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It felt almost routine. Sitting on the sidewalk while paramedics stitched up my arm, baffled that I wasn't comatose. I wasn't bulletproof, but my skin was tough — there was no exit wound. If I wanted to, I could have probably plucked the projectile out with my fingers. But even that would cause me pain, so I just left it and let the medics do their job.

Morshower's body was covered with a tarp. I couldn't stand even looking at the lump of lifeless flesh I knew lay beneath the dark covering.

Get up. Get out.

Go home.

No. Find the killer.

I stood. The medics tried to force me back down, two pairs of strong hands tugging me towards the concrete. I ignored them, simply limping forward, making sure not to disturb what was now an active crime scene. Lennox called after me, but I disregarded him, hobbling towards the familiar vehicle pulling up next to an empty cop car.

"Is Cogman waiting with the plane?" I asked. Bumblebee's doors popped open, and I clambered inside. Bumblebee did not pull away immediately — instead he waited, forcing me to confront Lennox.

"You're just going to leave me here? In all this mess?"

"I mean, what else can I do?"

He glanced around. I saw him eye the cop cars, and then raise his gaze as a helicopter thrummed overhead. He sighed, looking hesitant. "I know you. You aren't running," Lennox lowered his voice. "Look, this city is shut down. Cops are patrolling every corner. They probably caught whoever it was by now—"

"It was a sniper. Far away," I said softly. "I recognize the sound. Hound taught me—"

"There's no way you're going to find them. And if you get caught, the authorities will turn you in for questioning. Please," Lennox was begging, now. "Let this go. Let this one go."

"He has a point. There's no winnin' here," Bumblebee's radio chirped. I was a bit startled, not expecting the mech to take Lennox's side. He was usually rather gung-ho when it came to serving some good old fashioned justice.

"Fuck," I cursed. I paused, steadying my breathing. "I don't mean to leave you with all this. I don't—"

"You're fine. I can handle it. They'll need me, after all. They'll need me, but they want you," Lennox patted Bee's door. "Bee, take care of her."

"Aye aye, captain."

"Now head on out," Lennox smiled. "I'll take it from here."

There's blood on your hands, still. Lots of blood.

Is that mine or Morshowers?


The liquid had dried, caking beneath my fingernails and turning the brown skin of my hands a patchy, dark red velvet. I'd frightened Izzy on accident, stumbling in, still in shock, blood on my shirt and arms. I'd collapsed and she'd healed what was left of my jagged shoulder wound.

"I thought these days were behind us," Cogman said sadly. "I was naive. The bloodshed will never be over."

"Hey, at least we got some time to rest," I reclined on the couch. I felt Sqweeks nudge my leg, nuzzling against the fabric of my pants in an attempt to comfort me. "I knew things would go to shit eventually. But not this fast."

"Perhaps this was an isolated incident?" Cogman said. "A rogue 'patriot' consumed by hatred."

"Optimus is going to be so pissed," I groaned.

"Oh, he is."

"What?" I shot up at Cogman's words. "He knows?"

Cogman made a face, as if it were the most obvious thing is the world. "Of course he knows! I informed him — after all, he most likely felt you receive your injury. I did it to simply reassure him that you were in good health."

I almost forgot about our whole…bonding. We were connected in more ways than one, and I often didn't realize just how vast it all was. It was easier to link with him. If I focused I could physically feel the twinge as he received a blow from an enemy sword. It was all minor and, despite my strength, I was still human. We were still vastly underdeveloped compared to the Cybertronian's.

"Speaking of your mate," Cogman gestured towards the front. "He is currently approaching the estate along with Drift and Hound."

"About time," Izzy hopped from the couch. I could hear her shouting, hear Prime transform. I slowly followed, allowing the two to embrace. Izzy squealed as Hound placed her on his shoulder, allowing her to almost meet Prime's gaze. A gaze that travelled down, before settling on me.

My cheeks immediately heated up. I waved, smiling as Hound began recounting their tales on Cybertron to a curious Izabella. Just their presence made the place feel complete.

A home.

"Nothing? No data pads, no artifacts—"

"I was able to copy several ancient texts scrawled across the halls of Iacon. I have yet to analyze that — I prefer we begin that task tomorrow," Optimus nuzzled my neck. The hands of his holoform crept beneath my robe, palming the bare skin beneath. "As of now, I wish to show my mate how much I missed her."

"Studying old-ass glyphs can wait," I murmured. "I like what you're doing."

I felt Optimus maneuver his palm to my shoulder, right where the bullet had torn through my skin. The only thing left was a little raised bump that would soon disappear, leaving the faded ghost of a wound. Softly, he murmured, "Remove your robe. I wish to see you, fully."

I obeyed. Optimus stared, blue eyes soaking me in as I stood before the mirror, head turned away. I didn't want to look at my body. I was an underweight, small mess of a girl with skinny arms. I'd always found my figure unflattering, and Optimus knew that. He'd given up on reassuring me that he didn't care what I looked like and that he found it appealing. Instead he just showed his appreciation through his kisses and touches. I turned to face him, meeting his gaze.

"I will find the human who injured you, and they will pay the price," Optimus murmured. "Such an offense will not be tolerated—"

"I froze up. I could have done something," I said thickly. "If Morshower hadn't grabbed me, hadn't thrown himself at me, he…he wouldn't have gotten shot. They were aiming for me. He saved my fucking life."

Optimus let me rant. When I finished, my hands were shaking. No tears fell. I'd learned not to cry. Crying didn't help.

Optimus brushed his thumb across my cheek. "I am sorry. I was not there for you," Optimus whispered. "I should have been present for such an important event—"

"No. You can't balance all of this alone," I shook my head. "Rebuilding Cybertron is important. There are people who want to help, humans who want to help. This…this was just…humanity being humanity. We aren't ready for you, Optimus. We're not there yet, but we can get over that hill and be united. I believe it. There are still good people left in this world."

"I love you."

Those words always made my heart soar. Optimus rested his forehead against mine, his holoform inhaling, mimicking the motion of his real body cycling its vents.

I replied, "I love you, too," before grinning and tugging him towards our bed.

"Rise and shine, madame — I mean, Rachel."

Light flooded my eyes. Even with my face half-buried in the pillow, the brightness was nearly blinding. I tested sore limbs. The intricate bed beneath me felt a little wobbly, and as I sat up and air touched my bare skin, I remembered why.

Oh. Yeah. The sex.

I prayed that I could fix it. I dreaded having to explain to Cogman why the bed was broken. Knowing his sarcastic manner, I'd never hear the end of it.

"Cogman, I'm naked," I said gruffly, clutching the sheet to my bare chest. The headmaster bot was dusting, swiping the surfaces clean while simultaneously trying to usher me from bed. He didn't seem shocked at my outburst, giving me a "no shit, Sherlock" look.

"I'm quite aware of your nudity, and I am not bothered by it. I saw Sir Burton in various states of undress throughout his life - in fact, the very bed in which you lay was where he was conceived and subsequently birthed."

"That's….I didn't need to know that," I squeezed my eyes shut. "Is there a reason you got me up?"

"You received a call from William Lennox approximately thirty minutes ago," Cogman stated. He stopped at the edge of the bed, sighing. "Really, you should try and begin waking up at a decent hour."

"It's still early."

"Is is lunchtime," Cogman replied. "I know coitus can be rather exhausting, although with your enhanced strength I do not see why—"

"I'll set an alarm!" I exclaimed, hopping from the bed. I padded over to the closet, opening it as I addressed Cogman. "And you should probably go. Optimus is kind of territorial. I don't know if he'd be cool with you in here while I'm getting dressed."

"Oh, yes! Absolutely!" Cogman stammered. "My apologies."

He darted from the room, and I chuckled. I slid on whatever comfortable clothes I could find before making my way downstairs. Sqweeks greeted me, buzzing his hello. I grabbed a cup of coffee, flopping onto the couch as Sqweeks followed. The massive living room was empty, and I could slightly see Izzy outside with the Autobots. I closed my eyes.

Focus on your breathing.

"Hey, army-man."

I'd never linked with Lennox before, so I immediately snorted when I heard a shriek of terror reverberate through his skull. I picked my way through his organized, neatly filed brain until I reached the center.

"What the hell—"

"Hush. You know it's me."

"Just…Jesus Christ, next time just call like a normal person," Lennox sighed. "I don't do all this telepathy crap."

"Is it to early in the morning?"

"Uh, yeah kind of."

"Shit. Time change. Forgot about that — my bad. Cogman said that you needed to talk to me?"

"Yeah," Lennox replied. He paused for a long moment, and I could see him gathering his thoughts. "We found the guy who murdered Chairman Morshower."

I sat up immediately, nearly banging Sqweeks in the head.

"How and who?"

"Some guy from Kansas. Bryce Allen. Thirty years old, father of two…I won't go into the details. He shot himself in the head during a police confrontation," Lennox said bitterly. "Son of a bitch. Thinks he's to good for federal prison, I guess."

"Trust me, federal prison would have been the least of his worries. You and I both know Optimus would have gone after him first."

"Damn right. I heard Prime is back," Lennox said softly. "That's what the government wants. He's a beacon, a symbol for all the humans who fought alongside him."

"N.E.S.T," I murmured. I felt my body tense as I grit my teeth. "You guys are technically unofficially back in the game, right?"

"We're trying. It would be great if we had someone with superpowers to join us."

"Are you talking about me or Izzy? Because you know how I feel about—"

"You," Lennox said. "Not Izzy. And you know what, it's already to much to ask, I know. I'm sorry. It's just…"

"You miss having Epps."

"Yeah," Lennox admitted finally, after a long pause. "I do."

I didn't know what to say. A silent hung between us, and I replied, "There was no one like him, but him. Me joining N.E.S.T won't fill that hole. You're a good man, Will, and one hell of a soldier. But I don't think that I can do this. I can't."

"I'll always understand, Rachel," Lennox said softly. "I want what's best for you."

I paused, letting out a deep sigh, partially out of contentment and partially because I was fairly certain I already knew the answer to my own question. A question which I asked Lennox in a calm voice.

"Do you have nightmares, Will?"

"All the time."

"What do you see?"

Will didn't reply for a long moment. Then, heavily, he murmured, "I…see so many people dead. I saw Sam die. I saw you die. And when I'm asleep I see it all over again, the exact way it happened. And I can't do anything about it."

I'd almost forgotten how many similarities the other boy, Sam Witwicky, and I shared. I'd only seen him once, and that had been very, very briefly. He'd chosen to walk away and put his days of death-defying decisions behind him. That was a difference.

"Hell exists, man, and we've been through it," I chuckled. "You came out of it. You're one of the lucky ones."

"I am. And so are you."