Just Don't Ask
A Transformers Prime Fanfic
"Jack!" Arcee called out eagerly as the young man stepped out of the old white car and slammed the door forcefully. Much to her shock and somewhat to her affront the human ignored her and stalked past the startled Autobot into Ratchet's lab. Miko bounded out of the passenger side of the car shouting for Bulkhead.
"Ratchet!" Jack called out.
Arcee winced at the controlled fury in the human's voice and wondered with a stab if she'd done something to offend her friend.
"What is it, Jack?" The medic asked wearily. Even the insensitive medic could sense the seething furry in the usually placid human.
"Mom had to let me keep the car. Could you bridge her here from home to pick it up when her shift is done?" Jack asked, clearly making a herculean effort to control his voice.
Ratchet raised a brow as he examined the human. Jacks heart rate was up, his skin was flushed, and judging from the pheromones he was releasing his endocrine system was preparing his body for a long conflict.
"I would be happy to assist your mother in any way," the medibot assured the boy.
Jack nodded and muttered a thank you before heading up to the human's living area. He gave Arcee a curt nod and sat down immediately at a desk. Pulling out papers and books, the human became very focused on some writing project.
The blue Autobot glanced at Ratchet in confusion. The medic only shrugged his shoulders and turned back to his work. The emotional swings of adolescent humans were a complete mystery to him, and not one he bothered to spend much time on. The cyclebot gingerly approached the fuming human and reached out a cautious hand.
"Jack?" she started.
"What!" Jack spun around and snapped.
Arcee recoiled for a second , then her optics flashed with indignation. A contrite look immediately flashed across the human's face, almost replacing the anger.
"Arcee, I am so sorry," Jack began.
The warrior placed a fist on her hip and gave him a look that said clearly that he should be. From his reaction she could guess now that this wasn't anything she had done. The human bent over and rubbed his face vigorously with both hands. He clearly had a lot of excess energy to burn.
"I'm sorry," he repeated again, "There's no excuse for taking this out on you."
"Taking WHAT out on me?" asked his friend.
The human turned several different shades of red in succession, and was looking everywhere except at a certain human girl. Arcee arched her brows and glanced at Miko. The child was chattering away at her protector with more fervor than usual, but saying absolutely nothing that explained Jack's current state. Whatever Miko had done Jack was probably angrier than Arcee had ever seen him. Finally the human spoke, grinding out the words between clenched teeth.
"I think it would be best if I didn't talk about it until I calmed down a bit."
The bot nodded and smiled.
"Well I know the best thing for that!" she declared with a smile. The Autobot transformed and glanced back at her partner invitingly. "Let's go throw up some gravel and leave a few skid marks on the asphalt for the cops to wonder over."
To her immense surprise Jack only turned another shade of red. He tried to speak but could only manage a glare in Miko's direction. The girl noticed his stare and gave a little wave.
"I can't," he finally managed to growl.
"What? Why not?" Arcee demanded.
"Arcee. Please. Don't. Ask." The human turned back to his homework with a finality that the bot couldn't argue with. She stepped back shocked. Jack had never pushed her away like that. There was a mystery here. The cyclebot turned away and strode towards Bulkhead and his small charge. Miko saw her coming, saw the look on her face, and decided that discretion was the better part of valor. She scampered to the other side of her large guardian. Arcee crouched down and looked at the confused Blukhead's legs until a pink and black head popped into sight.
"So, hiyah Arcee! How's it hanging?" Miko asked cheerfully, still not coming out from behind the big Autobot.
"I was actually going to ask you that," Arcee said. "Do you have any idea why Jack just refused a ride."
"Yeah! The principle of our school totally over reacted to some little thing at school and we both got detention and a whole mess of extra projects and to top it all off,"
"Miko!" All three turned at the sound of Jack's voice, low and dangerous. "The sheriff said not to discuss it until the investigation was done."
Arcee and Bulkhead exchanged a shocked look. Whatever had happened involved the law enforcement? Miko scowled up at Jack.
"He didn't mean the Autobots," she protested.
"The sheriff?" Ratchet suddenly joined the conversation. "Did this have anything to do with that APB that was hogging the airwaves around noon today? It seemed like every branch of the local civil services was on high alert." If it was possible Jack seemed to get even madder. He stared Miko down with an icy glare. The girl finally looked away and folded her arms in frustration.
"No comment," Jack growled in Ratchets general direction.
"Hey! It's not like I knew they would be serving chicken soup for lunch today!" she said sulkily.
"Not. Another. Word!" Jack said fiercely. "Why don't you get started on your punishment projects," he called over his shoulder as he turned back to the rapidly growing pile of notes.
"Whatever," Miko snorted and rolled her eyes. Common Bulk let's go play video games!"
The large Cybertronian glanced down at Arcee in confusion, then shrugged his shoulders and followed the human girl. Arcee glanced in frustration between the two humans. She had suspected something was up when June had called to inform her that she didn't need to bother picking Jack up after school today. Something big had apparently happened, and it looked like Miko had dragged Jack into something serious this time.
The next several hours were awkward to say the least. Jack worked furiously on several different writing projects, which he absolutely refused to show to Arcee, only taking breaks to run around the base. Presumably to burn off some t=of the excess adrenaline his body was producing. Miko was maintaining a defiant position that none of this was her fault. Exactly what "this' was seemed to be a taboo subject. One that, much to Arcee's surprise, Miko respected. Normally the Autobot second in command would count on Bumblebee and Raf to relieve the tension. The two were natural peace makers, and both Jack and Miko usually went out of their way to make sure Raf was comfortable in any given situation. But the scout was off on a mission with Optimus and the boy was gone on a family trip for a few days. So the tension dragged through the afternoon and into the night.
Taking a clue from their reaction to Ratchet's question Arcee tried to glean some information from the internet. According to local news sources something had happened at the children's school that afternoon. The response to the incident had involved social workers, half the fire department, most of the local police force, several state troopers, a medical helicopter, and a shipment of baked goods. No one was said to have been injured but other details were scarce. Finding little online to satisfy her curiosity the cyclebot decided to wait for June to arrive. The woman would no doubt have the full explanation.
When Optimus and Bee finally did arrive back it did little to alleviate the situation. Jack seemed even more reluctant to discuss the incident if front of the leader of the Autobots and Miko had grown so sulky that even Bumblebee's cheerful greeting failed to lift her mood. The mystery deepened when June finally arrived. The woman never looked exactly perky coming off her shift at the hospital, but tonight she looked utterly exhausted. Ratchet snatched her up for an exam before she could protest, but Arcee caught the worried look June shot in Jack's direction before the medibot swept her away.
Arcee was about ready to pounce on Jack and simply demand an explanation when the proximity alarms began buzzing.
"Agent Fowler is approaching," Optimus Prime announced from the main computer.
"He doesn't have a visit scheduled," Arcee said frowning, Jack's problems pushed to the back burner by the liaison's arrival.
"What does he want this time?" Bulkhead demanded irritably. He, along with the Arcee and Bumblebee, was wracking his CPU, trying to think of what breech of conduct they had committed to earn the visit and ire of their human hosts. Fowler only came in person when there was some perceived problem with the Autobots. Decpticon activity only warranted a com call. The middle-aged man stormed through the elevator doors before that had a chance to properly open.
"Prime!" He called out, radiating wrathful irritation.
The Autobot leader dutiful stepped up to receive the chastisement for whatever crime his team had committed.
"Where's Miko?" demanded Agent Fowler.
Optimus's optics widened in surprise at the question. The rest of the Autobots were shocked into silence. Bulkhead felt a moment of relief when he realized he wasn't in trouble, then a rush of guilt at the relief. He quickly tried to push the girl behind him but she only popped out again to face the glowering agent defiantly.
"Howdy Fowler!" she called out cheerfully, "Did you really come all the way out here just to see little old me? I'm touched really."
The agent began slowly and deliberately walking down the stairs toward the girl, never taking his eyes off of her.
"I EXPECT to have to clean up after the Autobots," he said fiercely, "that's my job; to make their lives a little easier. I arrange to have con bits picked up and disposed of. I deal with nosey media types that get on their trail. I placate local law enforcement if they run red lights and cause wrecks. All this because it's not really their fault, it the cons. That work I do is part of a war effort and I'm proud to do it." He stopped directly in front of the girl and stood; arms crossed, eyes glaring, one foot tapping. "Would you please explain to me why I had to interrupt that work to spend the last four hours on the phone with the Prime Minister of one of our closest allies on this planet trying to prevent an international incident?"
"Yeah," Miko rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips, "because American cops got no sense of humor."
Bulkhead had the sudden urge to grab Miko and roll out at top speed when he saw the look that crossed Agent Fowler's face. If ever the man would be capable of maiming a child that was the moment. But the agent only took a deep breath and took Miko's shoulder firmly in hand.
"Young lady. We are going to have a nice looooong talk about a few things. Namely what constitutes a federal offence in this country and this lovely little tradition we have called 'deporting'." The agent turned to the still stunned Autobots, "Prime, we'll be in one of the back rooms for a while. Nurse Darby, good. You're here." June and Ratchet had just walked out of the lab together. "Would you came and sit in as the concerned party for her?"
June nodded and was about to ask a question when Fowler raised one hand dismissively.
"Don't worry about it Mrs. Darby. I've cleared all the charges against Jack at the federal level. Now we just wait for the furor here to die down and we'll clear it out at the county, city, and school levels as well. Someone local might notice if we move too fast but this will not affect his permanent record."
The mother slumped in relief and ten years seemed to melt off her face.
"Thank you Fowler," she said earnestly. "For a while there I was afraid they were going to arrest Jack."
After the three had disappeared into the depths of the base the stunned Autobots turned to Jack.
"What the scrap happened? Arrested?" Bulkhead demanded.
Jack was standing on the edge of the platform looking immensely relieved. But he only shook his head and said,
"Mere words cannot express the depth of my desire to never bring this subject up again." He turned back to the pile of papers on the desk. "Now I have to get back to this. And Arcee?" The human looked miserably up at his friend. "No rides for at least two weeks."
Arcee stiffened in protest, but glanced at the door Miko had disappeared through with the two adults. Something was going on here, best not to push it. Jack already looked miserable enough.
Nearly three hours later Miko came out of the room alone. The girl looked sulky, guilty, and tired. She marched over to Ratchet and informed him that Mrs. Darby would be in with Agent Fowler a bit longer filling out paperwork, or something. Then she scampered up the stairs and summoned up cheerful smile.
"Hey Jack, isn't that great? Agent Fowler to the rescue again! You're free and clear and I only have to deal with the bogus stuff from the school! How cool is that?"
The older boy studied his papers closer and deliberately ignored her. Miko marched right up beside him and waved her hand in front of his face.
"Hello! Autobot base to Jack. You're free and clear. Everything's fixed now." She said, a little annoyed at the lack of attention she was receiving.
"Yo! Jack! Hey…"
The boy suddenly whipped around and fixed an icy glare on her.
"Miko, these essays are due tomorrow. There is no, scrapping, way, Fowler will make this go away before then. And in case you hadn't noticed, the whole school knows. The feds may have some good tricks up their sleeves, but that can't do anything about the fact that my reputation there, and in the whole town, is permanently set at…" Jack seemed to choke at that point and just shook his head and looked away.
"Hey, no trouble. It's just street cred. You needed some of that anyway. And I think Seirra is into that kind of thing. So, bonus." Miko broke off abruptly and backed away as the pencil Jack was holding snapped loudly. Bulkhead snatched up his charge and hurried out into the base to her loud protests. Arcee moved to offer words of comfort to the boy, but decided the best course of action was to let him just calm down for awhile. Jack continued writing for several more hours.
Sometime around two in the morning local time Optimus was monitoring the human airwaves, carefully sorting them for any mention of a Decpticon presence. He found the task relaxing. It took him back to a time before the war, when he was simply one of thousands of data clerks in the Iacon Hall of Records. Compared to monitoring the countless threads of data that streamed through his terminal on Cybertron this was sparklings' play.
The sound of slow soft foot falls drew his attention away from the soothing data streams. Miko was approaching. Optimus felt a surge of sympathy for the small human. Her head hung low, her shoulders slumped, her feet were dragging, and it looked as if her brown eyes were about to begin spilling tears. She climbed up the stared to stand beside the Autobot on the platform and leaned heavily against the rail. The Prime waited patiently for the child to speak.
"Optimus? Can I ask you for some advice?" the girl finally asked.
"Please feel free to ask me anything," the Autobot said gently.
Miko took a deep breath and began talking in a rush.
"So something happened today at school. I did some stuff and I'm not supposed to talk about cuz other kids were involved. Jack didn't know about it at all, but I needed a place to stash the goods, so I shoved them in his bag in his locker. He should really change his locker combination; it was way too easy to guess. But anyway they found the stuff there when the cops searched and he didn't rat me out so they called in his mom from work and the next thing I know they're all talking prison and charges and, and," Miko trailed off and bit her lip. She looked up into the compassionate blue optics shining down on her. "I messed up big time OP, and I nearly hurt Jack bad. I shouldn't have done it I know, but I just wanna make things right. I've told everyone what really happened and tried spinning it every which way but Jack won't even look at me right now. What do I do?" Tears began to slip down the girls cheeks.
Optimus Prime reached out one hand to the girl and said,
"Come with me Miko."
She climbed willing into his hand and the Autobot walked over to a little used corner of the base. Stacked in one corner were spent air filters, black and sooty. Optimus gently picked one up and then headed out of the base. They rode the missile elevator to the surface in silence. On the butte top a gentle night wind was blowing under a moonless starry sky. Miko shivered a bit in the night air. Optimus held out the filter canister to the human in his hand and said,
Miko looked at him skeptically, but scrambled over and after several attempts popped the lid on the filter. A puff of black dust bloomed out of the canister and was torn apart by the wind. Miko fell back choking. The canister tipped over and more black dust spilled between Optimus's servos, only to be caught and carried off by the dancing air currents.
"Now," the Prime said, "put it back in."
The girl starred up at him mouth agape.
"Return it to the way it was before you opened it," he spoke quietly but firmly.
The girl shook her head but began scrambling around gathering up handful of the black dust. Just when she had a small amount back in the canister it tipped over spilling her efforts out, then the canister itself fell out of the Autobots hands and tumbled down the side of the butte. The girl collapsed onto her knees, tears streaking her soot stained face. Was this some kind of Cybertronian punishment?
"It can't be done!" she cried out in frustration, "the dust is gone, and now I'll never get it out of my clothes."
The Autobot was looking intently into her face. The girl looked away; clearly he was expecting her to get something she wasn't out of this.
"Miko, no matter what your intentions were, your actions have harmed Jack. Just as the filter, over much time, captured and isolated impurities from the air you breathe, Jack has worked long and hard do build his reputation, to define himself. And just as once the canister was opened it became impossible to return the impurities to it, so it is impossible for you to return Jack's good name to him untarnished. A name he has spent all his life building. It is up to Jack to redefine himself to his peers and superiors now, a task that will be long and hard. Even if Fowler manages to legally renew his status lingering doubts will always remain in the minds of all who know as to his guilt."
"That's not fair!" protested Miko.
"No it is not," agreed the Prime.
Miko leaned into the comforting warmth of his battle scarred chest with a small cry of frustration.
"So there's nothing I can do." She stated glumly.
"Have you apologized yet?" The Autobot asked gently, "taken full responsibility for your actions and humbly asked for Jack's forgiveness?"
Jack was slowly eating a bowl of organic oatmeal when the doorbell rang repeatedly. He hurried to the door so it wouldn't bother his mom in the shower. His face clouded when he saw who was on the step.
"Miko," he said coldly.
"Jack," the girl rubbed her arm nervously, "can I come in?"
The boy let her in the house and stood there mutely. Miko steeled herself and began. She placed her hands palms together against her chest and gave the suddenly startled Jack a deep Japanese bow.
"Jack I am so very, very, very sorry for what happened yesterday. If I could undo it I would in a heartbeat. But I know I can never fix what I broke. I've hurt you. I've scared your mom. I've bothered a whole lot of people bad. If it wasn't for the Autobots and agent Fowler I'd be on my way back to Japan now in shame and you might be in jail. I know I don't deserve it but I just wanted to ask for your forgiveness."
Jack stared, mouth agape, at the slim Asian girl, bent at a near ninety degree angle. Tears began to drip from her nose to the floor. Jack felt his anger melting away. His pride tried to hold onto the unjustness of the situation a moment longer, but June Darby had raised her boy right. With a sigh Jack pulled her upright.
"Of course I forgive you Miko," he said gently, "You're my friend and you always will be."
The girl flung her arms around him and they embraced tightly.
"Just don't expect me to be especially civil to you until I turn in the last of these scrap essays." He muttered into her hair. Miko laughed and gave him one more squeeze.
"We'll I better get going before any of the neighbors see me here," she said ruefully. "The restraining order is in effect for another two weeks." Jack nodded and the girl bounded up to the green SUV waiting for her on the street. He stared curiously at his hands which had somewhere picked up a fine layer of black soot.
Neither of them saw Mrs. Darby standing quietly in the hall, glowing with pride.