"The Witwickys were human." A (D)Alliances side story.

Title: A Story Told and Ended

Warning: Death. It happens.

Rating: G

Continuity: G1, Season 3 (D)Alliances AU

Characters: Witwickys, Dinobots

Disclaimer: The theatre doesn't own the script or actors, nor does it make a profit from the play.

Motivation (Prompt): Comment request: "an extension of the Dinotopia scene [from (D)Alliances], or a future scene with grown up Daniel and the Dinobots."

[* * * * *]

The Witwickys met the Autobots in 1984, and father and son joined the war. They had a core of steel that defied their fleshy bodies. They survived years of intergalactic war with good health and a fierce, combative joy. It was almost inhuman, their resilience. The Autobots were oddly proud of that. They held every other human they met up against the standard of a family of two. It was a ridiculous standard made of blind luck and robots deep in denial of fundamental truths.

The Witwickys were human. They'd been wounded by the war. Spike broke an arm. Sparkplug sprained both ankles and dislocated a couple fingers. Spike almost died, but somehow it didn't take. Somehow death never quite stuck with the Witwickys, and despite the hitching moments of terror, the Autobots had their humans.

For a while, anyway.

The end, when it came, was as normal as any other human ending. As unexpected, as well. Ratchet and Perceptor, for all their brilliance in inventing on-the-fly solutions to war-related medical problems, had little experience with organics. Sparkplug went on in 1990, at age 68. Like his father, and his father's brother, and his grandfather before him, he died suddenly-and alone. Raoul found him slumped over a car in the workshop in New York City. If Sparkplug had been a little more communicative, a little less proud, a little less gruff and grumble about the history of heart problems in the men in his family…maybe something could have been done. Maybe if the Autobots had thought to ask. Maybe.

Instead, a convoy of black-painted Autobots escorted his body to a grave. It was all they could do for him, afterward.

Ratchet spent the next five years chasing Spike around with a heart monitor. Perceptor flung himself into genetic research, benefitting humans worldwide but focusing specifically on one man. Wheeljack quietly tinkered with Autobot X, despite Spike swearing he never wanted to be transferred into a robotic body again, and then had a fit of brilliance after one close-call too many on the battlefield landed Spike in the hospital. Wheeljack designed the human exosuits; Perceptor tweaked them; Ratchet cussed and redesigned them again, because two amazingly intelligent mechs could be oblivious to comfort and actual function sometimes. The other Autobots watched their progress with intense interest, and there was an almost audible sigh of relief when Spike tried the first exosuit on.

The Witwickys met the Autobots in 1984, but only the humans had realized that their time was fleeting. Cybertronians were a race that measured time in ages, not years. Now they were on Earth, and it took until 1990 to for them to realize that lifespans could be measured by the brief flutter of heartbeats. When the beat stopped, it didn't matter how many ages the mech had left. Life was still over. Sparkplug was gone, and they hadn't known, really known, that they'd been in a race until then. Cybertronians ambled the course; humans sprinted. Sparkplug had gotten to the finish line first, but the Autobots hadn't even realized they'd been on a track. These humans lived so quickly. It seemed impossible to imagine a universe without their laughter and warm, clever hands, but oh, it happened so often, so quickly, so unexpectedly, and yet all too predictably. Outside of stubborn denial, the Autobots had to face that fact that their human friends were fragile.

The Witwickys had bent, had broken, but humans healed. It was the nature of their short-lived lives: they lived each moment with a resilience and joy because they packed an entire lifespan into the blink of an optic. Spike mourned, he recovered, and when he and Carly got married in 1992, he smiled again. It was the Autobots who nursed their wounded grief long after Sparkplug's death. They had time for it.

The Autobots met Daniel Witwicky in 1993: a delightful baby. A brand new human, fresh and bright, but in the back of every mech's mind, his pulse beat down. They heard it behind his laughter. It skipped behind his tantrums. They listened for it when he went home. They broadcast it when he came back to them. Metroplex had archives of Earth information, backlogged and then downloaded weekly to the Autobot City archive, and the largest files weren't political. They weren't even scientific. They were just…sounds. Rhythms. Three heartbeats: the Witwickys'.

And Spike and Daniel and Carly were never, ever alone.

The Autobots thought, sure, humans were fragile. But Wheeljack had made Spike stronger. Ratchet had shored up his defective heart. Perceptor had insured Daniel would never even have to worry about that. The only other fear was the Decepticons, and if there was always an Autobot nearby, that wasn't such a threat. The gentle joke among the Autobots and their closest human allies was that Rodimus Prime had ended the war just to end that threat entirely, because Daniel was just that precious to him. The two in question just grinned at each other when such jokes were said in their company. But sometimes Spike wondered. Sometimes Carly stood beside Bumblebee, her hand resting on the Autobot soldier like a spot of warmth, a hand of peace offering a conduit to a machine long-resigned to war, and Spike stood there. He watched the way the yellow mech looked down at his wife, and he thought…it wasn't so unlikely.

So Spike survived the war. He and his wife were present for the formal signing of the treaty between Autobots and Decepticons, although it took until 2020 for things to progress to that point. His son had become the Human Ambassador on Earth. His wife was ever-more beautiful and that much more of a genius every day. Life during the war had been strange, but wonderful.

Life after the war was short.

Spike had survived the war. Ironically, it was peace that killed him.

It was the factories that did it. The environment on Cybertron had been analyzed down to the last molecule when humans originally began coming in earnest to the metal planet. Sure, the Autobots' allies had been on and off Cybertron for years; those had been visits done in exosuits or inside sterile, air-tight buildings. Exposure to the elements had been minimized, and always with the awareness that they could be at risk. When diplomacy and long-term residency became a reality, making sure it was safe became vital. Cybertron and Earth were compatible, oddly enough. Obviously, things like acid rain were a problem for humans, but that was a problem for Cybertronians as well. Cybertron had been declared safe for human habitation within certain limitations.

Peace allowed industry to return. Not just return; it thrived. The old factories had been destroyed, but they were rebuilt soon enough by entrepreneurs and the gainfully employed. The factories were rebuilt, and they opened, and they spewed things into the air that hadn't been there since the war began. It wasn't pollution; it caused Cybertronians no harm. Most of the time, the factory by-products weren't even visible. A lot of it was recycled down to microscopic flecks and escaping vents of gas hissing from bent hoses. It was so normal that it was unremarkable, and when the first industrial sector in Iacon opened, there was a huge celebration. Mechs and humans alike cheered loudly in the audience.

Fifteen days later, the humans in that sector began coughing. The year 2021, and humankind still hadn't conquered the common cold. Their Autobot friends joked with them about it, and they warned away their friends on Cybertron because nobody likes getting sick. The humans who had visited the sector for the opening ceremonies had a similar cough. It was nothing to worry about. Spike spoke with his wife over a vidscreen. He was still organizing the schedule for shipping the new factory products to Earth. Daniel gave him a call from Earth, and they haggled import laws for a while. Spike coughed a few times, but he said he felt okay.

Two days after that, and coughing had become worse. 133 men and women had a gurgling bark that could silence a room. The humans working in the factories had walking pneumonia, and the others weren't far behind. The Autobots weren't joking anymore. They'd begun flinching every time a human coughed. The human hospitals began to be overwhelmed by false alerts as concerned Autobots panicked and grabbed any human who so much as cleared his or her throat. Friendly warnings to stay away from the sector in Iacon became strict quarantine. The visitors stabilized. The residents got worse. Daniel and Carly called several times day, and only the quarantine kept them away. The factories were shut down, and grave Autobots immediately moved in to begin stripping down the area. Trying to make it safe, trying to make things better when they couldn't be.

Twelve hours after the first pneumonia diagnosis, the first human died. Three hours after death, Perceptor diagnosed the cause: cell-deep poisoning. Since the first hour the factories began operating, the humans in the sector had been immersed in a lethal bath of gasses and fine-grained silt. They'd breathed it in and walked through it, slept in beds covered with it and eaten food full of it. It had come in through their lungs, their eyes, the very pores of their skin. They'd become super-saturated, and now it permeated their tissues. Perceptor could flush it out, but he couldn't reverse the effects. There were 133 humans living in that sector, and four died by the end of that day. None of them would live out the next two days. Perceptor couldn't stop it. He couldn't save them.

He couldn't save Spike Witwicky.

Earth erupted in indignant outcry; none of the injured humans would live long enough to make the shuttle trip back to Earth. Daniel and the closest families were boosted onto a flight to Cybertron right away, but they wouldn't make it in time. Perceptor's procedure went ahead, the poison was flushed out, and the dying men and women were shipped out of the quarantined sector cradled in alien, achingly careful, Autobot hands. Mechs lined the streets the chosen transporters glided down like attendants at a funeral procession. They watched the humans until they were out of sight, solemn watchers standing like pillars left supporting nothing. The humans would die on Cybertron, and Cybertron trembled to the rhythm of their faltering heartbeats.

The healthy men and women did what they could, gathering together around the dying. The Autobots were there, too. They were all witnesses, perhaps victims, but mostly just friends desperately holding on before the end. Every room in the official human hospital had an Autobot watching, recording, and completely unwilling to let go.

Bumblebee should have been in Spike's room. Bumblebee was 'his' Autobot. He'd always been 'his' Autobot, even before the Moonbases and the assignment of an Autobot honor guard to the Earth Ambassador. They might not have been close like Daniel and Rodimus Prime were close, but they'd been friends since that day in 1984. Nothing could separate them for long.

Bumblebee should have been there, but he wasn't. He'd been on Earth handling the Cybertron side of import/export negotiations, because Spike couldn't be everywhere at once. Bumblebee had been on Earth, and now he was on a transport shuttle in space, and he wasn't going to make it back to Cybertron in time. He should have been there, but he couldn't be. Daniel should have been there, too, but the shuttle could only go so far, so fast, and it couldn't follow where Spike was going.

So Carly was there, because the thought of not being there was unbearable. She sat at the bedside in the Autobot-sized human hospital room, and she held his hand because if a war couldn't tear them apart, then nothing could. Not even this. She wouldn't let it. She knew she was in denial, but it was either refuse to surrender or collapse in on herself, and she couldn't do that to Spike. She had to be strong for him. She held his hand, forefinger steady on that soft spot under his wrist where a thready pulse still beat, and she only wept when the deeply-sunken eyes closed. That happened far too often. Her husband had always possessed a surplus of energy. Only Daniel had had more, and Daniel was younger. To see Spike so still and quiet in the bed clogged her throat with helpless grief. She wanted to scream her sadness out the window. She felt like she'd been driven insane with formless rage, but there was no one to direct her rage at. She wanted to blame the Autobots, but she couldn't. She wanted to — but couldn't.

That left her wrestling down her emotions, snatching the minutes one by one and trying so hard to remember each passing second as it slipped away. It was exhausting.

Both humans were asleep when Swoop poked his head into the room, in fact. He tiled his head, bird-like, and chirred thoughtfully before deciding to edge inside anyway. He hopped in quick jumps instead of walking since he was in his pterodactyl form, but he was trying to be quiet, Snarl, stumping in after him, seemed to catch his caution.

That didn't last long. The Dinobots, even when they tried, couldn't be anything but noisy. Sludge accidentally stepped on Slag's tail; Slag swung about to confront him and whacked Snarl with his own tail; Snarl turned, startled, and knocked into Swoop; Swoop fell over, flapping his wings, and caught the privacy curtain with a wingtip. The curtain ripped with a horrendously loud noise, and the curtain rings rattled shrilly when the last fabric parted. Carly awoke with a fearful gasp, eyes fastening on the heart monitor as she mistook the noise for the sharp beep of a flatlining heart. Swoop squawked at Snarl, who growled at Slag, who scraped a groove in the floor with his foot and snorted at Sludge. Slurge looked confused, honestly not having noticed stepping on Slag's tail in the first place.

On the bed, Spike opened weary eyes even as Carly turned an angry glare on their visitors. "Hey, guys," he said, wheezing a little. The tube in his chest kept liquid draining out of his lungs before he could drown, and the oxygen tube made sure he got enough air, but it wasn't healthy. He didn't even sound remotely so.

Grimlock shouldered his way through the doorway and gave the others a Look. The Tyrannosaurus Rex had faced down both Megatron and Galvatron with that Look. He gave it to his herd of unruly dinosaurs, and they submitted. Sludge ducked his head, Snarl shrugged his back plating, Swoop righted himself, and even Slag subsided. They began to shuffle about, acting out the awkward choreography of too-large animals inside a too-small box. Grimlock eyed them a moment more, then turned his attention to the humans.

"Me Grimlock hear you Spike sick," he stated blandly. His head cocked to one side, bringing one very predatory optic to bear on the human in the bed. There was something deep in the hindbrain of little prey animals that said Run Away when large, toothy carnivores considered them that way. Fortunately, these humans had been around the Dinobots longer than the Dinobots had been alive. They took no offense at Grimlock's deliberate tactlessness. They knew he did it because he could get away with it. "You Spike weak."

"Yes," Spike said simply. Even if he'd had the will to say more, it wasn't necessary to.

The Dinobots had always suffered from the 'big and dumb' stereotype. The only ones who'd truly never underestimated them were Optimus Prime, Wheeljack, and Ratchet. The other Autobots had regarded them as unintelligent, bumbling powerhouse with no room to improve. Daniel and Carly had been around them from Day One, and even they hadn't understood for years that the Dinobots were just young. Young, violent, and not really Cybertronian. They were different, but by the time they'd grown up enough to understood why they were treated the way they were, it was too late to change the other Autobots' opinions. They could have tried, but relations between Autobots and Dinobots were almost — but not quite — hostile. Instead of trying to smooth things over, they bristled. The Dinobots had withdrawn further into their own sub-faction, and they regarded anyone outside themselves distrustfully.

So they played dumb. The smarter they became, the stupider they acted. The more they understood the Autobots and their cause, the more the Dinobots rebelled. Optimus Prime, the leader Grimlock had grudgingly respected and sort of obeyed, hadn't been able to afford underestimating the Dinobots' intelligence. Ratchet and Wheeljack had been their creators. Half the old crew on the Ark that had witness first-hand the Dinobots right after activation and during their brief split from the Autobots. They knew that Grimlock could outwit them. They hadn't been able to explain that to the Autobots on Cybertron, however, and the Dinobots had smugly stared back at the frustrated crew: robots disguised as clever, destructive animals.

Then came the Battle of Autobot City, and dead 'bots littering the ground like spent shell casings. The old crew died. The new crew died. Everyone died. And the Autobots…forgot. Most of them had never known about the Dinobots to begin with, but Grimlock had used the years on Earth to establish the Dinobots' reputation as exactly what they wanted. By the time the war ended, nobody expected them to do anything but they wanted to do. Which is how they wanted it.

But the humans remembered. They had short lives, candle flames that snuffed out overnight, but the Witwickys had long memories. The Dinobots knew it. They knew the danger of allowing the humans to remember their intelligence, but outweighed by the dangers was the benefit.

To the Autobots, the Witwickys were friends. They were incredibly precious, but they weren't family. What no one remembered, what the Aerialbots would never admit to because they were young and proud and breaking down in overcharged fistfights and sobbing whimpers halfway across Cybertron at this very moment, was that Cybertron wasn't home to certain mechs in the war. The Aerialbots had been sparked on Cybertron, but they'd lived on Earth. It'd been far more of a home than Cybertron was. To the Dinobots, who'd come online on Earth, lived on Earth, fought on Earth, come from the Earth — Cybertron was a fun planet. An interesting place to visit, and some part of them realized they probably belonged on it, but they were from Earth. They'd always be from Earth. So while the other Autobots saw a friend dying, Grimlock looked down upon the tiny man laying in the bed and saw a part of his home disappearing.

Spike looked back up at him, tired and defeated and, yes, weak. Carly held her husband's hand, and she, too, looked up at the giant Dinobot. In her eyes, the grief-crazed light had dulled to something like peace. The Dinobots had their attitude and horrid blunders, but they had their secrets, and those secrets were shared. They were shared because a toddler with absolutely no fear had offered the Dinobots something no one else ever had: a clean slate. No judgment. No preconceptions, no demands, and no obligations. The Autobots collided with the Dinobots' defiant play-act of pretended-idiocy and always demanded more, different, something else. All Daniel had wanted from the Dinobots - all Daniel had ever needed - was a family. Daniel had latched onto Grimlock's nose with candy-sticky hands, and the Dinobots had melted into mush under his touch.

Carly couldn't be angry at the Dinobots, because the Dinobots weren't Autobots. They hadn't caused her husband to cough and pale. They were dinosaurs from Earth, and she was an Earth Ambassador. They were her planet's adopted sons, and in a very real way, they were her adopted sons as well.

Sludge had wound his gigantic bulk around the room, a wall within the walls, and the brontosaurus laid his head down beside the bed, on the side opposite of Carly. He blinked up at them, expression somehow hopeful to those adept at reading dinosaur faces, and Carly began to smile while a tear tracked slowly down her cheek. She glanced back and stood up to let Swoop push her chair out of the way. While the pterodactyl scooted into place against Sludge's side, tucked close to the head of the bed, Spike grunted as he managed to shift over on the bed until there was enough room for Carly to join him. She lay down beside him, and if her giggle was watery and sad, well, at least it was present at all. Snarl's head came down even as her foot left the floor, thumping into place where she'd been standing. Now two Dinobots looked up at the humans, optics begging, and finally Grimlock moved. He wedged himself between the wall and Sludge, curling about until his chin rested on the back of the brontosaurus' neck. If Spike reached out, he'd be able to pat the top of Sludge's head and the tip of Grimlock's nose. Carly could do the same for Snarl and Swoop.

Slag was the last Dinobot to settle down, and for good reason. While the others had been shouldering into position, he'd nudged his head under a blanket. Carly genuinely laughed when she recognized it. It was old and patchworked half to pieces, but it still looked like four of her grandmother's quilts sewn together with an entire garage sale-worth of old baby blankets. "I knew I didn't throw that out," she said, looking up as it billowed slowly down, and her hand raised to meet it affectionately.

Air whooshed silently out as Slag's chin settled to the floor, and the quilts draped over them all. Only Slag's horns held it up. From the outside, it was a gloriously psychedelic tent of colors and patterns like a traditional New England grandmother's project gone '60s hippie. The humans weren't even visible. Only the Dinobot's bodies were in sight, piled up upon each other. They looked quiet, for once, and the nurse who opened the door closed it after a brief glance at the heart monitor. There was something immensely private about the way they were huddled together like a wall against the world.

Under the blankets, there was nothing but darkness and the ebb and flow of air cycling through vents and lungs. Carly and Spike clung together on the bed, and if their smiles were small, they were real. This never would be anything but exciting. Slowly, their merely human eyes adjusted to the lack of light, and they began to see. Overhead, the blanket rippled between Slag's horn: a tent peak — or better, the roof of a pillow fortress. They'd been busy parents, always diplomats and running away, but this…this they had made time for. Maybe not every night, maybe not every day, but Carly and Spike had always made time for reading their son a bedtime story. But Daniel had rarely slept in an actual bed. He'd been tucked into Hot Rod's front seat, snuggled onto Blaster's lap, and every couch in Autobot City had become a pillow fortress at one point or another. And if there had been a Dinobot in the vicinity, that Dinobot had become part of the fortress. Other children had stuffed animals and siblings their own age. Daniel had Dinobots.

There was a blue glow strong enough to pick out details once they'd adjusted to it; the Dinobots' optics were dimmed, but still on. Snarl twisted his head, quick as a snake, and a small bundle was tossed up onto the bed between Carly and Spike. It looked like a baby cocooned in blankets, but those days were long gone. Spike reached out with one hand, smile faint and heartsore as an old photograph, and the blankets were just blankets. A familiar shape, but just a shape.

From the middle of the blanket-coccoon, a hiss-pop of static clicked on. "…Dad?"

Spike's breath caught audibly, and Carly stifled a cry. "Danny?"

They reached out together, hands searching with hope their minds knew better than to have. Carly made a disappointed noise when her hand encountered the hard angles of a handset. A radio speaker, and nothing more. "Oh, Danny," she said, sad even as she gathered the blankets up in her arms like the small boy he'd once been, and Swoop clattered his beak.

When he'd gotten their attention, he opened his beak to let an old, tattered book fall out. It dropped to the covers and spilled open, binding almost disintegrated with frequent readings. The pages rested loose on the bed, and richly colored pictures of dinosaurs and humans working side-by-side lay on the bed. Sludge and Snarl turned up the hope on their puppy-dog expressions.

The radio blurted an interrupted sound rather like a grown man too embarrassed to say what he wanted, but too weighted down by impending sorrow to stay silent. "Read to me, Dad?"

There was something thick turning about in Spike's throat, alive enough to fumble clumsy paws on his tongue and seize his voice. Every part of his body ached, but there was new, hot pressure under his eyes and a subtle pain when he swallowed the lump down. There was no future, no grandchildren or a daughter-in-law (or mech-in-law). There never could be, not anymore. There was no more hope. There was nothing here and now but the tears welling in his wife's eyes. There was no world outside the blankets, which left this space. This moment, stolen and rewound until the past was conjured and kept by force of will under the blanket-roof with them.

In here, there were Dinobots, still and innocent as the children the Autobots had never allowed them to be, and there was his son. So his arms took the slight weight of the blanket-wrapped radio from his wife while she gathered up the scattered pages back into some kind of order, and Spike imagined as hard as he could. He imagined that the blankets were warm and full, wrapped around a small boy. He imagined that the Dinobots were hearing for the first time about a Utopia where their kind was treated as equal, valued and loved. He imagined that this was a welcome break in a busy life, not an ending.

And when his wife handed him Dinotopia, he gave her a smile so tender and loving that her tears overflowed, but it was okay. She didn't have to be a brave soul now. It was okay. Tomorrow it would all be okay, because tomorrow was going to come like it always had, like it always would, so long as they were here together in their sheltered past.

Spike opened the book, and if the I.V. line in his hand temporarily caught on the first page, he didn't seem to notice. When he began to read, his voice had never been stronger. He read aloud, the voice of an experienced father lulling his family to sleep, and Carly chimed in at all the right times. She squeaked; he rumbled. He showed the pictures; she gently poked fun of Sludge and Slag, comparing them to the bridled dinosaurs. It was an old tradition that had resulted in Daniel, long ago, chasing Dinobots around Autobot City with craft paper saddles and a toddler's insistence. Over the radio, his son laughed and gasped. In the background he could the voices of Bumblebee and Rodimus Prime, far away yet so close. Around him, the Dinobots were as enthralled as ever.

It was perfect. Spike wished that it could go on forever.

Like all books, however, there was a last page. It couldn't keep going, because the even the best stories ended. Spike read the final word, showed the final picture, and looked up to realize that he was alone. The steady drone that had been accompanying the rush of air for a good while hadn't registered with him while he read, but one look around the dim blanket fort confirmed the familiar sound of sleeping Dinobots. Carly breathed into his neck, snotted-up nose stuttering her breath slightly. Exhaustion and tears had won that battle. The radio hissed empty white noise and what might have been the slow inhale and exhale of a sleeping man who'd once been a young boy. Spike put the book down and leaned back, suddenly aware of how tired he really was. He was very tired, indescribably tired, but he fought the downward drag of his eyelids. He wanted to watch them. He wanted to see them all, one last time before…

Light pierced the soft darkness without warning, and Spike threw up his hands. "Argh, my eyes!" he said, but his voice was a low whisper. A chuckle, just as low, answered him, and hearing it was like hearing an old friend's voice outside his front door. His eyes watered in the brightness, but he forced them open anyway. "Ratchet?"

"Put them to sleep again, did you?" the Autobot medic whispered, and he shook his head, amused all over again by the Witwicky's mysterious bond with his wayward creations. "I don't know how you do it."

"Some people have talent," Wheeljack said from behind Ratchet, and if Spike squinted, he could just barely make out the brighter-than-bright flash of the engineer's headfins. Cheery blue optics turned up at the corners, 'smiling' back at him. "Hey, Spike, you got a minute? I could use a hand with this project."

Spike grinned. It seemed like most of his days were diplomacy and formalities, but at heart, he'd always be the mechanic's brat with a tool at hand and grease smeared across his cheek. "Yeah, sure. Gimme a second to escape," he stage-whispered, knowing the Dinobots wouldn't wake for less than a Decepticon attack. He began to work his way out from underneath Carly's arm, making sure she didn't lay at a funny angle on the pillow as he lowered her down in his place. It hurt a little to let go, but he nestled Daniel in her arms where he'd been. They'd wake up together, and that made him feel better for leaving them. Seemed like the Autobots were always taking him off on weird adventures like this.

Something twisted like a tiny pain in his chest as he thought that, but he'd see them again soon enough. A second later, Carly sighed in her sleep and hugged Danny close, and the pain disappeared in a doting smile at them both. God, he couldn't wait to tell Sparkplug about them. They were so beautiful. He was 51 years old, yet he felt like a love-struck 15-year-old and a 23-year-old new father, all at once.

"Is Dad out there?" he asked as he slid off the bed and carefully fit his foot into the miniscule space left on the floor between bedframe and Sludge's head. He began edging toward his friends. "Got something to tell him."

Ratchet looked over his shoulder at Wheeljack, who glanced off to one side. Spike couldn't see what they were looking at. The light was so bright. "He's around somewhere. Talking to Optimus the last I saw, but they might have wandered off. You know how they are. What's up?"

He just shook his head, soppy smile still plastered over his face, and Ratchet did his level best to roll his optic lenses. The medic stopped halfway through, however, apparently looking at Grimlock lolling over Sludge's neck, both of them snoring contentedly. "…they are kind of cute, aren't they." He scowled as he said it, but he said it nonetheless. He directed a glare at the human now grinning up at him. "What."

Wheeljack held his finger up in a Shhh! gesture, optics crinkled at the corners with well-contained mirth, and Spike smiled guilelessly. "I didn't hear anything."

"That's right, you didn't." Grumpy with embarrassment, Ratchet straightened up and strode off into the painful brightness. Wheeljack spread his hands in a What can ya do? shrug and half-turned himself, waiting for Spike to follow. Because of course Spike would. They had a lot to do. People to talk to, projects to do, and Spike was suddenly certain he was exactly where he should be. He was certain Wheeljack had a hundred projects lined up, and wow, he suddenly had the urge to have a long talk with Optimus Prime. Felt like he hadn't seen the Autobot leader in forever, but at the same time…he felt like they had plenty of time to catch up. All the time in the world.

His eyes were adjusting pretty slowly, but he wasn't going to see any more clearly until he left the blanket-tent. Wheeljack was waiting patiently for him, but it was time to go - before Ratchet came back in huff. Spike stopped at the blanket's edge and patted Slag on the snout. The triceratops twitched, growling under his breath in his sleep. "Take care of them for me," he said to the Dinobot, to all the Dinobots, and if there was anyone still awake on other side of the radio, he meant it for them, too.

And then, eyes wide open and heart soaring like it need never beat again, Spike Witwicky went into the light.