Mommy left behind one of her t-shirts, and Mikaela uses it to sleep in.
Daddy doesn't mind, or maybe he doesn't know it's Mommy's. He's sad about Mommy most of the time, Mikaela knows. Mikaela feels sorry for that. Daddy says it wasn't, but Mikaela's sure that she did something bad. Like when she cried because Mommy wouldn't get her the teddy-bear that one day, or that she got fingerprints all over the windows. If Mommy ever calls on the telephone, Mikaela will tell her she's sorry and she'll never do it again, so Mommy can come home now and everything will be perfect.
But Mommy doesn't call.
Daddy lets Mikaela have hot dogs and Kraft Dinner and ice-cream and lets her stay up late to watch cartoons and movies that Mommy used to say were too scary or too grown up. But after a few days hot dogs and Kraft Dinner aren't so nice anymore, and Mikaela feels tired all the time. That's when Daddy's friend Barry comes over and says, "Jesus, Cal, do you have anything in this house that's green? Mi-mi's a growing kid, you have to, like, give her nutritious shit. Jesus. I'm gonna call my ex, she'll talk to you about it."
Mommy didn't like it when people swore, and Mommy always called her Mi-mi. Eventually, Mikaela gets used to people swearing a lot, and convinces Barry not to call her Mi-mi anymore. She's Mikaela. It's more grown-up anyway, and she's going to be grown up and help Daddy and learn to make her own food.
She doesn't like Barry's ex, who doesn't wear any makeup and has short hair and whose voice is raspy. Mikaela has to ask Daddy what "ex" means - the first time Barry says it, all Mikaela can see is a giant talking X, like in Sesame Street, and she doesn't think that's right. Daddy tells her it means "used-to-be". So Barry's used-to-be-girlfriend, who has their kids, is his "ex-girlfriend."
Mikaela asks, "Does that mean Mommy's my ex-mommy?" and Daddy goes all awkward for a moment.
Then he says, "It doesn't work that way for mommies and daddies, just for boyfriends and girlfriends and people who are married."
Mikaela frowns. She says, "So Mommy is your ex-wife?" She didn't know people could stop being married to each other. It seems unsettling.
"Yeah," Daddy says, with a sigh. "I guess she is."
He looks so sad that Mikaela gets up on her knees on his lap to kiss him on the cheek, and then he tells her to go brush her teeth. She does that and even rinses out the sink, before she changes into Mommy's old t-shirt and curls up in bed.
It used to smell like Mommy, just after Mommy left and Mikaela started wearing it. It doesn't really anymore. Mostly now it doesn't smell like anything, and Daddy says when things don't smell like anything it's because they smell like you. It's so big on her it's like a dress; she wears it every night. It starts out black, but after a while it's more grey. Then it gets holes in it.
Just before she starts grade one, she's looking through the laundry from the laundromat and can't find her sleep-shirt. When she asks her dad, and he's out in the garage working on an engine, he says, "It was fulla holes, princess, I threw it out. I gotcha some new stuff from the Wal-Mart though, real pretty with flowers on it, go look in the bag. Way better, right?"
After a second, Mikaela makes sure to smile and says, "Yes, Daddy," before she goes to look.
The officer glued to her elbow isn't too much of a dick. I got grandkids your age, he'd said. I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but you've done the right thing.
Mikaela didn't bother arguing with him. It's not that it's the right thing, because she's not even sure where right and wrong are anymore, or if they matter. It's that it's the only thing. It's that she looked into the future and looked at the now, and she figured out, knows, that this is it. That's why she's here. That's why she walked into the cop-shop and told them her name, and told them her dad's name, and told them what her dad does. Did.
And oh, God, her daddy's going to be going away for so, so long.
They had to wait till some lady from Children's Protective Services to come before they could talk to her very much. She had to repeat everything, because her testimony without an advocate present wasn't valid, and it isn't like they can call her mom or something. She doesn't even know where her mom is. Her dad had challenged her parental rights ages ago, when it looked like he and Wendy might get married before Wendy ran off with Larry instead. Mikaela doesn't even know if her mom's alive, and she doesn't have other family.
"I'm going into foster-care, right," she'd said to the CPS lady, who'd tried to smile kindly.
"Yes," she'd said. "But it's not as bad as you think."
Mikaela'd shrugged. It doesn't really matter, anyway. She can take care of herself. Right now, she's just waiting for it all to be over, except there's something that has to happen first. Which is why she's sitting here on a bench, with her officer at one arm and the CPS lady at the other.
They all keep looking at her, the people here. When she notices, she glares back. She hates the way they make her feel, like she's an animal in the zoo. She tucks her hair behind her ears again, little tendrils of it getting caught in her earrings. She makes herself sit up. They can just keep their judging shit to themselves. They don't know. They can't know.
When they bring in her dad, he's still cuffed. He's scowling and tense and Mikaela feels herself flinch a little bit. But she gets up and shakes the lady's hand off so she's standing right in front of her dad as one of the officers with him opens the door and her dad steps through.
"Mikaela," her dad says and the way he says her name hurts. She's pretty sure she was supposed to wait, and they were supposed to talk in one of the little closed interview rooms. But she can't. She just can't, she wants to run away right now and never stop. Instead she raises her chin.
"Hi, Daddy," she says. Her voice sounds small and shaky.
His hands are cuffed, so he can't hug her, and she doesn't come any closer. She bites the inside of her mouth. Her dad looks like he forgot how to talk.
Eventually, he just says, "Mikaela," again and then his mouth shapes words he doesn't say until he says, "Why?"
Mikaela feels her eyes start to fill up, watches him go blurry. In her head, she says, because you were going to get killed, because you were going to make us run away and hide and I can't do that, because people like Eric Topas are dangerous, because - "Because you wouldn't stop," she says. She takes a deep breath, except it's really a sob. "Even though I asked."
"Come this way, please," says someone, because they're still in the middle of the hall. Mikaela backs away and then she has to run to the bathroom before she starts crying for real. She's not going to do that in front of the cops. She'd rather die.
The CPS lady follows her and sits down with her on the floor of the horrible bathrooms and holds Mikaela while she sobs.
The lights flicker past as the car drives. And Mikaela can't believe she just thought that. Cars don't drive: people drive cars. Except, apparently, when the car is actually a super-advanced robot from outer space.
She's having trouble believing that, and she knows that's stupid. She knows she just saw it fight with the other giant robot from outer space. The one that was trying to kill Sam and, because she was there, her. And not only that, she killed the other little robot from space with a saw. Well, probably killed it. Cut it up and stopped it from attacking Sam for sure, anyway.
Part of Mikaela's kinda proud of that. That she didn't scream and run. That she went for a weapon and used it and maybe saved both of their lives, because it's not like the bad robots were going to let her just go "oops, sorry, didn't mean to be here, I'll just get out of the way" and go home or anything. Not when she's seen them.
And now she's in a crap-ass old Camaro that's driving itself, leaning over the seat with her head right next to Sam's so she can see the road.
Fifty years from now when you're looking back at your life, Sam had asked, don't you want to be able to say you had the guts to get in the car? And yeah, it had been a challenge. And yeah, she'd risen to it, but that's not all of it. Not all of why she's here in this driving-itself-car that's actually an alien robot. She's not even really sure why, except that when Sam had asked her that, he'd had this little half-smile in his face, like a kid on Christmas, and she maybe felt the same.
Under the terror and the confusion and the part of her that's totally sure that this is a dream or somebody's big fucking joke or something, maybe she feels that way, too.
"This car's a pretty good driver," she says out loud, to break the silence full of things she doesn't understand that are all going on inside her head and making her more confused than she's ever been. Sam nods and makes a soft yeah of agreement before he looks at her.
"Why don't you go sit in that seat there?" he asks, nodding towards it, looking awkward like he has every time they've been in the same place and haven't been under attack from giant robots so far. And Mikaela shakes her head because that's totally wrong.
"I'm not going to sit in that seat, he's driving," she says. She hears herself say it, and then she thinks, if he points out what a stupid thing that is to say I'm going to make this car stop right now and go home and fuck all this. Which is totally an overreaction, and she can't figure out why, or why she feels all raw and touchy and like something opened up her head and her ribs at the same time.
Sam doesn't say anything about it being stupid. He just looks awkward again and says, "You're right," like he's thinking about something really hard. Then he takes a deep breath and says all at once, "Well then maybe you should sit in my lap."
It's not like she didn't see that coming. Because it always happens. Boys are predictable as hell. "Why?" she says, maybe more hostile than she normally would, because all the boys do it and he's no worse than most, but there's that raw and that open feeling and she's not sure she likes it.
"Well," he stammers, "I have the only seatbelt here. Safety first."
For a second, Mikaela doesn't answer. Because that's kind of pathetic, but it's also kind of cute, and it's not the worst pick-up line she's heard. And, well, it is his car.
"Yeah, right," she says. But she starts climbing over the seat.
It's not that they fight. They don't. It'd be easier if they fought, but it seems like fighting was for Back Then, back in high-school and college and trying not to get killed by alien robots. Now they don't fight, because the minute Mikaela so much as raises her voice Sam is all about trying to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants it, and that doesn't even drive her crazy. There's not even anything wrong. She thinks they could keep going like this forever and Sam would probably never even know the difference.
Which is the problem, because Mikaela's starting to realize that she's using him.
Not for money. If she'd been doing that, she'd've realized it ages ago and probably thrown herself in the river or something dramatic like that. A lot of women used to date her dad like that because he had all the alertness of a stoned puppy-dog and when you're stealing expensive cars you're usually flashing a lot of cash around. Mikaela knows what that looks like and she has done everything, everything to make sure that doesn't happen, including finding ways to give Sam's mom back presents that are worth at least approximately as much as the presents Sam's mom gives Mikaela.
It's not that at all, but she's using him all the same, and it makes her kind of sick.
It's complicated. Because everything she's using him for is all in his head. Well, almost everything. Everything and then the Autobots; everything and then Bee, and Ironhide, and Ratchet, and Arcee, and Optimus, and everybody. The Autobots and -
The Autobots and a mom and dad who are actually grownups and notice changes and things she does and care how she's been. The Autobots and a boy who says sweet things to her and buys her presents and is stable and normal (well, a kind of normal, a kind of normal that means "not involved with criminals either on purpose or by coincidence) and tries to make her happy. The Autobots, and feeling like she matters to someone, somewhere - and that that person matters, is worth it.
But that's all it is, and that . . .isn't okay, and she's kind of disgusted with herself.
She's even more disgusted because she knows the only right thing to do is break up and the thought makes her want to cry, because she doesn't want to give any of that up. Not the grownup mom and dad, not mattering, not having someone care enough to do things for her, and not the Autobots. She's disgusted, because there's a little weasely part of her that's going it doesn't really matter, does it? Sam'll never know, and he's happy, and you can pretend -
In the bathroom of the apartment they're sharing, Mikaela splashes water on her face and meets her own eyes in the mirror. "It matters," she tells her reflection. "Shut the fuck up."
"Did you say something, beautiful?" Sam calls from the living-room, and Mikaela sighs as she wipes her face with the hand-towel.
This is going to fucking suck.
It would benefit us all if you remained, Optimus said, and Mikaela almost burst into tears right there and then.
Actually, not really. She doesn't really cry in front of people anymore, not since she was little, and that was true then, too. But by the time she says, Okay and maybe believes that Optimus is serious (as if he's ever been anything else in his life, she reminds herself, this is Optimus Prime we're talking about - ), that he actually means it . . .by that point, okay, her eyes are a little damp and she pretends she needs a pit-stop to hit the Ladies and make sure her mascara and eyeliner are still okay. That nobody else can tell that she almost sniffled like a baby.
Optimus probably knows, because of all that stupid stuff that lets them monitor body-heat and shit, but that's . . .different.
One of Arcee's bodies is waiting outside when Mikaela comes out - just one, because three would, well, not really fit in the corridor. Even just one is a stretch, and Arcee's folded down and bent up as much as she can as she rolls along beside Mikaela.
And man is she smug. "Don't even say it," Mikaela says, and hears the quick soft-fuzzy static and twitter that means Arcee is laughing at her.
"I told you - " Arcee starts and Mikaela turns to give her a mock glare.
"I thought I said don't say it, okay?" she snaps, mostly teasing. Arcee looks innocent, which is a weird look on a robot, and as they hit the main doors to the Autobots' hangar, Arcee also holds up her hands in a totally exaggerated human-gesture of backing off. Mikaela rolls her eyes; Arcee's other selves roll around them in a quick, thoughtless pattern as she settles back into her whole self.
Mikaela catches herself starting to fold her arms, like she's hugging herself. Like she's afraid. She makes her arms go down instead as everyone else seems to notice she's here.
Bumblebee makes a happy burst of static and tries to get up from where Ratchet's working on him, making Ratchet haul him back down and gripe, "If you won't hold still, how do you expect me to do anything?" Then the medic nods at Mikaela and says, "Mikaela. It's good to see you."
"Yeah," Mikaela says. Suddenly she feels giddy, like a five-year-old at a birthday party. She tries not to grin like one. "You too. Apparently you could use an assistant who can tell their ass from their elbow." She tries to say it casually; she hears Ironhide's deep, almost-human chuckle from behind her. He's bending down as she turns.
"Yes," he says. "We could. Or at least one who doesn't start harping about human physicists every time we ask it to do something it doesn't understand that."
"I guess I have the advantage of not understanding any of it," Mikaela says, wryly.
"Less bad teaching to undo," Ironhide says firmly. "We already know how quickly you can learn."
Mikaela feels herself smiling. Like it's something her body and mind are doing without her. "Sure," she says. "Whatever you say."
"What the hell did you even do?" Mikaela demands, almost at the top of her lungs, surveying the damage Sideswipe has done himself. Again. If you were a normal human, one who didn't know what she was looking for, you might miss it. His own systems have kicked in to stabilize at least some of it. But Mikaela does know what she's looking for, and at, and she can see all the severed connections, the charred metal, the warped bits.
Sideswipe mutters, "I didn't expect them to have that kind of weapon on the ground - " as he obeys Ratchet's imperious gesture to sit the fuck down and power down a bunch of his protections. Mikaela cuts him off.
"Oh right." She kicks his totally uninjured foot as she passes, looking for her gloves. "Well newsflash, you metal-plated moron: humans adapt! And learn! It's amazing! Christ I swear sometimes the twins have more sense than you."
At that, Sideswipe looks seriously indignant, but Mikaela doesn't take it back. Ratchet shoots her an amused glance, and with a suppressed sigh Mikaela pulls herself up onto what on a human would be a hip, and gets ready to help out where Ratchet tells her to - this is all going to be delicate work. She'd been looking forward to working on the new explosives with Que and Ironhide, but this kind of stuff really does go faster if Ratchet has the help of hands a better size to reach around inside complex metal and connectors.
"Alright, mission debrief when everyone's stopped bleeding," comes Lennox's voice, shouted from one of the catwalks rather than said over the intercom. He sounds annoyed instead of grim, which means probably nobody got killed, he just wants to bang heads together for a while.
Personally, Mikaela thinks he's just sulking because being a Lt Colonel means he doesn't get to go on half the missions he used to, and when he does he doesn't get to be the crazy-ass daredevil. Promotion, apparently, kind of sucks.
"We won anyway," Sideswipe mutters with a low rumble underneath that's basically the equivalent of saying for fuck's sake in Cybertronian.
"You know what?" Mikaela demands, as Ratchet indicates the first place he wants her to hold things together, one of his tiny, fragile-looking tools in hand. "When you come back from five missions in a row without anything more than a scorch-mark, then you get to bitch about us bitching at you."
Mirage, now leaning over to see how things are going, snickers softly to himself in static and trills. "Never happen," he says. Sideswipe looks up at him and growls.
While she holds two severed edges together, Mikaela tosses her head to get her hair out of her eyes and looks up. Optimus is talking with Lennox, Optimus standing straight and Lennox on the catwalk. Lennox has his tablet, which means it's either the General or one of the civillian liaisons; after she squints and sees the set, blank expression on Lennox's face, she's ready to bet it's the latter.
Oh well. Not her problem.
She grins to herself, a little. Not that any of the civillian liaison's've liked her either, but that, too, isn't her problem. She's where she belongs; they can suck on it.
Mikaela blows a strand of hair out of her face again and lets go, repair finished, moving so Ratchet can see better.