Author's Note: My one-shots are totally getting away from me lately. This plot bunny presented itself during the course of writing another one-shot that is running into seventy pages. I'm stuck on that one just a bit, so I give you this instead. Fluffy-ish-ness.

Disclaimer: don't own these characters, I'm playing with them. Post DOTM

It really was a perfect storm of coincidence and sheer ill-timing.

All things being equal, the first meeting between Colonel William Lennox and the Autobot known as 'Prowl' should have been a meeting of two disciplined, loyal beings, each committed to the cause. They were straight-laced, methodical, but still able to think on their feet. Anyone who knew both of them would have concluded they would have worked well together.

In fact, such would be the case . . . later in their relationship. But their initial meeting was simply nothing more than a debacle.

And Sideswipe would take full responsibility for it, especially while he was showing the surreptitiously filmed footage of the entire proceeding.

News had reached Will that three more Autobots had landed on Earth while he and his family were in California visiting Sarah's parents for their 50th wedding anniversary. The big celebration had already taken place and the Colonel had decided that he needed to cut the visit short in the interest of briefing the new arrivals and getting them situated at the base a few miles north of Plateau, Texas. Sarah had agreed, but wanted to spend some more time with her family. It was concluded that she and Annabelle would stay behind, even if it did mean utilizing more mundane methods of travel than a flashy, silver Corvette that transformed into a giant robot.

And so it was, that in his excitement at meeting new comrades, Sideswipe careened recklessly into the base, skidding to a stop in front of the modified main hangar, just as the sun was setting in the west. He promptly popped his door to let the Colonel out. The man had stepped from inside and Sideswipe had assumed it was safe to shut the door and begin the transformation process.

He could never be exactly sure how it happened. Apparently, Will had reached back inside for something he had forgotten and hadn't moved his hand quickly enough. All Sideswipe knew was that when he exuberantly slammed his door, it connected with flesh and bone. There was an anguished cry of pain from his friend and commander. With a yelp, Sideswipe swung the door open again, registering that Will was bent over in agony, holding his hand and breathing hard.

Once he was sure Will was clear this time, Sideswipe shut the door and transformed quickly, activating his com as he did so. "Sideswipe to Ratchet."

"Ratchet. Go ahead."

"Bring the human medic. I broke Lennox."

"Damn it, you glitch." And with that, he was gone.

Fear and guilt welling through his circuits, Sideswipe knelt down beside his human friend. Will's heart-rate was elevated, but he seemed to have a handle on himself. He had straightened, but pain still clearly etched his features. "I'm sorry, Boss."

"It's all right." Will said soothingly. Well, as soothingly as he could through clenched teeth. "I should have let you know I was going back in."

"Yeah, but I should have been paying better attention."

"It's okay, Sides." Will smiled and then grimaced. "Trust me when I tell you it's not the first time I've gotten my hand caught in a car door."

Sideswipe had seen Lennox hurt only once or twice before. The human was simply too good and too careful to be caught off guard. But when he did get injured, he did it right and this was the first instance where the colonel was actually still conscious. Sideswipe reflected that maybe it would have been better if he had smacked the human in the head with his door instead of smashing his hand. At least he wouldn't be feeling the pain.

Taking a deep inhale, Will started across the compound under his own power, declining Sideswipe's offer to carry him. Despite the obvious pain he was feeling, his steps were steady and even. The man kept his hand cradled against him, blood staining the front of his shirt. Sideswipe followed him, walking as lightly and carefully as he could to avoid shaking the ground and jarring Will, causing more discomfort.

A fit, middle-aged man emerged from the main hangar, situated centrally on the sprawling base. Catching sight of Will, Captain Thomas jogged over lightly swinging the human first aid pack from his back. "What happened, Colonel?"

"Just an accident." Will sucked air through his teeth. "I caught my hand in Sideswipe's door."

"I caught his hand in the door." Sideswipe corrected, even though he became aware that Ratchet had followed Thomas out of the hangar, probably with the sole intent of slapping him silly. At the moment, though, he didn't care. Will Lennox was his charge and he had done this to him in his carelessness. Ironhide would have kicked his plates all over the base and he would have deserved it, too.

His processor raced, thinking back to something Ratchet had said about extensive limb injuries in humans. "You're not going to have to cut it off, right?"

Despite the pain, Will snickered and then gasped as Thomas manipulated his hand. Thomas was the one that responded, though, in a soft, soothing voice that never wavered; either in the midst of saving a human life or weathering one of Ratchet's tirades. "I think amputation would be an extreme measure in this case."

"Is he okay?"

Thomas had pressed some gauze to Will's hand. "It's a pretty good laceration and I'm willing to bet there's at least a couple of cracked bones in there. But I think he'll be able to play the piano."

"Will, you play the piano?" Sideswipe asked, surprised.

"No." Will chuckled a bit. "It's an old stupid joke that the Captain is using to distract you."

Yeah, well. He wasn't going to be distracted. "What about the blood? That stuff's important to your systems."

"It's okay," Will told him as he cradled his arm and began to walk with Thomas towards the human medical bay, holding the gauze in place to stem the bleeding. "It's not like energon. We make more all the time."

"You do? Cool." Sideswipe found his interest peaked as he followed the humans, reasoning that Ratchet would be more likely to hold off his own admonishment if Sideswipe remained in their company. There was no hope that the reprimand would be forestalled indefinitely, but Sideswipe would avoid it as long as possible.

Besides, he really wanted to make sure Thomas didn't cut anything off of Will.

The entire process was rather interesting. With this new hangar, it was possible for Cybertronians to interact more freely with their human allies. The main floor was open, the ceiling tall enough for even Optimus Prime to move around without stooping. There was a recreation area near the security center that contained facilities to accommodate both species, a fueling station for the Autobots, and the essential coffee maker for the humans.

All human facilities were located on the second floor, ringing the larger great room and allowing the Autobots to interact with their shorter allies on a more comfortable level. Thomas's med bay was above Ratchet's own, something the human had actually requested. For reasons unknown, the studious man seemed to enjoy the grouchy medic's company, holding long conversations with him about Cybertronian versus human medicine and conferring with each other on curative matters. Plus, Thomas gave the impression that he was amused at the tantrums the medic threw.

So the Cybertronians stood, peering into the medical bay, watching as Thomas stapled the laceration on the back of Will's hand and then fitted him with a soft cast that would allow the wound to breathe and heal. "You're lucky. A couple of hairline cracks, that's all."

"Thanks, Doc."

"You want me to call Sarah?"

"Nah." Will said drowsily as the pills Thomas had given him to relieve the pain had started to kick in. "I'll call her tomorrow."

"You sure?"

"Yeah." Will smiled, "I don't want her running all the way back here tonight."

There was a clatter on the steps as Epps climbed them. After Chicago, the man had come back to the unit. His reasons he had kept to himself, but Sideswipe suspected that after the battle, it had become clear Epps had truly missed them. After the perceived destruction of the Autobots, he had joined Sam Witwicky in attempting to avenge them. As much as he complained about the 'weirdness', Sideswipe could only guess that Epps had finally come to terms with it and decided that NEST was truly where he belonged.

He handed the clothes he was carrying to Thomas. "There you go, Doc."

Thomas took the items from him and went back into the bay, pulling the curtain as he encouraged Lennox to change. Epps looked up at both Ratchet and Sideswipe. "What happened?"

Ratchet raised an optic ridge at Sideswipe. He exvented. "I happened. I closed my door on Will's hand."

"In recklessness." Ratchet added hotly.

"Easy, Doc Bot." Epps told the larger mech, "It was an accident. Surprised it doesn't happen more often. Do you know how many smashed fingers I got from working with those three stooges?"

'The Three Stooges' were Leadfoot, Topspin, and Roadbuster, collectively known as the Wreckers. One of Epps primary functions on their new base was to keep the trio in line and encourage them to interact more amiably with both Autobot and human allies. Even though he handled it well, the general consensus was that no one envied his job.

"I'm actually shocked you're still alive." Ratchet grumbled before turning back to Sideswipe, temper controlled, but certainly still simmering. "You must be more careful. Did you consider what would have happened if it had been young Annabelle's hand instead of her father's?"

Oh Primus, he hadn't thought of that. Seeing Will hurt was bad enough, but to hear the six-year-old child wailing in pain, pain that Sideswipe had caused? A shiver went down his back-strut. He couldn't stand the thought.

Epps's tone took on an angry edge. "Low blow, Ratchet."

"No," Sideswipe cut off Epps's defense. "He's right.

Epps glared at Ratchet one more time before canting his head to study Sideswipe. "Man, I've seen you cut 'Cons in half. And here you are all bent out of shape over a couple of squishies."

He had always liked humans. They had been fun to tease and harass since a lot of them were easily offended and hilariously funny when fussing and yelling. It didn't matter how small they were, if you picked the right one and hit the right buttons, they were ready to tear you apart with their bare hands, even if you had about nine feet and a couple of tons on your side. He liked their spunk.

After Sentinel's betrayal and Ironhide's murder, the Lennox family had become so important to him. Sideswipe had always admired the Weapon's Specialist, seeing him as a mentor. He had harassed the hell out of him, but Sideswipe had always strived to be more like the mech. After his death, Sideswipe hadn't given it a second thought, really. It had just felt like it was his duty to look after the Lennox family in Ironhide's stead. Like paying a debt the younger mech somehow felt he owed his mentor. He had never expected the little band of squishies to become so dear to him.

Epps was still looking at him, obviously concerned that Sideswipe was taking this too hard. "Will is gonna be all right, Sides."

"I hope so." Sideswipe flashed a grin and forced a little sass. "If he dies over a broken hand, Doc ain't much of a doc."

Thomas's voice preluded him as he pushed back the curtain. "I'm willing to bet he lives to 35."

"He's 36." Ratchet replied, looking confused.

Thomas smiled. "See? I'm that good."

Ratchet walked away, grumbling, "A base full of comedians."

"How's he doing?" Epps looked at his CO and friend. Sideswipe leaned in to look too. Will was flat on his back on the small bed, dressed in the T-shirt and baggy sweatpants Epps had brought for him. His injured hand was on his chest, and he was snoring lightly. "He's out cold."

"He doesn't tolerate painkillers well." Thomas told them as he cut the lights in the small medical bay. "It's just a small dose of Percocet and he was out in a few minutes."

"I figured he'd have built up a tolerance to that after all these years." Epps quipped.

"Well, usually he solves the problem for me and just knocks himself out." Thomas replied, moving to wash his hands. "This is one of the few times he hasn't been unconscious and required stronger stuff to keep him sedated. I guess his body just metabolizes it differently."

Epps shook his head before looking back to Sideswipe. "Have you reported to Prime yet?"

"Freakin' Primus in the Pit!" The incident with Lennox had completely driven the original purpose of hauling his sorry aft back to base in such a rush. He had totally forgotten about the new arrivals.

"Relax." Ratchet called from where he was beginning to stow his own tools for the evening. "I already commed him and explained the situation. You were too busy hovering to notice."

"I," Sideswipe started slowly, "do not hover."

"You do."

"Do I look like a helicopter?"

"You look like a pit-spawned, glitch-headed, pain-in-my-aft." Ratchet narrowed his optics at him. "And you're welcome."

Sideswipe thought about thanking the medic, but decided against it. He didn't really blame Ratchet for being angry with him, but he did feel bad enough about the incident without the medic amplifying it exponentially. Being indebted to him, even slightly, wasn't something Sideswipe had the patience to endure at the moment

Thomas was still close by, settling into his desk to work on his files, obviously not willing to wander too far from Will for the time being. Sideswipe would take the time to report to Optimus, meet the new mechs, and then head back to the main hangar to hang out for a while. He tried not to admit it to himself, but he knew he wouldn't be able to go to his own quarters for the evening with Will convalescing in the medical wing. He'd cover his concern from the others with the pretense of watching TV in the rec area or something.

Sideswipe told Epps where he was going and left the main hangar, moving through the large, Cybertronian-sized door towards the rear of the building. The desert air was cool against his plates as the smell of their organic foster home hit his olfactory sensors. He drew in the air deeply, letting his processor work through the different sources.

At first, the smell of this planet had been too much. Cybertron had lacked in that regard. Scents were subtle there, mainly ozone, machinery and warm metal. When Sideswipe had first landed here, everything had assaulted those delicate sensors. Humans smelled funny. Their fossil-fueled transports smelled funny. The musty, mildew hangar at Diego Garcia had been terrible.

But the worst was the burning smell. It triggered memories for him from his last days on Cybertron, a time when any hope he may have once had for his home-planet had begun to fade. As a frontliner, he was used to that smell. It happened in battle. Fumes would brush against his sensory net before breezing to the openness of space. He hardly noticed them as he fought on.

Here, it was worse. Here, it seemed magnified. On this planet, in the heat of battle, the atmosphere clung to it choked the intakes with it. The smell of burning flesh mingled with something that could only be called death.

It had taken a little time to find the right balance with those sensors, but he had managed. Tonight, the smells were pleasant. There were fragrances of flowers from the gardens of the human's on-base houses, lingering scents of food that wafted from the mess hall, and a clean crispness that stole into the perimeters of their camp from the surrounding desert. Definitely different from Cybertron, but quickly coming to mean comfort and safety to Sideswipe.

He moved from the hangar to Optimus's office behind it, checking to make sure all was quiet as he did so. The common area could get rowdy, what with the med bay and the rec room within its confines. So the offices of Prime, Lennox, and several others had been separated from it and another building erected nearby. It was much the same as the main hangar, only with offices and quarters for the Prime. There was comfortable space for his human and Cybertronian colleagues to discuss business matters without their underlings screaming obscenities at each other or the television.

It had surprised him a bit when the United States government had offered them this place as a haven. Granted, they had saved the human race from a future of brutal slavery at the hands of Megatron, but even still, Sideswipe had learned enough about human politics in the last few years to know that getting anything done usually required an act of Primus.

But after Chicago, the humans seemed to understand that an alliance with the Autobots was necessary feature in their lives, now. Megatron was destroyed, but other threats still lingered. There were still Dececticons on the loose. There were probably more threats that even Optimus Prime was as yet unaware of lurking in the cold reaches of space. What it came down to was that the Autobots now called Earth 'home'. They had proven that they would die to protect the planet and its inhabitants. Maybe the message was finally sinking in that they were allies worth having.

Sideswipe knocked on the door to the office hangar and waited for Optimus to acknowledge him. The Prime's office area encompassed most of the back of the hangar, allowing room for mechs and humans to meet comfortably. There was an appropriately-sized desk along the rear wall for Optimus. Large chairs sat scattered around it for his troops to seat themselves. Catwalks with platforms ringed the room, complete with chairs for the humans that came to see Prime on a regular basis.

Sideswipe's optics snapped to the two mechs seated before the Prime's desk now. At the sight of the one on the right, he gasped. "A youngling."

He hadn't seen a young Cybertronian since the early years of the war. They were few in number to begin with, but war as it too often does, hit the most vulnerable first; the old, the sick, the young.

The mechling was in his awkward pre-adolescence. Legs, overly-thin and long for his body but still too short to reach the floor, dangled from the tall chair. He was gawky, faceplates roundish as was the way with younglings. By the doorwings and the red chevron on his helm, Sideswipe could tell that he was of Praxian heritage. He had either chosen or been assigned some sort of alt-mode. There were armor plates in place over his frame, dark blue in color. Bright blue optics, large in his face, stared back at Sideswipe. There was mix of uncertainness, fatigue, and dazedness registering on his young face.

"Bluestreak," the youngling looked to Optimus as the big mech spoke, "I would like you to meet one of our soldiers. This is Sideswipe."

Still feeling a bit of shock at seeing such a young Cybertronian, Sideswipe offered a lopsided grin. "Hi, kiddo."

'Kiddo' obviously didn't register for Bluestreak. He looked questioningly to the older mech seated in the chair beside him. There was a grating of gentle laughter. "It is an earth-term of endearment."

Bluestreak looked back at Sideswipe, his optics darting around. He was still unsure of him, obviously going through enough in his young life to make him wary of any mech besides his caretaker.

With an effort, Sideswipe tore his gaze from the youngling and looked to said mech. As he stood, Sideswipe noted that he was shorter and boxier. Dusty green plates covered his form and a cannon was mounted above his right servo. He was an older mech, somewhere near or even beyond Ironhide's age. He offered a warm smile as he nodded to Sideswipe. "We're pleased to meet you, Sideswipe."

"Likewise." Not as gruff as 'Hide, but likable enough, it seemed.

"Sideswipe, this is Hound." Optimus introduced the two. "He is one of the best scouts I've ever had in my command."

"Was." Hound laughed gently. "I'm afraid my joints are getting rusty, Optimus. I'm not up to sneakin' past enemy lines much anymore."

"I'm sure our current Special Operations staff would be most grateful to learn from your experience, old friend."

Sideswipe suppressed a smirk. Bee would be more than happy to learn from the old mech. He was a great scout in his own right, but never passed up the opportunity to learn new tricks from old turbo-foxes. He was Jazz's protégé and never disappointed his teacher by failing to thoroughly learn a lesson.

Ol' Dino would be a whole other bucket of glitch-mice, though.

Optimus's eyes were on Sideswipe again. "How is Colonel Lennox?"

He gave a shrug, feeling that guilt course through his circuits again. "Doc Thomas gave him some medication that knocked him out. He's not feeling anything at the moment."

"Hm. Unfortunate timing." Optimus looked back to Hound and then glanced at Bluestreak with a gentle smile. "I had hoped for you all to meet him."

Sideswipe cut the apology off at his vocalizer. He had screwed up and coming up with some lame excuse to Prime about it certainly wasn't going to fix it. Still, Optimus glanced back at Sideswipe with a knowing understanding in his optics. It was almost like he could feel the remorse radiating from Sideswipe's frame.

During the conversation, Bluestreak had curled up on his chair, optics dimming as he pulled his knees closer and huddled into the firm, specially-made padding of the chair. Hound looked over at his young charge. "Okay?"

The blue helm nodded back and forth, but there were no words.

"Are you tired?"

There was a shrug, but still no verbal response.

"You're all probably in need of rest." Optimus stood from behind his desk. He looked to Sideswipe. "I have offered the berths in Gamma Barrack."

Irritation welled in Sideswipe. Gamma was the barrack he shared with Jolt and Bumblebee. Sideswipe had angled hard for those quarters. It made it much easier to slip out for a drive over the hard-packed sand whenever he and his comrades felt like it. They had made it their own, even cobbled out their own little common area in the middle of the barrack to hang out away from the others and listen to human music or just talk.

However, that rational side of him (inarguably small), pointed out that Prime's reasoning was sound. Jolt, along with Dino, was on a mission in Canada that was slated to last another three weeks. And Bumblebee had taken up his role as Sam's guardian once more, spending most of his time protecting the young man and his fiancé, Carly. He came back to the base occasionally, bringing the humans to visit and to report to Prime. He rarely used his berth these days. And the fourth berth in there . . . well no one was using that one. Not yet, anyway.

To his credit, Optimus had predicted Sideswipe's reaction and simply given him the time to work through his feelings on his own. With a nod, Sideswipe acknowledged. "Understood, Prime."

"As soon as Prowl returns-"

As if on cue, the door opened again and a white and black mech stepped into the florescent lighting of the hangar. Sideswipe heard himself exvent, "Uh-oh."

This was not gonna be good. He knew it. Already, he was going on the defensive.

It was another Praxian, probably about Sideswipe's age, though it was hard to tell. He walked tall and confidently, covering the span of the hangar with long strides. The red chevron on his helm jutted toward the sky sharply. Hard blue optics stared forward out of his smooth, expressionless face. The letters on his doorwings spelled out 'Police'. Only one type of mech he could think of would pick such an alt-mode.

"Primus, you're an Enforcer."

The mech simply approached, completely unperturbed by Sideswipe's blunt and slightly disgusted observation. "Is that a problem?"

"Not yet. But I foresee certain points of contention."

"That's unfortunate." Prowl replied flatly before looking to Optimus. "The defenses of this base are inadequate, sir."

"Well, we haven't been jumped by 'Cons, boogeymen, or La Chupacabra." Sideswipe sneered back, feeling a little vindicated that his initial conclusion-jump was actually proving itself correct. How dare this guy presume to come in here and pick them apart? "Maybe you're too damned jumpy."

Prowl pinned him with a cold glare, but didn't get a chance to retaliate.

"Sideswipe." There was a low warning growl in Optimus's voice. Sideswipe looked to his commander who had narrowed his optics. He gave a glance to Hound, half expecting the old mech to be glaring, too. He wasn't. The corners of his mouth-plates twitched, but his expression was neutral otherwise.

His tone was more controlled when he spoke again. "I'm just saying . . . we've got it under control."

"Under control?" Prowl replied, voice dangerously soft. "I'm not risking lives on your disillusionment."

"You've been here ten fraggin' minutes." Sideswipe's temper was climbing despite his best efforts to control it. "What the hell do you know?"


Bluestreak's optics were bright again, listening to the argument around him. He slid off the chair and with the gentle click of his pedes on the metal floor, he skirted Sideswipe to go to the mech. Prowl put a hand on Bluestreak's helm as the youngling wrapped his arms around his leg and hid his face against the elder's hip.

Whatever fight Sideswipe might have been inclined to pick fizzled. If his first impression instincts were correct, Prowl had a rod crammed so far up his tailpipe Sideswipe wondered if he could actually transform. But there would be time to screw with him and prove him wrong later. Tonight wasn't the night for that.

Feeling slightly ashamed, Sideswipe ducked his head, refusing to meet Optimus's gaze. Giving an exvent, he hoped the Prime would read his body language and realize he was relenting the argument . . . for the moment. He could feel Optimus's optics on him as the leader spoke. "It's late. Prowl, I would be glad to hear any suggestions you might have on improving our security."

"Thank you, sir." Prowl glared back at Sideswipe. Pissed as he was, Sideswipe had to admit he was impressed to see no trace of smugness in the look. Just pure, unadulterated malice. He could respect that.

Optimus rounded the desk, giving Sideswipe a look that promised a plate-chewing later and moved to where Prowl was detaching Bluestreak and crouching down to speak with the youngling. Whatever was said, Sideswipe couldn't pick up.

He moved closer to Hound. The other mech was still unreadable. "I'll walk over to the barrack with you."

"Much obliged."

"No problem." Sideswipe set a slower pace. The green mech had a slight limp, but tried to hide it as they moved toward the exit. He could hear Prime's voice behind them as he talked with the Enforcer. Gritting his teeth, he tried to shut them out as they left the barracks.

The layout of the new base was fairly well thought out. To his left sat one of the barracks used to house the rest of the Cybertronians. It was the one that Ratchet shared with Dino. Sideswipe wasn't entirely sure how that arrangement was actually working out. Dino was okay, but he wasn't overly-fond of the humans. He was fairly full of himself. Somehow, he and the medic seemed to get along, but that had a lot to do with the fact that Dino was out on patrol or missions more often than not and Ratchet practically existed in the medbay. If the two of them spent any appreciable amount of time together in their quarters, Sideswipe suspected the sheer volume of ego would blow the roof right off of the sizeable building.

The wreckers resided in the barracks beyond that, not too far from Epps's small house. They called it 'The Junkyard'. With the three of them rattling around in it, Sideswipe was fairly certain the name was an apt one at this point. Music and voices were often heard until the wee hours of the morning, until Ratchet or Epps marched themselves over there to tell them to turn it the slag down.

"Pretty planet."

"Huh?" Sideswipe had been lost in his own thoughts as he walked beside Hound.

The mech chuckled. "I said it's a pretty planet."

"It's a lot different than Cybertron." Sideswipe told him. "But once you get used to it, it's not bad."

They had reached Gamma Barracks. It wasn't much to look at from the outside, but after years of rattling around the galaxy, Sideswipe was just glad to have a permanent structure to bed down in. He opened the door and let Hound in. The mech followed and gave a low whistle. "Not bad."

The barrack was lower-ceilinged than the hangars. It was sparse, but four berths lined the walls. The padding was something Lennox had procured for them, made of a sturdy memory-foam material that supported and cushioned a Cybertronian in root-mode in real comfort. There were even Cybertronain wash racks in the rear. They were small, but it beat the Pit out of getting hosed down on the lawn with cold water.

In the center were a couple of mats, a second hand human dining table, and something squashy that Annabelle referred to as the 'hugest bean-bag chair ever'. It was something Epps had fashioned for them out of a half-dozen old canvas tarps.

Hound had stopped beside the table, looking at the human stereo system situated on it. "What's this?"

"The Gamma Barrack Common Room." Sideswipe plopped down in the tarp-chair. "Jolt, Bee, and I hang out here. We did, anyway."

"Where are they?" Hound settled on one of the mats and watched as Prowl and Optimus followed them in. Bluestreak was still clutching the larger Praxian's servo.

"Missions." Sideswipe said simply. "Jolt will be back in a few weeks, so we'll have to figure something else out then. But for now, mi casa, es su casa."


"You're welcome to crash here." Sideswipe grinned. "And it might be a good idea to have Ratchet upload the Spanish data package to your processor as well."

"I'll think about it."

Sideswipe ran out of things to say to the older mech. Instead, he looked over to where Prowl was still talking to Prime. Already, he could feel his processor shifting over to its more devious settings. He had known mechs like Prowl. Enforcers were, to borrow from the local vernacular, pricks. The Holier-Than-Thou attitudes rubbed Sideswipe the wrong way, they always had. Not to mention a good many of them had hopped on the Decepticon bandwagon early on. It seemed every one of them craved discipline and order and insisted that every other mech march to the same tune. Enforcers were devoted authoritarians, intent on making every one toe the line.

And Sideswipe didn't roll like that. Never had.

"He's a good mech."

For the second time, Sideswipe responded to Hound with a "Huh?" The bot shook his head and said low. "Look, I know what you're thinkin'. A mech like you has probably had more than one run in with Enforcers."

Heh. Major understatement.

"But Prowl's the reason that youngling is here. And me. He's saved us both." Hound toyed with one of the wires to the stereo. "He's risked his own spark several times to keep us safe. It's been a long journey to get here."

Sideswipe wanted to ask for details, but didn't think Hound would be forthcoming. He snorted ruefully, instead. "It's been a long trip for all of us."

"I know that," Hound said gently. "And my hope is that Prowl will find some mechs here that understand what he's been through."

Sideswipe looked at the older mech suspiciously, but further conversation was forestalled by the approach of Optimus, Prowl, and Bluestreak. Prowl looked down at Sideswipe. "Are there certain berths we should utilize?"

"I usually power down on the one closest to the entrance." Sideswipe replied, trying not to be irritated just looking at the Enforcer. "I'm on-call for the colonel and it's just easier to slip out from there and not bother anyone."

"Understood." With that, Prowl walked to the other side of the barrack. Bluestreak trotted after him. Sideswipe watched as the mech reached down and hoisted the youngling onto the berth that Bumblebee had claimed. It took some encouragement on Prowl's part, but Bluestreak stretched out on his front, settling into the padding. In under a minute, those optics were dimming again as Bluestreak succumbed to the form-contouring material hugging his body.

"Epps to Sideswipe."

The voice in his com made him jump a little, but he rolled his eyes at Hound's snicker and responded. "Sideswipe. Go ahead."

"Is Lennox with you?"

Sideswipe sat up straighter on his beanbag chair. "Come again?"

"Is . . . Lennox . . . with. . . . you?"

"No, and stop talking at me like I'm the one who's three-quarters stupid, here." Sideswipe snapped back, his alarm growing. "Crap, Epps! Did you lose him?"

"I did not lose him." Epps replied hotly. "I went to check on him, and he's not in the medbay."

"How did you lose him? He was comatose, wasn't he?"Sideswipe exvented. "I'm coming. Sideswipe out."

"Stupid, glitch-headed . . ." Sideswipe grumbled as he heaved himself up. "I'm gone fifteen fraggin' minutes."

"Lennox?" Hound's expression was somewhere between humor and bemusement. "Isn't that the human commander?"

"Yes." Sideswipe growled. He noted that Prowl was still seated next to Bluestreak on the berth, but apparently eavesdropping on the conversation. "Look, make yourselves at home. I gotta go. Prime?"

He was well aware that he was due a reprimand from his performance in the office hangars, but Lennox was a priority. For a wild moment, Sideswipe toyed with the processor thread that Prowl had been right and infiltration of the base had led to Lennox's kidnapping. He powered that scrap right down. It was already becoming apparent that Prowl was paranoid enough for the whole flippin' base. Sideswipe didn't need to feed into it.

"I'll go with you." Optimus turned to the two adult mechs. Bluestreak was down for the count, doorwings drooped over his small frame. "If you need anything, you have our com frequencies. Don't hesitate to use them."

Sideswipe waited until they were out of audio-shot to ask. "Have they got my com frequencies?"

"Yes." Prime's voice was edged steel as he added. "And you better be nice."

Stay tuned . . .