Author's Note:

When I first started this story, I was still a rather, eh, raw writer, I think. I was just thrilled that I had made some awesome one-shot. Then, several people asked me to continue it, and so I did. I was curious at the attention it got, and I thought, "Hey, it'll be fun to distract myself with" and took to writing several more chapters. Besides, other than Ratchet, Wheeljack was my favorite character.

In short... I'm completely and utterly amazed at the story I have churned out. I've given the characters backgrounds, I rounded them out, the story is full of emotional twists and turns, the characters have their ups and downs, the relationships have their soft moments but also have their fights, and the undercurrents of mature themes (i.e. drinking, Asian heritage, relationships, revenge) are expanded on greatly, much more so than I would have originally intended. At first this was a K+ rated story, but I've upped it for the mature themes and mild swearing.

As such, I think that this is actually one of those stories worth reading. If you like Wheeljack, this is definitely a story that's gonna make you like him more. And if you're a Miko hater, well... Maybe I can get you to change your mind about her ;)

"Ha-ha, Jackie's back!"

That had been Bulkhead's excited crow for seeing the ol' Wrecker again, but as he should have expected with Wheeljack, that happiness came with a price. Slopes had turned slippery when his brash friend had accidentally blown up a human gas station in his eager drive to finally take down Dreadwing. It only got worse when his independent buddy had butted heads with Optimus because he wasn't used to taking orders—a Wrecker had a Wrecker's pride, after all, and Bulkhead knew it was going to be hard for Wheeljack to take orders from anyone but the OLD big head honcho.

Instead, after a touchy medical checkup for his wounded shoulder and spitting hot words at both Optimus and Fowler, Wheeljack had stalked out to his ship in order to cool down. Bulkhead followed him into the night, seeking to soothe his friend's wired nerves.

After an unsuccessful time of trying to get Wheeljack to see the difference, Bulkhead finally turned back around to his brooding friend. "Jackie, look, even if it WEREN'T for the humans, we couldn't take on the 'Cons right now! We're out numbered!"

His pacifying words only served to stoke the angry furnace more. Wheeljack turned hard optics to him, their bright blue slashing through the dark like his words. "Roadbuster, Pyro, Impactor, Rotorstorm, Seaspray—all dust."

"That's what I'm talking about!" Bulkhead persisted, silently sharing Wheeljack's pain as each name knifed through his spark. "Wrecker OR Autobots, there just aren't that many of us left. But if we get behind Optimus, we have a chance to end this. Once and for all!"

Wheeljack's unbelieving smirk was cool—collected. "Guys like Optimus, they talk a good game." Bulkhead felt his optics widen a bit at Wheeljack's irreverent tone—borderline contemptuous. "But when you're in the scrap—they don't want to get their hands dirty."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Bulkhead said to slow him down, bottling up that anger that wanted to broil up. His optics did narrow though, taking insult for his leader who had done nothing but the most gallant since he had ever known him. "You don't know Optimus like I do. Being a Wrecker meant everything to me. But I left that behind—"

"Because Prime was the real thing," Wheeljack interrupted with a harsh snap. "Blah blah blah!" Bulkhead recoiled back again at his anger. With a sickening feeling that spread through his circuits, Bulkhead realized that Wheeljack was still carrying a grudge over him leaving the Wreckers. He set his jaw.

It was interesting how meeting an old teammate went. The first time Wheeljack had shown up on Earth, it had been a fleeting encounter lasting less than a day. He had repaired his ship in record time, retreating to so-called chase the stars with his doppelganger blown to slag. This time it had been extended a bit longer as they searched down Dreadwing, but last time was different.

The first time was filled with joy, a playful fun as they had bantered while he repaired his ship. It was brief, but indulging. This time, it was . . . all manners of different conflicting emotions. Bulkhead was so sure he was have been ecstatic to have his old Wrecking buddy around again, and while he was happy, Wheeljack was too . . . centered on just taking Dreadwing down. It border lined to an unhealthy obsession, the way his optics would flare and the hate would cut deep—but Bulkhead sympathized with his grieving friend.

To know that so few Wreckers remained alive from the last days Bulkhead had been with them, traveling around in the days of rigorous fighting, protecting each other's backs, and combating in the most extreme and exulting battles . . . It tore him apart. These were the guys he had grown to love and care about just like Wheeljack, guys he trusted his life with and they in turn trusted their lives with him. To know each life had been snuffed out . . . it burned and infested deep in Bulkhead, but it burrowed itself into Wheeljack as a grudge, and one he wanted to extract revenge on.

A raspy beeping from the Jackhammer brought both Wrecker's gazes up to the ship. Bulkhead followed behind Wheeljack as the mech intercepted the transmission.

"Wheeljack," the slant of an unknown accent filled the ship. "I know you're out there listening. I have a proposition for you!"

Bulkhead could barely believe the voice he had just heard. "Is that—"

"Dreadwing," Wheeljack snarled, dentures gnashing in his strong jaw.

"Meet me at these coordinates," the soberly smug Decepticon said. "If you have the spark."

Wheeljack's cool expression didn't change, though there was a slightly disturbing light in his optics. "I'll see you there, 'Con. Just to watch you fry."

"Jackie," Bulkhead interrupted, frowning with slight alarm when Wheeljack immediately sat down in the pilot's seat. "It's a trap!"

"I know," he said without the slightest hint of alarm. "But when has that ever stopped me?"

Accursed pride would keep him cocky to his dying breath . . . Still, Bulkhead's irritation at Wheeljack's foolishness was doused with a nostalgic side when the mech turned back with a playful grin tugging at his mouth and an old light of mischief in his optics. "You coming with?"

The shielded hope in Wheeljack's optics was undeniable, and much in a way Bulkhead found he couldn't refuse Miko anything, it was the same with Wheeljack. With a small, defeated groan, Bulkhead eased into the chair, unbelieving at the protocol he was breaking.

"At least let me call for backup," Bulkhead protested a little, not wanting to get too far on Optimus's bad side . . .

However, that thought was wiped from his mind too when Wheeljack's blue optics returned to him with a cocky challenge of, "You know Wreckers don't call for backup . . ."

Bulkhead couldn't help it—here in this ship with his oldest buddy, and that innocent look of playfulness in his optics while he taunted him with one of the most nostalgic lines in Wrecker history, Bulkhead felt his will crumble. Unable to deny Wheeljack of a short joy-trip—anything to make him happy—Bulkhead relaxed into a familiar grin, optics sparking and biting down on his bait. Wheeljack's optics caught his willingness, and a grin cracked through his face too.

"They call for clean up!" they crowed together. Bulkhead immediately threw his hand towards Wheeljack's clasping their servos in a way he hadn't done for years.

Boy, it felt good to be back!

Of course, only a couple hours later Bulkhead was beating himself up for not taking that course of action to get some backup.

With his arms pinned by electric stasis cuffs to metal boxes stacked high, Bulkhead heaved a sigh, looking down on the bomb strapped to his chest. Well, more like fused. The wires encased him like a web. He had tried to jam his signal from shouting out his location—he knew he was the trap for Optimus and Wheeljack, and it didn't set well with him. Dreadwing was planning something nasty.

Instead, Bulkhead hung his head, feeling dumber than he had for years. How many times had he heard it before? How many times had he heard it! Engaging the enemy on your own is foolish, Bulkhead. Optimus's words rang over and over in his head and Bulkhead's obviously empty promise of, "It won't happen again, Optimus."

Bulkhead groaned, struggling against his bonds for several frustrated seconds before giving it up with a snarl. This was his fault. If he had just listened to his gut instinct—no, the smarts Optimus had always been trying to teach him—this wouldn't have happened. He wouldn't be strapped to a bomb, his friends wouldn't be running towards their inevitable doom, and Primus knew what else.

Fixated helplessly with the bomb cheerily ticking away on his chest, Bulkhead's spark contracted painfully. Miko. Out of everyone, her name hadn't crossed his mind today with the excitement of having Wheeljack back, but now he felt guilt tighten around his spark. By the All Spark, the forgiving Primus above had to know he couldn't leave that poor girl hanging! She needed him!

Bulkhead struggled again, jerking against the bonds that held him while the bomb steadily ticked away his last minutes alive. He groaned, slumping again in defeat. "Oh, Miko, I'm so sorry . . . Argh, Primus, why am I so dumb!" Bulkhead thrashed against his bonds again, fighting futilely with the reminder of the small human he had grown to care for so much. She needed him! There was no one who understood her like he did! Who was there to give her the extra push she needed for school? Who was there to listen to her rants about the mean girls at school? Who was there to bang his head and indulge in her speed metal that no one else liked? Who was there for her whenever she needed him, to support her, to show devotion she sure didn't get from her host parents?

Groaning again, Bulkhead gave up, despair eating its way through his cold front. After all they had been through . . . Sweet little Miko. Headstrong, but that was how she had to be. She couldn't function any other way because she was just like Bulkhead. She carried the softest heart Bulkhead had met in anyone, and she had to cover it up with a radical and willful front so no one could break her down and hurt her. Bulkhead was sure he was the only one she would willfully share herself with, and it ripped him to shreds to know that he had failed.

He'd miss her smile. He'd miss her laughter and her excited shrieks, and the sound of her voice mimicking her air guitar and screaming out unintelligible lyrics. He'd miss her bringing her homework out to work in his backseat; he'd miss trying to help her with it even though it just left them both more frustrated than imagined. They shared their pain.

Bulkhead felt suspicious wetness seeping out of his optics. Dear Primus, he still had those stains on the inside of his floor mats where she had thrown up when he had battled Decepticons with her still inside his chest! A bittersweet pang shot through Bulkhead's spark. She had tried so hard to get the stains out and when she couldn't, proceeded to give him the most thorough wash he had ever experienced in his lifetime with both tender and playful touches.

And that time in those old Decepticon mines . . . His spark twisted painfully again. Dear Primus, it was a terrifying experience to come so close to losing her. He could still hear her labored breaths trying to push aside that mountain of rocks herself, as if she could possibly save them both when she was so innocently fragile. He could still hear her voice rasping and her desperate gasps for air when the oxygen continued to be used up from the confined space thick with dust.

Bulkhead's spark writhed with the remembrance of how he hadn't cared how much he would strain his arms from holding up those rocks. Primus, he'd do it all over again, no matter the cost. He would have held up the entire world, the entire universe on his shoulders, a metal version of Atlas if it would have spared Miko that day. But he still had to endure the horror of watching her waste away right at his feet; he still had to watch the fear and despair break her down into that vulnerable state she hated so much.

And then—the gall Starscream had to terrorize her further! If Bulkhead's hands had been free he was sure he would have strangled the seeker until he begged for mercy and then proceeded to snap his pathetic neck anyways! The hatred still burned deep, but it was dampened by the solemn pressure of a ticking bomb on his chest.

Bulkhead's restrained hands clenched tight. Dear Primus . . . her tears . . . When she thought she was going to lose him . . . Bulkhead's metal shuddered until it tinkled together. Primus knew he would carry the weight of those tears wherever he went. They haunted him to this day, mocking him as death waited within the next long minutes where the bomb would explode and truly take him away. A moan left Bulkhead's vocals at the thought of the pain he would cause her.

Instead, he heard footsteps. The guys! Bulkhead's helm shot up as he waited for them as they came closer, the beeping signaling that they were tracking him. He watched Wheeljack and Optimus come around the corner, both their eyes widening in shock.

Dear Primus, don't let me be the death of them and the heartbreak of Miko . . .

Instead, Bulkhead tried to play it off as the fearless Wrecker Wheeljack expected him to be. "H-Hey guys," he said, trying not to stutter as thick fear clotted his vocal processor together.

Wheeljack's gaze flattened. "Scrap."

"Oh, boy . . ."

This wasn't good—he was meant to be here as bait! Dreadwing WANTED them to sit here and try to diffuse the bomb so it would take them all down!

However, Wheeljack just waltzed up with the easiest of ease, saying with a slight smirk, "You really got yourself in a heap of scrap this time, partner."

Primus no—! They wouldn't be taken too! "Stay back, Jackie!" he tried to ward off the Wrecker, but the dominantly white mech didn't care.

He gave a slight shrug, optics honing in on the bomb strapped to Bulkhead's chest. "Better get to work," was all he said.

Optimus's blue optics zeroed in on him. "Have you diffused one of these before?" he asked strictly.

Bulkhead watched as Wheeljack touched the bomb, moving a latch he hadn't noticed that popped it wide open. Wheeljack did a double take at all the parts, muttering all sorts of things, " . . . dummy leads . . . booby traps . . ." His optics were impressed by the workmanship of the bomb, but overshadowed by a slice of worry. "It's a work of art."

Bulkhead frowned as Wheeljack started in, fingers carefully moving the tiny wires around as he got a better look at it. "Jackie," Bulkhead repeated thinly, "if you don't abort, we're BOTH gonna need clean up!"

Wheeljack scoffed, unimpressed with his melodramatics while his eyes were unmoving from the wiring. "Trying to focus here, Bulk."

Bulkhead clenched his jaw. Fine, he'd let him play it his way for a little while, but if he couldn't . . . Bulkhead looked up, and his thought pattern was interrupted.

"Where's Optimus?"

Wheeljack jumped, turning around, but he returned to the bomb with a black scowl that seeped the words "I was right!"

"It's like I told you," he muttered to Bulkhead. "When the scrap hits the fan blades, the generals are the first to bail."

Bulkhead let his optics harden, undisputable in who his allegiance fell to. "No," he said flatly. "Not Optimus."

Wheeljack scoffed again, but didn't say anything more as he focused on dismantling the explosives attached to Bulkhead's chest. Bulkhead waited tensely, watching the numbers ticking down so swiftly, a constant reminder that they held only a certain amount of time.

Finally, when it dipped below the five minute mark, Bulkhead broke down again, unable to take the rising tension. "Get out of here already!" he urged him, fighting the quaver in his voice.

"I didn't leave you on Sandakan," Wheeljack reminded him with steel in his voice, "and I'm NOT leaving you here!"

The faint blaster fire in the distance became more and more pronounced. "Face it," he growled at the stubborn mech before him. "There's only one bot that can diffuse this mess and his name's Dreadwing!"

When a blast rocked closer to them, Wheeljack's head turned. Bulkhead's spark stopped. He knew his Jackie. And Primus forbid it, Wheeljack wouldn't give up on Bulkhead to the last second—if he didn't diffuse the bomb, he'd die trying.

"Blaster fire's getting closer," he muttered, eyes slanting away to look hard for the two fighting mechs. Bulkhead's desperation gave him the strength he needed, and Wheeljack never saw it coming. "As if the commander's—"

Wheeljack's sentence was caught in a garbled cry when Bulkhead let him have a right hook so powerful it knocked the unsuspecting mech back several feet, causing him to glitch briefly and sprawl on his back. Tearing his other arm loose, uncaring of how it strained his arms, Bulkhead dashed past Wheeljack before he could get his bearings.

"Sorry Jackie," he threw over his shoulder, resisting the urge for anything more. "It's cause I love ya."

He couldn't even spare a glance back at the mech but took off running. He weaved in between the metal boxes stacked high, determined to lose Wheeljack who was shouting out for him to stop. Bulkhead's gaze flattened. He wasn't going to let his best friend sacrifice himself for him. He wasn't worth it—just another shallow soldier compared to the genius of Wheeljack? No. He would never allow it.

Dashing through the maze of boxes, Bulkhead heard Wheeljack's steps receding, and with a flop of his spark he realized he had lost him. Pumping his shorter legs hard, Bulkhead's fear stuffed tightly in his throat as shallow little gasps vented from his system.

He was running straight to death. It was a foreboding ending, and one Bulkhead hated with every vibe of his being. With a despairing wrench of his spark, he couldn't shake Miko's face from his mind or Wheeljack's cocky grin. Their laughter rang in the memory of his audio receptors, and the whine of an electric guitar and the crash of a lob.

With a hard tremble through his stocky frame, Bulkhead shook his central processor clear. No, he was doing this to save a friend—

No matter how it will crush another?

Bulkhead shook the morbid thoughts free. His death was inevitable. The least he could do was save another.

Bulkhead felt the coolant running through his system jump at the sight of the docks before him, the waiting sea of the ocean. He cringed into himself, trying to lighten his mood a little with, "Sorry fishies!"

However, he wasn't expecting a white mech to drop in between him and his objective, though after so many years of knowing Wheeljack, he should have known it.

"Bulkhead, wait!"

Bulkhead gnashed his dentures together, optics narrowing. He didn't stop his charge, but rather heightened it. "Get out of my way!"

Both mechs smashed together, and Bulkhead drove against Wheeljack, pushing the Wrecker back his determination was so much. He was NOT going to let him sacrifice himself for him!

"Will you listen to me, Bulk!" Wheeljack roared at him, sensing his friend's desperation as if it was his own—and it was. Wheeljack drove against Bulkhead with all his might, shouldering each other like football players until they screeched to a halt, the tip of his toes nearly slipping off the edge and into the water.

"You were right!" he barked at him, blue optics blazing frenetically. "Dreadwing is the only one who can diffuse it! And Optimus knows it too."

Bulkhead's gaze followed Wheeljack's up to where Optimus was lithely scaling the buildings. By a tug from Wheeljack, they both made themselves sparse of the area, taking cover and hiding as Dreadwing's heavy steps approached.

Utter silence blanketed them for long seconds. Each footfall of Dreadwing was firm—precise. He was on the hunt, but unfortunately for him, he didn't look up.

Optimus's angry war cry shouted out as he dropped the shipping crane on top of the Decepticon, pinning him to the floor with clean vengeance. Bulkhead and Wheeljack came out, and the thought crossed Bulkhead's mind—how would they manage this?

"Dreadwing," Optimus stated with steel backing his voice, "diffuse the bomb, or fall victim to your own device."

Bulkhead jolted—that wasn't the plan! What, he was going to let him blow up both himself and the 'Con? At least he could take out a 'Con as he went, but it still caused shivers to crawl up his spine.

Dreadwing didn't blink. "I will gladly sacrifice myself to avenge my brother."

Optimus nodded. "Then we will, in turn, gladly join the All Spark with OUR brother."

"And with you," Wheeljack spat. He crossed his arms. "You'll never shake us."

Bulkhead stiffened, watching the resolve harden in his two friends. Uncertain, he looked in between them and the bomb still ticking and firmly strapped to his chest, threatening to detonate if even tried to be removed. The slow minutes ticked by, and nothing was heard but the sinister beeping of the bomb.

Finally, when Bulkhead was sure it was going to detonate and destroy them all, a quietly enraged voice finally hissed, "Very well."

Optimus and Wheeljack snapped into action, pulling the heavy crane claw off the pinned Decepticon. However, when he Decepticon surged to his feet, none of them had time to react or the proximity to stop him.

A powerful punch staggered Bulkhead back, and before Optimus could so much as transform his hands to guns, the Decepticon ran like a whipped puppy, transforming and flying off. Ignoring his ringing processor, Bulkhead looked at Optimus who open fired at the fleeing Decepticon and Wheeljack's ugly sneer; he looked back to the bomb, still ticking on his chest, seconds left.

The last seconds—he had to make them count!

Taking advantage of both bots being preoccupied, Bulkhead slugged Wheeljack as hard as he could, felling the bot in one blow. Before Wheeljack could recalibrate and fight back, Bulkhead had picked up his best friend and hurled him into the surprised Optimus, leaving them entangled in a mess of arms and legs.

"Sorry guys!" Bulkhead cried out, adrenaline pumping in his veins. He darted to the edge. "Tell Miko I love her!"

He didn't think twice, but he leapt into the ocean and dove as deep as he could, spark pounding in his chest so hard he thought it would detonate the bomb prematurely. Lubricant leaked from his eyes, but it just mingled with the salty ocean water.

Wheeljack . . . Optimus . . . and the team . . .


His spark slashed itself to mere shreds as a sob caught in his throat. The countdown stopped.

If only that girl knew how much of a daughter she had become for him—

Wheeljack shoved Optimus off of him, hearing the splash as Bulkhead's body hit the ocean surface.

"Bulkhead! No!"

He dashed towards the ledge, but he barely managed three strides before an explosion rocked beneath his feet, sending him crashing to the ground and a fountain of water to shoot upwards. The spray washed across Wheeljack and Optimus, and the Wrecker found his jaw going slack. He stared, uncomprehendingly as Bulkhead fell offline before agony tore across his sensors.


The howl ripped from his throat, and his fists smashed into the concrete, creating deep fissuring cracks in the cement, not unlike his spark. Rage blinded his sensors. Pain left him bleeding.


Wheeljack ignored the lubricants speeding down his face. "I'll kill you, 'Con!" his raw voice bellowed to the empty skies. "I'll find you again! Run all you like, but when I get my hands on you, I'll tear out your spark!" A harsh sob gritted through his clenched teeth, and his hands curled into fists of steel. A servo snapped to his side to the one grenade he carried on his waist. He fisted it in his palm, a grip so tight he nearly crushed it in his clutch.

His blue optics glazed over in terrible hate, his body trembling violently with the urge to get the 'Con's energon on his servos. One grenade, one shot.

Vile malignance dyed his spark black. The knife skewed through the remains of his spark when he saw pieces of Bulkhead's body float to the surface. One bomb, one life.

Wheeljack's optics bled with mindless determination for vengeance. One grenade, one life.

He shook with fury, tears thickening his vocals and loathing hardening him to steel.

"And I promise you, Dreadwing," he hissed. "I swear on the depths of the All Spark, THIS will be the grenade that takes you to the pit."

A gentle hand touched his tense shoulder, but Wheeljack jerked away, fire blazing in his eyes at Optimus. "I don't need another Primus-forsaken speech!" he raged at the Prime, optics narrowed to mere slits. His jaw ground hard. "I don't give a frag what the rules are on this tiny marble, I'll rip that 'Con to slag for what he's done!"

Optimus's eyes were brimming with unconcealed sorrow, and it only served to make Wheeljack angrier. He was weak! What was worse, not a general that abandoned you, but a general who didn't have the spark in him to stay strong!

"Wheeljack," he began solemnly, "before you head off on your own, I—"

"Frag off, Prime." Wheeljack trembled violently, itching with the need to destroy something—ANYTHING. His voice was naught but an angry rasp. "This is my battle, not yours."

A hint of anger flickered in the depths of those eyes, but a cool front remained. "He was my soldier, Wheeljack," Optimus reminded him, and Wheeljack hated him all the more that because his grief for Bulkhead showed again. "More than a soldier. A comrade."

Wheeljack's teeth gnashed together. "Thought you commanders weren't supposed to pick favorites," he snarled at him, venom seeping from every word. Optimus's flinch was nearly nonexistent. He turned, stalking from the Prime and towards his ship, but his voice echoed out to him.

"Wheeljack, go if you must, but promise me that as a last parting gift to Bulkhead, you will extend his last words towards young Miko."

Wheeljack rooted to the spot, chest heaving tight breath between his teeth. Primus, that fragging Prime was a menace to all that walked the face of the universe with his so subtle words and his hexing ways. Wheeljack's lips thinned. He would have made an excellent Decepticon.

"Fine," he hissed, rage broiling just beneath the surface. "But only because Bulkhead cared about her. This has nothing to do with you!"

Wheeljack proceeded back to the Jackhammer with deadly intent seeping from every core of his being. He would hunt Dreadwing until the end of his days, and by Primus, he would send that 'Con straight to the pit!

Bulkhead had died Sunday. Today was Monday, but it didn't ease the bitter taste of defeat in Wheeljack's mouth.

He waited irritably for Miko to get in from school. He shifted restlessly, planning out Dreadwing's demise while turning his grenade over in his servos, dark desires chasing through his heart. Optimus wasn't pleased, Wheeljack could tell by the bot's body language, but if he got in the way of him and Dreadwing he'd find a blade for his spark as well.

When Wheeljack's patience wore thin, he was thankful to finally hear the engine of Bumblebee and Arcee bringing the humans back from school. Miko jumped out with an audible groan, and Wheeljack's spark did a sudden flip.

They were telling her that her best friend was dead.

Guilt gripped Wheeljack's throat. Dear Primus, this was his fault! He hadn't let Bulkhead call for backup, and—

No. No, that was wrong too. They shouldn't have walked straight into a trap! Another idea that had been Wheeljack's doing—!

"Bulkhead!" Wheeljack winced at the first name off her tongue. Miko lowered her cupped hands with a wrinkle of her nose. "Where's Bulkhead?" she asked the others, neck craning back to look at them all. "I didn't expect to have to carpool—Wheeljack!"

Wheeljack watched her come, swallowing and refusing to let more than a brief flicker of greeting show. She slowed at his cold indifference.

Finally, seeing that everyone was quiet and unspeaking, she turned her brown eyes up to Optimus who approached her with heavy steps. "Optimus? What's going on?"

Wheeljack put away his grenade, crossing his arms as he watched the great Prime lower himself to one knee, shifting his hulking body so that he was closer to level with the small human. He let compassion seep from his gaze to the unsuspecting girl.

"Miko," he started in softly, gravely. "We have told you about Cliffjumper; how he was a brave and honest comrade, and one where we carry the sorrow of his death in our sparks."

Miko shifted, suddenly chafing her cold arms. "Y-Yeah . . . So, what?"

Optimus's optics tightened. "Miko, yet another of our ranks has joined in the Well of the All Spark as of last night." Wheeljack clenched his hands, jaw gritting harsh as he remembered the blast that shook him to his core, the bomb he had failed to diffuse, and that spray of water like salty tears. He watched a lump slowly move in Miko's throat as she stared uncomprehendingly at Optimus, wetness that she didn't notice rising in her eyes.

Optimus looked away a moment, unable to keep his gaze level with the guileless eyes before him. His vents expelled a gust of air as he steeled himself, sorrowing blue optics meeting Miko's again. "Miko . . ." he said softly, a hand coming to gently cup around her. "Bulkhead has—"

"NO!" Her shriek rebounded off the silo walls, shrill and hysterical with despair. Wheeljack's spark did another flop when the floodgates opened and tears streamed freely down her cheeks. "You're lying!" she shouted, voice cracking as she shoved away Optimus's comforting hand. The leader flinched. "Bulkhead would never—He's stronger than—Not Bulkhead! Not Bulkhead!"

Wheeljack's glossia fused to the top of his mouth as dread clotted thick. He watched Optimus's optic tighten in pain and worry, but he didn't raise his voice to the broken young girl. "Miko," he said softly again, "I am so sorry . . . But—"

"You're lying!" she lashed out again with a sob curdling the end of her shriek. "Bulkhead wouldn't—he promised he wouldn't leave! He promised he wouldn't leave me!"

Wheeljack felt a flash of annoyance at Bulkhead—why would he make a promise he may not be able to keep? "He's dead!" Wheeljack snapped, her tears perturbing him and making that guilt fester worse until it clawed through his insides. "Nothing's bringing him back!"

A choking sob ripped from her throat, and Wheeljack felt something knife through him when she flinched back in pain. "Not Bulkhead!" she wailed repeatedly, wetness speeding down her cheeks. "Not Bulkhead! He promised—!"

Optimus stretched his hand out to Miko when she turned on her heel and fled from the silo, her small legs carrying her through the tunnel that they had come in from. Bumblebee let out a whining coo, wings drooping.

*Should I go . . . You know . . . Try to . . .*

Arcee's eyes flicked to the doorway, and she hesitated—both girls, possibly able to get along better, but it was known that they butted heads.

Wheeljack clenched his fists, snarling to himself. They were all idiots. Transforming down into the alt mode Fowler and his superiors had drug up for him, Wheeljack followed Miko through the tunnel and to the outside.

For such a small human, she had spry legs when she was crying. She was running blindly, stumbling on the road as she swiped at the tears and mucus on her face. Wheeljack's engine gave a grumble as he caught up with her in the space of a few seconds, rolling next to her.

Miko didn't even take notice of him. However, Wheeljack found he had swallowed his glossia. What was he supposed to say? Feeling more than awkward, he finally uttered, "Hey, Miko, stop a minute."

"Get away from me!" she shouted out, voice cracking when the tears caught up with her.

He vented in frustration. How in the name of Primus was he supposed to get through to her? His spark clenched. Bulkhead would know exactly what to say . . .

Guilt clenched him tight before he forced himself to shake it off. Not giving a flying frag about who saw what anymore, Wheeljack transformed up, taking slow and tiny steps to keep up with Miko's frenzied run.

"I . . ." His thick tongue fused to the top of his mouth. Dear Primus, Bulkhead . . . He swallowed forcibly around the lump in his throat. "Miko," he whispered, "I've got to tell you something." She still didn't stop running down the open road and still couldn't stop her crying, and Wheeljack felt a surge of protection even as he felt something inside swell with heartbroken compassion. "Miko . . . Bulkhead had a message for you."

At the sound of his name Miko fell and sprawled across the ground, skinning her hands and knees. Wheeljack knelt, not giving her the chance to flee again as his hand gently scooped her up. She curled up in a ball, little sobs slipping past her lips she tried to clamp together. His spark twisted seeing the bleeding scratches on her knees and her leggings that were ripped and frayed strings.

In an uncanny way, Wheeljack felt his lips tremble. Primus knew he wasn't one for this tears business . . . Taking a breath to steady his nerves, Wheeljack licked his lips uncertainly, hand cupping protectively around Miko's tiny form.

"M-Miko . . ." he whispered hoarsely, struggling to contain his trembling, "Bulkhead . . . he . . . he loves you . . ." Wheeljack shook his head, sucking in another hard breath. "He loves you."

Miko's head looked up, and Wheeljack's spark constricted at the sight of her luminous eyes sparkling with tears, eyes naked with pain. She swallowed, lips quivered helplessly. "He . . . he did?"

Wheeljack nodded, unconsciously bringing her closer to him. "He sure does," Wheeljack whispered, revering the words as if they were the greatest secret in the world. "He said he loves you. And if I know Bulk," he gave a weak laugh, "and I do . . . I bet you were like the little sparkling he never had."

He panicked slightly on the inside when she collapsed into another spark-wrenching fit of weeping, but he scooped her in close to his chest anyways. He felt tiny fingers clenching at his chest plating, and his throat thickened. Primus, it was like holding a tiny flower in his hand, so easily crushed . . . Just a child.

Hunching over himself, Wheeljack felt his free hand clenching the ground, digging grooves into the dirt. "Miko . . ." he rasped. He shook his head, struggling to contain the amount of emotion this small human was pulling from him in a way he hadn't felt since with his Wrecking team.

"Miko," he whispered down to the tiny human, "I . . . I may not be Bulkhead, but . . ." He sucked in a breath emotion clogging his vocals. "I—I may not be Bulkhead . . ."

Her black and pink pigtails looked up, and Wheeljack lost his words again, a rare occurrence in his time. Miko's throat worked. "Wheeljack . . . ?"

Shaking his head, Wheeljack rushed all the words out at once before he lost his nerve again. "Primus—Miko, I'm no Bulkhead, but if you'd let me I'll protect you." Wheeljack's hand cupped her protectively to his chest, possessively holding the last precious gift Bulkhead had left him. "I swear by the depths of the Well of All Sparks, Miko, I'll take care of you. I'll be there for you, I won't let anyone hurt you again."

His throat shifted uncomfortably at her wide eyes, lashes heavy with tears. These weren't his words. No, the old Wheeljack was rough, tough, and he didn't let anyone in—he had said so to the great Prime himself. Alone was a lot less complicated.

That didn't stop his spark from reaching out to the pitiful human in his hand, and it especially didn't stop the way his emotions spiraled out of control when he felt the kiss of small lips against his chest plating.

A hiccup preceded the weepy words, "Thanks, Jackie . . ."

Wheeljack bit his lip hard, fighting back the cry inside. Gripping his hand in the dirt, on his hands and knees with one servo clasping Miko close, Wheeljack trembled. He felt lubricants of artificial tears dripping off his face, soaking into the dusty ground.

I promise you, Bulk . . . I'll make her happy even if it's the last thing I do.