Set between '07 and '09 Just for fun- don't own so please don't sue

William Lennox crouched down in the undergrowth and waited. In the shadows of the deep forest, he could make out the forms of his men, still, silent, and waiting. The ground trembled beneath them, the reverberations getting stronger as the large metal alien locked his sensors on them, as they all knew he would. He was coming faster as he anticipated a quick kill. Too fast, too much anticipation. Just like Lennox had predicted.

Concentrating on his breath, Lennox felt his body coil. And he waited. He caught sight of the target and made a sharp move with his hand.

The motion was silent and quick. The trip lines burst from the weapons wielded by his men, the specially- made tether arching around their target's legs.

"Oh, shit!" Sideswipe yelled as the lines wrapped around his legs, catching him just behind his knee joint and causing it to buckle. Lennox's team burst from cover, leaping up on to the silver mech, using their combined body weight and the momentum of his fall to bring him down; a big metal Gulliver in a land of heavily armed Lilliputians. With a signal from Lennox, Epps leapt to the Autobot's chin and raised his weapon. There was a slight quirk to his lips as the paintball pellet splattered against Sideswipe's head with a satisfying thwack. Pink paint began to spread over the shiny metal.

Epps chuckled and said softly. "Score one for the Squishy Squad."

'Squishy' was literally the third word he had from Sidewipe's mouth upon the frontliner's arrival to Earth. It had been preluded by, "Hey, you're-"and the term had stuck. All human NEST personnel were subject to this general term, especially from lower-ranking 'bots. Skids, Mudflap, Sideswipe, and Jolt were the most prone to it, but Lennox had heard it from further up the chain of command. Lennox knew that his team would dearly love to drive home the point that it was not appreciated. The underlings had already learned. It was now time to instruct the older generation.

A dumbfounded look on Sideswipe's face slipped into a grin as bright blue optics twinkled. "That was awesome!"

Lennox stifled a laugh as his team retreated, taking the trip lines with them and melting back into the shadows. Trickster though he was, Sideswipe would honor the conditions of the exercise and move to the staging area, joining Jolt and the Twins.

It had become evident, after the first Decepticon incursion, nine weeks after Mission City, the Autobots were working overtime to keep their human allies from danger. Jolt had actually taken damage to protect Lennox's team. Essentially, he and his men had sat on the sidelines and watched. They had been ordered to provide support and cover fire, but were never brought into the fray.

Lennox appreciated the thought, he did. Compared to Cybertronians, humans were incredibly small and fragile. So many lives had been lost at Hoover Dam and Mission City, not to mention Qatar. In the short time he had spent with them, Lennox had come to understand that they were programmed to protect; that deep down in that coding, they needed to protect all manner of life.

Then there was the fact that the Autobots did not consider this to be a humans' war, at least not one they had instigated. It had been brought to their planet, completely without their knowledge or encouragement. The All Spark had fallen here, Megatron had followed it, eventually leading to an all-out invasion of both Autobots and Decepticons. The two factions had been warring for centuries, and while all of the 'bots seemed to accept that it was now the humans' war, too, they seemed to be set on sheltering them as much as possible.

Lennox understood and was grateful. But he had led enough people into battle to know one thing; you had to utilize each member of the unit to the best of their abilities. Each had strengths to be relied on and weaknesses to be compensated for. Each piece had to be allowed to work to its fullest potential, and each member had to know how their teammates operated. In the end, it could mean the difference between victory and defeat; life and death.

Humans may be fragile, and this may not be their war, but it had been brought to them and they were not incapable of fighting it. They could, in fact, take care of themselves.

And there was one more member of the Autobot team that required this lesson.

After about a klik, Lennox hunkered his team in a small clearing, allowing them to catch their breath after the strain of the morning's exercise. Epps crouched down beside him, a feral grin on his face. "The paint was a good idea, Boss."

Back at the base, they had a sophisticated set up, basically ultra-sensitive laser guns in order to run assault drills with the Autobots. They were barely used as the large allies insisted that running such drills was unnecessary. Lennox had spent days on the phone with Supply, arguing about the requisition he had sent along. The standard paintball guns had been easy enough to come by. The request for the paintball cannons had nearly given the supply sergeant a damn aneurysm. But the techies and engineers at Diego Garcia had a great time modifying the cannons to make suitable hand-held weapons for the Autobots that would at least marginally mimic their own firepower capabilities.

Lennox had wanted the paint. He had needed the paint. It was so much more satisfying than alarms and flashing lights. And after weeks of being coddled and protected, he needed to illustrate, colorfully, just what he and his unit were capable of. The paint made more of a point and the shots left a lasting impression.

There was just one more frame that they needed to repaint.

One of the new guys, Snyder, was crouched down behind Lennox and Epps. "Iron-Ass isn't going easy."

"Ironhide." Lennox corrected the younger man.

Though, "Iron-Ass" did seem more appropriate more often than not. Ironhide was the big, silent, angry type. Lennox had heard him grumble a couple of times during the few drills and target practice, about human fragility, incompetence, and general unmanliness. He critiqued their maneuvers, noted their shortcomings as snipers, and was neither sensitive nor quiet as he did so.

It was a testament to how far Lennox had let things go when the major's temper and bruised ego had finally caught up with him. In a rare show of anger, Lennox had climbed the scaffolding that the engineers were still using to put the finishing touches on NEST's new home on Diego Garcia and gotten into a five minute shouting match with the alien.

"What the hell is your problem?" Lennox had yelled.

"At present, you." Ironhide had huffed out of his olfactory vents, reminding Lennox (in retrospect, because he had been too pissed at that moment to notice) of an angry bull.

"My guys need to get an idea of what they're dealing with and they aren't going to get that by shooting the shit out of targets just so we can cover your large metal ass."

Ironhide's plating had shifted, which Lennox was quickly learning meant he was angry. "I don't understand why you insist on putting the men in your command in the line of danger when the Autobots clearly will deal with the Decepticons."

"You're nuts! You would have been screwed at Mission City without us."

"Mission City will not be repeated." Ironhide had narrowed his optics, before starting to walk away. "Situations can be manipulated so that humans will not be required to participate at close range again."

"You think you can control what happens in a fire-fight? We need to be prepared for anything!" Lennox had screeched back, hanging from the scaffolding with one hand to marginally close the distance between him and Ironhide. "You're probably outnumbered, and what happens if you screw up and you go down? What do we do then?"

It became evident that Lennox had hammered a nerve. Ironhide spun around more quickly than anything that large had a right to, and drew in close. "I have screwed up, as you so delicately put it. People die. At least you will be far enough to run for your lives should the Autobots fail."

The complete absurdity of the statement left Lennox speechless, giving Ironhide enough time to growl at him one last time before moving off towards the firing range.

Lennox had swung down the scaffolding quickly, hearing Epps mumble after him, asking if he had lost his mind, but he didn't reply. He had one sentient being that he needed to speak with.


Optimus Prime had been in the impromptu medical bay discussing supplies with Ratchet when Lennox had tracked him down. The large mech's optic ridges had hedged up a bit when Lennox stormed in and demanded to speak with him. He caught the significant look that the Prime shared with his CMO as he stormed back out, cutting across the Autobot's hangar and back out under the brilliant tropical sunshine.

A moment later, the ground trembled under his feet and felt Optimus crouch down behind him, speaking in that gentle baritone. "You seem upset, Major Lennox."

"This arrangement isn't working." Lennox squinted in the sun as he turned, reining in his anger. "You agreed to an alliance with our military, but you're refusing to utilize us to our full potential. There's a serious lack of respect, here."

Those deep blue optics studied him before Optimus spoke. "I don't believe that a lack of respect is the issue."

"Really?" Lennox crossed his arms. "Then how come my unit has done nothing but sit on the sidelines? Why aren't we crafting engagement protocols involving humans? Why haven't we been briefed more thoroughly on Decepticon capabilities? We should be learning this stuff backwards and forwards."

"You are right." Optimus finally answered. "I was unwilling to expose your unit to too much information, too soon. I can see now how that might be construed as a lack of respect for your abilities."

"We aren't kids." Lennox told him quietly, but firmly. "And we don't need protection. What we need are allies."

"I understand that." Optimus replied. "And we do consider humans our allies."

"Maybe you do." Lennox felt himself bristle again. "But I don't know about the rest of your guys. The whole 'Squishy' thing, the jokes, and don't even get me started on Iron-Ass."

"Ironhide." Optimus gently corrected. "I take it you have found working with him to be difficult."

"Difficult would be an understatement." It came out as a growl. "I have never seen such control-freak. Does he think we're gonna fall apart out there? We're soldiers, too, for god's sake!"

Optimus had been quiet for a moment before sighing. "He would not want me to share this, but I feel that it is necessary for you to understand."

Lennox had felt apprehension creeping into his gut at the time. Crossing his arms, he had looked up at Optimus, willing to let him offer and explanation. "All right."

The Prime had leaned closer. "Each of us carries a special file in our processors: the designations of each of those dear to us that have been lost in this war. Those that we failed to protect or save."

Lennox had swallowed hard. He knew what it was like to play those scenarios over and over in his head. He had seen Fig's injuries and subsequent death many times over in the past couple of months. "I know how that is."

"Ironhide's file carries well over 3,000 designations. Those he loved, those who fought beside him, and all of those he was unable to save."

That one, Lennox had a hard time comprehending. 3,000? Lennox couldn't imagine. The death of so many beings to be replayed over and over. . .

"Major," Optimus's voice had lowered. "Ironhide went to great pains to discover the names of the humans lost at Mission City. Their names, along with Jazz's designation, now reside in his memory files for the rest of his existence."

For a moment or so, that information could not be processed and he felt his brain freeze as it tried to comprehend the big angry mech he had just wanted to rip apart had deeper and more caring side. Lennox stood still, looking down and away. Human names? They were beings he didn't even know. Why would they matter? Why would such small creatures matter so much to the large alien?

Optimus smiled as he answered the unspoken questions. "Though he does much to hide it, Ironhide has a deep respect for all manner of life. It pains him to see any life extinguished needlessly and he sees every one lost as a personal failure."

Lennox thought for a moment, a small, sad smile coming to his lips. "No man is an island . . .or mech, I guess in this case."

"Indeed," Optimus stood up from his crouch. "You and your men have impressed Ironhide. All of us, actually. Your species is capable of more than we are able to comprehend."

"Well, thanks." Lennox snorted. "It was kind of hard to tell."

"Cybertronians tend to be toughest on those they admire and respect." Optimus chuckled. "If you have earned our respect, we deem you strong enough to withstand the teasing and hazing."

"Good to know." Lennox sighed. "But I am serious. We can't stand back and just watch you guys take fire. We need training to deal with Decepticon threats more directly."

"I agree." The large alien replied, "but I can't simply order the Autobots to ignore their protective codes and accept that you can cope on your own. I believe they may need a demonstration."

And this had been what Lennox had come up with. Here they were, on some uninhabited island in the middle of the South Pacific, sweating their asses off in the thick, claustrophobic jungle as they played a testosterone-laden game of Capture the Flag with the Autobots. His team had performed with near flawlessness and Lennox suspected that he was not the only one who had felt the need to showcase their capabilities.

After neutralizing four targets, Lennox had only lost three men. While those statistics were fairly impressive, given the nature of those targets, he intended to debrief his team thoroughly to analyze what mistakes were made to avoid losses in the future.

"What's our next move, Boss?" Epps asked, leaning on the paintball rifle as he spoke. "You know he's primed and ready. He knows we got the rest of his team and he's going to be on his game."

From studying Ironhide these past months, Lennox had acquired a basis for understanding the mech. He was rude, he was impetuous when he spoke, but he was a seasoned warrior. He wouldn't be prone to exposing a weakness that they could exploit like the younger Autobots had. He would be near his own flag, close but under cover. If he knew the 'bot at all, Lennox would bet his paycheck he would jump out, hammer the human squad with the paint cannon, and leisurely stroll to the other end of the island and retrieve the flag to make a point.

He would be on his guard, sensors scanning wide for their signatures and ready to pounce. It was time to think sideways, a trait humans possessed and 'bots did not.

Lennox pulled the GPS from his pocket and pulled up the topography of the island. "They probably planted their flag up in this outcropping." He flipped the device around to show his squad. "Our target has probably hunkered down in the rocks.

"Epps, take the men and come around from the south to flank him. Fan out and draw him out. Keep his attention."

"What are you going to be doing?"

"Hoping you can keep his attention long enough that I can come up behind."

Lennox took off first, giving orders that his team give him to the count of fifty before heading out. To avoid Ironhide's scanners, he cut a wide arch, catching glimpses of the outcropping as he ran through the dense, jungle foliage. He prayed he was right. Breathing hard, he pushed on, needing to get into position before the rest of the squad arrived.

His boots slid in the dirt as he dove for cover under an outcropping and keyed his comm. "I'm in position."

"Copy that." Epps came back quietly. "Picking up a heat signature from that outcropping."

"Light him up."

The connection was cut and Lennox heard the distant report of the paintball guns. He took off for the hill, racing against the clock. His team would only be able to keep Ironhide occupied for a handful of minutes. Beating back the bush, Lennox bolted for the rocks, launching himself up to catch a handhold, scaling the mountain.

Feeling nothing but the adrenaline coursing through his veins, Lennox drove himself up, catching hand holds and foot holds as though he had been climbing this mountain all of his life. Faster than he thought possible, he found himself sprawled over top of the rocks, looking down at the back of Ironhide's head about 20 feet below him.

It didn't get any better. The Autobot was focused on the team of men in front of him that were executing a vicious frontal assault. They had drawn much of the Autobot's processor function, leaving Lennox the tiniest chance of sneaking past those rear sensors.

He moved quickly. Shifting his weapon around, he took aim . . .

And Ironhide turned, catching sight of him. Growling, the Autobot moved to reach for him, intending to take Lennox prisoner and force the rest of his unit to surrender. Oh, it wasn't ending this way.

Feeling a fresh surge of adrenaline, Lennox rolled to his right, narrowly avoiding the mech's grasp, and managing to find his feet. Giving a primal yell, he launched himself at the big metal arm, grabbing one of the plates and swinging himself up past the elbow. Ironhide squawked in obvious surprise at the move, reaching around to try and grab him. Lennox swung himself around the 'bot's arm, close enough now to grab the armor plating that covered Ironhide's back. Grabbing his weapon, he pulled it around as Ironhide spun, trying to dislodge him. Holding on tight with one hand, he pulled the trigger.

A bright pink splatter marred the black paint, oozing down between the plates. It was a vital joint in the mech's armor, one that Lennox had seen him flatten the metal panels over to protect in battle. If he were to hazard a guess, he would say that he had just scored a direct hit to vital lines to Ironhide's spark chamber.

There was a tinge of awe and shock in Ironhide's voice when found his voice again. "You little slagger."

Lennox couldn't help it. He laughed, watching as his men stormed the hill, rushing to where the Autobot's flag fluttered from a branch of a scraggly tree clinging stubbornly to the rocks. Snyder and Epps were the first to reach it, yanking it from the limbs and waving it, war cries erupting from those still on the ground. A few were spattered with the green paint from Ironhide's cannon, but many were completely untouched.

Behind them, Ratchet and Optimus moved up the hill, followed by the rest of the team. Skids and Mudflap moved with a defeated air, but Sideswipe and Jolt seemed impressed. Both 'bots were grinning, Jolt crouching down to talk with the members of the group, congratulating them on their victory. The men replied eagerly, exchanging stories and viewpoints, trying to learn from the other's experiences. It was good to see.

"Let me inspect your handiwork, Major." Ratchet grabbed Ironhide's shoulder and spun him as Lennox moved down. After Ratchet positioned him, Ironhide remained very still, letting Lennox find his way back to the ground. The medic shook his head. "This would have fried your neural circuits, had it been sabot rounds."

"I'm aware." Ironhide shook off Ratchet's hand, moving away. Lennox watched him, feeling the edge of his victory-high fade a bit. He had proven his point, but he couldn't help but feel a little guilty. Ironhide only had the best of intentions, but he couldn't deny that Lennox had just proven himself. That didn't change the fact that anything could happen in battle and any of the men celebrating victory on this hill could end up another name in that large, sorrowful file that Ironhide had tucked away in his mind. There was nothing he would be able to do about that now aside from work with them and look out for them in battle . . . just as they would undoubtedly look out for him.

He watched the mech stand on the edge of the cliff, looking down at the trees with a slightly sad, contemplative air. Leaving him to his thoughts, he turned back to the odd looking tribe around him. "Mudflap, why the hell do you have green paint on you?"

"Heh." Sideswipe actually spoke up, pointing to the pink spots Henderson had left over the Twin's abdominal plating, beneath the large splatter of green. "He was suffering. I put him out of his misery."

"You lucky you rankin' Sides," Mudflap grumbled, "You wasn't, and I-"

Sideswipe blithely raised the paintball cannon in his hand and fired again, leaving a green smear over the side of Mudflap's face.

"Damn, man!" Epps hooted.

Sideswipe shrugged. "He was still twitching."

The humans snorted and laughed. Lennox chuckled as Skids and Mudflap scowled down at them. Skids muttered. "Stinkin' Squishies."

The sound of weapons being cocked was deafening on the mountain top, and before Lennox could blink, his soldiers fired a volley at both of the Twins, covering them further in pink paint.

"I'm beginning to think they don't like the term 'Squi-" Sideswipe grinned and put up his hands up in surrender as Epps raised his weapon. "Okay,' that term'."

Optimus's deep chuckle reverberated off of the stone. "I believe our new allies have proved that they, like us, have learned to overcome their . . . limitations."

"Enough." Ironhide growled, the ground rumbling as the heavy mech approached. He was moving with his typical deliberateness, eyeing Lennox as he came closer. "I want to play again."

Lennox felt his stomach flip a bit. He had anticipated this, and he seriously doubted that the same stealth and surprise tactics his unit had implemented would work a second time. They were going to have to seriously up their game.

The Weapons Specialist shifted, crouching down to come closer to Lennox's level. He drew close enough for his ventilations to ruffle Lennox's hair, those bright blue eyes gleaming. "Major Lennox will be on my team."