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Unorthodox

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Something was telling me to turn and high-tail it out of the woods.

Correction: my senses were telling me to turn and high tail it out of the woods, despite having no reason to realistically do so. I knew the woods behind my home like the back of my hand. I'd trotted down the winding trail hundreds of times, backpack in hand. I enjoyed the outdoors, I enjoyed nature. I especially enjoyed anywhere that was quiet, and the forest was, understandably, just that.

My senses didn't detect danger. They detected unfamiliarity, which translated into danger. Something was different. The terrain had changed since the last time I'd been here. I could see tire marks in the dirt, and several branches lay abandoned on the usually barren trail before me. It looked as if something large had stepped its way through the woods. My brain immediately settled on a bear, before I realized that the extent of the damage said otherwise.

A flash of yellow caught me off guard, and I veered away from the path, staying still behind a tree and scanning the small space devoid of any trees of bushes ahead. I didn't see a person, and instead stumbled across something even stranger.

A classic yellow and black Camaro, pristine, just…sitting there. I stepped forward, tilting my head and making my way towards the vehicle. It had to have been abandoned, and recently. There were no signs of weathering, and its windows and windshield were fully intact.

I gently pulled on the door handle, surprised when it swung open. I checked the interior of the car, finding it as undamaged as the outside. There was no logic to my next move, no reason why I chose to do what I did. I climbed inside, shutting the door and sighing, momentarily shielded from the heat. The seats were made of dark leather and the inside was empty. No bags, no boxes, no keys or wallets. No sign that anyone had been in the car prior.

At least you didn't discover a crime scene.

I reached over and fiddled with the radio, fucking around a bit before my gaze drifted to the steering wheel. There was no logo — well, there was, but I'd never seen it before. The face staring back at me was metal and looked eerily human. It was plastered right in the center of the steeling wheel, and my hand instinctively reached out to touch it.

The engine revved. I nearly leaped out of my seat, not even bothering to reach for my backpack as I tried to yank open a door that wouldn't budge. I shrieked, foot slamming on the break.

It did nothing.

"What the fuck?" I yelled. The seatbelt snapped around my chest as the vehicle bounced across fallen leaves and mounds of branches. I could see the trees moving by, and I wondered if my ass was hallucinating. I'd done nothing. I'd touched nothing, and now I was stuck.

Remote control car?

Oh, God. This is some elaborate kidnapping scheme. There's a murderer and he lured me into his trap. Oh God —

I continued to scream. The Camaro bounced through my backyard and onto my driveway, where it tore towards the main road at breakneck speed. I'd given up struggling and instead began crying like a little bitch.

Wow. Impressive.

"Calm down, little lady," the radio buzzed. I stopped, my lips twisting into a snarl as I took in the rhythmic words.

"Calm down? What do you mean 'calm down?' What else am I supposed to do —fuck, I'm arguing with a fucking radio!"

"Don't you worry about a thing."

I nearly vomited. The car was talking to me. And it was speeding down the desolate road towards an unknown destination. I had no idea what awaited me — death? Some weird car-like purgatory?

"Please," I steadied my breathing, wiping away a tear. "Just…what's going on? What are you? Where are you taking me?"

The radio didn't answer. I felt offended. Now it chose to stop talking?

I settled against the cushions, stifling my rising urge to throw up with fear. The vehicle pulled off onto a dirt road, bouncing its way down hill until we could no longer hear the thrum of passing cars from the main road. That was when I received a taste of freedom and found myself tossed like a rag doll from the vehicle, rolling to a stop as overcome with fear.

The car changed. Even in the darkness, I saw parts shift and rotate, accompanied by the metallic scrape of metal against metal. The thing towered over me, nodding in my direction with its hand out as if finishing a presentation.

Cool trick.

"Oh, God," I blanched, ducking my head. The creature was watching me, arms crossed. I heaved up some water, for it was the only thing settled in my stomach. "What the fuck? What the fuck is this?"

It's a robot.

Yeah, no shit.

The creature ducked down, seemingly concerned when I failed to stand back up. I shakily looked at it, my eyes settling on its face. I hated the fact that it wasn't threatening per say, not like a typical monster. It was tall, armored, but it's face was rather soft and childlike, it's eyes wide and filled with genuine curiosity.

I got to my feet, finally, focusing on the creature.

"Who are you?"

The creature pointed to the shed nestled in the trees. It was dilapidated, abandoned. I glanced at it, puzzled.

"What?"

"We need your help."

I watched in confusion as a group of people clambered from the shed. They were all in various states of undress, the tallest of them all barefoot and wearing a sweatshirt that looked as if it had been yanked from a dumpster. Which, now that I think about it, probably had been.

"Oh, good, people who speak my language," I rolled my eyes. "Big yellow over there said that you guys need help?"

There were four men. The tallest was the leader, and I could tell just from the way he held himself. He seemed focused, eyes narrowed at he took in my smaller form.

"Bumblebee, what of our other human allies?" the tallest spoke in a deep baritone, and I found myself reeling back as he seemed to disregard me. The massive, shape-shifting Camaro behind me just shrugged, unsure, before nodding in my direction.

The leader seemed heartbroken, an expression which was followed quickly with frustration. He kicked at the ground, his hard gaze finally focusing on me.

"I understand that this is all very…stressful for you, however, Bumblebee's intentions were harmless. He simply wishes for you to help us in our…predicament."

"What predicament? You guys homeless?" I placed my hands on my hips. I saw one of the men - a shaggy haired man with a broad chest - snicker. "Your friend didn't tell me shit."

"The situation was urgent. We are in need of human help," the man replied gravely. The man seemed hesitant, but finally gave in and began gesturing to the men behind him. "This is Hound, Drift, and Crosshairs. I am Optimus Prime."

Well fuck me sideways.


There was only so much my brain could handle. My brain was typically like a sponge, able to soak up information fairly quickly.

This was not one of those time.

"So you guys are on the run, sort of, from a group of people who want to kill you. You," I pointed to Optimus, "are like some sort of alien kung-fu Jesus who can speak to your ancestors via some weird thingy in your chest. Which, during this whole debacle, you decided to do and they turned you temporarily into humans to keep you safe?"

"That's one way to put it," Crosshairs lay on his back, staring up at the sky. "Although, I'm not to well-versed in Prime speak either."

"You're not to well-versed in general," Hound, who was a hulking, broad man with a physique of a wrestler, said gruffly. The quietest of them all, I'd come to realize, was Drift. He just sat in his corner, legs crossed, observing.

This is the most zen shit right now.

Bumblebee was picking at some flowers. Optimus was the only one focused on the task at hand, and I instantly knew why he was the leader.

"The Prime's granted us the ability to hide amongst your species temporarily."

"Why are those people, Cemetery Wind, trying to kill you? I mean, you didn't do anything wrong? Like, what happened in Chicago was fucked up but you guys fought for us."

"Members of your species do not see it that way," Optimus sighed.

"I'd say fuck em' and ignore it, but that probably won't help," I tugged at the grass. "Look, I live alone. I don't have friends. I don't have much going for me—"

"All we ask is for a chance," Optimus said softly. "Just for the time being."

"I was going to say," I smirked, catching Optimus off guard. "That I would enjoy the company and I have a spare bedroom. Also, you all need clothes. And a shower. And…everything."

Bumblebee chirped happily, and I smiled. I glanced up at Optimus and added, "Why wasn't Bumblebee transformed?"

"The Prime's gave me no explanation," Optimus replied. "Bumblebee was left out of the equation."

That's probably good. If things go to shit he can fight, I guess, and you guys have a free ride. And now I have a free car," I stifled a laugh, glancing over my shoulder as Bumblebee nodded enthusiastically. I still wasn't used to his kid-like movements and enthusiasm that reminded me of, well, me. "It's a win-win. C'mon."

I stood. Bumblebee chirped and transformed, popping his doors opened. The rest of the bot's looked hesitant, and I realized that it was a bit…odd. They'd probably hadn't been inside the car form of another alien before. Or, I assumed they hadn't. I barely knew anything about these aliens-turned-human, and I was allowing them to stay in my house.

Gotta take a risk.

You like to act all hard and tough, but you're a fucking momma bear at heart.

I just hoped I wouldn't regret this.


The Autobots dispersed as soon as we stepped through my door. Almost immediately I wrangled them back together, mainly out of fear that they'd break something. Hound wasn't the gentlest, as I'd quickly discovered, and Crosshairs, well…he didn't really care. It was easier having them together so I could explain the do's and don'ts. I had no idea how much knowledge they had on human living spaces, for I assumed they'd never really been inside a house before. Luckily they were quick learners and could grasp concepts well enough that, by the time I finished, they were nodding and roaming about. Optimus remained by my side, shoulders relaxed, fatigue evident on his face.

"You should go to bed," I pursed my lips, catching Optimus' attention. "I know it's a bit early…I can handle everyone. Bumblebee is, uh, recharging — I hope that's the right word — in the garage."

"I will rest in a while."

"Optimus," I tilted my head. I could tell that he was lying. "You're as stubborn as I am. You know where the guest room is."

Optimus sighed and glanced down at me, blue eyes so vibrant and bright that I was sure they'd bore holes through me. A small smile flashed across his handsome face before he nodded, heading towards the bedroom. I watched him go with an unfamiliar feeling in the pit of my stomach.

"Oi, fleshy!" Crosshairs snapped me out of my trance. "What do you do to entertain yourself?"

"Fleshy?" I stared to where Crosshairs had settled on the couch. My couch, mind you. "My name is Rachel, not 'fleshy.'"

"Eh, screw formalities. Turn on this thing for me!" Crosshairs waggled the TV remote while I just stared at him, raising my eyebrows. Hound sighed and snatched the remote away, slamming his big thumbs against the buttons. The screen mounted on the wall flickered to life, and Crosshairs seemed embarrassed.

"Nevermind."

"See, you guys don't even need me. You're advanced alien robots," I crossed my arms, glancing over to the guest bedroom. The door was closed. I prayed that Optimus was at least trying to rest.

He needs it.

"How much television did you guys used to watch? Did you have entertainment like this on your home planet?" I slid into the love seat next to the couch, where Hound, Drift, and Crosshairs were curled up, exhaustion evident on their features.

"We had entertainment. Gladiator pits," Hound answered. "Annual games."

"Like the Romans," I smirked, and Hound shrugged. "Humans used to do that to."

"A shame they don't do it now," Crosshairs folded his arms. "I'd pay to see you fighting in the ring."

"I mean, boxing is still a thing," I replied. "I've been wanting to try it. I…like that kind of stuff."

"I'm sure if you ask Prime, he'll teach you," Crosshairs snickered. I wonder if he knew how easy it was to read his expressions. I could see the rather malicious glint in his eyes, and I couldn't help but roll my own in return. "He is, after all, the most skilled."

"Are you usually this full of shit?"

"Watch your mouth, fleshling," Crosshairs sat up, brows furrowed. He yelped when Hound knocked him across the head before turning to me, looking rather apologetic.

"To answer your question, yes, he is usually this full of shit. You get used to it, though."

"No problem. I can make him sleep outside," I chuckled as Crosshairs stared in horror. "If he behaves, I won't have to."

"I will not complain if you do," Drift said lowly. I met his eye and he winked, settling back into his comfortable silence.

"You're outnumbered, Crosshairs," I said slyly. "Remember that."

The defeated look Crosshairs shot me was something I would remember forever.

We began to wind down after an hour or so. We flicked through channel after channel, rarely staying on one but for a few minutes. I didn't know how many shows, how many human concepts I explained to the bot's, but it was enough to leave me physically and mentally exhausted. I finally flicked to a movie, setting the remote on the table and making sure Hound, Crosshairs, and Drift were focused on the screen before slipping from my seat and heading towards the guest bedroom. I passed the garage, peeking inside and smiling at Bumblebee, who lay curled up like a baby, legs stretched across the entirety of the garage.

Okay, that's adorable. Bee is adorable.

The fact that he was an alien didn't perturb me as much. Not as much as it had earlier. My brain was on autopilot and I'd forced myself to take in the situation and address it with an almost annoying calmness.

The real breakdown will come soon enough.

The light was on in the guest room, so I assumed that Optimus was still awake. I gently knocked on the guest room door, hearing Optimus give a soft acknowledgment and allowing me to push open the door. His chest was bare and, obviously, the dude was ripped. I almost scolded myself for thinking otherwise. He was tall, he was a leader. A soldier, from what I was slowly discovering.

Of course he's jacked, you dumbass! They all probably are!

"Yo," I gave an awkward wave, shutting the door behind me. "I just wanted to make sure that you're doing okay. You know, adjusting."

"This human form is different, but manageable. I've learned that in terms of both anatomy and culture, our species are rather alike."

"We both walk on two legs, have mouths," I chuckled, and Optimus gave a small, barely noticeable smile. "I'm glad you're adjusting. I really am."

"You have been a tremendous help. Opening up your home to strangers takes courage," Optimus ducked his head. "I'm unsure if most other humans would have done the same. Thank you."

"Bumblebee was pretty convincing," I smirked. I sat on the guest bed, gesturing for Optimus to join me. He did, lowering himself slowly against the mattress. "So…what happened? You know, with these…people. Cemetery Wind. You've been on Earth for a long time…"

"We have," Optimus stared at the floor, contemplating his next words. "Longer than you know."

"Tell me."

Optimus did.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Okay…what to cook. I have four dudes in this house, all of them ravenous Autobots.

Eggs? Yep. That'll do.

I dragged myself from bed, tiptoeing through the living room. Hound was passed out on the couch, his massive body taking up the entire space. I had no idea where Drift and Crosshairs had gone, so I assumed they were in the guest bedroom. I didn't check and instead crept out into the garage to check on Bumblebee. I was still wholly curious and in awe that I had a giant, yellow robot camping out in here. I'd even moved my own car to give him as much space as possible.

Bumblebee gave a soft whistle as I poked my head into the garage. The alien waved a hand, and I slipped into the room, shutting the door behind me. Soft light filtered through the blinded windows as I approached Bee cautiously.

"What can I help you with?"

"Oh, uh," I ducked my head. "Just wanted to check on you. Say hello. No, uh, hard feelings between us right? I yelled at you a lot the other day—"

Bumblebee chirped and extended his hand. I braced myself, knees trembling as he robot patted the top of my head. The gesture was far more reserved and gentle than I'd expected.

"We cool, homie."

I chuckled. "Well, that's good. I'm making eggs. I don't know if you eat eggs," I cringed. Bumblebee shook his head, the wings on his back - which, I realized, were his car doors - fluttered. I felt bad, leaving him cooped up in the garage.

We'll have to walk the trail later. That way we can all get out.

"I'll get you out of here soon. I promise," I grazed my hand across Bumblebee's knee. "I know it's boring…I'll think of something."

Bumblebee nodded, ushering me back into the house. I shot him a final look, sighing as I shut the door behind me. I could hear movement from the living room, and when I entered, Crosshairs was standing over Hound, lightly tapping the man on the forehead.

"Wake up, you big lug!"

Hound snorted, eyes squeezed shut. He was awake — his lips twisted into a snarl, but he remained silent. After a few alien curses from Crosshairs, he snapped open his eyes and practically leaped from the couch. I gave a yelp of surprise and Crosshairs leaped back, tripping and landing on his rear.

"I'm awake," Hound coughed, scratching the back of his neck. I felt someone behind me, and when I turned, Optimus was standing by my shoulder, shaking his head.

"Where's Drift?" I asked. Optimus shot a glance towards the back porch. I followed his gaze and could make out Drift's crouched form through the window.

"Meditating," Optimus replied. "He's rather interested in the human concept of spirituality and 'zen.'"

"Bunch of wacko nonsense if ya' ask me," Crosshairs drawled, disappearing into the kitchen. I followed him as if he were a mischievous newborn puppy. I didn't trust him enough to let him out of my sight.

"Hey, if it works for him," I watched Crosshairs take a seat at the table before I began preparing breakfast. "I'll tell you what doesn't work, though. Ya'll's outfits. After we eat, I'm going to go shopping. Optimus, uh…."

"I will stay behind," Optimus nodded.

"No, go with her," Crosshairs grinned. "We can take care of ourselves, Prime."

"I'm not leaving you anywhere," I called. I was scanning the fridge, searching for the…cheese. Cheese, and some vegetables. I prayed that my cooking would be good enough to please the straggling group of former-aliens. "Hell to the no."

"At least take Bumblebee with you," Optimus said suddenly. I hastily reached for the pots and pans, gnawing on my lower lip as Prime continued with, "Your safety is a priority, now."

"No. Bumblebee stays here. You said those guys were after you, right?" I glanced over my shoulder. "If things go to shit while I'm gone, you'll need him."

"Rachel—"

"Don't worry about me. Seriously. Don't. I won't be gone long, anyway," I interrupted. Prime and I locked eyes for a moment, and I saw hesitation flickering behind his usually stoic visage. After a rather brief staring contest, he caved and gave a short nod. I mentally congratulated myself, focusing back on the task at hand. Cooking a shitton of eggs.

"What is this?" Crosshairs stared in disgust as I placed the plate in front of him. I raised my eyebrows, dipping my head so I could meet his blue eyes.

"It's eggs, grumpy. Eggs and some pancakes. You put them in your mouth."

"I am not putting this in my mouth, fleshy."

The table was silent. Finally, Drift spoke up. "It is common curtesy to at least try what has been provided for you."

"It's good," Hound had already gulped down half his plate. "If you won't eat it, I will."

Optimus was silently observing. He wasn't having any trouble eating, and it appeared as though he enjoyed the meal. I couldn't tell. The man wasn't the most expressive.

"You want me to get Bumblebee to force feed you? You need food to live," I watched as Crosshairs gingerly grasped his fork before rather viciously stabbing at his eggs and lifting the morsel to his mouth. When he finally ate, I relaxed.

He didn't say shit. Just kept eating, each bite slow and methodical.

"Don't want to admit that you like it?" I grinned, patting his shoulder. "Breakfast foods are my specialty."

"I have heard that cooking can be quite relaxing," Drift said. "If you are open to it, I would like for you to teach me."

"If you want lessons, you need to go to my uncle," I laughed, pulling up a chair and grabbing an apple from the basked of fruit in the center of the table. "I can only cook a few things. But, I mean, maybe for dinner you can help me."

"I would enjoy that," Drift replied happily.

Crosshairs snorted. "What's the point? When you get back to your actual body, you won't want to cook."

"What do you guys eat?"

Crosshairs narrowed his eyes, picking at his food. He didn't look at me as he said, "We consume energon. That's our source of fuel."

I looked at Optimus for an explanation. The calmer man nodded in agreement. "Your planet has a rather abundant supply of energon."

"That's…good? Good for you guys, at least," I shrugged. "I learn new shit everyday. Huh."

"The first thing I'm doing after I leave these wretched, fleshy body is consuming some high grade," Crosshairs grimaced. He gave me the side-eye, lips twisting into a smile. "Say…what's the human equivalent of high grade?"

"Alcohol, I think. I'm assuming high grade is your version of alcohol?" once again, I shot a look at Optimus for approval. When he nodded, I gave a sigh and added, "Uh…I'm a picky drinker. I don't have much now. And even if I did, I really don't want to risk getting any of you drunk."

"I say bust it out!" Hound crowed. "I'm not picky, girlie."

"No," Optimus said suddenly. Four pairs of eyes swiveled to look at the Autobot leader, and I gave an internal sigh of relief. "We must be alert at all times. I will not risk us getting caught off guard."

Okay, geez. Mr. No-nonsense.

"Buzzkill," Crosshairs chirped. He stood and stretched, grunting, "That should be your new designation. Buzzkill Prime."

"He has a point," I shrugged, taking a bite of my apple. I watched as Crosshairs went into the kitchen — I was ready to scold him for disobeying Optimus, however, I kept my mouth shut when he re-entered with a soda in hand.

"Of course you agree with him. You've been…what's the term, giving him googly eyes all day. Ya' should both just frag already, get it over with."

Hound nearly choked on his glass of water, and Drift sucked in a breath. The room fell deathly silent as Crosshairs observed, a devilish smirk on his face. I didn't dare look at Optimus, not yet.

"Frag" means "fuck." It has to.

I wasn't that stupid.

My eyes moved, slowly. As I suspected, Optimus was glaring at Crosshairs, his face flushed a bright red. I wondered if he even noticed that he was blushing — it was something he probably had the luxury of not being able to do in his robot form.

"I'm going to go buy clothes," I said abruptly, standing. I clapped my hands together, causing Crosshairs to jump a bit. "Okay? Any requests? No? Okay good. You guys behave, please."

I bolted from the kitchen, shaking my head.

Shit, shit, shit.

Fucking Crosshairs!

I shopped in silence, trying not to think of Crosshairs' statement. It was hard — way to hard, especially when there was some truth to the alien's words. Optimus was attractive — far to attractive for someone like me — but nonetheless, attractive. I could already tell that, like me, he was an introvert, although that might have been because of his position as a leader. Maybe he was secretly a party animal. Hell, maybe he was gay. It wasn't like I'd known him for that long..

People fuck people that they've only known for, like, a day. It's called a one-night stand.

But not you. That sure as hell isn't your style.

But you're also a thirsty bitch who experiences attraction very quickly.

Yes, that too.

I realized I'd been standing in the shoe section of the store far to long. I'd spaced out, which was a regular occurrence. This was the one time spacing out wasn't such a smart idea. Those Cemetery Wind people could be at the house, or Crosshairs could have blown up the microwave, or something.

Thinking just wastes time. Go with your gut.

I headed towards checkout with an armful of men's clothing, and a little lace bra that I'd bought for myself — because fuck it, alien babysitting was tiresome and I deserved a reward.

Half an hour later I found myself in front of a television amongst a group of fully dressed robots-turned-human.

"This child is a genius!" Hound roared with laugher, relaxing on the couch. I wasn't paying attention — I was just sitting, in awe that I'd gotten the group of men cleaned and in new clothes with zero complaints from Crosshairs. A few snide comments, sure, but not flat-out refusal.

We're working on it. It's like potty training a dog. Or, better yet, a cat.

All of the bot's, except for Optimus, were currently watching Home Alone. Hound was entertained, and Crosshairs and Drift seemed invested. Optimus was outside on the back porch, basking in the sunlight. That was where I wanted to be.

Bumblebee was out on some sort of patrol mission, creeping around town for any signs of Cemetery Wind. I had no clue when he'd return, however, from what Prime had explained, the bot could contact me via phone and vice versa any time he pleased. It was weird, and cool.

"Weird and cool" was slowly becoming the staple of my life. Which didn't bother me as much as it probably should have.

"Calling the authorities would have taken much less effort," Drift commented.

"Where's the fun in that?" I smirked, getting up off the couch. I prayed Crosshairs wouldn't ask where I was going. So far, he seemed distracted by the antics onscreen. I was able to slip from the living room quietly and enter the back porch, the drone of the television disappearing as I clicked the door shut. Optimus turned his head slightly as I approached, his body remaining motionless in the chair.

"It's, uh, getting loud in there," I said. "And you're out here alone. Thought you might like some company."

"Your company is welcome anytime. You seem far more at ease, now," Optimus said. Up close, I noticed, once again, that he was really, really, really fucking pretty.

And I hated it.

"I actually slept last night. Better than I thought I would," I pulled up a chair. "All of this is surreal. I'm calm because I keep thinking I'm in a really elaborate dream."

"I have no intention of allowing this dream to become a nightmare," Optimus said softly. "Cemetery Wind has no knowledge of your existence, and I intend to keep it that way."

"Maybe that's why I slept well. I'm not afraid," I smiled. "I mean, it's hard to be afraid when you have Bumblebee sleeping in your garage. But I know he's just one dude…I guess what I'm saying is, I trust you."

"You earned mine the moment you agreed to house us," Optimus replied. "My faith in your species has been displaced, and I'm unsure if I will be able to find it again."

"I'm sorry."

"You are not responsible—"

"I feel like I am. After all you've done for us," I dipped my head. "You shouldn't be treated like this. It's unfair and wrong. Cemetery Wind is wrong. If they find out about me, I'm going to make them see that."

Optimus' gaze softened. I mustered up the courage to look into his bright, blue eyes and saw…admiration.

"You are a brave human, Rachel."

"I try to be. Sometimes people mistake anger for bravery because both usually get the job done."

"Anger hurts far more," Optimus said softly.

"Yeah," I nodded, hearing footsteps. "It does."

The footsteps grew louder and louder until I realized that they weren't human footsteps, but instead Bumblebee trotting into the backyard. I nearly leaped out of my skin before realizing that the yellow bot wasn't a threat, spreading my arms wide and frantically glancing around. My "neighbors" were a mile away, and my house shielded Bumblebee from the main road. All of this I remembered in half a second, prompting me to drop my arms and let out a breath.

"What's poppin'?"

"What's poppin' with me? What's poppin' with you, man?" I slouched in my chair. Bumblebee cast a nice shadow on Optimus and I, blocking the suns rays. "Anything from those douchebags hunting you?"

Bumblebee shook his head, bouncing on his feet before kneeling and peering through the sliding glass doors and into the living room, where the rest of the bot's were watching television. I realized how bored he probably was, and lonely — he was out doing grunt work, acting as our guard dog.

Too bad drive-in theatres aren't a thing anymore.

"Hey, Bee? You ever walked a trail before?"


 

As I'd promised, I held a little cooking lesson for Drift. I hadn't yet mentioned that my knowledge of recipes mainly stopped at breakfast foods, and I hoped Drift wouldn't be put off by the amount of improv I typically used in the kitchen.

"Three-cheese penne. That's what we're having. Except for I only have two types of cheeses, so it's going to be two-cheese. First rule of cooking: if the recipe calls for three types of one thing and you only have two of said thing, fuck it, two will suffice," I opened the pantry, gesturing for Drift to come hither. The bot did, shuffling through the kitchen. "Penne noodles are the ones shaped like penises. You have a penis — if you ever get confused, just look at that for comparison."

Drift was really invested. I had to remember to cover the basics, such as, "putting certain things in the microwave can cause an explosion" and "raw meat is not something to be consumed." Luckily, I was teaching Drift and not Crosshairs, so my protege soaked up the information rather well.

"So first, you want to cook the noodles. This takes the longest and is the most boring, but you have to pay attention so you don't fuck it up."

"Patience is a virtue I practice well," Drift said.

"Patience is something I'm not good at," I replied. "Which is why I turn the stove way up so the shit cooks faster. Cuts the time in half and makes no difference. So while you're making the penne, I can get started on the sauce. For this you need cheese, milk, and some pam."

"Pam?"

"It's a spray you put so the shit doesn't stick. It's in the pantry, second shelf."

Drift returned with the Pam, and we got to cooking. He was in charge of watching the noodles while I made a shitton of cheese, desperately hoping I'd portioned everything correctly. I didn't worry about making to much, for I knew Hound and I would eat whatever was left.

It's good, because Hound is a food enthusiast, too.

Drift, stating that he wanted to "practice the ancient virtue of patience" stayed by the oven while the penne cooked. I walked about the house, bypassing the living room to see that Crosshairs and Hound were continuing the Home Alone trilogy, most likely in awe at how the series seemed to decrease in quality.

Optimus, being the anti-social bot that he was, had retreated to the guest bedroom. I knocked before entering, finding him on the bed with a book in hand.

He was reading an Atlas. I snickered, forgetting that I'd even had it.

"Bumblebee told me that you guys had access to the entire internet," I leaned against the doorframe.

"Not anymore."

"Are you just reading that so you won't have to come into the living room?"

Optimus couldn't hide his smirk. In three long strides I'd thrown myself onto the large bed, crossing my legs and taking a seat next to Optimus. The mattress bounced beneath my added weight, jostling the pages of the book.

"You know what I think," I said softly. "I think you're not doing well. I think something is bothering you."

Optimus glanced up from his book. "I will tell you what is on my processors if you tell me why you're angry."

"Angry?"

"You spoke earlier of feeling anger. I believe it is something you and I have in common."

"You first," I narrowed my eyes. Optimus sighed, and I reached out to squeeze his knee. "I'm not going to force you. I'm here to listen and…just give you someone to talk to, if you need it."

"There is far too much to tell," Optimus said glumly. "Far to much death. And pain."

"Death and pain that humans caused?" I murmured.

Optimus didn't meet my gaze. He continued looking at the book, but a part of me knew he wasn't reading the words. "I am tired. How many more of my people have to die senselessly?"

He was shaking. I could see it, fingers wobbly as he flipped through the pages of the Atlas, the movements almost glitch-like. My hand moved from his knee to his shoulder. I couldn't imagine how much pain he was in. I didn't want to imagine, nor could I wrap my brain around the fact that he kept going.

"You're brave," I said. "I would never be able to do what you do…lead. None of your people died in vain. The only thing you can do now is keep going," I sucked in a breath. "I'm not good at pep talks. I'm sorry. I just…I just want you to know that I'm here for you, okay? Anything you need, I'm here."

"Why risk so much for us?" Optimus looked genuinely curious. "We have given you nothing in return—"

"You have given me something. I'm not alone anymore. I'm having, uh, fun," I blushed a bit. "I'm not a social butterfly. I'm boring. I'm…I'm not special or anything. But with you guys, I've learned things other people would only dream of knowing."

Optimus closed the book. He almost smiled — almost. It was more of a half-smile than anything else, which I was content with.

"For the record, you are special."

"That's where my anger comes in," I curled my toes, avoiding Prime's gaze. "I guess, uh, I'm not content, you know? With myself. I never have been. I'm not pretty or funny or anything like that."

"I…don't understand. From a purely instinctual standpoint, I find you desirable, and your banter with Crosshairs is entertaining."

Instinctual…he'd smash! Holy shit—

Does he know that you're not really supposed to say that out loud—

I'm fairly certain I blanked for a good minute, staring at the fabric beneath me.

"Human's are…weird," I said slowly. Optimus was listening intently. "I mean, I'm sure you've heard of racism and stuff like that. Or just, you know, beauty standards. I got bullied a ton growing up. People liked making comments about my looks, my skin, my hair."

Optimus' lips twisted into a scowl as I recounted my not-so-great experiences. I could see him pondering over his next words, as if the concept were foreign to him.

"Humans never cease to amaze me. The people who said those horrid things only did so to feel a sense of strength. Megatron used to do the same."

I hugged Optimus. I was close enough that I only had to scoot forward a few inches. He wasn't taken aback by the gesture, and he returned the embrace. He smelled like lavender with the faintest hint of citrus, and I closed my eyes for a moment, just…breathing.

"The food is ready!"

I could hear Hound's footsteps rattling the house. I pulled away from Optimus, giving his hand a light squeeze before leaping off the bed and bounding to the kitchen.

Do you feel better?

Yeah. I do.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

"You've been staring at the ground for a while now, fleshy," Crosshairs chimed. He placed a fist against my shoulder and shoved, hard, chuckling when I nearly fell flat on my rear.

"I'm trying to think, dude."

"Think about what?" Crosshairs chirped. He raised his eyebrows and crossed his arms. I shot him a glance and then stared back down at the ground, rolling the soccer ball beneath my foot. Crosshairs said, "I thought you said we were going to play."

"I said I was going to teach you how to play," I grinned. I heard Hound snort and sit in the lawn chair next to Optimus, the metal creaking beneath his weight. I sure as hell wasn't going to play a match against Hound — the poor guy would most likely obliterate me without even knowing it. "I taught Drift how to cook. It's your turn to learn some human stuff."

"Whatever," Crosshairs rolled his eyes. He stood on his tiptoes, looking over my head at Optimus. "Oi, Prime! Get over here! I'll take you on, two against one!"

Optimus didn't move. Instead, he crossed his legs and said, "I'd much rather watch from over here."

"He's scared," Crosshairs hissed, chuckling. He hopped back a bit, taking a stance as if ready to challenge me. "Do your worst, fleshy."

I did. I faked right and then cut to my left, darting past Crosshairs and leaving him in the dust. I stopped the ball on the other end of the lawn, peering over my shoulder.

"Gotcha."

Crosshairs huffed and Hound applauded. Even Optimus gave a small smile, which I returned. I was a bit more confident now.

Unfortunately, so was Crosshairs.

Instead of stealing the ball with his feet, Crosshairs gripped me around the waist and physically moved me out of the way. I watched him dribble for a bit, which in itself was hilarious because he did so with zero skill and looked like a waddling newborn.

"Crosshairs, honey, just sit down and take the L," I slapped a hand over my mouth, doubled over with laughter.

"You aught to learn how to fight," Hound rumbled. He stood, lumbering over to where I was. Me head barely even reached his chest, and I had to crane my neck to meet his gaze. "You're light on your feet, fast and nimble. Right, Prime?"

"Indeed," Optimus leaned forward. "That's not a bad idea, Hound."

"I'm game," I shrugged. "It's not like I've got anything else to do. I've always wanted to learn some self-defense, you know, other than biting and scratching."

"Biting is good!" Hound said happily. "I have so many tricks to teach you, girlie."

"Bring it."


Hound brought it a little too hard. It wasn't anything I couldn't handle, but that night, I was actually sore.

Shit.

Hey, be grateful. Optimus even stepped in and gave you some tips.

Tips that you enjoyed.

I was fairly certain my face was permanently flushed. I had goosebumps from where Optimus had touched me, moving my limbs into the correct stance, teaching me how to block and whatnot. Both Hound and Crosshairs had been trying not to laugh the entire time, entertained by my little squeaks whenever Optimus would grab my hand or my shoulder. Even Drift had been watching through the glass door, a smirk on his face.

Optimus, as usual, was oblivious.

"I'm ordering Chinese," I grumbled, my face buried in the couch. "I ain't cooking shit—"

Drift opened his mouth.

"—No, Drift, you aren't cooking by yourself."

Drift closed his mouth, shoulders sagging. Hound patted him on the shoulder.

The actual process of ordering took around half an hour, for I had to explain the concept of Chinese food followed by the actual menu, as well as several smaller details, like "orange chicken" wasn't really orange. It was only after I called and placed the order that I realized my pockets were going to be extremely thin afterwards. I had yet to even look for a summer job. Finances were something I dreaded. Eventually my mother would be calling, and just the idea that she could answer the phone to Crosshairs made me anxious.

As usual, Optimus insisted that I be chaperoned. This time I caved, dragging Hound with me and praying I wouldn't see anyone I knew. I was thankful that the strip mall's parking lot was empty, and I allowed Hound to follow me as we darted in and grabbed our food.

"Hey!"

Of course. I sucked on my teeth, emitting a low groan as a pair of footsteps padded across the asphalt. I knew immediately who the voice belonged to — Andy, my neighbor. A neighbor who I, unfortunately, owed some money to.

"Some" is putting it loosely. Try, like, three hundred dollars.

You bought three hundred dollars worth of video games from this dude a month ago and still haven't paid him back.

Andy wasn't the type of person to just let things go. I'd known this, and my dumbass had still agreed to pay him under the assumptions that, since Andy was one of those church-going folk, he'd value the spiritual power of Jesus over money and give me some time.

Fuck the spiritual power of Jesus, man. Andy wants his money.

"Hey," I said lightly. Hound loomed behind me, bags of Chinese food clutched between his fingers. Andy stopped a few feet away, taken aback by Hound's sheer size.

That's right. Be afraid, lil bitch.

"You know what I'm going to ask," Andy said, smiling. "Money? You have it?"

"Nope. Not with me," I shrugged. "I'm sorry. I'll have it by the end of this week, I promise."

"You said that last week. I really don't want to have to take it."

Hound took that as a threat. Before I could reply, he'd stepped forward. Andy was a scrawny dude, and Hound easily dwarfed him by a hundred pounds.

"She said she doesn't have it. Now scram, meatsack."

"Might want to listen to him," I peered over Hound's shoulder. "Our food is getting cold."

Andy pointed, backing away. "Fine. End of the week, okay?"

"I promise. I have another check coming in soon," I said sincerely. "I'll cash it and give the cut to you."

Andy nodded, high-tailing it out of there when Hound started to outright glare.

"Thanks, big guy," I nudged Hound with my shoulder, and the large man simply snorted in return, his eyes glued to Andy, who was already halfway across the parking lot. Hound only dropped his guard when the lights on Andy's truck flickered on.

They ain't call him Hound for nothing.


Almost immediately after we ate I retreated to my room, showering and crashing on my bed, hearing the TV droning from the living room. This time it was Optimus who came to visit me, knocking lightly on the door. I opened it, ushering him in.

"Didn't want to read tonight?"

Optimus stood with his hands clasped together. He shook his head, eyes darting from the door to me. He was nervous. He was nervous and he wasn't hiding it well.

"Crosshairs brought up an interesting point a few minutes ago."

Oh, shit.

I sucked in a breath, gesturing for him to continue.

"I, um, did not notice this earlier. When the two of us were sparring you seemed…flushed and jumpy? Was there a reason? Was it something I did?"

S.H.I.T

I'm going to kill Crosshairs. Kill him.

"No," I stammered. "No, it wasn't anything you did. I just…uh. I'm not used to people touching me, that's all."

"You reacted differently when Crosshairs and Hound touched you. I'm simply curious as to whether or not I made you uncomfortable."

"You didn't," I gnawed on my lower lip. I realized that the noises from outside had disappeared. Hound, Drift and Crosshairs had fallen silent, and when I glanced at the sliver of light coming from beneath the doorway, I saw shadows.

Bastards.

"Rachel," Optimus said, his voice pulling me back into reality. He took a step forward. "Please, tell me the truth."

"Okay, how about this," I steeled myself, letting out the breath I'd been holding. "You and I should go out sometime. Like, just the two of us. Maybe to, like, dinner or something. Or ice cream or whatever. Somewhere private where we don't have an audience."

I yanked open my door, stepping out of the way as Hound toppled forward, followed by Crosshairs, and then Drift. The three men landed atop each other, yelping in surprise and cursing. Optimus' eyes widened slightly and he nodded, jaw set.

"I'd like to have some adult time," I glared at Crosshairs, who smiled cheekily. I turned, addressing Prime. "How about Saturday?"

"That sounds wonderful," Optimus replied. He stepped over Hound, walking smoothly to the guest bedroom. I scowled down at the three men, kneeling down and tugging at Crosshairs' ear. He yelped, and I hissed.

"If I didn't actually give a shit about you, you'd be dead."

"You're welcome, fleshy. I just scored you a hot date."

"I scored myself a hot date, idiot."

Hound, Crosshairs and Drift got to their feet. Crosshairs was still beaming proudly, as if he'd accomplished something huge. I rolled my eyes, realizing how jumpy I was.

I'm going on a date.

Or, yeah. A date. I have no idea if Optimus knows it a date.

"We're watching a movie," Drift said. "Would you like to join us?"

"Yeah, sure."

Despite the embarrassment, I was proud. I had something to look forward to. Something I'd done only once before, and hell, I hadn't even gotten to kiss the girl afterwards!

No kissing. Just food.

I mean, if Prime went for it, I wouldn't resist. I couldn't see him as a one-night stand type of person. He was far to reserved and dignified for that sort of thing, but at the same time, I had no idea what his idea of "fun" was. Maybe casual sex was all he had time for. Leading an army didn't leave someone with much free time.

Except for now. He's human. He's gotta experience some human things, right?

So do you.

Three checks arrived on Thursday. I cashed them immediately, finally able to pull out the three hundred dollars I'd promised Andy. Finally. I could stop worrying about that fucko and actually pay him back. I was frugal as fuck when it came to money, so receiving those checks was the most orgasmic thing I'd experienced in a while.

Friday rolled into Saturday. Optimus and I were at ease — I'd caught him staring at me, one night, which only made me more anxious.

You don't deserve this. This is weird. There are way more attractive people Optimus could be going after.

I knew I'd eventually ask him. I didn't want to unload all my mental problems on him during our first date — or date-like experience — and risk scaring him off. That was the last thing I wanted, especially since he didn't really have anywhere to go.

Bumblebee was our chaperone, offering to drive us while he went on patrol. Optimus gave his men a strong talking to, making Crosshairs, Hound and Drift promise that they A) wouldn't destroy the house and B) would retreat into the woods at the first sign of danger. He then allowed me to set up some rules before we peeled out.

Oh, damn. Here comes the sweat. You sweat when you're nervous.

Bumblebee dropped us off at the modest restaurant before disappearing around the corner. Optimus stuck close to my side as we were seated, eyes darting around the bustling building. It struck me that he was assessing the place for any danger, something I'd seen him instinctively do every time he'd left the comfort of my house. He probably didn't even realize that he was doing it, and he only spoke after the brief moment of surveying the building.

Warriors instinct.

"This place is nice."

"They have good food and a big ass menu, so order whatever you want."

"I'm unsure as to what half of these things are," Optimus raised his eyebrows.

"Food on top of food," I leaned forward a bit and pointed. "Queso is just melted cheese with some stuff in it. It's an appetizer. You dip chips in it."

Optimus looked fascinated. It was almost funny, and I stifled a laugh, adding, "Dude, please don't be self-conscious about human stuff. It's cute and kind of cool because I feel like I'm actually being helpful by teaching you all this."

"I've learned far more than I ever would have," Optimus said. "Experiencing human life is much different than observing it."

"You learn best through assimilation," I said, shrugging. "Hey, maybe one day I can, like, get turned into a Cybertronian. That would be dope."

"I'll have to ask the ancient Prime's if such a thing is possible," Optimus chuckled. "Then we can see."

In the end, Optimus simply requested that I order for him. So to maintain the cliche image that this was a date, I ordered us the same thing.

"The waitress is making google eyes at you," I said, half-joking. "She's hot. And you're hot, so I don't blame her."

Maybe you should go after her, instead. You know, someone who matches your aesthetic.

"She is indeed physically attractive, however, she is not you."

I nearly choked on my water. I could feel my face heat up and I ducked my head.

Yeah. You're getting the D after this for sure.

By the end of the night, I'd gotten Optimus to laugh not once, but twice. And not a chuckle, a full on laugh that was music to my ears. I watched as he visibly relaxed, muscles uncoiling as if a gigantic weight had been lifted from him.

"What did you do, back on your home planet?" I asked.

"I was a data clerk who went by the designation of Orion Pax."

"How'd you become, like, robot-warrior Jesus?" I slouched in my seat, tilting my head. "I mean, you're a Prime, right? I don't know what that really is but it sounds important."

"The title is bestowed by the Thirteen Prime's. I did not believe that I was worthy, but they thought otherwise."

"That's literally the tightest thing I've ever heard," I said slowly. "I can't even bench press fifty-k and you're literally like, a god. That's awesome."

"Rachel…your use of slang occasionally puzzles me."

"You're cool. That's all I mean. And you're worthy," I reach across the table and grasped his hand, his skin smooth and warm to the touch. "Don't ever doubt yourself or think that you're not capable."

"I could say the same to you."

"My insecure ass appreciates that, even if I don't act like it."

Optimus smiled.

We left the restaurant laughing, arm in arm. I felt drunk thought I hadn't had a sip of alcohol. I was happy, light on my feet. For the first time that night I considered asking Optimus to kiss me. It was a bold move, but I was ready. After years of insecurity I felt confident that I wouldn't shy away.

You fall hard and you fall fast, Rachel.

Fate had other ideas. Or Satan. Or whoever was controlling Andy and his band of goons. Optimus and I walked between two buildings, trotting across the wide, grassy alleyway towards where we'd promised to meet up with Bumblebee. Only then did I realize that there was a band of men following us from behind.

"Oh, shit," I rolled my eyes, more annoyed than worried. The three hundred dollars I owed Andy were in my purse, and I released Optimus so I could turn and face them.

"End of the line," Andy spread his arms wide. "Where's my money?"

"I have it, fucko," I reached into my purse, palming through the bills. Andy and the half dozen, drunken men behind him watched in silence as I counted each bill, rolling them up and handing them to Andy.

Andy took them, counting once more before shoving them into his pocket and saying curtly, "Now, give me two hundred more for interest."

Optimus gripped my arm protectively, face a stoic mask. Just his presence was enough to catch Andy off guard, and he smirked and added, "Got another guy with you, huh? What happened to the bodybuilder?"

"I'm not paying you interest. You can't fucking charge interest like that, dude. That's not how that shit works," I ignored him, my eyes darting to his posse of fuckboys as they slowly approached. "It's fucking video games, dude. C'mon."

"I want interest. Now. Either that or you, uh," Andy grimaced and gestured to his crotch. "You know, put those fatass lips of yours to good use."

"No and no. Suck your own dick," I said, disgusted. I backtracked, tugging Optimus along with me, but Andy strolled forward, whistling for his goons to surround us.

Surprisingly, they listened.

"What the fuck is this, man?" I was getting worried now. Optimus was getting worried, spinning, his muscles snapping back into a state of hostility.

"You either give me two hundred, suck my dick, or I'll make you suck my dick and take your money," Andy raised a finger. "I don't like hitting girls, but I have no problem beating the shit out of your boyfriend. So what will it be? Hurry up and decide. I want to get home before midnight."

Chapter Text

The smart part of me would have brought up the fact that said "boyfriend" was an alien-warrior robot turned human, and that trying to fight him was probably a bad, bad idea.

The sadistic part of me thought that exposing Optimus was a bad idea, and that I'd like nothing more than to watch Optimus beat each and every one of Andy's fuckboys, and Andy himself, into the ground.

"Eat my ass, fucker. You look like that dude from the goonies. You know, the ugly one."

You've never seen the goonies.

Andy whistled. I didn't see Optimus move, but I heard the screams of pain and the shocked look on Andy's face as Optimus made quick work of the six men. While Andy was distracted I promptly took off my high heels and lunged, swinging the shoe in a wide arc and catching Andy in the face. The other shoe I jabbed into his crotch.

"You crazy bitch!"

I caught a glimpse of Optimus as he heaved one of Andy's men into the air and outright flung him into a dumpster. I could see the muscles on his arms strain, chest heaving as he snarled and dispatched, once again, two more attackers.

Holy shit that's sexy as fuck!

Andy, blood pouring from his nose, stumbled back and reached into his pants. My befuddled brain took a moment to process the fact that I was now staring at the barrel of a gun.

Okay, now this is a problem.

"Are you really going to go to jail for murder over a few video games?" I said slowly. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Optimus spin and elbow an attacker unconscious. The six crumpled bodies around him weren't moving, and he was able to direct his attention back to me. He froze at the sight.

"Let's just simmer down," I said. Andy looked pissed. Way, way more pissed than I'd ever seen him. He looked ready to commit murder. "Dude, please don't. C'mon now. We're neighbors. I baked you a casserole that one time, remember?"

Andy hesitated. In his hesitation, he failed to notice the streak of yellow before it landed behind him and plucked him from the ground by the back of the shirt.

Andy screamed.

"You gonna fuck on me?" Bumblebee held Andy between two fingers, door wings fluttering. "C'mere, punk!"

Andy's gun clattered the the ground, as Bumblebee lifted him a bit more, peering into his eyes. Andy was gasping so hard that he was struggling to breathe, eyes bugging out of his head as he faced the giant alien before him. His shrieks of terror were high pitched and absolutely hilarious.

"Yo, yo, Bee," I called, noticing the growing patch of wetness between Andy's legs. "Yo! He pissed himself holy shit!"

"That's just sad," Bumblebee tilted his head, nodding down at me. He slowly placed Andy on the ground. Andy stood, stumbled, and fell against the wall when he noticed Bumblebee blocking his only exit.

"Hey, shit for brains," I yelled. Andy met my eye, trembling and groping the wall as if he could somehow climb up it. "If I ever see you near my house, or anywhere near my friends, I'll have big yellow here vaporize your ass. He eats meat. He's a fucking carnivore. He'll eat your ass if you ever come near me again, okay? And he'll eat you if you say shit about this encounter! Nod if you understand."

Andy nodded, whimpering.

"Also, give me my fucking three hundred bucks back for ruining my date."

Andy hastily reached into his back pocket and pulled out the wad of cash, tossing it to the ground before diving between Bumblebee's legs and sprinting out the alleyway.

Bumblebee chirped, transforming as Optimus walked over. I grasped his hand, and when I pulled away my fingers were streaked with blood. I looked down and saw his knuckles were red and oozing.

"C'mon," I wrapped an arm around his waist, tears prickling in my eyes and pulling him towards Bumblebee. "I'm fucking sorry about this. I'm so sorry—"

"Are you okay?" Optimus breathed. "Rachel—"

"I'm fine," I wiped my nose. "I'm fine. Let's go home."


"I'd say it was a success," Crosshairs shrugged. My eyes were still on Optimus as he entered the guest bedroom. A few moments later, I heard the shower turn on. "It could have gone worse."

"Yeah, I could have died," I rolled my eyes. "That would have really been a bad date. So I guess it went well since I'm not dead and I'm able to tell you about it."

"That's the spirit," Crosshairs drawled. I sighed, brushing past him and tossing my shoes into my closet. I waited until Optimus was out of the shower to go to him, tiptoeing across the floor. Drift and Hound had passed out on the couch, curled into a ball. I didn't realize how late it was — my eyes were already heavy with fatigue, but I was determined to at least talk to Optimus.

When I entered, he was clad in a pair of sweatpants and only a pair of sweatpants, his hair still damp.

Oh God! Here come the naughty thoughts! Here come—

"Are you okay?" I blurted. Optimus nodded before raising his brows. I followed his gaze down to his knuckles, which were scraped raw. I shut the door behind my, brushing past him and entering the bathroom. I returned with a towel as some disinfectant, head ducked in shame.

This is my fault.

Goddamit.

I joined Optimus, sitting on the edge of the bed and began cleaning his scraped knuckles. It was almost therapeutic, and we sat in silence for a few moments.

"I enjoyed our night, even if it did end on an unfortunate note," Optimus said said. "I've ended days with far worse."

"I'm glad you had fun. I did to."

"Is it customary for humans to end a romantic night with a kiss?"

I stopped, my mind doing cartwheels as I processed Prime's words. My body tensed and with as much confidence as I could muster, said, "No. It's not. Uh, I don't know if I'm ready for that yet. We haven't know each other long enough."

"My apologies."

"Don't apologize. You didn't know," I focused on my work, not looking Optimus in the eye

So…you can beat up Andy but kissing a dude freaks you out? Typical.

"I'm not good with intimacy and all that. I've never…had that. With a guy, at least," I shrugged. "And I don't know how I feel or how comfortable I am—"

"Rachel," Optimus said calmly. "I understand. I simply suggested because I am aware that some humans use such intimacy for recreational purposes."

Oh.

Oh…

It made sense, now. He'd seen the pattern, scratched the surface of how humans treated "relationships." Hell, he'd probably never truly liked me in the first place. He was a soldier who, for all I knew, had a wife back at home and was just trying to be nice and follow human customs.

"Tomorrow, can you keep teaching me how to fight?" I asked. Prime's nod was instantaneous, and I smiled, rolling up the washrag and going to return the disinfectant where it belonged beneath the bathroom sink. Optimus was still seated when I got back, a rather grim look on his handsome face.

"If Cemetery Wind finds us, will you run?"

I looked at Optimus, my head tilted to the side. His words were heavy, laced with pain.

I replied, "No. No, I'll stay and fight. I'm not scared of a bunch of trigger-happy thugs."

"If you don't run, they will kill you," Optimus said. He reached for my hand, flesh warm against my own. "That man, Andy, he did not have the strength to pull the trigger. I could see it. These people do, and I will not allow you to be slaughtered like the rest of my people. Not after everything you've sacrificed for us."

I was frozen in place, my eyes just…staring down at Prime's hand, which was wrapped around my own.

"I can't promise you anything, Optimus. I'm not. Because I won't be able to keep that promise, especially if it involves leaving you behind and running away. But I can try. And I can try and stay alive, which is what I'll do. I'll try."

"I suppose that's all I can ask for," Optimus ducked his head, and I gently pulled him into a hug.


"So, did you and boss bot lock lip plates?" Crosshairs nudged me with his elbow, and I rolled my eyes. I had no clue why I'd chosen to bring him to the supermarket and not someone more reserved like, say, Drift. Part of me supposed I was making up for my other outings with the Autobots - cooking lessons with Drift, sparring with Hound, a date with Optimus…shopping was the most bearable thing I could come up with to entertain Crosshairs.

"We didn't kiss. It's too soon for that," I pushed the cart along, eyes scanning each isle as I spoke. "It was just to get out. Relax him. Haven't you noticed how tense he acts sometimes?"

"That's just called being a Prime," Crosshairs drawled. "Always tense about something."

"He's probably stressed because he's human. I mean, going from a gigantic robot to a tiny little human is a big change. Doesn't seem to be affecting you."

"Because it's temporary," Crosshairs said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "And I know it's temporary. The ancient Prime's aren't cruel enough to curse us with this fleshy vessel forever. If I can see that, so can Optimus. Besides, it was his bloody idea!"

I grabbed a box of cereal from the top shelf. As I tossed it into the cart, I felt Crosshairs lightly tug on my sleeve. When I looked up, I saw a figure disappear out the isle and out of sight. The dark outfit and the dark hair I saw, however, and I immediately felt uneasy.

"The glitch was watching us," Crosshairs growled lowly. "That doesn't normally happen, does it?"

"Not to me," I narrowed my eyes, staring at where the man had been standing moments prior. I turned the shopping cart and began pushing it in that direction, steps slow and methodical, Crosshairs right on my heels.

We didn't see the man at all, but I decided to check out regardless. Shit like that was the last thing I needed, and for once, I was glad I'd brought Crosshairs with me. He didn't have the physique of a wrestler like Hound, but his sheer presence and the fact that I knew, like Optimus, he could fight helped ease my mind.

When we reached my car, someone had beaten us to it. To my dismay the same man from inside was standing near the trunk, hands in his pockets. At the sight of Crosshairs and I he removed his sunglasses and wiped them on his shirt. He was a man with an intimidating gaze and, quite literally, a resting bitch face. It didn't look as if he laughed a lot.

My brain immediately screamed for me to be cautious. This had all the traits of what Optimus had described as Cemetery Wind, minus the guns and the cars.

Who knows, that could be coming right now.

"Can I help you?" I asked politely, desperately praying that Crosshairs would let me handle it. The last thing I needed was for his dumbass to say something confrontational.

"Yes, you can. What's your name?"

"I'm Rachel and this is…Nick," I jerked a thumb at Crosshairs. "We have a lot of groceries…can we, uh, put them in the trunk please?"

The man stepped to the side, allowing Crosshairs and I to begin busying ourselves with loading up the car. The whole while, the man began talking.

"My name is James Savoy. I work for a group of CIA spec ops tasked with hunting down non-biological extraterrestrials. Or as you might know them, Autobots."

"Dope," I replied sarcastically as I heaved up two jugs of milk from the cart. "I thought you needed me for something?"

"Just information," Savoy smiled, and the gesture, as I expected, looked strange on him. "I'm not a local, so I don't hear as much of the chatter as you might."

"I stay out of drama, mostly because I don't ever leave the house or talk to people. So I'm useless in that department."

"Well that's a shame. You go out to bars?" Savoy raised an eyebrow. "Like I said, I'm not a local, so I would like one to show me around town."

Okay, so the dude wasn't an eyesore, but he wasn't Optimus. So that checked that off the list. But at the same time, he was alone. Maybe not in the grand scheme of thing, but I was perturbed by how he'd managed to blend in with the population effortlessly. Had it not been for Crosshairs, I most likely would have never noticed him at the end of the isle.

Which brings up two points. First, I was really glad I'd brought Crosshairs. And second, how many of his people were running around town like little ants, searching for clues? How fucked were we?

Only one way to find out.

Oh, God.

"Give me your number," I said softly. "If I see anything alien-esque, I'll call you. And if I want a drink, I'll call you. Sound fair?"

Savoy grinned.

"I can agree to that."

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

 

"No."

"You're not the boss of me," I stepped away when Optimus tried to reach for my arm. "All I'm doing is some recon work, and all you need to do is keep Bumblebee out of sight. Nobody followed us home - we checked. They don't know about Bee and they don't know about you guys - and they don't know that I know about you guys."

"What's your plan?" Hound said from the couch, crossing his arms. Drift and Crosshairs were watching the exchange between Optimus and I as well, leaning forward in their seats.

"Pretend to be interested in Savoy's job. Get a few drinks in him," I shrugged. Prime's stare was boring holes into me, and I turned away. "Make up some story about how my friend from Kentucky saw some Autobots and suggest they head up there."

Optimus sighed and pinches the bridge of his nose. "At least allow Hound or myself to accompany you as backup. We will simply keep to the shadows and observe—"

"Don't worry about me."

"This man, Savoy, I know of him. He is ruthless and manipulative—"

"So am I, Optimus. I'll be fine and back by tonight. That I can promise. I'll even find a payphone — if those are still around — and call him from that. That way he won't be able to track my cell."

Optimus ducked his head, and I placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.

"She's got this one, Prime. Let her be," Crosshairs waved a hand. "It's not like they could have seen her before. She never leaves the house."

"You're goddamn right," I snapped my fingers. "Now, Drift, come help me pick out an outfit for tonight."


It took me almost an hour to locate a payphone. What proceeded was an awkward process of trying to figure out how to look inconspicuous while dressed like a hooker in the middle of town. Under no circumstances did I intend to fuck Savoy. Zip. Zero. But I'd already prepared myself for some touching, hence the clothing. And that was if the situation got extreme.

I'm just showing a friendly alien-hunting maniac around town. That's all.

I ended up waiting another half hour for Savoy to arrive. Which he did, dressed in the same clothes as before with the same expression. It wasn't like he was off work and his resting bitch face was just a persona. No, it was his actual, everyday face and I didn't really know how I felt about that. For some reason, it kind of suited him. The thought of his carrying any other expression was just...odd.

"I didn't think you'd follow through," Savoy ran fingers through his hair and opening the door to the black suburban. Savoy, surprisingly, wasn't the driver. The driver was another dude dressed in black with an earpiece and, you guessed it, a resting bitch face. Although something told me that, unlike Savoy, he was putting one a persona for work.

There's more.

There's always more.

First five minutes and we've already taken an L. Nice going.

"Carlitos is a good place to start if you want alcohol," Savoy climbed in the backseat, shutting the door and sitting so that his arm brushed against mine. "Or Corleone's. Anywhere that starts with a C - I don't know why that really even is."

"Then you're going to tell me, right? What you've seen?" Savoy's fingers absently toyed with the strap of my top. He smelled like aftershave and thick, metallic gunpowder. It wasn't overpowering, but it was intimidating.

"Yeah. I thought about what you said, asked around. Living so close to the city, the town is always changing. But the people are close and if we see something, we say something. Especially when it comes to those things."

Things. I shuddered. Bumblebee was the only alien I'd seen, and even after a week, I'd gotten used to him. He wasn't a thing, he was Bumblebee. Part of me couldn't understand why Savoy and his group couldn't see it the same way. Despite Chicago, despite everything. Hell, Optimus wouldn't have hurt a fly, had his hand not been forced.

Carlitos is where we stopped first. I instantly noticed that upon sitting at the bar, people seemed to naturally stray away from Savoy. I didn't blame them — it was slowly coming to my attention that Savoy was dangerous. Actually dangerous.

But not something I couldn't handle. Not yet.

"After Chicago, the government put an end to our treaty with the aliens," Savoy said, smirking. "Cemetery Wind was tasked with rounding up and ridding the Earth of whatever aliens decided to go into hiding. Their leader, Optimus Prime, is our main target. Big blue."

Beneath the table, my fists clenched. I kept a smile on my face, acting air headed and oblivious.

"Wow," I watched the bartender pour shot after shot. "I haven't heard any talks about a giant blue alien around here. What I have heard is that a caravan of cars pulled through and made their way onto the interstate, heading up north."

"How many cars?"

"Four," I replied. "None of them a semi. So no big blue."

Almost immediately, I realized my mistake. Savoy took a swig of his drink, nodding and turning to face me fully.

"You know Prime's car mode is a semi? I didn't think you watched the news."

"Sometimes. Not a lot. I mean, aliens are a pretty big fucking deal so I tuned in for that particularly story," I was relieved when Savoy chuckled at my words, clearly amused.

"Is that all you got for me?"

"About the aliens, yeah. I've got other stuff if you want," I shrugged. Savoy raised his eyebrows, nodding in acknowledgment. I mentally congratulated myself before realizing what I'd set myself up for.

Fuck.

That was a good line. But you should have used it on Optimus, not fucking SAVOY.

Savoy stood, ignored by the guests at the bar as well as the bartender himself. I wanted to scream and claw but I couldn't in fear of blowing my cover. I had to act like I wanted him touching me, or at least that I didn't mind.

And oh, boy, do you mind.

Both of his hands were on my arms, holding me in a vice grip as his mouth hovered close to my ear. I put on my best smile, trying to hide the fact that my stomach was in knots and I really, really wasn't comfortable with the way his nails dug into my skin. He wasn't returning my gestures, no, what he was doing bordered on intimidation.

"I don't have time. Work calls, you know? But thanks for the offer, and thanks for the information."

He left. Didn't even close the tab, which meant that my ass ended up paying for both of our drinks. I was left sitting, stunned that he at least didn't try and fuck me. Hell, I'd been the one to instigate it.

Is this good or bad? Good because you didn't get dicked down by knockoff Agent Smith, or bad because that did not go the way you thought it would?

Bad because it was almost like he was a step ahead.


Shit.

I awoke early the next morning - earlier than usual. The house was silent, and indication that the Autobots were still sleeping. I didn't mind — the peace and quiet was refreshing. It was what I was used to.

I crept down the hall, bathrobe wrapped around my body. As usual, I headed to the garage in hopes that at least Bumblebee was awake. I had an idea — with my sketchbook and pencil in hand, I entered the garage and found Bumblebee awake, sitting on his haunches and leaning against the wall. His door wings fluttered when I entered, and he leaned forward in excitement.

"Hey, buddy," I ran fingers through my unkempt hair, grabbing a lawn chair from the corner and taking a seat before Bumblebee. The yellow bot regarded me with a stare, curious as I opened my sketchbook.

"Whatcha' up to, little lady?"

I raised my eyebrows, smiling. "I'm trying to draw you while I wait for everyone to wake up. I haven't drawn in a while — thought I'd get back to it."

Bumblebee settled back against the wall, making a noise of content. I gnawed on my lower lip as I squinted, sketching the top of his helm and his round, childlike face. Detailing was the hardest part, and I occasionally had to stand to get a closer look at the grooves on his mouth and eyes.

I set down my pencil when I finished Bumblebee's head, flipping the page and meeting the alien's gaze. I said slowly, "I've never seen Optimus and the others, what they really look like. Do you have a picture? I want to try and draw them next."

Bumblebee nodded, cooing and shifting in his seat. Static shot from his eyes, and in a second I found myself staring at a small, three-dimensional hologram of Optimus.

It had to be. The alien in the picture was tall, buff, regal. I stared in awe, simply admiring the figure before hastily gathering my sketchbook and pencil so I could begin drawing.

I drew until I heard noises from the kitchen, prompting me to stand and thank Bumblebee before I exited the garage. Drift was beginning to make breakfast when I entered the kitchen, gliding around the kitchen as if he'd done it a thousand times before. I smiled, nodding in his direction before placing my sketchbook on the counter and taking a seat next to Hound.

"You sure letting him cook is a good idea?" Hound nudged me, jerking his chin towards Drift.

"He can do it. Your people learn fast."

Hound huffed as Optimus and Crosshairs entered the kitchen, taking seats around the table. Optimus looked exhausted, pronounced bags beneath his eyes, hair unbrushed. He shot me a smile, and I returned it.

Drift's cooking, luckily, wasn't terrible. He still had some work to do, but I felt proud. Damn. I'd taught someone something, and it felt good. I helped clean the dishes, ushering the bots into the living room and taking Drift's place in the kitchen.

When I turned, Optimus was leaning against the counter. I approached him slowly, steeling myself for a possible confrontation. I'd already told him about Savoy. That's what had probably kept him up — the realization that his team was in danger. That I was in danger.

"Listen, I did what I needed to do," I said softly. "I told Savoy that you guys were in Kentucky. He believed me. I swear, he believed me."

"I know," Optimus grasped my hand. "I am glad you returned home safely. That is what truly matters to me."

I chuckled. Prime's mouth brushed against my forehead and I froze as he, slowly but surely, planted a kiss against my skin.

Through a dry mouth and quickened breath I wheezed, "Uh…uh. I'd like that kiss now. You know, from the other night. Just to see."

Optimus' breath was warm against my face, and I could have sworn that he smirked before dipped his head even lower, hand cupping the back of my neck. His lips were soften than I'd imagined, and I gave a muffled sigh against his mouth as I leaned into the kiss

When I pulled away, I could feel the heat rise to my cheeks. I stammered through my next words, to embarrassed with myself to even look Optimus in the eye. I'd never kissed a guy before, and I was tingly - was it normal to be tingly? Was I good? Optimus wasn't running away in disgust, so that was a good sign.

"That'll do it," I nodded, gulping down air before spinning on my heels and high tailing it out of the kitchen.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

"Crosshairs looks the same. It's so weird," I stared at the hologram before me, using my backpack for support as I finished up more sketches. There was no way I'd be able to draw the entirety of Crosshairs' frame — too many pieces, to many gears. Same with Optimus and Bee and the rest of them. Each bot took up an entire page, and I knew what came next — color.

"Whatdya say, Bee, markers or colored pencils?"

Bumblebee shrugged. His door wings fluttered as he peered towards my sketchbook, which I hastily shielded.

"It's a surprise," I snapped. "No looking. Okay, uh…colored pencils. The store down the street should be open. I'm going to head over, okay? I'll be back soon," standing, I reached over and high-fived Bumblebee before sliding my sketchbook into my backpack. I hoisted it over my shoulder and, after a quick word with the four alien-turned humans that were sitting in the living room, was off.

The sun was beginning to set, but it wasn't dark enough to start worrying. By the time I reached the store, the street lights were flickering on, one by one, as the sun sunk behind the trees.

I bought several packs of pencils as well as a few markers, just in case, eager to get back to work. I prayed the bots would enjoy my drawings — I knew Optimus would, and Drift. I prayed I'd complimented their forms well enough. It was almost therapeutic, being able to sit down and draw again.

I heard a pair of footsteps behind me. Then another. It was as if a sign went off in my mind, screaming danger, danger, danger. Two figures in front of me stepped out of the shadows, blocking the way.

Oh, Jesus Christ.

These weren't Cemetery Wind people, thankfully. I gave a small sigh of relief at the realization that at least Optimus and the others were safe. My mind immediately shot to the other possible conclusion: these were Andy's people. But I didn't see Andy.

What a little bitch.

"I have to get home," I said firmly. I glanced over my shoulder and saw two other men behind me, slender looking dudes with average faces. No doubt friends of Andy.

They said nothing. Just looked at each other before stepping forward. I took off as abruptly and suddenly as possible, trying to catch them off guard. It failed. My feet got three steps off the sidewalk and onto the barren street before a powerful tug on my backpack caused me to stumble. Trying to remember what Hound had taught me, I threw back and elbow and caught one of the men in the mouth. His grip slackened and I yanked myself free, intending to keep running.

"Grab her!"

Four against one. The odds were not in my favor. A body barreled into me with the strength of a bull, and I landed hard on the concrete. For a brief moment I lay in confusion, stunned by the impact. The men took advantage of that split second and one took it upon himself to punch me square in the jaw.

"Shit! Fuck you—"

Another hit silenced me. I gasped aloud as hands tore at my clothes and skin before removing my backpack, dumping me back onto the floor. I lay on the ground, limbs aching.

The first thing I thought of were my drawings. Not my wallet. Not the keys to my car.

I shakily got to my feet as one of the men held up my backpack, smirking. For a moment we stared, engaged in a battle of wits. He was waiting for me to lunge, to do something stupid so they'd have an excuse to beat me again.

I did nothing. The men looked disappointed, before one sneered, "Andy sends his regards."

Then they were gone, peeling off into the shadows, laughing as they went.

Motherfucker.

MOTHERFUCKER.

I limped back to the house. I had to knock on the door, and then the window. Optimus was the one to answer, taken aback by my bruised, dirt streaked face.

Ten minutes later, I was sitting on the couch while Hound paced back and forth, fists clenched, teeth clenched. He was scarier than any of the men who'd attacked me, and his anger was palpable.

"Prime, let me go find them."

"No," Optimus and I said simultaneously. Crosshairs, from his position on the love seat, snorted. He appeared to be controlling himself the most, but even I could see the rage swimming behind his eyes. Rage and protectiveness, something I thought I'd never see from him.

"It was Andy's guys. He's a pussy," I winced, reaching up to touch my split lip. That and the bruise on my jaw were the extent of the damage, luckily. "Didn't even come himself. Probably too scared."

"As I said, he is a coward," Optimus rumbled, resting the warm cloth against my jaw. His words were slow as he concentrated on not pressing to hard or to lightly. "I think it is best that at least one of us accompany you during your trips from now on."

"As well as informing the authorities," Drift entered the living room, leaning against the doorframe. "I believe assault is considered a crime, is it not?"

"In any other case, I would. But then they'd contact Andy, and Andy might tell them about Bumblebee. I don't know how tolerant the local police are when it comes to aliens, and I'm sure they have a way to contact Cemetery Wind. I'm not risking that exposure."

Optimus pulled the cloth away. "If this Andy threatens you again, I will deal with him personally."

"You don't have to do that, Optimus—"

"I do. And I will," Prime folded the cloth, and Drift leaned over to take it and return it to the kitchen. "We all want you to be safe."

"Thank you."

"You are important to me. To all of us," Optimus whispered. "Remember that."

"I will."

Yes. You will. Especially when it counts.

I held a cloth to my face for a majority of the day, the throbbing was more of a nuisance than an actual pain, so I popped in a few advil before grabbing my laptop and huddling with the Autobots as they, as usual, flipped on a movie. I barely payed attention and instead browsed the web, still bitter that I wasn't able to finish up my drawings completely. I'd been excited to give the bots a gift, excited to show them my talents. I wanted them to pick up a hobby, like Drift had with his cooking.

From what I'd learned, the culture on their home planet was very similar to Earth. Drawing and painting and music had to be of prevalence back on Cybertron, right? The arts were important. Certainly important enough to traverse across species.

I caught Optimus watching as I scrolled through my social media feed, more interested in me than the movie. After a while he stood, nodding to his fellow Autobots and retreating to the guest room.

I, of course, picked up my laptop and follow. I heard Crosshairs snicker and make a comment, but I was already down the hallway.

Before Optimus could shut the door, I stepped forward, balancing my laptop on my forearm. "Hey. Before you go to sleep, I wanted to thank you for, uh, offering to deal with Andy. I appreciate that. I appreciate that you care about me and it honestly means a lot because I'm not used to that."

"You are not used to people caring?"

"Mental illness is a bitch, my dude," I glanced down at my bare feet, licking my dry lips. "I'm sorry. I don't know how to socialize and I followed you because I know that you don't really like or know how to socialize—" I caught myself, wincing when I realized that my words could be taken as an insult. "Not that…that's a bad thing. It's cool. I don't know why I came here, I'm going to go."

Optimus caught my arm. I stopped, staring up at him.

"Bumblebee informed me that you'd been making art, for us, and that those attackers destroyed it," Optimus said sadly. "I'm sorry."

"It's no big deal," I glanced down to hide my blush. "I can always draw more. I…did you guys have art like that back on Cybertron?"

"We did."

"What about music?" I turned my laptop to show Optimus my playlist. He stared at it, nodding.

"Yes, though it was nothing like it is on Earth."

"Whose your favorite artist? From Earth?" I grinned cheekily, but Optimus' expression was blank. He peered at the playlist, gnawing on his lower lip.

"I do not have a favorite artist."

"Oh, honey," I stepped inside the room, giggling to myself and sliding onto the guest bed. I scrolled through my playlist, setting the laptop against the sheets and beckoning for Optimus to join me. He did, looking rather interested. "You don't seem like a genre person. You're more like me - its a random mix of stuff," I couldn't keep the smile from my face. A plan was brewing in the back of my mind. "I already know what Hound would like. I think I'm helping him with a playlist later."

"I never particularly had the time to explore different types of human music," Optimus said. "However, there is one artist who I found rather captivating."

"Who?"

"I believe she goes by the designation Beyonce?"

I choked back a laugh, which transformed into a squeal as I slapped a hand over my mouth.

Of course.

Of fucking course!

He has good taste.

"Good choice, buddy," I nodded enthusiastically. "I have her songs. A majority of them. Do you have a favorite?"

Optimus looked embarrassed, now, as if admitting that he liked Beyonce wasn't the end of the stick. He glanced around as if someone were watching before saying softly, "Single Ladies. The tune is catchy."

I let out a ragged breath, trying to keep myself composed. It was all too funny. Funny and ironic. Prime's face made the entire conversation ten times better — there was an innocence in his eyes that I'd never seen before.

"I mean, Beyonce is a queen. And you're like a king," I shrugged. "Makes sense why you'd like her music."

"What does that make you?" Optimus asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Your knight."


"Wake up! Wake. Up!"

My eyes snapped open. Hound was practically on my bed, rough hands shaking me. I went to scream before remembering that Hound wasn't a threat, shooting up and nearly bashing him in the head.

"What?" I spat, rubbing my eyes. "What? What do you want—"

"We have a problem!"

"Did Drift blow up the oven? What time is it—"

"We have a real problem, fleshy," Crosshairs yelled from the living room. "Several problems."

I slid from the bed, not even bothering to change from my pajamas. My bare feet were cold against the hardwood as I stomped out the hallway and found myself standing next to a distraught Optimus and an even more distraught Crosshairs. Drift was kneeling, fingers slightly parting the window blinds. Even from a distance, I could see the problem.

Oh, God.

No. No, no, no.

These men didn't look as if they were simply going to knock on the door. I saw guns and trucks. A dozen or so, spread across my yard.

"Go get Bumblebee."

None of them moved. Optimus was standing firm and tall and I realized that they would fight.

I couldn't have that. They had to run. Run away.

"Go. Get. Bumblebee," I roared. The bot's, including Optimus, flinched. My gaze bore into Optimus as I stared, mentally shrieking for him to listen.

After what seemed like forever, he caved and said, "Autobots, retreat."

Thank you.

Now, let momma go to work.

My chest clenched as I watched Optimus and the others head towards the garage. My bare feet moved as if on their own accord, and I headed into my bathroom, sifting through the drawers for a can of hairspray.

The men didn't even have time to knock before I stepped out onto the front porch, clad in a tank top and a pair of pajama pants, looking like the worlds grumpiest hermit — which I practically was. The lights from the trucks parked in the driveway almost blinded me, and I raised my hand to shield my sleepy eyes.

"The fuck do you want?"

"You know exactly what we want," Savoy stepped forward, clutching his belt and trying to make himself look taller than he actually was. My stomach lurched and I regarded the man with disgust, lips curling back over my teeth as he stepped onto the porch.

Without my heels, I was easily a head shorted than he was. Same as Optimus — but Optimus never used his size to intimidate me.

"You lied," Savoy said, his words clipped and curt. "You want to know how we found out that you were lying? Someone had it out for you. Someone found these."

Savoy gestured with one gloved hand, and I watched in horror as one of his men dumped my sketchbook onto the concrete driveway, kicking it open to reveal my drawings of Optimus and Bumblebee.

Of course.

"I don't like liars," Savoy said. His hand shot out and he held my arm in a vice grip. "You've seen them. You know where they really are."

"I don't. I've seen them, but I don't know where they went."

"You had time to sketch those, which means that you spent time with those creatures. With Optimus Prime. You know where they are, and you're going to take us to them—"

I bit my lip as the garage door began creaking open, the noise cutting through the air and causing Savoy to turn his head. It gave me enough time to yank the hairspray from behind my back and slam a finger down on the nozzle, spraying the putrid mist right in his face.

It was almost rhythmic the way Bumblebee sped from the garage, doing a complete 180 and slamming his bumper into one of the men before taking off towards the backyard, and towards the forest. Before Savoy could stop coughing and cursing I darted back inside, slamming the door shut and locking it.

Then, the gunfire started.

Stray bullets shattered my windows, and I ducked down, hurrying towards the kitchen as fists furiously pounded on the front door. It wouldn't take them long to break it down, but I had enough time to grab a kitchen knife from the drawer.

You seriously think you can stab someone?

Fuck yes.

Through the window before me, I saw Bumblebee tear down the trail and out of sight. Grinning, I reached up and fumbled around, praying that I had enough canola oil left.

I had around half a bottle.

I'll take it.

A tremendous thud sounded from the front door, and I hastily unscrewed the cap and dumped the contents of the bottle onto the kitchen floor, careful to avoid the puddle as it spread across the kitchen. Another huge bang came from the door, followed by the shouts of the men as they entered my home.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.

I didn't have enough time to exit the kitchen. I grasped my knife, ducking behind the counter as the first armed man entered, gun raised, shouting for me to "put my hands in the air and don't resist."

He promptly slipped and went careening into the wall. His partner suffered the same fate as they tumbled to the floor. A trigger was pulled, either intentionally or accidentally, and the kitchen light exploded in a shower or sparks and glass. I leaped over my little puddle of oil and towards the back door, knife still in hand.

The soles of my bare feet scraped against the patio as I burst forward. I sliced at the first human I saw, driving the knife as hard as I possibly could without even thinking into my attackers neck.

He screamed, gurgling as I pierced his flesh. The initial spray of blood shocked me and I could only stare, horrified, as he collapsed.

"Grab her!"

"Shit," I felt an arm encircle my waist. I screamed, thrashed as strong hands restrained me, lifting me up, kicking and squealing. My feet slapped against the puddle of blood pooling beneath the man I'd stabbed, the liquid sticky against my skin. I tried throwing an elbow, but my angle was off and I caught the man in the chest instead of the face.

Headlights flashed and several trucks barreled through the yard and down the path, chasing after Bumblebee and the others. They'd gotten a head start, for now. I prayed they'd take advantage of it.

My arms were held in a vice grip behind my back, my legs shaky as I regarded Savoy, approaching with vigor and still wiping his face with his sleeve. His eyes were bloodshot and he seemed ready to lose his cool.

I couldn't help but smile. He'd gone from reserved and sharp to frazzled and angry. My smile faltered, however, when he reared back and backhanded me across the face so hard that I tasted blood.

"Well fuck you to," I snarled. "Goddamn. Sorry for stepping on your moment."

Savoy didn't reply. He turned, staring at the forest, and then back at me. He was thinking. I could practically see the gears in his brain turning. I was forced onto my stomach, arms still restrained behind me.

"Gibbs, go grab the shock baton," Savoy jerked his chin, and one of the men disappeared into the house — my house. The remaining Cemetery Wind soldiers were making themselves comfortable, and I watched as Savoy grabbed a chair and pulled it across the patio, taking a seat next to me. He raised his eyebrows as the back door opened once more and the same man returned carrying a baton with a serrated tip. It didn't look friendly at all, and I assumed from the name that my ass was about to get shocked.

Shocked like cattle.

"You messed with the wrong people, girl," Savoy held the baton before my face, his grip so tight that his knuckles were turning pale. "So I'm going to do something that will hurt. What happens after will be entirely up to you. Choose wisely."

Chapter Text

 

 

 

"Before we start this fuckfest, I'm going to go ahead and let you know that I'm not saying shit. And quite frankly I'd like for you all to fuck off and die."

I barely had time to get out those words before the baton came down, slamming against the exposed flesh above my hip. The impact hurt, but the pulse of electricity hurt even more. I jerked upwards, a cry escaping me that sounded pathetic and the exact opposite of my boasting.

Oh, man. This might not last long.

Don't you fucking dare give up!

My eyes stung with tears, the water blurring my vision. I grit my teeth, cursing and focusing on Savoy's boots. Something, anything to distract me.

"That's for mouthing off. If you tell me where the Autobots are, you only get one."

"Fuck off."

Again. I grunted, struggling against the gloved hands that held me down. Spittle dripped down my chin as I focused more intently on Savoy's boots, gaze running down the grooves between the sole and the ankle. Another jolt of electricity jarred my concentration, and I gasped in agony, squirming against the patio floor.

"You'd die for them?" Savoy sounded surprised. "Because that's whats going to happen. But," he shifted, resting his elbows on his knees and peering down at me. "It doesn't. You can live a normal life, forget all of this. It doesn't have to be this way."

"Yeah. First rule of the hood is that you don't fucking snitch," I spat, my spittle laced with crimson. "I ain't saying shit."

"Okay. Your call," Savoy looked disappointed, lips quivering as I outright screamed as the shock caught me off guard. I was released, but when I jolted forward to run I found that I could barely stand.

I remained on my stomach, trying to keep myself from weeping. Savoy stood, walking towards the trees and stopping in the center of the lawn. All the men were on a hair trigger, waiting.

A moment later, screams filtered through the forest. I could hear gunfire, loud and soft. Flashes of light could be seen from between the trees, deep within the woods.

I shakily pushed myself up onto my knees. It was as far as I could go, and I could feel sweat drip from my forehead, mixing with my tears that flowed out of control. Everything hurt. So, so badly.

"We've got them identified," one of them, a walkie clutched between his hands, called. "Six Autobots. One of them is Optimus Prime."

"What about Drew and his men?" Savoy asked.

"They've gone dark, sir."

Shit. Shit.

No. No, run!

Idiots!

"He's still out there," Savoy murmured. He turned towards me, stalking forward and grabbing a fistful of my hair. A scream tore through my throat as he yanked me forward, dragging me across the grass. He forced me to stand, keeping a firm grip on my hair. My legs screamed in protest but I pushed it aside, finding myself facing the forest and, beyond, the darkness.

Savoy opened his mouth and bellowed, voice carrying through the air, "Optimus Prime! Step out and surrender or else she," he tugged harder, and I cried out. "Dies. It's that simple. You don't want to be responsible for more bloodshed, do you?"

"Don't do it—"

"Shut up," Savoy barked, his hold on me increasing in intensity. My head was snapped back, neck straining as tears trickled down the side of my face.

Silence. The breeze rustled a few leaves, but that was about it.

Savoy let out a breath, murmuring, "Goddamit."

In one fluid motion he tugged a knife from his belt and thrust it into my gut, hard.

The fucker just stabbed me.

He…there's a knife in me.

There's a fucking knife in me.

Holy fuck.

I was honestly…confused. My brain didn't process what exactly had happened, or that the damage was bad. Really, really bad. Maybe it was adrenaline keeping me standing, but for a long moment I did nothing but let out a long sigh.

"Oh, shit."

A massive figure burst from the trees, like a charging bull. I'd only seen the shit in movies, and the way the trees and branches crashed and the men responded with shouts and gunfire was like something out of a film. Savoy cursed and released his hold, and I crumpled like a rag doll.

That's when the pain hit.

And oh did it hurt. The electrocution was nothing — hell, I'd have given anything to go back to that level of agony. This was something else, something unreal. From my view lying on my side I saw multiple pairs of metal feet stomp across the grass, and the bellows of the Autobots.

Autobots.

My crew. My friends.

Drift, Crosshairs, Hound, Bumblebee.

Optimus.

I clenched my teeth and began crawling, fingers using the grass as support to pull me forward. I had yet to remove the knife from my abdomen, and I didn't plan to. Notnowt, at least. I'd spent far to much time on internet forums reading about puncture wounds.

Boots thundered past, but all I focused on was the fallen handgun resting just a few feet from my position. My shaking hands grasped it.

"Someone get the girl — get the girl!" Savoy was using my patio table for cover. I couldn't even get a clear shot at him. One of his men began sprinting across the lawn, right towards me.

Kiss this, bitch.

I fired. The bullet struck him in the chest, and he staggered, still approaching though with reduced speed. When he was close enough I fired and his eye exploded in a shower of flesh and muscle.

I groaned. Red seeped from my wound, trickling down my stomach. I could feel a combination of bile and blood rising in he back of my throat, and I gagged.

"Got her," a strong hand clamped around my shoulder. The man kicked the gun away and began dragging me by the shirt, jarring my wound sending shockwaves of agony through my body. I screamed, spitting and clawing.

"Kill her."

Savoy and I locked eyes. There was no glee on his face, just a taut lipped glare. The cold barrel of a gun pressed right between my eyes.

My attacker was plucked away as quickly as he'd approached. I heard a gruff Australian voice snarl, "Not today, maggot!"

My mind chose that moment to lose consciousness.


I snapped open my eyes.

Shit was foggy. Foggy and fucking confusing. Everything around me was muffled, but as I lay, staring up at what I assumed to be a dark ceiling, the noises were getting clearer and clearer until I could clearly make out lines of dialogue.

"You picked up a human during you travels, Prime—"

"She sheltered us, helped us. Risked her life for us, Ratchet," Optimus replied. I picked out his voice immediately, although this time, it was louder, deeper, and more metallic than before. Something had changed.

He had changed. They'd all changed.

For several minutes I lay still, eyes barely open. Just the idea of speaking made me uncomfortable. For a moment I wondered if I even remembered how to speak. Everything felt stiff and sore, particularly around my abdomen. Almost like period cramps, though I knew this was much, much different.

"She's lucky she lived."

"Your skills attributed greatly to her survival. Thank you, old friend."

My eyes had adjusted to the dim light. The ceiling above me was tall and vast, moonlight streaming through the punctures and tears. Wherever we were, it was old. Run down.

"She's also a tough little human," Crosshairs called from across the room. I didn't see any of them, but I could hear them. Clearly, now. "Don't forget that."

I chose to break the silence, steeling myself for any pain that would come and saying, "Aw. Thanks, Crosshairs. Love you to."

Footsteps thundered across the floor and six towering figures peered down at me. Hound, Drift, Crosshairs, Optimus, Bumblebee, and another yellow bot I'd never met before.

Out of them all, Prime looked the most relieved. I caught him staring and gave him the most seductive wink I could muster, which, as I expected, wasn't attractive at all. But his small smile was worth it.

"I lived, bitches," I coughed, trying to sit up. The other yellow bot reached out, one large palm gently forcing me back down. As I did so I wheezed, "I haven't met you. Who are you?"

"The Autobot medical specialist, Ratchet. You're alive because of me."

"Oh, sweet. Thanks man," I raised a hand, waving at him. The bot looked as if he didn't know how to reply, and instead chose to shake his head and grumble under his breath.

"We escaped Cemetery Wind. Split up and lost them at the border, then regrouped," Hound lumbered over, the chains around his neck and waist rattling. I smiled as I took in his real form. It suited him, as I expected. "Ratchet came to the rescue."

"How long was I out?"

Hound's face fell, and he looked at Optimus. From the boss bot's expression, I knew it wasn't good.

"Four days. You lost a significant amount of blood and slipped into shock."

I began to notice the blanket wrapped around me and the pillow, as well as the rest of my surroundings. I said, "How did you keep me alive all this time—"

"Hospital," Ratchet called from across the room. "My alternate mode is an emergency response vehicle. It was not hard getting you in the building, and out when they had your heart beating once again. I did the rest, and I did it far quicker. The adrenaline in your veins kept you alive, girl."

"Humans are resilient creatures," Optimus said, rather proudly. But there was still a hint of sadness behind his words. "I…consulted with the ancient Prime's. They decided our time as humans needed to come to an end."

Did you consult with them, or just…make them.

Make them for me.

"Thank Primus," Crosshairs took a seat against the wall, rolling his eyes. "I was getting tired of that fleshy, gross vessel."

"If I could switch to armored skin, I would. Shit hurts," I groaned, shakily running fingers across my bandaged abdomen. Ratchet noticed the movement and moved forward, brushing past Optimus.

"We need to change your bandages. Sit still."

"Oh, fun," I braced myself as Ratchet crouched before me. "Wait, we?"

"Your hands are smaller, which will make the task easier. I will walk you through the instructions," Ratchet opened his palm. A pair of scissors, disinfectant, and new bandages. I winced, propping myself up on one elbow.

Thus proceeded the grossest process I'd ever put myself through. I'd never had an injury this serious — being an athlete usually resulted in twisted limbs and torn muscles, not something this blood and graphic. The moment I tenderly lifted the tattered bandages from my body I nearly vomited.

Okay. Gross. Gross, gross, gross.

Gore didn't bother me. But this, combined with the fact that it was on my body and the fact that I was doped up on drugs made it all the more horrifying. Thick stitches held my flesh together, preventing my insides from spilling out all over the place. The line was red, jagged, a raw.

"It's not infected. Good," Ratchet said happily.

"That is…fascinating. And hideous," Hound peered over Ratchet's shoulder, clearly unbothered by the fact that I basically had a fucking pouch in my stomach.

"Hound, fuck off," I hissed.

"My bad," Hound raised his hands in a placating gesture, slinking back to his seat between Bumblebee and Drift. Another heavy body knelt next to me. Optimus placed a comforting hand next to me, his face grim and he watched the process before him.

"What next, Doc?" I panted, queazy as I was forced to stare at the wound. "I really don't like looking at this."

"Just do as I say."

"Gotcha."

The moment the last bandage was in place, I gave a sigh of relief. I was fucking sweating, and when I was finally able to lay back I let out a breath I didn't even know I'd been holding. I wiped the flecks of blood from my fingers, using my shirt as a towel. It was a fresh shirt — the hospital must have given it to me. I hoped. If not all the bot's had probably seen me naked.

I mean…if you and Optimus have sex, it won't be awkward.

Ah, yes. I'm pretty sure seeing your partner naked and covered in blood would really make intimacy with them less of a struggle.

"Ratchet, you're the real MVP," I breathed. "But next time, go ahead and change the bandages when I'm asleep. Give me some xanax, knock me the fuck out."

Ratchet glanced over at Prime, saying, "is she normally like this?"

"Yes," Optimus shrugged. "You get used to it."

I laughed, pulling the blankets up to my chest. It didn't take long for me to drift off once more, and when I awoke again, the first thing I noticed was the rumbling in my stomach.

"I need food."

Ratchet proceeded to produce stolen hospital food. I had no clue how he'd pulled it off, and I didn't even want to ask. From Bumblebee and Drift's smug expressions, it had been their doing.

Still don't want to know.

I scarfed it down, taking sips of water between every few bites. The pounding headache between my eyes had decreased, though only a bit.

"How did Savoy know that, well, you knew?" Crosshairs said suddenly. He narrowed his eyes. "I thought you sent him to Kentucky."

"I did," I replied glumly. All the Autobots were watching me with interest, and I mustered enough strength to sit up. This time, Ratchet did not scold me. "I…drew pictures of each of you. Of your robot forms — just quick sketches. I was going to give them to you all as a gift. When I went to the store to buy markers and pencils, you know, stuff to color with, some of Andy's people jumped me and stole my backpack. Andy must have gone through it, seen and recognized my picture of Bumblebee, and contacted Savoy somehow. Or, hell, Savoy could have wiretapped his phone for all we know."

Bumblebee made a sound, his door wings drooping. Almost immediately I said, "It's not your fault Bee. Don't ever think it was, okay? I should have been more careful. I was stupid. I didn't think that anyone would really piece two and two together."

"Undone by carelessness," Ratchet made a noise of disgust.

"Hey, this kid saved our afts," Hound spoke up, gnawing on what looked to be a giant cigar. "She took us in, did her best to keep us safe. She's earned a simple mistake."

"We would have been found out eventually," Optimus said. "I only wish it had been under different circumstances."

"I told you, Prime. I couldn't make the promise that I'd run, or that I'd survive. I'm the one who alerted Cemetery Wind, anyway. It's only fair that I take the L for that."

"Not with your life," Optimus said darkly. "That…that is precious to me."

Crosshairs whistled and Ratchet looked stunned, his eyes darting back and forth between Prime and I.

"Well, that escalated quickly."

Drift nudged Bumblebee, and the little bot fell silent. I felt a blush creep onto my face, which I hid by turning away and lying back down. I wanted, no, needed to walk. Specifically so I could try and embrace Optimus.

But my legs felt like jello. In due time, I told myself.

In due time.

Chapter Text

 

 

 

I awoke in the middle of the night. I typically slept on my right side, but my torn abdomen was making it hard for me to find a comfortable position. The drugs in my system weren't helping either, since they were beginning to wear off. Pain pills were the only thing helping at the moment.

I rolled over and found myself staring at a man. I could make out his features in the moonlight, and I let out an unusually loud whisper.

"Optimus?" My gaze shifted. I could see his alternate mode in the corner. "The fuck—"

"It's a holoform. A physical projection of myself," Optimus replied softly. "I modeled it after my human form. I hope you don't mind."

"No, no," I rubbed my eyes. "I just got confused, thought I was having a hallucination. Plus you're sitting really, really still and it scared the shit out of me. Relax your shoulders — there. That's better."

"This feels...different. I cannot feel the beat of my heart, but I can hear yours."

"How was the big shift?"

"Strange. I was almost used to my human form," Optimus blinked, glancing down at me. "This is merely a shell."

"Why'd you use it, then?"

"I wanted to be closer to you. I wanted to...perhaps help you, without the possibility of hurting you."

I laughed quietly. All of the bot's were in recharge, spread out across the factory floor. Optimus spoke in hushed whispers, and even then, our words felt loud. I sat up, clutching the blanket around my body for warmth. I probably looked like a mess, hair disheveled, face pale, eyes a bit bloodshot. That's what I assumed. I had yet to look in a mirror, so there was a possibility that I was far worse than that.

"I like both forms. Whatever you feel comfortable with, whatever's the most...you. I don't want you thinking that I'm going to, like, feel weird."

Optimus nodded. The little half smile he gave was infectious, and I found myself doing the same. Boldly — which I'm sure were the drugs in me talking — I leaned forward and planted a kiss against Optimus Prime's mouth.

Optimus pressed a finger to his mouth, feeling the taste of me on his lips. "I will have to tweak the sensory capabilities of the holoform."

"Why?"

"So that I can feel you," Optimus drawled. "All of you."

Panties = wet.

Shit. You're down to fuck.

"Come here," I crooked my finger, smiling so wide that my cheeks hurt. Optimus leaned forward and I kissed him once more, pressing soft pecks against his mouth. I didn't even realize that he'd grabbed my arm, his nails scraping lightly against my skin. I would have continued, but when I slung my leg around so I could get closer, my wound jostled and I gasped. Optimus pulled away, concerned.

"I'm fine," I murmured. It was true — the pain was ebbing away, slowly. Optimus wasn't risking it.

Ever the gentleman.

"You need more rest," Optimus brushed his palm against my forehead. I nodded, gently easing back against the pillow. "I will stay until you fall asleep."

"You need rest too, you know. Can't be a leader when you're tired."

"My priority, at the moment, is you."

"I don't deserve that," I turned my head slowly. Even in the dim light, Prime's eyes were a brilliant blue. "I don't deserve...you know what? Nevermind."

"What is it?" Optimus rested his hand against my shoulder.

"I know your species isn't picky, like us...looks aren't as big of a deal. But I just..." I blanched, covering my eyes with the back of my hand. "There are so many other, prettier, better people for you to be interested in."

"No, there are not," Optimus replied rather firmly. "And if there were, I would be pursuing them."

"But by human standards there are. You know that, you've lived on Earth long enough."

"I cannot yet properly explain why am attracted to you. I just know that I am," Optimus leaned down a bit. "Your physical features have very little impact on how I perceive you. Were they to change, I would likely feel the same as I do now," he stopped, raising a finger when I opened my mouth to interrupt. "However, take into account that your physical features are one of the many things that drew me to you in the first place."

"You're lying. I'm ugly—"

"If this is your idea of 'ugly', so be it. I am still attracted to you."

Oh, God.

I laughed, making sure I covered my mouth so not to wake up the rest of the Autobots. Optimus was dead serious — his stare was unflinching.

Can't spin this any other way, I guess.

I ended up dozing off. When I awoke for the second time, light streamed through the holes peppered across the tin ceiling. I could feel the footsteps of the Autobots and they walked around, their voices hushed so not to wake me. I felt...worse. The painkillers had worn off, and I was left to fend for myself. My stomach growled, desperate for food.

"The human is awake," Ratchet stopped, peering down at me.

"The human has a name," I grumbled. "And the human is tired. So, so tired. And in pain."

"We're out of pills," Ratchet said sadly. "You'll have to tough it out. And we're moving."

I raised my eyebrows, craning my neck to look at Optimus. The larger bot, addressing his troops, said, "We cannot stay here. Every moment we sit still, Cemetery Wind draws closer."

"Leadfoot and Topspin could potentially meet us near New Mexico, along with Sideswipe," Ratchet said. I could see the relief wash over Optimus, and I assumed the bot's mentioned were allies. Friends.

The more bots, the better.

"Hah! Wreckers," Hound crowed, gnawing on his cigar with a big smile across his bearded face. "I haven't seen those glitches in a while."

"They'll be happy to see you, Hound," Ratchet raised one metal eyebrow, before focusing his attention on me. "I take it she will be joining us?"

"She will," Optimus replied. "Ratchet, this girl is one of us."


The day consisted of me, confined to Prime's cab, dozing on and off as I tried my best to do everything and anything to keep the pain at bay. Or, at least, distract myself enough that I didn't have to think of the pain.

I did everything. I Daydreamed. I fiddled with the radio. I also talked, asking Optimus questions, whether it be about his homeworld or his personal life. I tried my best to retain as much information as I could. It wasn't mindless chatter — I was learning things. Alien things. I was fascinated, though I had trouble expressing it through the pain. Each movement, each bump in the road jostled my wound and shot pinpricks up my spine. There was a dullness in my abdomen, as if the knife were still inside me.

"Tell Bumblebee to slow down," I mumbled. "I know we're in a hurry, but he's going to get a speeding ticket. That's the last thing we need."

I couldn't believe it, but Optimus relayed the information to Bumblebee, and I watched as the scout simmered down a bit. I snorted, resting my head against the window and staring at Optimus' dashboard. I imagined that's how he could see me. Or was he omnipresent, his gaze everywhere?

"Okay, tell me this: are there other alien planets out there? Your race is super advanced, so you would know."

"Earth is one of many planets rich with organic life."

"Holy shit," I mumbled. "And yet what are the odds, right? That you guys would end up here, having to deal with our buffoonery."

"Very slim," Optimus answered. "But after so many years I was beginning to call this planet and its inhabitants home," there was bitterness in Prime's tone. Raw, unaltered bitterness. It wasn't hard to figure out why. "I was naive."

"You weren't naive, you were trusting. And selfless. And kind," I said. "And we saw that, and we took advantage of it. Happens all the time."

"You are far more intelligent than you give yourself credit for, Rachel."

"Not really. After dealing with this shit long enough, I've learned how to recognize it," I murmured. "There's a lot of things I don't know. And that's good. It means I'm growing, I guess."

I ended up falling asleep after that. Waking up, for some reason, was the hard part. There were noise and talking, and as my brain adjusted, I felt metal against my skin. When I turned to look upwards I nearly passed out again — Bumblebee's face was very, very close to mine. It took me a moment to realize that he had me cradled against his chest, my body resting across his open palms.

In the darkness, I could see trees and bushes. I could also see Drift sitting off to the side, cleaning his swords and bantering with Crosshairs and Hound. Optimus and Ratchet were the dominant figures, standing and speaking in front of Bumblebee.

"The human is slowing us down."

Optimus looked personally insulted. I didn't have the strength to say anything, so I just listened, nestled in Bumblebee's arms with my eyes half-open.

"Ratchet—"

"I do not know what you see in this girl. For all we know, she could have been sent by Cemetery Wind—"

"Ratchet, she took us in with no prior knowledge as to what we were. She fed and sheltered us," Optimus dwarfed Ratchet with ease, but I could tell he wasn't trying to use intimidation. He knew better. "We must do the same for her."

Ratchet stepped away, a disappointed look crossing his features. He seemed conflicted, not daring to look Prime in the eye. "You just can't let it go, can you? The humans. Optimus, they betrayed us. You saw it yourself. There is more at stake than this girl—"

"I do not owe them," Optimus growled. "But I owe her. I will give her a chance at life, same as she did for us."

"Your fascination with this species baffles me, Prime," Ratchet huffed. "I'll never understand it."

I don't think it's a fascination with the species. I think it's something else.

"Please trust me, old friend."

"When have I not?" Ratchet placed a hand on Prime's arm. "Just...know how this usually ends, Optimus."

Never in your favor.

I chose that moment to make myself know, turning over and shifting. Bumblebee chirped, kneeling down and resting me against the forest floor. My first instinct was to walk, and when I moved I was surprised to find that my wound didn't seem to mind. The stitches strained a bit and the dull pain returned but this time, it wasn't enough to send me to my knees.

Shakily, I stepped forward, and Bumblebee's hands encircled me protectively. Ratchet watched, looking torn between scowling or seeming impressed.

"Does this fix the problem, gentlemen?" I jabbed. "You know how I feel. I'm disposable, you guys aren't."

"Does it hurt? Walking?" Ratchet asked.

"A bit," I said honestly. "But I can handle it."

Ratchet and Optimus glanced at each other, before Ratchet shrugged and strolled forward. He analyzed me, joints clicking as he got on one knee. He said, "Your vitals are stable. You do not appear to have a fever, and your wound is not infected. You're healing far quicker than expected," then, slowly, "But...you are still not able to run or commit to any physical activities."

"We'll see about that."

"No, we will not," Ratchet snapped. "Your wound could open up, and I do not have enough stitches to put you back together."

Considering the stitches held my insides, well, inside, I thought the doc bot had a good point. I fell silent, unable to keep the disappointment off my face.

"We must keep traveling," Optimus rumbled.

"Where are we?"

"A forest," Crosshairs answered, rolling his shoulder and stomping forward.

"Yeah, I know that, dipshit. What forest? What state?" I wrapped my around myself. It was taking a shitton of strength to remain standing.

"Arkansas, currently."

"Goddamn. We've been driving for longer than that. You guys didn't get lost, did you?"

Crosshairs rolled his eyes, shooting Ratchet a look. "No. While you were taking your catnap, we split up and had to rendezvous to get Cemetery Wind off our trail. That, in itself, took a while."

"Catnap? I was in a knife-induced coma," I replied. Crosshairs chuckled, and I rolled my eyes. "Insensitive bastard."

Then again, he did save your life.

You owe him a bit of sass.

"Do we have a clue as to where we're headed in the long run?" Ratchet asked.

"Canada would be our best bet," I said. Optimus glanced down at me, puzzled. I explained, "Cemetery Wind is an American group. They'd probably have to go through some shit if they wanted to pursue us into another country. Terrain wise, they'd have trouble getting to us. It's a good place if you want to disappear."

"See, Ratchet?" Hound said gruffly. "This is why we have the human."

"More of a liability than an asset, but I'll accept your suggestion," Ratchet scowled.

"As will I," Optimus said. "Ratchet, you said that Leadfoot and the others are heading to New Mexico?"

"Others? How many?" Crosshairs asked eagerly.

"Leadfoot, Topspin, Sideswipe, and Mirage," Ratchet replied.

"We can make it to New Mexico if we hustle," I said. "Grab your homies and make a beeline for the border."

"Optimus?" Ratchet inquired. All eyes turned to the Autobot leader, and I saw him nod in agreement.

"We head to Canada."


We had a plan. Having a plan felt so much better.

It hadn't really sunk in that my ass was a criminal. I also had no idea if Savoy knew that I'd survived. The idea that I'd been marked down as deceased was far more comforting than the alternative of Cemetery Wind find me and, well, executing me. Again.

A girl in trouble with the law for sheltering actual illegal aliens.

Sounds like something I'd do, honestly.

Ratchet's medical expertise had come in handy. From Prime's explanation, he was the primary reason I'd started healing so rapidly, although there were only so many Cybertronian medical procedures my human body could endure.

"Calling all Autobots."

That's the sound I wanted to hear. I perked up immediately, failing to hide my smile as Optimus barreled down the desolate road. The signal faltered for a bit, before I heard a foreign, alien language mumble away before falling silent.

"Leadfoot, Topspin, Sideswipe—"

"We're here, boss!" A heavily accented voice called through the radio.

"More firepower," I murmured. I wondered which Autobot had spoken, and how close they were. I gripped the armrest as Prime peeled off the road and onto the dirt, Bumblebee and the others close behind. It wasn't until we'd weaved our way through the massive rock formations dominating the desert that Optimus stopped.

"I can get out myself," I said softly. The doors popped open and I gingerly climbed from Prime's cab, biting my lower lip to keep from making a noise of discomfort. The last thing I wanted was him worrying or pawing over me.

My feet hit the dirt, and Optimus transformed. It was the second time I'd seen the process. He somehow did it differently every time, leaving me transfixed and in awe.

That's the tightest shit I've ever seen. Also hot.

Do you have a robot fetish?

Shut up. He's hot. It's fact — those thighs—

Thundering footsteps jerked me out of my internal dialogue. The four bots approaching were vastly different in build — a slender, red bot with sharp edges, a silver bot that rolled instead of walked, and two bots almost alike in color, one of which was robust, similar to Hound.

And loud like Hound, too. It took me a moment to realize that he'd been the bot on the radio.

"Optimus! You're alive," the bot crowed. In the split second after his gaze landed on me, his entire demeanor changed from relatively lax and bombastic to pure hostility and rage. "There's a maggot—"

Ouch.

Crosshairs was the one to lunge in front of me while Optimus caught the bot's arm before it could swing down and effectively end my life.

"Stand down. She is an ally."

"Didn't know we had those anymore," the red Autobot said, crossing his arms. "Leadfoot has been a bit tense."

Don't blame him.

Leadfoot's anger hadn't even shocked me. Crosshairs' movement is what caught me by surprise — he'd risked getting punched to protect me. I watched as he stepped away as Leadfoot became subdued.

That's twice now.

"Rachel," Optimus stepped back, glancing down at me. "This is Leadfoot."

He introduced me to the four Autobots, and I was able to put a name to each face, finally.

"Cemetery Wind attempted to offline her," Optimus explained. "That plan, as you can see, failed."

"So this is it?" Topspin placed his hands on his hips. "A ten Autobot caravan and one human?"

"We're headed to Canada," Ratchet said. "It's our best bet, so the human says."

"You're taking orders from them now?" Leadfoot began adjusting the massive gun strapped to his back, and for a moment I wondered if he'd pull it out and just go ahead and blow me to smithereens.

"Not orders, suggestions," Optimus replied. "She is knowledgeable. I would trust her, if I were you."

"We'll see," Leadfoot spat, turning and lumbering away. Amongst the rocks the Autobots began setting up camp, starting a small fire and lounging around, each trying to get a few hours of recharge in before we headed out. Ratchet dumped the rest of the hospital food into my lap, and I chowed down on granola bars, apples, and day old sandwiches that tasted sort of kind of okay. I wasn't in any position to question it.

I contemplated the reality of getting the Autobots to Canada. It seemed like a longshot — we'd successfully ditched Cemetery Wind, but for how long? Savoy was a smart man. Hell, he could have men stationed at the border, just awaiting our arrival.

"We have to take a chance." I glanced up. The silver bot, Sideswipe, took a seat next to the fire. He studied me for a moment before adding, "You look worried."

"I am worried."

"Why? Optimus will protect you."

"I'm worried for you. Not for me," I replied sadly. "When we get to Canada, we'll be fine. And I don't intend to stop fighting,"

Sideswipe shifted, resting his large palm against the dirt. "Neither does anyone here."

"Then what? What happens when you guys reach Canada? Where's home?" I stressed. I was getting myself worked up. I could feel it — heat rose to my cheeks and my heartbeat increased. "You've got to have a home."

"Our home died. We tried making a new one here," Sideswipe said.

"You guys still can. There has to be a way. There's always a way."

Chapter Text

 

 

I couldn't sleep that night, and neither could Optimus. And, as usual, we made our way to each other.

When I climbed inside his cab, his holoform was waiting. I could feel the hum of life within his alternate mode, signaling that he wasn't in recharge. I'd grabbed the medical kit from Ratchet earlier, deciding to keep it near me for the time being. It consisted of bandages, scissors, and disinfectant.

I rested it on the floorboard, easing myself into the passengers seat. Prime reached out to help, but I waved his hand away.

"I've got it."

"You can ask for help."

"I don't need it."

Optimus hesitated, and then said, "Are you worried that you'll slow us down?"

I sighed, relaxing against the seat and closing my eyes. I breathed in through my nose, then out through my mouth before admitting the truth.

"Yes. I'm human, not a transforming alien robot. Kind of a challenge to keep up."

Optimus didn't reply. I reached down slowly, grabbing the medical kit and rummaging through it. I made a move to go outside so I could just go ahead and change my bandage now that I was awake, but Optimus stopped me.

"It will be significantly easier if I assist you," Optimus leaned forward, an expression on his face that I'd never seen before. Demand.

I let out a shaky breath, before deciding not to argue. I settled in, reaching down to recline the seat so Optimus could have better access to the jagged wound on my side. I lifted up my shirt, revealing the patch of bandages.

"We don't have to do this in your cab if you—"

"It does not bother me," Optimus shifted to get a better angle. "Relax."

I peeked this time, just to see how I was improving. The flesh was sealing up nicely, the skin around the injury a tad less inflamed than before. The most satisfying part was that the nasty incision wasn't infected and it wasn't leaking pus. I'd have probably vomited if it had been.

"This is a great second date," I wheezed, trying not to laugh and keep my body still. I caught Optimus smile a bit as he worked on patching me back up. I slid my shirt back down when he finished, looking relatively proud of himself. I said, "thank you."

He deserves a kiss for that.

I gave him one. A quick one, catching his lower lip with my teeth before pulling away. The small motion started a chain even, and and soon enough, I felt myself slowly climbing over the seat and into his lap. His hands rested against my waist, careful not to disturb the freshly bandaged wound. Each kiss was intoxicating and rising in intensity.

You want him.

I definitely wanted him. Definitely. But the shy part, the virgin part of me that typically cringed at any sort of intimacy, wasn't sure.

The part of me that felt unworthy wasn't having it, either.

"Rachel, Rachel," Optimus caught my head between his hands. "Look at me." "I'm sorry. I spaced out, I—"

"You are in control. If you wish to stop, we will stop. If you wish to go slower, we will go slower," Optimus rested his forehead against mine. "There is not a stigma towards interfacing on my planet, unlike there is here. I simply wish to bring you pleasure."

"Okay," I stammered. "Okay. Cool. I do want you. I do. Now. But I'm scared. I'm... fuck, Optimus, I'm...I'm embarrassed."

"Why?"

"My looks. I don't...you looking at me is just..."

"If you wish, we do not have to make eye contact."

I covered my face, and after a moment, felt Optimus interlock his hands with my own and tug them away. He leaned forward, resting his mouth against mine in a soft, sweet kiss.

"Why are you such a gentleman?" I murmured, "It's not fair."

Optimus chuckled. "I like the contrast. Would you like me to remove your clothes for you?"

"Y-yeah. Sure."

He did. I stifled my groan as he skimmed his fingers beneath my shirt. I ducked my head, kissing him once more and shifting in his lap.

"Optimus. Optimus—" I moaned. Prime's his lips stopping at my throat. He pulled away, peering up at me as I panted, "just...I can feel you. Let me..."

I'd trailed off. I was touching the bare skin of his chest. Though peppered with scars, most notably a jagged line from his collarbone down across his heart, he was still the same as before. Still firm and warm.

Probably what the rest of him feels like.

I needed help sliding off my pants and my underwear. Optimus obliged, tossing the articles of clothing to the side. I lifted my hips, feeling Prime's fingers dip low, lower and oh—

Optimus made a 'tsk' sound, raising his eyebrows as he worked two fingers into my opening. He was studying my face, and I couldn't help but let out a deep sigh of pleasure, tossing my head back and beaming. Optimus kissed my chin before moving down to my neck, lips hovering over the swell of my breasts.

"Don't stop. Don't stop — I want you."

"Are you sure? I...I will try my best to be gentle—"

"Optimus," I dipped my head a bit, peering into his piercing blue eyes. "I can take it. Don't worry. Don't. I know I can take it."

I did.


I barely remembered how I'd ended up back in a bundle of blankets on the desert floor. My legs felt like jelly, chest rising and falling as I tried to catch my breath. I drifted in and out of sleep, my body trying to recover from the earth shattering experience of pure, unadulterated pleasure I'd experienced. Prime's holoform stayed with me for a bit, sitting on the ground and stroking my hair as I began drifting off.

The next time my eyes opened, Optimus' holoform was gone. I could see his alternate mode, dark as he recharged. The entire New Mexico desert was deathly quiet, the moon and the stars brilliant and shining. They provided enough light that I was able to make out my surroundings, slowly but surely becoming more aware.

Before I could sit up, a hand slapped across my mouth and a shadow fell over my form. It was larger than me, stronger, and for a brief moment I thought it to be Optimus' holoform before I tasted something sharp and alien against my lips.

This was no human. And it was no Autobot, either.

I opened my mouth to scream, but the hand dug deeper against my skin, long fingers digging into my cheeks. My eyes travelled upwards and I found myself staring into the eerie face of a woman with metal skin and eyes like orbs. She opened her mouth and sighed. I could feel air my face as she got closer, hovering over my shivering body.

Go away. Go away.

"Are you praying, child?" Her voice was like honey, metal lips parted as she regarded me with an almost curious gaze. The malevolence of her words did not match with a voice so beautiful. "Praying will not save you."

I was to terrified to speak. Being in front of Savoy, fighting Andy, that was nothing compared to the raw terror seeping through each and every pore. There was an energy radiating off her that I'd never felt before, and it was vile.

Evil.

Slowly the woman extended an arm, pointing in Prime's direction. My eyes followed her movement and I struggled out of fear that she was going to hurt Optimus. He wasn't moving, wasn't responding, still deep in recharge.

"He cannot save you," The woman's hand returned, her cold, metal knuckles lightly stroking my forehead, the movement almost loving in nature. If I hadn't known better, I'd have thought she was trying to comfort me. She cooed, "You are unique."

She was going to have to explain better, start making sense. Right now, she wasn't. She was terrifying me, pressing me into the dirt and keeping me at her mercy.

"I wonder what will make you see?" The woman sounded puzzled, her eyes scanning my body and landing on my bandaged wound. She smirked, not a single wrinkle on her smooth, silver, humanoid face. I couldn't see, but I could feel her work away the bandages with little regard to how comfortable I was. She pulled away the tape, ignoring when I winced. I strained against her hold when I felt cold, thing finger prod at the stitches before stopping. The woman met my gaze once more, saying, "You have no idea what you really are."

I couldn't reply, but from the look on my face, I probably didn't have to. The woman knew how to read faces.

Without warning, she slipped her thin hand past my stitches and into the wound. I felt the skin tear, muscles stretching as the wound was forced open. The jagged scream that broke free couldn't be stopped by the palm of her hand. It was animalistic and full of pain. I could feel her hand inside me, hear the soft squelch of displaced organs as she grabbed onto the first thing she could find and squeezed.

"Rachel!"

My stomach burst. Not outward, no. I couldn't see it, but I could feel it, and for some reason I wasn't dead. I was just screaming and screaming and—

"Rachel!"

I opened my eyes.

It was still dark but — no. In the distance, the sky was a mix of orange and yellow and pink as the sun began to rise. I was on my back, in the desert. Optimus was above me, kneeling, with Bumblebee and Crosshairs peering over his shoulder with worrying looks on both their faces.

There was no metal woman and when I checked, my wound was intact and stitched together.

"Rachel," Optimus rumbled. "Are you okay? You were screaming—"

"I'm fine."

"Bullshit. You were howling like...like," Crosshairs struggled to speak, and I was surprised to hear the worry in his voice. "You were in pain."

"Yeah, I was. Just a nightmare," I said calmly, trying to still my beating heart. I was aware that the others were watching, curious and disturbed. "I'm fine. Really." Crosshairs narrowed his eyes, but let it go. Bumblebee chirped, looking upset, but eventually stepped away. Optimus was the only one not buying it, his gaze on me heavy and a stark contrast from the prior night. I contemplated riding with Hound to spare the interrogation I knew I'd receive, but ultimately decided to just buck it up.

Soon we were back on the road. I'd taken my usual place in the drivers seat, remaining rigid as Prime led the caravan of Autobots north. After ten minutes of silence he spoke.

"Your nightmare was far worse, wasn't it?"

I nodded..

Optimus said, "Would you like to tell me about it?"

I did. I left nothing out, the dream so clear in my mind that I could recite the woman's words, verbatim. It seemed more like a hallucination or a vision than a dream.

"Everything felt real. I could feel the dirt and her hands...the wind on my face," I spoke slowly, my palm resting against my wound out of sheer paranoia that she'd return all of a sudden and gut me again. "Then she asked me if I knew what I really was. She was weird. It was weird."

"Do you have nightmares often?"

"No. I don't. Well, if I eat late at night I do but...sometimes. I have weird dreams — not that this wasn't weird, but it was so clear, like I said. The dirt, the woman, or, thing... whatever she was," I scratched my head. "I can still hear her voice. Shit. I need more sleep..."

"Rest. I will wake you if need be," Optimus said softly. I leaned back, letting out a breath and closing my eyes. The idea of opening them back up seemed tiresome, and after a few minutes of jerking around, trying to find a comfortable position, I was out.

No dreams haunted me this time.

 

Chapter Text

When I awoke, sunlight was beating down on my face. I shielded my eyes, slowing coming back into reality. I was still inside Prime's cab, though we were no longer moving.

Prime's holoform flickered into existence as I stretched, rolling my sore shoulders. The emergence of his human form startled me, and I yelped before covering my mouth with my hand.

"Did she visit you again? The woman?" Optimus asked softly, reaching over and grasping my hand. I shook my head, awake enough to now focus more intently on my surroundings.

"I feel better," I absently checked my wound. "Physically. Nothing hurts. Not anymore. I don't think I'll need another painkiller unless it flares up again."

"Strange," Optimus frowned. "You've recovered quicker than expected."

"That's good," I shrugged, removing my hand from my side and sliding across the drivers seat towards Optimus. I could see through the tinted windows that we were at a store — I briefly saw someone that resembled Crosshairs dart past. "What are we doing?"

"Food, for you."

"You didn't need to stop. I'm fine. I don't want you guys to get caught—"

"You need fuel, Rachel, if you wish to make a full recovery. This was my decision. Whatever consequences will be on me," Optimus brushed his fingers over my knuckle. Careful not to jostle my wound, I leaned over and wrapped my arms around his neck in a quick hug. When I pulled away, I was close enough to see the light stubble on his holoform's face.

"Your holoform is a reflection of yourself, right? You look tired," I said. "When was the last time you rested?"

Prime's face fell, and I lightly brushed my palm against his cheek. He rumbled, "I...I suffer from nightmares as well. Different nightmares. Recharging has always been a struggle, but I've grown accustomed to it."

"Once we get to Canada, you're going to rest. I'm going to, like, make you a giant pillow and a soft bed," I tried to sound convincing. If anything, I was partially trying to convince myself that we'd even make it to the border. "I know I'm a human, but I want to take care of you, best as I can. You need it."

"I need you."

I let out a shaky breath. We were close enough now that Prime could lean forward and rest his forehead against mine. After a long moment, I said, "You've got me. We're homies, who, you know, have had sex. Good sex. I'd do it again."

I pressed a kiss against his mouth, savoring it, not wanting to pull away. A sharp knock on the window ripped the moment from my grasp. Crosshairs' holoform stood outside the door, a plastic bag in hand.

"Oi! Lovebirds! Let's go!"

I chuckled as Prime's holoform fizzled out of existence, and his passengers side door popped open. Crosshairs rested the plastic bag, along with some spare change, in the seat, rolling his eyes and disappearing as well.

As Optimus pulled back onto the main road, heading to meet with the rest of our Autobot caravan, I asked, "Where did Crosshairs get money?"

"I believe he stole it. Desperate circumstances call for desperate measures," Optimus didn't sound as if he were too sorry. While I was a bit uneasy, my stomach didn't mind. At the sight of bottled water, chips, and a gas station sandwich that didn't look at all appetizing, it began rumbling.

"What state are we in?"

"Colorado," Optimus said. "We are making decent time."

"Everyone knows the plan, right?"

"They have to."

The plan wasn't as elaborate as it sounded. It was simple — once we hit Wyomings border, the Autobots would scan different alternate modes, split into groups of two, and each head a different direction before meeting up after we crossed the Canadian border. It would ensure that whomever saw us at the border didn't immediately recognize Prime's blue and red flame decal or Bumblebee's bright yellow and phone Cemetery Wind out of curiosity. Splitting into two's would further avoid suspicion, but it was dangerous.

Strength in numbers.

About an hour into the ride, after I'd chugged a whole bottle and we'd subsequently stopped so I could pee on the side of a desolate rode, I said, "Can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Was, uh...was having sex with me good? Like, how did I do? Was my form okay? I didn't say anything weird, did I, or make a weird face—"

"Rachel," Optimus said calmly. "Interfacing with you was pleasurable, and something I will never erase from my memory bank."

"Oh, okay. Cool, cool. I was just curious. You're my first male partner," my voice instinctively lowered in volume, despite the fact that Prime and I were alone. "I wanted to make sure I did things right. I'm with someone experiences."

"Barely. I only had one partner before and during the war. She was very much like you," Optimus sounded a bit sad. "Unsure of herself, but brave and willing to put herself before others."

"What happened to her?"

"She died."

I didn't ask how. I could hear the agony in his voice, subtle but noticeable enough. I simply nodded, leaning back against the seat and closing my eyes. I attempted to doze off, catch up on some sleep, but of course fate decided that I wasn't allowed to have nice things. Not anymore.

When I opened my eyes, Optimus was swerving across two lanes of traffic and I was shrieking, clutching the armrest as a missile shot past the semi. Prime narrowly avoided colliding with another vehicle before the second flew past, this time, striking its target.

Sideswipe transformed, bellowing and rolling across the asphalt in a shower of dust and sparks.

All traffic stopped. We were amongst a mask of vehicles, trapped on the road.

Optimus skidded to a halt, the jerky motion throwing me forward. I caught myself against the dashboard, letting out my held breath and allowing everything to just…sink in.

"What was that?"

"We've been found," Optimus said gravely. I peered through the windshield and saw, on the other side of the interstate, those dreadful black sedans barreling down the road. What stuck out, however, was the sleek black sports car following behind.

Optimus popped open his doors, careful not to hit any screaming humans as some chose to abandon their cars and run for cover. I hopped out and Optimus transformed, just in in time to take a missile to the shoulder.

The sound was tremendous, but Prime's bellow of pain was the only think that my brain properly responded to. He stumbled back and, in his deep, commanding baritone shouted, "Autobots! Stick to the plan!"

Stick to the plan.

Split up.

The plan seemed shitty, now. There was no "plan," not in my eyes. There was no way in hell I was leaving Optimus—

"Go, go!"

The black sports car transformed. I was frozen in fear, braced behind Optimus as our menacing adversary approached.

"Get back," Optimus snarled, though I was unsure whether he was addressing me or the dark mech before us. Only when he drew his sword and shifted his stance did I realize he was, most likely, talking to both of us.

We both aren't moving.

Gunfire pulled me out of my trance, not Optimus. I spun, watching as Cemetery Wind began to converge upon a fallen Sideswipe, surrounding him like a swarm of flies. Leadfoot, Topspin and Mirage had already peeled away, and I had no clue where Drift and Crosshairs had gone. Hound and Bumblebee and Ratchet were bounding across the road, weapons raised as Sideswipe bellowed in pain.

Optimus and the dark mech clashed, grunting with anger and pain. I could see Savoy amongst the men, walkie in hand as he watched his troops begin to rain bullets down upon Bumblebee, Ratchet, and Hound.

I ran. I have no idea what possessed me to run right towards Savoy and his men, but before I could really contemplate the severity of my decision, my feet were moving and I was sprinting between the row of motionless cars.

I picked one out. He was clad in all black, like his comrades, gun raised towards Sideswipe. I ran, slamming my body as hard as I possibly could and throwing him off balance.

"Throw" was just a bit of an understatement. Cemetery Wind, Bumblebee, everyone, stopped as the man was shot across the road like a javelin, hitting the side of a parked car so hard that the glass shattered and the metal caved in.

To reiterate: I was a much smaller girl running and throwing herself at a much larger man. All in all, there was no way this shit was supposed to happen.

"Rachel!" Optimus shouted. I heard him, but I was to busy staring at the crumpled soldier and, then, at Savoy. He'd dropped the walkie in his hand, brows furrowed as he regarded me with something akin to awe. And it wasn't the good kind of awe.

Bumblebee's cannons whirred and he fired. I fell to the ground as chunks of asphalt and severed limbs and car parts flew over my head. Savoy and his men ducked for cover, pushed back by the approaching Autobots.

Optimus had the smaller mech pinned to the ground. From what I could tell, despite the size difference, they were evenly matched in both skill and determination.

As Cemetery Wind soldiers began picking themselves off the asphalt, I attempted to sprint towards Optimus. Halfway there I was grabbed from behind, metal fingers wrapping around my midsection. I was lifted, arms extended as I yelled for Optimus as his adversary gained the upper hand.

"Let's go, femme!" Rachel bellowed. I fought against his grip, kicking and squeezing his fingers. I could feel the metal dent beneath my palm, but that didn't deter Ratchet and in a split second I found myself in the front seat of his alternate mode.

"Ratchet! Get her someplace safe!" Optimus' voice echoed through the interior of the ambulance. Before I could lunge for the door, the seatbelt slithered around my chest and slammed me back into place.

Give up.

Give up. It's no use.

Bumblebee and Hound were providing us with cover, keeping Cemetery Wind from following. As we sped back onto the main road it occurred to me that I'd probably never see any of them again. Bee, Hound, Crosshairs, Optimus.

I didn't take it well. My shoulders relaxed and I surrendered, letting the tears fall down my face freely.

For a long while, Ratchet remained silent. When he was sure I wouldn't try and escape, the seatbelt slipped from around me. Exhaustion flooded my body and I slouched, wiping away my tears.

"We Autobots are resilient," Ratchet said slowly. "Optimus and the others will make it."

"You should have left me. I could have helped—"

"No, you couldn't have," Ratchet replied calmly. "Optimus made his wishes very clear. You were to be taken away from battle as quickly as possible."

"He didn't tell me that."

"He told us," Ratchet replied. "Because he knew that you never listen to him."

I rubbed my eyes, letting out a breath. Ratchet's lights were flashing as he sped down the road. He blended in perfectly, and for a brief moment I was rather envious of the Autobot's ability to turn practically invisible.

Suddenly, Ratchet said, "Now, are you going to tell me how you sent that soldier sailing like a bullet?"

"If I knew I'd tell you."

I wasn't lying. It had all felt like a crazy hallucination, or some sort of warped reality. There was no way I was strong enough. No way.

"I'll need to do a scan, run diagnostics once more. It's beginning to make sense," Ratchet said, and it sounded as if he were addressing himself.

"What?"

"Your knife wound. I dismissed it's rapid healing rate as coincidence, which was foolish of me. There is an underlying explanation as to why your wound has almost sealed itself shut in a matter of days," Ratchet said quickly. "There is something…different about your biology. Your genetic make-up must be changing."

"I don't like where this is going," I said honestly, shifting in my seat. Ratchet's words, and the way that he said them, made me uncomfortable. I knew enough about science to understand what he was implying, and I didn't like it.

Do you even know what you really are?

The woman had been right. I didn't.

"Fuck," I leaned back and closed my eyes, squeezing out more tears. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!"

"Lower your heart rate," Ratchet instructed. "Rachel, you are distressed."

"No shit I'm distressed!" I yelled, lurching forward. "Good fucking observation, Doc, anything else you want to tell me? Any other important news? No, you know what, fuck this. Fuck," I burrowed my fingers into my hair, gnawing on my lower lip and hissing as I found myself five seconds away from a fucking mental breakdown. "Ratchet," I said as calmly as I possibly could. "I am tired. And angry, and scared."

"You are not alone," Ratchet replied. "And you never will be. Not anymore. We're going to find out what — who — you are."

Chapter Text

No more tears.

We drove for hours. I had no idea where we were headed, and I didn't care to ask. It didn't matter. My stomach was rumbling for food but both Ratchet and I had agreed to keep going, to trudge through the discomfort so we could put as much distance between us and Cemetery Wind as possible.

I sat up when I felt Ratchet roll to a stop. The moon was out, and there were no street lamps. Just the cracked asphalt of a road lining a wide river, peppered with old machinery and a hulking ship with an open hull. I squinted, shrugging my jacket over my body.

"This was — well, still is — an outpost that Bumblebee set up when he first arrived on Earth," Ratchet explained. "After, it became an unofficial N.E.S.T rendezvous point."

Ratchet pulled a bit closer to where the ship was docked, taking a moment to check if the coast was clear before opening his doors. I hopped out, walking towards the rivers edge and stared down at the dark water, before taking a better look at the boat.

The ship was a ferry that had once been used to transport vehicles and other large machinery. It looked as if it hadn't been used in decades, the paint flaking. I couldn't even read the name of the ship, for the material had been reduced to a faded blob.

"If I remember correctly, Bumblebee left behind supplies," Ratchet stepped across the gap between the ship and the dock, landing on the deck. The ferry, despite being massive, shifted a bit as it became accustomed to the new weight. Ratchet beckoned for me to follow, ducking and disappearing deeper inside. I groaned, hurrying across the dock and to the main door which, I discovered, was bolted shut from the inside. I glanced over my shoulder, feeling bad for what I was about to do. Grunting, I leaned forward, braced both hands on the door, and shoved.

Bolts popped out of place and the metal fell inward, landing with a tremendous bang against the ground. I hurried inside, praying that I hadn't attracted any attention. This was an industrial area, most of the buildings abandoned and left to succumb to old age. Even so, there were bound to be some people lurking about.

I propped the door up, shimmying it back into place. Without the bolts it just…leaned, but it was enough. I could see Ratchet sitting, diving into his work as he rummaged through whatever Bumblebee had left him.

"What'd ya got, Doc?"

"A data pad, an incubator, and…ah, yes. A blood sampler," Ratchet glanced over his shoulder, jerking his chin towards the ferry's storage area. "There are blankets and a pillow through that door. I need you well rested and alert — I'll begin running tests tomorrow."

"Ah, I can't sleep in your cab?" I said jokingly, making my way towards storage. I heard the old Autobot huff in disapproval.

"I am not Prime. I still have standards, and I prefer to keep my cab free of human drool as much as I can."

"I drool?"

"You drool," Ratchet nodded, raising one metal brow. "I don't know how Optimus tolerates it."

"He's gotten worse than drool in his cab," I chuckled, before clamping my mouth shut when I realized that Ratchet, unlike Crosshairs and the others, wasn't aware of how deep my relationship with Optimus went. The blank look Ratchet gave me was drawn out enough that I knew he wanted me to explain. Sighing as I retrieved a woolen blanket and a pillow, I said, "Yeah, uh…last night Optimus and I had sex. It was the first time, but, uh…yeah. We did it."

"You interfaced with Optimus?" Ratchet blinked sharply. He looked dumbfounded, sitting on his rear with a data pad in hand. "Why…how did this come about?"

"Well, when he was a human we went on a date. Got ambushed by some crazy people. Kissed after," I removed my shoes before sitting on the blanket, trying to keep myself busy to avoid meeting Ratchet's gaze. "And I guess, uh, we just decided to try it, you know. Just to see. Just to, you know, experience it."

Ratchet blinked again, turning away and murmuring, "Interesting."

"Listen, like, it's not a big deal. It was just something fun. I don't even know if it meant anything — I mean, he likes me, but I don't know if he, uh, like likes me—"

"I was aware that Optimus was rather…infatuated with you, but I never considered that he would go so far as to interface with you," Ratchet said.

"He told me about his old mate. The one that died during the war," I ducked my head. "I honestly wouldn't be surprised if he's just, you know, using me to get over her. I don't blame him. I can't imagine losing someone like that."

"We have all lost mates. Comrades. Family," Ratchet said, bitterness evident in his tone. "Those past losses do not define us."

"Did you have a mate?"

Ratchet snorted. "Yes."

"Tell me about them."

Ratchet's chuckled was hollow. He said, "his name was Ironhide, and he was a stubborn glitch…"


That night, the woman did not visit me. Instead, I visited someone else.

It was odd. I was beginning to grow more and more confident, and more aware. Partially because this time, I was in control and found myself staring at a familiar face.

"Optimus?"

His surrounding were fading in and out. All my focus was on him. The setting, for now, was just a faded backdrop. As I looked closer, I could see the extensive damage on his frame — a frame that didn't belong to him. The red and blue decor was gone, replaced with rusty steel flecked with dirt.

"Rachel?"

I couldn't hug him. Even if I could, I had no idea what I'd hug him with. I had no body. "This is a dream. It's all a dream."

Optimus looked taken aback. He shifted on one foot — I noticed that the other had a substantially large, jagged gash that leaked transfluid. He was really, really injured and somewhere I couldn't reach.

"How are you speaking to me?" Optimus asked. "Rachel, I can hear you."

"I don't know. This is a dream—"

"I am awake," the look on Prime's face was priceless, and I wondered if he knew that I could see him. My subconscious had him in a little box, and I had no idea if I could make it any larger and get a fix on where he was.

"Optimus, what happened? Where are you?" I stammered. The befuddled and, quite frankly, terrified look on his face was heartbreaking. A small part of me prayed that whatever was connecting us at the moment wouldn't be broken.

"I am in Texas. My communications are…damaged. I have no way of contacting the others. Where are you?"

I'm with Ratchet. He's safe — we're safe. Hiding out in one of your old outposts—"

My eyes shot open. I was staring at the dirty floor, my hand curled in a fist next to my head. Ratchet's heavy footsteps vibrated throughout the ferry as he walked over.

Hesitantly, I murmured, "It happened again."

Ratchet stared. "What happened again?"

"The dream — shit. Optimus didn't tell you, did he? About the woman…" I quickly explained, watching as Ratchet's confused expression transformed into awe and interest. He raised his eyebrows, crouching down and grabbing his data pad from the corner.

"You were able to communicate with Optimus?" Ratchet said.

"Yeah. He's in hiding. Said he didn't know where everyone else went," I stretched sore limbs, groaning. "If he's in Texas, we can get to him by tomorrow morning. Won't take long—"

"Prime's orders were for me to keep you away from danger. Optimus is a magnet, Rachel. Where he goes, trouble is not far behind. That's how it's always been," Ratchet clenched the data pad tightly, lips pressed into a thin line. "I trust Optimus. I would give my life for him — therefore, I'm doing what he instructed."

"What if he doesn't make it to the border?" I exclaimed. "Ratchet, he's hurt. He needs repairs—"

"He has been through far worse. He will make it," Ratchet said firmly. "You and I both have to trust him."

I slumped back onto my blanket, staring across the room at where my muddy boots lay, shoelaces untied and strewn out around them. Ratchet began typing on the data pad, leaving me to sulk in silence.

A while later, he said, "This is an…anomaly."

"What's an anomaly?"

"You," Ratchet turned. "You possess superior strength, rapid healing, and from what you've told me a form of telepathy. All of this began developing within such a short amount of time, as if those abilities had been dormant."

"You're looking at me as if I know something you don't," I replied. Ratchet's narrowed eyes made me uncomfortable. "I don't know anything. All of this? This is new to me."

"What is your origin of birth?"

"What?"

"When you were first born, was there anything peculiar? Anything your parental units ever told you seemed…abnormal?"

"What? No. I'm adopted, Ratchet. My mom was never in the room when I was born," I shrugged, wrapping my arms around myself. I knew where this was going, and I didn't like it. Ratchet's piercing stare was enough to give me goosebumps. "I don't know anything about my biological mother. Nothing. Or my father."

"So no way to tell if your parental units had contact with anything Cybertronian," Ratchet hummed, pacing. "That seems to be the biggest mystery, then."

"You're thinking that my parents fucked around with some alien tech, got zapped?"

"Not exactly," Ratchet's face fell, and he seemed to hesitate before saying, "Before the Autobots arrived on Earth, a government institution called Sector Seven discovered Cybertron's most ancient and sacred artifact — the Allspark. It's what brought us Autobots to your planet in the first place."

"What does the Allspark do?"

"It brings life," Ratchet replied. "Sector Seven had no boundaries. The Allspark was their's to control, and their's to play with. There is a possibility that you are the result of that."

"How the hell did you come to that conclusion?"

"Logical, medical reasoning. The Allspark is the only known Cybertronian artifact with that sort of power."

"Only known," I stressed, running fingers through my short hair. "Hell, my mom could have fallen into, like, a sacred Cybertronian bathtub that ended up on Earth somehow."

"The chances of that are extremely slim. However," Ratchet's lips curled upward. "Everything we learned about Sector Seven is on file, in the recesses of Prime's memory. He was the only one of us authorized to view the information. He is your best bet, along with a man named Seymour Simmons."

"He would have told me, though?" I shot up, the realization hitting me like a punch to the gut. "If he knew—"

"Not necessarily. You were most likely an infant, possibly mistaken for a failed experiment when you were put up for adoption."

Whew. Crisis averted.

Failed experiment. The words hurt, even though it wasn't really a personal jab. Ratchet's explanation was beginning to sound more and more plausible, and I hated it. I was a test tube baby, born in a lab. Grown. Fucked with.

And now, I wasn't a human.

"Shit," I rubbed my eyes, slouching back down. "You know, I let Optimus and the others stay with me because I was terrified of Bumblebee. I thought he would hurt me if I said no — that little scout, hurt me? Now I'm wondering if that was all a mistake."

Because that's what you are, right?

A mistake.

Ratchet got down on one knee, gently resting the data pad against the floor. "What if you'd discovered your uniqueness without the presence of the Autobots? What if Cemetery Wind had found you, first?

"I know. I know, Ratchet," I sighed. "Look, I'm starting to think that Bumblebee finding me wasn't a coincidence."

"He most likely detected a signal that you were emitting," Ratchet said simply. "Unbeknownst to you, of course."

"I had a dream the night before, about a blonde haired boy with a big smile. He asked me for help, and I helped him," my lips quivered. "And now that I think about it, he looks familiar."

Ratchet smiled.

"There's your signal."

Chapter Text

I hoped to communicate with Optimus that night, but I did not. In my desperate attempt to contact him, I uncovered something far worse.

"You're in my head," Savoy didn't seem surprised. The blank expression on his face made it seemed like the scenario was something he was used to.

"It's not real," I tried to reassure him, but everything was off. There was just darkness, and him. The recesses of his mind, unlike Optimus, seemed to be concealing something sinister, and it felt as if a thousand pairs of eyes were staring me from every direction.

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever," Savoy circled me like a shark. There was no way he could hurt me. No way.

The metal woman hurt you.

Yeah. But it wasn't real.

But it still hurt.

"I didn't mean…" I had to catch my breath, keep myself from stammering. "I didn't mean to..reach out to you. It was an accident."

"Well, you did, and you're here. So what am I going to do about it?"

"Nothing," I said as firmly as possible. "Nothing. You can't hurt me. Not here."

Savoy's gloved fingers were around my throat in an instant. The pressure was light, but hard enough that pinpricks of discomfort ran from my neck to my chest. Dark eyes stared into my own as Savoy analyzed me as if I were a desired produce on a shelf.

"I can touch you."

"But you can't hurt me."

"I can," Savoy grinned. "Just open your eyes."

An earsplitting explosion pulled me out of my trance. I lifted my head and saw the wall of the ferry implode, spewing wood and sparks in ever direction. The boat rocked, sending me rolling from my blanket.

Almost immediately, gloved hands were on me, groping, prying.

I screamed.

"Grab her," Savoy shouted over the thrum of a helicopter, gun in hand as he hurried across the ferry. "Get the baton, knock her out—"

The two men holding me were unable to do anything. I grabbed one by the vest and, not even thinking about tact or technique, swung him around so that his feet left the ground. His foot caught the other man in the head as I released him.

"Shoot her! Tranquilizers only!" Savoy waved a hand and his men moved forward. As they raised their guns I turned and ran, feeling a dart fly past my ear, close enough that it ruffled my hair. I dove off the side of the ferry, yelping when my skin touched the cold water.

I only saw darkness, and the pale flicker of the moon against the waters surface. The gunfire and the explosions and the shouts, for a brief moment, were just annoying muffled noises. Only when my lungs screamed for air did I surface, searching franticly for any sign of Ratchet.

The top floor of the ferry collapsed, flames eating away at the wood. Feeling a dart hit the water next to me, and furiously swam towards the rivers edge. My feet hit the ground running towards the road. The helicopter roared over head, so low that the harsh wind from the blades whipped my hair around and ruffled my soaking clothes.

Shit. Shit, shit.

Ratchet turned the corner. He met my gaze, opened his mouth to say something, and then collapsed in a shower of sparks and dirt. He groaned, crawling across the dirt as Cemetery Wind soldiers swarmed from every corner.

My water-soaked shoes squelched against the asphalt as I ran, reaching down and grasping at what I prayed was a heavy, iron manhole cover. Lifting it was easy — to me, it weighed no more small stone. Clutching it between both hands, I used it as a shield and crouched low, making my way towards Ratchet.

Darts struck the grimy, iron surface of the cover and fell to the ground. I could hear Ratchet screaming in agony, arms flailing, sparks flying. I could hear him screaming for me to run, to retreat, but I ignored him.

I swung the manhole cover in a wide arc. The man I'd hit did three somersaults through the air before landing in the dirt, his helmet gone and his face a mashed up mess.

"Behind you!" Ratchet bellowed.

I barely had time to look, and just enough time to fling the manhole like a frisbee. It decapitated two soldiers before it landed with a splash in the river, leaving me defenseless. Weaponless.

Savoy took advantage of that. The familiar jolt of a shock baton coming down hard upon my back had me sprawled against the asphalt in seconds.

A missile struck Ratchet as he struggled to his feet, hoping on one leg. My cheek pressed against the ground as Savoy brought the baton down again, and then again, this time against my head.

The baton snapped in half upon impact with my skull. I felt it, the pang of electricity and the sheer agony and pain of being beaten.

"Stop!" Ratchet begged. "Stop! Cease fire!"

A dozen guns were trained on me, another dozen or so on Ratchet. I remained on the ground, listening to the wind and the sound of the helicopter circling overhead. It had us all in a spotlight, the brightness nearly blinding.

I coughed, spitting out blood and tilting my head to glare at Savoy. I snarled, "He's a friend. Ratchet. He's an Autobot, not a Decepticon—"

"Do you think I care?" Savoy sneered. "He'll get no sympathy from me."

"Don't hurt him," I wheezed. "Please. Don't — let him go. He's not going to hurt anybody. He—"

A hard kick to my ribs silenced me. I squeezed my eyes shut, opening them when I heard heavy footsteps approaching from behind me. The dark colored robot, the one who'd ambushed us on the road, stood above me with a scowl on his eerily human face.

"He's mine."

He began circling Ratchet's defenseless form despite my gasping whimpers to please, spare him. Spare him.

"Lockdown," Ratchet snarled, his pain palpable. His eyes darted towards me, briefly, before focusing on the dark mech. Lockdown.

"Autobots, Decepticons. Always fighting They're like little children, making a mess of the universe. And I," he readied a device on his hand. "Have to clean it up."

Savoy allowed me to sit up on my knees, his men moving in a bit closer, the barrel of their guns inches away from my head.

Lockdown said simply, "there's only one way you survive. Tell me where he is hiding."

"Savoy — James," I steadied my breathing, eyes trained on Ratchet. Lockdown glanced over his shoulder, his piercing green stare nearly leaving me breathless with the most primal emotion: fear, though not for me, but for Ratchet. I swallowed and said, "Please. Don't do this. Take me instead. He…neither of us know where he is."

"The abnormality speaks," Lockdown growled. Ignoring Ratchet's groans, he lowered his weapon and observed me curiously. "It seems you were mistaken. The Autobots have human allies after all. Allow me to dispose of her."

"No," Savoy replied. He gestured towards Ratchet. "He's yours. She's mine."

"Suit yourself," Lockdown seemed to shrug before turning, focusing on Ratchet once more. "I will ask once more. Where is Optimus Prime?"

"I will never tell you."

Lockdown stomped hard on Ratchet's torso. The scream that left my throat was inhuman — Lockdown's weapon was shoved through Ratchet's chest, and in a shower of sparks and electricity Lockdown removed his hand holding something bright blue and pulsing.

His heart.

Ratchet's optics were lifeless, his head tilted. Lockdown admired Ratchet's heart — no, spark — for a short moment before tucking it away beneath his armor.

My eyes were red, bloodshot as I ducked my head. I didn't want Savoy or any of them to see me crying. I wouldn't reward them with the privilege of seeing me even more vulnerable than I already was.

Yet the tears came.

"Load her up," Savoy gestured. "And make sure she's unconscious. I don't want to have to deal with anything else today."


"Three of my men died because of you."

I felt special, sitting in my own box made entirely of reinforced plexiglass. They'd made sure I couldn't punch my way out — I'd spent a good ten minutes hollering and pounding on the smooth, transparent surface as hard as I could. The material was strong, and the interior of the observation cell consisted of a chair and myself.

I had no clue where I was. I'd woken up in this cell, being gawked at by whatever Cemetery Wind bigwig decided to come take a look at the latest zoo attraction.

Savoy was the only face I recognized. He was sitting in his own chair, speaking to me through a microphone while I stood like a statue and glared him down.

Firs goal after escaping: strangle him.

It was a reasonable desire, but even having hit sit here and scold me for killing people sat uneasily with me, despite the fact that the killings were justified. I'd never killed anyone before until now, and I certainly hadn't considered doing so in the future.

Well, you ruined that streak.

"How many Autobots have you killed?" I raised my eyebrows. "Those bot, they're people. They have a heart, and a soul. Family. Friends."

"Yet we're paying for their war in human blood. I lost my sister in Chicago," Savoy said bitterly. He was unflinching, sitting with his gun in his lap. "Don't sit here and act like you're one of them. You're not. And you're not one of us, either."

"Then what am I?"

"It doesn't matter. You're whatever we tell you you're going to be. We own you," Savoy leaned back in his seat. "You're not human, we get to deal with you."

"I want to talk to your boss. Now."

"Good. Because he wants to speak to you."

As if on cue — which it probably was, because Savoy was certainly a dramatic little fucker — the double doors opened and in walked a tall older man in a pressed suit. He looked like the type of person who had killed before, though unlike Savoy, he looked as if it had aged him. For some reason that made me feel as if he'd be more malleable, more understanding than Savoy.

I crossed my arms, staring through the glass as the man took the microphone from Savoy.

"I apologize for the inconvenience," he gestured to the cell I was in. "It's for the good of my men that you are restrained. My name is Harold Attinger."

"So…you're in charge of going around and murdering innocent Autobots?"

"I call it patriotism. For our country, and for our planet," Attinger spoke sharply. "You would be an asset to Cemetery Wind."

"Hell no. Don't even think about trying to get me to be on your side."

"I'm just proposing a trade. Information for information. You have spent a great deal of time around these aliens," Attinger raised his eyebrows. "There is information regarding Optimus Prime that you have, and information regarding your unusual…condition, that we happen to have."

"You know what the fuck is wrong with me?"

"As we speak, I'm having my men pull information from whatever Sector Seven files the CIA managed to recover."

"We found it already," Savoy glanced up at Attinger. "EIH-7. That's what you were — and, uh, I guess what you still are."

"The fuck does EIH mean?"

"Extraterrestrial incubated homo-sapien," Savoy snorted. "They were creative with the acronyms thats for sure."

There was no way in hell I was going to snitch on Optimus like that, especially for information so…meaningless. Not that I wasn't curious, there was just no real reason for me to really care where I came from. Not yet. Not when my family was scattered about and being hunted.

Hah. The Autobots are your family, now?

I let out a breath and said, "That's great, gentlemen. But I'm not a snitch. It's a 'no' from me, or, me specifically, a 'go fuck yourself.'"

Savoy raised his eyebrows, looking almost impressed. Attinger's face was stone cold, but I saw his upper lip twitch and his eyes narrow.

"There are other ways to get information," Attinger lightly slapped his palm against Savoy's shoulder. "If she doesn't cough anything up within the next seventy-four hours, put her to sleep and saw off her head so we can ship her to Joyce," he met my eye. "You're making a mistake, girl."

"I won't regret it," I raised my middle finger, baring my teeth as I smiled.

Attinger made a noise if disgust before disappearing through the double doors. Savoy watched him leave, his demeanor changing from serious to rather playful as he beamed, running fingers through his short hair. When he spoke, their was mirth in his tone. It wasn't pretty.

"We're going to have fun. Trust me."

Chapter Text

Savoy's idea of fun was very, very different than my idea of fun.

Three men were in the cell, an additional two standing guard at the door and, of course, Savoy. That made six, darkly dressed, armed men in all surrounding me as if we were going to have a good old fashioned ring fistfight.

I was exhausted. Even with my strength, the men all had shock batons and guns and were within close range. The men standing at the door could put a bullet through my head in a split second. The odd of survival, if I tried to fight, were not in my favor.

A shock baton bashed me in the back of the head. I fell against the white floor, groaning. My legs shook as I got to my feet, only to collapse a moment later when the butt of an assault rifle hit me in the abdomen. The man who'd hit me stumbled back a hit, surprised as his weapon bounced off my taut skin.

The impact still hurt, and I doubled over and sunk to my knees. Savoy smirked, standing over me.

"Hurts, doesn't it?"

"A bit."

Savoy exhaled, rolling up his sleeves. He gestured for some space, staying in the little circle as his men back up against the plexiglass. The breathing space was nice, but now I was with Savoy. Not alone, but it sure as hell felt as if we were along, especially with him so close.

He grasped my hair and with one hard yank slammed my cheek against the floor, forcing me onto my stomach. I went to retaliate, immediately lifting me head, preparing to just shove him away. The click of his his handgun and its cold barrel against my temple stopped me.

"Do not even think about it," Savoy murmured. "Tell me where Optimus Prime is, and I'll stop."

"Stop what," I snorted against the ground. "Fuck you. Seriously. Fuck you. You said you're sister died, right? I'd like to think she wasn't a sack of shit like you. That she was good. What do you think she say to you now, huh?"

Savoy was already furiously reaching for his belt, but he stopped halfway and instead placed a hand on the back of my neck, forcing my head back against the floor.

One of Savoy's men seemed uncomfortable, another unsure, but none of them looked as if they were going to jump in a tell Savoy to stop. That this was to much. All of it was to much.

What the fuck is wrong with you?

I lay panting, cheek pressed against the floor as the barrel of Savoy's gun pressed into my cheek. His rough hands slipped up the back of my shirt, fingers pinching at my skin. I could hear his heavy breathing and smell the faintest hint of tobacco as he leaned down, lips against the shell of my ear.

"My sister was more human than you will ever be," he made a noise in the back of his throat. "Apologize."

"To who?"

"Me."

"Fuck no."

Savoy exhaled through his nostrils, moving his mouth away and glancing around at his men. "Apologize, or I'll have one of my men hold you down while fuck you until you can't walk. Do you want that?"

"No," I croaked, squeezing my eyes shut. I heard Savoy sigh. His grip on the back of my neck tightened and he gestured for me to roll over onto my stomach. I couldn't keep the petrified look off my face as I realized that he was serious, kneeling with his belt undone and his face a stone-cold mask. I shivered, holding back insistent tears as one palm fluttered against the inside of my left thigh, the barrel his gun resting beneath my chin.

He might just do it, regardless.

"I'm sorry," I blurted. "I'm sorry."

Savoy ignored me. I could see the rise and fall of his chest, his pupils expanding, dark eyes full-blown with some sick desire. Keeping the gun steady against my head he leaned down, mouth parted as they made contact with the bare skin of my neck, and then towards my jaw. When he reached my lips, I could taste the liquor and smoke against his tongue as it invaded the uninviting cavern of my mouth.

One of his men said, "Sir, uh…are you sure Attinger would approve of this?"

Savoy pulled away and turned his head, quick as a snake. I saw him hesitate before he glanced down at me, licking his lips, murmuring, "No. Even he has limits."

But you don't?

Bile rose in the back of my throat. I could still taste him. It was like a sickness.

Savoy stood, fixing his appearance. One by one, his men left. Then him. They locked the door behind me.

That's when I vomited. Heaved everything up and doubled over, panting, saliva and dripping from my mouth and tears cascading down my face. I was vaguely aware the door opening, footsteps echoing around the vacant room.

Attinger stood just an inch or so away from the glass. His face was expressionless — like a corpse.

"Are you done being brave?"

I lifted my head, acknowledging Attinger's words with a grimace. "I'm not being brave. I'm doing what's right."

"This is bigger than you, girl. The fate of our planet is at stake — those alien terrorist have the power to wipe us all out. You've seen it—"

"Optimus and his people protected us."

"Optimus and his people are the reason we're in this mess," Attinger snapped. He looked me up and down, then at the pool of vomit beneath my feet. "Savoy's methods are usually effective. Maybe you are a waste of resources."

He was right, and I had zero leverage to use. There was no way in hell I was going to give up anything regarding the Autobots. To them, I'd be more useless strapped to a table and sliced open.

I straightened up, looking Attinger in the eye. He watched as I stalked forward, right up to the glass, my breath fogging the material.

"There's nothing you can threaten me with. Nothing," I spread my arms wide. "I know pain. And I can take pain."

"Stubborn bitch," Attinger snarled. I glanced over his shoulder and saw Savoy leaning against the doorframe with a smirk on his face. Attinger raised a hand, saying loudly, "Prep her for transport to KSI headquarters."

Savoy nodded. His men filed in, armed. Attinger stepped back as they surrounded the little glass cage. The hostility in the room was palpable, and I had a feeling that whatever was about to transpire wouldn't be pretty.

There was a click, followed by a hiss as Savoy slowly eased open the door, just enough to roll a spherical object across the floor. I made a beeline for Savoy, head ducked. Before I could even get halfway the door slammed shut and the room became filled with gas. It billowed forth from whatever the hell Savoy had thrown, and almost immediately I was coughing.

I couldn't see a foot in front of me, so I ran until my shoulder slammed hard against the glass, the entire structure vibrating. The gas was already in my nose and my mouth, clogging everything, choking me.

No! Keep fighting!

My shoulder hit the glass again. The vibration this time was much more powerful. With my last bit of strength I reared back and punched as hard as I could.

A crack appeared. Small, but a crack nonetheless.

I collapsed.


"Child."

The metal woman had a smile on her face. I was pinned, immobilized as she circled me, floating around in her dreary, dark metal ship. No sunlight, no moonlight. Just the stars.

"Why do I keep seeing you?" I said steadily, my eyes following the woman as she moved. She was fascinating, ethereal, and utterly alien.

"Because you want to," the woman purred. A cold, smooth finger ran down my cheek. "And because I want to. We are connected."

"I don't want to be connected," I tried shaking my head, but found that I couldn't move. Staring as the woman stopped in front of me, hand still on my cheek, I said slowly, "Am I in your head?"

"Yes. And I have a task for you," the woman leaned in closer, her finger drifting from my cheek to my lower lip. She seemed fascinated, looking me up and down. "Tell Optimus Prime that his creator wishes to see him."

"What the hell are you?"

Full, metal lips stretched into a smile. The woman's eyes were big and blue, and staring into them was like staring into a bottomless pit. Her finger lifted, and her mouth pressed against my forehead. I was unable to move, and I squeezed my eyes shut.

When I opened them, I was staring at a ceiling. The smell of antiseptic flooded my nostrils and, as my eyes darted back and forth, two Cemetery Wind soldiers met my gaze.

"Oh, shit."

"She's awake! Fuck, fuck, fuck!"

I snapped the leather traps on my arms with ease, sitting up as the two men sped down the hallway, pushing the gurney. Before they could even stop and pull out their weapons, I launched myself from the bed and onto the ground.

I had two seconds to check my surroundings. I was in a hallway, dressed in a hospital gown with no shoes and, from what I observed, no way out.

"Grab her!"

I felt the charge of a shock baton, the static causing the hairs on the back of my neck to rise. Without thinking, I grabbed the soldier by the arm and snapped the bone as if it were a dry twig. A piercing shriek escaped the soldier and the baton fell from his limp fingers.

The bullet that whizzed past my ear pulled me fully into reality. I released the man, spinning and sprinting down the hall as the soldiers chased, shouting, ringing alarms and firing off rounds that would kill me.

Out.

The hallway ended with a potted plant and a wide glass window. The sunlight streaming through was like a lure, and I took it without hesitation. I had no clue what floor I was on, but in the end, if I died, I wanted to die my way. Hopefully my crunched bones and splattered organs on the pavement would make dissection much, much more difficult for Attinger.

"Stop!"

A bullet grazed my bare leg, but I was already airborne and throwing myself through the thin glass.

For the five short seconds I was airborne, instinct told me to tuck and roll. My feet hit the ground and gravity tugged me forward and down, where I rolled across the asphalt like and stopped near the edge of the road.

I stayed for a moment, aware of the shocked pedestrians backing away from where I lay, covered in shards of glass. The pain from the impact was slowly making its presence known. I tested out my legs — intact. Arms — intact. Head — intact. A bit bloody, and sure as hell bruised. But intact, and alive.

I struggled to my feet, limping a bit and turning towards the tall building that acted as a headquarter for Cemetery Wind. I could see soldiers peering through the busted window, pointing and shouting.

I darted away, rushing into the busy street. Cars honked and swerved and it took me a split second to recognize a target and execute whatever plan I had.

I grabbed the motorist by his shirt and yanked him off his motorcycle. The vehicle tipped and skidded across the asphalt while the man cursed and landed hard on his back, his helmet flying from his head. I immediately released him.

"I'm sorry. Oh, shit I'm sorry," I backpedalled, heading towards the motorcycle. "I'll try and get this back to you, I promise."

Have you ever ridden a motorcycle?

Have you ever ridden a motorcycle barefoot?

I had no time for trial and error. Savoy and his men were after me — I could see their cars peeling away from the HQ. The blood on the bottom of my foot was making it difficult to start the damn bike, but after a few tries I was off.

I hugged the motorcycle like a lifeline, speeding down the road and gracefully running several red lights, trying to gain as much distance between my pursuers and I as possible. I prayed Attinger wouldn't allow Savoy to waste his resources going after me.

You're non-human. You classify as a Cemetery Wind target.

I checked the rearview. They were still hauling ass, gaining on me rapidly.

You're going to have to cause a scene.

Causing a scene would hurt innocent people. I knew that, and at this point I was split between saving my own ass or sparing someone else a grisly injury. Or death.

So? What have they ever done for you?

I cursed, checking my rear view before spotting a miracle. A train. I eased forward, towards the tracks, praying that I could make the jump in time. I had no clue if I'd be strong enough to stop a train, and this certainly wasn't the time to test that out.

The train blared its horn as I leaped over the tracks, the bump nearly causing me to lose control of the bike. I steadied it and continued on, not even looking back. I prayed the little stunt would by me some time, and I continued down the road.

Texas. Texas. Optimus said he was in Texas.

I began looking for signs, weaving through traffic. I had no map, no GPS. The barren terrain around me was my only clue that I was out West.

The sun set, and I was still on the road. My eyes felt heavy and, as time went on, my stomach began clenching and growling. I'd barely eaten during my brief imprisonment, and at this time of night the only restaurants open were twenty-four hours fast food joints.

It'll do.

I pulled the bike to a stop in the parking lot, bare feet covered in filth and blood. The smell of cooked meat and fries wafted from the building, and my mouth immediately began to water. I pushed through the front door, traversing the empty restaurant. The employee at the register lifted his head, his eyes widening.

"Uh, ma'am?"

I ignored him. My stomach was clenched and I stopped at the edge of the counter, peering around the corner towards the kitchen.

"Ma'am," the cashier reached for my arm, but I tugged it away at the last moment, finally coming to my senses and addressing him.

"I want five hamburgers and some fries," I said curtly. "I don't care what you put on them."

I was to hungry, too exhausted to really care that the cashier was freaked out, fingers shaking. I hadn't looked in the mirror, but I imagined I wasn't a pretty sight.

A tall man, who I assumed was the manager, rounded the corner and stopped. The cashier seemed to relax now that he had backup. My eyes darted between the two men.

"I want my hamburgers and my fries, please."

"You have to pay for those," the manager said said, slowly nodding his head. "It doesn't look like you have any money. Are you okay, Miss—"

I gripped the taller man by the shirt, tugging him forward with such force that his feet left the ground and he landed, hard, skidding across the restaurant floor. The cashier cried out, leaping back.

The manager groaned, disoriented. The cashier tore his eyes away for one moment, shrunk back in the corner.

"Go get me five hamburgers and some fries. Now."

Chapter Text

Those methods were, uh, unorthodox.

I stepped on the gas, the bag of foot slung across my shoulder as I sped away. Half an hour later, once I'd put some good distance between myself and the restaurant, I stopped behind an old motel, shrouded by foliage, and began eating. I stopped at hamburger number three, trying my best to pace myself as I devoured fries.

After, I laid in silence. The urge to drift off and sleep was tempting, but I pushed it aside. Sleeping was becoming an ordeal — I had no clue if I'd be visited by the metal woman or if I'd accidentally make contact with Savoy. I could barely control who I reached out to, and getting caught off guard was the last thing I wanted to happen.

The moon slipped behind a few clouds, blanketing everything in darkness. I heard the howl of a dog and the ringing of sirens in the distance. My eyes began to slip shut, and I let them. Just for a little while…

Tires squealed against asphalt, snapping me out of my trance. I scrambled to my feet, fingers tearing into the dirt as I immediately hauled my bike up. Before my ass could even hit the seat I was blinded by headlights.

I shielded myself, adjusting to the brightness.

Instead of dropping, my heart soared.

"What the hell, Bee?" I stumbled across the parking lot, bracing my hand against the yellow Camaro. "You almost gave me a heart attack!"

The door to the drivers side popped open, and from inside, a voice chirped, "My bad."

The door shut behind me, and I found myself finally relaxing. I glanced into the mirror. I didn't even recognize the girl staring back at me — she had dark, red circles under her eyes, disheveled hair, and skin flecked with blood.

"You doing okay?"

As Bumblebee pulled out of the parking lot, I sighed. My head lolled to the side as I resisted the urge to pass out. Bee's seats were comfortable. Much, much more comfortable than that of a motorcycle. I drawled, "Nah, man. I'm not okay. Oh, God. Bee, Ratchet is dead."

Bumblebee was silent. The atmosphere shifted as I closed my eyes.

"We went to the outpost, the ferry. Cemetery Wind found us. They slaughtered Ratchet," I wiped away a stray tear. "Bee, please tell me you know where everyone else is?"

"I wish I knew, little lady."

I let out the breath I'd been holding, steadying my breathing. In mere moments sleep took me, and for once, my dreams were peaceful. No metal woman, no Savoy.

When I woke, there was abundance of sunlight. I rubbed my eyes, sitting up and peering around Bumblebee's interior.

"Good morning, sunshine."

"Where are we?" I squinted, looking out the window. The land was flat and barren, rock structures stretching hundreds of meters into the air. We were nowhere near the Canadian border like I'd expected.

"Change of plans," Bee's radio chirped.

I leaned forward, peering through the windshield as Bumblebee skidded off the main road, tires kicking up dirt and dust. I lurched forward, gripping the steering wheel to steady myself. Bumblebee did a full 180 and waiting as the dust began to clear.

Then the doors opened. I stumbled out, the sun beating down upon my bare skin.

"Optimus?"

I had to blink a few times just to make sure that this was real. They were all standing there, Crosshairs, Drift, Hound, Optimus. Bumblebee transformed, glancing down at me and fluttering his door wings.

Optimus seemed to be doing the same, staring at me as if seeing me for the first time. Three humans were at his side — a pretty blonde girl, and two men. They seemed taken aback, regarding my tattered appearance with suspicion.

"Rachel," Optimus breathed. "What happened to you?"

"All sorts of shit," I replied shakily, stepping through the dirt as Bumblebee followed behind. "Ratchet's dead, Prime."

"No," Optimus shuddered, optics blinking as he crouched down. Hound's shoulders sagged and he sighed.

I took a deep breath, raising my voice so all the Autobots could hear. "Is this all that's left?"

"All that we know of," Crosshairs said sadly. "You gave us quite a scare, fleshy. I, uh, thought we'd lost you."

My lips twitched and I smiled at Crosshairs. I glanced around the small semicircles of Autobots, rolling my shoulder before finally addressing the three confused humans.

"Who are you people?" I couldn't help but let hostility creep into my tone. I was ten times more paranoid that normal, and the way the three of them were staring at me made me uncomfortable. The tallest of them all was muscular with a ruggedly handsome appearance.

"Who are we? Who are you?" The taller man stepped forward, and his closeness made my muscles tense and I clenched my fists. "Look, we don't want any trouble. We're in a bad situation here."

"You should get yourselves out of it."

"Well, so should you."

"I don't have a choice," I glared. The look Optimus shot me had me raising my hands in a placating gesture. "Look, you know what? It's whatever."

"Rachel, they saved my life," Optimus rumbled.

"So, Cemetery Wind is hunting them, too?" I tilted my head up, raising my eyebrows. Optimus nodded, and I shook my head before addressing the man before me. "I'm Rachel. That's Bumblebee," I pointed to the yellow bot behind me, then at each alien. "Drift, Crosshairs, Hound."

"I'm Cade Yeager. This my daughter Tessa and, uh, her…boyfriend. Shane," the man grimaced as he gave the younger man to his left a not-so-friendly look.

Cade, Tessa, Shane.

They're probably going to die.

I forced a smile as Hound began gnawing on his metal cigar, chuckling. "What a sad little group we've got here."

"Why are you wearing a hospital gown?" Cade said. "And why do you look like you went through a human-sized blender?"

I wanted to make a witty remark, but Optimus was interested as well. I let out a breath. "Cemetery Wind got me. Thought it would be cool to poke around, see how much pain I could take. Assholes."

My hands were shaking. I'd pushed Savoy's very existence down, deep down into the recesses of my brain. The thought of confronting what he'd done made me sick to my stomach.

You still feel everything. His mouth. His fingers.

"Shit," Cade winced. He removed his jacket, and once again I tensed as he hastily wrapped it around me. I watched as he slowly removed his hand from my shoulder, saying, "Look, we'll find you some new clothes."

"Thank you," I said hesitantly. I looked around at the Autobots, before meeting Prime's gaze. "I…I just," I stammered, taking a moment to gather my thoughts. "I need to talk to Optimus."

"I'll get a fire going," Shane said, his accent thick. "C'mon, Tessa."

I zipped up Cade's jacket, his sleeves several inches to long. My bare feet shuffled through the desert floor as Optimus and I headed towards the outskirts of the makeshift camp. When we were far enough away, he knelt.

"Let me talk first," I said quickly, before Optimus could get out a word. "Ratchet and I might have figured out why I'm so strong, why I heal so quickly and why I can communicate with you like I did. We think Sector Seven or whatever they're called used the Allspark to, like, fuck with my DNA."

Optimus took a second to process the information, before nodding slowly. "That is…a possibility. The Allspark would have those capabilities, for it's power if practically infinite."

"Second, the metal bitch — I mean woman — visited me again. She told me to tell you that your creators want you back, whatever that means," I spoke quickly, brows furrowed. "Then she kissed me. It was weird. So, so, weird."

Very, very briefly jealousy flashed across Prime's face before he composed himself and said, "My creators…"

"Yeah. No idea what the fuck it means, but that's what she told me to tell you," I let out a breath. "Shit—"

"What did Cemetery Wind do to you?" Optimus said lowly, leaning closer. One metal finger drifted up to lightly graze my bruised cheek.

"I told you already. They hurt me," I shrugged, letting out a strangled little laugh. "They wanted me to give up your location."

Optimus dropped his hand. "I brought this upon you. I am sorry. I am so, so sorry."

"It's okay, because they're going to die. I realize that now. I want that," I kicked at the dirt. "I've never wanted to kill someone before until now."

"They did more to you."

"Savoy," I gnawed on my lower lip as my limbs trembled even harder than before. I had to squeeze one palm into a fist as I spoke. "He, uh, touched me some. Kissed me."

Optimus' optic twitched and for a moment I thought I'd accidentally caused the poor bot to glitch. But from the way his metal lips curled back I could tell that he was holding back bubbling, seething rage for my sake.

"That was his way of making me give up your location. But it didn't work," I kicked at the ground again. "All he did was make me feel unclean. Confused. Angry. That's probably what he wanted, in the end."

"I'm going to kill him."

"Not if I get to him first."


It was later in the day that Shane, Tessa, and Bumblebee took it upon themselves to head into town and try to salvage clothes and food. Tessa had offered to grab me some fresh clothes, stating that we were around the same size. I agreed, thanking her meekly and pulling Cade's jacket tighter around my shoulders. I was filthy, my hair hanging down, ringlets damp with sweat and grime.

The Autobots had taken refuge amongst the rocks, using them as covers to block the sun and conceal them from prying eyes. I found myself sitting next to Crosshairs as he caught up on some recharge, bare toes flexing. The bottom of my feet were blackened and sore, and I could barely get comfortable.

I was OCD when it came to hygiene, especially when it came to feet. Dirt and grime repulsed me, and having it against the skin of my soles made me twitchy, anxious. There was no way I'd be able to sleep with my body plastered in sweat and whatnot.

"Rachel?" I glanced up. Prime's huge body towered over me, and he lowered his voice so to not pull Crosshairs out of recharge. He murmured, "During my travels, I bypassed a small pond concealed just half a mile from this location."

"Is it safe?"

Optimus nodded. "I was wondering if you wished to clean yourself? I could tell from a distance that you seemed uncomfortable."

"You're a mind reader, Prime," I chuckled, standing.

"Not particularly. Just a good observer," Optimus transformed, engine shuddering as his doors popped open. From beneath an arch of rock and dirt, Hound raised his cigar and nodded as we sped off.

I kept silent, feeling bad about having to touch my nasty feet against Prime's pristine cab. The moment we arrived I hopped out, looking around at the secluded little area, barricaded by mountains and shrubbery. The slop leading to the pond was small, and as I approached I dug my toes into the sand, sighing.

I heard Optimus shift behind me. In a cautious voice he said, "Would you like some privacy?"

I could feel him looking at me, standing there in my hospital gown and Cade's oversized jacket. Squinting, I peered up at the setting sun as it dipped behind clouds, painting the sky with pinks and oranges. It was beautiful, and quiet. Peaceful.

I turned. In a hoarse voice I said, "Uh, no. That's fine. I…could you come in with me?"

"I…am not big enough to fit in that pond, Rachel," Optimus was trying not to chuckle. I covered my mouth with my hand before shrugging off Cade's jacket, folding it neatly and resting it against a flattened rock. Optimus watched, optics glued to my frame as I slipped off the tattered hospital gown. My body instinctively reacted to Prime's gaze and I twirled the garment around my pinky, biting my lower lip before spinning and bounding into the cool, shallow pond. Water lapped at my breasts and I giggled, feeling the sweat and dirt wash from my skin.

I closed my eyes and drifted a bit, yelping when something gripped my leg. When I opened my eyes, Prime's holoform was wading in the water, a smile plastered across his handsome face. I chuckled and splashed, planting my feet in the sand and peering up into his bright, blue eyes. I was distracted almost immediately by the rivulets of water slipping down his neck, past the grooves between the muscles on his chest and stomach.

"Shit," I murmured. I was pretty sure that I licked my lips. When I looked up again, Prime touched his finger against my cheek. Without even saying anything, I knew that he was waiting for permission.

I nodded. I needed to get the whatever was left of Savoy taste out of my mouth.

Prime's lips were soft, just like last time. I sighed against his mouth, hands gently combing through the water until I found his stiff length. This time, he was the one to moan and shiver, big hands cupping my face.

He pulled away, looking down at me beneath hooded eyes as I stroked him, swirling my thumb around the very tip of his cock. He was hardly able to verbalize what he wanted, and instead growled from deep within his chest.

"Primus you are beautiful," Optimus murmured, claiming my lips once again. I was already wet, desire pulsing from deep within my core. Optimus brushed his fingers through my tangled locks of hair, mouth descending down my neck and towards my chest. I could feel him poke against the inside of my thigh, and boldly, I maneuvered his length so the tip brushed my folds.

Optimus bucked his hips, growling. His teeth nipped at my upper lip as he wrapped one big arm around my waist, hoisting me up and keeping a hand against my hip. With one powerful thrust he was inside me. His shoulder seemed to sag with relief, and all I could do was hold on. Making noise seemed unbearable — there were little pinpricks of pain as I adjusted to his size, before he began to move, finally.

"Look at me."

Droplets of water fell from my eyelashes, but I was able to meet his gaze. I could feel his breath — artificial, but still breath nonetheless — against my skin. Unlike Savoy, there was mirth and affection in his eyes. He was focused on me. Focused on pleasing me.

I leaned forward to give him a quick kiss, repeating the gesture when he began thrusting even harder.

"Faster," I grunted, digging my nails into his shoulders. "Fuck."

A guttural groan tore its was through Optimus, muscles flexing as he obeyed. My noises were increasing in volume, soft whimpers transforming into high-pitched whines, demands for him to go faster, harder. More. All I felt was him — his scent, his fingers, his cock.

I came, biting into his shoulder and squeezing my eyes shut. Optimus sank to his knees, still able to keep us above the water as I rested my cheek against his. His breathing was light, reserved, while I was gulping in air.

I wonder what he sounds like when he comes. Him. Not his holoform.

"Optimus," I murmured. "Thank you. For everything, just…thank you. I think…I like you. You make me feel loved. I'm not used to that. Thank you."

I pulled away a bit. His lips were parted, hair damp and flattened against his skin. He was beautiful, regardless of what form he took.

Big hands rose from beneath the cool water to cup my face. His kisses were insistent, needy.

"You are mine. I want you to be mine."

"I am yours. Only you," I breathed, and I meant it. "Only you."

Chapter Text

I fell asleep almost immediately after I entered Prime's cab for the short drive home. I'd air-dried beneath the sun, before zipping up Cade's jacket and abandoning that horrid hospital gown by the pond. My body was still exhausted from my escape, and while sex with Optimus had been wonderful, sensational, my muscles thought otherwise.

I was curled up in a ball, right in the drivers seat of Prime's cab. Cade's jacket covered me pretty well, and provided enough warmth that dozing off seemed only natural. My dreams were peaceful, devoid of any intruders.

When I opened my eyes, it was dark. I could hear talking — Optimus had left me inside his cab, not bothering to transform. I could feel the hum of life beneath the seat, and as I gazed around his cab I saw a bundle of clothes lying on the passengers seat.

"Tessa and Shane returned a few hours ago," Optimus said. I huffed and spread them out — undergarments, jeans, some running shoes and socks, and a top. I smiled, eager to put on actual clothes. Optimus added, "Cade said that you can keep his jacket. You need it more than he does."

I dressed quickly, hopping from the semi. Optimus transformed, and I approached the small gathering of Autobots and humans sitting around a flickering fire.

"Nice of you to join us," Crosshairs drawled. "The two of you were gone for a mighty long time. Care to tell us what you were up to?"

"I was bathing," I said bluntly, sitting on the floor next to Tessa. "Something you need to do soon. Your paint job is deplorable."

"She does have a point," Drift poked Crosshairs in the shoulder. "A wash would do you some good."

I chuckled, addressing Cade, Shane and Tessa. "I'm willing to work you here. We both want the same thing."

"Which is?" Cade inquired, raising an eyebrow.

"Cemetery Wind and everyone who is a part of it destroyed."

Cade glanced at Tessa. He said, "They put a gun to my daughters head. Killed my friend," he grimaced. "I'm all for getting revenge, and so are these guys," he pointed to the Autobots. "It's not like we have anything else to do."

"We're fugitives," Shane said, tossing a stick into the fire. "Settling in with some sort of Autobot witness protection program."

"How did you get to be in the same boat as us?" Tessa asked, running fingers through her blonde hair. God she was pretty. I was envious.

"Long, long story. Like yours. It doesn't matter, though," I lowered my gaze. "We're here, and there's no changing that."

Something akin to sympathy flashed behind Cade's eyes. He placed a hand on Tessa's shoulder, saying, "You were there. Behind enemy lines — what did you see?"

"I didn't see shit. I was in a reinforced plexiglas box," I huffed. "They knocked me out and wanted to cut off my head."

"What did they say?" Optimus rumbled, ire evident in his tone. His fists were clenched in anger.

"Attinger — that's their leader. Harold Attinger. Worked or works or whatever for the CIA. He mentioned some dude named Joshua Joyce and KSI. That's where they wanted to send my corpse."

"KSI is a company based in Mission City," Cade replied. "The hell did they want to send you to there for?"

Optimus stiffened, and I saw Crosshairs and Hound shoot each other looks. Tessa, Cade, and Shane seemed lost, unsure of what the awkward stretch of silence meant.

Softly, Hound said, "I don't think they know."

"Of course they don't know, you big lug," Crosshairs hissed. "They've only known the girl for a day."

"What are you talking about?" Cade craned his neck, before realizing that he wasn't going to get an answer from Crosshairs. To me, he said, "What are they talking about?"

No use in hiding it. They'd find out eventually.

"Take what I'm about to say with a grain of salt," I said slowly. "Because in reality, I'm sort-of-kind of in the dark," Shane, Tessa and Cade were observing me, as if they were trying to decide whether or not I was suddenly hostile. I sighed, making sure to reassure them. "Something is different with me. Something with my biology. I'm…really, really strong. I can heal quicker. I can talk with people through my dreams."

"Didn't know about that last part," Hound rumbled.

"Yeah, it's…I don't know what it is," I glanced at Hound, before studying the shock and disbelief on the faces of the three humans sitting across from me. "It's a whole, long story that you'll get later on."

"How strong is 'really' strong?" Shane asked, tossing another little twig into the fire.

"Strong enough to throw a grown man fifty feet through the air. Strong enough to stop a car with my bare hands," I twisted my fingers together, almost embarrassed by what I was admitting. "It's growing. I can tell. I think, eventually, I'll be able to lift up Optimus."

"That's insane," Tessa said.

I shrugged, shrinking in on myself. While I'd physically recovered — mostly — mentally I'd yet to get used to the presence of Cade, Shane and Tessa. It was like talking to a wall with them. They didn't get it. They looked at me as if I were speaking another language.

You've been around aliens to long.

"Well, if we're looking for information, KSI would be the place to start," Cade said. "We need to know what kind of shit they're hiding."

I knew the chances were slim, but the possibility that KSI could be holding surviving Autobots captive in order to gather data was on my mind. Mirage, Sideswipe, Topspin…all of them could still be alive, trapped.

"So that's the plan?" Shane smirked. "Heading straight into enemy territory?"

"You're welcome to stay, lucky charms," Cade said briskly. "

"Well, for the record, superdad, I'm hanging out with that big guy," Shane jerked a thumb towards Optimus, "And with the lady with the superpowers."

I saw Tessa smile a big and squeeze her boyfriends hand. Cade looked exasperated, but nonetheless gave up and just sighed.

Optimus spoke, his voice calm and commanding. "Autobots, once dawn breaks we will head to Mission City. For now, you should all get some much needed recharge."

"Amen to that," Crosshairs slouched against the rock face. "I like this guy. I really do."

"Kiss-ass," Bumblebee's radio chirped. Crosshairs shoved him on the shoulder, and Bee sauntered off to his own little niche. I could feel Prime's gaze on me, and when I met his eye there was nothing but sheer desire. I saw him nod before walking off into the shadows.

"Oh, boy," Crosshairs murmured. "He gave you 'the look.'"

"What look?"

Crosshairs' jaw went slack, raising his metal eyebrows. Exasperated, he snorted. "Don't play dumb. We all know about you and Prime. I could almost hear the two of you going at it the other day. Don't know what you see in boss bot, I really don't. If the long, speeches don't put you off, his boring personality will."

I opened my mouth in a bit of shock, surprised by the bitterness in Crosshairs' words. This, combined with the way his arms were crossed and his metal lips had turned into a scowl, made me wonder for a brief moment, if he was jealous.

I decided to egg him on a bit. "You don't have to insult Optimus. He's actually wonderful at sex."

Crosshairs sputtered, saying quickly, "Well, so am I. But I would never resort to interfacing with a fleshling. Even one with mixed DNA."

"What about when you were a human? You talked big shit then, sure. But honestly, you're telling me you didn't feel a single thing towards anyone? Male of female or whatever else?"

Crosshairs was still defensive, but I could his stern visage begin to crumble. Finally, he sighed and lowered his voice, saying, "You will not speak a word of this to Prime, or to anyone, understand?"

"My lips are sealed."

"I did feel a strange sensation around my lower areas when I was around, oh, Primus I hate saying this, you," Crosshairs grimaced. "It was disgusting."

"That's called an erection, Crosshairs. I gave you an erection."

"I know, I know. You don't have to say that," Crosshairs looked even more embarrassed than before. "The feeling gradually faded, especially when you and Prime locked lip plates."

"That's sweet, Crosshairs. Don't ever be scared to admit how you feel. Seriously."

"Whatever," Crosshairs waved a hand, but I caught him smile a bit. "Now run to your Prime. He's waiting."


He was waiting, indeed. I was already blushing red when I opened the door to his cab, climbing inside. Almost immediately his holoform was on me, pressing soft kisses against my throat. For a moment I could only groan and bask in the feeling of his lips on my skin and his fingers skimming across my bare arms.

"Hey, hey," I held Prime's face between my hands, staring into his blue eyes. "Let me touch you. Let me—"

"I will show you how to pleasure a mech later. Right now, I wish to pleasure my mate," lust, combined with slightly dominance danced behind Optimus' eyes. He leaned in and kissed me, murmuring. "Undress for me."

I nodded without hesitation, hastily peeling my shirt from the skin, followed by my bra, pants, underwear…all of it lay bundled up in the floorboard of Prime's spacious cab.

I was already wet, though not as wet as I could be. Optimus knew this, and almost immediately I felt his big fingers prod at the entrance. The touch alone was enough to make me buck my hips and gasp at the contact.

Optimus was staring down at his fingers as they became slicked with my arousal. Just having him look made my cheeks heat up. I turned my head away in embarrassment, only to have Optimus touch my cheek.

"Look at me. Do not think about your appearance," Optimus whispered. "You are who I've chosen. There is no person more worthy than you."

"Please don't say that," I slowly met his gaze. Before I could get out my next words, his lips were on mine and two fingers had sunken deeper inside me. Pleasure coiled within my bellow and I gasped against his mouth.

When he pulled away, he growled, "What can I do to make you understand?"

"Nothing. It's on me," I panted. "It's in my head. It's the voices telling me that I'm not worthy, that's I'm not worth it. It's on me. Never on you. All you can do it just — shit!"

I rolled my hips to meet Prime's thrusting fingers. Those pink, full lips of his were on my throat, making their way down my chest. I spread my legs a bit, watching as he went down, down, and stopped at my navel. He kissed the skin and said, "What can I do, dearspark?"

"That," I gasped. "You can…make me feel. Make me feel good."

I slapped a hand across my mouth to keep from screaming. Prime's tongue lapped at my arousal, fingers swirling around my clit. He knew what he was doing. He was experienced in this, somehow, somewhere.

They have access to the internet you know.

Right. Shit.

Internet or not, what he was doing made the feeling within me unbearable. I was quivering, wanting to come around his fingers already. His free hand held onto the inside of my thigh, squeezing the skin.

I lurched forward and came, still biting into my hand as I rode out the orgasm. Optimus slid back upward and kissed me, tainting my lips in my own release.

"Shit," I wiped my forehead. Optimus gave me a moment, stroking my cheek with his knuckles.

"You are safe, and you are loved," Optimus said softly "I swear by my own life that I will protect you."

"I already knew that. And you already know that I'd die for you. I ride hard for my family," I planted a kiss against his forehead, before pulling him against me. "Always have, always will."

Our night didn't end at that. I'd be sore in the morning, I knew, as Optimus bent me over his lap.

At least my night was peaceful.


I was the first of the humans to wake. The sun was beginning to peek from behind the mountains, and the air was cool. I looked out Prime's window at the low hanging clouds, spotting Crosshairs, Hound and Bee still lounging against the rocks. Drift was the only one awake, and I could see his silhouette sitting a short distance away.

I dressed quickly, softly. Prime's cabin was lifeless, indicating that he was still recharging. I slid from within, closing the door softly and making my way over to Drift.

As I suspected, he was sitting with his legs crossed, facing the sun, meditating. His optics were shut and he was motionless, like an intricate, shining blue statue.

I sat down, mimicking his position. I let out a soft sigh, and when I glanced back up at him his optics were open, head tilted as he stared down at me.

"You do not typically wake this early."

"I know," I replied, rolling my shoulders. "I think I'm caught up on my rest. My body wanted to be awake."

"Are you trying to run from the dreams that haunt you?"

"No," I ducked my head a bit. "I want to confront them. Kind of. Teach me your ways, bro."

Drift raised one metal eyebrow, a small smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Adjusting his position, he peered towards the beautiful sunrise and said, "Mastering meditation and finding your center takes patience and time," Drift said calmly. "The latter of which we do not have."

"Let me try, then. Let me just…relax with you," I could feel soft rays of sun against my skin. I removed my jacket, bundling it up and using it as a pillow. I lay on my back, lacing my fingers together and resting them against my stomach.

"Close your eyes, regulate your breathing. Do not think of what will be or what has been," Drift said, and I heard him sigh.

Breathe. Don't think.

Feel the sun.

Feel…her.

I twitched, the movement nearly jolting me out of whatever realm I was traversing through. I could still feel the sand against my back, the sun, the breeze against my skin. I wasn't there yet.

Breathe. Focus.

My chest rose and fell, lessening until it had developed a steady rhythm. My lips were parted, eyes shifting beneath closed lids.

Focus on her.

Breathe.

The feeling of the sun and the wind and the sand disappeared. I was no longer in the desert. I was in a place that was dark and cold, with spiraling columns of metal that had been beaten, punished. Everything around me was was big.

And she was there. The woman. She almost seemed…surprised, floating like a regal goddess made of metal and energy. I watched, head tilted, as her surprised transformed into glee.

"You have come to me."
I stepped forward, startled that I could move. I had power, now. I was in control. I'd come to her willingly and now I was in control.

"Yeah, I have. I want answers," I said firmly. The woman drifted down, stopping just a foot away. "That's why I'm here. I want to know more."

"You seek knowledge?" the woman tilted her chin upwards. "What makes you believe that you are worthy?"

"Because you came to me, first. And now I'm here. All of this is for a reason."

"Indeed, it is. However you are not the one I am searching for."

"You want Optimus," I replied bitterly. "Why do you want him? Because you're not getting him."

"He will come to me," the woman growled. Her long fingers brushed against my cheek and I recoiled, glad that I was able to do so. When she lunged I swung, the impact sending her lurching backwards.

"Don't fucking touch me," I spat.

The woman's face twisted into something unrecognizable and ugly. She roared and I found myself paralyzed, before a tremendous force slamming against my chest rendered me unable to stand. I sunk to my knees, gasping. The woman's fingers wove through my hair and she jerked my head back, forcing me to look up into her cerulean eyes.

"You dare strike me? You fool! I am Quintessa, and I am a god!" she tugged harder, and I gasped, struggling to swallow. "Your mind is now my domain!"

"Quintessa," I spat. "You're using me to get to Optimus. Been there, done that. It won't work. You're staying the fuck away from him—"

With a single twist of her wrist, Quintessa had my neck bent at an awkward and painful angle. She leaned down, face inches from my own. I could see her studying me, lips pressed into a thin line before stretching into a disturbing, intrigued smile.

"You and Optimus Prime have mated," Quintessa purred. "I can feel him…touching you. Wanting you. How does it feel to be the subject of his affection?"

"Shut the fuck up," I snarled. My agitation made her grin spread even wider. My anger was what she wanted. Me unraveling before her was what she wanted, and I couldn't help it. Every time she mentioned Optimus it was like a cruel poison.

She jerked my head forward, sending my entire body with it. I smacked hard against the rough floor, blood immediately dripping from my nose. She hovered over me, waiting for me to regain my composure.

"He will come to me, for I am his creator. There is nothing more to be done," Quintessa said. "When the time comes, the knowledge you seek will be revealed."

My eyes opened.

The sudden transition back into reality had me seizing up in alarm. Drift was no longer meditating — instead, he stood over me, a concerned look on his visage. Behind him I could see Bumblebee and Hound looking equally as worried.

"Rachel, there is lubricant leaking from your nose," Drift said.

I could feel the sticky liquid before I touched it. The little red line had trickled from my nose, gravity pulling it away from my lips and down my cheeks. I slowly sat up, feeling lightheaded and a bit woozy.

Shit.

Fuck that bitch, Quintessa.

I hissed, getting to my feet very, very slowly. I wobbled a bit, before fully standing. Bumblebee trotted over, kneeling and producing a small cloth from within the confines of his chest plating. I took it, thanking him before stemming the flow of blood from my nose.

"The hell happened?" Hound asked, alarmed. "I walk over and you're twitching like a rabbit on high-grade."

"Astral projection," I said, my voice nasally. "Extreme astral projection. I wanted…I tried to see if I could talk to someone."
"And you got a nosebleed?" Hound said.

"That sucks, bro," Bumblebee pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head.

I sighed, waving a hand and refusing to answer the question. I didn't want to get into it. Into Quintessa and whatever the hell she'd been talking about. There was no way in hell I was going back into that plane of reality.

Cade was the first one to ask why I was covering half my face with a cloth. I tried to bypass him, stomping back into camp with a trio of Autobots following me. Cade's stopped me, big hand wrapping around my forearm.

I nearly pulled away, but remembered that doing so might accidentally take off Cade's arm in the process. I stomped, slowly pulling the cloth away. Dried blood coated the top of my lip and streaked down towards my jaw. Cade raised his eyebrows in alarm.

"What the hell?"

"Don't try meditating," I replied bluntly. "Not worth it."

"Did Hound hit you with his gun or something? That's isn't just from meditating," Cade's voice took on a very accusatory tone. "Spill. What happened."

"I don't have to tell you anything."

"If you don't tell, I will. Prime will get onto you for being reckless."

"How do you know that I was reckless?"

"You seem like the reckless type," Cade crossed his arms over his broad chest. "Like me. Take that as a compliment. Reckless people get shit done."

"I was being cautious, and then the situation escalated," I said. "I can, uh…communicate through some sort of wack astral projection. It happens mostly when I'm sleeping. I can go places or enter people's mind and talk with them. I tried to talk to this lady…this alien, again. Didn't go well. Everything turned hostile, and she gave me a bloody nose. Can I go now?"

"You can read minds?"

I rolled my eyes. "No. No, I can't read minds I can just…enter them sometimes. Communicate. I've done it before but it's always been unintentional. This time I wanted to see if I could take the wheel, if I could control where I went and what I did."

"And it backfired?"

I nodded, looking away from Cade. "It's not a big deal, and I'm not doing it again. Besides, why do you even care?"

"I care because we're on the same team. Teammates," Cade stressed the last word. "It's what you're supposed to do. Now drop the attitude and let's go."

Cade left without another word, heading towards Bumblebee. Shane and Tessa followed behind, hands interlocked.

Some team we are.

I huffed, climbing inside Prime's cab. He sped off, leading our Autobot caravan towards Mission City. Prime was rather silent, and I could tell that he was in deep contemplation. I didn't blame him — he had a lot to think about. A lot to dwell. This was probably the closest thing to peace he'd had in a long, long time.

I reached out and rested my fingers against the steering wheel, watching it rotate on its own. Softly, I said, "Ratchet…told me that you would have information on Sector Seven, since you were the only Autobot briefed about it."

"There are files Sector Seven kept hidden from me, Rachel, including the ones that include your origin," Optimus sounded upset. "If I had the information, I would share it with you."

I ducked my head. "Human experimentation would have ruined their image," my lips curled into a scowl. "Cemetery Wind got a hold of it. Either that or they lied, made all that shit up. There's an equal chance of it being one or the other, that's the sad part. It fucking sucks."

"Despite the circumstances, you made it out alive—"

"Yeah, but Ratchet didn't," I crossed my arms. My voice was shaky, nose scrunched up in anger. "We were so close. So, so close to making it. To finding you. Both of us. And then…then they just…killed him."

"Ratchet was an old, close friend," Optimus said softly. "During troubled times I sought his wisdom."

I sighed, pulling my jacket tighter against my body. "I never got that chance. They robbed that from me," I said. Rage flared within me, and I dug my nails into my arms, welcoming the pain it brought.

You're brave, now.

No. You're angry. Not the same thing. Never the same thing.

Chapter Text

We pulled into the city and scattered, keeping our distance and trying to look ambiguous. I stayed in Prime's cab, keeping my head down and the hood of my jacket on as we drove.

"You're just going to let the fleshy's do the work?" Crosshairs' voice filtered through Prime's speaker. "Where's the fun in that?"

"Steady, Crosshairs."

"Yeah," I added, hearing Crosshairs groan at my comment. "Calm the fuck down. Cade is, uh, capable. I hope."

"He is," Optimus replied.

I hated this part. The waiting. The sitting back while Bumblebee, Shane, Tessa and Cade snuck behind enemy lines. It was nerve racking to save the least, mainly because I had no clue what they would find in the place that had, once, been my after-death destination.

"There has to be others," I breathed, trying to reassure myself. "Alive. Mirage, Sideswipe."

Try and feel them.

"Rachel, is there a way you could possibly link with Cade?" Optimus asked suddenly.

"I don't know," I answered honestly. "I can try."

Remember what Drift told you.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

Sitting in Prime's cab in the middle of a city was very, very different than being in the desert, surrounded by a soft breeze and the rising sun. This shit took focus, dedication, energy — I barely had any of those to begin with.

I sat still, tilting my chin upwards and closing my eyes.

Shit, shit, shit.

This better work.

Focus on him. Focus on breathing. Focus on finding him.

I opened my eyes. I was still in Prime's cab. The wail of a firetruck had shattered my concentration.

"Rachel—"

"I can get in," I gasped. "I can get in. I can find him. Wait."
I closed my eyes again as the firetruck siren blared, getting farther and farther away. I took a deep breath, trying to regulate the way I inhaled and exhaled.

Focus on him.

"Cade?"

There was a lot inside Cade Yeager's brain. I had not the time or the desire to search through it. Instead I focused on him, a jumbled mess of fear and insecurity who nearly leaped out of his skin when I spoke.

"Holy shit. Holy shit, what the hell—"

"Cade," I said again, trying to be as calm as possible. "It's me. It's Rachel. I'm here."

"I see that. I almost screamed out loud. How are you — how am I talking to you. How are you hearing me—"

"Buddy, hell if I know. This shit is just as confusing to me as it is to you," I snickered. "But I'm here to help you out."

"How are you going to help me?"

"Well, I can't see shit in here. Human brains are weird. Not as complex as Cybertronians. There's no as much understanding between the nerves that connect your sight and smell and hearing—"

"Okay, Okay. Yeah. Humans are weird, I get it."

Shit. I was starting to sound like Ratchet. I steeled myself and replied, "Right, right. Tell me what's going on."

"I'm walking."

"Good. What else."

"Still walking. Trying not to look freaked out, like I'm hearing voices," Cade said. "Which is hard to do when you're, you know, actually hearing voices."

"I'm not a voice. I'm Rachel."

"Well, Rachel, you aren't making my job easier — hold on. What's this?"

"What's what?"

Cade's mind was a silent bubble for a long, long period of time. Then, slowly, he said, "They're…smelting them. Taking them apart. Cybertronians, Autobots…"

"Who?" I said. Then, more insistent this time. "Who are they taking apart?"

"Autobots—"

"No, no. What are their names?" my voice rose in volume. "Is anyone still alive in there? Sideswipe, Mirage? Topspin? Anyone?"

"Theres a yellow one. His head is being melted — shit!"

Yellow.

Ratchet was the only other yellow Autobots besides Bumblebee.

"Cade?"

"Shit, shit. Oh, no," Cade cursed. "Oh fuck. I'm in trouble."

I pulled myself out, lurching forward, gasping. My limbs were twitching and Optimus was trying to get my attention, voice worried and insistent. Without listening I blurted, "Cade is in trouble!"

"What?"

"Cade is in trouble, and they have Ratchet's head," I shed several tears, eyes red rimmed. "They're melting Ratchet's head like he's some sort of fucking machine. Like he's a fucking goddamn machine!"

Prime's tires squealed against the asphalt, his bellow of anger loud aggressive. The roar of Hound's engine followed, and I could see Crosshairs and Drift speed past towards KSI headquarters.

"I'll get Cade," I growled, craning my neck as we approached the tall, building. "Just focus on making some noise."

Optimus didn't argue or hesitate. I leaped from his cab before he'd even stopped, allowing him to transform and bash through the front of the intricate structure. Pedestrians screamed and ducked as Hound did the some, hollering with glee. I hopped the guardrail, using Hound as cover.

The guards paid no attention to me — Optimus and Hound were big enough targets to distract them from the raggedy looking girl hauling ass up the stairs.

"Bee! Where's Cade?" I shouted through the chaos. The yellow scout chirped and raised three fingers, gesturing upwards. I nodded and hurried forwards, bounding up four steps at a time, the lobby growing farther and farther away with each leap taken. Bypassing startled and frightened employees, I could see Cade, along with Attinger and his guards, through the glass doors at the end of the hallway.

I stalked forward, gripping the door handle and swinging it open The glass shattered and the entire thing popped loose, toppling to the ground with a tremendous bang.

Attinger nearly leaped out of his skin. He spun, taken aback. It was then that his two guards realized that I was, probably, a threat.

And they had guns.

Shit.

Cade made the first move, and with speed and precision, stood and slammed his chair as hard as he could into the first guard's head. The distraction gave me enough time to dart forward and simply fling the second guard out the wide, glass window and into the lobby below.

"We're be leaving," I reached for Cade and we darted out the room, leaving Attinger startled and alone. As we ran, I said to Cade, "Tessa and Shane are outside. Go with them."

"Where are you going?"

I stopped, backtracking as Cade stood at the bottom of the stairs. I pointed, shouting, "I'm following the noise. I'll meet you outside, okay? Promise."

Cade hesitated, before shaking his head and running.

I wasn't lying — I followed the noise. KSI was a huge building, but Hounds bellows of glee and the sound of crunching metal and breaking glass echoed. The room I entered was vast, a wide hanger filled with the corpses of Autobots and Decepticons alike. A mass grave dug up solely for the purpose of violation.

Optimus, as always, stood out. Gone was the dignified, regal behavior. He was smashing thing, shouting. Metal and bone alike crunched beneath his pedes.

"Destroy the lab!"

Well, okay.

I grabbed one of the empty tables — a long, steel structure the size of a car, and flipped it. It tumbled through the air and landed several feet away, taking out an overhead light with it. The noise was deafening.

"That's what I'm talking about!" Hound thundered past. "Science fair's over, meatbags!"

And, of course, someone was coming along to ruin the fun. I could see him fuming from a distance, unafraid of Optimus and the others as he approached with a scowl on his face, his suit clean pressed and his shoes crunching against broken glass.

"Stop it! Stop! This is company property!"

His words barely registered with me. Ratchet's torso was sitting on an exam table just to the left of him, a gaping hole in the chassis from where Lockdown had stripped him of his spark.

Oh, hell no.

I stalked forward. Punching the man would kill him, I knew that, and I didn't care. Even then, I didn't hit him. I just gave him a little push, and watched as he fell onto his back and slid several yards, mouth open in surprise.

I was still in control of myself enough not to kill him. Not yet.

"Who the hell are you?"

"Who the fuck do you think I am? You or some Joshua Joyce douchebag were going to cut my head off, remember?"

"Joshua Joyce is who you just shoved, girl," the man picked himself back up, limping slightly. I didn't feel any sympathy for him. "You cannot come in here, destroy my lab, and expect—"

"Talk to him!" I pointed to Optimus, who had yet to stop glaring. "Don't talk to me. Talk to him."

I turned and made my way over to Prime, standing next to his leg. Joshua Joyce watched me, rubbing his arm before regarding Optimus with a hint of pity. He said loudly, "What you're looking at are the spoils of war. Dead metal. We innovate here, because if we don't do it, someone else will. You can't stop technology-"

"They are not your technology!" Optimus bellowed. "They were my friends!"

"This isn't innovating, it's murder!" I cried

"Let me splatter him," Hound held his gun with two hand, dipping it down so it hovered dangerously close to Joyce's head. "Just give me the word."

"The world will know what you've done here!" Optimus snarled.

Joshua Joyce shot Hound a quick glance, unbothered by the sweltering hot barrel just a foot from his face. Slowly and methodically he said, "The world will thank me, 't you get it? We don't needyou anymore. You've been rendered obsolete. "

There was real, palpable hurt in Prime's gaze. I could feel his limbs shaking beneath my touch. After a long stretch of silence, Optimus said, "Autobots, we're done here."

Hound made a noise of disgust, but sheathed his weapon. Prime turned, head ducked. He was ashamed, and embarrassed. I knew it, and all the KSI workers huddling behind cover new it to, for they emerged with triumphant looks on their faces.

I had yet to move. Joshua Joyce met my eye and snapped, "Attinger told me about you. I didn't know you were this young. I didn't think that you were real—"

"Rachel, c'mon," Crosshairs called over his shoulder. Joyce, still frozen in his spot, watched me.

"They were going to deliver me to you, dead."

"Stay here," Joyce said quickly. "Stay here, and you won't have to worry about anything. Don't go with them. Stay."

I was already backtracking, eyebrows raised. Joyce's offer sounded sincere. Hell, the man looked as if he couldn't hurt a fly.

The offer was to good to be true. They all were. He'd never be able to protect me the way Optimus could. He'd never treat me the way Optimus would.

I turned and hurried after the Autobots. We walked free, senses on high alert as we traversed through the ruined KSI buildings and out the back, where Cade, Shane and Tessa were waiting.

"They'll come after us," I said, hoisting myself into Prime's cab. The three other humans followed, and in a matter of moments Optimus was speeding down the road, the others hot on his heels. Stealth didn't matter now, only speed and distance. The city became smaller and smaller behind us, the Autobots weaving through traffic at breakneck speeds. I shifted, allowing Tessa some room. "We didn't prepare a plan B, did we?"

"This is our plan B?" Cade replied. "Running."

"Works every time," Shane said. I saw him peer into the side mirror, letting out a loud curse. "They're after us! Uh, shit. A red car and a big silver truck—"

"Are you sure that's them?" I asked.

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure it is because they have missiles!"

The ground ahead of us exploded. Optimus swerved, sending me slamming against his door. I cursed, my hand shooting out to prevent Tessa from suffering the same fate.

"You've gotta haul ass, Prime!"

"I'm working on it," Optimus grunted. Dirt splattered against his grill as he narrowly avoided another missile, tires squealing across the asphalt. I dared a glance at the side mirror once more. Our little caravan was suffering the same fate, facing onslaught after onslaught. I saw Bee tear off to the side, a red sports car in hot pursuit. The others were lost through the smoke and debris of innocent motorist caught in the crossfire.

"Prime!"

Optimus groaned in pain. The seat beneath me disappeared, and I barely had time to grab onto Tessa as both Cade and Shane were launched through the passenger doors and onto the grass.

This is going to hurt.

I got a mouthful of Tessa's hair as I tucked her against my body. My back hit the asphalt, hard, knocking the wind from me. I bounced a few times, my head smacking against the rough surface before I was forced to release Tessa and continue rolling like a runaway bowling pin, only to stop when I instinctively raised an arm to stop from being hit head on by a minivan. The hood of the vehicle crumpled the second it made contact with my hand, and I saw the airbags deploy from within.

Yep. That hurt.

None of my bones were broken. They should have been, but they weren't. I still wasn't used to the bizarre strength I possessed, so for a long moment I could only lay in shock as the owners of the minivan emerged, limping away and screaming for help.

Optimus was slowly getting to his feet, but Tessa wasn't. Groaning, the backs of my hands scraped raw and bleeding, I shuffled across the asphalt to her. The moment I touched her she jolted upward, grasping my hand. There was a bloody gash in her forehead, but not deep enough to cause any real damage. All in all, she looked stunned and terrified.

"Get behind me," I didn't release her from my grip, standing in front of her and frantically searching for any sign of Cade and Shane. I didn't see them — instead I saw Optimus squaring off against one of the most terrifying abominations I'd ever seen.

The creature looked Cybertronian, walked Cybertronian, but it wasn't. Cybertronians weren't this bulky, as if they'd been sewn together by human hands. They weren't this shiny and chrome, without a spec of dirt or a scratch on their frame.

This thing had no spark. And Optimus was fighting it.

"Tessa!"

"Dad!"

A missed blaster shot from Prime's silver adversary cut the reunion short. I grabbed Tessa and flattened her to the ground. Fire singed my clothes, and my nostrils flooded with smoke. I could see the flash of light even behind closed eyelids, followed by the deafening explosion that peppered Tessa and I with rock.

Tessa screamed. I was to frozen with terror to do anything. When I looked up, Optimus had the silver bot in a chokehold right above us. Realizing that staying put would get us both crushed, I grabbed Tessa and yanked her beneath Prime's legs and towards the dented minivan. A mere second later, the silver robots foot landed where we'd been laying.

"What the hell is that?" Tessa cried, voice trembling as Optimus struggled to overpower the silver robot. He was struggling, his punches and kicks doing absolutely no damage.

"Letting out a breath, I said, "That thing can't feel pain."

"What?"

I pressed a hand against Tessa's shoulder. "Stay right here, okay? I have to go help Optimus. Distract that thing. I can clear a path — when you see it, run for your dad, okay?"

"That's crazy — you can't fight it," Tessa unsuccessfully tried to pull me back behind the minivan. "You'll die — Rachel!"

I had no idea if my strength would even work against the creature. It had to. I was durable enough to do some damage.

Just a little will go a long way.

I narrowly avoided the creatures blaster fire yet again. I saw Tessa's blonde hair flash as she tried to break from cover, only fall back when the creature kicked Optimus so hard that he very nearly crushed the minivan, giving me an open window to do what was probably the stupidest move of my entire life.

I jumped. My sheer strength sent me as high as the creatures sternum, which I prayed would be enough. The moment my shoulder made contact with the smooth, spotless steel I knew I'd bruised my shoulder or my elbow or something.

I'd caught it by surprise, and the creature bellowed in pain before toppling back and nearly losing it's balance.

"Maggot!"

Oh, so it does speak.

I landed on my stomach. When I peered up, the creature loomed above me like an avenging shadow, its sheer size blocking the sun from view. It snarled, and then stopped.

Off to the side, Optimus roared in pain. I turned just in time to see him topple back, crushing the minivan — and Tessa— beneath his weight.

It was like a switch had been turned off, and the creature began heading in the opposite direction, transforming and barreling past Tessa and away from the carnage. Clutching my shoulder I scrambled back onto the road, towards Optimus' fallen form.

"Tessa!" Cade screamed.

Oh, no.

No.

I didn't know the massive ship dominating the sky, but I knew the mech that emerged from it.

Lockdown.

This is not good. Not good at all.

"Stay back, Cade! I'll get her," I shouted through gritted teeth. He wasn't listening, and a full on tackle from Shane was the only thing keeping him from running into danger.

Kind of like you're doing, dipshit.

The sight of Optimus injured and the thought that Tessa could possibly be dead motivated me enough to sink down onto my knees. Immediately a pale, delicate hand shot out from beneath the minivan and reached for me.

"My foot is stuck!"

I could see her jammed against the vehicle, Prime's weight holding it down. I gripped Optimus by the shoulder plating, a chunk of which had been blown apart and was leaking energon. He groaned at my touch and I said softly, "Optimus? Optimus, babe, listen to me. Tessa's stuck. You need to move—"

"Can't," Prime sounded broken, the word laced with pain.

"I'm not strong enough to move you," I said. "I'm not. Optimus, please."

"Run," Optimus said through gritted teeth. "Lockdown—"

He's coming.

"I'm not leaving you or Tessa," I gripped Tessa's hand. "Hang on, okay? Hang on. You'll be okay."

It was bullshit. Nothing was okay. I wasn't okay, Tessa wasn't, Optimus wasn't…Cade and Shane had been forced behind cover, and I had no clue how far out the rest of the team was.

"I feel sorry for you, Prime. Your allegiance to these humans. The trouble with loyalty to a cause is that the cause will always betray you."

Lockdown knelt, and I knew immediately that his eyes were on me. When I turned, I nearly leaped out of my skin. Those green eyes were on me, focused and intense.

"Except for one. But she is far from human," Lockdown drawled. "She was built, Prime, just as you were."

"Who sent you?" Optimus gasped.

"Your creators want you back, Prime. We all work for someone."

Creator.

Lockdown's gaze never left mine. Blinking, he stood. I had yet to release Tessa's hand, and I didn't intend to, even as the sweeping net encased Optimus and the van. Tessa moaned in pain as we were lifted from the ground. Keeping a firm grip on her, I was able to partially tug her leg free.

"Tessa!" Cade shouted. He was running, but even I knew he wouldn't make it in time. "Tessa!"

"You'll be fine," I told Tessa, sweat beading along my hairline. "I've got you. I'm going to keep you safe, I promise. Do you trust me?"

"Tessa!"

"I trust you," Tessa sobbed, her nails biting into my skin. "I do."

Chapter Text

We were dumped rather unceremoniously onto the deck of Lockdown's massive ship. The place was dark and alien, humming with life as it headed towards wherever the hell our destination was.

As the net pulled away, I was forced to watch Lockdown's drones carry Optimus towards the unknown. Tessa was gasping hard. Her ankle was swollen and scraped, but not broken.

Lockdown did not follow Optimus. Instead he stayed, arms crossed over his chassis. He was scowling like a disappointed mother unsure of how to punish her child.

"What the hell are you going to do with us?" Tessa asked boldly. Lockdown acknowledged her with a smirk.

"You, unfortunately, are not part of this equation. You will be disposed of."

"No she won't," I said, getting to my feet. "She stays. With me."

"I have no use for her. You, on the other hand, will most likely end up on my dissection table—"

"You're not an Autobot or a Decepticon, right?" I raised a finger. "But you work for someone. Quintessa."

Lockdown was trying not to look dumfounded, but was failing. Almost angrily, he snarled, "How do you know of the Creator?"

"I've talked with her," I tapped the side of my head. "Telepathy. It's one of the other things I can do. But I've seen her, spoken with her. She said nothing about you. Said that Prime would come to her willingly—almost like she knew you'd end up failing."

"You are a blasphemous little fleshing," Lockdown bellowed, the noise echoing through his entire ship. Tessa gasped, shrinking back. "The Creator has a greater plan that you do not understand—"

"Her plan is to replace you," Tessa shouted. Lockdown and I both fell silent. She glanced between us, reeling back as if we'd both missed something the she hadn't. "Her plan is to replace you with Optimus. That's her greater plan I bet. You'll deliver her Prime, and then she'll cast you aside."

Thank you, Tessa.

I really, really wanted to smirk. But I couldn't. "Optimus is stronger than you. He's faster, better. And from what I've seen, Quintessa doesn't settle for anything less than perfection. And Optimus is perfection, not you."

"The cause always betrays you," Tessa spat. "Always."

Lockdown scowled, gaze dipping towards the floor. Very slowly he said, "What are you suggesting?"

I let out a breath, fingers twitching. "Just…stop. Stop this. Stop the killing," my mine flashed to images of Ratchet, begging, struggling. "This ship could be home. For all of us."

"You're asking me to open up my territory for your people?"

"I'm asking you to help start the rebuilding of your species. No more 'Autobots' and 'Decepticons.' No more…humans. This war can be over, right here, right now. Cemetery Wind offered you a deal, and I'm offering you a better one."

"A proper deal requires both parties to be equally satisfied," Lockdown drawled. "You gain far more from this than I do. What say you?"

"It can be polished out."

"For me to release Optimus and begin this process, I require the destruction of both KSI and Cemetery Wind, as well a new addition to my collection of species. You will suffice."

"Me?"

"No," Tessa shook her head. "Absolutely not."

I shushed her, narrowing my eyes at Lockdown. He didn't falter, just stood there waiting for my response. "Deal."

Tessa cursed, looking at me as if I were crazy. Lockdown nodded his head in triumph, saying, "We have an agreement."

"You don't touch Tessa," I said. "She stays unharmed. So does Optimus."

"Optimus will remain in my care until Attinger and his people are disposed of, as will you," Lockdown jerked his chin, and two of his drones were on me, grabbing the back of my shirt. When Tessa reached out in protest I stopped her, nodding my head. Lockdown said, "You will come with me, fleshling. We will see about repairing your injured pede."

Tessa didn't budge. Lockdown snarled, waving a hand and gesturing her to follow.

"She will be safe," Lockdown continued curtly. "You have my word."

"I'll be fine, Tessa," I called over my shoulder. "Go with him."

I could see tears trickle down Tessa's cheek, but she followed Lockdown, regardless. I didn't dare look back at risk of losing my cool. I was dragged like a rag doll down the ship's massive hallway, between rows and rows of Lockdown's sick little zoo. The shrieks of abused alien creatures and the hum of the ship dominated the air.

There was no sign of Optimus. I didn't see him strung up in a cage.

Shit.

The drones dumped me in my own reinforced cell, the bars woven together with alien metal. It was thick and cold to the touch, and when I pulled, the cage groaned in protest but remained in tact.

I was a dog, locked up in a crate. The drones observed me for a moment before leaving, heading back to their posts.

I was stuck.

My first thought was to reach out to Optimus. He was alive — Lockdown had confirmed that. Alive, and I assumed decent. A dead Optimus was useless to Lockdown.

What about? Dead or alive, you don't matter.

What about Tessa? Dead or alive, she doesn't matter.

I sat against the grimy, sticky wall of the cell, legs crossed. I felt oddly…content. My death date was set, and I wasn't really worried. As long as Optimus was set free and Tessa got out alive. That was how it was supposed to end.

The drones returned an hour later with a bucket. One aimed a gun while the other entered the cell, slamming the bucket against the floor. The smell hit me first — raw fish. Two of them, still flopping around and sucking in water that wasn't there, scales dull and slippery.

Then the drone stepped back out and two robots just looked.

"I'm not hungry," I said kindly. "Thank you, though."

The drones looked at each other, and continued watching. I rolled my shoulder, sliding the bucket away and going right back to where I'd begun, curled up against the wall. My stomach rumbled, but there was no way in hell I'd be able to devour uncooked fish without vomiting it back up.

"I'm getting some rest. You two can leave, now," I said. Both drones hesitated, before turning around with their backs to the cell. They remained motionless and silent, guns holstered. They were guarding me, I realized.

Focus.

I closed my eyes.

Focus on breathing.

Focus.

I was trembling. The twisting fear within me was almost to much. It almost broke the thin layer I'd developed between my mind and reality.

Focus on Tessa.

Okay, okay….there she is.

I crept into Tessa's mind slowly, shifting through her cluttered mind just as I had with Cade. She was in a frenzy, a million thoughts flying by in a second. I made my presence on by latching onto her and saying as softly as possible, "Hey."

"Oh my God!"

"Easy. It's me. It's Rachel."

Tessa didn't reply for a long moment. Then, in a hushed whisper, "Where the hell are you? Where did they put you—"

"A cell. A really, really strong cell."

Tessa wasn't at all calm. I could feel it. I could also tell that she was in pain. She said through clenched teeth, "Lockdown took me to his medical bay. They're actually fixing my ankle — what the hell were you thinking, making that deal? He'll kill you—"

"I know, I know—"

"You can't," Tessa was pleading. "You can't die."

"I told your dad that I would keep you safe, okay? This is how I'm doing it."

"You don't have to do this for me, or for my dad," Tessa replied softly. "Rachel, we need you. I need you. Optimus needs you."

I could feel something prodding at me, trying to break my concentration. I held on, aware that my body was twitching.

Something was wrong.

"Tessa?"

"They're here," Tessa hissed. "Shit. Why are they here?"

"Whose here?"

"Cemetery Wind. Rachel — they're here, and they're heading towards you—"

A loud bang jolted me awake. I leaped up immediately, fists clenched as the two guards turned, weapons raised, before backing away to give my visitor some room.

It was Savoy.

I'd prayed day and night that I'd never have to see his face again, yet here it was, standing with a shock baton in hand.

No, no, no.

"Open the door," Savoy instructed. The guards complied, going slowly, with their guns raised. I instinctively backed against the wall, uneasiness overpowering whatever courage I had in me. Speaking seemed ten times more difficult, and I felt short of breath.

"What the hell do you want?"

"What do you think I want?" Savoy pointed the shock baton. "It's the same thing I've always wanted."

"I will kill you.

"No, you won't."

Against my better judgement, I lunged. Shots were fired and the buckshot singed my clothing, cauterizing a tiny chunk of skin from above my hip. The pain was unbearable, sickening, but I barreled into Savoy as hard as I could.

My strength sent us both flying. His back hit the wall and I held him in place, clenching my fist around his arm in hopes that I'd rip it off.

Savoy wasn't budging. In fact, I felt nothing. Just the slimy walls of an alien ship that was growing far to familiar.

"Shit," I spun. Savoy was there, in the same spot as before, looking smug. When I swung, he wasn't there. In the back of my mind, I knew something was wrong. This wasn't normal or right. I was angry, grunts laced with pain. I swung, and he was gone.

I swung again and my fists hit the bars of the cell.

I wasn't staring at Savoy, I was staring at Harold Attinger from behind bars.

"What the hell is this?"

You already know what it is.

I gripped the cool steel and shook it. Like an animal. I bared my teeth and spat as Attinger watched with a lazy grin on his face, hands shoved into the pockets of his finely tailored suit pants. There wasn't a speck of dust and dirt on him and it enraged me.

"What the hell are you?" I shook the bars of the cage once more.

Attinger raised a hand. I stopped, knuckles turning white as I squeezed and waited for a reply.

"I am like you," Attinger said simply. "Or, more accurately, you are like me."

"What the fuck is with Savoy? What the fuck—"

"Savoy is not real. He never was."

"Savoy is fucking real, I saw him. He fucking touched me—"

"He touched you because made him. I created him, and I can created much, much worse," Attinger wiped his glasses. "And it will hurt you."

"Like, what? Some sort of illusion?" I licked my dry lips. "You're an illusionist? That's the shit you can do?"

Something grabbed me by the throat. Rough, cold lips and a tongue as dry as sandpaper assaulted my mouth. I tried to scream but the sound was muffled by Savoy's insistent kiss.

Then he was gone. I was left kneeling with spittle dripping down my chin.

"I have complete control over my men," Attinger explained nonchalantly, as if he were discussing the weather. "Some of them are here because they believe their families were murdered by aliens. Others believe they are here because their loved ones are being held captive. The man who stabbed you believed that you were an accomplice to the murder of his wife and daughter."

"That wasn't Savoy?"

"To you it was."

"You were there watching. Me entering Savoy's mind, that was you," I felt the sudden urge to vomit. "You're pile of shit," I breathed. "You're a fucking disgrace—"

"I made sacrifices for the greater good of this nation. For this planet," Attinger snarled. "I'm going to destroy them using the gifts they gave me."

"What about Lockdown, huh? You've been tricking him, too?"

"His loyalties lie with us. You should have considered that before you attempted to strike a deal with him."

That backstabbing sack of ass.

Well, double backstabbing.

"You put your trust in a bounty hunter. His true allegiance will always be to himself," Attinger drawled. "You've lost. Stop fighting and give up. I just might advocate for your release and your survival."

"What the fuck for?" I raised an eyebrow.

"Killing you would be a waste," Attinger replied. "And I am not a wasteful man. My offer from before still stands."

I ignored him. I said, "How were you able to do whatever the fuck it is you did from all the way inside the base. When you sent Savoy to me, completely fooled all your men—"

"I'm always watching," Attinger replied briskly. "Somewhere, somehow. Sight is all I need."

Okay, so he was far stronger than I'd originally thought.

Not good.

"I'm going to have to say no to your offer. Followed by a big ole' fuck you," I pressed my cheeks against the bars on the cell. "You were expecting that, though."

"I can't say I'm surprised," Attinger shrugged. "Although I am disappointed our time together has come to an end."

"I'm not," I grimaced, rolling my eyes.

Attinger smiled. It was more of a mocking smile than anything else. I stood my ground as he approached, stopping so close that I could see the flecks of gold and silver in his blue eyes.

"I'll let you in on a secret," Attinger said briskly. "At the forefront of all this is sacrifice, and the ability to make the tough decisions. You are behind these bars because you cannot make the tough decisions."

"I'm behind these bars because I'd give my life for Optimus, and you know that," I sneered. "He's more honorable, noble, and human than you will ever be."

"I wonder how honorable he would be if he watched you die. I wonder if that would break him," Attinger shifted closer, the sudden movement causing me to retreat just a bit, and give him the upper edge. I couldn't help it — I was unable to come up with a threatening enough rebuttal.

"Do it. Kill me. It won't matter—"

"You are Lockdown's, unfortunately," Attinger replied gruffly. He gnawed on his lower lip before saying, "The beauty of illusion is that I can make Prime witness your demise over, and over, however I wish, for as long as I wish. I will make him watch, and I will enjoy it."

I growled, but didn't beg. It wouldn't work. This man's sick mind was made up, and there was no changing it.

"Fuck you," I said tiredly. "Fuck. You."

"It was a pleasure speaking with you, Miss Rachel. Goodbye," Attinger nodded, before bypassing the guards and disappearing. I was left standing, fists clenched, limbs vibrating with contained rage. The guard bots were watching, faces expressionless.

Five minutes later, Prime's deep bellows of agony echoed throughout the ship like thunder.

Chapter Text

Kill me.

I have to get out of here.

There was no getting out of here. I couldn't have been very long, but it felt like a decade. Every minute or so I'd hear Prime's pained voice shouting, begging. Cursing. I had no clue what Attinger was doing to him. I had no clue what type of deprived images were being forcefully thrust into his brain.

This was the last time I'd ever hear Prime's voice.

The realization made me want to vomit and scream. Those guard bots weren't doing anything — just standing like two statues, guns in hand. They were to far away for me to be able to grab them through the bars. I'd risk getting shot if it gave me just one chance to escape and rescue Optimus from this hell.

If Lockdown had really switched sides again, then Tessa was probably dead. I had no clue where we were, and if Bumblebee and the others had any chance of getting to us.

My mind was too weak for me to even attempt at finding Cade, most of the distraction coming from the burning sensation in my side. The wound wasn't at all deep, but the blaster fire had graved the skin and scooped out a little chunk of flesh, cauterizing the rest. It burned viciously, and I'd hastily ripped a strip of cloth from my shirt and used it as a pathetic little bandage.

You're going to die anyway. What does it matter.

Prime's screams had died down. I couldn't hear him anymore, whatever noises he now made masked by the sounds of the ship.

"Up."

I lifted my head. The guard bot had turned to face the cell, gun aimed, while its partner began unlocking the door.

"What?"

"Up," the bot replied, nodding when I shakily got to my feet. Then, in its low voice, "Turn around."

"What the fuck for?"

"Lockdown has ordered that you be sedated and cryo-frozen immediately."

"No."

The bot looked as if it had never been told that before. With its gun still trained on my head, it got closer and said again, "Turn around."

"Fuck you-"

The bot right behind it crumpled, squealing in pain as a fist-sized hole was blow through its chest. A streak of blonde hair cause my eyes before I was lunging, gripping the drones head between my hands and twisting. It's head popped off as easily as a pen cap. I dropped it, chest heaving.

"Is it dead?" Tessa kicked at the drone with her foot. The gun in her hand was of alien origin, and almost too big for her.

I let out a sigh of relief. Tessa met my gaze, and I grinned. "Yeah. It's dead."

"I'm sorry I took so long—"

"I'm just glad you're alive and that you came," I stepped over the fallen drone and embraced Tessa. "Are you okay? Where did you find that?"

"Weapons wall," Tessa said. "And I'm okay. They fixed my leg — it's still a little sore, but I can walk. I ran before Lockdown came back to get me."

"Good, because the deal is off."

Tessa ran fingers through her blonde locks. "At least you tried."

"Yeah. Not my best work," I scowled. I peered over her shoulder, for once wishing Optimus would make some type of noise to let us know where he was. I prayed Cade and the others had somehow managed to sneak on a reach him, but I knew even that was a stretch.

"C'mon," Tessa tugged my hand, and we ducked into a small tunnel, away from the long line of cells and its alien inhabitants. The place was narrow, perfect for small, nearly undetectable humans like us to hide. The place reeked, and in this small space it was beginning to get to me. That, combined with the seared wound on my side made for a very, very uncomfortable experience.

Following behind Tessa, I hissed, "Tessa, that Attinger guy? He's like me. He's some sort of alien hybrid or whatever."

"How'd you find that out?"

"He's an illusionist. He's fooled all of us — Savoy isn't real, Tessa. He's an illusion used to scare us or distract us or whatever."

"What did— oh, shit," Tessa breathed, stopping. She glanced over her shoulder at me, her voice barely below a whisper. "Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

Tessa fell silent, raising a finger. I could hear it now. Screams. Human screams.

"It's my dad," Tessa said insistently, frantically heading for the end of the tunnel that led to the the ships next hallway. I hurried after her, leaping over thick, winding ropes as the noise grew louder.

There was no hallway. Instead, we bursts into a wide room filled with smoke and steam, thick air filled with the sounds of chaos.

"Dad!" Tessa shouted.

Cade didn't acknowledge her. He and Shane were on the ground, hands covering their heads as they shouted at some unknown attacker. For a split second the scene was almost comical, all humor disappearing when I remembered why they were shouting.

"Cade! It's not real!—"

A bullet whizzed dangerously close to my head. I grabbed Tessa as Attinger emerged from the shadows, handgun clutched between his pale fingers. Before Tessa could aim and fire her own weapon she froze, eyes wide with incertitude.

"Dad?"

No, no, no.

"Tessa! That's not your dad!" I gripped the girl and we both fell, narrowly avoiding Attingers onslaught of bullets. Tessa shook her head, blinking a few times before being pulled fully back into reality. "Don't move," I instructed Tessa. "Keep your head down—"

Cade and Shane were coming to as well, heads raised and staring in confusion. I broke from cover, intending on outright barreling into Attinger while he was distracted with Cade and Shane.

He spotted me before I could make it halfway. A chasm opened up between us, dark and deep. My arms flailed instinctively, momentum driving me forward, but it was too late and I was falling and falling, screaming

"Hey, asshole!"

The illusion ended abruptly, just in time for me to catch Shane delivering a hard right hook to Attinger's face. The older man stumbled, caught off guard. Before Shane could hit him again Attinger raised his gun and pulled the trigger.

Let this be another vision, please. Another illusion. This wasn't real.

Four buckshots were emptied into Shane's chest. Cade's cry of anguish was overshadowed by Tessa's scream.

There was a lot of blood.

Shane didn't even flinch. Just stared Attinger down like a badass until a fifth shot finally put him out on the ground.

Click.

Empty.

Attinger glared, ducking out of the way as Tessa released a poorly aimed shot in his direction. He disappeared into the depths of the ship.

Cade was on his hands and knees, gasping, still stricken from whatever image he'd been forced to witness. Tessa streaked past, dropping her gun and sliding next to a struggling Shane.

Five shots in the chest. He was already halfway dead by the time Tessa reached him, and all the way gone when I managed to pull myself over and check his pulse.

Tessa's small hands were covered in crimson. It was on her shirt. Shane's eyes were half closed, the dark spots on his chest growing by the second.

"Tessa," I said blankly. The shock was keeping me from toppling over the edge once more. Louder, I said, "Tessa."

"What?" Tessa gasped, her tears gushing form like a broken dam.

"We need to move."

"Shane is dead," Tessa shrieked. I glanced back and saw Cade, still on his hands and knees, meet my eye. He, too, didn't appear to be fully there, though his daughters outburst had visibly shaken him.

I steeled myself. Took a deep breath, trying to look at something other than Shane's corpse. "I know. You can grieve later, I swear. You can grieve later. But we need to get off this ship and to do that I need strength. You can grieve later."

Tessa lifted her head. She'd stopped sniffling and was instead shaking, mouth open as she tried to find her words. I placed a hand on her shoulder, joining her in silence.

Tessa said softly, "Okay. Okay, let's go."

"Cade?" I called over my shoulder.

"I'm up. Let's go," Cade was getting to his feet, slowly, refusing to even look at Shane. He limped over and grabbed the Cybertronian gun from where Tessa had abandoned it on the ground, holding it tightly against him. He kissed his daughter on the forehead, before addressing me. "What the hell did Attinger do?"

"He's like me," I replied, unable to keep the bitterness from my tone. "He can make you see shit. Bad shit."

Cade sighed, wiping dirt and blood from his brow. "Well that's just awesome."

I took a deep breath, ignoring Cade's sarcasm. "Okay, here's the deal," I pointed down the hallway. "You two are going to find a way off this ship, without me. I'll just be a liability — Attinger isn't after you guys, he's after me. He'll follow me."

"Where are you gonna go?" Cade asked.

"I'm going to find Optimus," I said. "I can make this by myself. Nobody else has to to die today."

"Optimus is gone. We're done," Tessa said sternly. "You can't save him. Come with us—"

"No. I'm finding him, and you two are going," I replied with as much venom as possible. "I'll lead Attinger off your trail. Just make sure you check your corners, okay?"

Tessa didn't look convinced, and neither did Cade. He nodded, his grip on his gun firm. "You make sure you come back alive."

"I promise."

"Keep that promise," Cade ushered Tessa towards safety. I watched them go, fingers trembling in anticipation and fear. "Keep it."

"I will."

The ship was anchored. We weren't moving, and I could hear the boom of fighter jets streaking past as I made my way towards the back of the ship, following along the cages of creatures from all over the galaxy. I'd pushed Shane to the back of my mind, and I was trying to do the same with Cade and Tessa. I was already too attached for my own good.

People you care about die. Don't make a connection.

I was vaguely aware that I was in some sort of shock. I'd seen people die in the past, even before I'd met the Autobots. This shouldn't have been knew, but it felt new. It felt like Ratchet all over again, except for this time I could feel Shane's blood on my clothes, and his cold, pale face would haunt my dreams right alongside Ratchet's.

His body wouldn't even get a proper burial. I'd been forced to hide it in a corner before one of Lockdown's drones could detect it.

I heard Hound before I saw him, as was always the case with the huge bot. I slipped through a small crawl space and into the room, looking around at the massive cages and the high ceiling. Hound was blasting away at some captive creature, and in the center, was Optimus. He was dangling, motionless, blue optics dimmed as Drift worked on slicing through his restraints.

"Hey!"

Hound turned, blaster raised and ready. Recognition flashed across his face and he gave a jovial bellow, reaching down and scooping me up into his arms.

"Prime! Look who it is!"

Drift sliced through the last chain and Optimus fell, landing on his back. He gathered himself, looking disoriented, as if he'd jus awoken from a deep sleep. He staggered over to Hound like a drunken man.

"Oh, Primus," Optimus groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. He shook his head, clearing invisible cobwebs from his mind. "You are…real."

"Of course she's real. What the slag—"

I interrupted Hound, saying, "I'm real. I'm real, I swear. It's me."

"Dearspark…" Optimus murmured. "Where is he? Where is Attinger?"

"He's ran off," I said. I shuddered, lying for the time being. "Everyone is okay. Cade and the others are off the ship. What about Bee and Crosshairs?"

"Searching for the humans," Drift replied. "They will find a way out."

"This is a separate ship," Optimus said. I crawled from Hound to his arms, allowing him to place me on his shoulder. "We can break free!"

"I'm on it!" Hound bounded over to the control console, taking a seat in the cockpit. Optimus knelt and Drift sheathed his weapons and Hound hammered at the console before the ship separated, dropping several hundred feet before jerkily making its way through the sky.

"Bumblebee and Crosshairs have retrieved the humans. All but one," Drift said suddenly. "They are headed to the rendezvous point."

"All but one?" Hound called.

Prime shifted his head a bit to look at me. I felt ashamed to tell him. Ashamed that it had even happened in the first place.

"Shane is dead," I said softly. "Attinger killed him."

"Attinger," Optimus snarled. "The illusionist."

"It is quite a shame," Drift said sadly. "To have one's life ended when so young."

"You got that right," Hound murmured. I saw him remove his hat and place it against his chest in a respectful salute, his cigar snuffed out on the seats armrest.

I didn't say anything as the ship sped through the open air.


Our rendezvous point was an abandoned railway station, as far from civilization as possible. The tracks were overgrown with weeds and the train cars had long been abandoned and decorated with graffiti. Hound pulled the ship to a stop, just as Bee and Crosshairs arrived with Tessa and Cade.

There was a very, very awkward and depressing silence that hung over the group. The most notable afflicted by this was Optimus — his regal, dignified pose had transformed into something with a hint of meekness, almost like he didn't want to be seen. Tessa's eyes were red rimmed from freshly spilled tears, and Cade seemed almost…angry.

Crosshairs broke the silence. He drawled, "We're all friends here. So does anybody mind letting the rest of us know what the frag happened on that ship?"

"Ask her," Cade said gruffly, jerking a thumb in my direction. "She knows more than any of us."

"It was all a trick," I spat. "Attinger is like me. An experiment. He's been playing us by casting illusions, making us think that James Savoy is a real person. He's not."

Tessa spoke up. "We tried to negotiate with Lockdown. Strike a deal of some sort," she wiped her eyes. "And that backfired."

"There's no deal making with that ball of slag," Hound snarled. "You're not the only ones who have found that out the hard way."

"And now Shane's gone," I said angrily. "And we're….what? Back to square one? Fugitives, just like we've always been?"

"There is…more," Optimus said. "While I was battling that foul abomination, I felt the presence of none other than Megatron."

"Megatron?" Cade called. "Like, the leader of the Decepticons?"

"That thing, Galvatron or whatever," I shielded my eyes from the sun with my hand, peering up at Optimus. "It was engineered from Megatron's body, right? Do you think some of Megatron's memories were left over?"

"Not only his memories, but his identity as well," Optimus said gravely. "This 'Galvatron' is far more alive than KSI realizes."

"That's good, right?" Tessa called. "Galvatron breaks free and destroys Cemetery Wind and KSI for us?"

"Megatron has always been strategic and unpredictable. There is no way to know what he will do, should he escape from KSI's control," Optimus replied. "However, my biggest fear is that he will be subjugated by Attinger."

"Maybe that's been his plan all along," I crossed my arms. "Have KSI build him an unstoppable robot that he can influence through his freaky illusionist powers or whatever."

"And do what?" Tessa inquired.

I shrugged. "Take back control of the Decepticons. Kill a bunch of people," I grimaced. "It's what Attinger likes doing. He told me. He thinks pain is arousing."

Optimus looked sickened. "We must destroy Galvatron and Attinger."

"I'd be glad to help with that," Tessa kicked at the grass, huffing.

"I think we're all willing to stomp that balding glitch and his overgrown toaster into the floor," Hound added. "Where do we start?"

"What about Joshua Joyce?" Cade asked.

"What about him?"

"He needs to know," Cade replied. "If he can keep Galvatron isolated or, hell, shut down or disassembled, that would be a major win. For all we know, Attinger is messing with his head, too."

I rubbed my temples. Cade was definitely onto something, and Optimus was agreeing. Very, very slowly Cade's gaze shifted to me. I knew what he was going to ask before he said a single word.

"Can you link up with Joyce?"

"I've only seen the guy once, and you want me to link with him?" I spread my arms wide. "I'm not a human telephone, Cade. I barely remember what the dude looks like, let alone how to project myself into his brain—"

"Just try," Cade said. "Try and see if you can talk with him!"

I ran fingers through my hair. Drift shadow fell over me and the blue Autobot knelt, saying, "I will assist you in meditating."

"It won't work," I grumbled, but regardless, I followed Drift as he made his way to a soft patch of grass. Autobots and humans alike were watching, prompting me to turn and call,' Don't stare. It's awkward. Start, you know, doing things."

"I'll start the fire," Hound said, shedding his weapons belt. Bumblebee took a seat atop one of the train cars, and Optimus just seemed to….slink off, his entire posture reserved and tense.

It was obvious something was wrong with him, and every fiber within me was screaming to go and spend the rest of eternity in his arms.

You can't. Duty calls.

I sat cross-legged, shedding my jacket and being as still as possible. Drift spoke, his voice soft and calming. "Remember to breathe."

Focus on…

Fuck.

The fuck does Joyce look like again?

Kind of bald. Glasses. Looks constipated whenever he talks.

My eyes opened. I forced them shut and kept trying.

Bald. Glasses. Constipated. Probably has a small penis.

Had Ratchet's head melted for the "good of science."

There he was, a bad memory in a space filled with, well, more bad memories. The numbness in my arms and legs told me that I'd arrived in the cluttered cavern that Joshua Joyce called his brain.

"Hey, baldy."

Wherever Joyce was, he screamed. I knew because I felt it vibrate through his skull.

"What the hell—"

"Just shut up and listen. It's me, the girl who knocked you flat on your ass."

"You're—"

"Yeah. That. I said shut up and listen," I regained my composure. "You're making a huge mistake, linking dicks with Attinger. He's like me, but way, way worse. In fact, he's fucking crazy."

"What is he planning?"

"Well, we think it has something to do with your boy Galvatron. Who is really Megatron, because Megatron isn't so dead after all," I said quickly. "Listen to me, both he and Attinger are bad news. Bad, bad news. Like, a time bomb. Decommission or disassemble Galvatron now, and we'll deal with Attinger," I instructed. "Or else a bunch of people, including you, might end up dead."

"Decommission?" Joshua barked. "Are you insane?"

I rolled my eyes. "Where are you right now?"

"At our facility right outside Hong Kong, waiting for Attinger to arrive," Joshua hissed. "He'll tan my hide if I decommission Galvatron!"

"Gee, I wonder why that is?" I snapped. The stress was pulling me out of Joshua's mind, and I struggled to hold on. "Listen to me. Stay where you are. Put Galvatron in containment and don't let Attinger get near him. Make up some bullshit story about how he needed repairs or whatever, and then get as far away from Attinger as you possibly can," I waited to see if he'd interrupt. When he didn't, I continued. "We'll come to you and deal with the rest."

"If Attinger is like you, what can he do?"

"He can make you see terrible things you wouldn't even dream of, but they aren't real, do you understand me?"

"Yes. I understand."

"Will you do this? Please."

I could feel Joshua getting uneasy, but he said sincerely, "I will."

I yanked myself out of Joshua Joyce's mind. Cade was kneeling before me, eyebrows raised. I took a moment to regain my breath before saying, "He's in Hong Kong. That's where we need to go."

Chapter Text

Hound piloted the smaller craft while the rest of us shuffled around, still shaken by what had transpired on Lockdown's ship. Tessa bypassed her father, stating that she wanted some privacy before disappearing without another word. None of us dared follow her, and the pained look on Cade's face made my heart sink. I felt as if I could barely look at him, much less Tessa.

I removed my jacket, folding it and placing it next to a berth — a bed, as Drift had explained. The ship was small for the Autobots, but huge for us humans. The fact that is still resembled the interior of its much larger counterpart didn't help. We were thousands of feet in the air, and I already wanted off. It felt cramped, dark —

"Rachel?" Optimus said softly. I nearly leaped out of my skin, bracing my palm against the wall. The tall mech didn't move — he just stood in the doorway, shoulders slouched as if he were carrying an unseen weight.

I replied, "Yeah?"

"I…" Optimus struggled to speak. He glanced behind him, before stepping forward. The automatic doors slid shut behind him, giving us space and, most importantly, silence. "Did Lockdown harm you?"

"No," I said sadly. "He didn't touch me. Neither did Attinger."

Prime relaxed a bit, picking me up and sliding onto the berth, settling onto his back. He vented softly before lying still, leaving me to rest against his broad chest. I could feel the vibration of his spark, even through his thick plating. I splayed my palm across the red and blue flame decor, closing my eyes. I murmured, "Attinger told me what he was going to do to you."

"I watched you perish," Optimus said hollowly. "Time and time again. I could do nothing."

"It wasn't real. You know it wasn't real," I replied softly. "I'm here, now."

Optimus hummed. He lifted his hand and felt one thick digit run my back, between my shoulder blades. His touch was feather-light, gentle.

I murmured, "I'm here now, but Shane isn't."

"Shane's death is not a result of your actions," Optimus said sternly, lifting his head a little before scooting back, angling himself so he could see me. "Your decisions ultimately helped save us all. There is no one to blame but Attinger himself for taking away Shane's life. I assure you, he will pay."

"If anyone kills him, it should be Tessa," I grit my teeth. "That bastard shot Shane, no hesitation. Fucking slaughtered him, the sick fuck. Shit. I shouldn't talk about this. I'll get angry again."

"Do you need a distraction?"

"Yes, please," I relaxed when I felt the light touch of his digit against my back once more. He didn't activate his holoform, and I could see his blue eyes shift from me, downward.

"You once asked if we could interface without the use of the holoform. I am…hesitant to show you this, Rachel. I do not want to accidentally harm you—"

"I have super strength," I said quickly. "Don't worry about it."

"Are you sure?"

"We can experiment, try it out. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, it doesn't," I met his gaze. "If I start to hurt, I'll tell you. I promise."

Optimus nodded, lips pressed into a line as he reclined once more, one hand creeping towards his crotch.

Oh. Ohhhh.

They have robot dicks.

Or something similar. I'd heard Crosshairs make jokes regarding his "spike." Out of context I'd been befuddled, but now they were beginning to make sense. The think emerging from behind Prime's plating most definitely resembled a cock, albeit far larger.

I was aroused an a bit nervous. Super strength wasn't going to help me in this department. When I looked at Prime for guidance, he temporarily snapped out of his lust-filled haze to instruct me.

"Undress."

It was a demand, not a request. I sure as hell wasn't going to argue. I didn't want to argue. I liked where this was going, and from the look of it, Optimus knew that.

I obeyed, shivering when the cool air touched my bare skin. Goosebumps formed on my arms and atop my breasts. Prime's chest was stark contrast, the heat from his spark providing the other side of my body some warmth. I lay sprawled naked across Prime's chest, head tilted so I could look him in the optics.

He smirked. I'd never seen it from him before.

"Spread your legs," Optimus rumbled. I peered down for a split second and saw his big hand wrap around his spike. I was forced to lean back as his free hand passed over me, one digit sliding down my chest, between my breasts and towards the bundle of sensitive nerves between my thighs.

Oh, oh. Okay. That works.

My hips bucked the moment his digit made contact with my wet center. Optimus was still smirking as he pleasured me, clearly enjoying the reaction. There was strain behind his intense gaze, however, air filtering through his vents in short puffs that were barely audible.

He pulled his finger away, suddenly. I grunted, craning my neck to look into his optics.

"Touch yourself for me," Optimus growled. "Now."

I did, curling my fingers and groaning. It felt so incredibly good. Having Optimus above me, watching, made it ten times more intense. The look of pure desire on his face did not falter, and my toes curled as I was brought over the edge.

"That's it, dearspark. Primus," Optimus purred, pumping his spike faster. With a loud grunt that caused his entire frame to tremble, he came. I watched him squeeze those last few drops of pleasure from his spike, before collapsing back down, metal lips parted.

I rolled over onto my stomach, catching my breath. Optimus seemed to be doing the same thing, coming down from his high. He looked beautiful — eyes half lidded, neck taut. His digit touched the side of my face and I kissed it without hesitation. A moment later the cool touch of metal was replaced with human lips. I leaned into the holoform's touch, glancing behind me.

"Beautiful," Optimus murmured. He'd already undressed, and I could him, warm and hard, against the back of my thigh. Long, tan fingers pinched my nipples before ghosting down my stomach. "All mine."

I rolled my hips, eager. Optimus scolded me by gripping my shoulder, lurching me forward. I could see my reflection in the metal of his chest plates, pupils dilated, pink full lips parted so I could suck in air like my life depended on it.

"Optimus?" I called over my shoulder. I nearly blanked and forgot what I was going to say when his hands smoothed across my back and across my shoulder blades, muscles flexing beneath his tan skin. It wasn't fair - he was beautiful in both forms.

And he chose you.

"Yes?" Optimus lifted his head. There was such a look of innocence on his face that, for a moment, I considered dropping my request. There was no way he'd oblige. No way. He was far to dignified, to calm and collected—

"I want you to hold me down," I blurted, squeezing my eyes shut as I awaited my response. When none came, I added, "Hold me down and fuck me."

I was eased onto my back by gentle hands. The cold air returned, wafting across my torso, but this time Optimus' holoform loomed over me. I reached out to touch his bicep but was stopped.

"No," Optimus snarled. "I did not give you permission to touch me."

Okay. It worked. And now the wetness between my thighs had increased. His piercing stare wasn't doing anything to ease it.

"Yes, sir."

Optimus grinned cheekily. I almost laughed, but his insistent kisses stopped me. It sucked not to be able to touch him, to grab his hair or squeeze his muscles. But the end result would be worth it, I knew. And, from what I'd seen, he liked the control.

"One day, I will ask the Prime's for another chance at being human," Optimus mumbled against my skin. He pulled away, positioning himself at my entrance. "So I can feel you, fully, and see how tight and wet my mate really is."

"Oh my God," I rested my head against cool metal, forcing myself not to jolt upwards as little by little, Optimus eased himself inside me. I could see it, him filling me up with each push. He finally made it where we were together, hip to hip. "Optimus-"

Now would be a good time to say that you love him.

No. Not yet. Not until he says it first.

Screaming out "I love you" during sex with Optimus was something I'd never thought possible, but now, it was. I knew there was love in me, and I'd directed it at Optimus. Real, recognizablelove. Not me seeking validation or attention. I'd only felt this twice in my life.

This makes three.

"Can I touch you?" I gasped. Optimus lazily rolled his hips, shaking his head. I whined, struggling, but he pinned me down. His holoform was strong — stronger than me. It was an immovable, invulnerable force and I was at its mercy. Just like I wanted. "Optimus, let me touch you. Let me touch you."

"I will reward you if you beg for it," Optimus murmured, lips resting against the shell of my ear. "Beg for my spike."

"It's a dick," I gasped. Optimus jerked his hips forward with a snarl, and I shuddered. "Okay, yeah. Spike. I want it."

"That is not convincing enough."

"I want it," I said. Heat rose to my cheeks. "Please, Optimus. Please. Fuck — frag me—"

"Good girl," Optimus murmured, capturing my lips once more. Very slowly he released my hands, pumping in and out of me until I was crying, begging for him to let me find release. It was then that he pinned my hands above my head, keeping a vice grip on my wrist. In a fluid motion he was using the pad of his thumb to stimulate my swollen clit, teeth clenched as he tried to hold out for as long as he could.

"Okay, yeah, that's nice," I grunted, hating how high pitched I sounded. It was embarrassing, but Optimus was good enough at sex that I really didn't have the time, nor the energy to care. I was focused on the orgasm that washed over my body like a wave, followed closely by Prime's own release.

Okay, one more. Can't leave him empty.

"Turn over," I grunted. Optimus raised his eyebrows, chest rising and fallen with each coordinated breath. I didn't wait for him to speak, placing my hands against his smooth chest and heaving until he was on his back.

"What are you—oh."

I had no clue if Cybertronian's even did stuff like this. Optimus was adventurous when it came to sex, so I wouldn't have been surprised. His cock was heavy against my tongue, each ridge designed to perfection. He wasn't pushing my head away, so I assumed he enjoyed my gentle ministrations.

"P-Primus," Optimus stammered. I braced my hands on either side of his thighs, diving and gagging when the head of his dick hit the back of my throat. "I'll overload—"

"Good," I said, coming up for air. Prime's face contorted with pleasure, his fists clenching and unclenching. I swirled my tongue around the tip, making sure to catch it lightly with my teeth when I pulled away. Prime's grunts grew louder at this action, so I did it again, and then again.

With a hiss, Prime's hips sputtered and his cock pulsed inside my mouth. I sucked it all down, hollowing my cheeks before pulling away with a wet pop.

Optimus tugged me against his chest, lying in silence for a few moments. It was the closest thing to heaven, resting in his arms. That when I mustered the courage to meet Prime's eye and say, "I don't want you to freak out or anything, like, I'm just going to say how I think I'm feeling. Cause I don't feel it often, you know?" I ducked my head, realizing that I was beginning to ramble. I steeled myself and continued, "I love you, Optimus. Like, I'm sure of it. You don't have to say it back if you're not ready or if you don't feel the same way. I just wanted to tell you."

Optimus kissed the top of my head. I was already dreading his response—rejection was inevitable, right? It's how it always was with me. I'd never even been in a serious relationship before, and I barely knew the basics.

"I am…afraid," Optimus said slowly, carefully. "I am afraid because I could lose you just as I lost Elita."

He didn't want to commit. It was like a punch in the gut, but deep down I knew he was doing this for my own safety. Always for someone other than himself.

"You don't have to say it," I murmured. "If you can't, don't. I'm doing this for you. I'm doing this because I know that sometimes you doubt yourself, or you feel alone. You can't carry everything by yourself. I love you and I'm here to help you."

"None of this is your burden to bare," Optimus said. "This war is not yours. I have brought you only ruin and death—"

"You also brought me Bumblebee and Crosshairs, and Hound, and Drift. I gained a family, a family that you brought me," I sat up. "If I didn't care about you guys, I wouldn't have stuck around this long. It's my burden to bare because I want it to be. I don't care if you can't say 'I love you,' because what you've already given me is enough."

"Rachel—"

"I want you to sit on it," I said calmly. "And don't feel pressured. Don't. I'm actually going to shut up about it now because me talking is probably pressuring you."

"You are cared for far more than you could even imagine," Optimus said softly. "Are you will continue to be until the very end."

Chapter Text

 

 

 

I dressed, taking up a small section of the berth while Optimus sat. The sun had already dipped below the horizon and my body, which had slowly gotten back into a semi-normal sleep schedule, was tired. Partially due to the time and partially from the mind-shattering sex.

Maybe that's why I didn't sleep right away. I was still stimulated. I managed to doze off for a small amount of time before the feel of the berth dipping a bit beneath me jolted me from my slumber. I didn't move, trying to get a feel for where the fuck I was before remembering, oh, yeah, alien spaceship and whatnot.

From this angle, I could only really hear. I was on my right side, staring straight at a wall. I could make out Optimus' shadow and a smaller, human one next to it. When it spoke, I realized it was Cade.

"Tessa isn't doing well. She's distant. Won't talk with me, only Bumblebee," Cade spoke in a hushed whisper, pausing a few times to make sure he didn't wake me. "I don't know what to do. She watched Shane die in front of her."

"She is in shock," Optimus replied. "Both from experiencing battle for the first time, and from losing her mate. Your daughter will no longer be 'normal' after these events, Cade. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. You and Rachel both protected her. You did the best you could," Cade sighed. "When Tessa's mother died, I was with her. I sat in the hospital room and watched the doctors try and revive her, but it was to late. It took me years to realize that there was nothing I could have done, nothing that could have gotten rid of her disease to begin with. It's the same with that bastard Attinger. There was nothing any of us could have done. He played us."

Optimus said, "My Autobots will be there for her. I swear," he sighed. "It is the least we can do."

"You don't owe us," Cade murmured. "You don't. When I fixed you, it was going to be for money. That's it. But that's changed. You have every reason to hate my species after what we've done, Prime."

"I couldn't do that to her. Humanity could forsake me a hundred times over but I will still stay. For her."

I could feel them looking at me, but I didn't move. After a brief pause Cade said, "That's love, Optimus."

"I know."

"Have you told her?"

"I have not…properly expressed it the way I believe I should," Optimus said slowly. "And I am unsure if doing so would be the best decision, for the both of us. She has suffered more than enough, and I feel as if my very presence has only made her life worse."

"Would you be able to leave? For her?"

"I would have done so already, Cade, if I had the strength. I don't."

Cade hummed, and I heard the heels of his boots scrape against the berth as he shifted positions. "Tessa's mother was named Emily. She died when Tessa was around….six months. Cancer. She never got to see Tessa grow up and go to school, play her first soccer game, get her license…nothing. There's so much I regret not doing but so much I'm grateful for. Optimus, you need to tell her. I'm not saying shit will go haywire in the future, but you never know. It happens, and then it's over."

I squeezed my eyes shut. I wanted to shut my ears — not because I was annoyed, but because I feared what Optimus was going to say next. For a split second I basked in the silence before making my move and faking a dramatic yawn, sitting up and, with tired eyes, peering over my shoulder at Cade and Optimus.

Sleepily I drawled, "How far are we from Hong Kong?"

"Not far," Cade said. "At least, that's what Hound said. I don't think he even heard me ask."

"I will go check," Optimus slid from the berth while I clambered to my feet, standing alongside Cade. Optimus extended his hand, allowing Cade and I to settle against his palm. He helped us down from the steep berth, resting us on our feet. "Cade, I appreciate your advice."

"Anytime," Cade waved a hand. Optimus left as if he were in a hurry, and I could help but smirk as I watched him leave.

I said, not looking at Cade, "Is Tessa okay?"

"No," Cade replied. "I think you might be able to talk with her, if she's ready."

"She has to be ready, or else she's staying on the ship while we figure out what the fuck Attinger is up to," I crossed my arms. "One thing I've learned from being around these guys is that there's no time for grief. You run out of tears real fast that way."

"That's how you stop feeling shit."

"I stopped feeling shit a long, long time ago."


Tessa's eyes were red rimmed, but no longer puffy, swollen from her crying. She didn't lift her head when I took a seat in front of her — blonde hair framed her dirty face and she still managed to look pretty.

I started the conversation the only way I really knew how.

"Yo."

Tessa lifted her head. For a long moment she stared, as if she didn't know what to think. I saw several emotions flash across her face — immense sadness, anger, disgust, before settling on the most familiar one. Exhaustion.

I said, "We don't have to talk about Shane. We can talk about something else, if you want."

"What else is there to talk about?"

I shrugged, trying to keep the conversation as smooth as possible. "Where are you going to college?"

"Anywhere I get accepted," Tessa pulled her knees up against her chest. "I'm hoping we live through all of this so I can go to college, you know? That would be great."

"College is good," I nodded rhythmically, rubbing my eyes. "You'll go a long way. Plus you'll have some kickass stories to tell."

Tessa chuckled, tilting her head back to rest against the ships wall. She said without hesitation, "You and my dad are both really bad at comforting people."

I sighed, though it was more out of relief. Relief that Tessa could see through the bullshit. I fiddled with my fingers, absently checking the blister on my side. "I'm bad because I'm awkward. I'm awkward cause I'm, you know, not mentally sound. Haven't been for a very long time."

"That's okay. Shane was like you," Tessa relaxed a bit, a fond smile on her face. "He sucked at comforting me, especially during…you know when. That time of the month."

"You get hella hormonal? Same."

"It's the worst. He'd always end up bringing me assorted chocolates. He'd sneak through the window so my dad wouldn't see," Tessa said softly. "Dad still doesn't know."

"I won't snitch," I replied. "I could really go for some chocolate right now."

"I could really go for a shower."

"Same. And a massage. And sixty thousand dollars for every near death experience I've had so far," I hummed as Tessa nodded in agreement. "We better get a goddamn plaque after this. Or the keys to every city in the world. Or a lifetime supply of chicken nuggets, you know, something balanced."

"We get to see the world," Tessa gazed around the ship. "I've travelled more in the past few days than I have my entire life."

"That's a positive," I snorted. Tessa and I locked eyes, prompting me to add, "Shane didn't die in vain, you know. He's a protector. I imagine that's how he's always been."

When I looked down, Tessa had my hand wrapped in hers. She wasn't crying this time, and the look on her face was of sheer determination.

"I'm…I'm glad that I got to spend time with him. I'm sad that it didn't last…but I'm glad we got some time together."

"I'm here for you. I hope you know that," I tugged Tessa into a hug. Her determined look stayed, but I felt a few stray tears against my skin as I held her. "Always."


I could check the great wall of China off my bucket list. We passed over it as the sun was rising, speeding past. Hound was wasting no time, stating that this "wasn't a fragging tourist trip" and that we had places to be, things to kill…and whatnot.

Hong Kong was a sprawling city, but Cybertronian technology was, well, advanced. I had a feeling that if Joshua Joyce wanted to meet us, he'd pick somewhere discreet and away from the major population. Like a forest.

Good thing I was wrong.

Hound picked him up on the radar running across the rooftop of a residential area, right on the outskirts of the major metropolitan area. He was waving his arms, tie flapping in the wind as the ship drew closer, doors dropping to invite the bald man inside.

Hound kept the ship leveled before switching it to autopilot while I grasped onto Bumblebee and formed a human chain. Cade was shouting over the roar of the ships engine, gesturing for Joyce to hop inside.

Joyce was shouting, yelling, and not grabbing onto Cade's hand. He looked panicked, but I couldn't hear him over the sound of the ship.

"Grab on!" Cade shouted, inching closer. "Grab on—"

In a split second I realized what Joshua was gesturing at. He was warning us.

A missile struck the side of the ship. The impact sent the entire structure jotting forward. I tumbled, my grip on Bumblebee breaking. I rolled head over heels before smacking hard against concrete, hearing several bodies impact around me, followed by Hound's loud curse and Bumblebee's shrill cry of surprise. I barely avoided being crushed by a dark green, burly arm which splintered the concrete beneath it.

The ship passed over us before hurtling, smoking and spitting, towards the mountains.

"Oh, frag!" Hound lifted his arm to make sure he hadn't crushed me. He placed his cap back on top of his head, picking up his cigar from where it had fallen. "Sorry, girlie!"

"What the hell was that?" Joyce shouted, scrambling to his feet. Tessa, Cade and Bumblebee were picking themselves up, coughing and rotating sore limbs. Joyce's gaze fell on me and he said, the veins in his neck and forehead pronounced, "You have so much shit to explain, missy—"

"Hey, don't talk to her like that," Cade snapped. "She doesn't have to explain shit since we're here to save your ass."

"Well, you're too late," Joshua Joyce boldly poked Cade in the chest. "My prototypes? They're loose. And I guarantee you that freak — you know, the freak that your freak told me about — is behind it," Joshua waved a hand towards me.

"Call her a freak one more time," Hound snarled, raising his cannon. "And you're going to be looking like your tie — red and ugly."

Joshua waved his hand in a placating gesture, pointing at the buildings behind Hound. I could see the prototypes — manufactured, armored protoforms — clambering up the walls of the towering structures. Joshua sneered, "You might want to deal with them, first."

Hound turned, spraying the Decepticon prototypes with a hailstorm of bullets. Bumblebee began shooting as well, ushering us across the rooftops. My eyes scanned everywhere for Attinger, just imagining him, lurking in the shadows ready to ambush us —

"Incoming!" Hound bellowed.

A missile struck, sending concrete and dirt and glass flying. Tessa stumbled ad I tugged her away, keeping my body between her and the gunfire.

"Cade, do you have the gun?" I shouted.

"It's in my bag—"

"Bust it out, Cade!" Hound roared, throwing himself across the rooftop. He landed, crushing clothes lines and chairs and potted plants beneath him. "Frag! My fataft is stuck!"

"You might want to throw in some cardio."

"Not funny, Bee!" Hound replied, struggling to pull himself loose. "Get down there and shoot them!"

Tessa spotted the elevator first, pointing and shouting. I sprinted behind, shoving Cade and Joyce ahead as Bumblebee covered us before bunching his knees and leaping, sending a furious onslaught of missile fire into the streets below.

"Prime!"

A shadow fell over me as Cade, Joyce and Tessa made it into the elevator. At first I believed it to be Hound, but Tessa's scream of terror was enough for me to think otherwise. I glanced over my shoulder, catching a glimpse of silver and red before a tremendous force slammed into me from the side. A shriek of agony and fear tore through my throat before being snatches by the wind. Sharp pinpricks of pain blossomed through my skull as I slammed through thick glass, tumbling across carpet before coming to a jarring stop against a wall.

Fuck.

I was alive, but in pain. As usual. I pushed myself up onto my elbows, dragging myself across the carpet. I was vaguely aware of the blood tricklin g from my scalp and into my eyes like little pearly, crimson droplets. I was still getting used to the fact that I was durable — a direct hit from Galvatron would have obliterated me otherwise.

"Have I gotten your attention?"

I gingerly lifted my head, eyes traveling from Attinger's crisp shoes to his finely tailored suit. His eyebrows were raised as he waited for me to answer.

I spat, "You could have just asked. No need for the bodily harm."

"Where's the fun in that?"

I was a second away from springing up and strangling him, but I should have known better. I hadn't even moved and Attinger was backing away, making space for a much larger adversary than himself.

Clawed hands swept through the masonry of the patchwork house, pushing aside tables and chairs. Galvatron's snarling face peered through the hole he'd made, gaze landing on me.

"Optimus."

"You bastard," I glared up at Attinger, forcing myself to painful roll out of the way as Galvatron grasped for me. I didn't want to know what images Attinger was forcing into Galvatron's mind, but it was clear he had the upper hand.

I got to my feet, knees trembling. Steeling myself, I sprinting forward and out - no, through - the door of the high-rise home, the impact like a feather against my skin. Galvatron's bellow of frustration carried. I darted to the side as he fired a poorly aimed shot that destroyed he elevator I was so desperately trying to reach.

Okay. Maybe not so poorly aimed.

My lungs burned, but I continued running. Sparks licked at my heels as another shot from Galvatron fell short and exploded behind me, the sheer concussive force sending me sprawling. Through the smoke and spiraling embers I could see him making his way across the rooftop, gun drawn.

Get up and run!

The little voice in my head, for once, was right. Staying and fighting would be useless. If Optimus struggled to handle Galvatron alone, then there was no doubt the large mech would end me in seconds.

That being said, there was a gap between the two buildings, and between it, a drop that was at least several hundred feet. Unlike last time, this was a drop I wouldn't be able to survive.

Try and jump to the other side, or stay and fight Galvatron?

My fear of the silver mech won out over my fear of heights. Arms pumping like an olympic runner, I sprinted faster than I ever had before. With a high-pitched cry of both fear and desperation, I threw myself off the roof. For a split, terrifying second I was airborne, before I landed on my feet.

Shit! Shit!

Probably wasn't even that far a jump.

I spotted the elevator. I'd made slightly enough progress, and luckily, Galvatron's next shot grazed me as I slammed my fist against the down button so hard that little arrow blinked and the keypad caved in on itself. Nonetheless, the doors opened and I threw myself inside. The door shut, and Galvatron's final, exasperated cry began to fade away and the elevator shuddered, but continued it's descent towards the battle below.

Chapter Text

The door opened to chaos. Hound was blasting away at enemies with his minigun while Tessa, Cade and Joyce took cover behind him.

"Hey little lady!" Bumblebee chirped, raising his blaster. I limped towards the group, meeting Tessa halfway. She threw herself into my arms, and over her shoulder, I saw Cade flash me a smile.

"You're bleeding—" Tessa pulled her fingers away, staring at the crimson liquid.

"I'm fine," I absently wiped my forehead. "Its not serious. I swear."

"Hey, ladies, cut the chit chat and let's move!" Joyce shouted. I grasped Tessa's hand as we followed Hound and Bumblebee through Hong Kong's bustling streets. The space was narrow and crowded, and I made sure to keep close to group.

"Out of the way, humans!" Hound hoped over the the scurrying civilians, diving and rolling as we existed the street, ducking beneath an overpass and emerging in a small courtyard. The Decepticon prototypes were taking cover, and more were falling in behind. The area became alit with the flash of blaster fire.

"Go, go! Hustle!" Joyce yelled, darting past me. He and Tessa slid behind a fallen concrete wall while Cade raised his gun and began firing at our attackers.

I had to do something. I had to fight.

The prototypes advanced. We were outnumbered, and I knew that despite Hound's extensive weaponry and Bumblebee's skills, we wouldn't be able to last long.

Take out the legs!

It was my best bet. Ignoring Cade's shouts I darted past, hearing Hound yell for Cade to cover me. The first prototype — Stinger — had no time to react before I'd leaped, just as I had with Galvatron. Unlike my previous adversary this bot was weaker, smaller. Bracing myself, I drug my shoulder into its torso. It landed hard on it's back, disoriented, and by the time it managed to lift it's head It was already to late.

Muscles straining, I dug my fingers into any sort of groove I could find before tearing the prototypes head straight from it's body. Transfluid splattered against my shirt as thing sputtered before falling still.

"Hell yeah!" Hound bellowed in approval, nodding in my direction.

My victory was cut short by a missile blast that would have incinerated me, had it not been for Bumblebee leaping and allowing his shoulder plating to take the hit for me. The yellow bot howled in pain before returning fire.

Time for reckless idea number two.

Taking advantage of Bumblebee's proximity, I clambered up the smaller Autobots back leg. I kept a firm grip as he ducked and weaved towards his target — a larger prototype with two heads and a wide body.

"You got head number one, I've got head number two," I shouted at Bee, bending my knees so I could keep steady atop Bee's slippery armor. The Autobot chirped as he finally reached the two-headed prototype, blasting away at one limb while I jumped and ripped away the other. I clung tight as the huge robot toppled, the impact throwing me off and sending me tumbling head over heels.

Cade caught me. I was disheveled and drenched in sweat, dirt coating my body like a second layer of skin. Cade didn't look any better, and I could see the exhaustion picking away at his strong features.

A deafening bellow echoed down the narrow streets of Hong Kong.

"Optimus is here!" Hound roared, using his minigun as a battering ram. He'd lost his cigar and pieces of his metal beard were missing. There was glee in his optics, along with a determination I only wished could be seen in humans.

He's here.

There were several different ways I imagined our scuffle in he courtyard would come to an end. Optimus riding in on a massive, metal dinosaur with gnashing teeth and glowing eyes was not one of them.

Despite my surprise, he looked like a god. Sword raised, bellowing a battle cry as Drift spun into view and Crosshairs followed close behind, gun in hand. With a roar, the massive metal dinosaur chomped down on the final prototype, thrashing it around like a rag doll until it fell still.

"About time," I called up to Optimus. The large mech took on my unkept state, looking worried. I reassured him with a smile, adding, "Where did you find the, uh…that?"

"This is Grimlock," Optimus said. "He was one of Lockdown's 'trophies.'"

"We have time for, uh, introductions later. We need to get out of this city—"

Cade interrupted Joyce, brows furrowed as he adjusted his gun. "Get out? No, this is your mess, and you're going to help us fix it."

"Galvatron must be destroyed," Optimus rumbled. Grimlock was eying Joyce, mouth parted to reveal his massive, jagged teeth. "Or else countless more will perish. Do not abandon your own species, Joshua Joyce," his voice was lowered to a threatening growl. "As you have already abandoned mine."

"I don't even know where he is!" Joyce yelled. "Attinger didn't tell me anything!"

Focus.

I squeezed my eyes shut, clenching my hands into a fist. Everything around me was louder than I expected - Grimlock's heavy panting, Joshua high pitched voice a he and Cade argued. Tessa's soft hand on my shoulder was the only thing that helped calm me.

Focus. Find him.

I was on the outskirts of Attinger's mind, and I stayed there, observing. I didn't want to see anything else or learn anything else. That was a darkness I wouldn't touch. For the first time I was determined to just look, to stand outside and just observe, as I had with Optimus.

There.

Gotcha, fucker.

I pulled away abruptly, opening my eyes. It had only taken maybe three or four seconds, but I'd learned enough. He was close and he was running.

Cade had his back turned. Optimus and the other Autobots were paying attention to Joshua Joyce's pitiful excuses. Tessa's hands were tender, but they were also fragile. I slipped away and began running before she had time to shout.

I had to do this. I didn't know why, but I knew that I had to.

You'll die.

So?

Attinger was making his way through a parking garage. I saw the back of his head, the flash of white hair as he ran up the stairs in his clean shoes and nice, expensive suit that was now tattered, no longer worth anything. There was no sign of Galvatron and the deck was empty, save for cars that had been abandoned amidst the raging battle. Attinger reached the top, and I was on his heels. My first instinct was to try and end him right then and there, so I did.

Attinger's reflexes were better than I imagined. He slipped out of the way as my fist punched open air. I stumbled, spinning on my heels.

I stopped. Savoy raised his hands in a placating gesture. I blinked, trying to clear my eyes as the man I loathed smirked, lips curling back over his white teeth and I stood there in terror, memories flashing through my brain that I so desperately wanted to push aside.

Then I remembered Savoy wasn't real. The mistake cost me.

The illusion disappeared as the tip of a shock baton pressed against the small of my back. I lurched forward, stumbling across the parking deck and bracing myself against a parked car, mouth open in silent surprise. I'd forgotten how much the batons hurt.

"Rachel!" Cade was hustling up the stairs on the opposite side of the deck. Attinger was approaching me from behind, stalking forward like an animal plotting its kill. He acknowledged Cade with an exasperated sigh.

I was more focused on Cade than Attinger.

He's strong. He can do this.

No, he can't. Shane was strong and Shane is dead.

I clenched my teeth, dragging myself forward before another stern hit from the baton had me on my knees. Attinger bypassed me, stepping towards Cade.

This was a fight Cade couldn't win. I could see he was always hesitating, stopping with his gun raised as Attinger cocked his head to the side.

He's trying. Cade is trying.

He wouldn't leave you. He followed you here.

Tears prickled at the corners of my eyes as I dragged myself forward, limbs twitching. By the time I managed to pull myself to my feet and begin struggling forward, Attinger had already yanked out his gun —

Cade's left shoulder erupted in a spray of blood. The shot hadn't been fired by Attinger — in fact, Attinger's gun was lowered and he had stopped, eyes looking towards the blue sky. As Cade toppled Attinger, too, was flung violently to the side the concussive force of blaster fire.

"Cade!" I shrieked. He was on the concrete, gun abandoned at his side, in a pool of his own blood. The shadow looming over the parking deck was familiar and ominous.

"You have deceived me," Lockdown landed hard against the concrete, pedes crunching against debris. "Attinger."

Attinger's glasses were gone and his face was a bloody mess. He'd lost a shoe and his sock had been plastered to his skin from the heat. He scrambled back, hissing.

Cade was probably dead. From this angle, I couldn't tell if he was breathing.

"Your foul creation has abandoned you," Lockdown sneered. "Leaving me to collect the spoils. My original desire was to capture Prime, which I will do in time," his blaster whirred and he knelt, head ducked. "But first, I am going to rid the galaxy of some creatures who are more trouble than they are worth."

My entire focus was on Cade.

Lockdown's words were just background noise. He was lying there, motionless, at the mercy of Lockdown. I'd already seen it with Ratchet. I wasn't willing to let go. Not again.

I could feel the heat from Lockdown's blaster as he readied it, choosing me as his first target.

Focus.

Cade's finger moved, and I saw his eyes twitch behind closed lids.

Focus on your breathing.

"Get away from them!"

Optimus' bellow was the loudest I'd ever heard. Lockdown twisted his head and received punch so hard that it knocked off pieces of his facial plating. He cursed, absorbing the impact and using it to carry him into a spin, foot lashing out in a well-aimed kick.

I kept my head down. Tessa was climbing the stairs while Bumblebee joined the fight, leaping onto Lockdown's back and simply holding on, refusing to let go.

"Get your dad!" I pointed, coughing. Tessa did, easing him over as I used whatever strength I had to join her. Head ducked, I stammered, "Get something to put pressure on the wound — your jacket, anything!"

The bullet had gone straight through, the heat cauterizing pieces of flesh around the inside. Cade was twitching, struggling to swallow. One side of his face was sticky and red.

I looked over. There were no tears in Tessa's eyes. Just determination as she murmured, "You're going to be okay, Dad."

Lockdown had thrown Bumblebee off the parking deck. The momentary distraction allowed Optimus to slice away at his shoulder armor. The next blow had to be the killing blow, it had to —

Optimus' sword clattered to the ground and he began clawing at his optics, shouting in alarm as he confronted some unknown enemy.

Attinger.

The bastard was standing, teeth bloody and bared. I watched in horror as Lockdown pummeled Optimus with his fist.

Tessa's hands were drenched in blood.

"Stay with him," I jerked my chin towards Cade. "Don't let him go, okay?"

Tessa nodded. I approached Attinger from the side, the smugness and sheer joy on his face the only thing motivating me to keep moving. He was getting pleasure out of watching Lockdown beat Optimus' head into the ground.

So much pleasure that he didn't see me until it was too late. His last expression was a red, wide grin that reminded me of a freshly painted clown.

I grabbed his neck and slammed so hard into the concrete that I heard his ribs pop out of place and his skull crack into a million pieces. Those once white teeth flew from his mouth like reddened pearls. His nose became a crumpled mess and his eyes bugged out of his socket, leaking fluid.

I saw it all.

The illusion on Optimus broke. Lockdown roared in pain and anger as Optimus gained the upper hand and was able to get a firm grip on his sword. Lockdown's cry was cut short when the blade embedded itself in his skull. His eyes flickered green for a few seconds before dimming, his body going limp.

Attinger gripped my forearm. I nearly leaped out of my skin. I didn't have the energy to pull away, and with each passing second his grip was weakening. Nonetheless, I saw those blue eyes meet mine. His mouth stretched into a grotesque, pained grimace as he tried to pull his head up from the concrete, but was unable.

Toothless and with a mouth full of blood, Attinger gurgled, "How does it feel?"

I didn't reply. I just watched his ears begin to bleed and his eyes fade until there was nothing left.

I left Attinger, limping back over to where Tessa knelt, cradling Cade's head in her arms. He was alive, but barely. His breathing came out in short, wheezing puffs. I rested my forehead against Tessa's shoulder. Optimus approached, collapsing to one knee. Tessa allowed him to tenderly wrap his fingers around Cade's body.

"He will live," Optimus said gravely. There was a shakiness in his voice that I'd never heard before. "Let's move."


Lockdown's ship hovered over the bay, static and empty. The sound of battle was no more, replaced with sirens and helicopters. We'd left a trail of destruction in our wake, the likes of which I'd only seen in movies.

Joyce and the Autobots were waiting for us at the dockyard, and it was Joyce's people who whisked Cade away for medical care, not even giving Tessa chance to properly part with her unconscious father.

"He'll be fine," Joyce reassured her. "He's in good hands. I promise. I owe it to him and I owe it to you," the older man sighed, mustering up the courage to meet my gaze. In a quiet, reserved voice he said, "I'd like to apologize. I worked with Attinger willingly…I had no idea what he was really up to and who he was hurting."

"Ignorance is bliss. What's done is done," I smiled weakly. Joyce's apology was genuine, and I could see the deep shame behind that professional facade of his. I shook his hand, nodding my head. i'd have to keep telling myself that it had been Lockdown and Attinger doing the killing, not Joyce. He was just another tool.

"Aw, that's sweet," Hound said. "You know, baldy? You aren't so bad after all. Annoying, but not bad."

"That is one way to put it," Drift drawled.

"Gee, thanks," Joyce smirked. He rolled his shoulders and said to Tessa, "Hey, kid? You want to stay with your dad?"

Tessa glanced at me, nodding. "Yeah. But what about—"

"I'll be fine. There's stuff I need to take care of," I glanced up at Optimus. "Things we need to take care of. You go stay with your dad, keep him safe. He needs you."

"He needs you, too."

I ducked my head. "You're strong enough, Tessa. You've proven it. I can't come with you because I…I just can't. I'll see you again. I swear."

Tessa and I embraced, and I didn't want her let go. I didn't have the heart to tell her the real reason I was refusing to go with her and Cade. The farther away I was, the safer they'd be.

That's just how it worked.

From the look of sorrow Optimus was giving us, he knew it to be true as well. Glancing at Hound, Drift, Bee and Crosshairs he said, "Autobots, to the Knight ship. We determine our next destination from there."

Joshua guided Tessa towards the helicopter while the Autobots and I watched, lips pressed into a think line. I was about to walk into the unknown, and it frightened me.

You have another job to do.

Find your creators.

Chapter Text

Six weeks later.

"Oi, fleshy! What's the matter with you all of a sudden?" Crosshairs flicked his forefinger, narrowly missing my foot by a few inches. It wouldn't have hurt, but it was still annoying. I was lying on the free space of the control panel, peering out the wide window. There was nothing but ocean stretching far and wide — I had no clue where we were. The sea was the most inconspicuous area for the Knight Ship to hover, the ocean had, well, become our home of sorts.

"Nothing's wrong with me," I replied. "You're just looking for someone to argue with. Go poke Drift if you're really in the mood for a fight."

"Bumblebee is more fun."

"Bumblebee isn't here," I said. It was true — the yellow Autobot was hanging around Cade and Tessa. So we hoped. He'd checked in a week ago, stating that he was still in disguise and preferred to keep it that way, and that Cade was recovering slowly.

That being said, the ship felt empty without him. The current inhabitant were Optimus, Crosshairs, the Dinobots, Hound, Drift, and myself. We were a merry little band of...whatever the hell we were.

I slid from the control console, landing on my feet. I bypassed Crosshairs, who watched me with a smirk. He said, "What are you going to do when you find whoever it is that 'made' you? Kill them?"

"No," I replied. "I'll talk with them. Ask them what the fuck they were thinking."

"Good choice. Grill them for information, then take their fragging heads off."

"No heads are going be coming off, dude."

"Where's the fun, then?" Crosshairs hurried after me, and I allowed him to gingerly pluck me from the ground and place me on his shoulder. We began heading towards the berths, traversing the ship. It was quiet, now. Hound had taken it upon himself to dispose of Lockdown's captured trophies, most of which had been abused and deformed beyond recognition. It, in Hound's eyes, had been a mercy killing. There was no place for them in this world.

I tried not to think about that. There was something in Hound's eyes, something grim and sad.

Crosshairs placed me on my feet, and I entered the quarters that Optimus and I shared. The Prime was nowhere in sight, and, out of courtesy or just sheer arrogance, Crosshairs didn't step through the doors. He just gave a lazy salute, followed by an obscene gesture that I returned. Then he was gone, grumbling about how I was "no fun" and how he "missed Bumblebee, but not really."

I headed over to the clunky excuse for a laptop that Hound had graciously fixed for me. Email was the only thing it could receive, but that was enough. I could communicate to Cade and Tessa mentally, but when it came time to search for my maker...

Yeah. The old fashioned way.

Five emails from W. Him - or her - had become my most reliable lead. They'd messaged me, first, with a cryptic statement that, after a while, didn't seem at all cryptic. I'd been cut off from the world, but from what this person had told me, the world wasn't cut off from me. Or Cade. Both of our faces had been slapped on newspapers worldwide some antagonizing, some skeptical.

In the world's eyes, we were still fugitives and criminals. In W's eyes, we were reliable sources for alien information. I was treading lightly. If I could get a picture of W, linking with them would be possible. Extremely difficult, but possible.

I opened the newest message.

Sector Seven doesn't exist. Not anymore. All the informants you're looking for have either died or changed names and moved out of the country.

I typed a reply.

Okay, which ones have left the country? I'm resourceful. I can find them. What about Simmons?

W replied almost immediately.

Just how resourceful are you that leaving the country isn't a hassle?

Honey, I'm already out of the country

I sighed, running fingers through my hair. My fingers flew across the keyboard.

We've tried everyone else. Everyone...closer. If you can reach this Simmons guy, do it. I'll pay you. I'll tell you about the Autobots, whatever. I'll do a live interview and sit in front of you and talk for an hour. Anything.

Ten minutes went by and no reply. Then, the little message popped up in the corner.

It will take some investigating, but I can find his number and location for you. Just wait.

Good.

I shut the laptop. I was already fatigued for the day, ready to doze off.

"Any luck?"

I lifted my head as Optimus entered the room. I shrugged, shedding my outer layers so that I was in nothing but my undergarments. Optimus took a seat on the berth and watched as folded my clothes and placed them neatly next to the mattress and bedding and bundle of human supplies Drift had salvaged for me. There was fresh water on the ship, a combination of Lockdown's sick need to provide his trophies with sustenance, as well as rainwater. I drank and bathed, but I knew it had to run out sometime.

Don't think about then. Think about now.

Optimus reclined on his berth, activating his holoform. I almost shrugged it off and told him to just get some rest, but stopped when I felt his hands on my bare back.

I knew what he was going to say before he even opened his mouth, so I beat him to it. "Please don't comment about how I need to go to some remote island with Crosshairs or Hound and stay reclusive forever. Cause I knew that's what you were going to say."

"It would be much better than staying on this ship," Optimus said boldly. "This place is not meant for humans, Rachel."

"I'm making due. I'm not leaving you," I turned to face him, feeling his strength, even through his holoform, as he held me. "You're stuck with me. Sorry."

"You make good company. Being stuck with you is something I can't complain about," Optimus nipped at my ear.

"If I lived on an island, I'd need you there, not Crosshairs. He can visit. I love him to death, but he can visit," I chuckled as soft lips pressed against my neck. It was starting to tickle, and I chuckled, "After this war is over, we can do that. You and I, go live on some island in the Caribbean."

"And interface under the stars," Optimus rumbled. "It sounds like an ideal scenario."

I tipped my head back, before leaning forward and kissing Optimus on the mouth. I chuckled against his lips, and when I pulled away, I sat down on the mattress, teasingly lifting one leg to hook around Prime's ankle.

"I wish you'd stop worrying about me," I rolled my eyes as I realized how, well, hypocritical my words were. Of course he worried. I worried about him just much as he worried about me, probably. "I know it's instinct and all. You can't help it, after Elita...that pain sticks with you."

"It sticks with me, but it also keeps me alert," Optimus knelt, articles of clothing popping and sizzling away. Shirt, shoes, pant, underpants. "My fear is part of why I'm alive."

I ran my fingers across the smooth planes of Optimus' chest, dipping past his pectorals and to his navel. He shuddered, ducking his head and pressing soft kisses against my mouth. He pulled away, but only after reaching out and pinning my arms above my head. He squeezed my wrists, lifting his head and staring down at me.

"Primus," he leaned down and kissed me again. In one fluid motion he'd slid my underwear down past my ankles, grunting and lightly probing the tip of his cock at my entrance. I instinctively bucked my hips, wanting all of him.

"Please don't make me beg," I murmured. When Optimus didn't reply, I whined, "Optimus—"

Gently he eased into my, hands trembling as he gripped my waist. My toes curled and I sighed, relaxed and nuzzling the side of his neck.

Optimus held me afterwards, rolling over so I could lay sprawled across his chest, nestled within the blankets. For a long while we just rested in a half- awake daze. Optimus began languidly stroking my back, and I was tempted to fall asleep.

After a long stretch of silence, Optimus said, "I have been...thinking. It is time that I leave Earth in search of my creators."

His words were like a punch in the gut. The idea didn't sit well with me, though not because I believed Prime to be incapable, but because the thought of him leaving sent chills down my spine. The thought of him going anywhere sent chills down my spine.

"You'll come back, right?"

"Of course," Optimus said softly. "Rachel, I will always come back to you. You are my world."

I sat up, propping my elbows on each side of his head. My hair tickled his forehead and he held me, palm pressing gently against the small of my back.

"You have to do what's right," I replied hoarsely. "We're after the same thing, but our paths don't go the same way. I'm okay with that. As long as I know that you'll be safe."

"I do not know," Optimus said softly. "All I'm asking for is your trust."

"You have my trust. I'll link with you as much as I can," I kissed the tip of his nose. "Maybe I'm overprotective. You're a warrior alien and I'm...me. I can't get to you if you're in space. I can tear this Earth apart but I can't go any farther than this Earth."

Optimus kissed me forehead, sliding from beneath me. He stood, giving me a glorious view of his bare backside before his holoform flickered away. Very, gently he reached down to scoot me up before resting back on his berth, cooling fans rotating. He lay, allowing me to to crawl across his chest.

"I never had this opportunity with Elita," Optimus said slowly. "And for that, I...I am almost glad. I would have not been able to give myself fully to you."

"Give yourself to me?" I raised my eyebrows.

"Yes. I wish to sparkbond, with you," Optimus sounded extremely nervous. "With this bond...I would be yours, and you mine."

"Forever," I breathed, gnawing on my lower lip.. Not out of fear, but out of longing. There were tears prickling in the corners of my eyes. I pressed my palm against Prime's chest plating, feeling the rapid hum of the life beneath.

"I love you," Optimus murmured, "And I will always come back to you."

There was no hesitation in my mind. My heart was filled with nothing but admiration and pure, unadulterated desire for Optimus. The the tears that fell were due to me knowing that. Knowing that I wanted him, and finally seeing that he wanted me back.

"Yes," I breathed. "Always."


Crosshairs was poking me awake. I knew it was him because he was kneeling over, lip plates twisted into a grimace as he prodded as if I were a poisonous snake.

He's like a cat. If I ignore him, he'll go away.

"I know you're awake, fleshy."

I shot up, swatting at Crosshairs' finger as if it were a fly. I kicked away the sheets, shivering as the cool air hit my bare skin. When I looked back up, Crosshairs had his optics closed.

"What the fuck is your problem?"

"You are naked," Crosshairs said slowly. From over by the door, I heard a deep laugh — Hound. I rolled my eyes, covering my breasts and sweeping my arm across the floor in hopes of snagging my top.

"Crosshairs, Hound — Primus," Drift covered his eyes. "Why is she unclothed?"

"Optimus and I had sex," I said bluntly. Crosshairs shuddered, and Hound grimaced. "That's why I'm naked, dude. I'd get dressed but you're all in my room."

"I was coming to retrieve you all. Optimus has insisted that he depart Earth," Drift said. He stared down at me, raising his eyebrows. "Were you aware of this plan?"

"Depart Earth?" Crosshairs said. "You mean like, leave this planet? Who's in charge, then?"

I ignored Crosshairs, saying, "Yes. We talked about it last night."

"What for?" Crosshairs asked eagerly.

"To do the same thing I'm doing. Find his creators," I hugged the blanket

against my torso, spotting my clothes over near where my laptop was resting. "Can I please get dressed now?"

"I've always found it peculiar that humans are ashamed of their own anatomy," Drift cocked his hip to the side. "Your species is rather...obsessed with interfacing."

"Yeah, it's a bitch. Especially if you're a chick," I steeled myself and dropped the blanket, staggering over to where my clothes lay. None of the bots seemed to really care that I was basically flashing them. "Like, good lord if you breastfeed in public."

It was weird, being around a bunch of aliens who didn't really understand or even have a concept of certain human customs like nudity. It was...nice, in a way. There were no creepy stares or lewd comments, no offhanded remarks about my body.

I dressed, hopping after Drift and the others as I adjusted my shoe. Optimus was on the deck of the night ship, standing regal and tall, shield strapped to his back, sword sheathed.

I wanted to go with him. But even I didn't have the ability to withstand the conditions space. Being able to link with Optimus was the only thing that would keep me remotely sane. I tried to keep the fact that, if something happened, I wouldn't be able to reach him, out of my mind. I had to trust him, and I did. The hard part came after.

I stood beside Optimus as he turned and addressed the Autobots. Grimlock, Sludge and Scourge were stomping over while Strafe circled overhead. I smiled up at the Dinobot before turning my attention to Prime.

"Autobots, in my absence, you will be under the command of Rachel," Optimus rumbled. "She is my bonded mate, and you will protect her as you would protect me."

"We have to babysit?" Crosshairs rolled his eyes. "Fine, fine."

"It is time I found the truth. If these 'creators' are out there, I will find them." "And you'll come back?" I gripped the red armor of Prime's ankle, staring at him longingly. He nodded solemnly.

"I will return," Optimus said. He paused, looking around at his comrades. "You all have fought bravely for one another. Continue to do so. I am proud."

"I'll keep their asses in line for you," I said, winking. "Right, Crosshairs?"

"She's going to be tyrannical, Prime. I can tell."

"You will just have to get used to it," Optimus replied. I chuckled, forcing myself to release him and walk over to where Hound stood. Each step was agonizing, and having to stand silent while Prime met my gaze, optics filled with sorrow, before starting up his boosters and shooting into the sky, the rockets in his feet propelling him forward through and the clouds and towards the stars.

I watched Optimus until he disappeared. Even after he was gone I stared, head tilted up as a giant raincloud crept into view, blocking the sun. Water droplets splattered against my skin, and a burst of lightning startled me.

Crosshairs was waiting for me as I slipped back inside the ship, removing my jacket.

"You know I didn't, uh, mean it when I said that you'd be tyrannical."

"I know."

"Did you and Prime really sparkbond?"

"We did," I ducked my head and smiled. Physically I didn't feel different, but mentally? Linking with Optimus was going to be fun. There was so much more I could see, now. New doors had been opened that I hadn't even noticed were there.

"What did it feel like?"

"Oh," I paused. Crosshairs was genuinely curious, and the jealousy in his eyes was far more pronounced than I'd ever seen it. "It was...nice. Amazing, actually."

"I suppose I should congratulate you. Sparkbonding is something to be celebrated," Crosshairs shrugged, smiling. "So, uh, congratulations."

I grinned up at Crosshairs. His word were genuine, not a hint of mockery in his tone. It was funny. Bizarre, but funny. And helpful — Optimus' departure already hurt. The worrying would come later.

I bid Crosshairs farewell as the storm grew in intensity. Bad weather was nothing to the Knight Ship, luckily. The structure was build better than anything on Earth, and its sheer size could easily withstand a hurricane.

I returned to my quarters, checking my messages. W had replied, and I opened it without hesitation.

Seymour Simmons is currently in Havana. Cuba has been very open about accepting aliens, so you should have no trouble navigating. Just ask around. Hope that helps.

I typed a quick reply, practically bouncing in my seat.

Awesome. Thank you.

I slid from my chair, closing the laptop and hurrying through the vast ship in search of the Autobots. They weren't difficult to locate — their loud voices carried, even through the rumbling of the thunder outside.

I turned the corner and very nearly became goo beneath Grimlock's foot. The Dinobot grunted and hopped, regarding me with a snort. I couldn't tell if he was just annoyed with how small I was or legitimately in a bad mood.

"You okay, buddy?"

Of course, I didn't get a reply. Drift was the one primarily pushing for them to adapt and learn at least some human language. They were all stubborn — even more so than I was — so that probably wasn't going to happen anytime soon.

Grimlock dipped his giant head, nuzzling the top of his nose against the top of my head. He exhaled, warm air wafting across my face. I rubbed under his chin, and he seemed to relax.

That was when Drift and Crosshairs rounded the corner, stopping at the sight of Grimlock. Drift winced and Crosshairs rolled his eyes, saying, "There you are! Stubborn bot — we were just trying to trim your claws!"

Grimlock growled, red eyes flickering to Drift and Crosshairs. He allowed me to keep petting him, but seemed wary.

"What did those poor mean Autobots do to you?" I cooed, glancing down at Grimlock's nail. As expected, one of his talons had a scrape on it about the same thickness as Drift's sword. "They're dicks. I know. But I'm going to take care of them for you, because Crosshairs is coming with me."

Grimlock seemed to perk up, and I could have sworn that he smirked at Crosshairs. The green paratrooper made a strangled noise in the back of his throat, ready to argue.

Still stroking Grimlock beneath his chin, I addressed the two bots before me. "Seymour Simmons? I know where he is. Cuba. That's where we're going."

"Why me?"

"Because we need to bond more," I said, raising my eyebrows. "Hound is the heavy. He needs to be here holding down the fort."

"I would volunteer to accompany you," Drift said. He eyed Crosshairs, shaking his head. "But I do not want to."

"Glitch," Crosshairs grumbled. He rolled his optics, raising his hands and saying, "Fine, fine. I'll go. But I'm not happy about it."

"I know," I stuck out my tongue. "Just think of it as a learning experience."

Chapter Text

We decided to head out as soon as the storm was reduced to a light rain. Despite W having stated that Cuba was friendly towards aliens, I didn't want to draw any unnecessary attention to us by having Hound pilot the Knight Ship all the way to the Caribbean. So, I packed a few days worth of food, changed clothes and prepared for a trip with Crosshairs that I would probably regret.

"Drift, please don't try and cut Grimlock's nails," I slung my bag over my shoulder, staring out into the open sky as Crosshairs readied the small fighter ship, one many. The thing was small enough to carry Crosshairs and I, and small enough that we wouldn't attract much attention under the cover of night.

"Those claws need to be tidied up," Drift argued.

"I'll help you tidy them up when I get back," I waggled my finger as Hound approached, rolling his shoulders. The big mech looked at me, then at Crosshairs and the fighter.

"Are you sure you don't want me to go with ya'?" Hound said. "Just give me the word and I'm game."

"No, I want you here, looking after things. Holding this place down if, God forbid, things go to shit."

"Fair enough. Come back in one piece, girlie."

I nodded, crawling into the back of the fighter. It was small and covered, and my view was partially blocked by the two massive guns mounted on either side.

As Crosshairs lifted off, I called, "You know where to go, right?"

"Yeah, yeah. I've got the coordinates in my processors," Crosshairs replied, maneuvering he fighter through the air, leaving the ship behind us. "Now, please keep all hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. We'll get there when we get there."


I had to stand up once and stretch my legs, and in doing so I got a glimpse of the ocean beneath me, and saw, in the distance, a hulking white cruise ship. I sat back down, switching positions. This certainly was the opposite of a luxury cruise. Not that I minded. The small space was perfect for me to curl up and take a nap, and my bag was stuffed with fruit and granola.

Napping was what I, ultimately, decided to do. Night was falling, which meant that soon enough we'd reach our destination.

When I awoke, water was lapping at the fighter from all directions. I sat up, slinging my bag over my shoulder. Peering over the edge my eyes immediately fell upon the mountain range and the city of Havana.

Crosshairs was sitting atop the fighter, and I climbed up to join him as we slowly floated towards the beach, having bypassed the main bay for a more subtle approach. Nobody was out at night, luckily, allowing Crosshairs and I to hop off right on shore and send the fighter into autopilot. The small craft rose from the water before shooting toward open water, where it would idle until called back again.

"You need a new alternate mode," I said, peering towards the city. When Crosshairs scoffed, I said, "It's a thing here. Think classic Thunderbird, if you want to go stylish. We can blend in easier, not cause a scene."

In the end, Crosshairs took my advice and scanned a parked, green Thunderbird with an open roof. I hopped inside, testing the seating and smirking.

"Do you feel cool?" Crosshairs sneered.

"Don't ruin my moment," I replied. "Yes I feel cool. Now let's go."

Finding Simmons, like W had said, wasn't going to be the difficult part. What made me more anxious was knowing what type of person he was. Was he manipulative, sneaky? Rude? So nice that it hurt? Not knowing bugged me the most.

Ask around.

W had been correct about one thing: the Autobots were out, unabashedly standing and interacting with humans and with each other. As we pulled along the sidewalk, one familiar voice had me leaping from the car.

"Sideswipe!"

His alternate mode was different, but his voice was utterly the same. Just the surprise and delight of realizing that he was alive and not scrapped for parts by KSI made my heart soar. He was standing in one of the alleys, leaning against an old brick wall with his arms crossed. He turned, recognition, and then surprise flickering across his metal face.

"Hey! Long time no see," Sideswipe raised a hand as I approached. The locals surrounding Sideswipe didn't even acknowledge me, as if this were part of routine life.

Crosshairs seemed to take note of this. He transformed, but stayed at the mouth of the alley.

"I thought you were dead," I called.

"I thought you were dead," Sideswipe acknowledged Crosshairs with a wave. "After we were separated, Leadfoot, Mirage and I salvaged an old ship and flew out here. Heard some other bot's had done the same."

"Canada was a bust," I scratched my neck. "Fuck. Yeah, there's a lot you missed...which is good, actually. Be glad you missed it."

"What brings you here, then?"

"Seymour Simmons. Do you know him?"

"What do you need him for?" Sideswipe seemed a little defensive. I sighed, not wanting to have to explain the whole story. It would take way to long. Catching up would have to come later.

"It's important. Like, really important," I said. "You have to just trust me on this, dude."

"He's inside," Sideswipe jerked his chin towards the house right across from him — a brick structure with two large double doors. "He usually doesn't let people in unless they have an appointment but...I'll pass. For you."

"Thanks, dude," I nodded, hurrying over and pushing through the doors. The lobby was quaint, and I took the set of stairs up to the second floor. I could hear soft music playing, coming from the very first door. Part of me wanted to just rip the door down and storm in to save time, but another part of me cared about first impressions. So, I knocked. When nobody answered, I knocked louder.

The deadbolt jiggled, before dropping, followed but he bottom lock. A beady, dark pair of eyes stared through the small crack in the door.

"Are you Seymour Simmons?" I asked.

"Maybe. Why?"

"I need to talk. Now."

"Come back when you've made an appointment with the tall guy outside. You know, the one with the cannons."

He went to close the door, but I stopped it. He struggled, heaving with all his might while I just watched until he gave up.

"I'll tear this door down if you don't let me in," I said dryly. "Seriously."

The man — who I'd already assumed to be Simmons — cursed and stepped back, allowing me to enter. The room was wide, with a couch and a coffee table and a wall splattered with newspapers, old photos, sticky notes and calendars. The man had been working, it appeared.

I turned and face Simmons. He looked worn — dark hair unkempt, standing before me in his boxers and a white shirt. He didn't appear to be at all ashamed — in fact, he looked rather fascinated.

"Sideswipe let you in?" Simmons said, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah. I know him. I know all of them," I sighed. "Shit, okay. I should explain. I'm going to explain. I'm Rachel."

"Seymour Simmons although you, uh, already knew that. Former millionaire. Now thousandair. Big difference, really."

"You used to work for Sector Seven," I said.

Simmons rubbed his eyes, gesturing for me to sit. I did, gingerly lowering myself onto the floral cushions of the couch. Simmons sat across from me, his curiosity seemingly having perked. He said, "Yeah, used to. How do you know that? How did you even find me—"

"W."

"Them? Shit, I knew I shouldn't have told them where I was."

"Trust me, they're just as enthusiastic about aliens are you are," I smiled fondly. "I'm not here to, like, hurt you or anything. I just need answers. Listen, some crazy shit has been happening."

"What type of crazy shit?"

"I can flip a truck with my bare hands. I can talk to people by just thinking about them. That type of crazy shit. I know Sector Seven used to fuck around with the Allspark or whatever—"

"My God, you're in on it."

"Yeah, I'm fucking in on it, dude," I ran fingers through my hair. "And you can help me sort some of it out. What did you and your people do to me—"

"I did nothing," Simmons snapped. I recoiled, surprised by the acidity in his tone. Shaking his head, he stood and headed towards the small desk pushed into the corner. After a few minutes of rummaging around through the drawers, he returned with a wrinkled folder, spotted from age. He tossed it onto the coffee table, pointing. "This is the truth. All of it. But you probably aren't going to like it."

"Why not?"

Simmons leaned forward. "It's ugly stuff, kid."

"Tell me," I said firmly, my eyes not even going to the folder. I almost didn't want to read it. "Who made me?"

"The Allspark was in the possession of Sector Seven for decades," Simmons began. "It's energy seemed limitless, but we had to test it. Organic life was the logical next step, so we...incubated fetuses while feeding them all energy from the Allspark, just to see—"

"Them all?" I interrupted. "Attinger and I aren't the only ones?"

"No," Simmons said. He seemed pale. "You are not."

"What did you do after? After they were incubated and grown?"

A small smile tugged at the corners of Simmons' lips. "My grandfather was the first to start sneaking them out, the ones that survived. He would make it seem like they died before handing them over to willing families. For years he did this, until my father took his place. And then, me," softly, he said, "You were the first one I managed to get out. After that, another girl. Then the program got shut down. Sector Seven never knew that any of you survived. To them, the project was a failure."

I composed myself, trying to keep my voice level even though everything in me was screaming. "How many of us were there?"

"Five."

"Four, now," I said coldly. "Harold Attinger is dead. And he knew — well, he said he knew. That all could have been a lie."

"The rest of you I have on file," Simmons tapped the folder. "I've made sure to keep close. To watch. But I can't find them. Not like you can. The Cybertronians were drawn to you all, each under different circumstances. To them, you smell like the Allspark."

Another job.

I was under an obligation to take it, I knew. But I immediately realized that I couldn't take Crosshairs or any of the Autobots with me. I couldn't draw them into this.

You can't, or you won't?

I won't. Not again.

Shit.

"If you've been watching them," I said, "Where are they? I need namesLocations."

Simmons tossed me the folder. He seemed giddy. "I've waited for this moment my entire life," he licked his lips. "You want names? I'll give you names. Robert Epps. He's in Philly, with his family. I know him. Saw him right before I came to Cuba."

"Got it."

"Sir Edmund Burton. He's in England. He's a rich bastard."

"Gotcha."

"Izabella Garcia. She's somewhere in whatever is left of Chicago. Probably dead. But I'd still check."

I tucked the folder beneath my arm. I stared at Simmons, cocking my head to the side. He was watching me with this wistful look on his face. I said, "Why did you and your family save us?"

Simmons shrugged. "We didn't want Sector Seven building super weapons. That's what you would have become."

I nodded. It was too late for Attinger — he'd been twisted beyond recognition. It's what I could have ended up like. Unfeeling, full of hatred, and nearly unstoppable.

He did that to himself.

"I know it's late, but thank you," I said to Simmons. "For everything. For this and for saving me, way back when."

"It was my duty," Simmons shook my hand, holding it for an extra second. "I'm just glad that you found me. I'm proud. I know it's weird, hearing me say this. But i'm proud. I didn't think you all would make it, but you did. And I'm damn proud."

"I'm going to round up the others. I'm going to try," I said firmly. "And... we're going to do something. Help the Autobots, somehow."

"They've got Optimus."

"Not anymore," I said. Simmons raised his eyebrows, and I explained, "He's gone. I'm in charge — well, sort of."

"How'd you get that gig?" Simmons crossed his arms.

"I fucked the boss."

Simmons made a slight squeaking noise, eyes widening. He glanced around as if we were being watched, before saying, "How...does that work?"

"I'm not talking about my sex life. That's weird," I stood, keeping the folder tucked beneath my arm. Simmons snorted, joining me. He led me towards the door, stopping and leaning against the frame.

"You and the others might be the key," he said slowly. "You're stuck between two worlds. You can unite us."

"I hope," I smiled.

"Hope is enough. It's always enough."

Chapter Text

Crosshairs didn't ask any questions until we returned to the Knight Ship. The ride back seemed shorter, and as I watched Havana become just a little sliver of land on the horizon, I wondered if there was a place on Earth for the Autobots after all. Cuba couldn't have been the only country opening its arms to Cybertronians. Part of me had to believe that there were places out there that were accepting.

That was a mission for another time. Right now, the ship was our home. And I was going to leave it.

I made up my mind as soon as Crosshairs docked the fighter. I hopped from my seat, stretching sore limbs and trudging towards the cockpit. Grimlock was the first to greet me, skidding on his heels and dipping his massive head.

"Hey, boy," I scratched splayed my palm against the underside of his chin and rubbed. The Dinobot purred and snorted, sending hot air shooting across the top of my head. "Yes, yes. I missed you."

Grimlock stayed by my side as I walked. We bypassed the other Dinobots, who were curled up, lying limp and in recharge. Grimlock was to big to enter the cockpit of the ship, so he waited at the door, poking his massive head in.

"Was your trip successful?" Drift asked, leaning against the wall. I nodded, holding up the wrinkled folder. From the pilots chair, Hound hooted.

"Makin progress. Always good to see. Did ya talk Crosshairs' audio receptors off?"

"She knew better," Crosshairs rolled his eyes, and I playful swatted his leg. The lump in my throat had grown, and I had to take a moment to prepare myself. I spoke loudly, ridding my voice of any ounce of humor.

"I'm leaving. I need to find the others alone."

"I think the frag not," Crosshairs said immediately. "Are you bloody insane?"

"Most likely oxygen deprivation," Drift drawled. "How high up were you—"

"I'm not crazy. I'm being serious," I snapped. Drift fell silent and Crosshairs continued to scowl. "It won't take long. I'm grabbing them and coming right back here. This is something I don't want any of you involved in—"

"You're starting to sound like Prime," Crosshairs sneered. "Always the righteous one."

"This doesn't have anything to do with you, that's why. If it did, I'd let you come."

"If it involves you, it involves us," Hound said gruffly. "Sorry to burst your bubble."

"Not this time."

"You're a stubborn femme—" Crosshairs began, but I raised my finger.

"This is an order. Prime left me in command, right? Well, I'm giving a command," I said sternly. "Stay here. If something major happens, I'll call for backup. I shouldn't be gone long."

Hound just huffed, sliding back into his seat. Grimlock gave a low rumble, dipping his head as I bypassed him and made my way towards my quarters. He began following me like a sad puppy, his deep exhales ruffling my hair.

"I'll be back," I said, glancing over my shoulder. "I promise. I'll try and bring you something to chew on when I get back, okay?"

Grimlock seemed convinced enough. He watched me go, red eyes dimmed. The moment the doors to my quarters closed I was on my laptop, scrolling through my messages until I found the latest from W.

Was my intel good enough?

I typed back, gnawing on my lower lip.

It was perfect. I found him.

I'm glad. Now, you owe me something. I'm putting together my latest article about the incident in Hong Kong. You were there, right? I've reached out to Joshua Joyce, but he refused to provide a statement.

I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose.

You know I was there. You're listing this as an anonymous source, right?

W replied almost immediately.

Obviously. I wouldn't put you at risk. Now, riddle me this: Former CIA poster boy patriot Harold Attinger was killed...how exactly?

My muscles tensed. My fingers curled into claws as I grit my teeth, shuddering and closing my eyes before finally typing out an answer.

I killed him.

An hour passed before W replied.

The body looked like it had been stomped on. I was thinking alien.

I told you the truth. I gave you information. That's all you're getting. I killed Harold Attinger.

Almost out of anger, I slammed my laptop shut. The screen splintered and cracked from the force, and I was left trembling.

How did it feel?

It felt good. It wasn't vengeance. It was justice.


"You're goddamn fool for this," Crosshairs angrily steered the fighter towards the dark silhouette that was the once-proud Chicago skyline. A few of the buildings were flickering, still alit and in use. A massive chunk of the metropolitan area was still closed off, most likely lost forever.

Izabella Garcia, where are you?

The closer we got, the more I dreaded that the girl hadn't survived. There wasn't a single human in sight, just ruins. Ruins and, as Crosshairs lowered the fighter, scattered bones. I slid from the small aircraft, stepping back as Crosshairs hovered for a bit.

"If it goes well, I'll still be a goddamn fool. I can't please you," I smirked.

"I suppose you're right, fleshy. But I still find this plan atrocious. You're only doing this because Prime isn't here to reign you in."

"I don't need him to reign me in," I replied, shielding my eyes as the fighter's lights flashed. Crosshairs maneuvered the craft upward, waving a hand. I adjusted my bag and returned the gesture, watching him speed off towards the horizon.

I was left alone, surrounded by dark, hulking buildings. The silence was unnerving — this city should have been alive, but it wasn't. It should have been buzzing with cars and people, but it was dead.

The girl in the picture couldn't have been older than eight. The photo was a bit grainy, and had no doubt been taken before Chicago had gone to shit, judging from the vibrant background. If she was alive, she was older. Older and, hopefully, bolder.

I glanced around. I had no idea where to start. Walking was my best and only bet — all of the cars in sight were beat up, blackened from gunfire.

Off to my right, a piece of metal toppled from one of the upper windows of a skyscraper, clanging against the concrete.

I darted towards the door before realizing that I had no clue what I was chasing. For all I knew it could have been a Decepticon. Nevertheless, I was already in the building, hurrying up the staircase. Whatever it was hadn't attacked, and, as I reached the top, I realized that whatever it was certainly wasn't a Decepticon.

Decepticon's weren't tiny and blue, right? This thing was. I got a glimpse as it rolled through a shattered wooden door and out of sight.

Shit.

I hurried after it, darting through the door and emerging inside a long hallway that smelled of mildew and drywall. The little creature, which rolled with surprising speed and, was, most definitely alive, turned its little head and increased its speed. I followed it, sprinting and praying that I wasn't being led into a trap—

A crowbar smacked me dead in the forehead. The shock hurt more than the actual impact. I toppled, furrowing my brows and groaning in pain.

"Good boy, Sqweeks!"

I saw the crowbar first — it was dented. The girl standing above me looked surprised that I wasn't unconscious. She couldn't have been older than thirteen, and the longer I stared at her the more I recognized her facial features. Features that certainly wouldn't change over such a short period of time.

Groggily, I said, "Are you Izabella Garcia — shit that hurt!"

The girl stared down at me. She glanced back at her blue companion — a Cybertronian with big eyes and a scratched frame — before saying, "Yeah. How do you know my name and what do you want?"

I sat up, and the girl stepped back, practicing caution. Her companion stood behind her, big eyes wide.

"Look, it's a long story. Not really. Do you have powers?"

"What? Who are you?"

"I'm here because you're like me."

"I'm not like you," Izabella shook her head, tossing the crowbar to the side. "What are you even talking about?"

Okay, so my next move wasn't the brightest or the most well thought out, but it got my point across. Fueled by exasperation I swung my arm and, without breaking a sweat, embedded my entire forearm in the thick wall next to me. Izabella yelped and Sqweeks cowered behind her.

I yanked my arm out, pulling plaster and cobwebs with it. Izabella watched me, fingers twitching. I saw her hesitate before slowly inching towards the discarded crowbar.

"I'm not here to hurt you. I swear. I'm here to get you out," I said. "Come with me. There are others like you. I can take you somewhere safe—"

Sqweeks yelped and waved his arms. Izabella's gaze went from me to the end of the empty hallway. A moment later the building shuddered.

"What was that?" I breathed. A deathly silence hung over us, and I could see Izabella's mind practically spinning.

Then, softly, she said, "We need to go. Now."

"Go where?"

"Get up," Izabella said. Then, more firmly, "Get up. Let's go—"

The center of the hallway erupted in a shower of wood and sparks. The claw that reached towards empty air was silver and curved, each finger around the length of my arm. The appendage swatted at nothing before disappearing back down.

Through the hole filtered a menacing, low voice.

"I can smell you, hybrids!"

Izabella tugged on my arm, and I sprung to my feet. Sqweek's led the way, taking a sharp left and pushing through the emergency exit. The little bot bounced down the stairs as Izabella and I followed.

"Follow him," Izabella instructed, pointing at Sqweeks. We burst through the door and began sprinting down the narrow alleyway. When I glanced over my shoulder I got my first glimpse of the mech Optimus had told me so much about.

Megatron.

I knew it was him. There was still something left of Galvatron's frame — the sharp edges, the silver, the snarling teeth. But this mech's movements were not remote, bionic. They were smooth and controlled.

"There you are, maggots!"

"Go right!" Izabella hollered. I didn't question her — I skidded and continued running, just as Megatron fired from his blaster. The shot narrowly avoided us, and the adjacent building received the full brunt of the blast. The dark sky became alit with fire and sparks, the sound of exploding glass and brick deafening.

Through the smoke came Megatron, bounding. I spun as he reached out, claws eager to grasp us both. I had just enough time to curse and plant my feet firmly into the dirt. Sharp metal sliced through my palms, sending blood cascading down my arms. I heaved with all my might, matching Megatron's strength as I pushed against his open palm, one hand on the center, the other wrapped around on of his claws to prevent it from closing.

"I remember you," Megatron leaned closer until I was forced to look into his red eyes. Then, lip plates curling in disgust, he snarled, "You smell of Prime. You are his mate?"

"Are you really asking me this now?" My arms were trembling, but I was holding out. I prayed Izabella had continued running.

"Hey, asshole!"

Megatron lifted his head. I dared a glance over my shoulder and watched as the huge metal dumpster at the end of the alleyway sailed through the air and nailed Megatron square in the jaw. I stumbled back as the large mech bellowed, momentarily stunned. Izabella rushed forward, pulling on my sleeve.

"C'mon!"

The distraction gave us enough time to put some distance between us and Megatron. I heard the large mech bellow in rage, but by then, Izabella was shoving Sqweeks and I into what looked to be a small covering made of cracked concrete, wood and debris.

I slid, keeping a firm grip on Izabella's arm. I could see Megatron in the distance, claws curled into fists as he pounded away at a buildings, still searching. After a while he gave up and retreated, disappearing from sight.

"Holy shit," I breathed. When I looked over, Izabella was grinning, sitting cross legged with one arm wrapped around Sqweek's frame. I couldn't help but smile back and say, "Cool trick with the dumpster. So that's what you can do, huh? Move stuff with your mind?"

"Uh-huh."

"What else?"

Izabella gestured for my hands. I glanced down at the jagged, bleeding cuts and grimaced, before cautiously extending my arms towards the younger girl. She grasped them, running her thumb along the deep lacerations. I watched as the wounds began to seal itself up until the only thing left was dried blood and a reddened line that faded with each second.

"That's…wow," I stared at my palm, scratching at the dried blood. Izabella had a cheeky smile on her face, and I could see Sqweeks inching a bit closer, seemingly getting more comfortable around me.

Izabella settled back a bit, staring up at the ceiling of our little hut. She chewed on her lower lip before asking simply, "Why are you here? Why did you want to find me?"

I looked Izabella up and down. She was young — a child, still. It was a bizarre twist. I wasn't used to being regarded as an adult.

"I'm here to help, that's all. To be honest I'm not even sure what my plan is," I chuckled. "None of us were born. We were built. A man named Simmons rescued us, kept us from becoming soldiers," I trailed off, before meeting Izabella's gaze. "What happened to your parents?"

"A Decepticon's fired a missile and hit my house. My parents were inside. I wasn't," Izabella seemed rather nonchalant about the whole thing, giving a shrug. But I could see the hurt in her swirling dark eyes. "I found Sqweeks after. Sqweeks and, uh…."

Our concrete hut was lifted away, leaving us sitting without cover. Instinctively I reached out to shield Izabella, eyes scanning the area for threats.

Izabella gripped my arm. "Wait," she said quickly. "He won't hurt us."

I lifted my head, feeling small pebbles cascade down the back of my neck. The alien staring down at us was massive and yelow, hunched over as he carried what had originally been our little hut on his back.

I lowered my guard, resisting the urge to reel back in shock. Izabella smiled and gestured, saying, "This is Canopy. He took care of me after my parents…died. He's family."

The huge bot — Canopy — gave a slow salute, nodding his head.

I glanced down at Izabella, smiling.

I like this kid already.

"Quite a crew you've got," I said, crossing my arms. "There's room on the Knight Ship for all of you."

"You want us to come with you?" Izabella looked more confused than excited. She glanced over her shoulder at Canopy. The longer I looked at the dented, scratched bot the more I realized that he was not only massive, but practically patch-worked together. There were wounds, old and new, that needed repair all over his frame.

"Yes," I said softly. "I can get you out of here. All of you."

"Canopy can't go far," Izabella said immediately. "He's old…he's…" she took a deep breath and lowered her voice. "He's falling apart, practically. I'm fixing him."

There was no way I'd be able to force her to simply leave Canopy. I didn't want to do that. The large bot had covered both out asses, and I sure as hell wouldn't be able to forgive myself if I simply left him behind.

"I'm almost done fixing him. Give me time. Give me time, and we can get out of here. But right now, this is my home," Izabella said. "Him and Sqweeks are all I have."

"And me," I replied. "You have me now. I know it's early, I know, but…shit. You're so young. You're a kid."

I'll admit, I was aware that a little voice in the back of my head was criticizing me for being too motherly. I was typically like that, regardless of the person's age. Someone with Izabella's power, potential, attitude…couldn't be reigned in. I took a deep breath, placing my hands on the girls shoulder. "Izabella…"

"Izzy. You can call me Izzy, with two z's."

"Izzy," I tested the name, letting it roll of my tongue. "I trust you, okay? Especially if you've been out here by yourself for all this time. I want you to fix Canopy, and get out—"

"I'll have him done in a week. I promise."

"I'm a telepath. If something goes wrong, I'll sense it," I replied slowly. "I'll sense it, and I'll come running. That's my promise to you."

Izzy nodded, a grin splitting across her cute features. I resisted the urge to hug the girl, mainly out of pity. I couldn't imagine surviving in the desolate ruins of Chicago, practically alone.

"There's an old truck that's still running," Izzy pointed. I saw the rickety old thing — the windows were busted and its entire frame was caked in dust. "Us that. Less suspicious."

"Thank you," I glanced up at Canopy, saying, "And thank you for taking care of her. You didn't have to do it, but you did…thank you."

"The pleasure is mine. She is family," Canopy lifted one thick digit and lightly patted Izzy atop the head. The young girl smiled, baring white teeth.

Forcing myself to leave was one of the most difficult thing I had to do. I trusted the girl. She was skilled. Young, but skilled. She could survive.

She had to.

Next up, Philly.

Chapter Text

I reveled in the silence before slowly wanting to go insane. The truck had no radio — it had been stripped from the console and searched for parts. The thing chugged along, each stop it made a jarring reminder that I wasn't with Crosshairs or Bumblebee or one of the Autobots.

The drive was agonizing. Getting gas was a paranoia nightmare — I only had cash, and waiting in line at the convenience store to pay was agonizing. The threat of Cemetery Wind had disappeared, but an even more frightening one had emerged: the general population. I had to keep my interacting brief and my head slightly lowered to avoid the possibility of some alien-sympathizer bounty hunter recognizing me.

From what W had sent me, Cade and I both had a bounty on our heads. The bounty itself wasn't too frightening. It was the vagueness of the description that irked me the wrong way. Would we face a life sentence for simply acknowledging the Autobots as living, breathing beings? Were we considered missing persons?

I knew for sure that if they found me, they'd find out about Attinger. That had to come with some jail time.

A jail cell won't hold you.

Yeah. But I'd rather not test my luck on that.

I relaxed when I was back on the road, only to immediately perk up when I entered the suburbs of Philly. Epps address, just like Izzy's, was scrawled and circled in the corner of his profile. From his picture I could tell that Epps was a military man — the uniform definitely gave it away.

His home was an average little suburban, two story house with a nice backyard. I parked a bit down the street, sitting in the truck for a long while. I prayed that the address was correct. I wasn't at all dressed to make good first impression — blood had stained my light colored shirt, and my jacket was covered in dirt. I was running on coffee and sheer adrenaline.

Fuck it. I'm going in.

I did. Checking my surroundings for threats — something I had become far to used to doing — I trotted up the sidewalk and up the front door. I made sure not to knock to hard, giving it three light taps before pulling my hand away.

For a long moment, all I could hear was the chirping of crickets. Then, the door swung open. Epps was staring down at me, and I immediately shrunk back, intimidated by his size.

Really. You could snap him in half and you're cowering?

"Uh…hi?"

I was impressed. There was no hostility in Epps' tone. He greeted me as if I wasn't covered in blood and dirt.

"Uh, hi. Epps, right?"

Awkward.

The man nodded, and I could see him slowly becoming a bit more cautious. "Yeah. That's me. You look lost—"

"I'm not lost," I stammered. Quickly, I added, "Seymour Simmons sent me to find you."

Epps eyes narrowed. He peered over my shoulder, checking that the coast was clear. Then, in a rough voice he said, "Come inside. Now."

I took his offer, entering the confined of his home. I immediately felt safer, but Epps had yet to buy it. He crossed his arms, letting out a long breath before saying, "Why the hell did he send you? What does he want?"

"He sent me, but I'm the one who wants something," my eyes traveled to his face, up past his head. At the top of the staircase I could see a dark skinned woman standing, watching. I assumed it was his wife, but did not address it. "I don't mean that in a weird way. I mean, I'm here because I need help."

"Help with what?"

"You probably already know this, but shit is fucked up. You can do things," I struggled, trying not to sound like a madwoman. I'd burst into this man's home unannounced, and here I was, stammering about aliens and superpowers and…the usual. "Simmons never told you. He knew, but he never told you. The reason you can do the things you do are because of Sector Seven and the Allspark—"

"You need to slow down, and sit down," Epps said slowly. He gestured for me to follow, leading me towards his kitchen table. I sat adjacent to him, taking a moment to gather my thoughts. He continued, "I know what you're talking about. I know. But I didn't think there were others—"

"There are. A girl in Chicago. Me. Some rich dude in England," I left out Attinger, squeezing my eyes shut. "I came here because I wanted to find you before someone else did. Someonebad."

Epps sighed, rubbing his templed. Using this silence as an invitation, the woman from the stairs slipped into the room. Immediately Epps smiled, gesturing to the woman and saying, "This is my wife Monique, by the way. Sorry for not introducing you sooner."

"There's a lot going on," I said. Monique seemed cautious around me, and I didn't blame her Behind her I could see two small boys poking their heads around the corner. They had to be around eight or nine years old and were identical. When they caught me staring they crept into the room, keeping their distance.

"Those are my two boys," Epps said. "Marshall and Douglas."

"You have a nice family," I said. I immediately felt out of place. Bad. Like I'd interrupting something just by simply being in the house. Monique seemed to recognize my nervousness and placed a hand on Epps shoulder.

"Why don't you stay for dinner? It's no big deal."

"Yeah," Epps agreed. "Where did you come from?"

"I went to Chicago first but…before I was on a ship. Out over the ocean. An alien ship, uh…a big one.'

"You were with the bots?" Epps grinned, crossing his arms. "Damn. What have they been up to?"

"We're trying to settle in right now. It's a long story," I said softly.

"What about Optimus?"

"He left Earth. But he's coming back," I said quickly. "He had to take care of a few things. Kind of like I'm doing. I know you worked with them…says so in your file. N.E.S.T. What is that?"

"What was that," Epps cringed as his wife nodded, ushering the boys from the dining room as she went to prepare dinner. "We're done, now. Over. Except for a little splinter group that deals with Cybertronians off the grid, every once and a while."

"You're not a part of that?"

"I retired after Chicago. Mainly because I was tired of getting shot at every other second. And because I wanted to be able to see my kids grow up," Epps sighed. "It was hard, walking away. Especially when I realized that I was different. But I made the choice for me and for my family."

"Was it the right decision?" I wondered aloud. Epps nodded slowly, and I returned the gesture. "I can't tell you how to feel. And I can't ask you what I was going to ask you, either. It would be cruel."

"What's cruel is leaving my guys all alone like I did. I feel bad for that," Epps said solemnly. "I had to learn how to sacrifice. How and when and why. We were fighting for survival, back then. We didn't have a choice."

"You do now."

"I'm not bringing my family into this hellhole again. I can't. Not again."

"I know. I don't want you to. Not anymore," I stared at the table as Monique called from the kitchen. "It goes by fast, when you loose someone. You don't have time to blink or really think. The only time you can really process it is after, and thats when you start to wonder what it was you could have done differently. And you're always wrong. Always."


Dinner with the Epps family felt normal.

Well, kind of.

The two boys were wild and the mother was scolding. That was normal. Family. The boys only settled down when Epps began retelling tales of a battle that had commenced in Qatar years ago, which had been his first encounter with an alien. Moving along to Shanghai and how Optimus had taken down a Decepticon the size of a building. From there he went to Egypt and then, finally, to Chicago.

I see why he doesn't want to go back.

It was hell.

"Tell her how Lennox took down that alien with a rocket launcher, Dad!" Marshall said happily, eyes wide with excitement. Epps raised his eyebrows, glancing over at me.

"I'd better let Will tell you about that. It was all him. I just held the pointer and ran when the thing started shooting. I'm sure you have plenty of stories, though."

I was left on the spot, fork in hand. The two boys were staring, leaning forward in their seats with their mouths full of food. I shrugged, slinking back in embarrassment before stammering, "Uh, yeah. Sort of. None as cool as yours, though."

"Did you blow stuff up?" Douglas said eagerly.

I shook my head, before hesitating. "Well, I'm really strong. Bumblebee and did this cool thing where I climbed on top of him and he used me as, like, a human torpedo or something. It was pretty cool."

"I want to see an alien," Marshall said, shoulders slouching. "I've only seen them on TV."

"Trust me, you don't want to see one. A bad one, anyway," Epps sighed.

"I've only met Ironhide," Monique said. "You know, the one with the…cannons. Lots of cannons."

Sounds like Hound. Probably related.

Despite Monique insisting that I not, I helped clean. The boys were headed towards bed while I scrubbed dishes alongside Monique, a smile on my face.

"You don't have to head out now," Monique said. "It's late. We have a spare bedroom—"

"I can't stay," I said quickly. "It's for your own good. I'm sorry."

"At least take some snacks for the ride," Monique hurried over to the pantry. She tilted her head up and said, "I promise I'm not trying to be your mom. I just don't want you getting hungry."

I laughed, wiping my hands as I placed the last of the dishes away. Monique tossed me a baggie full of supplies and I thanked her, my stomach twisting when it hit me that I had to leave. Say goodbye and somehow head to England.

"You didn't have to do all this for me," I murmured as Epps entered the kitchen. He sighed and placed an arm around his wife, shrugging his shoulders. As we stood in the kitchen, I felt the sudden urge to hug the two humans.

That urge shifted when a blood-curdling scream came from upstairs.

The boys.

I had no idea what was happening, no idea if the noise had just been a joke. I didn't care — Epps and Monique were frozen for a split second before bursting into acting, following behind me as I darted towards the stairs without a second thought.

No, no, no.

I prayed that the kids were joking. The door was open, and I could see the decorated, blue-walled room and the two bunk beds that must have belonged to the twins. I ran, stopping at the door as Epps and Monique rounded the corner behind me.

The Decepticon couldn't have been any taller than seven feet. It's frame was jagged, its tusked mouth dripping saliva. Red, beady eyes stared at me with a ferocity I'd never seen before. Marshall — at least, I thought the twin was Marshall — lay screaming. His brother lay in a crumpled heap and I could see crimson on the Decepticon's tusks and on his servos, the color running in rivulets down his armor. Douglas' pink entrails lay spread out across the carpet, painting it dark.

Monique screamed.

The Decepticon turned his attention away from Marshall and lunged, drawn by Monique's wails. I stepped in the way before realizing that the Decepticon wasn't going to stop. Seven feet of metal and adrenaline slammed into me, but I was able to brace myself as the Decepticon pushed me down the carpeted hallway.

"Hybrid scum," the Decepticon snarled. "I am Berserker!"

Berserker had claws. And teeth. The Decepticon snapped at my neck and I reeled back, breaking my grip on him. This gave him the upper hand and, with a bellow that cut through Monique's cries, heaved me up above his head and into the ceiling so hard that the lights shattered and the structure cracked against my back. I fell, arms flailing, landing hard on my stomach at Berserker's feet.. My vision swam as I watched Berserker turn and head back towards the bedroom, towards Epps and Monique.

Get up! Get up!

A scream that decreased to a gurgling, pleading gasp. I lifted my head as saw Berserker lift Epps by the shirt and throw him, hard, against the wall before moving to a heavily bleeding Monique.

Get up! Get. Up!

I wobbled, lurching forward. I was probably concussed, I couldn't tell. Focusing was a difficult task, and there was bile in the back of my throat.

I knew I wasn't going to reach Monique in time. Marshall was already dead, torn to pieces. Epps was unconscious.

Monique gave me a sad, sad look, one hand clutching her stomach to hold in her guts. She barely flinched as Berserkers teeth sunk into her skull, sending a cascade of blood dripping down her face.

She toppled as Berserker released her. When he turned, I was already running full speed.

"I'll tear you limb from limb, girl—"

I hunched over and charged like a bull, wrapping my arms around the Decepticon's midsection. Blood squelched beneath my boots as I felt sharp talons tear at my back, slicing ribbons from of my jacket. I carried Berserker as easily as I would carry a book, bracing myself as we hurled through the wall and out into the open air.

We fell two stories, landing hard on the front lawn. Berserker shrieked and rolled, and I did the same, coming to a jarring stop just a few yards away.

Berserker righted himself faster than I did. I was struggling to pick myself up off the grass. The Decepticon sneered, "Even with your strength, you are still so fragile. I will pick you apart and drink your energon infused blood, human!"

I spat onto the grass, rolling my shoulders and bouncing on my toes. It was just Berserker and I, circling each other like animals, calculating the correct moment to pounce. Rage helped me fight through the pain. What should have killed me only left my head throbbing and my limbs aching. What killed the Epps family was here, right in front of me. It wanted to fight.

Give it hell.

Berserker lunged first, curling his clawed hand into a fist and delivering a right hook to my face. My head snapped to the side and my mouth became flooded with coppery blood. Trying desperately to remember my brief training with Hound, I lashed out and kicked Berserker as hard as I could in the knee, taking advantage of his agonized bellow and leaping. He toppled and I landed hard against his chassis, gripping hard and delivering five punches that snapped off one his tusks and caused my knuckles to bleed.

Before I could hit him again he roared and wrapped long fingers around my throat. I faltered, snarling as I felt my feet leave the ground. I dangled as Berserker squeezed. Wind rushed through my ears as he released me, and I realized why when I slammed back first against the hood of Epps truck. The glass shattered into a million pieces and the hood caved from the force of the impact.

I rolled off the car as Berserker approached, slamming his fist right where I'd been lying. The car bounced a bit, and I slid underneath, emerging on the opposite side. A hard punch knocked Berserkers other tusk from his face, and in a single pull I'd torn away the armor of his chassis, revealing the much softer protoform beneath.

The front door opened, and Epps stumbled out. There was blood on his hands, and he seemed in a daze. Nonetheless, his eyes lit up with anger when he saw Berserker.

"Hybrid," the Decepticon cracked his knuckles across my face once again, the blow so fast and unexpected that I stumbled back and fell onto my rear. In a low growl Berserker said, "I'll kill you!"

Beserker approached Epps with confidence. I got to my feet just as the two collided — Epps immediately raised his bloodied hands and latched onto Berserkers shoulder plating. The Decepticon bellowed as his armor began to sizzle and melt away beneath Epps touch, droplets of metal blackening the grass beneath him.

Behind me, I heard cars barreling down the street. A helicopter soared above the tall trees of the neighborhood, flying low and casting a light upon the yard. I ignored the arrival, wobbling towards Epps and Berserker. Epps didn't have my strength. He couldn't outlast Berserker, and I knew this. I knew this and I tried running but my head was a mess and there was blood gurgling past my lips, dripping down my chin. Berserker shook free from Epps' grip and snapped the mans arm as if it were a twig.

Epps screamed, a noise that was cut short when claws sliced through his stomach. Using the last of my strength, I came up from behind and gripped the back of Berserkers helm, ripping the covering away. The Decepticon gasped before I silenced it by twisting and popping its head from its shoulders.

Both Epps and Berserker toppled in defeat. I tossed the head to the side and stared, sinking to my knees next to a gargling Epps. The man was sucking down those last few breaths of air. He wasn't looking at me, instead, he was looking at the armored cars and the uniformed, armed humans emerging from them. They swarmed the yard like flies, guns raised.

Epps' head fell back, and he stopped breathing. I felt the urge to do the same, my head ducked as one of the men came running forward, handsome face slicked with sweat.

"Get a medic!"

"It won't matter," I murmured. The man stopped short, drawing his handgun. The sound of the safety clicking had me lifting my head. I was staring at the barrel and the man behind it, whose only expression was grief.

"Get the hell away from him. Now."

I didn't move.

The man licked his lips, panting. The gun in his hand was steady and his gaze was trained heavily on Epps. He stepped forward, still exercising caution. Grief was transforming into anger and hostility.

"Get away or I'll shoot, do you understand me?"

I understand.

"Move, now," the man yelled. His finger was on the trigger. I could see him hesitating, before making the decision, right then and there, to kill me.

The explosion never came. Another soldier placed a hand on the mans shoulder, the comfort seemingly causing him to calm. I watched as, very, very slowly the gun came down before returning to its holster.

Very quietly, I asked, "Are you N.E.S.T?"

The man didn't reply. He just turned to his group and called, "Alright, lets get this area secure. Search the perimeter for any stragglers, and then report back," he turned, addressing me. "Who the hell are you?"

"I didn't kill him—"

"I asked you a question," the man interrupted curtly. His eyes kept flickering to Epps' corpse. "Who are you?"

I remained on my knees. Lying wouldn't get me anywhere, but at the same time, my story was far to long to just…blurt out on the spot.

"I'm nobody," I said softly.

"You killed that thing," the man jerked his chin towards Berserker. "There's only one other person who could do that, and he's dead. You're one of them."

"And what are you? The feds? Going to turn me in, right?" I rose to my feet. I must have looked like a nightmare — one eye was swollen shut and my lip was split, the inside of my mouth and my teeth painted crimson. "He told me N.E.S.T was rogue, now. Whatever that means."

"We're not turning you in. That's not our job. But you are coming with us."

"Not without a fight," I paused when I saw the soldiers name patch right above his breast. "Although, you did take down a Decepticon. So you might do well against me."

Lennox scowled. "Don't make this more difficult than it has to be."

"I'm not. I told you, if you try to take me, I'll fight. And if I fight you'll have to kill me, which I'm okay with. But then you'll have to deal with some very angry Autobots with a slight grudge against humanity. And more people will die. You don't want that."

Lennox and I locked eyes. Very slowly I limped around him, my movements sluggish. He called in a tired voice, "Where's Optimus Prime?"

I stopped.

"I don't know. But we want him back. We need him back."

Chapter Text

N.E.S.T didn't follow. I knew Lennox was smart enough to take my threat seriously.

Maybe it was the concussion, but driving was hell. My head throbbed and my mouth throbbed. I felt as if I'd been through a blender, and I was clutching the steering wheel so hard that it was beginning to dent.

I had no idea where I was going. No sense of what I wanted to do. My mind was still in a constant loop, replaying Monique's death and Marshall's death and Douglas and Epps. I was so, very lost, and night had fallen far quicker than I'd expected it to. I stopped at a rest area devoid of any life so I could vomit, before slinking into the backseat of the truck and draping myself across the old cushions.

I cried.

I don't know how long I cried. Hours, probably. Deep sobs that racketed my entire body. The pounding in my head increased until I either passed out or fell asleep. I didn't know.

"Optimus…."

"Dearspark."

My mech was floating in space. I couldn't see it, but I could feel the weightlessness of the frame, and the coldness. The moment my mind made a connection I could feel the warmth of his spark, a stark contrast to the rest of his body.

"You are hurt, my love. I can feel it."

"Everything went to shit after you left. It's not your fault. I'm a bad leader, and people died because of me," I said hollowly. "The world needs you, Optimus. I need you."

"Rachel, do not give up on yourself."

"I'm not giving up on myself. I'm giving up on this world," I drawled. "Bad things are going to happen, no matter how hard you try. No matter how much hope or faith you have."

"It was hope and faith that brought you to me," Optimus replied. "And it is what will bring me back to you."

"Ever the poet," I felt myself smile. "I love you, Optimus. Don't leave me."

"I will never leave you, dearspark—"

I was jolted awake. The ceiling of my car was far to high and ornate. The lights were far to bright, and the clothes I wore were different, no longer bloody and smell anesthetic wafted across my nostrils, and it was taking a moment for my eyes to adjust.

I did, however, noticed someone moving in front of my vision.

"There, there. Can you see these?

What the fuck?

"Miss? Miss? How many fingers am I holding up? If — bloody hell, Cogman, stop breathing down my ear!"

Thats a lot of British.

Something brushed against my foot and that was when I shot up. A chair toppled and an accented voice cursed, before a robot hand forced me back down onto the bed. By now I could make out my surroundings — bookcases lined the walls to my left, and the room was covered in painting and brick. It was massive, the sheer size making me realize that, no, I probably wasn't where I needed to be.

Or are you?

"Please, Miss, calm down before you further injure yourself—"

"Touch me again and I'll fucking rip your face off," I spat. The metal hand instantly lifted from my chest and I shot back up, whipping my head around before realizing that the movement hurt.

The human-sized robot standing by the bed looked startled, but ready to leap into action. The old human man behind him was watching the exchange with his eyebrows raised, tapping the cane that he held in his hand lightly against the floor.

"I understand that this is a lot to take in," the robot said slowly. "But rest assured we have your best interest at heart. We mean absolutely no harm."

"You," I pointed to the old man, my brain struggling to form words. I spoke in fractured sentences, trying to articulate exactly what I was going to say. "British. Uh, fuck. Edmund Burton?"

"The one and only. Just as you know me, I know you. In fact, I have been searching for you," Burton nodded, smiling. "I hope you don't find that too strange. Cogman here has been tracking you for quite some time."

Cogman perked up at the sound of his name. Boldly, he said, "I found you approximately two days ago unconscious in your vehicle. I administered proper medical care and promptly took you to here, to England."

"You were, quite frankly, fucked up," Burton cringed. "Pardon the language. But you survived, although I'm curious as to how you received your injuries in the first place. It was certainly much more than a bad tumble down the stairs, I assume?"

"I was fighting a Decepticon," I said dully. "I won. It kicked my ass but I won."

"A story for another day, perhaps. Now that you're awake and somewhat alert, you're probably wondering why I brought you here. Why I've been searching for you, all this time," Burton stepped forward, taking Cogman's position at my bedside. "It's simply because, like you, I want to fight."

I snorted. "Yeah, see, whatever I was fighting for? I've given that up."

"My vision says otherwise," Burton replied. "And whether or not you want to fight does not matter, because soon, you won't have a choice."

"Your vision?"

"I am a future-seer," Burton pulled up a chair, grunting as he eased down. "And what I see always comes true. I typically allow events to play out and don't stress myself over them, but this I cannot ignore. Our world is in danger, Rachel."

"When is it not?"

"It is in danger," Burton stressed, hissing the last syllable. "And this time, we will not be enslaved. We will be destroyed."

"And…you want me to do what? Stop it? Okay, listen," I clapped my hands together, steadying my breathing. "Like, five seconds before your boy Cogman picked me up, I got an entire family brutally murdered. I couldn't save four people. I sure as hell can't save the goddamn planet. You know who can? Optimus fucking Prime. And you know where he is? Nobody fucking knows."

There were tears in my eyes. I refused to look at Burton, or Cogman for that matter. My lips were quivering and I was desperately trying to hold myself together.

"Do you truly think such a task can be accomplished alone?" Burton said softly. "While my visions are accurate, they are vague. And with vagueness comes uncertainty, but that does not compromise its validity. I see a team. A Knight and their comrades facing off against a great adversary. The adversary will fall."

"Okay, well, I'm not a Knight or whatever. Or a comrade. I'm nobody," I snapped. "I'm staying as far away from this doomsday shit as I can because I. Am. Not. Worthy. Do you understand?"

The end of Burton's cane hit the floor, hard. The sudden burst of energy from the older man startled me, and I fell silent as he analyzed me with dark, calculating eyes. I saw Cogman turn his head away as, angrily, Burton said, "You have no idea what's at stake, girl."

I replied with an equal amount of venom. "Did you stop and think that, maybe, just maybe, your 'vision' was wrong? Maybe you're just old and senile and your mind is playing tricks on you, huh? This team you want to put together, it's just a dream of yours."

Burton's lips curled back over his teeth. After a long pause he seemed to compose himself, letting out a shaky breath and gesturing to Cogman, curtly adding, "Cogman, bring her the talisman."

"Are you certain?" Cogman said softly, shooting me a less than friendly look. "The girl obviously has no desire to work with us—"

"Bring it, Cogman," Burton snapped. The butler alien simply nodded, disappearing from the room.

I took a moment to steady my breathing, glancing at Burton from the corner of my eye. He was still sitting, head tilted to the side. At this point, I felt that I had to say something. "I'm sorry for…being so rude. I'm sorry. You saved me, and I'm grateful."

"No apology necessary. Your reluctance is understandable, considering that you have gone through great hardships. I can see it on your face — I saw it on your body. The scars," Burton glanced down sheepishly. "Not that I looked intentionally. I just noticed…" Burton trailed off as Cogman stomped back into the room. "This might help change your mind."

The talisman fit into the entirety of my palm, its surface rough and made of ancient iron. The swirling patterns and unrecognizable text had me distracted, and I tilted my head before glancing back up, startled to find Burton and Cogman both starting at me intensely.

"What?" I asked, switching the talisman to my opposite hand. Burton sunk back a little, seeming upset. Cogman placed a hand on his shoulder.

"The talisman should respond to its rightful owner. How it responds is something we don't know. Do not give up hope — she still could be the one."

"I suppose so," Burton said, though he didn't seem convinced. I held the talisman, glancing around in confusion. Burton noticed this and explained, "Only a rightful Knight can claim the talisman."

"You thought I was this...Knight?" I snorted. "I told you from the beginning. I'm not a Knight. I'm some freak Sector Seven cooked up in a lab."

"Ah. So you visited Seymour Simmons are learned your — our — history."

"Yeah," I ducked my head, clenching the talisman, unsure of what to do with the dead piece of metal. "He told me about the others. You probably already know where they all are. Well, where one is. It's just three of us, now."

"A shame," Cogman said sadly, and Burton nodded.

"Such is life. Some rise, others fall," Burton replied sadly. "Well, if your mind is made up, I supposed we should be getting you home."

"I'd like that," I smiled weakly.

"Maybe sometime you'll be able to see the countryside. It's quite lovely," Edmund Burton said. "It's where my visions are most clear."

"I'm glad you have a happy place."

"You should find one. Might benefit you in the future. I say 'might' because I don't know — visions aren't that specific."

"My happy place is with Optimus Prime," I murmured, running my fingers across the talisman. "But that's gone, for now," I glanced up at Burton. "What about Optimus. Do you see him in all of this, safe? Home?"

"I saw him, but he is not the same," Burton said softly. "I'm sorry. That's all I can say."

"Whatever he's going up against out there, it won't win," I murmured. "I know it can't. You won't need a team, Burton. Whatever is out there, Optimus can defeat it. He can win."

Burton smiled, but there was something else in his gaze.

"I hope you're right, because if not, it could mean the imminent destruction of everything we know, and love."


I kept the talisman in my bag, making sure it was secure as I stepped off the plane and onto land. I'd rested a majority of the plane ride, still nursing my injuries. Cogman had been in the cockpit, steering the massive jet across the water and towards home.

"Keep the talisman close," Cogman said, standing at the bottom of the stairs. His rigid composure had yet to break, and his words were clipped. He still didn't trust me, I knew, but I had not the time or energy to care. He added sharply, "If you need us, do not contact us. We will come to you."

"Your old man is keeping an eye on us?" I raised my eyebrows. "What's his other power, huh?"

"My masters abilities are none of your concern."

"You're salty that I insulted him, aren't you?"

"I am not 'salty.' I am simply exasperated at how you refuse to see the bigger picture. Such exasperation can be remedied by you returning back to London, but I see that your mind has already been made up. So I won't bother trying."

"It's for your own good," I replied. "Cogman, seriously. You don't want me anywhere near any sort of…off mission or whatever. Not if you want to stay alive. I'll keep the talisman, okay? See if it does its thing or whatever."

"And if it does?"

"I don't know," I shrugged. "We find out when we find out. Don't rush fate."

Cogman huffed, turning back and stomping back up the stairs. I watched the plane take off, hair blowing in the wake of its powerful engine. No more than ten minutes later, I heard the familiar buzz of a fighter drone.

"You do not look well," Drift steered the fighter until it was an inch off the ground. He gestured to my battered face, grimacing. "Rough travels?"

"You have no idea."

I slid into the drone, letting out a long breath as we skimmed just above the tall trees. It took me half an hour to realize that we had yet to hit open water, and I sat up, craning my neck so I could yell at Drift over the wind.

"Where are we going?"

"Somewhere much better than that dirty old ship," Drift replied. "Trust me. You will like it."

In a difference universe, an old car junkyard would have been much, much worse than an old ship. But it wasn't. The place was sprawling, the centerpiece consisting of an old auto shop that, from a distance, looked in disrepair. But the closer we got the more I could see — lights from within, several energon detectors on the border.

Crosshairs, Hound, and Bumblebee were waiting. The moment I landed, I made a start towards Bumblebee out of sheer relief that he was alive, safe, and standing before me with no missing pieces.

"Hey, little lady!"

Bumblebee gently bopped his finger against my nose, which I wrinkled with amusement.

"I'd ask for a hug, but I don't want fluids all over me," Crosshairs said. Noticing my injuries his lips curled and he said, "Who hit you?"

"It's no big deal," I waved him away. "I'll tell you later."

"Do I need to bust some skulls?" Hound asked casually. "Cause I've been wanting to bust some skulls. It's been a drag around here lately."

"I'm fine, guys. I promise," I smiled up at Hound, who shrugged and lumbered off to where he'd cleared some space and was cleaning his massive supply of guns. I watched, smirking, before a familiar voice interrupted my thoughts.

"Do you like the place? It was all fixed up when we found it."

"Cade?" I breathed, a smile splitting my features in two. I leaped and embraced the man, careful not to squeeze to hard. "Cade. Holy shit!"

"It's good to see you," Cade pulled away, keeping a hand on my shoulder. Absently I placed my palm against his chest, feeling until I felt the jagged rise of skin near his shoulder. "Tessa says hello."

"Tessa," I murmured, blinking several times before removing my hand. "Shit. Where is she? What happened with Joyce? How are you—"

"Hey, slow down," Cade stopped me. "Tessa is fine. She's safe. She couldn't come because she's not a fugitive like you or me. And I'm fine — my shoulder is fine. It's all good."

I hugged Cade again. This time, he held me for a long while before I was able to muster the strength to pull away. I said calmly, "I've had one hell of a week."

"Hound told me that you went off alone," Cade furrowed his brows. "Do I even want to know why the hell you decided to do that? You could have at least waited for me."

"You're jealous that I went on a super-secret mission all alone and didn't invite you? C'mon now, don't turn into Crosshairs."

"No, I just…don't want you getting hurt," Cade ran fingers through his hair. "Prime would beat my ass if I let something happen to you. Hell, I'd beat my own ass if I let something happen to you."

"I think we've both taken several years worth of physical punishment, trust me," I said. Cade led me towards the auto shop, opening the sliding glass doors and adjusting the curtains that had, from the looks of it, been pulled from a thrift store. I took a seat at the table, a bit relieved to finally have furniture my size. I could hear Bumblebee and Crosshairs arguing outside, along with the clang of Hound's guns as he cleaned. Drift, I assumed, was meditating.

It reminded me of home. Back when they'd been human.

"You doing okay?" Cade rummaged through the fridge for a beer. He offered me one, but I declined. "I know Optimus left. Bee told me."

"I'm doing okay. It's strange because we…we're," I coughed, steeling myself. "We're sparkbonded. It's like marriage, but, deeper. I can feel him. Linking with him is easier than anything else, now. I know he's alive. I'd feel it if something happened."

"He'll come back. I believe in him," Cade smiled softly. His expression changed to something somber. "Something else is wrong."

I told Cade about Simmons, then about Izzy and Epps before finally revealing my meeting with Burton. The moment I finished, it felt as if a weight had been lifted from my chest and my eyes were wet with tears, mainly out of frustration and anger.

"I'm done fighting, Cade," I sighed. "I want to just…stay. Stay and wait for Optimus because thats all I can do. I don't want any more people to die. No more."

"You think that man and his family died because of you?" Cade said incredulously. "You can't put that on yourself."

"They were after me. The Decepticons. If I hadn't had stayed with Epps, they would still be alive—"

"Rachel," Cade said crisply. "You can't give up. You can't. All you can do is try. The Decepticons could have found them, anyway. They could have killed them all and then left. But you were there, and you fought, and you killed that thing. Kept it from hurting anyone else. You did good."

Cade reached out and squeezed my hand. I returned the gesture, rather weakly saying, "I just can't…I can't lose anyone else."

"You won't. You're here, and you're safe. That's all that matters," Cade pressed his lips into a thin line, glancing towards the doorway. "You need to get some rest. You're tired."

"I'll try," I rolled my sore shoulders, standing up and leaving Cade as he sipped his drink, head ducked. I grabbed a blanket , and went to where Strafe was nestled near the exit, wings spread, blanketing the small area in shade. I absently scratched beneath his chin, before moving on to a jealous Grimlock.

"I think you're his human, Rachel," Crosshairs commented. "He won't give any of us the time of the day."

"He'll learn how to share," I smiled, before limping towards one of the old, disemboweled cars.

I wasn't halfway there when Crosshairs, checking to make sure everyone else was occupied, lowered his voice and said, "Now, we wouldn't want Prime's mate catching a cold, now would we? You can sleep in my cab, if you wish. Just make sure you don't drool everywhere."

I raised my eyebrows, surprised. The look on my face must have given away my answer, for Crosshairs transformed and opened his door. After brief hesitation, I shook my head and slid inside and into the back seats.

"I won't drool. I'm surprised you're taking that risk, though."

"I'm just as surprised and you are, fleshy, but you are…worthy. Plus, you're in need of comfort, I guess," Crosshairs replied, voice echoing around the interior of his alternate mode. "So I'm here. Comforting you."

"You're doing great."

My reply didn't seem to be enough for Crosshairs. He vented, before adding, "I hope I can measure up to Optimus. I know I'm not your mate like him but I'm damn sure the closest thing."

"You feel bad for me?" I rested my head against the cushioned seats. "Crosshairs, you know that you can be honest with me. You don't have to hide. You don't."

Crosshairs didn't reply for a long stretch of silence. Then, in a rather pained voice, he said, "I hate that I still want to be around you. It makes me sick. You're human. And Prime chose you."

"Crosshairs—"

"I've never had a mate. Not for long. Most femmes wouldn't pay me any mind," Crosshairs continued rather bitterly. "But you did. I've come to terms with it — with you — but it's still a load of slag!"

"I'm sorry. That's all I can say," I replied softly. It was all I could say. Nothing else impactful came to mind. I couldn't try and appease him without betraying Optimus, I knew.

"Eh, it's not your fault. It's on me for being so utterly foolish," Crosshairs replied. "The more I realize how compatible you and Prime are, the easier it gets to accept that this was all fate. And I don't even believe in fate!"

"Fate does good things and bad things. It depends on what you believe to be good or bad," I replied wistfully. "I wasn't for you. Maybe that's a good thing because someone else will come along."

"You and your poetics. With each passing cycle you're turning more and more into Optimus. I don't know whether to be amazed or horrified."

I chuckled, closing my eyes. The warmth of Crosshairs' interior was comforting, putting me more at ease. Slowly and sleepily I murmured, "You've always liked the poetics."

"I have. But only from you," Crosshairs replied rather wistfully. "But don't tell anyone I said that."

"Your secret is safe with me."

Chapter Text

"This is like the alien olympic games," Cade called. He sat atop one of the rusted, stripped cars, a beer and a tub of ice cream in his lap, eyes shielded by a hat. I could only scoff and roll my eyes, stretching as I languidly approached Drift and Bumblebee.

"You're going into the ring next, Cade!" I yelled.

"Hell, no."

"Quit stalling and let's go! I want to see some action," Hound sat on his rear, looking just as excited as Cade. I ignored him, trying to steel myself as I prepared to, under the instruction of Drift, face Bumblebee in what I prayed to be a quick sparring session. Whatever that meant.

"You wanted to know how to fight, fleshy," Crosshairs chuckled, hoisting himself into a sitting position atop the auto shop roof. "We're not going to go easy on you like Prime did."

"Optimus didn't go easy on me," I snapped.

"Oh, please. He went easy on you because he had a crush," Crosshairs sneered, swinging his legs like a little kid.

I pointed, raising my eyebrows at Crosshairs. "I'm fighting you next," I said, before turning my attention back to Bumblebee. The yellow mech was on his toes, door wings fluttering. There was no way he'd hurt me — maybe a few bruises, but nothing else. Bumblebee was skilled, despite his youth. Yet I was still nervous. Mainly because the last time I'd sparred had been with a holoform. And I'd promptly gotten my ass handed to me.

"What? I don't get any weapons, no nothing?" I spread my arms wide.

"No," Drift said quickly. "No weapons. Only hands."

I huffed in disappointment, ready to make yet another attempt at stalling. Instead of doing so I found myself having to retaliate, for Bumblebee had taken the opportunity to go ahead and force me to fight, swinging his forearm in a wide arc.

I blocked it. The impact rattled my bones and sent me sliding, still on my feet, through the dirt for several yards.

"What the hell, Bee—"

"Fight, now!" Drift bark, interrupting my tirade of curses. "Don't think!"

"I've on overthinker," I breathed, anticipating Bumblebee's next attack. I ducked beneath his legs, balling my hands into a fist and punching the back of his yellow, armored calf. A pained squeal told me that the jab had, indeed, hurt.

"Shit! I'm sorry—"

A second later I was lying on my back, in the dirt, several feet away. A flash black had been my only warning before Bumblebee had, of course, returned my punch.

I was more stunned than hurt. Grunting and shaking dirt from my hair, I rolled to my feet and stood face to face with Bumblebee, yet again.

"Fight!" Drift commanded.

I spent an hour ducking and dodging and punching, all the while being instructed by dirt, and, occasionally Hound, on what not to do, where to hit a bot where it hurt, how use my strength and size to my advantage, and several other important things that I, hopefully, wouldn't remember. By the end of it all, Cade had retreated to the auto shop and I was sweating, covered from head to toe in dirt.

I immediately used the flimsy shower in the back of the shop before joining Cade in our poor excuse for a living room. Cade was at the table, intensely focusing on his array of weapons, fiddling with each one and tuning it to perfect.

"Hey," I slapped his shoulder. "Eat something."

"Already did," Cade said. He glanced up, squinting. "You're the one that needs to eat."

"Alright, sassmaster," I chuckled and opened the refrigerator. "Frozen pizzas…dude, did Tessa always cook for you or something?"

"Tessa or Emily," Cade replied. I turned to him, shaking my head.

"Once we get somewhere with a stove I'm teaching you how to cook, just like I did with Drift."

"That was back when they were humans, right?" Cade asked, lips stretching into small smile. "Optimus told me about it."

"Seems like forever ago," I pulled up a chair, quietly watching Cade pick apart each piece of his weapon, crafting it back together into something better. I didn't say anything, but I was a bit jealous. Mechanics had never been my strong suit. I didn't have the mind for it. "Probably because it was."

"Did you ever have doubts about them?"

"Oh, yeah. Plenty. I took them in because I was scared of Bee," I snorted. "Can you believe that? Scared of Bumblebee. I didn't think about…what they were, really. I knew about Chicago. I knew about it all. But they were alone, and they needed help…and was alone. That's the sad part."

"That's not sad. It's just human," Cade glanced up from his work. "You don't have to be afraid of feeling things. You don't."

"I know. I know I'm safe around you guys. Opening up, a while back…I couldn't do that. Now I can and it's weird," I crossed my arms, sinking back into my chair.

"You're family," Cade said. "Tessa said that you're the closest thing to a sister she's ever had."

I ducked my head. "Ah, shit. You're going to make me cry, Cade."

"No crying. If you cry, I cry. And then it would just be awkward."

I stood, adjusting my sleep shorts before heading into what had once been an office room. My laptop was set up there, amongst scattered paper and old magazines.

I immediately went to my inbox, my heart leaping when I saw a missed message from W.

I think we've gotten everything we need out of each other. Agreed?

I typed back quickly.

Agreed. Thank you. Like, seriously, thank you. I couldn't have done any of this without you. But I still think I deserve to know who you are.

Half an hour passed. I sat at the computer, numbed a bit, as the sun sunk below the horizon. W's message popped up, suddenly.

Not going to happen. Sorry. But it was a pleasure doing business with you.


That night, I dreamed of Optimus. And, much to my delight, the dream slowly turned into a link.

His body was, still, in stasis though his processors and spark were alert. Because of this I entered an intricate realm that hung between fantasy and reality, suspended in his mind where I was able to touch him, feel him, with my own flesh and blood. And he responded.

"This is the most beautiful sight," Prime's warm, metal hands cupped my face, thumb brushing over my lower lip as I lay stretched across his broad chest, naked, staring down at him.

Had it not been for the fact that I could link with him like this, our physical separation would have caused me much more distress than it currently was. Our spark bond was strong enough that I could feel each of his touches. I reveled in the intimacy, realizing that, unless I were to somehow become Cybertronian, this was one of the only way I'd be able to feel him. Not a holoform, but him, metal and all.

"What are you thinking about?"

I grazed my lips against Optimus' cheek, chuckling as his other hand rested against the small of my back. "I'm thinking about you. All of you. Your spark, your spike," I rolled my hips, and I heard Prime growl lowly.

"Do not tease me, dearspark."

I gnawed on my lower lip, knowing that laughing would only egg him on. I could feel his spike, slick with arousal, slid past his plating and press against the inside of my thigh. My own lust wasn't hiding, and it was taking everything I could not to slid atop him right then and there.

"You can do whatever you want to me here," my hair tickled his cheek, and I could see him vent as his lips parted, blue eyes wide. "You can't hurt me."

Translation: frag me senseless.

The hold on my back tightened. I landed hard on my back, laughing as Optimus settled onto his knees, spreading my legs. The moment his lip plates grazed against my cunt I squealed, not anticipating how good the contrast felt and how good he felt. I was left groping at the ground, head thrashing to each side as his strong grip held me down.

I groaned Prime's name like a prayer, breathing in little pants as he worked two fingers inside me, lip plates still suckling on my clit.

That was when I felt the intrusion. It was small, and I doubted even Optimus was in the right state of mind to detect it, mainly because the focus wasn't on him, but on me.

She was there. The metal woman. I saw her, in the recesses of my own mind, watching me writhe and groan beneath Prime. Just her eyes and those supple, full metal lips that stretched into a smirk before shed disappeared.

Peeping bitch.

Optimus curled his fingers and my mind came back to where it had been before. Optimus lifted his head, holding my quivering legs before breathing, "Are you ready for me, dearspark?"

"Yes. Yes," I pleaded, reaching for him as he nestled between my legs, spike lined up with my entrance. I kissed him, tasting myself on his lip plates. When he snapped his hips forward I screamed in both pain and pleasure, having to adjust to his size. Primus, he was big. My head fell back and Optimus whispered soothing words into my ear, hips quivering and he eased out a bit. After a while he fell into a steady rhythm, puff of air sliding past his lips as he grunted, bracing his hands on either side of me and pumping his hips to the sound of my begging.

He vented once more, tilting his head and suckling on my neck, lightly nipping at the skin. As he did so, my eyes slid open just a small bit.

She was back.

Go away. Go. Away!

Quintessa's lips were twisted into a permanent smirk, eyes hooded as she observed us from a safe distance. Very, very slowly her gaze trailed down Optimus' muscular back to where our bodies connected, fitting together like a perfect puzzle.

Fuck off!

I blinked, and she was gone. Optimus grip on my face forced me to look away and into those deep, blue optics that I loved so much. Breathing heavily, I said between hungry kisses, "I love you. I love you."

I said it like a prayer. I felt like I had to. I felt like I hadn't said it enough.

With a shuddering cry I reached my peak, Optimus following shortly after. His rolled his hips, lip plates parted as he rode out his high before resting his head in the crook of my neck, slowly easing his weight off me. We lay for a moment, still embracing. I began lazily tracing patterns against his metal cheek, thumb grazing over his lower lip.

Optimus watched me for a moment, before saying, "Moments like these…I wish somehow you could have come with me. I know of several planets that support organic life…suitable for a human. Suitable for us."

"I joke about that a lot. I could never leave, no matter how much I wanted to. And neither could you, and you know that."

"I suppose I do. However, there is no harm in talking of hypotheticals," Optimus chuckled. "Hypothetically there is a universe where I am able to give you everything. Sparklings, perhaps."

"You're not lesser because you can't get me pregnant," I replied absently, pressing a kiss to his forehead. "You loving me, helping me, is everything. That's something I need right now. Not children."

"It feels difficult to do so from so far away."

"I know. But you try. You always try because you're strong, Optimus. Don't ever doubt that," I shuffled so I could lay on my side and stare into his optics. "That's a quality so many of my species are lacking."

"Those were Sentinel's teachings," Optimus said sadly. "And so much else. And then he lost himself. I've vowed to never lose my way like he did."

"You won't. I won't let you," I smiled, and Optimus chuckled. "I'm going to be nagging you."

"More than you already have?" Optimus raised an optic ridge, and I gave him playful shove, using my momentum to roll atop him.

"I forget that you can be a smartass sometimes," I murmured. "A big, goofy smartass."

"Truly, my sense of humor must have been what captured your heart."

"That and your rocking hot body," I snorted, palms feeling the sleekness of his frame. "I'm a lucky girl."

"And I am a lucky mech."


I woke up late. I would have woke up even later, had it not been for Cade's shouting.

I rose immediately, nearly bashing my head against the ceiling of the stripped down car. Cade's shouts were slowly becoming overshadowed by heavy footsteps and pained whines that could only belong to one creature — Grimlock. At the sound of my boy — yes, boy, because I loved Grimlock like I loved my own puppy. A shitton — I slid open the doors and hopped out, still clad in my sleepwear.

"You might want to deal with this one," Bumblebee chirped, glancing over his shoulder as I approached the bizarre scene — Grimlock roughly rubbing head in the dirt while Cade knelt down, desperately trying to sneak a glimpse into the Dinobots mouth. Strafe and the others were huddled further back, unsure of what to think.

As I approached, Cade glanced over his shoulder and said, "Uh, this is a problem. He's got something stuck in his teeth I'm pretty sure."

"What?"

"Yeah," Cade ran fingers through his ever-growing hair. "He ate something, it got stuck…it's not looking great. I think. He won't let anyone really get a good look, stubborn ass…"

Grimlock snorted at Cade's passive insult, gaze softening as I approached. He lifted his huge snout a bit, stepping closer and allowing me to gently place a hand against his chin.

"Does something hurt, buddy?" I asked softly. "Can you open your mouth for me? Please? I just need to look."

"Oh, yeah, sweet talk him," Cade rolled his eyes. "I've already tried—"

Grimlock slowly opened his maw.

"—that," Cade finished. He mouthed a curse before stepping closer, drawing a flashlight from his pocket and using it to illuminate the inside of the Dinobots mouth.

That's a lot of teeth.

Grimlock had a lot of teeth. Sharp teeth. And a massive tongue. He could swallow me whole and leave nothing behind, if he wanted to. The more we looked the more I realized that the inevitable was approaching.

And the inevitable was, to my dismay, confirmed when Cade said, "I see it. Right back there, towards the back. Looks like a pipe from a piece of scrap — he's been chewing on the cars again."

"Have you told him not to do that?"

"Yes I've told him. He doesn't listen," Cade hissed. "I think he does what he wants."

"You have to be gentle. Work with him. He's sensitive, Cade," I said softly. Once again I could practically feel Cade's eyeroll, and I nudged him playfully in the ribs before adding. "C'mon. You're a parent, you know this."

"Yes, because Tessa and this giant robot dinosaur are basically the same thing."

It was decided, after much debate and much protesting on my end, that the best way to remove the intrusion would be for me, the strong one, to crawl inside and dislodge the pipe manually. I was small enough to do so, and Grimlock liked me enough that he, hopefully, wouldn't be alarmed enough to just bite me in half. Or breathe fire why I was deep in his throat. Or both.

"MVP award goes to you," Hound said, cracking his knuckles and inching closer to Grimlock, kneeling by the Dinobots side in case, somehow, something went wrong. Other than Optimus, Hound was the only other bot strong enough to stand some sort of chance against Grimlock. And even that was pushing it for, unlike Prime, Hound had never beaten a Dinobot in battle before.

After coaxing Grimlock to open his mouth wide enough, I offered soothing words before gripping one of his massive teeth for support and pulling the upper half of my body into his maw. The smell hit me immediately — hot metal tinged with the rancid smell of flesh and energon. Breathing only became a struggle when my ankle finally hit Grimlock's tongue, and my entire body was lying, stomach down, inside his mouth.

Grab it and then get out.

"Do you see it?" Cade adjusted the flashlight, angling it so I could get a better look. I needed two hands for this, however, I was slowly regretting allowing Cade to handle the light. The beam was everywhere, unsteady to the point that I was fairly certain I'd get epilepsy.

"I could see better if you stayed still," I replied. Cade, for once, didn't give a sarcastic reply and instead fell still.

Grimlock shifted a bit, forcing me to grip one of his teeth. My knuckle bumped right up against the pipe and I stifled my cry of relief. As I looked closer, I could see that the curved piece of debris was lodged between two smaller teeth, sticking upright, one end tangled in the tubes and wires that made up the gum area. There was just a small bit of energon leaking.

I went by human biology. If the wires and tubes were the gums and they were leaking energon…the intrusion most likely was causing Grimlock pain. Which meant that dislodging it would cause…pain.

Which wasn't good. I had no clue how the Dinobot would react.

"Okay, guys," I called. "It's lodged in there. I can pull it, but big boy might freak out a little bit and I'm not sure how I feel about that."

"He likes you to much to eat you, fleshy," Crosshairs said. When I craned my neck to look over his shoulder I could see him on his hands and knees, looking in.

"See, that doesn't make me feel better. This is like the dentists. Nobody likes the dentist.," I cursed, giving the pipe an experimental tug. Almost immediately Grimlock whined, jerking his snout away from Hound and nearly flinging me up to slam against the roof of his mouth. I shrieked, gripping one of his teeth for support.

"Whoa," Hound shouted. "Not good!"

Not good indeed. But I was already halfway there, and I knew going slow would only cause Grimlock more discomfort. Steadying my breathing and praying that I, somehow, had enough strength to possibly pry Grimlock's mouth open, I wrapped one hand around the pipe and another around his tooth, tucking my body up so it fit against Grimlock. Then, with a single pull I yanked the pipe from its mooring.

Grimlock's roar caused me to lose hearing for about ten seconds. Energon spewed against my face and my shirt. My head banged against the roof of Grimlock's mouth, though not hard enough to do any damage. Then I found myself hanging and then, as my fingers slipped, I was falling and dumped unceremoniously against the dirt, pipe in one hand.

"What the hell?" Cade pulled me up and away as Grimlock's head spasmed, the Dinobot shaking it like a wet dog. He bumped his snout against the dirt a few times before righting himself and looking really, really overjoyed. Cade said, "You've got to warn us before you do some shit like that!"

"Yeah. Warn us!" Crosshairs was picking himself off the ground, eyeing Grimlock's tail rather angrily. "That definitely scratched up the paint job."

"I got it," I held up the pipe, grinning.

"Good for you. How was it playing robot dentist?" Cade asked, smiling. I felt a snout bump against my back as Grimlock nuzzled me to show his gratitude.

Beaming, I replied, "Not bad. I might make this my profession."

Chapter Text

"No sparring today," I bypassed Bumblebee, waving my hand. The yellow mech shrugged and flopped onto his rear, door wings fluttering as I headed towards Drift.

The blue mech was balancing on one sword, helm pointed at the ground, legs outstretched towards the sky. I took a moment to just watch him, before crawling atop a rusted car and sitting cross-legged adjacent to the motionless mech.

I could hear Cade hammering away in the garage behind me, working on his weapons. Hound and Crosshairs were on patrol, alleviating some of the noise. Grimlock and the other Dinobots were still resting somewhere across the junkyard.

"Are you here to meditate?" Drift said, keeping his optics closed. His frame was perfectly still, back arched as he twirled a bit before stopping himself.

"Yeah."

"Good. Remember what we talked about," Drift opened one optic, peering at me. "You are stressed. I can sense it."

"I am," I glanced at Drift, letting out a breath. "Then again, I'm always stressed."

"That is detrimental to your health."

"I know," I sighed and closed my eyes. "I'm working on it."

And by "working on it" I really mean, I'd tried to get myself off in the shower before finally giving up in defeat. I'd embarrassingly had to replaced my blanket from my little imaginary escapade with Optimus, and I had no clue if the others had heard me last night. I hadn't gotten a single strange look from anyone, and I knew that Crosshairs would have brought it up, had I been loud enough. That was a telltale sign that I'd managed to keep everything to myself.

I was a mass of pent up sexual need with just a hint of desperation. And only Optimus would be able to to fix it. So, for now, meditating was all I could really do.

Focus on your breathing.

Focus on her. On...Izzy. Let's see what she's up to.

Linking was easier, now. Like a sixth sense. I was able to ease my way into Izzy's mind without any trouble at all. The stress hit me first, followed by the twinges of despair that would most likely be in Izzy's mind forever. The despair over losing her family. The death.

I avoided those thoughts, picking past private memories and finally making myself known.

"Izabella?"

"Whoa," Izzy yelped. She was yelling, the sound echoing around her mind. I hissed, attempting to calm her before speaking.

"It's me, it's me. Told you I was a telepath," I smirked. "Are you safe?"

Fear shot through Izzy's mind. For a split second there was dead silence, and then Izzy replied rather hesitantly, "It's nothing I can't handle."

"Izabella, don't lie to me."

"I'm fine. I can't talk now—"

"Izzy," I barked. The girl fell silent, uneasiness now blanketing everything else in her mind. "What's going on? Where are you?"

"I'm fine! You're not my mom," Izzy replied, before, yet another, fear shot through her. This time is was raw, fresh, and loud. Izzy's shriek of terror very nearly yanked me out of the link.

"Izzy?"

"Help."

I was pulled from the link, jerked back into reality. The shock was so powerful that I slid from the roof of the car, across the hood. The sudden movement caused Drift to tumble and land next to me, disoriented and confused.

"What the frag?"

"I can't — shit," I scrambled to my feet, making a beeline for Cade like my life depended on it. He saw me approach and looked up, brows furrowing. "Cade! We have to go — we have to go, now! Izzy is in trouble—"

"Izzy? Who the hell—"

"She's the girl I told you about," I nearly toppled into Cade's arms, gripping his hand so hard that he yelped in pain. "We have to go, now!"

Cade peered over my shoulder as Hound and Crosshairs came flying through the front gate, tires kicking up dirt. They transformed, stretching sore joints.

"Rachel," Cade gently eased my hand away, straightening up so he could look me in the eye. "Slow down. What's going on? Did you link with her?"

"Yes," I snarled. "Yes. I did, and she's in danger."

"Where?"

"Chicago," I glanced over at the Autobots, letting out a breath before remembering Optimus' final orders.

You're in charge.

"We're going," I said loudly. "I want Hound and Crosshairs to stay here, watch the Dinobots and get the Knight Ship ready in case we need to evac. Bumblebee and Drift are with us."

"Whoa, whoa, girlie. What's going on?" Hound gnawed on his cigar, stepping to the side as I bypassed him, grabbing my bag. I shot a look at Cade, relieved to see that he was gathering his supplies as well, slinging one gun over his shoulder and grabbing another, smaller version from the shelf.

"I'll explain later, Hound. I promise. It's nothing major. We have to go away for a bit, take care of some stuff," I ran fingers through my hair as Drift shrugged and transformed, followed swiftly by Bumblebee. "We'll be back."

"We'll stand by with the ship, boss," Hound winked as I slammed Bee's door shut, Cade joining me in the passengers seat. As we started moving, Cade rummaged through his bag and pulled out what looked to be a modified handgun.

"I'm assuming we're going to be needing heavy weaponry," Cade said, sighing. "I know you've been training, but you might need this."

I took the gun, testing its weight. "Thank you."

"Don't mention it. We're getting this girl and getting out, understand? Chicago is a nightmare now. Why the hell did you leave her in the first place?"

"She didn't want to leave her friends," I said admirably. "She's fixing one of the older bots. She promised she'd leave as soon as he was finished, meet me somewhere but..."

Cade sighed. I placed a hand on his shoulder, holding it for a few moments as Bumblebee sped along the freeway. The junkyard became a spec behind us, before disappearing. I fiddled with the handgun as we drove, losing track of time until I felt Cade nudged my ribcage, pointing and saying, "There it is."

The Chicago skyline was dark and devoid of any light. I leaned forward, pointing and urging Bumblebee forward. We were entering the city by land, a stark difference from when Crosshairs had just dropped in from the sky. More than half the city was now a government-owned quarantine zone, and I had no clue how tough the security would be, if any.

Cade seemed to catch onto my worried musings, rummaging through his bag and, ever so slightly, eased out what looked to be a tennis ball held together at the seams by duct tape. He showed it to me, and I scowled.

"I've been working on this for a bit. It sends out am EMP blast — a small one — powerful enough to fry anything."

"Like…Bumblebee?"

"No," Cade shook his head. "It's not that strong. Their processors are huge…it would take something way more powerful than some homemade device to knock them out. But it'll work on whatever human-engineered guards we might see."

"I didn't see any last time."

"Did you see what was chasing that girl?" Cade raised an eyebrow. When I didn't respond, he nodded and murmured, "Exactly. Better to be prepared than to be, you know…dead."

The road came to an end, the rest blocked off by a flimsy fence with a bright orange sign demanding that the area was now "private, government owned property." I wasn't worried about getting prosecuted. Those were the least of my problems, and my mind was more focused on finding Izzy and Canopy and Sqwueeks and getting them out, whether they liked it or not.

Assuming they're alive.

I had faith in Izabella, despite the short amount of time I'd known her. She didn't strike me as dumb or naive. She struck me as a survivor. She just had to hold out long enough for me to reach her…

Bumblebee and Drift transformed, before casually helping us over the fence and then stepping over it themselves. We stuck to the shadows, keeping out heads down while our eyes scanned for any cameras. Cybertronians weren't at all a rare sight in the ruins of Chicago, but I knew Cade and I had somewhat of a bounty on our head. The last thing we needed was a skirmish with the authorities. I'd had enough of those.

"Well this is spooky," Bee chirped, head on a swivel as Drift crept behind him, swords drawn. He wasn't wrong — walking through the ghost city was just as disturbing as before, even with the added comfort of Cade and the bots.

"That girl better be close," Cade said, blowing a string of hair from his face. It was getting way to long, and I almost made a sarcastic comment before stopping, motioning for everyone else to do the same.

"Do you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

I shushed Cade and listened. Sure enough, in the distance, were the unmistakable sounds of gunfire. Alien gunfire — the lower pitch and the sheer magnitude of the blasts gave it away. After three shots, it fell silent.

"C'mon," I gestured for the others to follow, running straight towards the noise. Cade sprinted to keep up as we all drew out weapons. We weren't the most inconspicuous group, so it didn't surprise me when we were immediately spotted by a brass-knuckled Decepticon with a frame resembling that of a police cruiser. The Decepticon burst from an alleyway, almost as if he'd been waiting.

Cade acted faster, raising his weapon and blasting away two of the Decepticon's fingers. The retaliation was stronger, and I found myself having to dodge a furious onslaught of missiles that alit the vacant, dusty street like fireworks. The sudden light caused my eyes to ache, and I deftly tugged Cade out of the street and into an adjacent alley.

"Fuck that guy," Cade gasped. I kept my hand on his shoulder, peering around the corner. There was no sign of Izzy. I recognized the street, however. It was the same one where I'd first met Canopy.

He'd been waiting.

Shit.

"Cade," I breathed, hearing Drift and Bumblebee engage the Decepticon. "She's not in trouble. Not was a trap—"

"There you are!"

I shoved Cade behind me as Megatron landed, blocking our view of the street. His sudden arrival very nearly gave me a heart attack, the sheer surprise of it all costing me precious second.

I screamed, "Where's Izzy?" as if the Decepticon leader owed me an answer. Understandably, the massive tyrant before me found my statement laughable.

"Come here," Megatron growled. I managed to get one good shot that tore a piece from Megatron's shoulder armor, and before Cade could follow up with a shot of his own, our adversary retaliated and swept his claw in an arc.

The attack missed Cade, mainly because he had time to dive out of the way. I was tossed like a rag against the grimy, sticky alley wall, my shoulder crushing through brick before I slid down like a raindrop, disoriented. Darkness engulfed me, and by the time I got a good grip on my bearing, I realized that I was wrapped in Megatron's vice grip.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.

Shit!

Not being able to see was the worst part. My legs were free, dangling in open air. I kicked but my foot struck nothing. The sounds of battle were dull, and as time passed they became duller before fading away.

Moonlight returned in a wave as Megatron tossed me from his hand. I rolled, coming to a stop and receiving a nice, long view of the tyrant examining his talons, disappointed that I'd gotten fluids on him as he paced around what looked to be the lower level of a dilapidated parking deck. This was the first time I'd been able to really study Megatron, and those sharp teeth, red eyes and lean frame made me realize that he was, truly, the antithesis of Optimus Prime in appearance, but the same in strength.

I'd never stand a chance against Optimus. Meaning I'd never stand a chance against him.

"You humans leak to many fluids! It's revolting," Megatron cringed, voice lowering to a growl. "But I digress. You must know why you are here."

"I don't know," I breathed, slowly shifting onto my knees, keeping my expression even despite the furious pounding of my heart. "I don't know anything."

"Ignorance is a typical trait of your species, however you are a special case. You are the mate of Prime," Megatron spat, "And a hybrid of the Allspark."

Behind me, an engine revved. A police cruiser came to a stop before transforming into the same Decepticon from before. Almost immediately I looked for any sign of Cade or Izzy, wondering if they, too, had been taken. But the Decepticon was empty handed. They'd escaped. Hopefully.

"Excellent work, Barricade," Megatron purred.

"Whatever it is you want to know," I growled, "I can't tell you. I don't know where Optimus is. He's gone. He left Earth. You won't find him—"

"You have the knowledge I seek, hybrid. Do not play dumb," Megatron's talons clenched and he bared his teeth. "I remember you. I still possess Galvatron's memories. if you will not give me Prime's location, I will force it from you."

"Lord Megatron," Barricade said suddenly. I turned, making a small noise when I saw Barricade dumping out the contents of my bag. My phone, other belongings and, finally, the talisman, all clattered against the concrete. I immediately knew which item had drawn the Decepticon's attention. Barricade breathed, "she possesses the talisman."

Oh, you're fucked now.

Megatron grinned. "Oh, hybrid, we have much to discuss."

Chapter Text

The Decepticon campsite was something out of a nightmare. It was small getup atop a small parking deck, exposing us to open air while giving us the protection of the surrounding skyscrapers. I counted three other Decepticons who, in an almost creepily polite tone, Megatron introduced as Nitro Zeus, Onslaught, and Mohawk.

I almost half expected a "welcome to the family." remark from Megatron. It didn't happen, and I was glad.

Megatron settled into his makeshift throne — a shitton of damaged car parts plastered together — and regarded me with a sneer. He sat like that for a while, prompting me to say, "What the hell are you going to do with me?"

"I'm deciding how I should kill you. I wish to do it slowly, so to hear you beg," Megatron smirked, looking rather pleased with himself. "I want Prime to be able to feel you suffer."

"He won't feel a thing. I'll make sure of that," I said firmly. "You can hurt me all you want, but you aren't hurting him."

"Perhaps," Megatron analyzed his talons, but I could tell that my remark was making him reconsider my fate. "If you give me what I want, I will keep you alive. After all you are a femme — I consider them delicacies. And as Prime's bonded mate, you are an even more desirable prize."

"I'll die before I become a prize. I'm sorry I'm not giving you very many options, that's just the way it is. At the end of the day my message to you is going to be: go to hell."

"This planet is hell," Megatron snarled, lunging forward with such ferocity that all the Decepticons stopped, watching the exchange with renewed interest. Megatron's eyes narrowed and a smile split his features into two. "I will break you first, fleshling. Then I will claim you."

I had no idea what "claim" even meant, and as the smaller Decepticon named Mohawk gripped my arm, I intended to be dead before I could ever find out.

"String her up," Megatron rose from his throne. With far to much enthusiasm I was dragged by Mohawk across the parking deck, towards a stack of abandoned cars. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Onslaught staring, massive fingers laced together.

Mohawk let me go once my back hit the pile of debris. Almost stupidly, out of sheer confusion and fear, I opened my mouth to speak.

My words transformed into a scream as Mohawk's blade sliced through my right shoulder, just beneath my collarbone. The back of my head slammed against the metal as I was pinned like some sort of human poster. My legs wanted to sag, but any movement sent ripples of pain down my entire body.

Mohawk released the blade, bouncing on his heels as I continued to make strangled shrieking noises, partially out of pain and surprise and partially out of anger. My free hand immediately shot up to grasp the slippery blade, but I soon realized just how deep Mohawk had shoved it. By this point I'd lost feeling in the entirety of my right arm, prompting me to wonder if I'd have to simply dislocate my shoulder in order to get this thing out.

"Hurts, don't it?" Mohawk crowed, leaning forward. Snarling like a dog I spat a globule of phlegm right in his eye. He hollered and began scrubbing furiously at his optics, going on and on about foreign diseases and disgusting fleshlings.

Megatron was watching the exchange with a smile. My screams and my antics were amusing him, and through tears I glared up at him, slamming my mouth shut.

"With our limited resources, we must resort to less…traditional methods of interrogation," Megatron said. Mohawk was righting himself, shaking the last bit of my fluids from his optics before returning to a boxing position, almost as if we were about to fight. "The more time we spend on this wretched planet, the more like you humans we seem to become. Barbaric."

"You were already barbaric, you monster," I snarled. "That's not just a human thing—"

Mohawks fist connected with my nose. The impact snapped my head to the side.

"Enough, Mohawk," Megatron growled.

"Yeah. Enough," I said through a mouthful of blood. Mohawk looked disappointed, but nonetheless obeyed his leader. As he walked away, I went to try and pull at the intrusion once more, but to no avail. Megatron knelt, the sharp point of a single talon lifting dangerously close to my face.

"I'm going to enjoy this," Megatron purred. All I could see were his eyes, filling my vision. And I could feel that talon pressing with just enough force to break skin from my eyebrow down to my jaw, sending blood bubbling to the surface and an immediate stomach-churning stinging sensation as open air hit the wound.

I screamed.

"I made a promise that I would strip the flesh from your bones."

Another gash was etched on the raised ridge of my collarbone, the slice jagged and drawn out and followed with my own screams that were so loud I could barely hear myself think. It hurt. I'd never felt such unadulterated pain, and Megatron's words were only adding to the agony. He was slicing me apart. Taking his sweet time, making sure to go slowly and methodically so I wouldn't bleed and die on the spot. A portion go his face was obscured, turned into a half-sneer as blood dripped into one of my eyes and blinded me.

My legs struggled to hold my weight, but whenever my knees would buckle the blade would dig into my skin, blunt edge catching against my collarbone and keeping me in an agonizing upright position.

"Dearspark!"

"Optimus," I gasped, mouth open. Every part of me was focused on him now, not Megatron or those cruel talons as they dug into the skin of my thigh. "Optimus! Love, I…"

"You're in pain. My love, what's happening?"

"I can't," I squeezed my eyes shut. I couldn't bear to look at Megatron while Optimus was in my mind. "Optimus, focus on what you need to do. I'm fine. I'm fine, it's nothing."

I was crying now. Tears cascading down my face as I tried to fight through the burning pain and convince Optimus that I was okay. That nothing was wrong. That I was safe.

I'd lie to keep him safe.

"Focus on the mission," I breathed. "I love you. I love you. I can't let them get to you, Optimus. They want you."

"Who wants me—"

I slammed my mind shut, expelling Optimus from my brain so he couldn't feel whatever emotions were running through me. Sorrow. Rage. Heartbreak. It hurt me and I knew it would hurt him.

Megatron pulled his talon away as my head slumped in defeat. My entire body was soaked in sweat, droplets mingling with the blood on my arms and face, causing it to sting.

"Giving up already? I expected more from the mate of a Prime," Megatron dipped his claw beneath my chin, gently tilting my head upward so I was forced to stare into those bright, red eyes. "How weak. All this strength and you couldn't even use it to protect yourself, or your comrades. Shameful."

Megatron pulled away, but I mustered enough strength to keep my head raised. The Decepticon was still kneeling, observing his handiwork with a lopsided grin. My own blood painted his talons, and he didn't seem to mind.

He was right, I knew. I wasn't worthy. I was weak. I would keep myself alive out of sheer spite. If I died, Megatron would win. And I didn't want that to happen.

Megatron relaxed, sitting before me with a rather quizzical look on his terrifying visage. It was almost as if he enjoyed watched the pained look on my face while I was deep in thought.

"Submit to me, and I will alleviate your suffering," Megatron crowed. "If not, we will continue."

My lids fluttered as I struggled to stay conscious. I shifted, and my shoulder jostled, the blade moving with it. I gasped before a jolt of adrenaline allowed me to stand up straight and stare Megatron down.

"I'm rather curious as to how the talisman landed in your possession," Megatron picked at his talons. "Only a Knight can wield its true power. And you are no Knight."

"You think I don't know that? It's just some stupid piece of metal. It's nothing."

"You are nothing. It is everything," Megatron snarled. "I've searched eons for this artifact. I should have known that it ended up on Earth."

"Just like the Allspark. That sun harvester thing…they all keep coming here," I murmured. "Your army is weak. Decimated — why are you staying?"

"My mission will end when Prime's spark has been ripped from his chassis by my hand. I did it once, and I will do it again," Megatron snarled, lurching forward and bracing one hand on either side of me. "Prime will come for you, whether you are dead or alive."

"It's going to take a while," I murmured.

"I have the time, and so do you," Megatron purred, running the tip of his talon between my breasts, though not hard enough to break the skin. He pulled away, getting to his feet and returning to his makeshift throne.

My legs hurt from standing. Fatigue as well as dehydration and hunger had begun to set in. At the rate I was going, I'd die of thirst before Megatron had a chance to finish his torture. Maybe that was better. Dying of natural, human causes instead of Megatron's twisted game.

The entire city was shrouded in darkness, the moon hiding behind thick clouds. The weaker my mind became, the easier things began to slip through the cracks. Most notably, her.

Why are you so obsessed with me?

Quintessa seemed different. Prouder. She appeared before me, floating so to make herself taller, so to intimidate me. It wasn't working. I was used to her now.

"You are still alive."

"Yeah," I snarled. "Is that a bad thing for you?"

The metal woman growled, reaching out with those spindly, cold fingers and holding my head in a vice grip. Her thumbs dug into my temple and pain bloomed throughout my entire body, though I couldn't scream. I could only twitch and shiver, arms flailing as I fell to my knees. Quintessa slipped behind me, fingers still digging into my skin.

The area was different. Damper, even more dead than Chicago. The hulking interior of the structure was Cybertronian, and the place looked long abandoned and long destroyed.

"What is this? What are you showing me?"

"I'm showing you the present," Quintessa murmured in my ear. "Cybertron."

My eyes floated from the ceiling towards the floor. It took me a moment to realize that the massive shake looming a few yards away wasn't part of the structure, but an Autobot. My Autobot.

He was chained, struggling. His voice boomed throughout the structure.

"Release me! Why are you doing this?"

Quintessa's hold on me tightened. I was forced to stare as another chain became entangled around Optimus' throat, tugging and forcing his chin towards the sky. He bellowed, pinned down like a circus animal and at the utter mercy of Quintessa.

"If you hurt him, I'll kill you."

"You can't. I will make him submit," Quintessa's claw-like fingers drew blood. "Just as you will."

She released me. I was snapped back into the world of the living, panting, the front of my shirt soaked in blood and sweat. Where Quintessa's hand had once been were two of Megatron's talons, holding me in place while I dry heaved.

I had no clue if Quintessa's vision had been real, or if was finally beginning to go insane. I could barely tell if this was real — the leader of the Decepticon's keeping firm grip on me while his opposite talon traced patterns along my stomach, occasionally dipping past uncomfortable pokes to long, drawn out cuts that breached my flesh. I'd become immune to my own screams, the noises only reminding me that I was still alive.

Quintessa has Optimus.

It's over. It's all over. There was no master creator, no plan. Just her, fucking with you until it was to late.

Submit.

"Stop," I gasped through tears. "Stop. Please. Please."

"Are you finally giving in?"

"Stop , please. Please. I can't do it. I can't," I tried moving my shoulder, but the movement caused a tearing sensation that I'd never felt before, bolts of pressure traveling from my elbow and then withering away. "Please. I submit I…I submit."

"Excellent," Megatron snarled, baring his sharp teeth before raising a talon and, without so much as a warning, yanked the blade from my shoulder. Cartilage tore and fresh blood seeped from the wound. I took a step forward before toppling, unable hold up my own weight.

I was kneeling at Megatron's feet, close enough to kiss his pede — I didn't. My face was flushed with shame, embarrassment, the tint of color a stark contrast against my clammy skin.

"You win," I said sadly, not looking Megatron in the eye. Bile was bubbling in the back of my throat as I took a look at a long, jagged gash carved into my arm.

"As I always do," Megatron replied. "You have recognized your true master."

"My 'true master' is me. Get it right."

Megatron's snarl of anger was cut short when a high-speed projectile sailed over my head and landed a direct blow to his chassis. His armor took the brunt of the blast but the sheer force sent him flying.

I didn't move. I could hear Cade's shouts as he barked orders. The Decepticons retaliated in full, but they were outnumbered.

The moon reappeared from behind the clouds only to be blocked once more by the hulking structure that was the Knight Ship, floating above the skyscrapers. I glanced up and saw the entrance hatch slide open, allowing a wide shape to begin descending towards the parking deck, swirling and spiraling.

"Autobots!" Megatron bellowed. He was back into a corner but still firing.

I couldn't move. I watched as a massive section of the building crumbled away, sending cars plunging several stories below. Barricade rushed towards me before he, to, was caught up and swallowed by the massive hole. I saw Izzy behind Cade, using him as cover.

"Strafe, grab her!" Cade fired a few rounds at Megatron, advancing forward. An old car sprung from the ground and sailed towards Megatron, knocking him off the edge of the parking deck and several stories to the concrete below. Strafe's shadow passed overhead and I felt the warm embrace of the Dinobot. I was lifted from the ground, head and legs dangling. The battle below became smaller and smaller as I was carried away, drifting through the abandoned ruins of Chicago and towards safety.

The Dinobot descended, very gently discarding me in a patch of grass amongst a cracked, destroyed courtyard before landing, wings sweeping over my head in a protective cover. Several pairs of footsteps thundered against the ground, and soon I found myself regarding a familiar face with a small smile.

"Glad you could join us," I chuckled. Lennox didn't look amused — I didn't even know if he'd heard me. He was checking my injuries while several of his men grabbed medical kits.

"What the hell happened to you?" Lennox breathed. When I began to sit up, he stopped me and tried to push me back down. Even in my delirious state I was strong enough to keep him at bay.

"Wait for Izzy—"

"The girl?"

I peered over my shoulder. Bumblebee and Crosshairs skidded into view, transforming after Cade and Izabella emerged from their alternate modes. Cade reached me first, sliding by my side and nearly butting Lennox out of the way.

"Relax, superdad," I teased. Immediately Izabella gripped my shoulder and began healing my wounds, all while Lennox watched and Cade seemed emotionally strained to the point that I could see a vein pounding away in his forehead. His jaw was taut and he looked torn between hugging me or strangling me.

"Get her some water, Fig," Lennox said to one of his men. I thanked him as he handed me the bottle, looking relieved when I was able to use my limbs to their full capacity and take massive gulps of liquid.

Izzy pulled her hand away, and, with her assistance, I was able to stand. The young girl stayed shoulder to shoulder with me, before wrapping an arm around mine. Her closeness was enough to make me relax a bit.

"We got your bag," Cade held up my tattered knapsack. I took it, taking a peek in — I could see the talisman tucked away into one of the pockets. That was all that really mattered.

I was finally able to address Lennox and his men as Strafe pulled his wing away and, with a few flaps, was off towards the hovering Knight Ship. The us vs them mentality was practically palpable, and Bumblebee was the only bot who looked relatively calm at Lennox's presence.

"What are you doing here?" I said bluntly. The soldier rubbed the back of his neck before sighting and looking between Izzy and I.

"We caught signs of some Decepticon activity in this area. Heavy activity. More than usual."

"So you and the boy scouts came to check it out?" Cade raised an eyebrow. "I know you guys are rogue and all—"

"We're not here to cause any trouble."

"Then why are you here?"

"They're here because of me."

Oh, no.

Not again.

I hadn't even seen the butler bot sitting inside the marked N.E.S.T humvee. He hopped out, and I could see Lennox's expression go from exasperation to, well, something beyond exasperated as Cogman paced towards us. He stopped at the soldiers side, glancing around at our little merry band of humans and Autobots, before nodding.

"This will have to do," Cogman hummed, before meeting my gaze. "And a hello to you, Miss Rachel. I hoped we could have met again under less...dire circumstances.

"You didn't hope hard enough," I said dryly.

"You know this guy?" Cade said, adjusting the makeshift gun slung over his shoulder. "Am I the only one who has no clue whats going on?"

"I just go with the flow at this point," Crosshairs said, shrugging as Drift and Hound sped into view.

This is one hell of a party.

"Sir Burton thought it would be better to try and gather everyone in a single place," Cogman explained. "Easier for transport. Saves, uh, gas that way."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Cade said. "Hound, can you just…shoot this guy?"

"My pleasure," Hound replied languidly.

"Hound, if you blast him you have to deal with me," I raised a finger and Hound lowered his gun, making a disappointed sound in the back of his throat. I turned to Cogman and said, "Dude. Seriously — I told you guys that I wasn't going to get involved—"

"You don't have a choice," Lennox interrupted.

"You're on his side?" I rolled my eyes. "Really?"

Cogman and Lennox glanced at each other. Lennox said, "I know whats coming. I know. It's bigger than anything I've ever faced. Bigger than Mission City or Egypt or even Chicago—"

"And you think I can help you beat it?" I snapped. "Without Optimus, nonetheless?"

"If you don't try, you can't say shit."

"I tried saving your boy Epps," I snarled. Lennox's nostrils flared and he took a step forward, very nearly standing chest to chest with me. He was close enough that I could see the flecks of brown in his blue eyes. Steeling myself as Izzy fearfully crept behind me, I said, "I tried. And I couldn't save him or Monique or his two little boys."

Lennox's face softened when he realized what I was implying. The blood from Megatron's marks still painted my face. I looked the same as I had when we'd first met.

Broken.

"Try again," Lennox said. "I know Robert would."

I gnawed on my lower lip as Lennox stepped away, hands on his hips. I saw Cade give me a little nod, though he didn't look enthusiastic. Suddenly, I felt a little push against the back of my thigh. When I turned I saw Izzy fall against Sqweeks, embracing the little bot in a hug.

Then, it struck me.

"Where's Canopy?" I said. Izzy lifted her head and I noticed they were red-rimmed from crying. It didn't take me long to know what had happened.

"He died protecting me," Izzy said through clenched teeth. "Megatron killed him."

And you submitted to Megatron.

Coward.

Weak.

I knelt and embraced Izzy. She cried against my bloody shirt and I stroked her hair, suspended in a state of limbo before Cogman's voice pulled me back into reality.

"We must get going. Now."

"How many of us? Is this the team?" I kept my hold on Izzy, chuckling. "Some hell of a group."

"There is one more member that you will meet in England," Cogman said happily. "Besides my master, of course. I believe you know them as W."

Chapter Text

"W. W for…Wembley."

Viviane Wembley was the smartly dressed, gorgeous woman. who met us right on the bank next to of Burton's castle. She introduced herself the moment we hopped from the Knight Ship, going through the motions almost lethargically. It took me a while to connect the dots, I figured she'd never seen a Cybertronian before, much less five alien dinosaurs and four Autobots.

Izzy had yet to leave my side. I'd become accustomed to the young girl keeping a grip on my hand as we walked, and it didn't take a genius to tell that losing Canopy had struck her, hard. She'd practically been raised by the Autobot. It was as if she'd lost a parent all over again.

"Welcome to England," Burton met us at the long path leading to his home, arms outstretched while his dog sat at his feet, drooling. Cogman took the leash and began heading down the trail while Burton surveyed the bots and humans before him. He met my gaze and nodded, adding, "I'm glad you could join us, Miss Rachel."

"I mean I sure as hell wasn't going to miss this party," I drawled. Viviane smirked at my words, heels clicking across stone as she came and stood by Cade's side. Cade, being the subtle nut he is, immediately took to eying the pretty woman up and down.

I can't believe you were talking to this fine lady. Like. Applaud her for doing such an excellent job hiding her who she really way.

Cade glanced around. "So…we have The Boy Scouts, two X-Men, and whats left of Optimus Prime's posse?" Cade shrugged and jerked a thumb in Viviane's direction. "And her."

"That would be three X-Men. Burton is a hybrid," I said out of the corner of my mouth.

"And I have much more to offer, Mr…." Viviane snapped her fingers. "Ah, yes, 'man who looks like he just crawled out of a waste bin.'"

"I'm sweaty because I was working hard, lady," Cade replied quickly. "Not everyone can be as put together as you."

"I'm put together? How sweet of you," Viviane winked.

Great team you put together, Burton.

"I'd say we can get the job done," Burton said happily. "I have faith in all of you."

Probably a little to much faith.

We followed Burton across the ground. I'd never seen the front entrance to the massive castle, and I couldn't help but stare in awe. The interior was just as decorated and intricate as I'd realized — the ancient stone staircases had been lined with gold, the brick walls glistening with a fine sheen. I felt bad, tracking dirt all inside the house. When I glanced back at Lennox, he held the same cautious yet impressed expression on his face. He was the only one out of his squad of soldiers to come, acting as a liaison from the splinter group that was N.E.S.T and, most likely, a big chunk of the U.S government. I still had no clue how he felt about me — I didn't know if he'd ever really been able to process what had happened to Epps. Antagonism was what I'd expected from him, but so far he'd only shot me a few sorrowful glances.

"This estate was passed down through several generations. In fact, Cogman was a servant of my father. And my fathers father. He's been on Earth far longer than a majority of his kind."

"I've grown quite fond of this planet," Cogman added. "And some of its inhabitants."

The little jab could have been directed at me, but I didn't dwell on it. I was forced to follow Burton as he led us through hallway after hallway, showcasing just how huge the building was. He then stopped and spun, cane in hand. He said, "Miss Rachel, I believe you are in possession of the talisman?"

I blinked, put on the spot. "Yeah," I stammered, rummaging through my bag. "I have it here. It still hasn't done anything."

"Look again."

The ancient artifact was vibrating. It was a slight hum, but I could feel it just beneath my skin.

It was alive. But not for me.

I nearly yelped when the talisman flew like a top towards the human closest to me — Cade. Lennox drew his gun, stunned and ready to fire as the artifact latched onto Cade's exposed arm.

"What the hell?" Viviane shouted, leaping back. Burton and Cogman were watching the entire exchange, calm as could be. Cade was hissing, slamming his fist again the talisman as it began to change, molding around the muscles on his arm. Lennox had yet to fire a shot, his handgun still raised but his eyes more focused on Burton.

"What did you do?" Lennox said evenly, blue eyes narrowed.

"I didn't do anything," Burton replied giddily. "Cade Yeager has been chosen. After a lifetime of waiting, it has finally happened."

"Get this thing off me," Cade snarled, stepping forward. Without thinking I extended my arm and stopped him, staring down Burton with narrowed eyes.

"You said that whoever wields this talisman thing would be the leader. What about Prime?"

"Without leaders, chaos reigns. There must always be another," Burton replied. "And now that we know, we must prepare for an inevitable battle."

"You never said anything about fighting," Viviane said. "I'm not a soldier—"

"Neither was she," Edmund Burton pointed his cane at me. "Neither was William. This is where you were meant to be. Soldiers, scholars, hope," he glanced at Izzy. "And a Knight. When all seems lost, a few brave souls can save everything we've ever known."

"I'm pretty sure this old guy has dementia or something," Cade huffed, clutching at the talisman slithering further and further down his arm. He turned to me and snarled, "Nice vacation spot, Rach."

"This was beachfront property. Be grateful," I didn't meet his gaze. Instead, I stared down both Cogman and Burton, saying, "Be glad you have an accent, bro. Cause if I tried to say something like that I'd sound so lame."

"Those are Optimus Prime's words," Burton said. "Or, they will be. He hasn't said them yet."

"We'll have to see who says it better, then," I smirked. I placed a calming hand on Cade's shoulder, attempting to calm our little group down. It must have worked, because Lennox holstered his gun as the tension decreased. "You're talking about a fight, right? I assume you mean Megatron?"

"No. Something much more powerful," Burton said. "Considering the nature of your abilities, it is safe to say that you might have already met her."

"Quintessa? She's a billion lightyears away," I said. "I blocked her out — well, I tried. She can't hurt anyone but me."

"She could if she had a ship," Lennox said. "I've seen enough of their tech to know that a ship traveling hyperdrive from that distance would only take, like, a month to arrive in our atmosphere. It's possible. But why would this alien chick or whatever come to Earth?"

"There is a reason as to why they keep coming here. Something about our planet has been attracting Cybertronians for centuries," Burton said. "I've seen it, in a vision. It's a great power. But I do not know where, who, or how."

"That's a lot," Viviane said. "Let's slow down a bit, so we're all on the same page or, at least, I'm on the same page. Who is Quintessa?"

"She's the 'creator' of Cybertronians, so she claims. Hell, I don't know what she is. She started fucking with my mind a while back," I let out a breath. "After that whole fiasco in Hong Kong, Optimus went to go confront her. See what the fuck was up. I've…I had to shut Optimus out. Quintessa has him, I think. I don't know. She's a telepath like me. We're constantly battling, constantly in each others realities."

"Optimus went to go fight someone he didn't understand," Cade added. "He wanted answers. We all want answers."

"If she has him, she'll use him as leverage," I said through gritted teeth. Burton nodded, allowing me to continue. "And you know how that would go down."

"With you doing something daring and downright stupid, and me right there with you," Cade groaned. "It's not like we can go to her. She has to come to us. We're sitting ducks. All of us."

"That means that we have time, Cade," Burton said. "Time to prepare. Time to train."

"Optimus won't have time," I said.

"He is a Prime. He is far to valuable to be killed. I told you that you and your partner would reunite, did I not?" Burton said dismissively. I raised my eyebrows, a little put off at how he seemed to disregard Optimus. It wasn't a rude or condescending way. It was is Optimus were nothing more than, well...Optimus. As if that alone didn't hold enough weight.

"If she has him, she's hurting him—"

"He will have to persevere. And you being alive just might be what motivates him to keep going," Burton replied. "You have a job to do. Now let's get to it."


Outlast.

That's what Optimus had to do to survive.

It was a cruel joke. He'd outlasted enough. Mission City. Death. Sentinel's betrayal and the betrayal of a species he'd died to protect.

And now he was expected to do it all over again.

The ache in my heart was solid, sitting like a stone in my ribcage. It hurt even worse because I knew Cade had been right. At the end of the day, going to Optimus wasn't an option. Quintessa could bait me all she wanted, knowing there would be no repercussions.

If she arrived on Earth, I would kill her. I made that my personal goal. Even if I died trying I would ensure that she went down and had a corpse to show.

"You still look like slag," Crosshairs said rather tiredly. I was out past dark, pacing around the ground in a sweatshirt, hair still slightly damp from the shower. Crosshairs had snuck up on me rather impressively, standing with his arms crossed and that cocky smirk that seemed permanently glued to his faceplate.

"Thanks. So do you," I didn't lift my head. I finally just gave up on my musing and sat down in the gross, tilting my head up so I could soak up the moonlight. Crosshairs mimicked my movements, once again going out of his comfort zone and sitting close enough tome that I could reach out and touch his armor.

"What did Megatron do to you, femme?"

My head snapped up. Crosshairs had asked the question rather nonchalantly, but there was no hiding the edge to his voice. It was small but it was there — he was trying not to shout. I knew immediately who his rage was directed towards.

"Nothing I couldn't handle," I shrugged. "Izzy took care of it."

That was a lie. Izabella couldn't cure what was inside my head.

"I'm asking because I want to know what to do to Megatron when I get my servos on him," Crosshairs grunted. "When his aft has been beat and it's my turn to take whack at him."

"You'll have to pick a number. I've heard the list of people who want to beat up Megatron is pretty high."

"Then I'll be first in line," Crosshairs stood. "You really should go inside and recharge. You've, uh, earned it. But don't expect me to read you any bedtime stories."

An image of Crosshairs huddled at the end of a child's bed with a book pinches between his fingers made me snort. I chuckled, "Don't worry. I shouldn't have any trouble sleeping. Not with the day I've had."

I slept like a log until the nightmares jolted me awake. I was shaken, especially when I took in my surrounding and noticed that this wasn't the Knight Ship or the junkyard. The room was to big, to intricate and the sheets were to soft and the bed to big. I eventually calmed, chuckling when I realized that this was the first time in a long while that I'd slept in an actual room.

I flopped back, kicking away some of the covers and allowing the cool air to tickle my damp skin. The bed was huge, and I smirked, once again wishing Optimus were here.

He'd help with the nightmares. Distract you from them.

I gnawed on my lower lip, staring up at the ceiling fan. After a long moment of contemplation, I swung my legs over the side and stood, smoothing out my nightshirt and quietly exiting the room. The hallway before me was long and carpeted with soft velvet, pictures from every age adorning the walls. Burton's room was towards the end, and I knew that Cade, Viviane and Izzy were somewhere down to my left. Barefoot and clad in an oversized t-shirt, I made my way towards the kitchen which, as I discovered, was quite the long trek.

This place is so big. Jeez.

Food was my last resort. I could eat my own body weight, and my metabolism made up for it. Plus, the thought of going back to sleep petrified me.

You'll see Megatron's face again. Feel his claws.

Shit.

I stopped, squeezing my eyes shut and resting my forehead against the wall. Fatigue, coupled with rising paranoia made something as simple as walking in the dark a challenge. This house was unfamiliar and huge. And Megatron was still alive, somewhere, plotting and waiting…

Just as he plotted and waited for you.

"Miss? Why are you still up?" Cogman's voice scared me half to death, and I instinctively took a swing. The butler bot evaded the attack, but did not retaliate. Instead he stood at attention, fists raised.

"I'm sorry," I said quickly. Cogman didn't reply, watching me, before lowering his guard. "You scared me and I, just…sorry."

"No worries. Now, you failed to answer my question. What are you doing up?"

"Looking for food."

"The kitchen is just down the stairs, on your right," Cogman went to step past me, but I placed a hand on his metal forearm. He met my gaze, his eyes flickering from my grip on him, to my face.

"What are you doing up?" I asked casually.

"I am the headmaster of this castle, therefore it is my duty to patrol the area and ensure everything and everyone is secure," Cogman replied. "Now, if you would kindly remove your hand—"

"Why do you serve Burton? Why do you stay here?"

Cogman sighed as I released his arm, tilting my head up and awaiting his reply. His optics provided the only source of light in the hallway, dousing everything in green. He said, "I do so because it is my job. You should find one."

I raised my eyebrows. It was to late and I was to tired to deal with Cogman's remarks, so I just rubbed my eyes. "Yeah. Whatever. How about you come with me to the kitchen? You said you patrol to watch for people — I'm a people. So come watch me."

I didn't have the guts to tell him that I was afraid. That the darkness made me antsy. Every second I expected to turn and see those red optics and those talons glistening with my own blood.

"I suppose I have nothing else to do," Cogman said, though he didn't sound to enthusiastic. "There is maple gelato in the freezer. Help yourself."

Chapter Text

"Sir, are you not lactose intolerant?"

"Are you not mind-your-own-business intolerant, Cogman?" Burton sneered. He paused, gnawing on his lower lip and staring his cup of coffee. "There's milk in this. Not lactose."

Oh, lord.

I went to correct him, but the stare Viviane shot me made me reconsider. She was standing off to the side, watching as Bumblebee and Drift began to spar. She'd ditched her heels and blouse for a much more modest pair of jeans and a jacket. She'd relaxed, finally, no longer seeming on edge.

Well, maybe just a little.

"So," I crept over, trying to be as un-awkward as possible but, as usual, ending up completely and utterly awkward. "Guess our business isn't done, huh?"

"No," Viviane smiled. "Talking with you was an…experience. You're very well spoken. I was impressed with how much, yet how little you were able to give away."

"So was I. Although I was on an old computer a thousand feet in the air, so it's not like I could send you the latest, up to date emojis," I shuddered, glad to finally be free of the interior of the Knight Ship. No matter how hard I'd tried, I'd been unable to truly consider the place a home. I said, "So Burton told me that you're a professor?"

"Oxford. I teach history, as well as mythological studies," Vivian replied, her eyes training back on Bumblebee. "And to think, I'd be in the presence of mythology itself. It's truly stunning."

"Why did you want to investigate everything?"

"My own personal research. My father was an avid believer in life existing outside our planet. So much so, in fact, that he headed over to America to investigate," Viviane said sadly. After a long pause, she said, "He never returned. During my search for information regarding the Autobots, I found that he had been caught sticking his nose when he shouldn't have and was subsequently murdered."

"By who?"

"By the very same people that created you," Viviane said. "It's a very small world."

"But a bigger galaxy," I jerked my chin towards the Autobots. "At the end of the day, you're here. We're all here. All because Mr. Milk-Man over there thinks we can save the world."

"Do you believe him?"

"I'm here, aren't I?" I sighed and shrugged, looking over my shoulder. I could see Izzy, in the distance, playing with Grimlock and the rest of the Dinobots. "I don't know. I don't want to believe him, and I don't want to fight. If riding with Burton gives me a chance to get Optimus back, I'll take it."

"That's noble of you," Viviane replied, nodding her head. "I didn't get a chance to save my father. But I have another chance…I can do whats right, even if it fails."

"You'll have people who will help you," I said. "I just…I don't want Izzy involved in all of this. Her parents were killed during the Chicago attack. She's been alone since then. She's just a kid," I lowered my voice, glancing quickly at Burton. "He honestly can't expect for her to fight with us…"

"You know the girl better than I do. Even if he were to stop her, do you think she'd listen?"

Hah. No.

"She's stubborn," I shook my head. "But so am I so I can't really judge…but still. If I can keep her away from the conflict, I will."

"Good luck," Viviane smiled. "It looks as if you've got your hands full."


"First rule of alien fight club, is that you don't talk about alien fight club," Cade raised a hand, and I saw Viviane roll her eyes. I, to, couldn't help but cringe at how cheesy the line sounded — noticing, Cade spread his arms and cried, "What? I couldn't think of anything else to say!"

"I thought it was pretty good," Drift encouraged, crossing his arms.

"Alien fight club" was just a fancy name for whatever exercise Burton was instructing us to do. Cade, Izzy, Viviane and I were the outliers of the group. The civilians. Out of the four of us, however, I had the most training. So I felt as if should have been exempt, and I verbalized the thought by raising my hand and asking. Burton didn't seem to agree.

"Oh, no. You aren't skipping out on this," Burton pointed his cane at me. "Get back in line, missy."

"Shouldn't you be in here to, old man?" Cade asked, raising his eyebrows. "Or do you not want to get your fancy British shoes dirty."

"These shoes were important from Russia. Secondly, are you sure you wish to challenge someone who can predict the future?"

"Good point," Cade pressed his lips into a thin line and fell silent. Vivian, having tied her hair back, seemed to agree.

"Now, I will allow Cogman to show you your new toys," Burton stepped to the side, allowing the robot butler to bypass him. There were two massive duffel bags slung over his shoulders, and with very little effort he dropped them onto the grass. Even Lennox seemed interested, craning his neck to look over Cogman's shoulder.

I stepped closer to Cade, eyes instinctively going to the talisman, which was still wrapped around his arm and showed no signs of letting go. It was as if the thing had become permanently fused to his skin, acting as a transforming protectant.

"Cade already has a metal arm or whatever," I said. "So I call dibs on any armor."

"You can thank Miss Wembley," Burton smiled. "It was her persuasive emails that convinced KSI to lend us these supplies."

"Joshua Joyce pulled through, huh?" I grinned. Viviane nodded, diving into the bag first and rummaging through. She tossed out a few blasters, before stopping and peering up at Lennox.

"Your men will like these. State of the art, transformium weapons," she lifted what appeared to be a silver, double barrel shotgun. We watched as the thing folded in on itself, parts shifting until it was reduced to nothing more than gold-ball sized sphere. "Some of these are prototypes. We're the first humans given permission to test them in the field."

"Transformium? The same stuff that they used to build Galvatron?" I raised my eyebrows. "Well okay. I'll take whatever we can get."

"We can't afford to be picky," Lennox said, reaching down at picking up one of the blasters. Cade did the same, smirking. He looked the weapon over, and I could see those innovative eyes examining each groove.

"The fleshy's are catching on," Crosshairs said. "Now what are we waiting for? Bee, I thought you said they were going to fight?"

"Not yet," Burton replied, tilting his head upward. After a moment, I could practically feel his eyes on me. Unsurprisingly, when I looked up from the bag, Burton was watching me with a curious look. I didn't know whether to be worried or, quite frankly, terrified.

"Rachel, dear, how much can you lift?"

"It's rude to ask a woman about her weight," I said. Cade snorted and gave me an approving nudge. Burton, however, either didn't understand the joke or was to ornery to care.

"You know what I meant. How much weight can you lift?"

I stood. "I don't know. I've never really reached that point. It started off like a muscle — the more I developed it, the more I could take. The stronger I got."

"Would you care to test that out?"

"I mean, it would be stupid of me to say that I have the same physical strength as, say, Optimus or Megatron."

"You held back Megatron. Saved me," Izzy said quietly. When she noticed us watching her, she said louder, "I remember. I was there."

Good point.

"Okay, yeah, there was that," I said. "I mean, I don't even think Megatron was trying that hard. I don't think he really wanted to kill me then."

Another good point.

"How about this — you bench press me, and we see how long you can hold out," Hound said. "I've got a big belly, I know. It's mainly water weight."

"I want something that not, you know, sentient," I shot an apologetic look in Hound's direction. "So not you. Or Grimlock."

"There is an old tank near the main entrance," Burton said. "I'm sure you've noticed it. Been parked there since the first world war. A bit of an eyesore, but it gives the property a certain…flair. I enjoy it."

"First world war? Those guys were heavy duty," Hound said. "You could lift that, no problem."

Sure you can!

The enthusiastic side of me, the side that didn't doubt, was making itself heard. I'd tackled Galvatron. Sure, I'd come out of it with some fucked up bruises and bleeding, but I'd lived.

That shouldn't be a standard for you.

"I, uh…I guess I can try."

The moment I saw the tank, I regretted ever agreeing.

I'd almost forgotten what first world war tanks looked like. They were bulky, grey and dull, but intimidating. They dwarfed everyone but the Autobots with ease, and seeing something this big up close, my mind now sane and lacking adrenaline, made me want to turn around and run.

I didn't know where to start. Even now, I still doubted how strong I was. My brain was taking its time adjusting to the fact that physically, I could withstand being hit head on by a bus going full speed and only walk away with a few scrapes. That part of my brain that screamed 'danger' still didn't know when to switch off.

"I don't know what this proves."

"You said it yourself. You've never properly gauged the extend of your ability," Burton replied. "Now, you have a chance."

Okay. Game face.

Hound stepped a safe distance away, but close enough that he could rush in if need be. I tucked my fingers beneath the treads, squatting so to get a better angle. Then I pushed upward, using my knees to lift.

I was so surprised at how I didn't drop from the pain I thought was coming. There was a bit of a strain on my fingers as they struggled for purchase, and a bit of an ache in my knees that slowly faded once I was able to reach a full standing position. The tank cast a shadow across everyone as I stopped, holding the massive vehicle above my head.

"Holy mother," Crosshairs breathed.

"That's badass," Bumblebee chirped, door wings fluttering as he crouched behind Cade, transfixed. I held on for a few more moments, before my muscles began to actually strain. Slowly and gently I set the tank down where it had been before, leaving it nestled into the grass.

"Fascinating," Burton breathed. He stepped forward, patting me on the shoulder. "Truly, I'm glad you are with us, and not against us."

"You got that right," Lennox mumbled. "Ironhide would have had a field day with this."

I rolled my shoulders, testing my muscles before smirking and shooting a look in Burton's direction. I walked rather jauntily back to the castle, the others dispersing and going about their day. After lunch I idly watched Cade teach Viviane how to shoot properly, sitting atop Hounds shoulder.

"I think Yeager has a bit of a crush," I murmured. Hound stroked his metal beard, removing his cigar from his mouth.

"Cade is one hell of a guy. One hell of a father," Hound replied. "He deserves someone."

"I agree," I smiled, watching the two banter. I knew confronting Cade about his obvious attraction towards Viviane would be fruitless. The man was to stubborn for his own good. I didn't even know if he was ready — it had been a while since Emily's passing. I'd only heard brief, fleeting mentions of her, but I knew how important she had been to Cade.

Could you move on if you were to lose Optimus?

No. And that makes Cade all the more stronger than you.

"You're thinking again, girlie," Hound said gruffly. "Are you plannin' something?"

"I'm not a schemer. Not really. So, no," I shrugged. "I'm just…musing. Taking in the scenery. Being silent."

"That's not like you. I mean, slag, you haven't insulted Crosshairs even once today. Something is wrong," Hound turned away from Viviane and Cade, heading towards the castle courtyard. "You gonna tell me what's going on?"

Say it's nothing.

Make an excuse.

Hound was smarter than that. He'd always been able to call out a bluff. Absently, I said, "I'm just…in a weird place. Mentally. Emotionally. At night I see Megatron. I see Epps. I see them all. And then when I wake up, I'm here with you guys, but I'm not," I paused, glancing down the grass. "I want to be me. I'm not me — not anymore. Before all of this I had problems, but now…it's all catching up to me."

"That Quintessa bitch screwed with you, didn't she?"

"I don't know. I can't link with Optimus. It's like she's blocking me. That's the hard part — I know he's alive. I can feel it through the bond. But I can't talk to him."

"Here's the good news," Hound said. "We're getting boss back, alive. And I'm personally putting a hundred rounds right into Quintessa's face. The bad news? What you're going through, it won't go away. I know. Trust me. But I'm here, and Bee is here. Even Crosshairs. Everyone. We'll help you. You're family - we sacrifice for each other, no matter the cost.

"No sacrifice, no victory," I murmured.

"We'll win," Hound said. "Finally. I'm ready for this crap to be over with."

Chapter Text

I slept better during the night, waking once before forcing myself back into a slumber. Quintessa did not haunt me, and Megatron's talons seemed far off and less bloody. I wasn't dancing between rainbows or flying through the sky, but I was managing. The dreams were bearable.

I awoke in the middle of the night to something tugging on my forearm. I opened my eyes and was greeted with Sqweeks' huge had and big eyes. The sheer surprise was what kept me from outright swatting him across the room in fear. I composed myself as the vespa began to flail its stubby little arms, as if to get my attention.

"What is it?" I rubbed my tired eyes. "Why aren't you with Izzy?"

The little bot pointed at the door, before speeding into the hallway. He beckoned for me to follow, and I did. Hurrying. There was an urgency in his actions that I'd never seen before.

I entered Izzy's room. Sqweeks stopped, and I immediately knew why he'd grabbed me. Izzy was thrashing around on her bed, tangled amongst the sheets. The bed itself was beginning to teeter to the side, legs raising slightly off the carpet. From where I stood, I could see that her eyes were closed. I approached the bed as it hovered, and then landed back onto the ground. Izzy wasn’t thrashing now — she was twitching, lips white and pressed into a thin line. I took the opportunity to grasp her, keeping my touch light.

“Izzy, honey?” I brushed my fingers across her forehead. “It’s me, Izzy. It’s me. It’s just a dream. You’re safe.”

Her moans gradually died down. I was just waiting for that blast of invisible energy that would send me through the walls, but it never came. She was calming down gradually, until her lips were parted and she was breathing normally. Then, and only then, do I shake her just enough to wake her.

“Momma?”

“No, it’s me,” I said sadly. Tears prickled in the corners of the young girls eyes, and she entered my embrace as if it were the only place she wanted to be. She cried against my nightshirt and I stroked her hair, murmuring words of comfort. I knew it would never be enough. The girl was scarred.

Scarred and so young.

"You're safe," I repeated. "Nothing is going to hurt you. I'm here, okay? I'll keep you safe. I promise."

Izzy sniffed. She peered up at me, eyes red-rimmed and puffy. She gave a small smile, saying, "And Sqweeks, to?"

"Sqweeks to. I promise," I squeezed her hand. "You don't have to be scared anymore. You don't."

Izzy nodded, wiping away a stray tear. Then, softly, she said, "Do you have nightmares, too?"

I nodded. I didn't want to reveal just how far gone I was. How lost I felt. But I didn't have to, because Izzy could see it in my eyes and my posture and how I ducked my head, looking away in embarrassment.

"They're bad, aren't they?"

"I can handle it," I said. "I've handled worse."

"Why?" Izzy asked. She peered up at me, rather dumbfounded as Sqweeks rolled over to nuzzle her thigh, relieved that she was now safe in my arms. "Why didn't you walk away? Why didn't you run, find someplace else…"

"I couldn't. Or, I felt like I couldn't. I wasn't strong on my own. I didn't want to go back to the place I was at before. I don't know. Maybe I finally felt like I had purpose," I murmured. "I think fighting was something I was meant to do…"

"I can fight, too."

I cringed, turning my head away. I could feel Izzy's gaze on me, and I said, "Izzy, you're a kid. You can't…." I shook my head, seeking a different word. "The battlefield isn't a place you need to be."

"You've seen what I can do," Izzy protested, sliding from my embrace. "I can heal people! I know how to fix bot's — I was meant to be out fighting with you guys—"

"Izzy—"

"You're not my mom," Izzy snapped. I sighed, raising my hands in a placating gesture as Sqweeks watched our exchange with those big, wide eyes.

"I know I'm not. But I want a future with you in it. You're the future, Izzy. I want you to be a part of tomorrow," I gripped the girls hand. "If something happens to me, you'll get to carry on."

"But you won't die," Izzy said firmly. "You won't."

I nodded, deciding not to say anything. The odds weren't in my favor, nor were they against it. Whatever battle we were expecting was life or death. The victor claimed all.

And are you ready for it?

Hell, no.


"I need your help," Cade approached me at breakfast the next morning. We'd both awoken rather early, and I'd decided to make my way to the kitchen where I'd found Cogman happily arranging the dishes and humming to himself. Sqweeks had followed me down and was buzzing around the kitchen.

"What do you need?" I crossed my arms. Aware that Cogman was within earshot, Cade glanced over his shoulder before deciding that the secret wasn't as important, and it didn't matter if he had an audience.

"Viviane and I are going on a date," Cade said shyly. Cogman immediately stopped, standing still like a mannequin while I gaped. "We're not leaving the castle. It's just going to be a little private thing, maybe dinner or something…shit. Look, you and Lennox are the only two here with, like, solid relationships. I haven't dated anyone since Emily. And you're a girl so…you know…you'd know what girls like."

"Back up," I raised my hands. "I need details. You can't just drop this on me so early in the morning…."

"I agree. What convinced you to ask the lady out?" Cogman pulled up a chair and sat faster than I'd ever seen anything move before. Cade and I both jumped as the robot butler sat there, arms crossed. "I can't imagine your attempts at wooing the female were all that glamorous…I'm surprised she even agreed on an outing."

"I'm a smooth talking guy, alright?" Cade snapped. "I just casually slipped it in that we should hang out and she said yes."

Cogman does have a point, for once.

"I'm happy for you, bro," I reached out and squeezed Cade's shoulder. "So you said dinner? Nice romantic candlelight…"

"Italian cuisine would suit the occasion, along with some fine red wine. Sir Burton has plenty," Cogman said, and I could practically see him making a mental list. "A shower would do you some good as well, Cade."

"Yeah," I waggled a finger. "And let me style your hair. Maybe trim the ends. I know you like it long but…gotta keep it clean."

"We want this to be just a…small, you know, secluded type of thing…nothing big. Private. Nothing extravagant," Cade explained. "Since we can't really go 'out' with me being a wanted fugitive and all…"

"Oh, don't worry. We'll make it happen," I glanced at Cogman, and he nodded. "Trust us."

What proceeded with a days worth of sparring and training and testing out whatever weapons KSI had so graciously sent us. I could tell that Izzy had ways to go with her abilities — her aim was poor and the heaviest she could lift was a car.

The entire while, Burton watched, rarely intervening. He seemed more reserved than usual, some of his banter and antics gone.

He knows something you don't.

So I asked him about it. Waltzed right up to him, drenched in sweat from William Lennox's lesson on how to perform what he called a "Decepticon kill headshot," which involved acrobats I wasn't used to. Burton raised his eyebrows when I stopped to catch my breath before speaking.

"You okay, bro?"

"I'm doing just fine, dude," Burton pressed the end of his cane into the grass, eyes focused on the sparring session before him. "Is there something you wanted?"

"Yeah," I straightened up. "You see the future, right?"

"Occasionally."

"Right, right. You know stuff before it happens…this battle. You know how it ends, right?"

"Miss Rachel, you overestimate my capabilities. I see only what the future wants me to see…I can't explain this phenomenon. I do not have some grand explanation for the finale of our great universe. Hell, I don't even know what Cogman is cooking up for dinner tonight," Burton raised a finger to quiet me when I went to interrupt. "As for the battle, however..I see casualties. Faces of dread and suffering amongst our allies."

"Am I one of them? What about Optimus?"

Burton paused for a long moment, before shrugging. I realized how useless my attempts at getting information from him was. I knew in the back of my mind that I could try linking with him, simply force the truth out of him. Morally I was against that. And realistically, I had no idea what his other ability might be, and I didn't want to find that out the hard way.

"What about Izzy?" I met Burton's gaze. "She makes it, right? Please tell me that she makes it. She has to. She…"

"She will survive," Burton said simply. "And she will survive because of you."

I nearly broke down in tears, but I kept my composure simply so I could thank Burton and head inside.

The thought of death had never struck me until now. Fear of it was what had kept me alive, but I'd never seen it as inevitable. From the way Burton had avoided the question, I could only assume that there was a chance I wouldn't survive my confrontation with Quintessa, whenever that may be.

As long as she goes first.


I patted Cade on the shoulder a little to hard. He stumbled and I apologized, swiping some displaced hair from the back of his neck. I'd sliced away at some dead ends, leaving the cut long and his hair tucked behind his ears. Then I'd practically forced him to change into something other than a heavy metal band inspired t-shirt.

"Look, I'm lazy, but even I know you have to look like you tried," I said.

"Viviane doesn't have to get dressed all fancy."

"She's Viviane, Cade. The woman is a walking magazine model. She doesn't have to try."

"Oh, and I'm not a walking magazine model?"

"Eh," I shrugged, raising my eyebrows. "You're more…Men's Fitness Magazine type.

Cade then proceeded to toss his dirty sock at my face. Our playful banter ended when a knock at the door summoned us back into reality. I opened it, standing face to face — or, really, face to breast because she was wearing a pair of high heels — with Cade's date. Her dress was black and tight, showing off her curvy figure.

For once, I didn't compare myself. Mainly because I was at my worst — jeans, a hoodie, and a face stained with the remnants of spicy cheetos.

"Your date, madame," I mock curtseyed, earning a chuckle from Viviane. I watched her and Cade disappear down the hallway, towards the dining area.

Time for Phase 2.

I rubbed my hands together, pulling back the window curtains. I was able to open the window, pushing it outwards. Bumblebee's childlike face greeted me, peering upwards.

"You ready, buddy?"

Bumblebee chirped in confirmation. I stepped onto the ledge, dropping down and landing safely against Bumblebee's shoulder. We took off around the castle, stopping only when we reached one of the two huge dining room windows.

Don't fuck this up Cade. Don't fuck this up.

I could see Viviane and Cade taking their seats, alone in the room for a second before Cogman entered. They spoke, and Bumblebee inched in closer, shrouded in the shadows as he remained as inconspicuous as possible.

Hound almost broke out cover when he slid up and nearly knocked me screaming off Bee's shoulder. Then Drift joined, then, finally, Crosshairs. All huddled around taking peeks into the room to see what was going down.

"Cade's lasting longer than I thought," Hound mumbled. "The guy must really have the moves."

"He's unpredictable, that's for sure," Crosshairs said. He narrowed his eyes, adding, "Which one of you trimmed his hair?"

"That was me," I waved a hand.

"You missed a spot."

"No I didn't. Dick," I rolled my eyes, hearing Crosshairs stifle a stupid little chuckle. I leaned forward, eager to see as Cogman brought out dinner. Viviane and Cade were still talking, and I could see Viviane laughing. That was a good sign. Cade hadn't fucked up yet.

"Tessa would be so proud of him," I chuckled. "Look at him. Dating and shit. Gosh they're both so cute."

"Humans are so strange," Crosshairs shook his head, scoffing.

"I mean, I can't really argue. Reality TV is somehow a thing," I kept my eyes on the date playing out inside. "Although this is far better—"

"Rachel! Bee!"

Izzy's voice pulled me from my trance. There was an urgency in her voice that I'd never heard before. Almost like she was begging us to come — my first thought went to a possible were under attack, somehow.

Bumblebee tore away from the window, keeping me on his shoulder. Izzy was on the opposite side of the castle courtyard, standing on a wide balcony with Lennox and Burton. She was pointing upward, prompting Bee, the following Autobots, and I to look towards the sky.

There moon was what caught our attention. There were two of them. The shining surface of our moon and the dull outline of something else, something bigger.

What the hell?

Bumblebee placed me on the balcony. Izzy immediately grabbed my arm, pulling me towards the telescope set up on the far corner. Lennox was looking on in shock while Burton seemed motionless, eyes narrowed as he stared at the hulking shape.

"Look, look," Izzy said, terrified. I did, kneeling and peering through the scope. I was met with a direct view of the moon and the shape slowly moving around it.

It was a planet.

Not a ship. Not a fleet of ships. But an entire planet.

My blood ran cold and I felt clammy, as if I were going to pass out. Even with a mediocre telescope and a limited view, I recognized Cybertron from the countless images Optimus had shown me. But now, the planet was dead and moving, tendrils of its flesh reaching towards whatever lied ahead.

Us.

I spun, finally making eye contact with Burton. There was a calm look on his face. Of course he knew — he'd known for a while what the threat was.

"You didn't say shit about fucking Cybertron coming," I snarled. "You didn't say shit. What the absolute fuck—"

"Rachel," Lennox stepped forward to intervene, but I raised a hand. That alone was enough to stop him.

Burton spun and disappeared inside. I followed, the others hot on my heels while the Autobots stood outside, watching Cybertron's approach with mixed degrees of awe and terror. Before Burton could even enter the hallway I grabbed him. He knew not to fight back, so he simply turned to face me.

"You knew," I said as calmly as possible, keeping my teeth grit. "You knew, and you didn't say shit?"

"Going into detail would have only discouraged you," Burton said softly. "You do not realize how much the world needs you, Rachel."

"No, the world needs Optimus. We're just a backup plan," I slowly removed my grip on him. "What the hell do you want us to do about that? About Cybertron? Is Izzy just supposed to use her powers and shove it back into space or something?"

"I do not know."

"What do you mean 'you don't know'?" I raised my voice. Burton did not flinch, but I saw Lennox pull Izzy away, seemingly out of instinct. "You didn't think any of this through? You didn't wonder, 'oh, maybe I should come up with some sort of, I don't know, plan to defeat this thing? Nothing?"

I squeezed his wrist harder. Burton hissed in pain, the noise drawn out. Cogman entered the room at that very moment and saw the scene, his processors, apparently, kicking into overdrive.

He lunged to protect his master. I had a split second to release Burton before the butler mech plowed into me. I raised my arm, but my movements were slow compared to Cogman's. He had me pinned against the ground, working overtime to keep me restrained as I struggled against the velvet carpet.

Viviane and Cade entered next, faces flushed.

"What the hell is going on?" Viviane exclaimed. She then noticed Cogman on the floor with me in a headlock. "What the hell—"

"It was just a misunderstanding, that's all," Burton said casually. I wanted to scream, but Cogman's arm kept my jaw shut. Burton added, "Cogman, please release the young lady."

"Are you sure?" Cogmans had me in a vice hold. "If she attempts to harm you, termination will be inevitable."

"She won't hurt me. She can't. Now let her go, Cogman."

Slowly, very slowly, Cogman eased back his hold before letting me flop down onto the carpet. Izzy helped me up, resting a palm against the small of my back. I glared at Burton, fists clenched as I slowly but surely regained my composure. Cade's eyes were darting back and forth between the two of us.

I said hollowly, "Did you see it all? Did you see Epps dying? Did you see me getting tortured by Megatron and just decide that all of it as 'motivation?'"

"What are you talking about?" Vivane interrupted. "Rachel, what—"

I stormed past her. Only Izzy followed me, sprinting to catch up. I ignored her, hastily climbing down and the stairs and pushing through the front double doors and emerging on the intricate front lawn of Burton's castle. The moon immediately caught my attention, and I could see the spherical dwarfing shape of Cybertron slowly slipping in front of the moon, like a terrifying eclipse.

Izzy grasped my arm from behind, Sqweeks at her side. The Autobots were rounding the corner, led by Hound. As they approached I took a moment to try and calm my nerves and quell the rage within me. Rage towards Burton. Towards Quintessa. And a very, very small portion towards Optimus, for leaving me in this mess.

"You can't leave."

"I'm not leaving. I just couldn't take the bullshit," I grimaced as Izzy clutched my arm, "I had to get out."

"What are we going to do?" Izzy said fearfully. Sqweek's chirped, and I reached down to place my palm against the top of his head. Hound's heavy footsteps stopped before us. He knelt down, hefting his gun over his shoulder.

"Right now? We get the frag out of here," Hound craned his neck, pointing past the gates and down the long, winding driveway leading towards the main road. I could see the flickering of blue, white and red in the distance drawing closer and closer. Gravely, Hound said, "We've got Con's."

The front doors opened once more. This time is was Burton who stepped out, with the others hot on his heels. I heard Cade curse as he kept his eyes trained on the hulking, planet-sized disaster in the sky.

"Shit. Shit, shit," I glanced around, once again wishing for Optimus' leadership right about now. "Shit—"

"We can take them!" Izzy exclaimed. "We can fight—"

"No," Cade snapped, and I nodded my head in agreement. Cade slung his bag over his shoulder as the Autobots transformers, glancing around at our little group. "Absolutely not."

"We'll fight another day, Izzy," I added.

"I'm sick of running. I want to stay, and I want to fight them. They killed Canopy—"

Muttering a curse under my breath, I stopped Izzy by gripping her shoulders, bending so I could be eye level with the younger girl. I reached up and wiped away one of her stray tears with the pad of my thumb, saying quietly, "Izabella. Listen. We can't risk you or anyone else getting hurt. I can't risk you getting hurt, okay? Now is not the time to fight. Now is the time to retreat and deal with the giant planet hurtling through space towards us. Okay?"

"Let's go," Crosshairs chimed, revving his engine. Izzy's face fell, but nonetheless, she nodded.

"Okay."

Chapter Text

 

 Cade began barking orders immediately. "Split up. We'll regroup at…uh…London Tower or something."

Real specific, Cade.

"Tourist," I heard Cogman murmur, before he joined Burton, sliding into Drift's passengers seat. They took off, making a sharp left and swerving past Barricade. With a quick hug and a little push, I sent Izzy and Sqweeks with Vivian and Crosshairs while Hound took it upon himself to snatch away Lennox, leaving Cade, Bee and I.

"They want both of us. That's what they're after," I breathed. Bumblebee sped off without even closing his doors first, only doing so when he narrowly avoided a collision with Onslaught. The air was filled with the squeal of tires as the Decepticons on the ground were force to re-route. I saw no sign of Megatron.

Yet.

"Because of this thing?" Cade gripped the talisman slithering across his arm. He glanced over at me as I braced a hand on Bee's dashboard, not used to the fact that I was currently inside a car going at least a hundred miles per hour. "What the hell is even going on?"

"Cybertron is currently floating towards out atmosphere," I said as calmly as possible. "And Megatron wants us dead. A typical day, really."

Bumblebee entered the busy streets of London, not bothering to slow. I glanced in the mirror and saw Barricade giving chase, sirens on at full blast. The police cruiser was gaining on us, weaving through traffic with frightening precision. 

"He's right on my ass!"

"Then speed it up, Bee," Cade barked. He fumbled with his bag, pulling out one of KSI's guns. He held it, fingers trembling, almost like he didn't know whether or not to use it.

"Are you going to shoot that thing or not?" I yelped, my head nearly slamming against Bee's window as he did a full 180 with Barricade in tow. He bolted down an alleyway, and screaming pedestrians scurried to get out of his way.

Oh, hey, there's Buckingham Palace—

We darted past and the thought left my mind as quickly as it had come. We'd put some distance between us and the Decepticon, Barricade having been knocked off course a bit as two taxis collided.

"Viviane called this thing a 'bubble gun,'" Cade said cautiously. "And I don't know what it does."

"It is a gun, right?" I shouted over the sound of carnage. "As in, it makes things explode?"

"I guess, I mean, I don't know—"

A chorus of other sirens joined Barricade. The local police had entered the scene, pursuing the two Cybertronians. I wasn't worried about being caught — Barricade and Bee were faster and stronger. The cops only provided additional casualties to an already explosive and deadly chase.

Let's make it deadlier.

"We really shouldn't try this," Cade said. "This is not a good idea-"

"Take the shot, man!"

"Listen to Bee," I looked over my shoulder, my view ripped away as Bumblebee spun once again, this time stopping so that the passengers side —my side — was lined up with Barricade's form as it sped towards us. Cade only had about six seconds to make a decision.

"Uh, Cade. Honorable Knight. Do something."

"Shit," Cade fumbled with the gun before aiming, brows furrowed. Barricade transformers, sprinting, simply intending to just ram us as the police followed close behind. And Cade was concentrating. Oh, boy, was he concentrating.

"Cade!"

He fired. The buckshot, the blue beam of light, whizzed past my head and out the open window. I half-expected Barricade to be blown to smithereens, but instead he and the half dozen cop cars on his tail were blown into the air as if they'd been lifted by an invisible string, along with parked cars, pedestrians, street signs, asphalt…everything. The bubble stretched across several meters of space, sending everything it engulfed flying. And they just floated.

I could see the terrified expressions of men and women as they were pulled from their chairs. Barricade's entire body left the ground but his eyes were wide with shock. I raised my middle finger as Bumblebee sped off towards the Tower of London.

"Oh, man," Cade gasped and stared at the gun. "This thing is wicked."

"Give it to Viviane, since your date was ruined," I chuckled, but Cade looked at me as if I were serious. As if I'd just come up with a great idea.

Good. He should listen to me for once.

Bumblebee skidded to a halt amongst scattering city citizens, transforming without a care as to who saw. I looked around the chaos and saw Crosshairs pull into view. The moment Izzy emerged, I sprinted towards her, only to be grasped by Cade.

An explosion that shook the ground beneath my feet sent us sprawling. Cade waved a hand, his words cut short by the furious thrum of Hound unloading bullet after bullet at Megatron, who was perched atop the middle tower of the ancient, stone fortress.

"I'll cover ya'! Get inside and to the top!"

"Where's Burton and Cogman?" I shouted.

"Inside," Hound replied. "Now go, go, go."

So much for "not fighting."The tower was now a battlezone. I ushered Viviane and Lennox past me, reaching for Izzy. She backpedaled, shouting in Spanish for Sqweeks to follow. The little bot was scared, darting through the throng of fleeing bystanders.

"Tower defense time, boys!" Hound roared, dodging a missile from Megatron and inadvertently sending it hurtling towards us. Brick and concrete flew just as Sqweeks made it to Izzy. We shuffled through the main entrance and onto the grass. The interior of the place was quieter, but no less hectic. The White Tower was our destination, but less than halfway there we were forced to scatter as Mohawk and Nitro Zeus dropped from the stone walls.

"What's up, bitch?" Mohawk crowed, walking up on me as if he hadn't a care in the world. He was a foot taller than me but, unlike Beserker, lanky and lean. I wasn't prepared, however, for the fact that he actually knew how to fight.

The realization hit me, literally. He spun and his foot caught me in the jaw, another blow landing against my ribcage. I flailed and landed several feet away, hearing Viviane's terrified scream.

I ain't dead yet.

I righted myself as Mohawk came at me again. This time, I was prepared, and able to parry his furious assault with flying fists. We got into a certain rhythm but quickly ended when Mohawk used the momentum from one of my particularly hard punches to spin and land a hard kick to my chest. I landed on my back, leg in the air.

Where the fuck is the Knight Ship?

There was no way I'd allow Mohawk to beat me. No way. I rolled over and got a glimpse of Cade and Izzy evading attacks from Nitro Zeus.

I hopped up. Blocked a punch from Mohawk and delivered one that popped one of his optics out of his socket. He was fast, but certainly not durable. Each hit I landed was crucial.

"You stupid slutty cunt—"

I reared back and slammed my forehead against him. Mohawk stumbled back, dazed, and I thought I had an opportunity, so I seized it. Mohawk was still fast enough to evade. The knee I took to the gut nearly caused me to vomit, but I sucked in a breath and fought through it.

What was that cool move Optimus taught you?

Oh yeah. The one where you grab his head and slam it against your knee.

Licking the blood from my busted lip, I gave Mohawk the most devilish glare I could muster before doing just that. Gripping his helm and bringing his down, hard, against my raised knee. His other optic popped out and he bellow, releasing a stream of energon from his mouth. He fell to his knees, gurgling, and I lined up the shot and booted his head clean from his shoulders with one final kick. It twirled and landed the grass several meters away, leaving his torso a sparking, sputtering mess.

I stood, staring in a bit of a daze. It was Viviane who yanked me back into the real world by darting past and attempting to tug me with her. I stumbled, eyes going to the dark shape now looming over the tower.

"C'mon!" Cade shouted. "Hound! Bumblebee! Let's go!"

"Decepticon's retreat!" I heard Megatron bellow.

"Tower defense is over, dickheads!" Hound bellowed. "Let's get the hell out of here."


Megatron and his thugs retreated, and we boarded the Knight Ship with little disturbances, save for the helicopters, both news and military, soaring overhead. They, too, fell back by the time we'd headed down the River Thames and towards the English Channel and, finally, out over open water. We were safe then, I knew.

We were monitoring Cybertron like hawks. From Burton's prediction, we had about two days before the planet reached Earth and, well…did whatever it was going to do. Devour us? Crush us? Not knowing was the worst part.

"Was Quintessa in a separate ship when you saw her?" I asked. Cane clicking against the ground as he walked, Burton was practically ignoring me. I glared at him, and then Cogman, who walked by his side. "We need as much information as possible about what you saw. Is Quintessa in a separate ship? Is she coming here?"

"There is no ship. Quintessa controls the planet from within a control chamber," Burton said simply. "That is our key to defeating her."

"Easier said than done," I mumbled, running fingers through my hair. "Was Optimus there?"

"No," Burton's eyes narrowed, though the expression wasn't directed at me. He held it for a moment, tilting his head to the side before his eyes widened. Cogman watched, taking a proactive stance. As quickly as he'd slipped into his little dissociation, Burton snapped back to the real world. "He is here."

"Who?"

"Optimus Prime. He is here, on Earth. I saw him," Burton said hoarsely. "Somehow."

He's searching for you.

I dismissed the thought. Burton didn't seem overjoyed. In fact, he seemed disturbed and, for some reason, so did I. I said slowly, "I can't feel him. The link is still dead. If he's escaped why isn't he coming to me?"

"I don't know," Burton blinked several times. Regaining his composure, he turned and began heading for the cockpit, walking briskly. I followed as he huffed, "But it does not rub me the right way. Not at all."

"Same."

"You agree with me for once," Burton smirked. "A sight I never thought I'd see."

I stifled a snort, simply shrugging. Hound was seated, in command of the ship. The others were lounging around, and immediately perked up when Burton, Cogman and I entered.

"We have a problem. Sort of," Cogman announced, glancing at Burton. Before he could get out a word, Viviane closed the notebook she'd been scribbling in.

"We have something, too," she said. Her look was less serious than Burton's, and I prayed it was something along the lines of "we found out that Lockdown was a really big fan of fast food and had a joint installed deep within the ship." of course, it wasn't that, but I still gestured for her to go first just in case.

"We picked up a strong signal off the coast of Wales. If it is what I think it is…"

"What do you think it is?"

Viviane looked embarrassed, but then stifled it and said, "My father was particularly obsessed with an ancient legend depicting a…a creature emerging from the water during the Dark Ages. Fighting in battles. And then going back to the sea where it had come," Viviane paused. "The story is absurd. My father, of course, believed it to be an alien…"

"It could be that monster or it could be Optimus," I turned to the others. "He's here. Burton said Optimus is back on Earth. What if that signal is him? What if he crashed and is hurt…"

"It was a pretty strong signal. Could Prime, especially if his communications are down," Hound said. "No harm in checking it out."

"It could be something completely different," Viviane said. "My father was a believer in myths and legends he…he dedicated his life to it but he was never sure."

"He passed that knowledge down to you," Burton replied. "Which is why you are here. Your fathers works is alive through you."

"Never thought of it that way," Viviane hummed. I clambered up the pilots seat, standing on the armrest as the ship sped across open water. A voice absently called across the room.

"We're going to have to dive," Lennox said as he cleaned his weapons. "Are there any wetsuits? Oxygen tanks?"

Yes," Drift replied, leaning against the wall. "Lockdowns ship was infested with organic and inorganic creatures alike. Some needed breathing apparatuses, others did not. There are supplies one could salvage."

"Sqweeks and Cade and I can do that," Izzy said confidently. "I can fix stuff. And Cade's an inventor."

Cade nodded, but it was hesitant. "Yeah, yeah. We can grab some stuff. I've been on this ship before…I know where stuff is. Sort of. Well, Tessa was on it longer."

Sensing Cade's uneasiness, Burton called out to him. "Cade. I don't know if this will calm your nerves, but your daughter is safe. I ensured that an Autobot named Hot Rod followed her for protection."

Cade rubbed his tired eyes, gulping and nodding. My heart fluttered at Burton's words, and for the first time, a deep pressure was lifted away.

"Thank you," Cade murmured. We watched him disappear around the corner with Izzy.

"Rachel," Burton said softly, turning to me. His voice was lowered so that those idling couldn't hear. There was a sadness in his voice I'd never heard before. "I did not foresee you being brutally tortured by Megatron, nor did I foresee the senseless slaughter of Robert Epps and his family. I swear to you. Had I known, I would have done everything in my power to prevent it."

"Bad things happen," his apology didn't stick with me. Not because I was insensitive or because I thought he wasn't being sincere. I appreciated it.

You are so used to pain.

"They do, indeed. I hope you understand my reasons for keeping Cybertron's arrival a secret. The Earth needs people like you. You and Cade Yeager are our only hope," Burton said seriously. "Everything you've done in your lives has led up to this."

"I'm not used to being important," I said hollowly. "Because I'm not."

"You have always been important. I'm sure Optimus Prime would agree."

"He's told me before. I just…I haven't been able to take it in. I wasn't in the right state of mind to believe it," I lowered my gaze to the floor. "I'm still not. I'm fighting because I want to save my world and I want to save him. If that makes me important, I'm okay with that."

"You're a remarkable young woman. I've had quite the time with you," Burton smiled, and I allowed him to give my shoulder a little pat. "Now, I believe we have a signal to investigate."

"Hell fragging yeah we do," Hound tilted his head back, gesturing for us to join him near the pilots seat. Burton and I did, standing by his side and peering out the cockpit. Proudly, Hound said, "Hold onto your afts. I've never tried this feature before," he began fiddling with some buttons. I didn't recognize the scrawling text speeding across the screen before us. I could tell that Hound was maneuvering the craft lower and lower, allowing it to skim across the ocean floor.

"Sub mode," Drift said eagerly.

Oh.

"Let's close everything up," Hound reached up and yanked a dangling chain, peering around as the ship began to rumble and seal, leaving no open space exposed. I gripped the plating on Hounds arm, glancing around as he finally allowed the ship to begin sinking beneath the waves. We began sinking lower and lower, sunlight disappearing. Hound switched to artificial lighting then, illuminating the ocean around us. The more the ship descended the more nervous I became. This was deep. Really, really deep, with no end in sight.

"The data pad says that we should be close," Crosshairs said. He glanced down at Viviane and added, "Did your father give any details about this 'creature' or where it might live?"

"He said it went into the ocean," Viviane said softly. "I don't know."

"That's helpful," Crosshairs rolled his eyes. "Hound, go ahead and scan the area."

"Already have. Found something you all might like," Hound began easing the ship forward, but still descending. Fish flew by, and for a while I could only see particles floating in the water. As Hound angled the ship I finally got a look at the bottom of the coral filled ocean. I didn't have time to observe the wildlife, unfortunately. My eyes were focused on the murky shape ahead.

"That's definitely one of ours," Hound said gravely, pointing the lights at the hulking, dark shape ahead. "Looks like…transport ship. Not a fighter. Definitely not as big as this fragger," he knocked against the armrest.

"Holy shit," Viviane breathed. I pulled her onto the armrest with me. We gawked at the jagged ship that had been taken over by nature. Coral grew around it, barnacles nesting against its surface. The shape and color gave it away, but other than that, it looked as if it belonged, half buried beneah the sand.

"This is the best I could do," Cade and Izzy entered the room. Cade held up full body, black wetsuit made of a matte material, while Izzy toted along a crudely put together oxygen tank and mask.

Ghetto scuba diving. My favorite.

"The suit we found, the rest…not so much. But it'll work."

"I feel bad for the lucky volunteer," Crosshairs said. I smirked, glancing out the cockpit once more. Hound was idling within a safe distance of the sunken ship, with good reason. I had no clue what was in there. The part of me that believed it to be Optimus desperately wanted to just grab the suit and go, but I knew it would be impractical.

"I'll go," Lennox said. Cade went to hand him the suit, but it was Drift who stopped him.

"No. Bad idea," Drift glanced around, not expecting our silence. He sighed and explained, "We are over two thousand meters deep. The pressure would crush you," he pointed at Lennox. "It would crushall of you."

Oh, boy.

"Not me," I said. Drift raised an eyebrow and I looked around. "I'm the only human here that it wouldn't crush."

"She is extremely durable," Drift said, nodding. I saw Cade give a defeated sigh, as if the realization was too much for him. Like he really, really, really didn't want me going.

"If Optimus is in there, I'll bring him back," I gingerly took the wetsuit from Cade.

"Don't go alone," Cade said firmly.

"I volunteer as tribute!" Bumblebee immediately raised his hand, beating Crosshairs to it, and I didn't hesitate to nod. Not even caring about modesty, I stripped to my undergarments and slid on the mock neoprene outfit. Hound began inching the Knight Ship closer while I was led to the escape trunk, staring down at the murky water. I was practically holding onto Cade as Bumblebee crouched behind me, offering me his hand. I obeyed, having to tear myself away from Cade's comforting grip as I latched onto Bumblebee's shoulder.

"You'll be fine. Just check it out and then come back," Cade reached up to adjust the small waterproof pack around my waist. Within the pouches were a flashlight and, as Cade had insisted, one of his guns. Just in case. I prayed I wouldn't have to use it.

I was all hooked up, and I shot Izzy one final look before Bumblebee dove into the water. I took several breaths as bubbles rose around me, finally settling. When I looked up I saw the bottom of the massive Knight Ship.

I kept a firm grip on Bee as he hit the sea floor. The pressure was a bit bothersome — my muscles were working instinctively, and I could feel a slight twinge, but it was nothing compared to what a normal human would have felt. They would have popped like a balloon immediately.

I spared a glance behind me and could clearly see Hound's shape in the cockpit. He maneuvered the light towards the ship's entrance, and I gave him a thumbs up, hoping he could see. Bumblebee's pedes were kicking up dirt, disrupting peaceful coral. The trek to the crashed ship wasn't long, but in my mind, it felt like miles. By the time we reached the ship my fingers were beginning to cramp, and I was relieved when Bumblebee entered the airlock and, as it was drained, I was discarded against cool metal.

The thing was still, well, active. That came as a shock. The exterior betrayed the interior. I shakily got my feet, removing my goggles and mask and letting them dangle around my neck. Without the crushing pressure, I was able to move quicker and easier. The tank of my back weighed nothing to me.

"Shit," I breathed, running fingers through my wet hair. I tilted my head to look at Bumblebee — the Autobot was peering around, just as in awe as I was. I hadn't been inside any other ship before, and I'd almost forgotten that, well, Lockdown didn't have the best interior design taste. This ship felt far more ancient and run down than the Knight Ship. The walls were dripping, wires hanging from the ceiling. The water had only drained to the bottom of my knees, though to Bumblebee, that wasn't a big deal.

We began walking, conscious of every drip of water or groan of the ship. Bumblebee flipped on his own light, and I did the same.

"I have no idea where we're going," I breathed, keeping my voice down. I had no idea what creepy critters resided in here, organic and inorganic, and I didn't want to disturb them.

The long hallway eventually ended, leaving us at the mouth. Before us was room, possibly the main area of the half-buried ship. Bumblebee and I both were able to flick our lights off, for the place was illuminated by bioluminescent, spherical lights dangling from the ceiling.

Well, technoluminescent.

The things were alive. I could see them scurrying along the ceiling with eight metal legs. They reminded me of spiders, with their small heads and massive torsos. Torsos that happened to light up, turning the water and walls blue. Had they not been alive and a possible threat, I would have been able to appreciate their beauty.

"Shit, Bee," I stepped forward, moving slowly so not to somehow trigger the creatures. Despite the little splash I made, the creatures paid me no mind and just scurried around, feasting on barnacles.

Stop.

I froze. My instincts had jerked me back. I didn't move a muscle and neither did be, because he saw it, too.

Curled up in the left corner of the room, was a three headed metal dragon. It's leathery wings engulfed most of its body, but I could see the three identical, horned heads. The blue creatures were crawling across it, picking at it, gnawing off barnacles.

The thing was in stasis, I knew. It's optics were blank and it was so, so still. Had I known better, I would have thought that it was dead.

I didn't dare speak a word, though I knew my soft voice probably wouldn't wake it up. The closer I looked, the less intimidating it became.

Probably because it's in stasis.

There was no way I was going to even attempt and wake that thing up, and Bee seemed to thing the same. He steered clear of it, moving behind me, gun drawn out of sheer terror. We began whispering when we realized that the creature was in as deep of a stasis as it could possibly go, creeping towards the next hallway.

"This way," I murmured. Bee began to follow.

We didn't make it. Heavier footsteps and splashes of water could be heard barreling through the ship. I immediately grabbed my gun and Bumblebee raised his blasters, training it on the dark shape emerging from the shadows, prepared to fire.

I nearly dropped my gun.

"Optimus?"

Chapter Text

 

He's here.

Bumblebee lowered his blaster. Not feeling the burst of emotion from him, however, startled me almost immediately. He looked at me like he didn't know who I was. Like he didn't care. His battle mask was on and his weapons were drawn. For a moment I could only stare in shock and confusion.

His optics were purple.

"Optimus," I said raggedly, overcome with sheer joy that he was standing before me. Maybe he was just disoriented. It was understandable — Quintessa had hurt him. Broken him, just as Megatron had broken me. Even though his optics were purple, I could see the pain in them. I said, staggering through the water and across the room, "Optimus. Say something. It's me. Are you okay? Where's Quintessa?"

Still nothing through the bond. I was still blocked from linking with him.

That was a sign, but I ignored it.

Stupid!

Optimus' sword came down, splashing through the water. It landed about a foot away to my side, sending water droplets flying.

"Optimus!"

"Do not come any closer, human, or I will kill you."

Hearing him speak those words was like a slap in the face. I stepped back, raising my eyebrows as Bumblebee hovered over me protectively. I'd never seen the scout so rigid in my entire life.

"What is wrong with you?" I said, aghast. Those purple optics were bothering me. It wasn't him. Those optics weren't his. "What did she do to you?"

Optimus rose, sword still in hand. His focus shifted to the sleeping dragon. The moment he took a step forward I countered, sliding in front of him with Bumblebee still on my heels in a protective stance. I snarled, "Orion Pax. What are you doing? Talk to me. What did Quintessa do to you?"

Optimus stopped. He blinked. I couldn't see his expression due to his battle mask, and those optics of his were foreign. He took in the scene, not making a move.

Then, a fire erupted from him that I'd never seen before. Bumblebee, quick on his feet, had to grab me and move me before Prime's sword could slice me in half.

We both landed in the water. Bumblebee wasted no time in firing several shots, searing away Prime's armor and distracting him from the dragon. The gun was still in my hand, but I was in shock and couldn't fire. I could fire at anything. Anything but him.

What is wrong with him?

I knelt over, squeezing my eyes shut and trying to link with him. Nothing. It was like a firewall preventing me from seeing even the faintest glimpse of his mind.

"Time to go," Bumblebee scooped me up before I had a chance to do anything else. Optimus' sword grazed him, slicing away one of his door wings. My fingers fumbled with the mask and goggles. I only got them halfway on before they we flooded with water, leaving me sucking in salt and barely any air.

It didn't matter. I held onto Bumblebee.

No, no, no.

No!

We frantically entered the Knight Ship. Cade and Viviane were there to tug me from the water. I sputtered and coughed, wiping my swollen eyes. Bumblebee emerged a second later, with no sign of Optimus.

"What the hell just happened?" Cade exclaimed. My lungs burned and talking was a pain.

I was able to gasp out a few phrases. "Optimus came…there's a dragon," I dry heaved, finally stopping after a few seconds. "He tried to attack us."

"What? Optimus Prime? Tried to attack you?"

"Yes," I snapped at Cade. "Yes. Him," I found myself hyperventilating. "Him. He's back but it wasn't him, Cade. It wasn't him. That wasn't Optimus. He would never—"

The ship shuddered. All of us turned and a silver shape burst through the door

"There's been a breach," Cogman skidded to a halt. "Water. In the weapons room."

Another shudder, followed by an explosion from down the hallway. Then another.

"He's shooting at us," I breathed, rising to my feet. "Why is he shooting at us?"

"I don't know, but we have to go," Cade tugged on my arm. For as second I didn't move. It was his determined yell that finally motivated my legs to start moving. "Rachel, if we stay here, we're dead! We have to go!"

We ran.

You're not strong enough.

The ship was beginning to rise. I could feel it. But I had no idea how much time we had.

"Where's Sqweeks and Izzy?" I screamed through the sound of rushing, spraying water. "Cogman!"

The ship lurched forward. A massive swell of water hit us from behind. The oxygen tank was ripped from my back, the mask and googles flying from around my neck. Bumblebee tumbled past me, and I saw Cade and Viviane clutched in his hands. My head was submerged as I flipped head over heels beneath the water. When I rose, Bumblebee was trying to fight the current and backtrack so he could grab me as well. Viviane's arm was outstretched, reaching.

It was no use. I was pulled under and slammed hard against a wall, the wind knocked out of me. Bumblebee and the others were swept away while I was pinned.

"Grab my arm, Miss!" Cogman had one hand digging into a groove in the wall, the others extended towards me. I lunged, latching on as he pulled me above the water. We were both small enough tot take advantage of the textured walls, hanging from the little nooks and crannies.

The water beneath us was rising. I had no clue which parts of the ship were safe and which weren't.

Well, you know right here isn't safe. Start there.

"Cogman, you can breathe," I shouted over the roar of water. "Go find the others."

"I will not. My master would be distraught if I abandoned you," Cogman replied. "We are in this together. There is a small passage just to your right — move towards it! Quickly, before it fills!"

I nodded, shuffling towards the gap in the wall. I had to duck down and army crawl, but I was able to fit, as was Cogman. I could hear his elbows banging against the metal as he followed.

We dropped onto damp ground. I glanced around, getting a hold of my bearings. I knew the Knight Ship well, and I could tell that we were nowhere near the cockpit. Nowhere near Hound and, hopefully, everyone else.

Shit.

A massive noise akin to a thunderclap sounded, reverberating throughout the entire ship. Then another. And another. Water began spewing from the ceiling, like an out of control garden hose. I grabbed Cogman's arm and gestured for him to follow,

Get us to the surface, Hound. Please. Drowning is not the way I want to go!

As we ran, I huffed, "You ever seen the movie Titanic, Cogman?"

"I don't believe I have."

Optimus and I are going to be like Jack and Rose. Except for the Jack in this version is the iceberg.

"Good movie. Very similar to this," we both skidded to a halt. The thunderous claps we heard had been water, huge waves of us. Like the one coming towards us.

We went left, into a narrow, narrow passage. The force of the wave was still enough to send us bouncing and twirling until we came to a stop against another wall at the end of the passage, hitting so hard that for a brief moment I blacked out. The powerful current was pinning us, and even with my strength, it was difficult to move.

"Nice of you to join me."

I opened my eyes. Cogman was braced behind me, peering over my shoulder. The wrinkled face staring through the fist sized hole was Burton.

Shit.

"Edmund!" I cried. Those dark eyes seemed calmer than they should have been. Water lapped at my elbows, and I hoisted myself up the wall to be able to look at him clearer. "Are you okay?"

"My leg seems to be in a non-functioning state however, the rest of me is just peachy."

"Where are you, Sir?" Cogman grunted. He squeezed past me. "We shall come rescue you at once!"

"Impossible. That's impossible," Burton sighed. He was still calm, but there was a heaviness in his voice. I knew immediately that the situation wasn't good. The water was rising. "There's no escape from this room. I am trapped."

"I can tear this wall down," I stammered, though even I knew that would be impossible. Despite all my strength the walls of the Knight Ship were two feet thick and made of material not many could break through.

I slammed my fist against the wall. It didn't even tremble.

"We're getting you out—"

"No, you are not," Burton said, craning his neck so he could still talk. The water was at our chins. "No matter how remarkable you may be, this is fate."

"Sir," Cogman whimpered. It came out as a plea. "Do not make this mistake—"

"Cogman," Burton wheezed. "You are to serve Miss Rachel and her family until she states otherwise. That is your final command."

"Sir—" Cogman croaked, palms splayed against the ships wall. Craning my neck was beginning to hurt as I strained to stay above water, droplets slipping past my lips.

"You have been a true companion, Cogman. And Rachel," he began choking on water, and I could barely hear him. "You have a job to do."

I slipped beneath the water. I pounded on the wall, opening my eyes. Despite the sting of the sea water, I could make out Burton's figure.

He is not dying. No, no, no.

I scratched at the wall. Hit it. Yanked on the wires lining the structure, until Cogman's arms encircled me and I could only scream as I was tugged away. My lungs screamed for air as Cogman slammed shoulder first into a dead end. Instead of going forward, he went up, legs kicking furiously as I held on for dear life.

There was about three inches of air left as we surfaced, our heads banging against the ceiling of the ship. Lips parted, I began blindly searching for the hatch. There had to be one close —

"We're surfacing," Cogman bellowed through the roar of the waves.

We weren't surfacing fast enough. I was submerged once more, fists slamming away at the steel above me. If I could break it, we'd be free. If I could break it, I'd live. I'd get to see Izzy and Optimus and Cade—

Stay awake!

I was slipping. I saw Cogman's outline reach for me, but it was too late. I couldn't breathe. My lungs were about to burst…

I was tugged from the water in one fluid motion. My insides burned and I was left gasping, soaked to the bone. My trembling fingers began grasping at any surface — I felt a metal arm and a human arm. I gagged and vomited up water. When I lifted my head, Cade was speaking. Shouting. I was to disoriented to hear what he was saying as he shook me, fingers digging into my skin.

"….Where's Optimus? Why did he attack us — Rachel! Rachel, hold on, listen," Cade, too, was shaking. My eyes steadily rose to the sky.

"Oh my God."

Cybertron was here. I was looking at it — it's tendrils stretched for miles and miles, masses of its metal surface the size of mountains dragging across the land, demolishing anything in its path. It was engulfing us, slowly but surely.

"Look at me," Cade shouted, and his voice was as clear as a bell. "What's wrong with Optimus? Why did he attack us?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know? He's your boyfriend you have to know. You're bonded with him—"

"I don't know, Cade! I didn't feel him! I don't know," I shouted, eyes stinging. I didn't know if it was from the salt water or from my tears. I steeled myself, glancing around, eyes landing on Crosshairs' crouched form and William and Viviane, huddled together behind Cade. The Knight Ship was now bobbing in the water, and I had no idea how much damage had been done to the vessel. And I didn't see Optimus. Or Izzy. Or Cogman. Or anyone else.

"Burton is gone," I wheezed. "I don't know about anyone else. I didn't see them—"

"Incoming!"

Lennox's bellow came just a second late. The concussive force of the missile sent Cade and I flying. The second struck Crosshairs and tossed him over the edge and into the water, out of sight.

Cade and I tumbled, landing hard. The moment I looked up I saw the source of the missiles — Optimus, stalking forward with those purple eyes and his sword drawn. He ignored Viviane and Lennox as they rose to their feet.

"Optimus," I sputtered. "Don't—"

Cade drew his weapon and fired. The shot caught Optimus on the shoulder and though it knocked him back for a second, he still continued. Only a smaller, but much more effective yellow shape sent him off balance. Cade and I were left lying stunned as Bumblebee furiously began pounding Prime's head into the steel surface beneath us.

"Bee!"

I watched in horror as Optimus gained the upper hand and slammed the little scout against the floor. Viviane and Lennox were in the midst of it, struggling to escape.

"Go get your girlfriend," I breathed, rising as I felt a familiar intrusion in my mind. "I'll deal with Quintessa."

"Quintessa?" Cade blinked, before scowling. "Also, Viviane isn't my girlfriend."

I smirked and Cade returned the gesture, eyes lingering. The moment he took off towards the others, Quintessa emerged like some avenging devil, just meters in front of me. She looked the same as she had in my mind, but this time, I could see my reflection in her metal body. This wasn't a dream.

"What did you do to him?" I growled, pacing myself. I couldn't bring myself to lunge just yet. Not when she was the only potential key to saving Optimus.

"I made him better. I made him mine," Quintessa purred. "Nemesis Prime."

 

 

Chapter Text

"That's a stupid name. Nemesis Prime."

Apparently, Quintessa didn't take the insult well. She moved far faster and sooner than I'd anticipated, mouth open as she snarled, revealing jagged rows of teeth. We were roughly the same height. She was made of metal with hands that I'd once believed to be delicate, but were being used to choke me mercilessly.

The only thing that really saved me was the wreckage of the ISS tumbling as a fiery meteorite from the sky, skimming the Knight Ship and plunging into the water. The ensuing wave and the sheer force rocked the ship, jarring everyone. Quintessa was pulled away, knocked to the side as Bumblebee utilized the sudden tilt to assist me by hitting Quintessa with his foot

Water washed over me once more, filling my nostrils as I slid across the smooth alien metal of the ship. I heard Viviane scream in pain and fear, saw Cade and Lennox both, arms flailing, trying to gain their footing against the slippery surface beneath them. I came to a stop in a shallow pool and had a minute to recuperate before Quintessa was on me again. This time, however, I was prepared.

Her punch still hurt. Hell, it hurt more than Beserker's attacks. My forearm rose to protect my face but even then, the impact was like I'd been hit my a car, and my own retaliating strike simply made Quintessa flinch.

She's stronger than you.

"Tragic," Quintessa murmured. Her next strike came before I could even blink. I landed on my back — I never recalled falling. The moment I got to my feet hot, sticky blood began pouring from my busted nose, the bitter tasting liquid staining my lips red.

I charged Quintessa like a bull. We collided and I could hear her snarling, bracing metal feet against the ground. I managed to knee her in the gut three times before an open-palmed smack to my chest sent me reeling. I sputtered, staggering as I choked on air. My ribs were broken.

And Quintessa was smiling. Rolling her shoulders as if working away a kink in her neck.

I lunged again, slower, but with more ferocity than ever before. My recklessness ended up costing me and Quintessa was able to dodge the attack with very little effort. I was vaguely aware of her small hand grabbing my arm and twisting it hard behind my back —

She snapped the limb like a dried twig, twisting to the point that I could see the jagged chunk of bone straining against my skin, threatening to break through. The screams I let out were inhuman and vibrated around my skull. In a last ditch effort to keep her from pretty much tearing my arm clean off, I wildly flung my free elbow back and caught her in the face.

There's your chance!

Quintessa stumbled back, dazed. I got my hand around her, pinning her beneath me. My injured arm hung loosely at my side while my free hand began whaling away at the smooth, contoured planes of her face. The impact split the skin on my knuckles.

She wasn't dying. I hit her again and again and again until she let out a muffled cry. Regardless of the thundering footsteps approaching from the side, I kept smashing my bloody fist against her head in hopes that she would break.

Optimus' plated foot knocked me off Quintessa. Up became down and down became up — I spun like a top several meters before landing hard on my throbbing limb.

"Nemesis!" Quintessa bellowed. "Kill her!"

My screaming did not deter Optimus. He thundered across the top of the Knight Ship, sword raised to deliver the killing blow that never came. Bumblebee launched himself into the air, both feet off the ground, and knocked Optimus away just as Cade slid down by my side.

"Knight," Quintessa snarled. She flew, claws preparing to slash down upon Cade. Metal screeched against metal as Cade raised his arm, the transforming talisman shielding his skin from the blow. I lashed out with a kick that sent Quintessa reeling, and she began to retreat, overwhelmed and injured.

Optimus was on a murderous rampage, swinging Bumblebee around like he weighed nothing, and Cade and I were in the middle of it. I could barely crawl with my injured arm and I didn't want to. I couldn't fall back.

Not yet. Not without him.

Bumblebee landed mere inches away from us. We were caught between his head and his shoulder, and we were forced to use his armor for support. Optimus had him pinned, and for the first time, I got a good, albeit brief, look at my mate's face as I held onto Cade like a lifeline.

All I saw were those purple, disgusting optics. It was horrifying. I wanted to vomit, and it wasn't because I could see my own bone poking through the flesh of my arm.

"Don't do this," I croaked. His retractable arm blade was the only thing he had left, and it's sharpened tip slid past Bumblebee's battle mask, nearly impaling Cade through the chest. I reached for it, having no idea what I intended to do if I managed to get it — disarm him? Hold him back? I wasn't strong enough for that.

You aren't strong enough for anything.

"Prime! Stop!" Cade roared. "Stop!"

Optimus tore Bumblebee's battle mask away. His optics landed on me, purple orbs shuttering, almost as if they were pleading for help. He angled his blade towards me, not Bumblebee. Optimus was struggling against whatever Quintessa was telling him to do, his sheer will so powerful that it caused his entire frame to tremble. But it was to late.

He'd kill me. Then Bee. Then Cade. Everyone.

"Don't," I whimpered. "No."

Something threw itself in front of us. Things moved to fast for me to really gauge what was going on. But I didn't feel the blade, and the splash of energon against my wetsuit didn't belong to me, or Bee, or Optimus.

It belonged to Crosshairs.

That stupid, smug, smirking face was staring down at me, despite the blade jutting from his chassis. It was like some revolting freeze frame out of a horror film, but I couldn't look away.

"Oi, fleshyRachel. Tell the boss that I forgive him for this slag," Crosshairs wheezed, chuckling to himself. "And hey, not to sound cheesy, but I love—"

Optimus pulled the blade free before Crosshairs could finished speaking, those purple eyes wide. The green mech collapsed atop Bumblebee, and I still hadn't registered what had happened. Optimus was staring at his energon slick blade with a confused look on his face while Bumblebee mewled and gingerly maneuvered Crosshairs onto his back.

The mech's optics were dull and he wasn't moving. The light from his spark had been extinguished.

"Rachel?" Optimus said, each syllable drawn out. Like he was having trouble pronouncing it. When I finally met his optics, the purple was gone, replaced by the blue that I'd always known.

He came back to you.

I rested my forehead against the wet ground. The Knight Ship rumbled and began to rise from the ocean, finally back online. I didn't move, eyes squeezed shut as I fought through the waves of pain and sheer, unadulterated grief.

"I offlined my own comrade," Optimus stared down at Crosshairs. The blank expression on his face, the nonchalance at which he said those words, frightened me the most. It was as if he couldn't really process and verbalize anything. "I…I betrayed you—"

"No," I gritted my teeth, looking up. I snarled, "Quintessa did this. Not you. Never you."

Optimus gazed up at the sky. At Cybertron. It's tendrils were ravaging the Earth, and we were heading towards land. His shoulders sagged and his blade retracted, powerful knees buckling as he practically sobbed, "I'm sorry."

"He knew what he had to do," I couldn't even look at Crosshairs. His corpse made me sick to my stomach. "He knew."

Can't mourn the dead. Not yet. No matter how much it fucking hurts.

I groaned and rolled over, wheezing as I cradled my injured arm. Cade, hair soaking wet, face scratched and bloody, tried to help me. The entire time Optimus stared numbly, his optics unblinking as Bumblebee slowly began rotating his limbs, testing them out for any serious damage.

"Look at this mess, Prime."

We all turned. I cried out as Bumblebee was quickly subdued by a silver bot I immediately recognized as Nitro Zeus.

They swarmed around us — Quintessa's guards, frames burly and reminiscent of ancient Knights. Every angle was blocked off, and they each had heir weapons drawn. I saw my mate fall as Megatron, optics a glaring red, landed and pinned him to the ground.

Pulling free from Cade's grip, I stumbled forward, busted arm swinging by my side. Megatron chuckled as I approached. He opened his palm and, to my horror, Viviane and Lennox's bleeding forms tumbled and landed before me. They were alive, and they quickly righted themselves, faces falling when they took in the situation.

We were utterly fucked.

I said nothing. The caustic look I shot Megatron said enough. Those filthy, despicable talons were clutching Optimus, keeping him subdued. And Optimus wasn't fighting it. He was just lying there, face an unrecognizable mask of horror and sadness.

"We win," Megatron gave me a toothy grin. "At last I claim my trophy. A millennia of waiting — Quintessa has allowed me to keep your head, Optimus."

"Allowed? You're with her, now?" I spat. "I thought the mighty Megatron didn't take orders. Pussy."

"Quintessa is the great creator. She will restore Cybertron — our home," Megatron snarled, taking out his aggression by roughly shaking Optimus. I watched him slowly draw his battle axe, the movement prompting me to lunge forward.

A powerful, large hand immediately pinned me to the wet ground. The pressure lifted, only to be replaced by the sting of a sharp blade against the back of my neck. One of Quintessa's guards was kneeling, poised and ready.

Megatron pointed his axe towards Bumblebee, then Lennox, and Cade, before finally landing on Viviane. He snarled, "You will make a fine pet. Femmes are the easiest to train, after all," his axe landed on me next, and his smile was even more sadistic than before. It was almost like he got off on tormenting us. "And you. I broke you," still keeping his optics on me, he leaned in near Prime's audio receptor. "She begged me to kill her, Prime. I tore strips of flesh from her body, slowly, while she screamed. A pity you were not here to witness it. Her blood still stains my talons."

He wasn't bluffing. I could see the streaks of dull crimson against the metal. It had to be mine. It had to be.

Optimus' expression changed from stone cold indifferent to bubbling rage. He thrashed, and Megatron deftly let the curved blade of his axe press against Prime's throat. He shook his head, as if he were a teacher scolding a naughty student.

"You cannot prevent the inevitable, Prime. You tried, and you have failed," Megatron raised his axe suddenly, bringing the blunt end of the blade down hard against Prime's back. The mech grunted, landing on his forearms. One of Quintessa's guards kicked Optimus in the helm, and I screamed. But I couldn't move. I was pinned. Viviane and Lennox were stuck, a pair of blasters preventing them from moving. Just like before, we were helpless.

I saw Bumblebee struggling against Nitro Zeus, but to no avail.

"You are weak, Prime," Megatron twirled his axe, optics moving towards Crosshairs' lifeless frame, jabbing at it with his weapon. "Just like this pathetic Autobot."

I broke.

"Don't fucking touch him you sack of shit!" I managed to shriek. The beating momentarily stopped, and I saw Megatron's face twist into a snarl. I didn't even see Cade rush forward until it was to late — Megatron was raising his axe, swinging it downward to deliver the killing blow.

Metal met metal as the talisman on Cade's arm began to transform, peeling away from Cade's flesh like a snake shedding its skin. The pieces folded together until Cade was swinging a sword in a wide arc, stopping Megatron's blade, the sound of the impact like a clap of thunder.

I had no idea if Megatron's bellow was of pain or frustration. Cade held the sword with a strong, white-knuckled grip.

Like a knight.

Quintessa's guards seemed awestruck. I met Bumblebee's gaze, and the yellow mech gave a slight nod, indicating that now was the time. If we were going to live, we had to act now.

Taking advantage of Nitro Zeus' loosened grip, Bumblebee slipped from his grasp and kicked the mech in the torso. I slipped backwards, beneath the legs of the Cybertronian hovering above me. I immediately used my good arm to yank my gun from my belt and slide it across the slippery ground, into Lennox's waiting hand.

He grabbed it and began firing. A shot hit Megatron, and he bellowed, giving Cade the opportunity to slash away at the mechs fingers.

Bumblebee fired a shot at Nitro Zeus, point blank. The Decepticon's head exploded in a shower of sparks and metal.

Optimus' rage filled look alone was enough to make Megatron realize that retreating was the best option. Before Prime could even reach him, he'd transformed, disappearing into the sky, his thrusters so powerful that they knocked us to the ground. Quintessa's bodyguards followed suit, trailing behind Megatron.

Cade stared at the sword in his hand. He looked back at me, raising his eyebrows, as if I knew what the fuck had happened.

"Burton was right," Viviane breathed. "You're…"

"That. Yeah," Cade shrugged. I staggered past, brushing my fingers against his shoulder before I lost the energy to stand, falling to my knees before Optimus. I brushed my sore, bloody knuckles across his helm, trying to speak, but unable to come up with the right words.

"I know, dearspark. This is not the reunion I had hoped for."

"I'll take this over o reunion at all," I glanced at Crosshairs corpse once more, before having to look away. A shadow fell over us and when we looked up, one of Cybertron's massive tendrils was spiraling overhead. "There's no place like home, huh?"

Optimus spoke, his words heavy. "This planet is my home, and I have betrayed it."

"No," Cade said. "You can make this right. We still have a chance, Prime. This mission isn't over. It's now or never."

"We need you," I grunted as I struggled to support the dead weight of my broken arm. There were budding tears in my eyes, but I shut them down. I couldn't mourn. Not now. "The planet needs you. We need Optimus. The leader. The hero. One last time."

Chapter Text

"Lennox! N.E.S.T is here! Your guys are here!"

Izzy's rallying cry was the first thing we heard upon reaching land. Despite my injuries I broke from Viviane's hold, staggering over as she and the others headed towards the Knight Ship, followed by an army. A human army, but an army. The green, flat plains had become a warzone, and at the center of it all, Stonehenge, where I could see Megatron and his cronies acting as if they were already victorious.

Never celebrate too early, asshole.

"Santos! What's the word from Morshower?" Lennox shouted through the thunderous claps of moving Earth and the rapid sound of artillery fire. I didn't have time to tune in on the response he got, for Izzy and Viviane were lowering me onto the grass. I had no idea how weak I really was, and my legs buckled almost immediately.

"Shit, shit," I hissed.

"I'm going as fast as I can," Izzy grasped my injured arm. I watched in mild fascination as the shattered bone began to shift beneath my skin, the wound fixing itself up. I regained full feeling in a matter of seconds. Breathing was easier when she fixed my ribs and my nose. Still a bit woozy but, nonetheless, able to function, I stood. Optimus approached, still looking shaken, but when he spoke, there was a fire to his words I'd never heard before.

"The control station is just above us. Inside is a pillar that can shut this structure down," Optimus said as the soldiers approached, gathering around him. He glanced at Cade. The human still held his sword in a vice grip. "Knight. Autobots. This cannot and will not be the end. To save earth and her people we are going to destroy Quintessa and stop Cybertron from advancing. I will lead the way into her chamber, and when the account of the ages is etched into the cosmos, let those who exist long after us know that this was our finest hour."

"You know what you have to do, right?" I breathed. Through our bond I could feel him tense up, before a calmness washed over him. I knew his response before he even etched it into my mind.

"I do."

"Go get em'," I steeled myself as my mate blasted into the air.

"I never even got to say hi," Hound said sadly, shoulders sagging. "But I'm all for a good ole' fashioned aft kicking. Hey, Knight, you got a plan?"

All eyes were on Cade.

"Lead us into battle like Burton said," I grinned. "Kick some ass. And let's look dope while we do it."

"Hell yeah."


Our plan consisted of maneuvering the Knight Ship hight above the control station and using a combination of Osprey's and Cybertronian fighter ships to land and launch our attack. Me, being afraid of heights, gloriously disagreed with the idea. But it was tactical. And smart. And all around not something I would do, which meant that, of course, we were going to do it.

"Are you sure this is safe?" I stammered. Lennox was strapping me in, panting as he took the short, but much-needed break to catch his breath. He glanced up at me and smiled, nodding.

"You'll be fine."

"We should wait for Optimus."

"We don't have time," Lennox said quickly. "I've got a wife and a kid back at home. Trust me, it's better we just get this over with."

"Epps told me about how you took out a Decepticon with a rocket launcher and a motorcycle," I said. "I, uh, not to be like a weirdo or anything but…that's fucking badass. Just thought I'd go ahead and tell you in case we all die."

Lennox gave a light chuckle, ducking his head at my mention of Epps. When he looked back up, his eyes were a bit red. "He told you about that? God. I thought he'd forgotten."

"That's not something you forget. He's not something you forget," I whispered. "I know you two were like brothers. I could never replace him. I could never be like him or do the things he did. But I know he'd want me to make sure you got to see your wife and kid again. I know it. So I'm going to make sure that you get to go home."

Lennox nodded, giving my hand a squeeze. No other words needed to be spoken.

We all have a job to do.

"Everybody in!" the pilot shouted. I was strapped in, nestled between Izzy and Cade. The young girl was shaking, and the moment I glanced her way she gripped my hand. I closed my eyes, feeling the bird lift off the ground, the interior rattling as it ducked and dove through tendrils of Cybertron's protruding surface. Bumblebee, Drift and Hound were aboard the Cybertronian fighters, doing their best to clear the way. But the vine-like, sloping objects were thickening. There was only so much ground the mechs could clear.

"You'd better hurry up, Optimus."

"I am going as quickly as I can. He is being…difficult."

I was about to respond when the tail of the bird was torn away, exposing us to the open air. Izzy screamed and I held one hand against my restrains while my other arm shot out to pin the younger girl to her seat. Once again we were flipped, and then spun, lights blaring and the pilots cursing as we descended.

"Everybody hold on!" Lennox bellowed. Viviane gave a shriek as the Osprey hit the ground, rotors kicking up dust and dirt. We came to a jarring, sudden stop. Only when I felt Izzy push against my arm did I released her, simply tearing around my restraints, hopping onto the mangled debris and tugging Izzy from hers.

"You okay?"

"I'm good," Izzy huffed. We exited the Osprey, sticking close to Cade and the others.

The good news: we'd reached our destination.

The bad news: we'd crash landed a good distance away from the actual control structure. The chunk of alien land was solid, with grey ashy dirt and alien trenches. I could see the Decepticons, mixed in with Quintessa's hulking Cybertronian bodyguards. The tallest of them all raised his weapon and shot towards the sky.

Drift zoomed overhead, unloading a furious barrage at our adversary's before circling around. Hound and Bumblebee followed on their own fighter, landing and covering us from behind. Finally, the Dinobots were able to enter the battle, smashing through Decepticons until heavy fire from a massive, triple barreled turret sent them into retreat.

Izzy concentrated, lifting up a damaged rotor from the crashed Osprey and sending it hurtling like an arrow. It struck its target — one of Quintessa's bodyguards — in the shoulder. She did it once more until she ran out of rotors and used whatever else she could find.

The turret had us pinned. We could barely lift our heads without it bearing down on us. The only the keeping it at bay was Hound's minigun, which fired with the same amount to accuracy and vigor.

"We need to take that thing out!" I shouted, pointing. "We won't get anywhere! I need to get into that control tower!"

As if on cue, the turret mowed down a heavy amount of soldiers. The subsequent explosion sent a fireball that Bumblebee barely managed to avoid, the shockwave knocking all of us off our feet.

"Get behind cover, now!" Lennox ordered.

"Frag," Hound winced as he continued firing, despite his singed armor. "Take this, assholes!"

"Where is Optimus?" Cade shouted.

"Yeah. Where are you?"

No response. I panicked. I could feel him but he wasn't responding.

I slammed my fist into the dirt before searching around, my eyes landing on Sqweeks. Ignoring Cade's questions, I slid over to the smaller bot. Izzy was occupied sending chunks of deadly debris hurtling towards out enemies. Even if she'd been free, I would have never allowed her to go.

"Sqweeks, look," I pointed at the turret. "You're small. They won't see you coming, but only if I can distract them. Okay? Okay. We need to take out that turret. Can you do that? I'll keep them busy."

The blue bot nodded rather enthusiastically. Before anyone had a chance to talk me out of my ludicrous plan, I ushered Sqweeks away and we broke from cover.

I ran. I ran harder and faster than I ever had before. There was no rugged terrain, no trees. Just flat dirt and the turret had no trouble honing in on me. Firing, however, was another story.

It was like a demented version of dodge ball. I'd duck and weave, sidestep, and occasionally get myself nearly blown apart. An almost rhythmic, vomit-inducing dance went on. I tried to make it difficult to hit me while also keeping the thing distracted long enough for Sqweeks to reach it.

C'mon little guy. This is your moment. You can do it.

A particularly powerful blast from all three barrels sent me on my back, one ear unable to function. I coughed up dirt and a bit of blood, rolling over just in time to see the turret explode and Sqweeks, in he midst of it, rolling across the ground, arms flailing wildly. I met him with a hug, holding his helm.

"That was amazing! Good job, good job," I checked the little bot for injuries, relieved to see that he'd made it out relatively unscathed. A dark shadow passing overhead drew my attention away, and I smiled before turning back to Sqweeks and saying, "Okay, okay. Here's what I want you to do next. Go back to Izzy and keep her safe. Watch over her. Make sure she doesn't do anything stupid, like I would do. I have to go in there and kill Quintessa. I have to. And if I don't make it back, Izzy will need you to be there for her. To be strong. You're a good little bot," I gingerly planted a kiss atop his helm. "Now go."

Sqweeks hesitated, big eyes filled with sadness. But he listened, zooming back towards Izzy and the soldiers. I looked towards the control structure and then, finally, at my mate as he leaped from the back of the three headed dragon and began slicing away at Decepticons, sword in hand. Like an avenging demon. Or an angel.

That's Optimus Prime.


"Find the girl. Kill her," Megatron waved his blaster. "Quintessa the Deceiver wills it!"

I was just outside the control tower, crouched behind another turret that had been blown apart. My legs felt like jelly and as I struggled to keep my breathing under control. I could make out the patterns on Megatron's silver chassis, see the glowing red of his gun. Quintessa's bodyguards had their swords drawn and were patrolling the area, simply waiting for Optimus to approach them.

Prime was busy. The dragon was circling the air, demolishing any adversaries that dared try and launch an assault from the sky. Fighters zoomed overhead, the noise of battle deafening.

Megatron's allegiance to Quintessa wasn't surprising. I wondered if it had been Quintessa manipulating Megatron into keeping me alive, back at the Decepticon campsite. She'd made it pretty clear that I belonged to her. That the honor of killing me belonged to her.

And here I was, walking straight towards her, a prize gift wrapped in dirt and blood.

You can do this.

I regretted not speaking to Optimus. I'd wanted to say goodbye, give him something to hold onto. Hell, he had nothing of mine. I'd just be a memory.

Megatron turned and I darted, skittering past him and entering the wide chamber. Quintessa was in the center, hovering over the decorated floor that had been etched with ancient Cybertronian text and symbols. Even the air felt old, heavy. Like I'd already left Earth's atmosphere.

You're in her territory now.

I could see the pillar in the back, just as Optimus had described it. Tall and pulsing with an energy that needed to be contained. This was the primary source for Cybertron's power, the thing that helped the planet move along and destroy everything in its path.

"You followed?" Quintessa tilted her perfect metal head to the side. When I just glared, she said, "I'm surprised. But no matter — I have a proposition for you, child."

"The only thing I'll agree to is you surrendering."

"Oh, you know that's not going to happen. What I propose is much more appealing," Quintessa smirked. "Join me. Fight by my side. You do not belong on this planet, child. Once Cybertron is reborn, you will have a new home. A new life."

I was to tired to put up a proper counterargument. "I'll hear you out, solely for shits and giggles."

Quintessa raised her eyebrows. "You have seen my true power, and I have seen yours. You are destined to be stronger. You have suffered greatly throughout your time," she cooed. "I can end that and set you free. What has this world done for you lately?"

Nothing.

I blinked. Stepped forward.

No. No.

It gave me Cade. Tessa. Lennox.

Izzy.

Optimus.

"I suffered, sure," I said shakily. Quintessa seemed eager, nodding as she floated closer, extending her arm with her palm facing upward, urging me to take it.

She said, "I can heal those wounds."

"Nah," I shrugged nonchalantly, just staring at the petite metal limb. "You might be powerful, but you're not that powerful. Plus, you're a real bitch for hurting my family. So for that, you're getting your ass beat."

Quintessa hissed, only to be thrown back when I balled up my fist and swung, delivering a right hook to the side of her face.

I immediately darted towards the glowing pillar at the back of the room. The light it emitted was so powerful that I just knew it had to be the switch that would send Cybertron hurtling back to where it came from.

The moment Quintessa realized where I was going, she struck. The lighting strike hit the floor in front of me, blocking my path to the pillar. By the time I'd regained some composure, Quintessa was gripping the collar of my wetsuit.

She flung me back. I landed in the center of the cavern and slid several yards.

"Megatron!" Quintessa bellowed. I righted myself as the silver Decepticon entered the cavern, taking slow, methodical steps and subsequently blocking my only potential exit.

Shit.

I rolled over as Megatron's battle-axe embedded itself into the floor, right where I'd been lying. He spun his weapon and the handle caught me in the stomach before I could move, launching me into Quintessa's waiting grasp.

This is so not fair.

They played me like a game of ping-pong, sending me back and forth, landing blow after blow. I'd duck and dodge as much as I could, but they were beating me. And my mutated body was to durable to just die. I wanted to die.

Preferably, I wanted Quintessa to die with me.

I staggered and hit the remnants of a Cybertronian statue, bloody fingers grappling for purchase against the steel surface. I willed myself to stand and face my adversaries, and when I did so, they were no longer looking at me, but at the entrance to the cavern.

Optimus charged in, followed by Hound and Drift and Bumblebee. Two smaller figures were in their wake — Viviane and Cade. Bee sprinted and then jumped, lunging and keeping a vice grip on Megatron's shoulder armor.

Then, the gunfire started.

"Rachel! We have to go," Cade shouted, waving his arms. He and Viviane ducked, shielding their heads as Bumblebee was sent tumbling across the floor, thrown from Megatron's back. I couldn't reach them, but I could hear Cade's warning shouts. Something about how the entire structure would be knocked loose -

"Prime," Megatron snarled, raising his weapon. They clashed while Quintessa shrieked in frustration.

They're distracted!

Mustering as much strength as I could, I crouched and hooked my hands beneath the statue. Like the tank, it was awkward to hold but I was able to lift it up above my head. By the time I turned, Quintessa had noticed me, blue eyes wide.

Take this, bitch.

I flung the statue. It hit her and began to slide, and then I began to slide, and then Megatron, Optimus, all of us. I tumbled head over heels, the surface of my wetsuit gaining no purchase against the slippery floor. My hands searched wildly for something to grab. Fire singed my suit as part of an Osprey chopper sailed over my head.

"Here!" Cade slid past, gripping my hand, his free arm reaching out to stop a flailing Viviane. The talisman, which had wrapped around his hand like a glove, acted as a hook and kept up from sliding any further. The structure righted itself, sliding to a stop along Cybertron's tendrils. We righted ourselves, taking cover behind a fallen piece of debris.

"There," I said, pointing. "That pillar controls everything! Destroy it and it's over!"

"We'll take care of it," Viviane said. She and Cade exchanged nods and I craned my neck, hearing thundering footsteps from behind us.

"I'll cover you! Go!" Hound bellowed, peppering Megatron with bullets from his minigun. Cade and Viviane broke from cover, sprinting towards the pillar, while I began searching wildly for Quintessa.

"Here."

The metal woman backhanded me across the face. I recovered from the blow and lunged, tackling her to the ground. Her fists pummeled away at my gut while mine beat her face until one of her optics stopped glowing.

The structure jolted again. I was thrown into the air, my grip still on Quintessa. She came with me, one glowing optic wide and her lips still smirking. Instead of dirt the entrance to the cavern opened into the blue, smoky sky. My feet left the ground and that was when I connected the dots and realized that the entire structure itself was in free fall.

Which meant that we were, too.

"You dare attack my mate?" Optimus bellowed, capturing Megatron in a headlock. "I'll kill you!"

"Kick his ass, Prime!" Hound hollered, spinning wildly through the air as he tried to get ahold of his minigun.

My grip on Quintessa slackened. She kicked me away, still able to float upright while the rest of us were restricted by gravity. My legs kicked into open air as I glared, stuck watching the metal woman set her sights on Cade and Viviane. They'd reached the pillar, dangling from one of the few statues still upright.

"Cade! Viviane!" I screamed. "Watch out—"

Viviane drew her gun first. Her shot hit its intended target, and Quintessa's left arm was blown clean from her shoulder. She screamed. The scream became muffled after a hard push from Bumblebee sent me careening into her.

You should have been more cautious.

The tendrils of Quintessa's long, flowing metal robes concealed a weapon. The carved, jagged blade was as long as my forearm. I saw Quintessa draw it with lightning speed, giving me one of those infuriating smirks before burying the weapon into the center of my chest, all the way to the hilt and with enough strength that it jutted out the small of my back.

I felt the damage. A pounding pressure in my torso, my brain screaming that something was wrong, and that suck a thing shouldn't be where it was.

I didn't care.

Instead of grabbing her, I reared back and kicked her hard in the neck. She coughed, knocked off balance.

"Bee, now!"

The blaster fire from Bumblebee vaporized her. She exploded in a shower of metal and what I assumed to be energon.

I smiled.

"That was for Crosshairs, you cunt," I snared, my mouth filling with blood. When I looked up, Viviane was aiming her gun at the pillar, neck craned, hair framing her face like a halo. She pulled the trigger and the device exploded in a burst of sparks.

That's my girl.

"Optimus!" Drift sliced through one of Quintessa's remaining bodyguards. "We must go!"

With a powerful kick, Optimus sent Megatron flying and out the mouth of the cavern. The rockets in his feet propelled him forward, and I thought for a moment, at least one moment, that I was going to be okay. He was here. We were in our own little bubble, and everything was slowing down.

That's because Cade just shot off his bubble gun and you're floating, dumbass.

Close enough.

Drift, Bee and Hound would survive. The mouth of the cavern got closer and closer until I realized that Optimus had grabbed hold of us three humans and was flying, emerging into the open air. My head dangled over the side and I could hear Cade speaking frantically, one arm wrapped around me.

I didn't hear him.

Man. Dying is slow.

I kept staring at the sky. Cybertron wasn't retreating, but it wasn't advancing anymore. It was just stagnant, as if it had been there all along. The surface beneath my back went from Prime's cool, metal hands to soft grass.

Sometime before, the blade had been yanked from my chest. I saw Cade's distraught face as he stared down at me, tears in his eyes, pressing his balled up jacket onto my wound. I could hear him speaking, now, murmuring words of encouragement before he simply craned his neck and screamed, "Izzy! Izzy! Get over here!"

Drift, and Bee approached. Then Cogman. Then Optimus, falling to his knees only to be held back by Hound, who pleaded with his leader to give me space.

The picture didn't feel complete without Crosshairs.

"It's bad," Viviane was hyperventilating, tears in her eyes. Izzy slid into view and she repeated to the young girl, "It's bad. Oh my God."

Yep. You're gonna die.

I closed my eyes, and then opened them. I didn't have to focus on my breathing because I wasn't breathing. I was sitting in the grass, alone. Stonehenge was there, Cybertron loomed in the background, but everyone else had disappeared.

"This is one hell of a view, don't you think?"

I looked to my side. Burton was staring at Stonehenge, the ancient structure now standing tall with Cybertron as a backdrop. The old man nudged me with his elbow, chuckling.

It took me a moment to reply. "I came to Stonehenge once before, with my mom. It wasn't this dramatic."

"I would hope not," Burton said. He reached down to touch the grass, murmuring. "Many were buried here. The place is a stone graveyard. Fascinating, really. You're a connoisseur of history. Do you believe aliens built this monument?"

"I'm not a connoisseur," I said bluntly, picking at the grass. "I just like history and read to much online. Also, no. I think the ancient population was smart enough to figure out how to move a bunch of bigass rocks."

"An ingenious invention. And to think, this has now been outdone by another wonder: Cybertronians."

"I could probably bench press those rocks. To bad I won't get to try with me being, you know, dead," I looked at Burton on out the corner of my eye. "Wait. You're dead to, right?"

"As dead as one can be, though my soul still hasn't reached its final stages," Burton shrugged. "I never believed in that crap though. I'm just here because you seemed lonely."

"Well that's awfully convenient."

"Try 'nice.'" Burton quipped. "I'm an old man. My time was done. I had my moment," he said sadly. "You still haven't had yours."

"You mean theres more after this? Shit. Well, no sacrifice, no victory, you know, the whole shebang."

"You still have a whole page left of your story," Burton said. "And you have to be there for it."

"'Have' is a very strong word…"

"Rachel," Burton winked, giving me a playful shove. "Go. Go home. You'll thank me for it later."

"Momma!"

"Izzy?"

"Momma!" Izzy had her arms around me. She was sobbing into my torn wetsuit. I looked around. The grass was no longer empty. Lennox was there, with his soldiers, and Cogman, Viviane. Cade. Bee and Drift. Sqweeks, the Dinbots, and, circling overhead, the three headed dragon.

Optimus.

"Holy shit," Cade was furiously wiping away tears. When he pulled his hand away, more spilled from his eyes. His voice ebbed into sobs and he, too, fell into my arms. "Don't scare me like that, okay?"

"I won't," I murmured. The sound of Optimus kneeling prompted the others to step away, giving the two of us some space. I latched onto his finger as he ducked his head, struggling to even speak. The grief was still there and fresh, like an open wound.

"I love you," Optimus settled and said heavily. "You are my spark. My everything. And I am so, so sorry."

"There's nothing to be sorry about. I love you, too," I replied. I sniffed, rolling my eyes. Everyone was fucking crying. "Shit. More tears. This wetsuit has been through enough."

"It's over," Viviane looked up at the sky. Unabashedly, she leaned over and gave Cade a kiss, wrapping her arms around him.

"So, uh, when's the double date scheduled?" I inquired. Still lip-locking with Viviane, Cade raised his middle finger in my direction, causing me to erupt in peals of laughter. Izzy hugged me again as we watched the sun slip behind the horizon, illuminating Stonehenge with a glowing, orange light.

"Now would be a good time to make that 'calling all Autobots' speech of yours, Optimus," I called. "And go quick. I want to get home and take a bubble bath and then sleep for, you know, a few hundred years.

"I will be joining you, then," Optimus said.

I nodded. "I wouldn't want it any other way. Now close us out so we can go home."

"At the heart of every legend, there is truth: a few brave souls unite to save the world. We can be heroes in our own lives, every one of us, if we only have the courage to try…."

 

Chapter Text

Some pros and cons of us saving the world:

Pros: We got a castle.

N.E.S.T was still rogue, but able to now operate with the full support of the United States. And they'd relocated to, you guessed it, a castle.

Holy shit I own a castle.

Cons: well….I shouldn't even have to list them.

"Can I watch TV before bed?" Izzy asked, clad in her pajamas. Sqweeks chirped, looking just as eager. "I want to see what the news is saying about us now."

"It's probably not good."

"It is hardly ever flattering," Optimus stood, arms crossed. It was nice, having a home big enough to where he rarely had to use his holoform. "And the reports are hardly ever accurate."

"It'll die down soon. I mean, c'mon, Cybertron is…there now. Just, you know, doing it's thing."

"You didn't answer my question," Izzy frowned. "Please?"

"For an hour," I said.

Izzy thanked me, leaping up the stairs with Sqweeks in tow. I watched her go, still lounging on the couch with my notebook in hand. It had been a month and I was still sore. Still sluggish and popping pain pills once a day.

"I need to vacuum for when Cade, Viviane and Tessa come," I murmured. "And Tessa's new boyfriend. Or friend. She won't tell me what they are."

"She says its 'complicated,'" Cogman entered the living room with a tea set. "I didn't mean to eavesdrop, madame."

"Cogman. You don't have to call me madame. You can call me dude. Bro. Bad Bitch. Anything."

"Oh thank Primus," Cogman began preparing the tea. He glanced up at Optimus, who stared with a disapproving look on his face plates. "I don't mean to disrespect your mate, Optimus, I just…while you were absent she, uh…"

"I pissed him off," I explained.

"Her eccentrics caught me by surprise," Cogman softened the blow. "My offer to plan your wedding still stands, however. I already have someone to prepare the meal, if needed."

"Drift?"

"Drift," Cogman nodded. "And the DJ? Bumblebee. And this is all free."

Optimus and I exchanged knowing looks, before Optimus said slowly, "I will have to…think about it. We have not made any formal plans for marriage, however I doubt such a thing is very far off."

Cogman seemed happy with the response. I didn't even remember requesting tea, but I drank it anyway. After I finished, I headed upstairs, checking on Izzy. I peeked into her room and saw her asleep, television off, with Sqweeks recharging in the corner. Elated and praying that she wouldn't suffer another nightmare, I headed towards my room.

I immediately opened the balcony doors, glancing over at the telescope. I'd used it to peer at Cybertron's damaged surface, wondering just how Cybertronians planned to rebuild their home world. If it ever happened. It seemed like the Autobots already on Earth were sticking around, and I wasn't complaining.

Optimus had told me about Unicron. I was the only one who knew. I had no clue if Quintessa had been fucking around, using the claim to mess with Prime's head. The idea seemed almost outlandish to me, but then I'd remembered Burton's words.

There is a reason as to why they keep coming here.

Earth was a giant magnet. A lure. Or maybe it wasn't Earth at all. Maybe Earth was just a disguise.

"You are deep in thought," Optimus' holoform kissed my neck from behind. The hairs on his bare, muscular chest tickled my skin, stubble firm against my throat as he planted kisses right beneath my ear. "Is Izabella asleep?"

"Yeah. Sqweeks to. He'll wake up if she has a nightmare, and come get us."

"Let's hope she sleeps soundly," Optimus sighed as I turned ton face him, tilting my chin and resting up against Optimus' chest. He held me, stroking my hair and kissing the top of my head. When he pulled away there was a suggestive look on his handsome face. His fingers skimmed at the exposed sliver of flesh above my hip. His next kisses landed on my mouth and I chuckled as he said, "Oh, how I have missed this…"

I lifted my arms, prompting Optimus to quickly peel off my shirt. He looked me up and down, letting out a deep breath before cupping my face and murmuring, "You are magnificent. You always have been," then, softer, "I do no deserve it…I do not deserve you, not after what I did…"

He was crying. Liquid leaked from his holoforms eyes, and he sagged against me as he rested on the bed. This was the first time I'd ever seen him she'd a tear. I could feel it through our bond as he let it all out, weeping for his fallen comrades, for his planet, for me.

"Hey," I used the pad of my thumb to wipe away one of his tears. "He forgave you. He said it. He knew that you were under control, and he knew that you were trying to break free."

Crosshairs would have a proper burial on Cybertron. There was a little cross set up in the courtyard, next to Burton's grave.

"You have nothing to apologize for. No sacrifice, no victory." Even as I spoke, I knew that my words would ring hollow for a long, long time. Crosshairs was dead, and it hurt. For both of us. The fact that he'd been slain by Prime's own blade made it even worse.

"I love you, dearspark," Optimus whispered against my mouth. He kissed me, once, twice, intertwining his hand with mine. "And Primus, I have missed you."

"No more deep space missions, okay?" I smiled, resting my forehead against his. "Not unless I can come with you. It would be better that way — I'd keep you out of trouble."

"Me? A troublemaker?" Optimus grinned. "That is an outlandish claim."

"You may be strong, tough, smart. Handsome. But make no mistake, Optimus Prime, you are trouble."


"Tessa…your boyfriend is uh…tall?"

I wish I'd brought a camera. Cade's mouth was hanging open and Viviane and Izzy both were trying their hardest not to burst out laughing. It was like something out of a movie, and even Optimus seemed a bit surprised, though he, always the leader, got right down to business.

"Hot Rod, welcome," Optimus extended his hand, and Hot Rod shook it. "It brings me great joy to see another Autobot unharmed and well."

"Ah, Optimus! A pleasure," the red and black mech eagerly shook Prime's hand, speaking in a thick French accent. Tessa was grinning from ear to ear, darting forward to embrace her father before moving onto me.

We held each other for a long moment. I felt like I was dreaming, almost. Like everything was to good to be true.

"You look good," Tessa said. "Happy."

"I am," I glanced up at Optimus, then over at Izzy, who smiled sheepishly. "It's good to see you. Is, uh, Hot Rod really your…boyfriend?"

"Yeah," Tessa lowered her voice. "I mean, he kinda kidnapped me…kind of. He saved me really. But it worked out. He's super sweet. Handsome," Tessa chuckled. "And he can sing."

"Is this your estate, madame?" Hot Rod said eagerly. "It is quite charmant! As the mate of a Prime, you deserve only the best!"

"I like him," I said quickly, waving my finger at Tessa. "Keep him."

"Oh, I will. That okay with you, dad?"

Cade shrugged, reaching out to lock arms with a smiling Viviane. "I mean, hey. You do you, sweetie."

"You guys ready to eat dinner?" I glanced around. "Catch up? Before this place turns into a zoo."

"Next week, right?"

"Yeah. There's still so much stuff to do. This is like…alien HQ. Hound and Drift are coming back with Lennox and Simmons, and Bumblebee went to get one of his old friends, Sam, uh..Witwitty?"

"Witwicky," Optimus corrected gently. I snapped my fingers, nodding.

"Right, Witwicky. We're setting up a, uh, coalition of sorts. I don't know if that's the right word. A team, maybe. I don't know. We're just getting everyone in the same place so we can figure out what the fuck we need to do next."

"Whatever you guys plan, Viv and I are game," Cade said. Viviane nodded in agreement.

"Me to," Tessa said. "I mean, I'll be in college…supporting you. You know what I mean."

I glanced up at Cybertron. Even after all I'd seen, it would take time getting used to the new planet just outside our atmosphere. I even caught Optimus staring longingly at his abandoned home. He'd told me that he'd be okay with never going back, but that he knew other Cybertronians wouldn't share the same view. And now, with Unicron buried deep within our core…it was only a matter of time before shit went haywire. just didn't know when. Or how long.

Which meant that my lazy ass could say "Well, we'll deal with it later."

Right now, the focus was on Optimus and Izzy and everyone else. For the thousandth time my brain was asking me what the world had to offer and what it had done for me. What it had given me in return for the years of suffering I'd endured. And this time I actually had a solid answer.

It had given me a family.

End.

Chapter Text

So I never thought I'd end up writing a sequel to this, but I decided, why the hell not. I was originally going to wait until TF7 came out to continue the Unicron plotline, but then I remembered that shit is gonna come out when I'm, like, 25. So I decided why not make an AU to wrap everything up, since I never really intended for this to be the "final" story. I still had a whole world I wanted to explore and flesh out, as well as characters I wanted to expand on.

Anywho, the final part of this story, "Dissenter" is already up and posted (well, the first chapter, at least) So I'd appreciate it if you guys checked that out. Lots of smut, fighting, and death abound XD (sorry not sorry)

Anywho, thank you guys so much for reading!