As both the humans expected, Bumblebee got quite a few impressed looks when the three of them pulled into the school parking lot on Monday. Even Trent, leaning against his shiny truck, did a double-take.

"You sure you're okay to just sit here all day?" Sam asked the Autobot once they were parked.

"Internet at the speed of light!"

"Can we trade?" Mikaela joked. "You go to class and I laze around all day surfing the web?"

"Be cool - stay in school."

Sam chuckled. "See you in a bit, then." When they got out of the Camaro, Sam couldn't help the grin and bounce to his step as he and Mikaela walked to their first class of the day. He had the coolest car in school, and the girl of his dreams let him carry her books between classes. After all he'd been through in Mission City and before, it felt like this must be the reward side of some really awesome karma. Maybe he should kill Decepticon warlords more often.

...

It wasn't long before Mikaela was forced to make the choice that she knew she'd have to sooner or later. When her friends called, more often than not she gave them the excuse that she and Sam were studying together, which was only partly true. They spent more time talking about the Autobots than they spent doing homework. Less than six weeks after the trimester began, her clique went to a movie and didn't even invite her.

That same week, Jenny went to sit with Kurt at lunch, which meant she was back at the jock table with Trent. Olivia went with her. Her friends invited Mikaela, of course, but when she saw Sam's expression to that suggestion, she immediately answered, "No."

Trent started flirting with Lenore, and Mikaela was convinced he was just trying to make her jealous. When Mikaela said anything, though, Lenore just said he was on the rebound and she had enough sense to not take it to heart. Still, she joined Jenny and Olivia at Trent's table at lunch a couple of weeks later.

Maria went with Trish instead of Sam and Mikaela when the PE teacher began the volleyball unit. A couple of days later, she left the lunch table, too, to join her other friends. It was just Sam, Mikaela, Miles, and Alison now.

In Art class, Alison asked Mikaela why they didn't just go back to their usual lunch table. It had become a symbol for the way her clique was breaking up. She frowned thoughtfully before answering, realizing Alison was the last social tie she had to the "before" Mikaela. The only reason she'd stuck around this long was because Miles was there, too.

"There's bad blood between Trent and Sam." And between her and Trent, but she wasn't about to bring that up again and sound like the jealous ex.

"But...we've stuck together for years. He's just a boy. You'll probably break up with him in six months. Is he really worth alienating all your friends over?"

Mikaela's average length for dating a guy was about five months, so she appreciated Alison's vote of confidence. "Sam's different," she finally managed. She was different now, too.

Frustrated, Alison muttered, "Whatever."

Sooner or later it was bound to happen, and Mikaela knew it in the back of her mind. She just never expected it to come in the form of a sneeze.

She was sitting with her now-usual lunch bunch on a Pizza Tuesday. The girl ahead of them at the lunch counter had been wearing lethal levels of perfume that had left all four of them sniffling and rubbing watery eyes. Samuel James Witwicky - slayer of Megatron, personal friend of Optimus Prime, and driver of the coolest car in Tranquility High - sat at her left and across from Miles. The two of them were animatedly debating whether travel by hyperspace was even possible, with Sam arguing that it was. He seemed to be winning but Mikaela couldn't be sure because he was using NASA jargon that even Lenore probably didn't know. Alison just shook her head indulgently and picked at her fruit salad.

While Miles made his counter-argument, Sam bit off a chunk of pizza and chewed it a half a dozen times while he grabbed a pencil and notebook to try to explain on paper what everyone else couldn't seem to understand. With both his hands full, his sudden sneeze caught him by surprise and his mouthful of pizza sprayed all over his friend.

"Dude! That is nasty!" Miles said, his expression caught somewhere between shocked and revolted. Grabbing a completely-inadequate paper napkin, he tried to clean himself off.

Groans of disgust rippled through the surrounding tables as people turned to see what Miles was freaking out about, and Sam blushed a vibrant red. "It's not my fault!" he protested as he handed his friend his equally-inadequate napkin. "It was totally the perfume!"

With a put-out sigh, Alison reached into her backpack and pulled out a travel-pack of wipes. Mikaela knew she carried them because there was never enough time to really scrub the paint or clay or whatever off your hands after art class. Besides, it was easier on the manicure to use the wipes than a nail brush. "Here."

Miles snatched them from her and scrubbed at the pizza-sauce smudges and chunks of chewed-up crust on his shirt. "This is so not coming out!"

"Maybe you should go home and change," Mikaela suggested. "It'll get you out of PE, too."

Huffing a disgusted grunt, Miles answered, "No can do. Mom and Dad are both at work." He lifted his head to look at Sam, sudden realization in his eyes. "You can drive me!"

"No way!" Sam actually recoiled at the idea. "I'm not letting that nasty shirt anywhere near Bumb...the upholstery. There's no telling what that'll do to the car!"

"Dude, it's your nasty lunch all over my shirt!"

"Dude, it's yourfault that you don't have an extra shirt!"

"How many shirts do you have in your locker?" Miles demanded.

"That's not the point!"

"You sneezed on me. You get to drive me home to change!"

"I'm not arguing with you," Sam said, suddenly petulant. "We're having 10 seconds of silence. 'kay? 10 seconds."

Dumbfounded, Miles looked at first Mikaela and then Alison, and that's when it finally happened - Mikaela's image of him broke into a million pieces. Samuel James Witwicky - the hero who had waltzed into Mikaela's life, turned it upside down, brought her to walk among metallic gods, erased a past that haunted her, and (as if that wasn't enough) saved the world - suddenly and irreversibly became a nerdy, disgusting, teenage boy in her eyes. Sure, he did all of the above, but he was immature and irritating and just so...so...dense!

"Knock it off, Sam," she ordered. "You drive him home or I will."

"You don't have the key," Sam sniped back.

"I don't need a key," Mikaela furiously retorted, getting a little careless. "Now grow up or, so help me, I'll tell your momabout all this!"

Alison shook with silent giggles. "Did you seriouslyjust threaten to tattle on him?"

Mikaela jerked to her feet, flushed almost as bright as Sam in her irritation and embarrassment. "Come on, Miles."

"No, I've got it," Sam quickly protested, standing up, too.

Mikaela glowered at him. "No, actually, you don't."

That's when the other penny dropped - the one she hadn't been expecting. Sam's eyes were wide when she snapped at him, frozen in terror, and Mikaela realized just how much he thought he needed her. He was vulnerablewhen it came to her. Superhero Sam was petrified at the thought of losing her or even getting in an argument.

"Forget it," Miles grumbled as he, too, stood up and gathered his books. "I'll walk."

Alison followed him out, and Mikaela remembered that her friend had a car, too, an inconspicuous little hatch-back. She would probably give him a lift, and that made Mikaela feel a little better. At least someone in this mess was making sense.

"Was he worth it?" Maria demanded as she leaned against her locker in the PE changing room.

Mikaela glanced over at her, and there was a cruel sparkle in Maria's eyes. Mikaela frowned and continued spinning the combination on her locker, refusing to answer.

"You've lost every single friend because of him," Maria taunted. "Even Alison finally realized what a loser he is and walked off after that revolting sneeze. He's all you've got left. So was he worth it?"

No sacrifice, no victory. More to herself than to Maria, she murmured, "Yes, actually, he is."

"You've got the whole school talking," Maria casually continued, though there was a cutting edge to her words, "trying to figure out where a nobody like him got the money to buy you."

Mikaela clenched her jaw once, reining in her fury at the words. "You've got the whole school talking," she sharply answered, knowing that Maria was the source of most of that talk. "And not everyone is willing to whore herself like you."

Maria bristled, and Mikaela trotted out the secret she'd kept as a friend and now used as blackmail. "Three words: New Years Eve. I like Sam for who he is, which is more than I can say about you and Mike Luttmer."

Maria's expression twisted in rage, and she hissed, "No one will believe you." Her voice gradually rose as she continued, "You've lost everything! Including the respect of all your friends!"

Mikaela turned so she was face to face with the other girl, and if Maria had been in Mission City, she would have recognized the fierce glint now in Mikaela's eyes. "You act like I care what self-centered, shallow, stupid, slutty, ugly..."

Maria slapped her, not realizing she was dealing with the "after" Mikaela, the one who was free from her past and who was not afraid of any mere human.

Mikaela shoved her, hard, and the cheerleader stumbled backward, catching the back of her knee on one of the benches anchored to the floor. That sent her reeling sideways so that she landed face-down on the cement. Silence fell for a split second, and then a flock of girls descended on Maria, helping her sit up and asking if she was okay. Blood was streaming from Maria's nose and she gingerly touched it, wailing, "It's broken! She broke it!"

Ms. Roy, one of the female PE teachers, sprinted into the locker room. "What is going on in here?"

Mikaela turned, Maria's bright red hand print still stinging on her face, and gaped in a panic before she remembered that no probation officer would hear about this. "She hit me. I pushed her away and she tripped and fell."

Giving Mikaela a frustrated glare, Ms. Roy bustled over to Maria, ordering one of the girls to grab a wad of paper towels from the bathroom, and tried to staunch the blood. Mikaela stood rooted in the same spot, her hands at her sides and balled into fists. There went her Saturday - she'd be stuck in in-school suspension for fighting. A fierce satisfaction filled her to realize that Maria would be there, too. Mikaela had no doubt Maria would spin this to make herself look like the victim, but with a sense of sudden freedom, she also realized she didn't care. Sam would stick by her, she was sure of it, and he was the only one in this petty little school who mattered.

Mikaela was sent home for the day for fighting, and Grandma Nielsen was in full harpy mode when she came to pick up her granddaughter. "What were you thinking?" she demanded as Mikaela slammed the car door.

Wordlessly, Mikaela turned so her grandma could see the outline of Maria's handprint on her cheek.

"Oh."

"Don't worry about it, Gran," Mikaela grumbled, trying to sound dismissive. "I'm not in trouble with the law anymore, remember?" Sullenly glaring out the window, she thought, My friends are another story.

...

Sam started working himself up into a full-blown panic attack when Mikaela didn't show up for PE. At first he thought maybe she'd stolen Bumblebee and had driven Miles home after all, but when he peeked outside (while on a supposed bathroom break), 'Bee was still sitting in the parking lot. Then he worried that a Decepticon somehow got to her. The worst part of it was Miles wasn't there to talk him down from his freak-out since he was at home changing his clothes.

He never thought to ask anyone else where Mikaela was, mostly because they were both used to keeping their secrets from the rest of the world. He was all but bouncing on his toes in anxiety while he waited for the volleyball teams to rotate to the next match.

"...blood everywhere!" Trish whispered to Jen as they walked past.

"WHAT?" Sam barked, and both girls startled. Looking at him like he was roadkill or something, Trish said, "Mikaela gave Maria a bloody nose. She got sent home." Giving him a little smirk, Trish turned to Jen and the two continued on to the next volleyball court, whispering away.

After school, Sam slid into Bumblebee's cab, his stomach tied into nervous knots. He tried calling Mikaela's cell phone after school, but she didn't pick up. He grimaced when it went to voicemail and ended the call.

"Is there a problem?" 'Bee asked in the voice of some trying-to-be-helpful secretary.

"Mikaela got in a fight and got sent home. But she's not answering her phone."

'Bee pulled up a quote from some panicked guy in a movie. "The lines have been cut!" His engine revved to life and he peeled out toward the street. "Enemy on approach...get down there now!"

"Whoa!" Sam shouted, holding on to the door handle for dear life. "Slow down, 'Bee! She's probably just grounded or something." He hadn't seriously considered Decepticons until 'Bee's reaction, but now his heart was in his throat, too.

They careened over to her house, but 'Bee calmed down a little when he rolled to a stop on Mikaela's curb. "She's here...the coast is clear...hurry!"

"Just relax, 'Bee," Sam said, though it was as much to settle himself down as it was to reassure the Autobot. Still, he hurried up the walk.

After he knocked, Gran was the one who answered the door. "She's grounded, boy," she declared without preamble. "You won't be driving her around no more either, not after you run off with her for almost a week and then she gets in brawls over you. She's a good girl, but she's been nothing but trouble since she met you." Then she shut the door in Sam's face.

He stared blankly at the door until it sank in that he really wouldn't be seeing Mikaela again that day. Grinding his teeth, he turned and walked back to Bumblebee.

For the first time since realizing 'Bee was a robot, Sam wished he was just a plain old car so he could slam the driver's side door so hard it would make Gran's windows rattle.

"...are very annoying," Bumblebee said to Sam when he climbed into the cab, using a quote from Ironhide. "We could take them out."

The clip continued, this time in Optimus' voice. "Ironhide, you know we don't harm humans!"

"I'm just saying we could. It's an option."

Sam managed a half-smile. "Never heard that one before."

'Bee played another quote from Optimus. "Oh! Parents!"

"The night Sector Seven showed up, huh? Yeah, I think we need to follow the big guy. No harming humans, especially little ol' grannies." In a lower voice he muttered, "As tempting as it may be."

The rumors spread like wildfire about how Mikaela had totally beat up Maria in the locker room so badly that she'd almost broken Maria's nose. And for no reason at all. There was a lot of speculation that Sam had gotten her into drugs or something for her to attack her friends like that.

Alison relayed all that to Miles who let Sam know what the entire school was saying. He was smarter than to pass that information on to Mikaela, though. "Don't believe everything you hear," Sam told Miles after school as the three of them walked toward the parking lot. Alison was giving Miles rides these days, and while he would occasionally look wistfully at Sam's drool-worthy set of wheels, he always hopped into Alison's car before Sam could even invite him for a ride.

"Oh I don't," Alison piped up. "But you have admit, Mikaela's...acting pretty differently."

"So are you," Sam said, glancing pointedly at Miles.

"Not that differently," she grumbled.

The next day during American History, both Sam and Mikaela were called to the office, and the secretary just handed the phone off to Mikaela. Sam fidgeted as he eavesdropped on half the conversation, which sounded like Mikaela trying to diagnose car problems over the phone. Finally she said, "Okay, Gran, sit tight. I'm sure Judy will excuse Sam so he can drive me over to help."

At her questioning glance, Sam nodded, knowing that if it meant he got time alone with Mikaela, his mom would let him skip out on classes for the rest of the trimester. She was almost as bad as 'Bee.

In the parking lot, the Camaro popped his doors as Sam and Mikaela climbed in, and before they even got their seatbelts on, his speakers came to life. "It's a set-up! … Make a good impression...Micky...what a girl wants, what a girl needs..."

"What is going on?" Sam demanded.

Suddenly suspicious, Mikaela asked, "'Bee? Gran's stuck at the grocery store because her car is mysteriously broken. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

"Maaaaaybe," he allowed.

Mikaela broke out in giggles. "You, my 'bot, are brilliant!" To Sam, she explained, "Gran's too cheap to pay for a tow truck when she has a live-in mechanic." Contemplating first the dashboard and then her boyfriend, she added, "But she'll need a way to get the frozen stuff home before it all melts. You two should gallantly offer your services while I fix the car."

"Loose cable...on the...starter...relay," Bumblebee helpfully explained.

"But..."

Mikaela narrowed her eyes at Sam, silencing his protests. "You are going to let Gran drive, and 'Bee, no tricks and no letting her get you all killed in a car wreck. I keep telling her I need to spend more time with you, Sam, because finals begin in a week and a half and you've been tutoring me, so you need to wow her with your smarts."

"Oh. Is that all?" he sarcastically answered.

"Just talk to her about computers," she said dismissively. "As soon as you get to anything beyond 'keyboard,' 'mouse,' and 'monitor,' she starts getting glassy-eyed. Even the printer scares her." She gave him a sidelong look. "Or you could impress her with good old Great-Great-Grandpa's exploration of the Arctic. That always makes for a good story."

"Hah!"

With a smirk, she added, "Or you could explain how hyperspace works."

The speakers played a laugh-track at that and Mikaela leaned back into her seat. "And 'Bee? Thanks for the sabotage."

"All in a day's work, ma'am," he quoted in answer and she grinned.

...

Gran was thrilled to drive 'Bee. She and Sam talked about computers for all of 30 seconds before 'Bee played half of a commercial. "If you're not interested in..."

Sam sighed and took off on a tangent. "Did Mikaela tell you I got an A- on my genealogy project? I did it on my Great-Great Grandpa Archibald Witwicky. He explored the Arctic."

"My grandpa was decorated in World War I," she eagerly responded, grateful for a non-technological conversation. "He was a sniper and a damn good one. He used to tell us all about the Krauts he took out." Gran then proceeded to regale Sam with all the gory details of what war looks like through a sniper's scope. Mission City was two and a half months ago, but Sam remembered it as clearly as if it were yesterday (especially in his still-unpleasant dreams), and he didn't appreciate the reminder. But still, if it meant Mikeala was only grounded for a couple of days instead of until the end of time like Gran had told her, it was worth it.

Sam offered to unload the groceries in an attempt to be a gentleman, and Gran happily took him up on it, following him as he carried ice cream and vegetables from Bumblebee's trunk into the kitchen. She'd moved on to tales of her Great-Grandma Nielsen (who'd been a suffragette) before Mikaela showed up in their modest but repaired car to rescue him.

"Well," Gran proclaimed, "you've been a great help today, Sam. I still don't like you much for getting my girl into trouble - my worthless ex-son-in-law did enough of that - but she cares an awful lot about you. Once she's finished doing her time in in-school suspension, I guess she won't be grounded anymore."

Mikaela threw her arms around Gran and then gave Sam a brilliant grin. She also chipped in on a professional hand-wax and wash for Bumblebee.

...

That Friday, American History got out a few minutes early, and so Sam got to wait with Mikaela until Gran came to pick her up. Before she arrived, though, Miles sidled up to the two of them.

"Where's Alison?" Mikaela wondered.

Miles guiltily glanced across the parking lot to where she was waiting by her car. Sam and Mikeala shared a confused look and Miles blurted out, "She doesn't want me to hang out with you guys anymore."

"What?" Mikeala demanded in complete disbelief. She threw a glare at the other girl who quickly looked away.

"I...she...we hang out together at her place after school. We say we're studying, but usually it's anime and...stuff."

"So…?" Sam demanded. "Hang out with us, too."

"She gets it, bro," Miles earnestly said with all the intensity Sam had seen him muster. (Which is to say, not much.) "The comics, the upside-down thing, just...everything. She's like...awesome! Nobody is like her."

Sam huffed. "You're ditching me for a girl? Whatever happened to 'bros before hos?'" He also pointedly ignored Mikaela's insulted look.

"Dude, don't quote The Code to me!" Miles snapped back. "You were the one who broke it first."

"Come on! I mean, we can still be friends, at least, right?"

"Nope." Miles shook his head sharply. "Sorry. No can do. Alison says it's you or her, and you already chose." Seeming to steel his resolve, he emphatically threw his hands wide. "We're over. Done."

Sam's face contorted, stuck somewhere between confusion and disbelief. "Did you seriously just break up with me?"

Mikaela, just staring at this mind-boggling exchange, blurted out, "You're such a girl!"

Miles turned, walking toward where Alison was waiting and muttering, "Whatever."

Gran showed up a few seconds later, and Sam rode home on his own, complaining to Bumblebee about how he couldn't believe Miles would end their friendship because a girl told him to.

"Mickey...gave up...friends for you," Bumblebee pointed out.

Sam felt two inches tall to realize the Autobot was 100% right and he'd never even thought about it before now. She had given up a lot for him, and he'd never apologized for destroying all her other friendships or thanked her or anything.

"What do I do, 'Bee?"

To Mikaela's surprise, ISS was kind of pleasant. Maria's mom followed her all the way through the school to the study hall, fluently chewing her out in Spanish the whole time, and Mikaela cheerfully ignored her mortified former friend. Instead she knuckled down to do some serious studying, since she knew she and Sam wouldn't be talking about anything Earthly for a longtime. By catching up now, she'd have that much more time to spend with Sam and 'Bee later.

Mikaela had a hard time of it during that last hour of suspension, though. In just a few minutes she'd be free to run off with her boyfriend and her mech friend for the first time in almost a week. She'd seen Sam during their classes, but Bumblebee had been completely off limits, so she vowed they'd spend the whole rest of their weekend with him. By dint of pure determination, she managed to fidget and pencil-tap her way through that last hour, scooping up her books and getting halfway to the door before the release bell finished ringing.

A familiar yellow Camaro was waiting for her in the parking lot, along with the cutest, stupidest, gutsiest boy she'd ever known. As Mikaela walked closer, she saw Sam was holding a bouquet of purple flowers...for her.

At first she was confused. They hadn't gotten in a fight, had they, and she missed the memo? That was the only time guys gave her flowers - making up after a fight or, come to think of it, trying to get into her pants. She mentally snorted to herself at the thought; Sam wouldn't know how to begin putting the moves on her, not even with Bumblebee's help. Besides, it just was some grocery-store bouquet of daisies and stuff, not something you'd give to a girl if you were trying to get lucky.

Mikaela studied his expression, which was equal parts sheepish and goofy-happy to see her. When she met his warm gaze, the pieces finally fell into place and she realized what the flowers were: a thank you.

They could have been hand-picked dandelions and she'd feel just as choked up as she did now. This was the first time ever a guy got her flowers as a thank you.

Sam was half-sitting on 'Bee's hood, and he stood up when she got closer, looking a lot more sheepish now. "I'm sorry about you getting stuck in suspension."

Mikaela blinked away the stupid tears before they could form.

"Alison said it was 'cause of me - that you were defending me. Well, defending us. Whatever we are. But you really have been amazing, you know? I mean, you were with me every step of the way in Mission City and now this whole thing with your friends and..." He shifted his feet, holding the flowers out to her. "You still like me, right?"

Fighting a smile and rolling her eyes, she sarcastically said, "No, Sam, I'm breaking up with you." But she pulled the bouquet closer to breathe in the scent.

He half-laughed in relief. "You, too, huh?"

She grinned up at him. "Yeah, 'cause I hate you so much." And then she threw her arms around his neck and silenced his would-be brilliant comeback with a kiss.