Setting Note: In case it needs clarification, the repair bay referenced here is not the one in the main area of the original base. It's intended to be a more secluded, personal one that I believed Ratchet had due to an observation error when I first started writing the story.

A/N: So it's been a long time. For those interested, an explanation follows. This chapter wasn't expected to be so difficult to write, but as I found myself starting to write the original version a year ago, I realised how awfully cheesy and filler-like it was. It wasn't fun for me to write, and direction-wise it was heading nowhere fast – needless to say, my muse fizzled out for a time. Long story short however, I have not given up on this story. Over the year-long gap, this chapter alone had over five different variations, all accumulating in a word count of over 11,000 words of unused lines, paragraphs and possible narrative direction.

For those who are new to this story, welcome! For the oldies who go way back, thank-you for sticking around. For those who've reviewed or alerted or favourited so far, your support and feedback mean so much. I apologise if I've missed replying to anyone over the gap. Consider this chapter as a new slate :)

On a final note, I am up to date with the third season – the most recent episode, 'Evolution' (no spoilers ahead), makes me wonder why the writers don't keep to their deliciously sinister Starscream instead of giving us a rather redundant character (in terms of his role with the 'Cons). At times, it's just a bit disheartening to see such a rich character become the shows' comedic scapegoat.

Regardless, I hope I got this chapter right – I shall let you guys be the judge of that :)

Chapter Six:

So an Autobot soldier and a pissed off Decepticon walk into a bar..

/\/\/\/\/\ Two hours later – Optimus had returned, and both he and Arcee are making their way to Ratchet's repair bay. /\/\/\/\/\

It was like she and Optimus had walked into a war zone of an entirely different kind, where instead of shots and parts flying in the air, there were words and curses buzzing around them. But their arrival was clearly welcome by at least one of the two occupants in the room – they seemed to have walked in at the right moment too, close to the aftermath of the heated moment.

There was a dead silence as their presence was noticed, and both doctor and patient stopped to a standstill at the disturbance. The former had a look of restraint on his features, trying desperately to control himself from continuing his verbal brawl with his patient, who was staring him down with a death-like glower in his optics.

Arcee didn't miss seeing the wide clamp stretching across the seeker's chest, practically welding him down to his berth.

"Ratchet?" Optimus started warily, "Is everything all right?"

"Ah, Optimus," Ratchet exclaimed finally, his voice wearing thin despite his attempt to hide that fact. "I..was wondering when you'd visit."

His cover-up was obvious; Ratchet had never been good at hiding the truth, no matter how harmless it was. Starscream scoffed at his poor attempt to deflect the inevitable question from his superior.

"Yes, just in time to witness another one of your medic's ridiculous attempts to subdue me further!"

He sounded almost hysterical to them, his voice a higher pitch than usual, lacking its devious undertone they were used to hearing whenever he was calm. Now, it seemed his temper had been riled by something that, apparently, Ratchet had done.

"Subdue you? Oh, please," Ratchet argued exasperatedly, "If you'd only listened to my advice to stop moving so much, then I wouldn't have had to resort to such methods!"

"I'd like to see you suffer three solar cycles without movement," he retorted venomously, struggling firmly against the clamp holding his body down, which was (from Arcee's perspective) doing a great job at keeping the seeker immobile, at least where his injuries were concerned. "Is this really how I am to be treated, Prime?"

Arcee chanced a look up at Optimus to see his reaction, but he took no notice of her as he addressed the irritated captive.

"I believe it would be in your best interests to heed Ratchet's advice next time, if you do not wish to be placed in such a confining predicament." He gestured his head towards Ratchet for support. "I am certain you were warned."

Ratchet nodded vehemently. "A hundred times over! But would he listen?"

Arcee blinked surprisingly, half unexpected at Optimus' response.

'I'm glad to see he isn't taking any scrap from Starscream,' she thought proudly, turning her attention to the seeker to see his response.

"You cannot keep a seeker like this," he hissed, the sentiment of a defeated mech. He had to know there was no way of winning this fight two against one. "Surely you know that."

Arcee finally piped up, sick of his antics as she was, "Maybe you should've thought about that before disobeying his warnings."

Starscream darted his optics towards her.

"This doesn't concern you, two-wheeler," he said snappishly.

"And yet she is right," Optimus chimed in. "I will trust Ratchet's judgement on this matter, but know that this consequence is of your own doing. I am certain it can as easily be revoked should Ratchet deem your behaviour improved."

"I'll..consider it," the medic agreed to unwillingly.

The seeker remained silent and brooding from where he lay, outnumbered by all who were against him.

"As for you, Ratchet," Optimus finally addressed, coming to the reason for his unannounced visit, "I believe that in consideration of the current state of things, I am forced to bring up our previous conversation into light once more."

"I don't think now is a very good time, Optimus."

"That is why I wish to discuss it elsewhere – Arcee will take over in your absence," he clarified, answering Ratchet's unasked question.

"I'll keep an eye on things till you get back," she stated briefly, flicking her gaze to the leering seeker in the background.

Ratchet seemed none-too-happy about it.

"Hey, don't go blowing a gasket on me or anything. This is just a one-off thing," she clarified.

"That is an order, old friend," he stated seriously.

Ratchet's eyes darted to Arcee, then Optimus, then Starscream, and then landed back to Optimus once more, obviously contemplating something to himself.

Finally, he huffed frustratedly.

"Sometimes, I just don't understand you Optimus. Firstly, I'm put in a position where I must constantly attend to a patient, and then you nag me for doing my job."

Optimus replied in a quiet tone, just loud enough for the three of them to hear, "I know it seems counter-productive to your progress, but I need you to trust me for now, and even more importantly trust in Arcee to handle things in your absence."

Ratchet looked to her for assurance, still hesitant to leave his post

"Trust me, I can take care of this," she said conclusively, leaving no room for Ratchet to doubt her.

The medic shut his optics, placing a hand to his head as he thought it over to himself, before emitting a hopeless, disgruntled sigh.

"Just...make sure he doesn't move too much," Ratchet uttered in a hushed manner, making sure Starscream was well out of hearing range to catch on to it.

She nodded once.

"If there's nothing else..?" Ratchet trailed off to Optimus, who merely gave Arcee a final look of acknowledgement before turning to lead Ratchet away to who knows where, just away from the confines of his own repair bay.

"Wait, what is the meaning of this?" the neglected seeker called out from the back.

Ratchet didn't answer, but turned to give Arcee a look.

'Good luck,' it said. 'He's your problem now.'

In that one moment, her resolve faltered for a fraction of a second, a range of emotions flashing in her optics too quickly for any observer to fully conceive – and then just as easily as it did, she put on a confident slanted smile and looked straight at him, leaving him no room to doubt her.

'I can handle this, with or without luck.'

And just like that, he and Optimus were gone, out of sight behind the closed doors.

"They can't be serious.." Starscream uttered more to himself than anyone else, though Arcee could hear him clearly enough. "Of all the Autobot filth to choose from, they pick this one.."

She almost did a double take at the brashness of his words, stunned enough as she was by the boldness of his statement.

'What the frag is that supposed to mean?' she internally thought, narrowing her eyes at him dangerously. Regardless of whether or not she was supposed to hear them, or whether they were just the by-product of his particularly foul mood, she wouldn't stand for having to put up with that kind of disrespect towards her and her teammates.

She regarded him with a cold indifference on the outside, but seethed on the inside with solid animosity.

"Watch your tone, Decepticon," she said stiffly, "I'm not in the mood to pick a fight, but if you say that again, I can't guarantee you'll leave this night unharmed."

"Oh, my mistake. Did I say that out loud?" he said with a mockingly innocent expression. "And here I thought your medic was intolerable."

'Right, so that's how he wants to do this,' she thought unenthusiastically, having the feeling that Starscream wasn't planning on sitting this one out, so to speak. 'Two can play at this game.'

"Glad to hear Ratchet's giving you a hard time," she commented, trying to turn the topic against him. "Remind me to tell him how much you love his little talks."

He scoffed from his side of the room, and turned his head to look at her.

"That was hardly a compliment, Autobot," he retorted, "And your attempt at humour is not appreciated."

She crossed her arms across her chest, "What makes you think I was joking? In fact, as soon as my shift is up, I'm going to suggest having the clamp in place for good."

He gave her a scowl at her threat.

"Autobot-"

"And then, who knows?" she interrupted, suddenly enjoying the way she was making him squirm at the thought of a permanent lockdown, "Maybe when you're fit enough to be moved, I'll have him place a pair of stasis cuffs on your wrists.."

"You wouldn't-"

"Or better yet," she interjected, "I'll have him clamp your wings off for good."

He uttered a low guttural growl at this, visibly defeated down a notch. It appeared that for all he was willing to put in to appear tough, he wasn't prepared to risk losing the freedom of his wings, however temporary.

"Fine, you've made your point," he hissed..."Infernal harpy," he added under his breath.

But the thought of being restrained only seemed to remind him of his body's own condition that it was in, and in turn made his wrists and ankles and chassis itch as the metal of his armour chafed uncomfortably against the material of his restraints.

Out of the habit he'd become accustomed to in the past three days, his wrists began to pull against his bonds in attempt to free himself from them, but with almost zero movement space between them and his limbs, the only thing he could manage was a dull 'clink' as both materials collided with each other. His ankles soon followed suit, and soon enough the sound became obvious enough that Arcee started to pick up on it, to his dismay.

Though her own temper had calmed since she'd made her threats (regardless of whether there was any truth behind them), she wasn't in any way planning on letting her current lead over him falter. From where she was leaning against the wall, she could see that Starscream was starting to struggle with being as still as he was. Vaguely, she remembered Ratchet's words to her before he left.

"Just make sure he doesn't move too much."

She sighed out loud, deciding it best to intervene now before it got out of hand. The last thing she wanted to do was end up calling in Ratchet because she wasn't quick enough to prevent the seeker from tearing open a recently repaired energon line.

"Hey, stop moving," Arcee told him as she watched him curiously out of the corner of her vision. "You'll only make things worse."

He tugged hard at the restraint at one of his wrists, but it didn't budge.

"That's easy for you to say," he scowled. "You're not the one who's been bound to a berth for three solar cycles!"

"You'll reopen your wounds again," she tried convincing him from her place, though she was physically preparing to approach him and stop him herself if he wouldn't listen.

"Would you believe me if I said I've suffered through worse?" he retorted, though his casual way of saying it made it difficult to believe whether he was telling the truth or not. His tone didn't suggest that he was after any pity, that she could tell, but even despite the knowledge that he'd served under Megatron for however many millennia, she found it hard to believe that he could've suffered much worse than a near-fatal blast to his chest.

"No," she said, "But I can tell you your 'worst' yet will be facing Ratchet after all his work comes undone. Now stop moving."

He stubbornly gave his restraints one last aggressive tug to prove his point before settling down.

"You Autobots obviously have no idea what you're doing."

She sighed, returning to her semi-relaxed position.

"Tell it to someone who cares."

"Like whom, your medic?" he jeered. "If he wasn't too preoccupied with finding ways to bind me down further, then perhaps he'd find a scrap to give – seekers need their space, you know!"

He continued out loud, "Instead, here I am, bound by every servo with an unimaginable crick in my wings I have no power to do anything about!"

As if to prove his point, he tried shifting his wings up and down along the berth, but all they produced was an audio-piercing shriek from the intact one as it scraped along his resting place, and a wince-inducing groan from the broken one as the damaged and cauterised struts and cables pulled tightly with the movement.

He said to himself in an unnaturally high octave, "Not to mention an unbearable processor ache."

Arcee vented out a breath, somewhat unsure of what to think or say as she watched the seeker mull over something to himself, and for once did wonder what he was thinking about. She thought that anything that made him look that miserable might be worth knowing, if only for reference.

"Sounds like a bad excuse as any to give you some freedom. You really think any of us are going to fall for it?"

He blinked rapidly, "You think I'm joking?"

"You don't hear me laughing, do you?" she pointed out bluntly.

He caught onto her implication.

"You think I'm lying," he stated rhetorically, with a peeved look crossing his face, though she couldn't decide whether his question was directed at her in particular, or the rest of her team in general. It didn't matter to her either way.

He took her silence as an affirmative.

"I may find it easy to excuse the ignorance of a common soldier on this matter," he started, worming his way into dangerous territory again, "But I refuse to accept that your medic is also oblivious to it too."

She refrained from rolling her optics.

"Look, I'm not going to say it again," she groaned out, "If it bothers you so much, take it up with Ratchet. He's in charge of you, and despite what you might think, he's trying to help you."

'Not like you care,' she thought to herself, trying to keep as much of her exasperation in check.

"And what good would that do? I utter any semblance of the word 'freedom', and suddenly I find myself in..in.." he tried gesturing sharply with whatever he could move towards the clamp stretched across his chest.

This time, she couldn't help but let out an audible sigh.

"Then I suggest you try getting on his good side," she replied curtly, hoping he wouldn't have much more to say, "But even then, I wouldn't get my hopes up."

"And just how would one go about accomplishing such a feat?" he questioned curiously, though his voice was laced thickly with doubt.

"For you?" she answered back with little hesitation, "You could start by shutting up and doing as you're told."

His features shifted to form a sharp leer; he was obviously unhappy with her answer. Though in her defence (and now retrospect) it was probably the most honest bit of advice she could give him, however accidental and spur-of-the-moment it was.

"So we're back to our hostilities, are we?"

She crossed her arms across her chest, watching him warily.

"Funny, I wasn't aware we'd left them."

He didn't say anything in reply, but his expression suggested that he'd heard and understood her just fine. She remained unresponsive herself, wanting to prolong the quietness for as long as she could.

But it was an uncomfortable silence, the kind that seemed to drag on when all of Arcee's senses were focused on the tenseness of the air around them, so much that she felt like she could cut the very particles with her blades and they would visibly part before her. Though the potency of it eventually died down with time, she still couldn't help but reflect on all that was said. As far as threats went, she figured that Starscream's were empty if not nullified by the fact he was still bound and helpless on the berth. It might have also had something to do with the way he was outnumbered five to one in the base.

And as for her own? Well..

She knew she had as much input on Starscream's treatment as any of the others did. Sure, she could spout a thing or two to keep him in line, but deep down she knew that any authority over his immediate treatment lay with Ratchet alone.

'On the plus side,' she thought to herself with a sly smile, 'He doesn't have to know that.'

The quiet stretched on for hours more. Ratchet still hadn't come back, which meant that Optimus had successfully persuaded him to retire for the night; she expected he'd be back within two or three more hours at most to relieve her of her night shift. Starscream had long since fallen silent and into recharge – she'd say it would have been about four or five hours ago that his breathing had become slow and even, but even that would eventually hitch every so often.

It wasn't until her internal chronometer suggested that six hours had passed since the beginning of her shift that she heard the seeker's breath hitch again, this time a little more raspy than she'd heard before. She ignored it as usual, however, learning early on that they were just the product of whatever dreams he was having, though judging by the odd winces he displayed even in his sleep, she would've hazarded a guess they were more like nightmares instead.

'He'll settle down in a bit,' she reminded herself, returning to her task of checking the functions and statuses of her secondary systems, a habit she'd adopted to pass the time.

But just as soon as she'd settled back into her routine check, she heard his breath hitch again, albeit a bit more loudly, and heard him shift uncomfortably on the berth. Without warning, one of his wrists jerked upwards in a quick motion, pulling harshly against its restraint.

Though it didn't get far, Arcee's optics snapped towards the sound and hovered over the restraints in particular, wondering with uncertainty just how much force they could take. The seeker stirred in his sleep again, this time pulling uselessly with his ankles – but he could never get his knees to bend acutely enough to dislodge the bonds. His efforts were weak, stifled by not only his own lack of energy but also the restrictions placed on his mobility range by Ratchet.

Arcee let out a breath she wasn't aware she'd been holding.

'Glad Ratchet knows what he's doing,' she thought reminiscently, 'That Decepticon moves too much for his own good.'

And then without any visible indication, his left shoulder slammed upwards into the clamp with a strength Arcee wouldn't have matched to his condition, so suddenly that by the time Arcee realised the severity of his movements, the left side of the clamp had become unhinged from the berth as a result of his efforts.

"Scrap!" she swore out loud, jumping to her feet as she realised he was bracing his body for an attempt at the other side of the clamp, no doubt in hopes of removing the metal restraint from across his body for good. Though still bound by his limbs, the freedom granted to him by breaking the clamp seemed to calm him slightly, enough for her to see him relax for a brief second and intake a surge of cool air into his body. Smaller plates around his waist and along his sides shifted automatically to compensate for the new movement space. His chest expanded and the left side of his back relaxed more comfortably across the berth – it was akin to a human stretching, relieving their joints and muscles from a constricting ache.

It was then she took her move.

Leaping in close when he was at his weakest, she pushed both her hands down on his free shoulder to prevent him from getting any kinetic momentum over his other shoulder – with some effort, he shoved her hands from him roughly and snapped back into an aggressive mode.

"'Injured', my tailpipe.." she mocked crudely, heedlessly slamming one hand down on his left shoulder again, whilst her other hand reached to the other in attempt to stabilise him.

'Was it too much to ask for this one thing to go smoothly?'

But of all the things she noticed was that his optics were still sealed shut, and his expression was locked into a troubled cringe that no amount of his physical resistance was helping. She was close enough to hear that his once-audible hitching breaths had become faint ragged gasps, and that his hands (however bound) were shaking with an odd twitch every now and then.

It hit her with alarming clarity.

'He's..still dreaming,' she realised incredulously.

She finally pushed back even harder than before when his resistance faltered for a second, and forced his shoulders down on the berth with a dull 'thud'.

'For a mech to struggle like that, there's no way he's as injured as Ratchet believes he is.'

It was something that got under her external armour, so to speak. Not that she was a qualified medic (and far from it), but she assumed that Ratchet did whatever daily check-ups he needed to on Starscream. So how the frag could he misjudge the extent of his patient's injuries? And then she took into account the restraints around his limbs, and then the larger (now dented) clamp across his chest. At first she thought they were just to keep him in place, to stop him from opening old wounds. And maybe, maybe that was still the case. But then, then there was this notion, nagging at the back of her mind...

'Scrap,' she swore, still holding the Seeker down, waiting until his strength wavered.

What if he wasn't as injured as he was made out to be, and Ratchet knew it? By default, that would mean that Optimus knew it too. She didn't want to process the implications of it, nor think of how much it clicked together when she thought about it like this. The secrecy of it, kept between both medic and leader for three solar cycles – the lack of news, updates, a solid plan that everyone was filled in on. Was their knowledge – hers', Bulkhead's and Bumblebee's – of the goings-on behind the scenes really detrimental to the overall plan, whatever that might be? Had they already been thrown out of the loop not even a week into it all?

She shook her head and let out a frustrated cry.

'This isn't the damned time to get caught up in this,' she berated herself, but made a note to herself to come back to it after this was over. She was going to get some answers around here, classified information or not.

Her frustration had built up to a degree, and Starscream was still relentlessly pushing back with no indication of whether he was going to stop or wake up from his efforts. She'd had about enough of him for one night.

"Damn it, Starscream, snap out of it!"

Without hesitating, she took her right hand and gave him a swift but firm hit to his face, watching him as he blinked rapidly and raggedly vented air in and out of him, seemingly coming to his senses. She felt his shoulders suddenly relax, dropping from her grasp as he regained control of his limbs.

"Scrap," she swore out loud again, more out of relief than anything else.

She backed off to give the both of them some space while she assessed the damage. She herself was unharmed, and Starscream looked physically worn but was otherwise fine. The berth on the other hand had taken some damage. Not only were there scratches around the area from where his claw-like fingers were resting, but the clamp that had once kept him firmly bound to the berth was dislodged on one side and bent upwards slightly from where he'd pushed against it, which rendered that thing useless.

She figured Starscream's vitals had returned to their normal state by then.

"What the frag was that about?" she asked, a little out of sorts herself though she tried desperately to hide it.

After a moment, she didn't think it mattered anyway. Starscream looked as if he was still out of it – she would've gone so far as to say she may as well have been non-existent to him at that moment. When he lay there, unresponsive to her, she shook her head and approached him once more, reaching towards the bent clamp.

She figured at the very least she could try to hook the damned piece of scrap underneath the berth to keep Starscream down, after knowing she'd have to report whatever the pit went on just then to Ratchet when he returned. No doubt she'd have some explaining to do for it all. She reached to grab the end of the metal piece and started to force it back down.

Her proximity, and more importantly to the seeker what she was doing, finally seemed to snap him back to reality. Instinctively his body resisted, and he struggled to prevent her from locking him down to the berth again.

"No, wait!" he protested, his breath raspy with hysterical desperation, "Don't put the clamp back on, it isn't necessary!"

Despite her better judgement, she paused her actions, and almost immediately the seeker stopped resisting. His body was still tense in anticipation of another attempt to bind him, and he was naturally trying to turn his body away from her out of wariness. His countenance expressed both weariness and an anxious distrust of her movements. And oddly, after all the strength he displayed physically during his unconsciousness, he seemed rather weak in his protests now, lacking the strength in his struggles that he'd shown just moments before.

'Either he's drained himself of energon, or some thing's not right,' she pondered distrustfully.

"Why should I listen to you?" she asked.

"I told you to stop, and you did," he pointed out snarkily, but when he saw that she wasn't in the mood to put up with his ill-mannered comments, and knowing that she could and would put the clamp back on without a care, he changed his tone.

"I-I mean, there is no reason not to listen, is there ?"

She opened her mouth to retort, but he interrupted her before she could, realising she could say a thousand things and more against him.

"Wait, don't answer that.." he said sheepishly, struggling to find words – words that wouldn't end him up in that accursed clamp again.

"What I mean to say is that..I'm already bound by these restraints, as constricting as they are," he started, pulling lightly at his wrists and ankles to prove his point. "I can barely move as it is – I assure you that..that thing will only make matters worse."

Arcee didn't even blink.

'Really, he's going for the 'pity' speech? And here I thought I'd heard everything for one night.'

"Nice try, Starscream, but that's not going to work on me."

Her second approach made him panic a little more, realising that his desperation may not have been communicated quite clearly enough.

"No, no wait!" he pleaded again, thinking quickly on the spot. "I'll-I'll stay still, I swear it!"

She gave him a look.

"I don't believe you."

She took a step forward, and he shifted himself away from her again – or at least, he tried to within the already limited amount of movement space he had.

"Don't make this difficult," she said, placing her hands on her hips. When he remained as still as a mech in stasis, she sighed hopelessly. She had a feeling that it would be more trouble than it was worth in trying to get Starscream to cooperate with her – he seemed to really hate that clamp with a passion.

"Look, chances are that Ratchet was going to end up removing the thing any way," she tried to persuade, though even she would admit that she wasn't that great with her words.

The seeker's determined glare wavered for a second.

"If he comes back and sees you out of it, what do you think he's going to do instead?"

He tilted his head to the side, something of a distrustful look tugging at his features.

"The medic wouldn't remove it," he said with skepticism.

She shrugged, "You heard him before. He said he'd consider it."

"That doesn't justify your supposition," he countered without skipping a beat.

She gave him a deadpanned look.

'I'm not in the mood to do this,' she decided, feeling that arguing with him would only take them in circles. There were too many questions of what, whys and hows, and to top it off, no one believed the other to begin with. It was a disaster in the making, and she refused to play a part in its nonsensicalness.

"You know what, fine. Have it your way," she conceded, backing off entirely. "Just don't say no one told you so when you find yourself locked to your berth again."

He looked hesitant, as if there was an inner conflict going on with himself. But his very stubborn if not persistent nature seemed to win whatever argument he had going on – in any case it didn't matter to Arcee. To be honest with herself, she didn't know why she even tried to offer him some advice to begin with. In the end she just blamed it on her own exhaustion and consoled herself with the knowledge that she'd be relieved of her shift very soon.

"I'll take my chances," he conclusively uttered, finally relaxing his frame along the berth once he believed she wasn't going to make another attempt to bind him.

'Take as many as you need, genius,' she sarcastically thought. 'Looks like you're not going anywhere.'

With his immediate dilemma out of the way, she supposed the next thing she had to do was wait for Ratchet to show up. Though with a series of questions she felt needed answering soon, she wanted nothing more than to leave and have some time alone to herself, and maybe, maybe talk things over with the others before making the decision to take things up with Optimus or Ratchet. She wanted to take the time to review things – to make sure that she wasn't simply overreacting.

She needed a distraction.

Maybe an energon raid, maybe a minuscule task. Just something to take her mind off of things before she dived head-first into the fray. Something, she hoped, that would make her feel as if they were achieving something useful for their team.

'A cart-load of raw energon would be great right about now,' she thought hopefully, glancing over to where the seeker lay.

It was hard to idealise that their hopes for winning and surviving this war any time soon lay in whatever information he could give them.

Somehow, someway, she just hoped that they would do something right to make him pull through in the end.

End Chapter Six:

That's that, folks! It took a while, but it got through in the end. In reference to DemonSurfer, this story is taking a lot longer than I'd intended myself, but over time I think I've come to accept this as more of a character study based on a scenario, rather than a purely plot-driven story. As a result, the word count of each chapter seems to magically escalate to unintended proportions.

In any case, I've taken to leaving progress messages on my profile – if you don't see an update in the near-future, that would be the first place to check. See you guys in the next chapter :) Over and out!