Five days after the Battle of Mission City, the final trimester of Tranquility High School began. Sam stood in front of the mirror, completely annoyed with himself. "You'd think," he grumbled at the reflection, "that after Autobots, Decepticons, and Sector Seven, I'd be able to handle this." But no, he woke up this morning with a cold, hard knot in his stomach. The last time he was in that school building was the day he bought Bumblebee. Everything had changed since then – and nothing at all. The bruises were fading and the official excuse for the stitches on his forehead was that he had wrecked that piece of crap Camaro his dad bought him. So here he was, once again, walking to school. He, Samuel James Witwicky – survivor of the Droid Deathmatch, personal friend of Optimus Prime, and killer of Megatron – was still, after all was said and done, a dork.
Sam was in such a bad mood that he almost didn't answer it when the phone rang. Almost. "Witwicky's."
"Mikaela!" he squeaked.
Despite discovering an alien race and saving the world together, this was the first time they'd talked on the phone.
Day 1 after Mission City was when they finally got to see Sam's parents again and they all spent the day with military doctors and some of Will Lennox's superiors telling them what happened. Day 2 was spent with more government types, repeating again what had happened. Sometimes he and Mikaela were in the same room and sometimes not, but it wasn't like they could really do anything or say much when everything was being recorded. Day 3 was spent with the lawyers. Sam refused to sign anything until Mikaela's juvie record was cleared up, and that was the first time she held his hand. He couldn't think straight for an hour after that. But because he wouldn't budge on Mikaela's criminal record coming before the Non-Disclosure Agreements, half of day 4 was spent with the lawyers, too. They'd only gotten home yesterday afternoon, and at this point, he still didn't know what to say to Mikaela.
"Still there?" she asked.
"Sorry. Yeah…um…just…buttering some toast. What's up?"
"Well, I was just wondering…with 'Bee still getting repaired…could you use a lift to school?"
Sam gulped air a couple of times. Manly pride told him to say no. He told manly pride where to shove it. "Yeah, that would great, actually. Just until, you know, 'Bee is back on his feet."
"K. See you in twenty."
When she got there, Mikaela seemed almost as awkward as Sam. She'd driven her mo-ped (which was still banged up after the whole thing with Barricade) and apologetically, she offered him his choice of helmets: one that matched the baby-blue mo-ped and the other a black one detailed around the edges with little red hearts. "Sorry. This is all I've got."
"No, that's totally cool," Sam lied. "I'll wear the black one." As he swung up behind Mikaela on the bike, he consoled himself that at least it was better than walking to school alone, but only because it was Mikaela in the driver's seat. He was also grateful that between the sound-muffling helmets and the noisy motor, he didn't have to come up with small talk. Holding on to her with his arms around her waist was enough to completely scramble his ability to speak.
Unbelievably, it was even more awkward when they got to school. For one thing, they already had most of their classes together. Sam had never felt more like a stalker in his life, and he'd been timidly stalking her for a long time. For another, the one thing that did bind them together was the one thing they couldn't talk about in public.
As they walked side-by-side to first period Pre-Calculus, Sam said, "So. Um…about this weekend."
Mikaela was falsely bright. "Yeah?"
"Thanks for, you know, getting in the car with me."
Her expression softened a little. "I already told you I'm glad I did."
"Yeah, I know. But I just wanted you to know that I'm glad you did, too."
Her smile turned almost shy, and they walked the rest of the way in silence. Just outside their classroom, Mikaela paused and glanced up at him, her eyes sparkling. "You know, I kinda like hanging out with the nice guy for a change."
Sam didn't know how to take that, but Mikaela was already crossing the threshold into class. She sat in the same place she had last trimester and patted the seat next to her in invitation.
It was the place where Trent de Marco sat. Sam hesitated and she cocked a doubting eyebrow at him. With that look, he could almost read her mind. After Megatron, you're going to let Trent scare you off?
Stiffening his spine, Sam marched into the room and sat beside Mikaela. Leaning closer to her, he whispered, "The difference between then and now is I'm not allowed to fight back."
"You fought everybody, including those...monsters and Simmons and the lawyers. You've got nerves of steel."
Trent walked into the room then, and Sam thought, Nerves of Steel verses Biceps of Steel – that only means I won't flinch while he beats me up. I am soooo dead.
Sure enough, Trent did a double-take when he saw Sam in his spot and leaning close to Mikaela, but uncertainty wasn't part of his vocabulary. He strutted up the aisle to loom over the pair. "That's my chair," he growled at Sam, "and my girl."
It was Mikaela who defiantly answered, though. "Really? I don't see your name on either one." Deliberately ignoring him, she looked back at Sam. "Thanks so much for offering to tutor me this trimester. It's refreshing to spend some time with someone who has more brains than brawn – and who knows how to show a girl some respect."
To the room at large, the teacher said, "Everybody take your seats," and Trent stomped off to another desk.
Sam and Mikaela got the occasional curious glance, but for the most part, they flew under the radar during first period. Homework was assigned, class was dismissed, and on his way to the front of the room, Trent 'accidentally' tripped over a desk and shoved it into Sam's leg. Sam grunted in pain and Trent continued past with a flippant, "Sorry."
"Are you okay?" Mikaela asked, steadying Sam.
"Yep," he said through clenched teeth. "Nerves of steel, remember? Didn't feel a thing."
She half-smiled and shook her head. "Come on."
Second period was Language Arts, and Trent was already in his seat from last trimester when Sam limped in with Mikaela. "Sit where you used to," she murmured.
Resigned, Sam plopped down in his desk next to Miles near the front of the room. Mikaela, however, critically looked over her seating choices before taking the spot just to Sam's right. It left a skater girl with a nose ring without her usual place, and eventually she went to the only other empty spot – next to Trent. The jock scooted his chair as far away from her as possible.
Seeing Mikaela's sly smile at this turn of events, Sam leaned closer. "You're evil, you know that?"
Eyes sparkling, she answered, "Criminal."
Miles was tossing disbelieving looks at them, but again, school life continued as normal, and with sitting in the front of the room, Miles, Sam and Mikaela made it out into the hallway ahead of Trent.
Third period was the only class Sam didn't have with Mikaela: Honors Art. Instead he took Applied Electronics with his best friend because, as Miles put it, "Dude, we get to build speakers!"
"What's up with the evil jock concubine?" Miles demanded once Mikaela was out of earshot.
Sam shrugged, not entirely sure about the answer himself. "We hung out over the break. I guess...I dunno. She wanted me to tutor her."
"In what? How to get a personality?"
"She has a gorgeous personality," Sam shot back.
"She has a gorgeous a–"
"Everything," Sam interrupted his friend mid-word.
Miles looked at him owlishly. "Everything?"
Sam huffed and rolled his eyes. This close! He was this close to telling Miles that Mikaela had guts and integrity and courage and street-smarts besides the drool-worthy body and her willingness to show it off. Instead, he said, "She's a grease monkey."
"Yeah. Bum..my car broke down and she fixed it." Okay, it was an exaggeration, but she would have fixed 'Bee if he'd actually been broken instead of just trying to play matchmaker. "There's a lot more to here than meets the eye."
Miles looked torn between laughing at him and asking how much more. Finally, he settled for a semi-intelligent, "Huh."
"But don't let word get around. She...it doesn't quite fit with her image." Idly, Sam wondered if she'd be less shy about her skills now that she didn't have to add 'juvie' to any explanation.
"You're worried about her image?" Miles demanded as they walked into the workshop.
"Well...yeah. I mean...why not?"
"What's so hard about a 'high-end slut' image?"
Sam whirled on his friend, fury and a glint Miles had never seen before flashing in his eyes. "Don't you evercall her a slut! Got it?"
Miles leaned away a little but gave him a look somewhere between pity and disgust. "Dude...you are so screwed."
"Mr. Witwicky," their teacher said, calling roll.
Sam was always the last to be called, so Miles had to rush to get in the last word. "Your her rebound boy toy. Totally."
"Keeping telling yourself that."
"We're friends." Kind of? Maybe? What doyou call the girl who you saved the world with?
Fourth period was Biology and it took awkward to a whole new level. Last trimester, Mikaela had sat with three other girls from her clique. Sam knew them because they orbited Mikaela and he knew practically everything about her. Lenore was the bottle-blonde who helped them with their science homework, Alison was a quiet girl Mikaela knew from the art classes they had shared for the last three years, and Olivia was the school's star soprano.
The three of them were happily gossiping at their lab tables, Lenore and Olivia at one table and Alison at the one in front of them. Clearly, Alison was saving a spot for her friend. Mikaela took a deep, steadying breath as she and Sam paused by the doorway.
"You don't have to," he whispered.
She smiled up at him. "You didn't have to offer me a ride, either time."
Sam had to think for a second to realize what she meant – the first time was when he gave her a ride home from the lake and the second time was when he'd talked her into climbing into Bumblebee's cab after they knew what he really was.
Shocking Sam, Mikaela took his hand and pulled him toward her friends.
"Hey," Mikaela greeted them. "You all know Sam Witwicky, right?"
"No," Olivia bluntly answered, looking him up and down. Clearly she was not impressed.
"I remember you," Alison said, tilting her head like Sam was a puzzle she was trying to figure out. "Mr. Harrison assigned me to help you with the ceramics unit in seventh grade, right?"
"That's right!" Sam eagerly seized this flicker of connection.
"Ohhh. You're him?" Lenore said disdainfully.
"Yeah, well, that was a long time ago," Mikaela said a little too quickly. She took her seat at the empty table in front of Alison, leaving her friend without a lab partner, and pointed Sam to the seat beside her. He hurried around the table to the other side, grateful for some kind of direction in this insanely confusing day. Mikaela then turned around and asked Alison what she was planning for her trimester project in Art, more or less ignoring Sam until the teacher called the class to order.
Well, he thought, at least she said my name right.
Only a few minutes into the class, he stole a glance at Mikaela. Her own gaze darted toward him and he looked away, embarrassed. A few minutes later, the teacher turned to write something on the board, and Mikaela nudged Sam. He looked at her and she mouthed word, "Sorry."
Sam shook his head 'no' in answer. "Don't be."
She gave him the kind of smile he'd only dreamed of seeing from her - happy, affectionate, grateful - the look of a girl who wantedto be kissed.
The teacher turned around and Mikaela looked to the front of the room again, but Sam was practically glowing for the rest of the hour.
Lunch was after fourth period, and Sam filled his tray in silence. Mikaela was behind him, chatting up a storm with her friends. They'd been joined by two other girls - Jenny, who had a tattoo and threw discus and shot-put for the track team, and Maria Susana, who was a cheerleader and probably the worst gossip in the entire school.
"So...where do you normally sit?" Mikaela asked Sam when he'd paused at the end of the lunch counter.
"Um...well, normally..." he nodded to where Miles sat at a table of his own, reading a comic.
She started heading his direction, but Jenny protested, "Where are you going?"
"Look," she said, wheeling on her friends. "I'm not sitting with Trent! You can sit with him if you want, but I'm not sharing a table with that jerk." Turning, she stomped off toward Miles. Sam followed her thinking that, even stomping, she swaggered.
"OMG!" Maria wailed, hurrying with the rest of the girls to catch up with Mikaela. They descended on the boys' table, and Miles jumped at the sudden invasion of estrogen.
"What happened?" Maria continued.
"Are you okay?" Lenore demanded.
"We'll rough him up for you," Jenny growled.
Mikaela rolled her eyes, and Sam was inclined to agree with her. She bullied Simmons into stripping and cut off Frenzy's head, not to mention driving into battle with 'Bee; Trent was small beans by comparison. Besides, she'd already proved she could handle him. "I'm fine, no need to rough him up, and we've broken up. That's all."
"But you two were so cute together," Olivia said. "What made you break up?"
Mikaela sighed. "He wouldn't let me drive that monster SUV of his."
Maria's brow puckered in confusion. "That's it?"
"He didn't trust me," Mikaela explained. "And he called me his little bunny and told me to hop in the back seat."
"He probably meant it as a joke," Lenore pointed out. "Bunny...hop."
"But...but this is Trent de Marco," Olivia protested. "I mean, a guy that hot deserves a second chance."
Miles shot Sam a look of complete disbelief at that one, and Sam rolled his eyes in return. It was logic like that that made Miles hate girls like Mikaela and her clique.
Mikaela shot a glare at Olivia. "No."
Maria started to talk and Mikaela cut her off. "I have better things to do than hang on some guy's arm like a trophy."
"Since when?" Jenny asked at the same time Lenore said, "Like what?"
Mikaela ignored the first question. "Like actually passing American History. I bombed the final project last trimester, but luckily, Sam here is going to help me out."
For the first time, Jenny turned her attention to Sam. "You?"
"Yes, him," Mikaela retorted, actually managing a smile for the first time since entering the lunchroom. Giving him a knowing look, she added, "He got an A on his genealogy project. He knows a tonabout history - the kind of stuff that's actually useful in the real world. "
Mikaela's clique - all five girls - gave him a blank look of confusion.
To Sam's left, his friend finally recovered a little. "Um, yeah. I'm Miles. Great to meet you all. Really fun convo and everything, but...this is mytable?"
"Mikaela didn't want to sit with Trent," Lenore said to him, suddenly turning pink in embarrassment. "We didn't think you'd mind."
Miles gave Sam an incredulous look, and Sam cringed, hoping he'd keep his opinions about 'evil jock concubines' to himself.
"You like Naruto?" Alison suddenly said to Miles. (Sam had almost forgotten she was part of the flock.) She glanced at the comic Miles still held protectively - though Sam wasn't sure if it was to protect the book or so that Miles could use the comic to bat away the crazy chicks who had invaded his manly space.
"Yeah?" he defensively said.
"I always thought that Sasuke's a son of a bitch, and I hate that he came between Ino and Sakura."
"...uh..." Miles stuttered, looking at Alison like she'd just grown a second head.
Now she was was the center of attention and she physically shrunk down a little. "What? It's an art form!"
"It's cartoons," Maria snorted in derision.
"It's manga," Miles corrected, "and she's right. The drawings are cool."
Mikaela chuckled, and Lenore rolled her eyes, grinning at her friend. "Alison, you're such a geek and we love ya for it."
That seemed to break the tension a bit and the topic of conversation drifted off into some teen soap opera, although Miles and Alison were on the other end of the table talking about comics.
Sam started wolfing down his food, but he couldn't help but be amazed at how much better today turned out than he expected. Mikaela had been determined to stay with him, or keep him with her, and it looked like she might even be able to make it work. Of course, he wasn't entirely sure what 'it' was. It was way too soon to talk about boyfriend and girlfriend. Friends would be a good start, though come to think of it, she hadn't called him her friend even - just her tutor. But hey, at least she was talking to him. A week ago, just her saying hi and sitting beside him would be enough to have him walking on air. What did he expect, that everything would change overnight? That things could change this much this soon just wowwed him, even if they were only in a committed, long-term academic relationship.
Plus there was the fact that he was riding to school with Mikaela – pressed up against her and holding her. Even better, it had been her idea, not his. Granted, it was holding onto her while she drove, but the point was full-body contact with Mikaela – at her invitation! Grinning around his mouthful of food, he decided he could definitely live with this new arrangement.