watching you grow and mature."

:Running around Ironhide's ankles as he drilled recruits into the Guard? Passing out while draped over your or Megatron's shoulders during meetings? Making the old Megs laugh with my antics at trying to fight and be tougher than I had been?:

"Actually, I was recalling almost stepping on you. One of the countless times that you literally got yourself underfoot without anyone noticing." Optimus chuckled, his Spark warmed at the fact that he wasn't the only one who remembered the "old Megatron" with fondness. His brother . . . had . . . been a stern but loving and intelligent mech. Somewhere, and Optimus just couldn't pin down when it had happened, he had traded his compassion for megalomania.

Shuffling a little, Bee shook his head before resuming the almost-stately pace he had picked up from Prime himself. He knew that Sam was watching them from the bleachers, instead of watching Ironhide drill the humans on maneuvers. He knew that human hearing couldn't pick up on Prime's words yet. :You were young back then as well, sir, and often had your mind occupied with running Cybertron and leading our people. And you were without the excuse of a militarized frame. Now? You're a slaggin' walking armory. It's a wonder that Ironhide doesn't just pick you up and aim you instead of using his cannons!:

He was genuinely pleased when Optimus threw his head back and laughed, pausing his steps to enjoy the mirth at the images that Bumblebee had sent with the com. Doorwings fluttering once in delight, the younger mech added, :And Prime . . . I know that Younglings strive to become independent of their caretakers at a certain age. I know that it's going to hurt. But just like I stopped rebelling against Ironhide . . . and you . . . before the war began for me, I know that Sam will come to realize that it's useless to rebel against what he knows is his duty, his responsibility, what part that he has to play in this Primus-forsaken war.:

Gently clapping his hand against the young officer's shoulder in affirmation of that fact, Prime straightened, feeling better than he had in a long while, walking into earshot of the humans, teasing lightly. "Are you vying to take up Jazz's official capacity as morale officer as well? Or will I have to assign that to another mech?"

:Oh, I believe that Ratchet would enjoy being morale officer.: Looking to Ironhide, Bee tilted his head mischievously. :What do you think, 'Hide?:

He knew that the humans would think that he was suggesting Ironhide as morale officer, and Optimus anticipated this as well because he barked a laugh. "Ratchet would have my aft on a silver platter if I suggested that he become morale officer."

:Oh, after a month or three. At first, you know that he'd take a certain sadistic glee in this.: Bee gesticulated along with his words as a human would. Doorwings hitching up in a particularly troublemaking way, he added, :And Ironhide could be his second. Both love to torment and torture recruits with scathing bedside manners.:

"Now you listen, you slag-processored glitch-heap!" Ironhide growled, taking a few steps towards the sun-bright mech.

"Bee? Are you . . . talking to them?" Sam's voice cut through the playful argument that was starting to heat up between the old caretaker and his former charge. The high school boy was watching their body language intensely, not knowing that Prime was watching him, judging his character silently.

Bumblebee blinked and nodded, looking to Ironhide to explain. The black weapons specialist turned to look down at the boy. He knew all the terminology that had to go with Bee's unique problem, which came from the old Caretaker programming that the older mechs had installed before the war was even a twinkle in a terrorist's optic: Know what is wrong with your charge, and help them overcome it. Jazz, being musical and always on the cutting-edge of culture, had been a great help and mentor to Bumblebee in those first few months.

"Only his audible vocal communication array was destroyed. The sub-frequency personal communication, what we call 'coms,' is located in a different place for just this sort of problem." He looked to Bee, then to Prime, for permission to educate the humans on a little more of their culture . . . something just behavioral, nothing too deep. Getting the go-ahead, he continued on with the small lesson. "We . . . go a little crazy if we're unable to communicate. Everything about our culture revolves around communication, and being able to articulate ourselves. If Bee didn't have the ability to articulate himself, whether through alt-mode speakers or through the com, I doubt that he would be here today. He's resourceful, that little slagger, and always has been. It's no wonder that he and the twins paired up to prank the base so often."

"Prank, like, practical jokes?" Lennox asked. "Wait. Those twins?"

"Slag, no, they're not smart enough! Sideswipe and his brother Sunstreaker are twins. They accomplished anything you can think of, from tasteless to elaborate."

"And gluing a certain second-in-command to the ceiling," Prime rumbled, resting his hands upon his hips.

"It wasn't me!" Bart Simpson's classic voice said through Bee's radio as the scout ducked behind the bleachers. He pointed towards the hangar where Ratchet was chewing out Sideswipe in Cybertronian.

"Twins and Bluestreak?" Ironhide asked, using the Cybertonian version of the sniper's name. "Huh. Makes sense. Jazz probably was in on that, too."

Bee nodded enthusiastically before looking to his charge. "Time to wander home, partner," an old Western voice drawled.

"Awesome. You're bringing me home early because I have school on Monday."

"Homework, homework, homework!" was the chirpy reply.

"Calculus sucks, Bee—"

Cutting him off with a wave, Bumblebee searched through the internet for the right quote before replying, "If you wanted help, all you had to do is ask."

"You're kidding. You mean I could have been asking you for help on my idiotic homework all along?"

"The price is riiiigghtt!"

Sam dissolved into cursing as he walked down off of the bleachers, much to the amusement of the soldiers and the other Autobots. "I guess I'm off. See you later, Optimus, Ironhide."

"Safe travels, Sam," the deep and calm voice of the Prime replied. "If you do need anything, please don't hesitate to ask."

"Nmph. Except for homework. I have other slag to do than tutor children," Ironhide grumbled before barking to the NEST soldiers, "What the frag do you think you're doing, standing around? What if a 'Con pranced his way up from that direction? I was the only one keeping watch on that position! You slagheads think that I can cover your squishy skidplates all the time? No! Get a move-on!"

Sam chuckled as the men didn't even seem to mind the verbal abuse while they returned to the drills. He waved to Lennox as he sat behind the Camaro's wheel, feeling safer inside the Autobot then he did while Ironhide was lobbing flash-bangs around to desensitize the troops to what would eventually be vital circuitry being destroyed. These fresh recruits, fresh being used in terms of 'bot contact as they were generally special ops soldiers, were learning to target, destroy, and move on. "Bee . . . was Ironhide always like this? You know . . . this tough on his troops?"

Laughing silently, the Camaro replied with an affirmative chirp that Sam had learned meant "yes." There were still some tones that he could produce, and he had worked with Sam over the last year and a half to cultivate the communication patterns between them.

"So he's always been like how he is now?"

Rolling up to the checkpoint, Bee flashed his ID on the military computers on the stateside base before pulling out onto the main road. He flashed a text-message to Sam. No. He was always stern, but not quite as hardened. Hands off the wheel. I'm driving.

Frowning at the "snippy" words, Sam muttered, "All right, all right. Geez, Bee, what's the big deal?"

Sorry. Text messages just don't portray any tonal emotion. I meant to tease.

"Yeah, that kinda got lost in transation, buddy."

I'm aware. That's why I don't like using this form of communication that often, especially while in alt mode. I'm sorry, Sam.

"Naw, man, I mean, it's cool. So . . . is this stop at Edwards on their way to or from a 'Con sighting?"

Wish I could tell ya, but it's classified. Bee played a portion of a satirical song about the government before clipping it off. Things get messy if civilians know too much about what we're doing.

This got under Sam's skin, and he half-exploded in his frustration. "Hey, I helped in the Mission City battle! Hell, I killed Megatron! And I'm not allowed to know anything about what my friends are doing while they're going off into battle? If they're even going to come back at all?"

Bumblebee knew his frustration, and he sighed, pulling off the highway, moving to where he knew that there was wilderness and the chance to express himself through body language and facial expression. He knew that Sam was frustrated because he wasn't allowed to know things. Primus, Bee remembered when he was a Youngling, able to understand that people sometimes didn't come home after subduing riots and protests in Kaon, but not knowing why they didn't come back. Opening his door when they were at a deserted rest stop, he waited until Sam clambered out before transforming. On lighter days, he'd start transforming the moment that Sam had a foot on the ground, shuffling him out easily. Not today.

Pulling an iPad out from his subspace, glad that Ratchet had foisted it off on him when he had gone in for the impromptu wellness exam, he handed the carefully-wrapped item to Sam, sitting down casually on a boulder. Words raced across the screen in time with his facial expression. Sam, there are things that are not safe for you to know right now. There are people that wish to kill you for the very reason why you wish to know what my commander and friends are doing. You killed Megatron. While he wasn't a beloved leader, he was a good one, and kept many splinter factions that answered to the Decepticon banner under control.

"So they would kill me just out of spite?"

Some would, yes. Some knew Megatron from before the war, and would kill you out of respect for his memory. Nodding empathetically through a pained expression, Bumblebee continued, expressive hands gesturing to the world around them. This world is one of the most beautiful places in the universe, and one that I sincerely hope that we are allowed to continue to live upon. That means that I have to play by rules that require me to not tell you, a civilian, certain sensitive details. If you were taken from my charge and interrogated by the Decepticons, I would never forgive myself for failing you. Pausing, he reached his finger out and rested it upon Sam's shoulder. You're an amazing human, and I have to follow the rules so that I may continue to be your friend, and be by your side.

"Do I have any choice in this?" Sam asked, his voice low and pained. His gaze revealed that he didn't want Bumblebee to stay, but that he was considering all the options.

If you wanted me to leave . . . you would have another Autobot in my place, or you would be confined to a safe bunker where nobody could find you, with no contact to the outside world, guarded by humans. I believe that would throw a rather large wrench into the works for your desire to lead a normal life.

Bumblebee watched the expressions flit over the human's face, able to register them all and quite aware that Sam himself probably wasn't able to understand just how many conflicting emotions he was expressing.

I do not wish to leave you, Sam.

Looking up at the Autobot, Sam wondered just what that meant. After a long pause, he asked that very question, and was sure that he saw relief upon the grey face as a result. Despite our different races, you are like a brother to me. And I wish to continue protecting you, because you're the most interesting human that I have direct contact and access to.

"So sorta like I'm like the last person on earth, right? That sorta thing."

Not in the least. You're valuable. Unique. Funny. Talented. And you aren't afraid of us, and you hadn't been afraid of me when we first truly met. So. Will you allow me to continue being your Guardian, Sam?

Sam read the words on the screen three times over before he gave an answer. Looking up, deep brown eyes dark with worry and emotion, the young man nodded. He didn't say anything else, but he knew that it must be killing Bee to not be with his comrades right now, tracking and ambushing the Decepticons. But he nodded anyway and said, "Yeah."

Optics quirking up in a smile, the yellow scout leaned in and rested his hand along Sam's side, unable to write "thank you" upon the screen, only able to let his doorwings settle lower upon his back, and a relaxed expression to drift over his features. Transforming, he opened the door.

Wanna drive?

Sam grinned broadly and shoved the iPad into its carrying sachel, all but diving into the bucket seat. What hot-blooded teenage boy wouldn't want to drive the hottest car on the market? He hit the accelerator and shot out into the night.