She should have grabbed another jacket. She was still kicking herself for being so stupid. Yes, she had been sweating and cursing out the midday sun early that day, but now all she wanted was a blanket and somewhere warm to stay. It was bad enough that it had started raining but now that the cold fabric was sticking to her skin it was becoming unbearable.
“Wonderful work Cat, there was a perfectly good jacket in the donation bin you could have grabbed, but no!” Cathleen scolded herself rubbing her arms for circulation. She had been walking for miles, her feet were tired, and she was beyond hungry.
She couldn’t go back though, not to that. She had to stay strong.
Cursing the blisters on her feet, she pushed forward down the side of the highway. At least her choice of footwear was practical. When she had walked into the last gas station no-one gave her a second look. She looked like a very typical twenty-six-year-old. The road was dark, minus a stray light post every couple of yards, letting her blend in to avoid the notice of the rare passing cars. She figured that it had to be around two in the morning.
The rumble of thunder off in the distance brought Cathleen to a stop. From the sound of it, this rain was going to get a lot worse, and she couldn’t see shelter anywhere near her current location. Cathleen considered for a moment getting out the light hoodie that was safely tucked away in her bag but decided against it. She would need dry clothes to change into and she couldn’t risk having everything ruined. She tightened the straps of her bag and adjusted her duffle then set off in a light jog. There had been a sign telling her a rest stop was about two miles. Fifteen minutes of a light jog and she would finally have somewhere to rest. The wet road wasn’t forgiving against her feet but it was either jog in the mud or walk in a downpour.
She could spot the station by the time the rain began to hurt as it hit her skin. She continued to push her hair from her face hoping that the lights were simply off to allow the drivers to sleep, and not abandoned like she feared. Slowing to a walk, she could see that there was a dull light coming from an overhead light from the gas station section. The roof of the filling stations was cracked and caved in with one of the support beams tilted on its side. The building itself gave little shelter but Cathleen wasn’t above scavenging around for some food or water. The place looked like it had been hit by a tornado.
She shoved her shoulder against the door, but the damn thing wouldn’t budge. She tried to pull the planks off of the windows but she was too tired and weak to get very far. From the jog and the physical activity of attempting to break in she let out a few hacking coughs. She could feel her nose beginning to clog and her throat becoming scratchy. She knew she was sick, she most likely had been for a few days and now that she was pushing her body to the extreme it could no longer fight it off. Cursing, she slumped against the door catching her breath. She shifted her bag pulling out a few water bottles to let the rain water fill them. She was still getting soaked lurking in the doorway, so she stood to find shelter in the damaged filling station. The knocked over pillar gave a nice place to curl up under and the roof kept the rain off.
Ringing out her hair, Cathleen felt tears brim her eyes. She pushed them away along with the thoughts that urged them. He lied, manipulated, and alienated her until none of her friends even believed her. She had done everything she could to plan. She had given notice to her boss, kept the things she packed simple and in the locker at the gym, and she had left while he had been called in to work. Cathleen had jumped on the nearest train and left everything behind. She knew she had about twenty dollars left on her person and that would need to last her until she got to a large enough city to find work. She would focus on getting her hands on some cash from a branch of her bank and find her way to a motel room to hole up in and possibly sleep off this cold. Coughing again, Cathleen leaned back on her duffle and closed her eyes.
:We’ve sent a team out to meet you. They won’t reach you until tomorrow.: That had been the best they were able to do. Optimus had driven half way across the country to follow a lead that had gotten them nowhere.
:Very well.: He hadn’t meant to be so short with his team.
:Recharge, Prime. That’s an order.: Ratchet’s stern warning came through the commlink. :There seems to be an abandoned stop less than a mile from your current location.: He was sent the coordinates.
:Understood, old friend.: He saw the rest stop. The place was indeed abandoned, but not deserted it would seem. Optimus scanned the area surprised to find a human female tucked away by the filling station. He was not unaware of the homeless population of Earth, nor the extremely high count of them in the country he and his Autobots were seeking refuge in. He scanned the woman becoming alarmingly concerned with the readings. She was dehydrated and running a very high body temperature. Her body already showed signs of illness with the risk of hypothermia greatly high. After a quick internet search, Optimus became aware that this woman would not survive the night if she were to remain as she was.
:Ratchet.: Being honest with himself, he hadn’t the faintest idea of how to help this human. :There is a situation.:
:What seems to be the problem, Prime?: Ratchet’s tone was curious.
:There is a human female residing at the station. After scanning, she is suffering from malnutrition and hypothermia. I fear she will not survive the night like this. The rain is dropping her temperature.: Optimus knew it was best to describe all of the symptoms and the situation for the best result.
:Has the human seen you?: Ratchet was already forming a plan.
:No, she is in stasis.: Optimus responded.
:You need to wake her up, now! If she sleeps she will parish.: Optimus had sent the data to Ratchet hearing his alarm. :She needs to get warm, out of the wet clothing, and liquids. Optimus, to save this human I fear you must let her into your cabin.:
:Very well.: There was no question. If there was a human life in danger, Optimus would assist them. No matter the cost. Yet, how to stay hidden? :I am going to use the holoform. Inform Lennox.: He cut off with Ratchet activating the holoform protocol. He normally only used it when he knew he would need to interact with humans while driving. He had never considered the need to use one to fully interact with a human. However, this woman needed his help, but he could not simply reveal his true self to her.
It was always an odd feeling to use the holoform. He could still sense and see everything from the truck yet the holoform allowed him to interact with the humans on a personal level. He climbed out of the truck cabin and into the rain jogging over to the female from where he had parked himself. The Peterbilt settled under the section of roof that had not collapsed on itself. Out of the rain he would be able to focus on keeping the human warm and safe, but first he needed to wake her up.
“Miss.” He kneeled before her, gently moving her shoulder. Her skin was burning. Optimus felt himself grow concerned by just how much her skin was warm, but she shivered as if she were frozen. “Please, you must wake up.” He spoke up a bit, still trying to grab her attention. After seeing no affect, he blared the horn of the Peterbilt seeing the woman jolt from the loud sound. Optimus relaxed his shoulders seeing the woman shift and open her eyes slowly. “Miss, you need to get out of the rain.”
“What?” She was still delirious and her voice sounded horse.
“Do not be afraid. I am here to assist you.” The woman coughed harshly as Optimus spoke.
“I’m fine.” She protested attempting to back away from him.
“Please, you are ill and require aid.” The woman looked at him startled for a moment.
Cathleen was so cold. She could tell how sick she was and her body was becoming numb to the ice cold pain. Her lungs burned as she breathed and her body felt sore. How had she gotten this bad so quickly? How long had she been asleep before this man showed up? The man in front of her was handsome, not movie star glamorous, but more rugged good looks. His voice was low and almost lulled her back to sleep as he spoke.
“There will not be much room, but my truck bed is warm and can provide you shelter and warmth.” The man spoke again. A lot of warning bells were going off in Cathleen’s head about getting into a strange man’s truck, but the promise of warmth and somewhere out of this storm sounded heavenly. The thunder sounded like it was right on top of them and the wind was picking up. She nodded, slowly unfolding herself making sure to grab her bags and water bottles. She would cough every so often but followed the man to the custom painted Peterbilt a few feet away from where she had been sleeping. Looking at her watch she had been out in this weather for over four hours. No wonder she was sick. The man opened the door and helped her into the cabin. She was about to sit in the passenger seat when he guided her to the back where the sleeper was.
“I don’t want to take your bed.” She mumbled. She heard the male chuckle behind her before she heard and felt the heat blast fully on her.
“I insist you take it. If possible, you may wish to change clothes. Staying in your current attire will not assist your recovery.” Cathleen listened to the male and smiled. Wordy, wasn’t’ he? “I will give you some privacy.” He stepped back out of the truck shutting the door with a soft click. Cathleen quickly rooted through her duffle for her warmest clothing. A long sleeve shirt and a pair of sweatpants. Peeling off her now soaking wet clothes stripping bare in the back of the cabin she pulled on a new pair of underwear and the clothes. Having something dry on was already making her feel better with the soft fabric running across her skin. She placed her clothes by one of the heating vents to dry. She pulled her hair up into a bun so it wouldn’t drip onto her clothes and become tangled. Satisfied that she was covered and felt cleaner she crawled back up and opened the door.
“I’m presentable.” She attempted to joke but the hacking cough that followed ruined the moment. She was startled when the man reached forward placing his cheek on her forehead. She tried not to chuckle feeling his scruff rub against her skin.
“You are still too warm. You require liquids and rest.” She had to chuckle at his stern tone.
“I swear, I’m already feeling better.” She held up her hands but retreated back to her bag and the bed sitting comfortably on top. “So, what is the name of my rescuer?”
“I am Optimus Prime.” It was short and simple, but what an odd name.
“Cathleen Cauldern.” She offered her hand to shake. “I’m in your debt for allowing me to stay in your truck for the night.” He shook her hand but she had to pull away to cover her face as she coughed.
“Cathleen.” She looked at him seeing he was holding out one of her water bottles to her. “Drink, please.” She took the bottle and sipped lightly feeling the water burn her throat and settle in her empty stomach. “Why are you out here alone?” Cathleen stayed quiet looking down at the bottle in her hand.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” She could tell he wanted to ask more but he respected her wishes and changed the subject.
“Are you warm enough?” The genuine concern in his voice was startling to her.
“Yes, thank you.” She smiled to him. “Really, I owe you a debt.” She coughed a bit but was otherwise feeling much better being dry and warm. Optimus wasn’t so bad.
“I could not leave you out there to die.” He smiled to her. His scans were telling him that she was no longer in immediate danger, but she was still far off from being healthy.
“That’s a first.” She had meant to keep the comment internal but the look he was suddenly giving her made her shift uncomfortably.
“What-“ He began but she shook her head cutting him off. She tried not to focus on how dizzy she had made herself and put on her best smile.
“If it’s all the same to you, I would really like to sleep. I’m dead on my feet here.” She chuckled at her own joke but Optimus didn’t seem to find the humor in it.
“Very well, I will keep you safe for the night.” Cathleen could only compare his tone to something out of a fantasy flick when the knight was declaring his oath to a princess. He was so sincere.
“Thank you.” She smiled to him.
“You are welcome.”
Optimus had not meant to watch the human female as she slept, or at least not in such detail. Once she had drifted off he had dismissed the holoform and scanned her. She was safe from severe illness but flu symptoms were already beginning to show harshly. Her nose was blocked, she would cough and wheeze as she slept, and her temperature was still above the average for a human. Optimus knew that the woman needed food and judging from her attire and the two bags she carried, she had none. He had explained in further detail the situation to Ratchet and now Lennox was taking care of it while some of his team drove out to meet him. He would recharge and get Cathleen to a safe location. Somewhere he knew she wouldn’t be harmed or injured when they would part ways.
Cathleen had his processor filled with so many questions. From their brief encounter she seemed charming and kind. When she had mentioned not wanting to take his bed in her half delirious state he had chuckled. She clearly needed it more than he did, but just the idea of inconveniencing someone seemed to bother her. What had led her here? Why was she alone? Did she have a family or loved one looking for her?
Optimus caught himself thinking she was an attractive female. She had all the characteristics that male’s seemed to find pleasing. Upon comparing Cathleen to Sam’s mate Michaela, Cathleen would seem plain by default. Optimus assumed her attire and ill state helped with that. Perhaps she did have someone looking for her.
His systems alerting him to recharge pulled him from his thoughts. He needed to rest and Cathleen was safe within his cabin getting the rest she needed. The storm was harsh around them but having parked in the center of the station and the collapsed roof had created a tunnel like affect. He was well out of harm’s way giving them both shelter. He would see what would become of her after he was done recharging.