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On his knees in the dirt, Barricade was dying.

Leaking fast, he fought to stabilise his gyros and failed. His cheek hit the ground, splashing in a puddle of his own spilled fluids. His extremities twitched, an involuntary dance, and still the Autobots wouldn’t leave him to die in peace.

They stood over him, smug and victorious, leeching his dignity. They were battered, but – for the most part – whole. None of them were beyond repair, save the one Megatron had torn in half. Unlike his own faction.

And they kept asking him a question, which he kept pretending not to hear. He didn’t want to answer. It would be a betrayal of everything he was, everything he’d ever fought for.

They thought they were being merciful. It was written on their faceplates, it gleamed in the battle-bright glow of their optics. They thought they were being just.

They were wrong.

“You can die here,” the Prime said, his oil-rich voice at odds with the thin breeze and the scudding, tattered clouds. “Or you can redeem yourself.” He held out his hand. It was pitted and scratched, a life of violence written in those minute imperfections. But, like his optics, it was completely empty of guile. “We Cybertronians have suffered too many losses. I offer you a new beginning. Will you join us?”

Defection or deactivation, what a choice.

To his shame, Barricade chose to live.

* * *

The brand stung. It wasn’t a physical pain – it was hardly a mark compared with the bite and scrape of war – but a psychological abrasion. An erosion of everything he had, until that moment in the suburbs of Mission City, thought that he was. His new Autobot insignia gleamed; he could still smell the paint. It was austere and discomforting, and he did everything he could to get it scuffed.

“Hey, it’s the big bad ex-con!”

A door slammed at the other end of the hangar. It was the male human, it had to be. Greasy and over-red, he glowed a little, too delicate for his own planet’s star. The stink of him was obscene, pheromones and all that organic slag. Barricade closed off his vents.

“How ya’ doin’?” The human kept his distance. No, not ‘his’, Barricade corrected himself. It kept its distance, balance shifting from foot to foot, oddly nervous considering the circumstances. Barricade realised that he’d turned to watch, and forced his optics to focus elsewhere.

A musical chirring sounded, and he flinched. Always together, the organic and his car. The damaged Autobot could hardly be considered a mech. Barricade gave him a cursory glance and reverted to alt mode. He backed into a corner, and locked his doors.

“Hey, Bumblebee,” the human said, but with a trace less confidence in its voice.

“Sam,” the damaged ‘bot responded. His vocal processors glitched, layering his words with static. “You were meant to wait for me.”

“I did wait for you!” the human said. “Not my fault you took so long.”

Instead of words, the Autobot answered with a short burst of Earth music. Like the human’s odour, it was foul.

“Awww, c’mon, Bee!” The human threw up its arms. “You know Ratchet’s keen on this, and I really did wait for you! It’s not my fault if you were too busy blowing stuff up. It’s not like he’s gonna shoot me. Didn’t you guys take away all his weapons?”

Concealed within his alt mode, Barricade’s palms itched. The organic was right; his weapons were gone, removed to be studied or stored or destroyed. He didn’t know. He’d get them back, Ironhide had told him, after his rehabilitation. He didn’t believe it.

Bumblebee shook his head and shrugged his shoulders, a gesture he’d probably learnt from his ward. Fond exasperation, Barricade’s databanks told him. His engine stuttered. Fondness, for that? It was laughable.

“So…” The human put its hands in its pockets and revealed its teeth. It was staring at Barricade again. “How’s our newest Autobot doing?”

Barricade said nothing.

The human stepped closer. “Hey, uh, no hard feelings about almost killing me that time. These guys, they say you’re gonna turn out OK. I can go with that. They, uh.” It paused, rubbing its nasal ridge. “They wanted me to come talk to you, show you how humans are really kinda cool when you get to know us.”

Although his weapons were gone, Barricade’s targeting system still worked. He locked onto the human’s chest. He’d give him ‘no hard feelings’.

“So, uh, hi. I’m Sam, you know, Ladiesman217.” The human laughed, and Bumblebee rolled his optics. Barricade remained silent.

“I just thought, maybe, we could talk, and get to know each other some.” The human advanced a few more steps. Barricade gave the command for his weapons to deploy.

Oblivious, the human continued to approach; Bumblebee stuck close behind him, his weapons charged, his stance protective.

Barricade checked his locks and backed a little further away. He couldn’t afford to be deactivated, not now, not with Megatron offline, his parts scattered or destroyed, with Starscream fled and Frenzy gone and… and… No, he couldn’t think about it. He wouldn’t think about it. He was only alive because he was too scared to die. His faction was gone, his cause obsolete. He was with the Autobots now, and he had to live with it.

But that didn’t mean he had to accept the human’s proximity.

“I think we’d get on really well,” the human said. “If you’d just give it a go. You can talk to me. C’mon, what do you say?” It stretched its lips wider, and laid a hand on Barricade’s hood.

Crawling with disgust, Barricade activated his forced recharge sequence and switched on his alarm.

* * *

“What’s he trying to do?” Sam clasped his hands to his ears, yelling over the wail of the siren. “Bust my ear drums? Actually, Bee, this is really painful! I think my ears are bleeding!”

Bee huffed a sigh, and scooped Sam up. Barricade’s reaction – like Sam’s over-reaction – was hardly a surprise. He carried his charge out of the hangar; the alarm faded, but didn’t stop.

“Damnit, Bee,” Sam said. “What happened in there? All I did was say hi and try to be nice! Which is far more than any Decepticon ever did for me!”

“I know, Sam,” Bee replied. “But he’s not a Decepticon any more, and we-” He fell silent, his vocal processors choosing just that moment to fail, but Sam continued for him.

“Yeah, I know, I know. We have to make allowances.” Sam rubbed his ears. “I just wish he’d make allowances for us.”