Chapter 8 is ready! And it's longer-sh! XD I don't know when I'll post the next chapter, so please continue being patient with my slow ass. I've been having some trouble with writing. Kind been having little writing blocks on and off. So…hopefully my next chapter won't take too long. Please review as always.

Happy reading/writing!


Jazz and Bumblebee stopped right in front of the gate to the NEST base, and waited. Again. The drive back to DC took the usual two days. By that time, my shaking had stopped but I felt something between giddiness and anxiety. It was an odd feeling and it made me even more impatient than usual. I had to add fatigue to my list of issues, because I couldn't sleep for those two days. I kept drumming my fingers against Jazz's dashboard as the two guards took their time, more so than usual. The two dumbasses kept looking at me directly and I felt myself heat up with fury.

"That's it!" I snapped and threw open Jazz's door. The lieutenant was probably too stunned to shut it back and lock it before I jumped out. I climbed over the gate and walked right passed the equally surprised guards, ignoring both their and the two Autobots' shouts.

"Stop!" one of the guards said. "You can't go in without permission!"

I kept walking.

"Clare! Don't be an idiot! Clare!"

"Stop, young lady!"

"Clare! What do you think your doing!?"

"Stop! Or we'll shoot!"

I whirled around and glared at the two guards.

"Then shoot me!" I snarled back. The men stared at me, dumbfounded. They had their guns up, aiming at me, but didn't move. They couldn't shoot me, even if it was protocol. They should have shot me, but they knew who I was. They knew how close I was to Optimus, let alone the other Autobots. Shooting me, even in the arm, would have been an incredibly stupid move.

I looked back at Jazz and Bumblebee. Both 'bots were in robot mode, but stood behind the gate. They stared at me, their optics pleading. I shook my head at them and continued on into the base. They didn't follow.

As I ran inside, I searched for Optimus through the bond. He had just arrived from his mission and was down in the bunker, talking to…Charlotte Mearing. Damn it. He felt angry but not at me. It was something about what he found at Ukraine. I decided to not barge in on his little meeting with the woman. I didn't want to make another scene like I already did. Besides, I didn't want Mearing to see me. At all. I hoped to find Lennox. I could talk to him not only about my dad but also about my collage issues.

I continued to jog around the base. No one was in sight. It was empty. Most of the time, the Autobots came back to base before the rest of the humans. I don't know why but that was what Sideswipe told me. I guessed that the rest of the Autobots were in the bunker with Optimus. I huffed in frustration and headed to the back, where Mirage took me before. Maybe I could hide somewhere in the bunker till Mearing left.

"Shouldn't you be in school?" someone called out. I skidded to a stop and looked to see who was talking. It was Lennox. He was walking over to me, looking a bit worn yet very stern at the same time.

"Well, hello to you too," I said back, partially joking. He only frowned more at that.

"You really shouldn't be here, Clare," he said. "Especially after what Mearing said to you. We were all in trouble for that."

"But I've been allowed to come in here before."

"Well, there have been some changes in the rules here."

"Well, I didn't get the memo," I snapped, my patience already dwindling. He gave me a hard look, but his expression changed. He looked at me, up and down, as if realizing just then that I was a mess.

"What…happened to you?"

"I'll get to that. But first, I need two things."

"Fine. What do you want, kid," he said a bit warily.

"I don't want to go to collage anymore," I said immediately. He sighed heavily and rubbed his temple.

"Clare, just because you had a few hiccups-"

"It's not just that. I don't think I can keep going, because of who I am," I explained. Lennox's face was unreadable so I went on. "I don't think I'll be able to get a job anywhere let alone a career in art because of my involvement with the Autobots. I love being an artist. I really do. But I don't think it's the right career for me anymore."

"Oh? And what is?"

"I don't know. Maybe…something in NEST?"

The soldier stared at me for a very long time. He looked almost…appalled by the idea. I felt my heart plummet.

"No," he said and held up a hand to silence me. "This isn't some military you can just sign up into, kid. You're too young to be part of this and you're just a civilian. You'll get hurt."

"I've already been through the things you have. I've been through worse damn it!" He winced at that, knowing what I meant by 'worse'.

"Kids, you're not leaving school. Just focus on your studies and you'll be fine," he said then paused before asking. "What was the second thing?"

"I need help finding out more about my dad," I said hesitantly.

"You've got to be kidding," he said, sounding insulted. When I didn't say anything he shook his head. "Who do you think we are, Clare? Your personal army? We deal with worldly problems. Not yours."

"No. You guys deal with Decepticons. Which is why I'm all torn up right now," I seethed, motioning down to my bloody clothes. Lennox stared at me, looking like he didn't believe me. "And the reason why I want to know more about my dad is because he himself was involved with the Decepticons."

"Do you have proof?"

"His two journals and my mom."

"That's it? A couple old journals and your mom's word? That's not enough to convince all of NEST that there's a Decepticon problem, Clare. And if you really were attacked, Jazz and Bumblebee would have reported it."

"But-"

"No, Clare. I don't want to hear anymore. You just need to forget about the Autobots and go live a normal life. Ok? You and the Autobots, it's over. You're not a part of this anymore."

"I was a part of it before you even knew what an Autobot was!" I shouted. I was so sure that he would have been on my side. I couldn't understand why he doubted me so much. I couldn't believe him.

"Calm down, kid," he said slowly.

"Do not tell me to calm down, Lennox. I have every right to be pissed off right now. Especially since you of all people can't seem to believe me. I thought you were my friend but no. You decide to take Mearing's side."

"This has nothing to do with Mearing. I just want you to have a normal life."

"I can't have a normal life! Don't you get that!? My life is with the Autobots. Fighting Decepticons. That's my life now, Lennox!"

"Just stop it!" he finally snapped. "Why can't you just end it, Clare? Why can't you just stay away and be safe? All I want is for you to be safe! I know what happened to you. I know what the fucking monster did to you and I don't want it happening again. I've known you since the whole Hoover Dam thing, and I'm sorry that I actually care about you!"

I was slightly surprised by his words. I didn't know why he said all that or why he was saying it now. Was it because I was covered in blood? Was he planning on telling me this before? I just didn't know. All I did know was that I couldn't rely on him anymore.

"I'm sorry, Clare," Lennox muttered and left.

I was on the brink of tears. The frustration and anger was making me have violent urges. I just wanted to punch someone. Hard. I felt like I just lost a close ally. But, I couldn't give in. I had to think of another plan. Since Lennox wasn't willing to help, that meant NEST won't either. But I still had the Autobots. If I could just talk to one of them…

"Clare?" someone called out. I turned to see Ratchet frozen midstep, staring at me. He must have just come up from the Autobot bunker. He looked around hesitantly then came over and knelt down. "What are you doing here, child?" the medic whispered harshly. "Mearing is here." He paused. "You look horrible." He gently tipped my chin up with the tip of his metal digit. "Did you get any injuries?"

"Just a few broken bones. It all healed though."

"What happened? Was it a Decepticon?"

"Yes. I mean, just listen. I need to talk to Optimus."

"Clare, Optimus just came in. He's tired and stressed."

"Fine then can he come see me later? Actually, can you and Ironhide come too? It's really important. I need all of you 'first wavers'."

"We can't just leav-"

"Don't tell me what you can or can't do! I'm sick of it!" I screamed. "Just walk out of base, transform, and drive to my condo. It's not hard!"

Ratchet POV

I was taken aback by the human's sudden outburst. The young femme was breathing heavily and appeared to be trembling. Her eyes were red, possibly from lack of sleep as well as glassy from unshed tears. There were dark rings around her eyes as well. She was stressed and exhausted as well as quite furious. I hoped that it wasn't what I thought it was.

"Clare, my friend," I said as calmly as I could. "Calm down."

Before she had moved away, I asked Caitlin if there were any signs when Megatron had influence over Clare. She had explained Clare's change in eye color, from brilliant blue to cruel red. Her personality would seem to change as well. She became much more hostile and angry. Even violent.

So far, looking at Clare in front of me, she didn't seem to be influenced by the Decepticon leader. She was angry but her eyes were still blue, like mine. I prayed to Primus that Megatron wasn't trying to take control over her again and that she was only stressed from lack of rest and…whatever else was going on with her. I was convinced that she wasn't when she started crying. Instinctively, I wished to comfort the youngling. I transformed and activated my hologram, allowing it to step out of my real body. I used my smaller pseudo human form to hold the femme close. Clare clung to my softer frame and continued to cry.

"I-Im sorry. I'm just so tired," she sobbed helplessly. I didn't want to put more stress to her anymore. I gently pulled her off and cupped her feverish face in my hands. "Ratchet…I need help. Please."

"Go home," I said simply.

"No. Please. Don't kick me out!"

"Clare, my child. My friend. Go home. Get rest. Sleep. We will come tonight."

"You will?"

"Yes, I promise. Just me, Ironhide, and Optimus will come and we will all talk. But right now, you need to sleep. Promise me that you will do that," I said firmly. She smiled with relief.

"Thank you."

"Clare, promise me."

The young human nodded her head. Black locks of hair fell over her tired eyes. She was close to passing out here in front of me. The nod was the best I was going to get, not that I minded. I pulled her close and kissed her hot forehead before holding her small body against mine, emitting soft purrs. After a moment of comforting her, I let her go and she trotted off, unsteadily so. When I lost sight of her, I contacted both Jazz and Bumblebee in a single link.

"Yeah, Doc?" Jazz asked.

"What is it Ratchet?" Bee asked right after.

"You two are taking Clare home," I said tightly. "You are putting her to bed and allowing her to sleep. Nothing more. Nothing less. Understand?"

"But, Ratch. We-" I cut the scout off.

"No Argument. These are my orders as a medic and you will follow them. Understand?"

"Yes, sir," both cars said in unison.

"Good," I said then sighed heavily. "Optimus, Ironhide, and I will meet you three at her home later tonight."

"Prime's back?" Jazz asked curiously.

"Yes. He justarrived. As, I was saying, we will see you tonight and then you can explain why Clare is so frantic and looks as if she's been through a battle. Ratchet out." I didn't bother waiting for an answer. I didn't want one. I only wished for the little femme to get rest.

After cutting the link, I offlined my hologram and transformed to bipedal mode. I rarely used my human self anymore. Clare really liked it when I did, but I personally didn't. I felt too helpless and exposed. I already had that problem during the war on Cybertron for being the chief medical officer. At least my true frame had weapons unlike my hologram.

I walked over to the lift yet again and went back down to the bunker. Mearing unfortunately, met me at the bottom. Thankfully, the human was on her mobile device and didn't acknowledge me as I stepped passed her so she could ride the lift up. I went over to Ironhide's quarters and saw that Optimus was there as well. Good.

"That was a rather short drive," the weapon specialist said dryly. I merely waved my hand at him so he would shut up and turned to our leader.

"Optimus, when you called us earlier, you said that you felt another presence within Clare. Was it Megatron?" I asked. Mentioning the Decepticon leader made the Prime's expression harden even more than it already was. I almost regretted asking him. He was already tired from the mission and stressed from Clare. On top of that, Optimus was still furious about what Megatron did to Clare. He probably always will be.

"No," he said simply. "Why?"

"I just saw your little mate. She was frantic and upset. I was unsure if Megatron was trying to get to her again."

"She…she is here?" Prime asked, his rage replaced compassion and worry. I was surprise that he didn't feel her rage from earlier. Perhaps one was blocking the other unconsciously. He moved to go towards the lift, but I stepped in front of him.

"I sent her home to get rest. She needs it. You must feel her exhaustion by now." Optimus paused. I knew that he was searching through the bond to feel for Clare. After a moment, he nodded and stepped back reluctantly. He looked even tenser. "You would also know if she was influenced by Megatron. Correct?" He nodded again.

"Megatron is not doing anything to her at the moment. At least, from what I can feel."

"What did she want?" Ironhide asked.

"She merely said she wished to speak to Optimus, but I told her that the three of us will meet her at her home tonight."

Ironhide grinned at this. He wanted to leave the base just as much as the rest of us. Optimus did not seem to pose any argument either. In fact, he almost looked pleased. None of us Autobots particularly liked being ordered around by the humans let alone Charlotte Mearing. She meant well, I knew. She had to be very abrasive because she was a human female, but it was still aggravating for us.

"We have to find a way out of here without getting into trouble," I muttered.

"Can't we just walk out?" Ironhide suggested blandly. I remembered what Clare said in her outburst earlier and sighed.

"Why not?"

"What?"

"Why not?" I said again. "Let's just walk out."

Ironhide rested a large black arm over my shoulders in a rough embrace. His action nearly knocked me over. The eldest mech was clearly amused by my rebellion.

Usually, we never had to sneak out of the base. We simply just walked out and drove around the city for hours without any issues, unless there was a mission. However, we lost that freedom when the American government assigned Mearing to monitor us. Most of her orders were from them, so we couldn't dislike the woman entirely. But, because of this lack of freedom, some of us couldn't help but get wary about sneaking out. None of us wanted to get banished. We Autobots needed to stick together. That included Clare as well. Even with the risk of getting in trouble, I still didn't want my young friend to get harmed. And neither did Ironhide and Optimus.

Our leader silently moved away from us and turned away. I knew he was calling the other Autobots in the bunker. Within minutes all the Autobots, with the exceptions of Jazz and Bumblebee of course, had arrived to our location. Even the Wreckers loped up to us, chattering noisily. Primus. I wanted to throw a wrench at those three glitches.

"What's going on?" Sideswipe asked lazily.

"I swear, whatever happened, it wasn't me!" Jolt cried out.

"No one's in trouble, twit!" Ironhide snapped at the young blue mech. All I could do was shake my helm. Optimus merely ignored them.

"I have gathered you here to give you a few updates," he said blandly. "Since I was unable to do so earlier because of Mearing and because of…personal issues."

Optimus continued to explain to us about his findings from his mission in Chernobyl. The item they found was indeed Cybertronian, which was startling. Not only that, it came from a ship's engine. The Ark's. This information's was unsettling. According to Optimus, the US government knew nothing about the engine's piece. I wasn't sure if we should believe their claim or not. Finding a piece of the Ark when even we couldn't find the ship after all these centuries was rather suspicious. Our leader went on to explain his battle with Shockwave.

"Shockwave!?" Jolt yelled.

"And you didn't beat him?" Roadbuster asked.

"No, I was…distracted," Optimus said.

"Ah. I see," Topspin said mildly, glancing at his two Wrecker brothers. "By your little pet, right?"

"Tch. I knew that flesh bag would just get in the way," Leadfoot grumbled. Ironhide growled and took a step forward. His cannons clicked and whirled as his weapon systems came online. Talking scrap about Clare in front of the old mech was unwise.

"Enough!" Prime snapped, and immediately Ironhide lowered his weaponry. "I will not tolerate fighting within the ranks. Nor will I tolerate disrespect towards my mate." His words came out as snarls and we Autobots, especially the younger ones, recoiled. It took a moment for Prime to regain his composure before continuing on. "Speaking of Clare…Ironhide, Ratchet, and I will be leaving tonight to go speak with her."

"And no, Jolt, you may not come," I added immediately. The blue 'bot crossed his arms over his chassis while Mirage snickered beside him.

"While we're gone, the femmes are in charge," Prime added.

Ironhide, Opimus, and I knew that the three fembots would be able to keep everyone, even the Wreckers, under control. Despite their small frail looking structures, they were fierce warriors. And they could be rather intimidating when angered. Especially Chromia. Not only that, but they were the most mature of the other 'bots. Jolt was a mere youngling. Sideswipe and Mirage had no interest in being 'leader' even temporarily. They insist on acting like hooligans most of the time. And Wheeljack was old, quiet, and always in his own mind. He was harmless, but not fit to watch over the others. The Wreckers…out of the question.

"That is all. You are all dismissed," Optimus said tiredly.

"Whoa! Wait!" Sideswipe cut in. "That's it? What about the Ark?"

"If you found the engine piece, doesn't that mean it's on Earth?" Arcee asked.

"The higher commands of NEST are asking the Ukrainian government about our findings. Until then, we do nothing," Prime said. The others frowned at this. To get permission and have others investigate our own affairs was obnoxious. I could tell that Optimus shared this view as well. Perhaps, in this situation especially, more so. After all, his mentor was within the Ark when it disappeared.

After realizing that the meeting was really over, the other 'bots drifted away and went back to their business. The three of us from the first wave stayed put. I pondered what our next move would be. It was very odd that after all this time we just happen to find a piece of the engine merely sitting idly on this planet. Even before when we scanned the Earth for our technology, it didn't come up. Ironhide, who was clearly still angry with the Wreckers, growled.

"Those three better learn to mute their vocal processors," he grumbled.

"Let it go, Ironhide," I mumbled back then turned to Optimus. "I suppose I should give you a system's check now."

Optimus nodded slowly, looking very tired himself. I motioned him to follow as I headed to my personal workstation. I would have gone to the medbay, but considering how exhausted the Prime was, I wasn't sure he would have made the journey. Ironhide stayed with us, helping Optimus sit down on the berth when we arrived to my quarters.

"You should recharge, Optimus," I offered. "I will still be able to give you a check up."

The taller mech nodded again as he laid back and turned off his optics.

Optimus POV

My frame ached. The battle against Shockwave and his Drillerbot had done quite a number on my body. Stress and exhaustion were catching up to me, so I welcomed recharge like it was an old friend. Soon darkness surrounded me as I was enveloped into sweet bliss.

The mech woke up in an empty room. He looked around, noting how odd said room actually was. It was as if Ratchet's workspace had merged with Clare's condo. But what really startled the Autobot leader was himself. He was…human sized. Not in his holographic form. He was still in his real body but…much smaller. He barely covered a tenth of the berth space. If this wasn't a dream, Optimus probably would have panicked, but he remained calm and scanned the area. His optics settled on the small-elevated platform propped against the far wall. Clare's bed. He knew that his human mate was there.

The blue and red mech scooted to the edge of the berth and jumped off. He landed soundlessly onto the metal floor and headed towards his lover. He just couldn't keep himself away from her. He all but ran over towards the stairs and climbed them, skipped two steps at a time. He stopped at the top and just looked at the creature. She was on her side with her arms draped over the edge of the bed. She wasn't awake, Optimus realized, which only meant that she was in a deep sleep. He didn't mind that. He only wished to be near her. Seeing her asleep and looking so vulnerable, his instincts as her mate was to be with her. Hold her. Protect her. Optimus lay down next to Clare, absently expecting the bed to creak and break from his weight. It didn't. He pulled her smaller softer body against his larger body composed of alloy. He tried to curve his own stiffer frame to cup hers, as his arms wrapped around her, acting like a shield. The little human sighed and pressed herself against him. Despite being in a deep sleep, she was still unconsciously aware of him. It was part of the bond.

Optimus' optics flicked off and he too went into a deep sleep. But, like his little human, he was aware of his mate's presence. Aware of their bond. Their connection. It made recharge all the more better.

I woke to someone's touch. That someone was gently shaking me awake. I growled and turned my optics on to see my medic's visage. He looked rather irritated. His expression was enough to tell me that Mearing was back.

I sat up; already feeling quite rested, and swung my legs over the edge of the berth. Ratchet nodded and motioned me to follow. I did so without a word. My old friend led me out of his office over to the lift where Ironhide stood waiting along with Mearing. Both the woman and mech looked agitated.

"I assumed your visit was over," I stated dryly, and immediately regretted it. The flash of anger in her light colored eyes told me that she did not wish to be here either.

"I know you don't appreciate my visits, Optimus Prime. Or the rules the President wishes for me to grant to you. I'm not oblivious. But please do understand that I don't want to harass you Autobots," she said, looking very tired herself. "You may not want to believe it, but I am on your side."

I shuttered my optics and shook my helm. I felt terrible for giving the human such an attitude. I was acting like a youngling.

"I apologize. What brings you back?"

"The Ukrainians 'swore' that they have no idea where the engine piece came from. They claim that they don't have any more Cybertronian techs," the female said. "That's about it. For now anyway."

I sighed heavily. This was not good news. They were back to square one with finding the Ark. From the way Mearing said it, I don't believe the Ukrainians were speaking the truth. Perhaps they needed…persuasion.

"Thank you for checking," I said. The human nodded and turned to leave. I couldn't stop myself from saying. "Charlotte, I…I have a request."

"Yes?"

"Ratchet, Ironhide, and I wish to visit Clare right now. I know you deem her as a mere civilian but she is not. She is one of us and she is highly distressed at the moment. May we have your permission to go see her?"

I knew both Ironhide and Ratchet enough to know what their reactions would be without even looking at them. Ironhide was most likely glaring at me. Intensely. Ratchet probably was shaking his helm and pinching the bridge of his nasal piece. Charlotte was also giving me a rather incredulous look. She stared at me for quite a long time and I was beginning to regret asking her. Finally, the human let out a heavy sigh.

"You and your Autobots…have my permission to leave the base," she said then hesitated before adding, "whenever you want." I glanced at Ironhide who seemed to perk up. Ratchet stared at me, completely dumbfounded. None of us really saw that coming. I was about to say something but Mearing continued on. "However, I would prefer if you and your Autobots would leave in small groups rather than all at once. And, I know you mechs know better, but please don't make it so obvious that you're gone. I don't want to get into trouble either."

"Of course. And thank you," I said, feeling a wave of relief wash through me. I gave Mearing a little smile and she, to my pleasant surprise, smiled back.

"Now, if you three will excuse me. I must speak to the Wreckers," she said and walked off.

A huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I knew that this would be good for my Autobots. A little freedom is always good. I couldn't help but smirk at the two older mech's beside me. Their bewildered expressions were quite satisfying.

"Let's go then" I stated mildly and stepped onto the lift. Ironhide grumbled incoherently as Ratchet rolled his optics and stepped onto the platform as well. We all headed up to the top bunker, excited to leave the base without having to sneak out or worring about getting into a predicament. For a moment, I reached through the bond and touched Clare.

"We are coming."