A/N: Alright then, after much prompting and pleading from wonderful readers who I neglected, I am finally updating. Now that Prime is back on- so am I. Figures that tonight's ep related so closely to my own fic. Ah well, it's here now. Pardon me as I get back into the swing of things, including characterization which I'm not happy with- I got rolling near the end though. So consider this a gift to tide you over until the real stuff begins.
"Wait, Arcee." Bulkhead lumbered along after the femme as she hurried along the hallways of the base. "Do you really think it's a good idea?"
"I promised them, Bulk. I don't see a problem with it." Arcee shrugged.
"But you said-."
"I know what I said." Arcee snapped, suddenly whirling on the wrecker. She almost immediately softened and looked away. "Look, you know I would never put Bee in a position I didn't think he could handle, don't you?"
Bulk nodded. "None of us would."
"Exactly." Arcee paused, surveying his doubtful expression. Of course by that he meant that if he didn't think it was a good idea, he wouldn't let Arcee go through with it either. Bulk didn't usually put up much of a fight to proposed plans unless he felt someone was liable to get hurt who shouldn't be. Not a bad quality, but sometimes he could be a little over protective. "Optimus thinks it's a good idea."
Bulkhead winced. He didn't have much of an argument against that. "What are you two planning?" He asked after a few seconds of silence.
"What?" Arcee asked, confused. Bulk was highly trusting and not much for questions, and right now he was defying both of those rules.
"If it involves going after MECH, you know I want in on it." There was the Bulk she knew, ready to bust up 'cons and itching for a fight.
Arcee smirked. "You know I'd tell you if it did. Wouldn't get very far without you."
"What about Bee then?" She spotted the wrecker looking over her shoulder and turned to see that the scout was visible through the door behind her. He was still sitting on the berth as he had been ordered to, and looked like he was watching something on the monitor Ratchet had caved into letting him commandeer.
"We just want him to get better, Bulk." She said, turning back to him.
"And you think letting the kids come is going to help?"
"Of course it will. You know how much Bee loves Raf, and how worried he was about Jack getting captured. Seeing them can only help."
"Except if it doesn't." Bulk muttered, clearly thinking about how Bee had nearly lost it at the sudden appearance of Jack's mother.
Arcee studied her sullen friend. She knew he'd been missing Miko, even though she had been gone for only a week. Bulk and Bee were good friends, and of course Bulk was protective by nature, but it seemed he might have been overcompensating for his absent charge by becoming Bee's guardian. "What's up with you lately?"
Bulkhead squared up in front of her. There was an edge to his voice when he spoke. "I think you're pushing him and you should leave him alone."
Arcee frowned and felt a little defensive herself. "Listen, I've talked with Ratchet and Optimus and they agree with me. We can't let him sit around and pretend it didn't happen."
"Did you talk to him?" Bulk asked, pointing a servo in the direction of the scout.
"Have you talked to him?" Arcee shot back. "He's not exactly in a chatty mood."
"Which is exactly why you should leave him alone-."
"Which is exactly why we can't!" Arcee and Bulkhead stared, fuming at each other for a full minute in silence. Arcee got control of herself first and tried to lower the intensity of her expression. "He's your friend, Bulk. I understand it looks harsh, but this is what he needs."
The wrecker scoffed. "And who made you the authority on that? Optimus?"
"How about being at the battle of Tyger Pax and watching how everyone coddled him then? The first chance he got he ran away and volunteered for this mission- to come here, alone."
"And he was fine before this, wasn't he?" Bulk growled.
"After he spent a few earth years on his own, sure. He worked through it by the time we got here, but you don't understand how good Bee is at burying things. He may be fine, because he's convinced himself he is, and it will never come up again, and he'll go on being the happy scout, but it will slowly eat at him. You didn't see him in sick bay on Cybertron. I know what he was like. You want him to spend a few more years quietly dealing with what happened or do you want him to be okay now?"
"You can't just make him okay, Arcee. He needs time. No one can know how much except for Bee. Let him do this on his own. Pushing him is just going to make it worse."
"You don't know that."
Bulk was glaring at her, his blue optics like ice as he stared down at her. "You realize what a hypocrite you are? You pushed everyone away after Tailgate and Cliffjumper and you never talked about it. You blow a circuit every time we try to get you to open up. Backing off is all we could do and you got over it on your own."
"Well, maybe I wish you had pushed me, okay? Skirting around the issue and being afraid to confront me about it is exactly what I wanted from you. That doesn't make me okay. The only one who ever dared get in my face about it was Bee. So don't tell me he doesn't want this. He knows." Arcee gave him a parting glare before she turned and entered the command center.
She looked over as she passed by the medical area and watched as Bee stared up at the screen, not even noticing her. She stopped and turned back around to see what he was looking at on the monitor. It wasn't a cartoon…or even a video game. It was a grainy, damaged recording. It took a minute for her to realize what it was. The recording seemed to be taken from Bee's point of view as he drove through the desert, and came upon a turned over car and a few humans standing near.
Something sparked in Arcee's memory. Car accident, energon signature… this was how MECH had lured Bee into their trap. Arcee's mouth fell open as she watched the humans become aware of Bee's approach. He was obviously still in his alt mode, speeding along, but as he got closer, the humans suddenly transformed from traumatized victims of a car accident into MECH soldiers holding dangerous and foreign looking weapons. A second later, the screen went black, then it rewound and played again…and again…
"Bee, what are you doing?"
Bumblebee jumped, his spark going into overdrive as he was startled from his reverie. His eyes betrayed a sudden flair of pain as he turned to see Arcee watching him. He fought it back and instead assumed a deer-in-the-headlights expression, unsure of what to say. "J-Just wat-watching s-s-something." He offered in hesitant beeps.
Arcee walked closer, noticing how Bee seemed to unconsciously shrink under her gaze. "Why are you watching this in particular?"
The scout looked up at her in silence for a few seconds. "I thought…m-maybe I could f-find something to help. Maybe there's s-something I could have done or no-noticed so this w-wouldn't have happened."
Arcee frowned as she watched the scout's involuntary twitches and his seeming lack of control over even his form of communication. "Bee, they played a dirty trick anyone would have fallen for. From what I can see, there isn't anything you could have done differently." If possible, Bee's face fell even more. "What?"
"Then how-how are you all s-supposed to avoid it?" He beeped earnestly.
Arcee couldn't help the small smile that crossed her face. Of course that was Bee's primary concern. "We'll be careful, Bee, don't worry about us."
Bee's head dropped as he glanced at his shaking hands. "You wouldn't fall-fall for it anyways… I'm th-the idiot who tru-trusted the humans."
Trusted? "Hey," Arcee moved in front of the youngling, stepping even closer. At least he didn't flinch this time. "Trusting them is not a weakness, or stupid. If not for your relationships with the humans, who knows where we'd be right now. We certainly wouldn't have government support. You know that."
Bumblebee couldn't hold her gaze and looked away, not saying anything.
Arcee frowned again. "I told Raf and Jack they could come around and see how you were doing. You want me to tell them it's not a good time?" Bee's head snapped up as he looked at Arcee, his eyes showing the conflict raging inside him. "Well?"
Bee quickly shook his head.
"You want them to come then?" Arcee asked, her hands on her hips as she stared down at the scout in a posture reminiscent of June Darby.
"Good. They'll be here isoon. Ratchet's ground-bridging them in."
Raf and Jack stepped through the ground bridge in the Darby's garage and emerged into the spacious silo that was the Autobot's base of operations.
"Hurry up there, Rafael." Ratchet urged as he spotted the human youngling taking his sweet time. Arcee shot him a look that he ignored. The old medic was quickly making up for his soft moments following the return of Bumblebee after being captured by MECH. In fact, since that morning, he'd been overcompensating, snapping needlessly at the other bots. He'd even been harsh toward Bumblebee that morning when then anxious and restless scout again grew tired of sitting and started incessantly bugging the medic in hopes that Ratchet would cave and allow Bee to get up just so he would go away and leave the medic alone.
It was a good plan that failed horribly, though Bee continued sporadically testing his limits every few hours. Optimus had been the only thing standing between Bee and stasis all day. Ratchet only had to throw the youngling a pointed look to let him know that as soon as the Prime turned his back, the option was back on the table. The medic guessed he should have been happier that Bee was showing signs of his old self- being the antsy and often annoying bot he was. The problem was the old Bee came out in fleeting moments interrupted by long periods of melancholy silence. Ratchet's sullen attitude had actually served to lengthen the amount of time the scout seemed almost normal, so 'screw' kindness- so to speak. If it helped, Ratchet would forever be the cranky medic with the horrible bedside manner.
Ratchet was finally able to shut the ground bridge down as the human teens stepped far enough into the base. Raf still seemed hesitant and smaller than usual- reminiscent of his early days with the bots when his self-confidence had been through the floor and he rarely spoke to anyone but Bumblebee.
"How's he doing?" Jack asked the medic, tilting his head back to see the bot's face.
Ratchet shrugged a giant shoulder noncommittally . "His wounds are healing nicely for the most part."
Jack didn't press him any further. He could read the medic's short temper as well as Arcee.
Raf had taken a few steps toward the med bay and stopped, looking back over his shoulder. "Is it okay-?"
Ratchet's hardened façade faded slightly as he nodded encouragingly. "Go ahead. He should be awake."
Taking a deep breath and squaring his shoulders, Raf continued on, his steps only faltering when his guardian came into view, reclining against the wall as he sat on the berth. Raf hesitated when he noticed Bee's optics were dark. He looked over his shoulder again. Jack was hanging back, supposedly giving him time alone with Bee. He wasn't quite sure he wanted it just yet… Raf vigorously shook his head. Of course he did! Bee was his guardian. He would never hurt him… the question was, would Raf somehow hurt the scout?
"B-Bee?" Raf stuttered, his voice quiet. The Autobot didn't stir. Raf silently scolded himself. He remembered hearing that Bee's senses had been compromised- hearing being one of them. "Bee?" He called a little louder.
The blue-green optics flickered and finally came to life before they shifted in their sockets, taking in his surroundings. They finally landed on Raf who was holding his breath. The scout froze for a split second, and then his infinitely expressive eyes softened, indicating an unmistakable smile.
Raf grinned back in relief. "Hey, Bee. How's it going?"
The scout beamed at him and struggled fruitlessly to give a thumb's up sign with his uncooperative fingers. He patted the berth next him and held out a tiny controller and motioned to the monitor in front of him.
Raf laughed. "No way! Sweet!"
Jack and Arcee watched from across the room as Raf hopped up onto the berth and took the controller from Bee's hand. "Looks like he's doing okay." Jack commented with an amused smile.
"Of course he does." Arcee grumbled.
Jack looked confused as he stared up at the femme. "What is it?"
Arcee cycled her vents for a brief moment. "Bee's good at pretending everything is okay. It's hard to tell the difference."
The scout's beeping suddenly echoed through the base and Jack watched Arcee and Ratchet's faces twist into unreadable expressions.
"What?" Jack asked again. He always felt so out of the loop when Bee was talking. The bots were so used to it, they hardly ever translated.
"Oh, right." Arcee shook her head, suddenly seeming to remember the fact that Jack couldn't understand the scout. "He's just talking to Raf about the game, but his…voice…" She winced, not sure what else to call it, "He's stuttering a lot. Can't form sentences well."
"It's more of a problem when he's excited or agitated." Ratchet explained as his medical expertise got the best of him and he continued speaking without realizing it. "Just another symptom of his injuries. Hopefully that too will resolve itself with time."
"What else is wrong with him, exactly?" Jack asked, figuring it was safe to ask since the medic had brought it up.
Ratchet rolled his optics. "It is difficult to relay such things to a human. I guess I could relate it to your nervous systems. We too have a sort of nerve network which relays signals, sensory and motor to a central processor- like the brain. Extensive electric interference from MECH has damaged Bee's "nerves" as it were. Such things are notoriously slow at healing if they heal at all… which I'm confident Bumblebee's will." He added, seemingly as an afterthought as he caught Arcee's expression.
"He's having trouble with certain senses." Arcee went on, looking across the room as Bee seemed to get frustrated with the game and merely stared at the screen. "His vision is compromised, but that's already becoming a rarer occurrence. The worst part is that healing circuits generate a lot of pain. It's about the sensory feeling he has right now. The real problem is coordination. The signals are so messed up, they can't work together, and his motor skills are completely shot."
"How long will it take for him to get better then?" Jack asked, watching as Raf quickly caught on to Bee's lack of motor control and the monitor instead lit up with a TV show as he set the controllers aside.
"Best bet," Ratchet shrugged, "Maybe a week until he's well enough to function on his own. Complete restoration of the circuits will take much longer- how long I don't know. I also can't tell which functions will be compromised until he starts healing. I can cautiously say it looks promising so far."
Jack fought back a shudder. He had no idea the bots could be injured like that. He knew Bee had been hurt bad- but as it turned out, the gaping wounds and extensive burn marks which had looked so serious were the least of the scout's problems. It was what he couldn't see that would leave lasting damage- physically and emotionally. "What about MECH?"
Arcee's expression immediately darkened as Ratchet wandered away to work on some gadget. "Optimus and Bulkhead are out scouting right now, hopefully to get a better idea of where they're hiding out."
"You're going after them?"
"Have to." Arcee said. "They were too close. We can't risk them finding out where we are. We're almost positive they didn't get anything from Bee, but we can't be sure of that either. Our best bet is a preemptive strike."
Arcee hesitated. "I don't know. Sooner the better, but Optimus has it in his head that Bee should have the option of going."
"What?" Jack squawked. "Why?"
Arcee shrugged hopelessly. "You know how I said Bee was good at hiding things? Well, the most revealing test and possible cure would be to bring him and let him have a go at MECH. It's tough medicine, but I can tell you, it's effective. Obviously, we don't want to do that until we're sure Bee can handle himself physically, and we'd be protecting him, but the truth is, we could also use him. He's a scrappy fighter. MECH is a tough opponent. We want to be at full strength."
"Have you told Bee yet?" Jack asked quietly. He could see how torn Arcee was about the whole thing. She cared deeply for the scout, and hated to see him in pain, but it seemed the only way to help was just to possibly cause even more.
"No… Optimus wants to wait until we know what we're going to do with MECH- see how much Bee progresses until then."
"You don't like it…" Jack said, easily reading Arcee's expression.
She smirked and shook her head. "No, I understand it. I'd like to take MECH out as soon as possible, but he needs the option of coming if he wants. We won't force him, but we can't turn him down if he wants to go. Like I said, we need him in a fight. If anything it will give him closure, and sometimes that's all you need."
"You're worried about him though." It wasn't a question.
Arcee was silent for a few seconds. "As much as Bee likes to talk- or liked to talk- you can never quite know what's going on in his head. I want him to be okay, but I don't want to make it worse…" She muttered, her mind going back to her conversation with Bulkhead who was also unaware of their plans to invite Bee along for the raid. She had sounded so confident then…but she wasn't.
"I wish I could help…"
Arcee smiled down at her charge. "As a matter of fact, you can. Bee's got it in his head that we blame him for you getting caught when in reality it was entirely your fault." She said teasingly. "Go say hi and put his mind at ease."
Jack chuckled to himself. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm going."
A/N: I hope that was okay for how long you all waited...if you're still out there. You can leave a comment in a review to let me know how much you loath my procrastination skills. If you just found this, pretend I'm a consistent updater and drop a review! I'd love to hear from all of you and see what you think. Thanks for reading!