Yes, readers. This story is back from the dead! You may rejoice! Here is the long-awaited next chapter to Demons! A BIG thank you to my very patient readers and fans!

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Chapter Nine: Friend and Stranger

"The worst is over, she'll be all right," Ratchet announced as he returned from the med bay. Arcee had sustained serious injuries from Airachnid's venom, but fortunately, no permanent damage had been done.

A collective sigh of relief echoed throughout the large computer room, especially from Jack and Liza. Both teens had been worried sick about their guardian; Jack had freaked out when Liza told him about her encounter with Airachnid, but as soon as the new Autobot exited the ground bridge, supporting a bleeding Arcee, the boy nearly forgot about his fellow human.

"Heh, old 'Cee was never one to go down easily," Jazz smiled, lightening the mood even further. The silver ninja had already taken quite a shine to the Earth dwellers and was currently carrying both Miko and Liza on his shoulder plates. He had actually seemed a little disappointed that all four of them already had Autobot guardians. Nonetheless, Jazz happily answered Miko's unending stream of questions while the rest of the humans listened in fascination until Ratchet leaned in towards the sitting area.

"Jack, she'd like to talk to you."

The boy blinked in surprised confusion, but it quicly dissolved from his face as he descended the metal staircase. As she watched her American friend leave the room, a sad expression settled on Miko's face.

"Hey, Liza," she called, looking past Jazz's face, "how much longer are you gonna be staying with Jack?"

The ginger's face fell even further than Miko's as all conversation came to a halt.

"I-I don't know," Liza replied blankly, her emerald eyes fixated on the cement floor. "June hasn't said anything about taking me to a foster care center, but she hasn't mentioned anything about me staying with them permanently, either."

Liza blinked to keep the tears at bay. She didn't want to show it, but living with someone other than Jack and June was unthinkable; they had all but become her family after all these years, especially after her mother's death. They understood the nightmare she had lived in for sixteen years and had made it bearble to keep on living. When her father had finally been put behind bars, Liza had never felt happier; she wouldn't have to go home for nightly beatings and she could stay with the neighbors that had become a loving family to her.

Lately, though, June had been coming home late, sometimes even taking time off work to go to some appointment. She never told Liza (or Jack, to the redhead's knowledge) what the appointments were for, but it had really begun to worry the girl. Was June trying to find a place for Liza to go until another family decided they wanted her?

Miko eyed Liza in concern, wishing she hadn't brought the subject up.

"Well," Liza rose her head and forced a smile onto her face, "no use worrying over it. No news is good news, right?"

Jazz shared an unconvinced glance with Miko before a smile crept onto his faceplates.

"Aw, don't worry, darlin'," the ninja encouraged, gently rubbing Liza's head as though she were a kitten. Liza silently giggled at the gesture. "You ain't goin' nowhere, I can feel it in my circuits. Those humans ain't gonna give you up so easily."

"You think so?"

"Sure do!"

Liza smiled. Jazz had only known Jack for a few minutes so far and had yet to meet June, but it was hard to argue with how sure the mech was of himself.

"Thanks, Jazz." Her face lit up as the words left her mouth. "Do you have a vehicle mode yet?"

~.~.~.~.~

"Hey, Liza!"

Glancing past her locker door, the copper-headed girl smiled at the approaching vocalist.

"Hey, Sierra! What's up?"

"Not much," the brunette shrugged, glancing at the angry scar on Liza's arm. The almost-murder hadn't exactly made things awkward for the friends, but Liza could tell Sierra hated herself for not catching on sooner. "I was just wondering if you wanted to hang out after school."

"Sure, I guess," Liza nodded, making a mental note to text Arcee at lunch. "I hear K.O. Burger makes some pretty good milkshakes, wanna go there?"

Sierra smiled and nodded as Liza finally closed her locker and the pair made their way to their respective classes.

"Hey, Jack," Liza half-whispered when she reached her U.S. History class, "I'm going out with Sierra for a bit after school, okay?"

"Uh...sure. I've got work after school, anyway, so I'll be busy, too." He hesitated for a moment. "Where are you guys going?"

"K.O. Burger."

Great.

"Something wrong," Liza asked with amusement when a slight flush rose in Jack's cheeks.

"What? Uh, nothing! Nothing."

"Whatever you say, lover boy" Liza laughed, rolling her eyes. "I'll let Arcee know so she can pick us both up when you're done with work."

"Fine, sure," Jack grumbled, stalking off to his seat in the back. Liza snickered to herself once more before taking her own seat.

~.~.~.~.~

Jack leaned out the window of K.O. Burger's drive in. There had been no customers for about twenty minutes and he was bored. Even for three o'clock in the afternoon business had been slow – only one other customer besides Liza and Sierra occupied the fast food restaurant's dining area. He wasn't a man Jack had ever seen before, which was highly unusual for a small town like Jasper.

The man had jet black hair with a few touches of silver and concealed his eyes behind a pair of sunglasses. His tan skin was contrasted by his dark gray suit over a white collared shirt, complete with a crimson necktie. Jack was tempted to ask the man if he wanted something, but there was a certain vibe to him that warned Jack to stay well enough away. The man didn't seem interested in food, anyway, he was fiercely absorbed into whatever he was doing on his laptop.

When it became clear that the man wasn't going to ask for service, Jack's eyes traveled to the only other occupied table. Liza and Sierra were sitting next to the window on the other side of the resuarant, sipping their milkshakes and talking. Jack strained his ears as much as he could, but had only been able to detect small snippets of the girls' conversation.

"So...Vince seems to be pretty interested in you," Sierra noted with a barely noticable hint of jealousy.

"Oh, don't get me started on that pig," Liza groaned, rubbing the top of her nose like she was fighting off a headache.

"He seems nice enough..." Sierra shrugged awkwardly. "Must feel good to have someone crushing on you."

"Not really," Liza stated bluntly as she sucked up her milkshake. "Besides, I know someone who's had his eye on you for a while." Her jade eyes swept around the room, deliberately avoiding the counter.

"Really, who?" Liza jumped back a little when Sierra grabbed her arm almost desperately.

"...It's not my place to tell..." Liza trailed off, pulling her arm out of Sierra's grasp and staring blankly out the window. "But I can give you a hint," she smirked as Sierra looked with anticipation. "He goes to our school."

Sierra looked as though she were ready to slap Liza. "Thanks. That helps a lot."

"Sorry," Liza chuckled, taking another drink of her shake. "Besides, where's the fun in me just telling you?" For an instant, the redhead's eyes flickered to the counter.

Soon, the girls began to talk about other things, including the school cafeteria's questionable food and the latest episode of their favorite soap opera. Liza was caught completely off guard when a familiar face burst in.

"Liza," Miko hurried over to the table, "where's Jack?"

"He's working the drive-thru, why?"

"My new friend Jake is here to take us out."

A blank stare.

"Jake," Miko emphasized, frustrated that Liza clearly didn't understand her code, "he's a new friend? Drives a silver sports car?"

"Oh! Jake!" Liza bolted up as the hints finally clicked together. "Sierra, I'm sorry, but I have to go."

"O-okay. Wanna hang out tomorrow?"

"Sure, I promise," Liza smiled as Miko left to collect Jack. "Sorry about this."

"It's okay, I'll see you tomorrow."

Less than a minute later, the three teenagers rushed out the door. As the trio left the building, the man in the dining area glanced toward the door after them, a dark grin on his face.

~.~.~.~.~

Outside, the teens were greeted by a gleaming silver sports car. Twin red and blue racing stripes decorated its hood, roof, and trunk, and black flames adorned the doors. The sports car opened its doors as the humans approached and slid inside.

"Wow, nice ride, Jazz," Jack marveled at the mech's new vehicle mode as he buckled his seatbelt."

"Heh heh, pretty sweet, huh, Jack?" Jazz pulled away from K.O. Burger with an invisible smile. "The ladies here helped me pick it out!"

"Yeah, I do have good taste, don't I," Liza boasted from the front seat with no trace of modesty.

"Ahem!"

"Yeah, yeah, Miko helped, too."

Jack patted the exchange student's shoulder sympathetically as she pouted fiercely in the back seat. "So, where's Arcee?"

"The doc bot doesn't want her out and about yet," Jazz replied, "so he sent me to bring y'all back to base."

"So, Arcee told me you're a cyber ninja," Liza inquired, "what's that all about?"

"An alien robot ninja? Sweet," Miko cheered loudly from the back seat, forgetting all about her anger towards her redheaded friend. Jazz chuckled at the girl's enthusiasm before answering.

"From what I've looked up about your human ninjas, it's basically the same thing. Sneakin' around, martial arts, the occasional weapon."

"Sounds pretty cool," Jack smiled. Before the silver Autobot could reply, Ratchet's voice sounded through the radio.

"Jazz, do you have the children with you?"

"Sure do, doc bot!"

"All right. When you drop them off here, meet Bulkhead further in the desert. We've detected another energon mine, but unfortunately, so have the Decepticons. He and Bumblebee will need back up!"

"Gotcha, doc bot! Jazz out."

"We get to fight some 'Cons," Miko asked excitedly.

"Miko, didn't you hear? Jazz is taking us back to base," Jack replied with some exasperation. "Besides, it's dangerous!"

"Says the man who went to Cybertron," the black-haired girl groaned, folding her arms.

"I'm sorry, what?" Liza whirled around in the front seat. "You went where, Jack?"

"Uh, long story," the boy dodged, quickly glancing out the window. His stormy blue eyes flickered to Jazz's rearview mirror for an instant, but the sight made Jack's heart skip a beat. "Uh, Jazz? Might want to take a look behind you!"

As soon as the words left Jack's mouth, two guns formed from the doors of the two purple sports cars pursuing the silver Autobot. Jazz swerved and drove as fast as his engines would allow, hoping to lose their stalkers. No such luck, as more gunfire was seen blasting from the desert.

"Change of plans, kids," Jazz called out over the commotion, "we're gonna have to meet up with the others first!" The ninja screeched to a halt behind a boulder to let his human occupants out. Transforming, Jazz knelt down and whispered loudly, "y'all stay here until we're done with these 'Cons!"

"Yeah right," Miko scoffed, watching Jazz hurry into battle. When he was safely out of sight, she bolted from her hiding spot, running in the same direction.

"Miko, wait," Jack shouted and took off after the girl.

Liza almost followed, arm outstretched, but she stopped, knowing she'd never catch them. Sighing to herself, she leaned against the boulder and studied her surroundings. If Jack and Miko had run off to help, she might as well make herself useful, too. Lifting her foot, Liza began to walk towards her friends, letting out a shriek of surprise when she felt something metal wrap around her waist and lift her off the ground.

"Well, well," a smooth voice chuckled as the owner turned Liza around to face him, "if it isn't the little insect who ruined my paint job!"

Liza's face of shock and fear morphed into a defiant glare as she found herself staring into the crimson optics of Knock Out.

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

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