Carly heaved her window open, fumbled with the screen, shoved it up too, and leaned out. "Bumblebee?" she whispered, swaying forward slightly, her palms braced on the sill. "What are you doing here! It's nearly midnight!"
Bumblebee frowned, the smile he'd been directing up at her dissolving into concern. "Did I wake you? I didn't mean to."
"No," Carly said, and felt her mouth melt into a smile. "I couldn't sleep."
"I drove up from D.C.," Bumblebee said. "You sounded so sad when you called me."
Carly shook her head and swung herself out of the window, trusting Bumblebee to catch her. He did, as she'd known he would, smooth and controlled and responsive as he always was. She sat in the crook of his arm and smiled at him, surprised by the prickling at her eyes. "How'd you get to D.C.? You were at the ship!"
"Prime had a meeting," Bumblebee told her proudly, "so I asked Skyfire if I could come too, and he said yes."
She laughed. "You're something else, Bumblebee, you know that?"
He smiled at her. "Would you like to go for a drive?"
"With a cute bot like you? Sure thing, 'Bee. I'd love to."
Light slid over Bumblebee's skin in harsh, high voltage patches, gleaming like water in the dark. Carly curled in his driver's seat, her knees tucked up against the gearbox in a posture that wasn't entirely comfortable but did have the advantage of maximizing the amount of her body that was in contact with his, her cheek pressed against his seat. "Sorry if I scared you," she said.
"Only a little," Bumblebee said. "Worried, sure. I don't think I've heard you upset like that before."
"It was so stupid," Carly said. "Really stupid. I don't know what to do about it."
Bumblebee didn't say anything.
Carly took a deep breath, felt it catch and tremble against her ribcage, less from trepidation than from shame. "A professor said - I can't repeat what he said, I don't even know if I remember the half of it. He said some very ugly things about women and people with disabilities and the ERA, and people laughed, and then he just went on with the lesson like it was nothing."
"I'm sorry, Carly," Bumblebee said. "Was it scary?"
"I - " Carly raised her hand, clenched it into a fist, bit the soft muscle of her index finger until it hurt. "I didn't say anything, Bumblebee. I knew I should say something, for Chip if not for me, but I just let him say those things! I let him say - and everyone laughed! They thought it was okay, and if I'd said something maybe they'd have known it wasn't, but I didn't say anything. I just sat there."
"I'm sorry, Carly," Bumblebee said, warm and low and even, without a waver in his voice.
Carly wiped her tears away with her fingertips, the pain not having kept them from welling over. "I wish I'd said something. Even if it hadn't done any good, I wouldn't be so angry with myself now."
Bumblebee sped up, and Carly let the acceleration press her back into his seat. She knew that was why he did it. It let him pull her closer without having to transform.
"He said it to hurt," Carly said, with a sudden ferocity that surprised her, shocked it with the depth it rose up from. "He said it because he knew he was talking about people in the room with him and he said it to hurt. He said it to hurt and he said it to make me quiet, and I was. He said it to shut me up and I gave him what he wanted."
"But only because he took you off guard. Next time he won't take you off guard," Bumblebee said. "I know you, Carly. That won't work a second time."
"No," Carly said, grim determination twining through her voice. "No, he won't."
"But it's right that you weren't expecting it," Bumblebee said. "Teachers aren't supposed to attack students. You were acting in good faith when you didn't expect it. That was right."
Carly sighed, and her breath ran out and out and out, until she felt as if she'd been keeping the air in her toes. "Oh, 'Bee," she said, "how do you always know just what to say to me?"
"I do?" he asked.
"You do," she said, and let her muscles go deliciously slack, all the tension that had been knotting her shoulders and making her neck ache all day smoothing away to nothing. Her right foot slipped free of its purchase and hung freely in the air. She let her weight press her closer to Bumblebee, and was surprised to find that she could be closer. She'd been holding herself back, just a little, without even knowing it.
"I'm glad," he said. "It doesn't feel that way to me! So I'm glad you think so."
"I do," said Carly. "I do."
Bumblebee kept his speed steady and smooth as Carly slid slightly down his seat, her breath evening out into the regular rhythm of sleep as her autonomic functions took over control of her diaphragm completely. Not that her breathing ever became completely regular. It retained a shifting variation from inspiration to expiration to inspiration and back again, the tiny elastic irregularities that were the defining mark of organic life.
He was careful not to jostle her. He was careful not to stop moving. Either would wake her and Carly must have been very tired indeed to fall asleep in the middle of a conversation. Carly would ignore any of her body's purely physical demands in favor of talking if she could possibly get away with it. He had watched her take twice as long as anyone else at a table to finish a meal because she was too busy keeping discussion flowing at a lively pace to eat. She was not generally a quiet being when in company.
He would keep her sleeping until morning, ease her slumber through the night, and let the sun wake her as the planet slowly turned to face it. When he thought about what she'd said to him, You always know just what to say to me, he could almost feel its energy already even in the night - thrumming and bright in the air like the future, like Carly, like the Cybertron he saw sometimes, in the space between thinking and looking, shining and whole.