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The Breakup

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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."

"Sam?"

"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."

"What?"

"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."

"What?"

"Mr. Witwicky," their teacher said, calling roll.

"Here."

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."

"Am not!"

"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."

"No."

"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."

"Whatever."

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.

Chapter Text

Mikaela's first class after lunch was PE, which she also shared with Sam. As she walked with him toward the gym, her friend Maria Susana gabbed up a storm. Mikaela got the distinct impression that Maria didn't approve of Sam and was trying to keep Mikaela's attention on her instead.

At the doorway to the locker rooms, Mikaela said to Sam, "See ya inside."

Looking a little less shell-shocked than he had this morning, he shyly answered, "See ya."

In the changing room, Maria spun the combination on her locker. "So what was up with lunch? Is it 'adopt a geek week' or something?"

Inside, Mikaela flinched a little as she opened her own locker. Two weeks ago, she would have felt the same way if any of her girlfriends started hanging out with Sam. "Naw, we just...got a chance to know each other a little better over the break."

"Ay dios, you two didn't get it on, did you?"

"What? No!" Mikaela glared at her friend.

"Don't look at me like that, chica. You're the one who's acting like she's trying to hide a huge secret."

It unnerved Mikaela a little bit that Maria could see through her so well. "It's nothing." She fell back on the truth. "He offered me a ride home after I broke up with Trent."

"Reeeeebound," Maria sang out.

"He's a good listener," Mikaela shot back, "and actually he's pretty cool. But there's nothing going on there." Which was also true, though Mikaela suddenly realized that what Sam lacked in big biceps he made up for with sheer guts.

Maria shrugged and started changing into her gym clothes. "Yeah, you're right. Of course not. Even on your worst day, you have better taste than that."

And that made Mikaela cringe inside even more.

While they were running warm-up laps in the gym, Maria chatted away about that snob Hailey in choir and how she had dissed Olivia. Mikaela tuned her out for the most part, slowing enough that Sam and Miles would eventually lap them and they could jog together.

After Mission City, Mikaela had been amazed at how different Sam seemed. A week ago, he was so far beneath her notice that the only reason she remembered his name was because Alison had complained so much about the nerd with zero social skills or artistic talent at all and how it was so unfairthat she got stuck with him.

But then Sam got the car that changed everything. He'd offered her a ride after the whole thing with Trent and had invited her along when Bumblebee fought off Barricade. Even more importantly, when Simmons had practically laid the world at his feet, the three things Sam had asked for were Bumblebee, his parents, and the best gift he could have given her - a clean slate. And after all was said and done and the lawyers had forgotten about that, Sam didn't. He stuck to his guns when they tried to talk him into signing the Non-Disclosure Agreements first. For the first time in years - for almost half of her life - she could wake up in the morning and not have to worry about court dates and probation officers. He had given her freedom.

Then add the fact that they'd discovered the Autobots pretty much together. Thanks to him, she knew Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. Thanks to him, she'd found herself driving backwards into battle in Mission City, and she now knew just how much courage she was capable of when things got tough.

In the last week, Sam Witwicky did more for her than all of her other friends put together in their entire lives, not to mention that whole saving-the-world-and-killing-Megatron thing. And she couldn't tell a soul about it. All she could do was stick by him.

When Sam and Miles got closer, Mikaela dodged behind and around Maria so that Sam would be on the same side as her when they got close enough to pass them up. "Hi," she greeted him.

He looked surprised when she talked to him, just like he had all day. "Uh, hi."

Mikaela sped up a little bit, and Sam slowed down so they were side-by-side.

"Excuseme," Maria archly cut in, "I was in the middle of a story, here."

"Right," Mikaela hastily said. "Sorry. So Brent sided with Haley? Is he a tenor or a bass? I can't remember."

"Tenor. And he didn't just side with her..."

Maria jogged slowly enough that she wouldn't run out of breath for gossiping, and Mikaela smiled to herself that Sam slowed to keep pace with the girls. Back when he'd given her a ride home from the lake, he'd told her he wouldn't mind if she wanted to duck down so she wouldn't be seen with him, and that's pretty much how he'd acted all day. She was glad that he was finally beginning to believe that she actually did want to be with him and be seen with him.

Miles made a disgusted sound and ran on ahead.

After warm-up, their teacher announced they were starting the softball unit and divided everyone up onto teams. He went by the herd method instead of the dreaded every-other-kid means of creating teams. Eleven students were standing more or less together, so they became team A. Another group of seven became the basis for team B. "I need four more students on team A and the rest on team B."

Mikaela briefly weighed her options. Miles was now standing with a couple of guys from their electronics class on team A, along with some girls from the band. Normally, Maria would elbow her way into team B without a second thought (putting her on the same team as Trish Yardley, who was on the track team with Jenny, and Kurt McClellan, who played football with Trent). Instead she gave Mikaela a wary look. Jutting out her chin a little, Mikaela turned to Sam. "Let's go to Miles' team."

Maria groaned in annoyance but followed the pair, grumbling "You totally owe me," and "The things I do for you, chica!"

Miles looked about as happy with this arrangement as Maria, so Sam whispered, "We'd better give them a break."

"Okay, but you're riding home with me, right?"

That she would even ask left Sam a little tongue-tied. "Um...yeah?"

Mikaela flashed him that brilliant grin again and went to console her friend. "It's us against Trish now," she pointed out to Maria. "And you know she's been giving Jen a hard time about beating her in the hurdles."

Maria nodded in fierce agreement muttering, "So there is method to your madness."

Mikaela glanced over at Sam. He was talking with Miles and a half-dozen others, and it looked like they were giving him a hard time over running warm-up laps with her. She wasn't sure about any of their names beside Miles and Sam. Yeah, she had a pretty good guess, but only because she'd heard this or that story about them or had to work with them in a class a few years back. How many other friends - how much courage and kindness - had she missed by focusing in on her own little world? With her dubious background, she'd deliberately chosen friends who were likely to not get her in trouble. It had been necessary, but it wasn't anymore, thanks to Sam. She could branch out a little - another gift from him.

...

American History went pretty much like the rest of the day - right down to Trent rushing to class to make sure he could claim last trimester's desk as his own territory. Mikaela sat by Sam again, but this time the only person she could send Trent's way was a boy who played the flute in the school's orchestra. Just like the morning, Trent put as much distance between him and the flutist that he could.

Sam's locker was in a completely different hallway from Mikaela's, so after their final class, they met up at her bike and she again offered Sam the black helmet. Matter-of-factly, she declared, "We're going to need to get you a better one, if you're going to be riding with me very much."

Sam strapped the helmet on. "Well, you know, it'll just be until Bum...my car's out of the shop."

Mikaela was looking up, putting on her own helmet, and so she hoped that Sam didn't see her disappointment at that. He didn't offer to give her a ride in Bumblebee, either. Maybe he didn't want to be seen with her?

The Mikaela from two weeks ago would have angrily demanded her helmet back from him and let him walk home. The Mikaela from five days ago would have lit into him for brushing her off like that. Right here and now, though, she hesitated. She'd just assumed he'd want to...step up into her social circle. But looking back on her conversation with Maria, she began to really see her friends, and herself, from the outside looking in: shallow, gossipy, judgmental, self-centered. She'd assumed Sam wanted to be a part of that world, but now she wondered if maybe he saw it as a step down.

Coming from any other guy, she'd have been insulted and furious, but this was Sam. He wasn't just another guy but he wasn't running into battle, either. What did he want now? What did she want? What do you call the boy you saved the world with?

Finishing the strap on her helmet, she forced herself to sound casual when she asked him, "Do you know how long the repairs will take?"

He half-laughed. "Your guess is as good as mine."

Well, at least the Autobots were keeping him in the dark, too. Taking a deep breath, she straddled her bike and nodded for him to climb on. As much as she'd rather be riding with him and Bumblebee right then, she was grateful for the sound-muffling helmets that gave her time to think. Just like when they drove to school this morning, Sam held onto almost like he was afraid of breaking her.

She'd never had a relationship like this, even if she didn't count the discovering-the-Autobots or the saving-the-world parts. She went for the strong guys, the confident ones. On the surface, Sam wasn't either, but she'd gotten a glimpse of who he was underneath. He stood up to Simmons at Hoover Dam. Without being asked, he made sure her record was cleared. He'd killed Megatron - she'd seen the huge, vicious body at his feet.

But now she was starting to remember other things. After Bumblebee's legs had gotten blown off, he sat there in the street completely shell-shocked and she had been the one to rescue 'Bee. Lennox had to practically beat a backbone into him when Sam said he couldn't get the Cube to the Air Force. And, of course, there was his freaking out in his bedroom while they looked for the glasses. She'd categorized those sort of things as the "before" and "after" Sam.

She knew the Sam underneath, the Sam she saw in Mission City, but for the first time in more than a week, she wondered if the surface was more reality than disguise. Sometimes a car is just a car, she wryly thought.

Even if that was the case, the possibility that he might not like her really stung. Maybe he was having the same thoughts about the "before" and "after" Mikaela, too. Maybe she wasn't living up to the girl who got in the car after the Droid Deathmatch. She hated that he could shake her confidence in herself in ways that no other guy could - and this was just their first day of trying to be 'normal.'

At his house, Sam climbed off the bike and fumbled for a minute with the helmet before he got it off and handed it back to her. "Um...thanks. For the ride. And...you know, everything."

Fighting a grin, she said, "You know, um...you're welcome."

There was enough of the "before" Mikaela in her that she let the next question hang in the air unspoken. She didn't leave, either, just waited for him to say it and show her that he did like her and that he did want to be seen with her.

"So...um...tomorrow..."

Here it came. "Yeah?"

"Well, since Bumblebee's not fixed yet..."

"Yeah...?" Just spit it out, Sam.

He hesitated for a second and then deflated. "I guess I'll see you at school. Right?"

If he hadn't looked so completely dejected, Mikaela would have been mad at him. Was it that hard, after all she'd done to show him that she liked him, for him to give some kind of indication back? She'd offered him two rides. Couldn't he ask for one? Or offer to give her a lift in Bumblebee once he was fixed? But this was Sam, and she'd seen below the surface. Swallowing her pride, she said, "You can find a more manly helmet at any place that sells motorcycles or four-wheelers."

He perked up at that, comprehension and amazement dawning, and his expression answered her unspoken question. He liked her. Mikaela flashed a smile. "Let me know if you don't have one tomorrow, though, so I can bring the black one for you."

He opened his mouth a couple of times before finally stuttering out, "Okay. I guess..." He paused, clearly trying to wrap his brain around it all. "...I'll see you tomorrow morning."

Giggling to herself, Mikaela sped off. He wasn't confident. She was pretty sure she could beat him at arm-wrestling. He was so radically different from her usual type. He was Sam, slayer of Megatron, personal friend of Optimus Prime, and adorably, awkwardly cute. With a blink of surprise, Mikaela realized what it was she liked about him. For once she was interested in a guy who both protected her and made herfeel strong. Even though she was only seventeen, she had seen enough of the world to appreciate that was a rare thing.

Maria seemed to become the spokesperson for their clique and kept trying to pry out of Mikaela just what was so great about Sam that she'd ditch all her friends for him. If only I could tell you, Mikaela wistfully thought. Out loud, she said, "He's smart and funny. And nice. He's strong in his own way, and besides, who needs biceps when you have a muscle car?"

"You give him rides on your mo-ped," Maria pointed out.

"Well that's because his car is still in the shop."

Maria rolled her eyes. "No amount of work is going to change the fact that his car was some piece-of-crap throwback to the 60's."

Mikaela was about to chew her out until she remembered that's exactly how she'd described Bumblebee to her the morning after Sam gave her a lift and before he got his new imprint. Instead she held her tongue and finished changing into her gym clothes.

I wonder who's changed the most since that day, Mikaela wondered. Sam, me or Bumblebee.

Chapter Text

Bumblebee was pleased. The introductions between the Autobots and Sam's parents went reasonably well. Mr. and Mrs. Witwicky were even talked into riding home from the military base in his cab without too much convincing. The only real hitch was when Judy asked Sam what 'Bee 'ate' on the way home.

"Umm…" Sam stared at the dash in consternation. "I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"I don't know."

"You're bringing home a pet alien robot soldier and you don't even know what to feed it?"

Bumblebee almost choked on 'pet alien robot soldier.' The humans thought he was Sam's pet? Like Mojo? Sudden terror struck him at the mental image of being buried in 'bling.'

"Calm down, Judy," Ron soothed.

"I will not calm down! Six weeks ago and we hadn't even set eyes on this thing. None of us know what we're getting ourselves into."

"I'm sure it's just a simple…" Mikaela began.

Mrs. Witwicky spoke over her. "This is your fault, Ron."

"Myfault?"

"Yes, yours! You were the one who insisted on buying Sam a car. If you'd just thought even once about what you were doing you wouldn't have let him buy Satan's Camaro."

Bumblebee noted her rising battle-protocol indicators and commed Ratchet, transmitting his readings. /Do I need to worry about this?/

Unaware that Ratchet was analyzing her hormones as she spoke, she ranted on. "I mean, it blew the windows out of all the other cars after smashing up Herbie the Lovebug. You should have put your foot down. Even I could have seen it had violent tendencies."

/She'll live, but you should probably calm her down. Humans are wildly unpredictable when their epinephrine levels are this high./

"Mom, please!" Sam begged from the front seat.

'Bee ripped his radio to life, playing a Chevron Techron commercial.

"Umm, Mom?"

Bumblebee inwardly grinned now that Judy was staring wide-eyed at the dash. Shock probably wasn't much better for her than full-blown battle mode, but at least she was calming down and not shrieking any more.

"He can hear you, remember?"

Judy rode in blessed silence for the rest of the trip.

After they got Sam's parents safely home, Bumblebee expected him and Mikaela to go inside and help the adults talk their way through the sudden change in their lives. Instead, the teens pretty much left his parents at the door and walked back toward 'Bee. They didn't text-comm him to let him know where they were going, so he eavesdropped (not that he wouldn't anyway - humans were just so slagging interesting).

"Where should we go?" Sam asked.

"Anywhere," Mikaela smirked, "as long as I can drive."

Sam hesitated, and Bumblebee was torn, too. Tonight was the first time he'd seen Sam since the battle. Even though Captain Lennox and Optimus had continually promised Bumblebee that Sam was fine, there had been this tightness near his spark until he saw Sam climb out of Ironhide.

But Mikaela had a history with him, too. They'd seen combat together, or rather, she'd driven and he'd fought, but still. Not to mention that she'd complimented his engine. She might be human, but she was still a femme and the mech felt flattered.

"It's up to 'Bee," Sam finally said.

She stood by his driver's side door and, after another astrosecond of hesitation, 'Bee opened it under her waiting hand.

"I get to drive on our way back," Sam insisted before taking his seat, and it warmed Bumblebee's spark.

Mikaela nodded in agreement, a satisfied smile on her lips that, for some reason, made Sam smell positively nervous. She caressed the steering wheel once. "Good to have you back, Bumblebee."

The pheromones rolling off Mikaela spoke volumes and sudden hope surged through 'Bee. For once, she smelled like Sam did! 'Bee almost laughed as sudden inspiration hit. His engine roared to life, with "I Feel Good" blaring from the stereo again.

Mikaela giggled and then murmured, "You read my mind," as Bumblebee let her steer them out onto the street. If he were lucky, he just might be able to help these two get over their awkwardness.

As much as Bumblebee felt devoted to Sam, with Mikaela behind his wheel 'Bee also realized just how happy he was to be with her, too. He'd missed both his human friends. He scanned the channels until he found the perfect song: "455 Rocket" about a girl and her car (that had "the biggest block alive" - yeah, he was definitely feeling flattered).

"That went well," Mikaela said conversationally to Sam.

He burst out laughing, leaning against the head rest in relief. "Went well?"

"Nobody fainted or peed their pants or anything."

'Bee pulled up a sound byte of a woman's voice shrieking, "Freak out? Freak OUT?" And then he spliced a quote to say, "You weren't kidding, Sam."

"See?" Sam affectionately swatted the dashboard. "Aren't you glad they didn't see you that night?"

Mikaela laughed and smiled at him with warm eyes. "I guess not everyone is as cool under fire as you."

Sam gulped, but she looked back at the road. "Hey,' Bee. I don't suppose, with all your advanced alien tech, that you've got a fuzz-buster on you?"

YES!Bumbebee leaped forward in answer, throwing them hard against the back of the seat. Mikaela whooped in pleasure, her hands tight on the wheel, as they wove their way through traffic toward the interstate. 'Bee rolled his windows down, and the wind became part of the thrill for all three of them.

"Oh, come on, 'Bee!" Mikaela taunted. "You can do better than that!"

"99 Red Balloons…"

"That's more like it," Mikaela said before singing along, bobbing her head with the beat.

"…Panic Bells; it's red alert,
There's something here
From somewhere else.
The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
Focusing it on the sky
Where 99 red balloons go by..."

Bumblebee swerved and swooped through traffic with an almost fierce happiness, coming up on the interstate. The song ended as they idled at the last stoplight before the on-ramp. 'Bee let them sit in silence until the light turned green, and then he opened up the engine, roaring onto the freeway.

"Get your motor running,
Head out on the highway,
Looking for adventure
Or whatever comes our way."

They screamed along, radio blaring, the force of the wind surging through Bumblebee's wide-open air intakes and almost taking the humans' breath away. Even tied back, Mikaela's hair twisted and writhed around her in the wind.

"Like a true nature's child
We were born,
Born to be wild..."

Laughter bubbled up in 'Bee, mixed with relief and just plain old happiness. They were here. They were alive. He appreciated that fact so much more than he had six weeks ago. Just cruising with them was perfect - and he flew over the blacktop, radio singing away.

"It's my life,
I just want to live while I'm alive..."

Detecting the tell-tale radar signals of the highway patrol, Bumblebee slowed and then decided it was time to switch drivers. Just in case those radar signals had already given him away.

"Cops," Mikaela grumbled as they made their way to the interstate exit.

'Bee abruptly changed songs again in explanation to Mikaela, this time to one from the 80's that, inexplicably, made Sam smell embarrassed.

"Lady driver, let me take the wheel
Smooth operator
Touch my bumper,
Come on, let's make a deal…"

Sam choked. "Are you hitting on Mikaela?" he demanded.

That hadn't been his intent, but now that he thought about the lyrics, Bumblebee choked down a snigger.

"How do you know he wasn't hitting on you?" Mikaela shot back.

That was too much for Bumblebee and he abruptly pulled into a strip mall parking lot, tossing both his humans around, and opened his doors. He was idling hard – gleefully laughing and gasping air into his intakes.

Mikaela's gentle fingers traced the rim of the steering wheel one last time before getting out. "Good to have you back, 'Bee."

Good to be back, he thought. Unable to resist, he cranked the radio as they got out. "Your non-stop miracle, I'm your man!"

"Cocky," Mikaela giggled in answer.

Making a break for the driver's side, Sam hissed, "People are staring! Will you at least choose something from the last decade?"

Idling even harder with laughter, Bee sang out, "Don't worry, be happy, now! Oo-oo-oo…"

"Argh!"

Mikaela was laughing, too, and Sam slid into his seat and slammed the door. Taking pity on his embarrassed charge, 'Bee rolled up the windows, tinting them deeply. Once they were safely hidden, Sam cracked a little smile.

Trying to play nice, 'Bee quoted Will Smith from 'Independence Day.' "Nothing but love."

"Yeah, he said that right before he nuked the aliens," Sam grumbled back.

But he smelled happy and the Autobot revved his engine in anticipation as soon as Sam buckled his seat belt. He might allow Mikaela to drive, but Sam was still his favorite. The boy finally smiled, seeming to hear the message. "Let's roll."

They peeled out and made their way back to the interstate, racing as if Megatron himself were after them. They were going so fast that Bumblebee fishtailed as they made the turn into the on ramp, and he was loving every astrosecond.

"Life is a highway,
I want to ride it all night long
If you're going my way,
I want to drive it all night long…"

He spliced it, skipping ahead.

"There ain't no load that I can't hold
Road so rough, this I know,
I'll be there when the light comes in
Tell 'em we're survivors."

Mikaela started singing along on the chorus, and, after she nudged him, Sam started to sing, too. 'Bee rolled the windows down again, and they both started belting it out.

When 'Bee tuned the radio to "Danger Zone" from Top Gun, Mikaela yelled, "That's so cliché!"

In answer, Bumblebee suddenly switched lanes, mouthing off by tossing Mikaela around a little. And he kept on playing it.

Every biological indicator of emotion lit up on Bumblebee's sensors - both of his humans were glowing with happiness and excitement. He wasn't sure if it was his playful driving or them finally reading each other right, but 'Bee was almost ecstatic. Maybe he would finallybe able to get these two on the right track!

He passed up the exit that would take them home, getting off on the next one instead. Sam didn't protest, and 'Bee guessed that either his human was too happy to care or that Mikaela had left him oblivious to everything but her. The Autobot secretly hoped it was the latter.

They approached the lake where Bumblebee and Sam had first given Mikaela a ride home, and the scenic drive banked and switch-backed.

"I'm alive and I'm free
Who wouldn't want to be me…"

Bumblebee was having as much fun with this stretch of road as he had on the interstate. He hadn't forgotten Mikaela's comment about him reading her mind, though, and when they got to the right spot, he turned off cross-country. 'Bee drifted to a stop at the romantic overlook where he had tried to get them together by stranding them both, much more optimistic for the pair this time around.

The sun was just starting to set, not quite touching the horizon. It was warm but not hot enough to require air conditioning and Bumblebee cut the engine. For a minute or so, Sam and Mikaela just sat there, and the Camaro was frustrated that, despite the way their hormones were screaming at each other, they still couldn't figure out what to do next. Chemistry, humans called it, and here it was for anyone with a decent sensory array to smell, but his humans were oblivious.

When the silence started to get awkward, Sam said, "So."

"Yes?"

Even Bumblebee could hear the intent in the soft way she said it.

"So…" Sam repeated, clearing his throat. "Here we are again."

She nodded and abruptly got out of the car, her expression suddenly annoyed.

Bumblebee was as confused as Sam by that. Verbally and biologically, she was totally inviting him but then she walked off?

"Mikaela, wait!' Sam followed her automatically, but much to 'Bee's relief, she didn't go far. She just perched on the hood, her feet on the bumper, and stared at the ground.

When Sam sat down beside her, her expression was thoughtful. "My grandma doesn't know anything about all this. She'd filed a missing-persons report, so my cover story is I ran away, but the authorities are forgiving it this time."

"That's not fair." 'Bee could hear that Sam meant it, and he whole-sparkedly agreed.

Giving Sam a little smile, she quoted him, "No sacrifice, no victory. It's just…you're the only person I can, you know, talk to. About any of this."

Oh for Primus' sake! Surfing until he found an appropriate quote, Bumblebee's radio sang, "And you don't know how but you want to try it now. Go on and kiss the girl."

Sam snorted with laughter and Mikaela looked down, chuckling, to smack Bee's hood. "No comments from the peanut gallery."

"I don't know," Sam said as the music stopped, their laughter suddenly easing the tension. "He is an Autobot, after all. Thousands of years old. And smart, too."

Her lips twitched and she leaned closer, her hand resting on the hood as she half-twisted to face Sam. "You think we should do what he says?"

Yes! Do what I say! Finding another clip, Bumblebee played (much quieter this time), "Go on, go on, leave me breathless…"

Sam nodded, also leaning closer as stress hormones almost override the mating ones. "I think we owe it to him to trust him."

Mikaela's face was inches from Sam's. "Just this once," she agreed, closing that little space between them.

Sam closed his eyes, clearly lost in the kiss, and Bumblebee could have crowed. About slagging time!He held perfectly still so as to not distract the pair, but 'Bee's spark was dancing for joy. Mikaela pulled away a little, but Sam leaned in again for one more awestruck kiss before he pulled back himself.

"Wow," he breathed.

She smirked, sliding higher up onto the hood of the car. "You're right; he's one smart bot."

The expression "like pulling teeth" ran through Bumblebee's processors - they were still just talking! He switched the song to "Sexual Healing" and Sam leaped off the hood and furiously kicked the front tire. Repeatedly. "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! It was embarrassing enough the firsttime!"

Mikaela was dying with laughter and 'Bee finally turned to another song, again baffled at how humans communicated one thing so clearly biologically but said and did the opposite. Giving in to the boy, he changed the song to a soft jazz tune. "Come away with me..."

"Come here," Mikaela invited, leaning against the windshield, and 'Bee was glad that she, at least, got the message. Her eyes were sparkling with humor now. "Let's watch the sunset."

The clouds and sky warmed with a rosy tint in a beauty Bumblebee had never seen on any other planet. Few worlds had this amazing combination of water and clear sky; Earth was so fluidbut solid at the same time. The beauty of the sunset couldn't hold Sam's attention, though, and he kept glancing at the beautiful girl on the hood beside him.

"You know," Sam said casually, "this windshield isn't very comfortable. You can put your head on my arm if you want."

She looked at him with speculative eyes, and he added, "You know, like a pillow."

Come on , Sam! You can do better than that!

Mikaela scooted closer, resting her head on his arm. After a moment, she said, "Smooth move."

Her tone reminded 'Bee of the thing with the seat belt, back before he got his new imprint. It made Sam grin and gave the Camaro hope. Inside jokes were good - it meant there was a closeness between them. "Thanks."

Then, at the worst possible moment, Bumblebee detected his fellow Autobots approaching, and he sullenly lowered on his axles in defeat. All his hard work would be ruined now! But at least they had kissed - that was something. Figuring he'd better give his humans some warning, he pulled up the Star Trek quote again. "Message from Starfleet, captain."

"Crap," Sam said as he and Mikaela both sat up.

Optimus turned off the main road toward them, followed by Ironhide and Ratchet. "As you were," 'Bee hopefully quoted.

"Yeah right," Sam grumbled, leaning against the glass again. He let his head drop back onto the roof, smelling of frustration.

Mikaela glared at the Search and Rescue vehicle that parked itself ten yards away. "Not a word."

/What she said!/ Bumblebee growled. /These two are giving me enough grief as it is!/

"I wouldn't dream of it," Ratchet reassured them both. "Going into recharge now."

Nodding sharply with a 'damn straight' glint in her eyes, Mikaela cuddled up against Sam again.

Optimus transformed, and both of the teens looked on in awe. 'Bee remembered this was only the second time they'd seen him do that, and even for him, seeing his leader take his true form was an impressive thing. Prime's battle mask slid away from his face and he radiated concern. "Your parents are not receptive to Bumblebee's presence."

Sam shrugged. "They'll get used to him. But…what are you all doing here? I mean, is it safe to be walking around like this on a hilltop?"

"Your government has granted us leave to stay, all of us – all the Autobots. I am sending a transmission to notify them that we have a new home."

Home, 'Bee thought, the word ringing true and resonating through him.

"This is a momentous evening," Optimus continued, "and we thought it fitting for you to be here, you who have both helped to shape our fates."

"Oh." Sam straightened again, Mikaela following him. "Should we – "

"You are fine where you are." Optimus turned and walked toward the nearby crest of the hill. /After all, we wouldn't want to undo all you've accomplished/ he sent to Bumblebee before a more solemn expression crossed his faceplates.

"Um…okay."

With Optimus' blessing, Bumblebee got right back at it. "Let's give 'em something to talk about..."

"Bumblebee!" Sam hissed.

He continued, unrepentant.

"A little mystery to figure out
Let's give 'em something to talk about
How about love..."

Mikaela suddenly giggled and twisted so she was straddling one of Sam's legs. "Still think he's a super-smart Autobot and that we owe it to him to trust him?" In an aside, she said, "Enough, 'Bee."

He cut the music.

"Uh…" was the boy's brilliant answer.

"You were right, you know."

"Audience," he weakly protested as his anxiety indicators spiked.

"Coward." She leaned closer until her soft body was pressed against his.

Sam's head jerked up at that and, with a look of reckless determination, he kissed her again. "I killed Megatron," he reminded her when they finally surfaced for breath.

She tucked her head under his chin, her fingers trailing down his arm. "How could I forget? I take it back. You are verybrave."

He held her tighter, smelling of contentment. "And don't you forget it."

Her soft laughter made Bumblebee's spark swell with his own happiness. The boy and his girl had finally figured out in their squishy processors what their sparks knew all along - they were right for each other. With a mix of pride and relief, he thought, Mission accomplished.

Chapter Text

As both the humans expected, Bumblebee got quite a few impressed looks when the three of them pulled into the school parking lot on Monday. Even Trent, leaning against his shiny truck, did a double-take.

"You sure you're okay to just sit here all day?" Sam asked the Autobot once they were parked.

"Internet at the speed of light!"

"Can we trade?" Mikaela joked. "You go to class and I laze around all day surfing the web?"

"Be cool - stay in school."

Sam chuckled. "See you in a bit, then." When they got out of the Camaro, Sam couldn't help the grin and bounce to his step as he and Mikaela walked to their first class of the day. He had the coolest car in school, and the girl of his dreams let him carry her books between classes. After all he'd been through in Mission City and before, it felt like this must be the reward side of some really awesome karma. Maybe he should kill Decepticon warlords more often.

...

It wasn't long before Mikaela was forced to make the choice that she knew she'd have to sooner or later. When her friends called, more often than not she gave them the excuse that she and Sam were studying together, which was only partly true. They spent more time talking about the Autobots than they spent doing homework. Less than six weeks after the trimester began, her clique went to a movie and didn't even invite her.

That same week, Jenny went to sit with Kurt at lunch, which meant she was back at the jock table with Trent. Olivia went with her. Her friends invited Mikaela, of course, but when she saw Sam's expression to that suggestion, she immediately answered, "No."

Trent started flirting with Lenore, and Mikaela was convinced he was just trying to make her jealous. When Mikaela said anything, though, Lenore just said he was on the rebound and she had enough sense to not take it to heart. Still, she joined Jenny and Olivia at Trent's table at lunch a couple of weeks later.

Maria went with Trish instead of Sam and Mikaela when the PE teacher began the volleyball unit. A couple of days later, she left the lunch table, too, to join her other friends. It was just Sam, Mikaela, Miles, and Alison now.

In Art class, Alison asked Mikaela why they didn't just go back to their usual lunch table. It had become a symbol for the way her clique was breaking up. She frowned thoughtfully before answering, realizing Alison was the last social tie she had to the "before" Mikaela. The only reason she'd stuck around this long was because Miles was there, too.

"There's bad blood between Trent and Sam." And between her and Trent, but she wasn't about to bring that up again and sound like the jealous ex.

"But...we've stuck together for years. He's just a boy. You'll probably break up with him in six months. Is he really worth alienating all your friends over?"

Mikaela's average length for dating a guy was about five months, so she appreciated Alison's vote of confidence. "Sam's different," she finally managed. She was different now, too.

Frustrated, Alison muttered, "Whatever."

Sooner or later it was bound to happen, and Mikaela knew it in the back of her mind. She just never expected it to come in the form of a sneeze.

She was sitting with her now-usual lunch bunch on a Pizza Tuesday. The girl ahead of them at the lunch counter had been wearing lethal levels of perfume that had left all four of them sniffling and rubbing watery eyes. Samuel James Witwicky - slayer of Megatron, personal friend of Optimus Prime, and driver of the coolest car in Tranquility High - sat at her left and across from Miles. The two of them were animatedly debating whether travel by hyperspace was even possible, with Sam arguing that it was. He seemed to be winning but Mikaela couldn't be sure because he was using NASA jargon that even Lenore probably didn't know. Alison just shook her head indulgently and picked at her fruit salad.

While Miles made his counter-argument, Sam bit off a chunk of pizza and chewed it a half a dozen times while he grabbed a pencil and notebook to try to explain on paper what everyone else couldn't seem to understand. With both his hands full, his sudden sneeze caught him by surprise and his mouthful of pizza sprayed all over his friend.

"Dude! That is nasty!" Miles said, his expression caught somewhere between shocked and revolted. Grabbing a completely-inadequate paper napkin, he tried to clean himself off.

Groans of disgust rippled through the surrounding tables as people turned to see what Miles was freaking out about, and Sam blushed a vibrant red. "It's not my fault!" he protested as he handed his friend his equally-inadequate napkin. "It was totally the perfume!"

With a put-out sigh, Alison reached into her backpack and pulled out a travel-pack of wipes. Mikaela knew she carried them because there was never enough time to really scrub the paint or clay or whatever off your hands after art class. Besides, it was easier on the manicure to use the wipes than a nail brush. "Here."

Miles snatched them from her and scrubbed at the pizza-sauce smudges and chunks of chewed-up crust on his shirt. "This is so not coming out!"

"Maybe you should go home and change," Mikaela suggested. "It'll get you out of PE, too."

Huffing a disgusted grunt, Miles answered, "No can do. Mom and Dad are both at work." He lifted his head to look at Sam, sudden realization in his eyes. "You can drive me!"

"No way!" Sam actually recoiled at the idea. "I'm not letting that nasty shirt anywhere near Bumb...the upholstery. There's no telling what that'll do to the car!"

"Dude, it's your nasty lunch all over my shirt!"

"Dude, it's yourfault that you don't have an extra shirt!"

"How many shirts do you have in your locker?" Miles demanded.

"That's not the point!"

"You sneezed on me. You get to drive me home to change!"

"I'm not arguing with you," Sam said, suddenly petulant. "We're having 10 seconds of silence. 'kay? 10 seconds."

Dumbfounded, Miles looked at first Mikaela and then Alison, and that's when it finally happened - Mikaela's image of him broke into a million pieces. Samuel James Witwicky - the hero who had waltzed into Mikaela's life, turned it upside down, brought her to walk among metallic gods, erased a past that haunted her, and (as if that wasn't enough) saved the world - suddenly and irreversibly became a nerdy, disgusting, teenage boy in her eyes. Sure, he did all of the above, but he was immature and irritating and just so...so...dense!

"Knock it off, Sam," she ordered. "You drive him home or I will."

"You don't have the key," Sam sniped back.

"I don't need a key," Mikaela furiously retorted, getting a little careless. "Now grow up or, so help me, I'll tell your momabout all this!"

Alison shook with silent giggles. "Did you seriouslyjust threaten to tattle on him?"

Mikaela jerked to her feet, flushed almost as bright as Sam in her irritation and embarrassment. "Come on, Miles."

"No, I've got it," Sam quickly protested, standing up, too.

Mikaela glowered at him. "No, actually, you don't."

That's when the other penny dropped - the one she hadn't been expecting. Sam's eyes were wide when she snapped at him, frozen in terror, and Mikaela realized just how much he thought he needed her. He was vulnerablewhen it came to her. Superhero Sam was petrified at the thought of losing her or even getting in an argument.

"Forget it," Miles grumbled as he, too, stood up and gathered his books. "I'll walk."

Alison followed him out, and Mikaela remembered that her friend had a car, too, an inconspicuous little hatch-back. She would probably give him a lift, and that made Mikaela feel a little better. At least someone in this mess was making sense.

"Was he worth it?" Maria demanded as she leaned against her locker in the PE changing room.

Mikaela glanced over at her, and there was a cruel sparkle in Maria's eyes. Mikaela frowned and continued spinning the combination on her locker, refusing to answer.

"You've lost every single friend because of him," Maria taunted. "Even Alison finally realized what a loser he is and walked off after that revolting sneeze. He's all you've got left. So was he worth it?"

No sacrifice, no victory. More to herself than to Maria, she murmured, "Yes, actually, he is."

"You've got the whole school talking," Maria casually continued, though there was a cutting edge to her words, "trying to figure out where a nobody like him got the money to buy you."

Mikaela clenched her jaw once, reining in her fury at the words. "You've got the whole school talking," she sharply answered, knowing that Maria was the source of most of that talk. "And not everyone is willing to whore herself like you."

Maria bristled, and Mikaela trotted out the secret she'd kept as a friend and now used as blackmail. "Three words: New Years Eve. I like Sam for who he is, which is more than I can say about you and Mike Luttmer."

Maria's expression twisted in rage, and she hissed, "No one will believe you." Her voice gradually rose as she continued, "You've lost everything! Including the respect of all your friends!"

Mikaela turned so she was face to face with the other girl, and if Maria had been in Mission City, she would have recognized the fierce glint now in Mikaela's eyes. "You act like I care what self-centered, shallow, stupid, slutty, ugly..."

Maria slapped her, not realizing she was dealing with the "after" Mikaela, the one who was free from her past and who was not afraid of any mere human.

Mikaela shoved her, hard, and the cheerleader stumbled backward, catching the back of her knee on one of the benches anchored to the floor. That sent her reeling sideways so that she landed face-down on the cement. Silence fell for a split second, and then a flock of girls descended on Maria, helping her sit up and asking if she was okay. Blood was streaming from Maria's nose and she gingerly touched it, wailing, "It's broken! She broke it!"

Ms. Roy, one of the female PE teachers, sprinted into the locker room. "What is going on in here?"

Mikaela turned, Maria's bright red hand print still stinging on her face, and gaped in a panic before she remembered that no probation officer would hear about this. "She hit me. I pushed her away and she tripped and fell."

Giving Mikaela a frustrated glare, Ms. Roy bustled over to Maria, ordering one of the girls to grab a wad of paper towels from the bathroom, and tried to staunch the blood. Mikaela stood rooted in the same spot, her hands at her sides and balled into fists. There went her Saturday - she'd be stuck in in-school suspension for fighting. A fierce satisfaction filled her to realize that Maria would be there, too. Mikaela had no doubt Maria would spin this to make herself look like the victim, but with a sense of sudden freedom, she also realized she didn't care. Sam would stick by her, she was sure of it, and he was the only one in this petty little school who mattered.

Mikaela was sent home for the day for fighting, and Grandma Nielsen was in full harpy mode when she came to pick up her granddaughter. "What were you thinking?" she demanded as Mikaela slammed the car door.

Wordlessly, Mikaela turned so her grandma could see the outline of Maria's handprint on her cheek.

"Oh."

"Don't worry about it, Gran," Mikaela grumbled, trying to sound dismissive. "I'm not in trouble with the law anymore, remember?" Sullenly glaring out the window, she thought, My friends are another story.

...

Sam started working himself up into a full-blown panic attack when Mikaela didn't show up for PE. At first he thought maybe she'd stolen Bumblebee and had driven Miles home after all, but when he peeked outside (while on a supposed bathroom break), 'Bee was still sitting in the parking lot. Then he worried that a Decepticon somehow got to her. The worst part of it was Miles wasn't there to talk him down from his freak-out since he was at home changing his clothes.

He never thought to ask anyone else where Mikaela was, mostly because they were both used to keeping their secrets from the rest of the world. He was all but bouncing on his toes in anxiety while he waited for the volleyball teams to rotate to the next match.

"...blood everywhere!" Trish whispered to Jen as they walked past.

"WHAT?" Sam barked, and both girls startled. Looking at him like he was roadkill or something, Trish said, "Mikaela gave Maria a bloody nose. She got sent home." Giving him a little smirk, Trish turned to Jen and the two continued on to the next volleyball court, whispering away.

After school, Sam slid into Bumblebee's cab, his stomach tied into nervous knots. He tried calling Mikaela's cell phone after school, but she didn't pick up. He grimaced when it went to voicemail and ended the call.

"Is there a problem?" 'Bee asked in the voice of some trying-to-be-helpful secretary.

"Mikaela got in a fight and got sent home. But she's not answering her phone."

'Bee pulled up a quote from some panicked guy in a movie. "The lines have been cut!" His engine revved to life and he peeled out toward the street. "Enemy on approach...get down there now!"

"Whoa!" Sam shouted, holding on to the door handle for dear life. "Slow down, 'Bee! She's probably just grounded or something." He hadn't seriously considered Decepticons until 'Bee's reaction, but now his heart was in his throat, too.

They careened over to her house, but 'Bee calmed down a little when he rolled to a stop on Mikaela's curb. "She's here...the coast is clear...hurry!"

"Just relax, 'Bee," Sam said, though it was as much to settle himself down as it was to reassure the Autobot. Still, he hurried up the walk.

After he knocked, Gran was the one who answered the door. "She's grounded, boy," she declared without preamble. "You won't be driving her around no more either, not after you run off with her for almost a week and then she gets in brawls over you. She's a good girl, but she's been nothing but trouble since she met you." Then she shut the door in Sam's face.

He stared blankly at the door until it sank in that he really wouldn't be seeing Mikaela again that day. Grinding his teeth, he turned and walked back to Bumblebee.

For the first time since realizing 'Bee was a robot, Sam wished he was just a plain old car so he could slam the driver's side door so hard it would make Gran's windows rattle.

"...are very annoying," Bumblebee said to Sam when he climbed into the cab, using a quote from Ironhide. "We could take them out."

The clip continued, this time in Optimus' voice. "Ironhide, you know we don't harm humans!"

"I'm just saying we could. It's an option."

Sam managed a half-smile. "Never heard that one before."

'Bee played another quote from Optimus. "Oh! Parents!"

"The night Sector Seven showed up, huh? Yeah, I think we need to follow the big guy. No harming humans, especially little ol' grannies." In a lower voice he muttered, "As tempting as it may be."

The rumors spread like wildfire about how Mikaela had totally beat up Maria in the locker room so badly that she'd almost broken Maria's nose. And for no reason at all. There was a lot of speculation that Sam had gotten her into drugs or something for her to attack her friends like that.

Alison relayed all that to Miles who let Sam know what the entire school was saying. He was smarter than to pass that information on to Mikaela, though. "Don't believe everything you hear," Sam told Miles after school as the three of them walked toward the parking lot. Alison was giving Miles rides these days, and while he would occasionally look wistfully at Sam's drool-worthy set of wheels, he always hopped into Alison's car before Sam could even invite him for a ride.

"Oh I don't," Alison piped up. "But you have admit, Mikaela's...acting pretty differently."

"So are you," Sam said, glancing pointedly at Miles.

"Not that differently," she grumbled.

The next day during American History, both Sam and Mikaela were called to the office, and the secretary just handed the phone off to Mikaela. Sam fidgeted as he eavesdropped on half the conversation, which sounded like Mikaela trying to diagnose car problems over the phone. Finally she said, "Okay, Gran, sit tight. I'm sure Judy will excuse Sam so he can drive me over to help."

At her questioning glance, Sam nodded, knowing that if it meant he got time alone with Mikaela, his mom would let him skip out on classes for the rest of the trimester. She was almost as bad as 'Bee.

In the parking lot, the Camaro popped his doors as Sam and Mikaela climbed in, and before they even got their seatbelts on, his speakers came to life. "It's a set-up! … Make a good impression...Micky...what a girl wants, what a girl needs..."

"What is going on?" Sam demanded.

Suddenly suspicious, Mikaela asked, "'Bee? Gran's stuck at the grocery store because her car is mysteriously broken. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

"Maaaaaybe," he allowed.

Mikaela broke out in giggles. "You, my 'bot, are brilliant!" To Sam, she explained, "Gran's too cheap to pay for a tow truck when she has a live-in mechanic." Contemplating first the dashboard and then her boyfriend, she added, "But she'll need a way to get the frozen stuff home before it all melts. You two should gallantly offer your services while I fix the car."

"Loose cable...on the...starter...relay," Bumblebee helpfully explained.

"But..."

Mikaela narrowed her eyes at Sam, silencing his protests. "You are going to let Gran drive, and 'Bee, no tricks and no letting her get you all killed in a car wreck. I keep telling her I need to spend more time with you, Sam, because finals begin in a week and a half and you've been tutoring me, so you need to wow her with your smarts."

"Oh. Is that all?" he sarcastically answered.

"Just talk to her about computers," she said dismissively. "As soon as you get to anything beyond 'keyboard,' 'mouse,' and 'monitor,' she starts getting glassy-eyed. Even the printer scares her." She gave him a sidelong look. "Or you could impress her with good old Great-Great-Grandpa's exploration of the Arctic. That always makes for a good story."

"Hah!"

With a smirk, she added, "Or you could explain how hyperspace works."

The speakers played a laugh-track at that and Mikaela leaned back into her seat. "And 'Bee? Thanks for the sabotage."

"All in a day's work, ma'am," he quoted in answer and she grinned.

...

Gran was thrilled to drive 'Bee. She and Sam talked about computers for all of 30 seconds before 'Bee played half of a commercial. "If you're not interested in..."

Sam sighed and took off on a tangent. "Did Mikaela tell you I got an A- on my genealogy project? I did it on my Great-Great Grandpa Archibald Witwicky. He explored the Arctic."

"My grandpa was decorated in World War I," she eagerly responded, grateful for a non-technological conversation. "He was a sniper and a damn good one. He used to tell us all about the Krauts he took out." Gran then proceeded to regale Sam with all the gory details of what war looks like through a sniper's scope. Mission City was two and a half months ago, but Sam remembered it as clearly as if it were yesterday (especially in his still-unpleasant dreams), and he didn't appreciate the reminder. But still, if it meant Mikeala was only grounded for a couple of days instead of until the end of time like Gran had told her, it was worth it.

Sam offered to unload the groceries in an attempt to be a gentleman, and Gran happily took him up on it, following him as he carried ice cream and vegetables from Bumblebee's trunk into the kitchen. She'd moved on to tales of her Great-Grandma Nielsen (who'd been a suffragette) before Mikaela showed up in their modest but repaired car to rescue him.

"Well," Gran proclaimed, "you've been a great help today, Sam. I still don't like you much for getting my girl into trouble - my worthless ex-son-in-law did enough of that - but she cares an awful lot about you. Once she's finished doing her time in in-school suspension, I guess she won't be grounded anymore."

Mikaela threw her arms around Gran and then gave Sam a brilliant grin. She also chipped in on a professional hand-wax and wash for Bumblebee.

...

That Friday, American History got out a few minutes early, and so Sam got to wait with Mikaela until Gran came to pick her up. Before she arrived, though, Miles sidled up to the two of them.

"Where's Alison?" Mikaela wondered.

Miles guiltily glanced across the parking lot to where she was waiting by her car. Sam and Mikeala shared a confused look and Miles blurted out, "She doesn't want me to hang out with you guys anymore."

"What?" Mikeala demanded in complete disbelief. She threw a glare at the other girl who quickly looked away.

"I...she...we hang out together at her place after school. We say we're studying, but usually it's anime and...stuff."

"So…?" Sam demanded. "Hang out with us, too."

"She gets it, bro," Miles earnestly said with all the intensity Sam had seen him muster. (Which is to say, not much.) "The comics, the upside-down thing, just...everything. She's like...awesome! Nobody is like her."

Sam huffed. "You're ditching me for a girl? Whatever happened to 'bros before hos?'" He also pointedly ignored Mikaela's insulted look.

"Dude, don't quote The Code to me!" Miles snapped back. "You were the one who broke it first."

"Come on! I mean, we can still be friends, at least, right?"

"Nope." Miles shook his head sharply. "Sorry. No can do. Alison says it's you or her, and you already chose." Seeming to steel his resolve, he emphatically threw his hands wide. "We're over. Done."

Sam's face contorted, stuck somewhere between confusion and disbelief. "Did you seriously just break up with me?"

Mikaela, just staring at this mind-boggling exchange, blurted out, "You're such a girl!"

Miles turned, walking toward where Alison was waiting and muttering, "Whatever."

Gran showed up a few seconds later, and Sam rode home on his own, complaining to Bumblebee about how he couldn't believe Miles would end their friendship because a girl told him to.

"Mickey...gave up...friends for you," Bumblebee pointed out.

Sam felt two inches tall to realize the Autobot was 100% right and he'd never even thought about it before now. She had given up a lot for him, and he'd never apologized for destroying all her other friendships or thanked her or anything.

"What do I do, 'Bee?"

To Mikaela's surprise, ISS was kind of pleasant. Maria's mom followed her all the way through the school to the study hall, fluently chewing her out in Spanish the whole time, and Mikaela cheerfully ignored her mortified former friend. Instead she knuckled down to do some serious studying, since she knew she and Sam wouldn't be talking about anything Earthly for a longtime. By catching up now, she'd have that much more time to spend with Sam and 'Bee later.

Mikaela had a hard time of it during that last hour of suspension, though. In just a few minutes she'd be free to run off with her boyfriend and her mech friend for the first time in almost a week. She'd seen Sam during their classes, but Bumblebee had been completely off limits, so she vowed they'd spend the whole rest of their weekend with him. By dint of pure determination, she managed to fidget and pencil-tap her way through that last hour, scooping up her books and getting halfway to the door before the release bell finished ringing.

A familiar yellow Camaro was waiting for her in the parking lot, along with the cutest, stupidest, gutsiest boy she'd ever known. As Mikaela walked closer, she saw Sam was holding a bouquet of purple flowers...for her.

At first she was confused. They hadn't gotten in a fight, had they, and she missed the memo? That was the only time guys gave her flowers - making up after a fight or, come to think of it, trying to get into her pants. She mentally snorted to herself at the thought; Sam wouldn't know how to begin putting the moves on her, not even with Bumblebee's help. Besides, it just was some grocery-store bouquet of daisies and stuff, not something you'd give to a girl if you were trying to get lucky.

Mikaela studied his expression, which was equal parts sheepish and goofy-happy to see her. When she met his warm gaze, the pieces finally fell into place and she realized what the flowers were: a thank you.

They could have been hand-picked dandelions and she'd feel just as choked up as she did now. This was the first time ever a guy got her flowers as a thank you.

Sam was half-sitting on 'Bee's hood, and he stood up when she got closer, looking a lot more sheepish now. "I'm sorry about you getting stuck in suspension."

Mikaela blinked away the stupid tears before they could form.

"Alison said it was 'cause of me - that you were defending me. Well, defending us. Whatever we are. But you really have been amazing, you know? I mean, you were with me every step of the way in Mission City and now this whole thing with your friends and..." He shifted his feet, holding the flowers out to her. "You still like me, right?"

Fighting a smile and rolling her eyes, she sarcastically said, "No, Sam, I'm breaking up with you." But she pulled the bouquet closer to breathe in the scent.

He half-laughed in relief. "You, too, huh?"

She grinned up at him. "Yeah, 'cause I hate you so much." And then she threw her arms around his neck and silenced his would-be brilliant comeback with a kiss.