ooOOooOOoo Denotes scene breaks

~o~o~o~o~ Denotes breaks within a scene

~Chapter 22~

Cries of agony, static-laced screams… stumps of limbs and joints hanging sparking and useless… Fluids spraying from shredded lines and ruined torsos… A spark steadily darkening in his hands and nothing he could do to stop that dimming light and life… Dead optics staring at him…. so many of them… so many...

Memories hung thick around the Medbay today. Ratchet glanced around, scrubbing faceplates with a hand that trembled. Logistics and efficiency combined to recreate the exact dimensions and layout of each Medbay he set up.

Well-worn motor routines and relay pathways carved deep in processors dictated the patient be here; fuel and coolant lines be there; clamps and microwelders be close to a reaching hand. Always the same, no matter where they were.

Small wonder he was haunted by the past.

Other memories ghosted in. Hands running over a powerful frame… the singing of circuits against his… fingers that could find every sensor hidden on his frame…

Moments of relief, safe havens in the storm, an anchor thrown to a drowning mech.


Cybertron – Distant Past

Ratchet's hand shook as he read the note slipped under his door. The joors crawled by as he checked on patients in the regenerative tanks, checked the duty roster, checked the scheduled assignments for his junior medics, and impatiently checked and re-checked his internal chronometer until he could finally, discreetly, make his way to the old storage room.

Plates sizzled and shimmered with heat. Blue sparks arced and flared over their frames.

"Optimus, Optimus," Ratchet moaned, fingers digging into backplates, their fields weaving in tight and sparks spinning up hot.

"Shhhh, quietly, Beloved," Prime murmured, mouthplates tracing the length of each finger and across the sensitive palms, groaning softly as Ratchet writhed against him.

"Optimus, please!" came another plea, and Prime growled and pulled him into a fierce embrace and crushed their open chests together. His mouth came down hard and he swallowed Ratchet's cries as a massive wave of spark energy pulsed and crashed and threw them both into overload.

Ratchet onlined in Optimus' arms, lying on the floor. Heat flared out from behind the large chest plates in front of him. He looked up to see Prime's optics brightening, already hungry for him again, and felt the slow burn as his own systems responded. He reached a hand up to trace over firm, smooth lips, shivering as they pressed against his palm, and pulled Prime's head down for a kiss. He moaned as Prime's mouth moved over his, then broke away.

"Let's go to my quarters, Optimus, or yours, I don't care," Ratchet murmured, hands moving urgently over heated plates. "Somewhere we can be comfortable, take our time…"

Prime's movements stilled, and Ratchet knew the answer before it was even voiced. He groaned in frustration, rolling away and standing up.

"Optimus! What are we waiting for?"

"There's still a war on…"

"This slagging war has been going on for almost a thousand vorns now. It won't end until we're all dead and rust, and then what good will waiting have done us?"

"The risk to you is too great…"

"I don't care! I'm willing to take that risk!"

Prime shook his helm as he got to his feet.

"But I'm not. Ratchet, we've been over all this. I lost two berthmates before you got here. I won't have it be known that you're sharing my berth, and risk losing you, too."

"At least they were in your berth, not sneaking around and fragging on the floor of a storage room! Do you have any idea how that makes me feel? Like I'm some dirty little secret you have to hide and grope in the dark?"

Pain and guilt warred together on Prime's face, and he reached a hand out in apology, but the young medic shrugged angrily away. Prime dropped his hand and sighed.

"Ratchet, you know that's not true. You have my promise that we'll be together once this war is over. I'm just trying to keep you safe until then. What we have is-"

"And what do we have, Optimus?" Ratchet interrupted, field seething and bitter. "You send me an anonymous note when your schedule allows, we meet in a dark room where you frag me on the floor, and then we spend the rest of the time pretending like nothing's ever happened. I'm beginning to wonder if there really is anything between us, other than a good fragging now and then."

Optics narrowed; Prime's engine growled. "The moment word gets out that you're sharing my berth, you become a target. I won't let that happen, not to you. You mean too much to me. Our relationship is the most important-"

Ratchet's harsh laughter cut him off. "What relationship? It would be something if you would at least pay me for our little sessions together, Prime, then I'd know for sure where I stand with you."

Prime's optics flashed white with fury, hands clenched into fists as he took a step towards the medic.

"How dare you…after what I've told you… what we've shared…"

Ratchet stared back, optics icy, refusing to back down.

"Give me a reason to believe you, Prime. Tell me the next note you send will invite me to your quarters and not to this storage room, or the warehouse, or that Pit-slagging decommissioned range, or any of the dozens of wretched skulking holes you've directed me to over the last thousand vorns."

Dead silence was the only response as he watched the fury drain away, the fists unclench, and Prime turn away from him.

Ratchet's systems staggered at the painful rejection.

No. No more of this.

He willed his pedes to move, forcing his frame to the door, nearly at the threshold when Prime spoke.

"Ratchet, I'm sorry."

The medic leaned against the door wearily. "And I'm tired. Tired of this war, tired of waiting for us to be together. All I do is patch up the wounded, comfort the dying, salvage parts from the dead and wait for a note from you that comes every couple of decacycles. There has to be more than this. Primus, I need there to be more."

"This is all I can give you for now," Prime said softly, and Ratchet could almost hear the high, thin crack as his spark fractured. His vocalizer made a harsh grinding sound.

Arms pulled him close and held him tight as he shook, and a deep soothing hum filled his audials. They stayed that way for a long time, reluctant to part, glyphs of love and sorrow, longing and regret flowing between them.

Ratchet's shaking finally stopped and his vents blew out air in a sigh as he looked up at Prime.

"I can't stay here. I have to leave, Optimus."

Prime's optics flickered and dimmed. The deep voice was strained, laced with static. "Ratchet… Are you sure?"

Vents whispered another sigh into the quiet room.

"I'm sure if I stay here, I'll break. Let me transfer out, focus on something else for a time."

Prime's grip tightened. "I don't want to let you go."

Ratchet looked up into optics dark with pain, then around at corroded metal walls, the thick layer of dust blanketing the room. In the beginning, none of that had mattered. In the beginning, there was only Optimus. Now the smell of dust was thick in olfactory sensors, the filth and grime and dirt ground into his seams. "If you cage me here I will end up hating you."

Prime's optics shuttered, regret and longing flooding his field. My dearest… my Beloved… I would never... I am only sorry that I caused this.

Ratchet leaned against him, letting the larger mech support him, systems already shrilling with agony at the thought of separation. They wrapped sorrowful fields around each other, harmonics woven out of love and grief and anguished need.

The afternoon shift had come and gone, and they were well into the evening when Prime walked Ratchet back to his quarters, lingering at the door, ignoring the raised optic ridges and speculative looks.

One final questioning gaze, Ratchet nodded, and Prime sighed.

"I'll put the orders in first thing."

Fingers brushed against his hand; Ratchet had to steel himself against the touch, that look of patient sadness.

"Good recharge, Ratchet." Quiet murmur, infinitely weary tones.

"Good recharge, Optimus."

The words echoed in processors, bitter in his mouth. Neither of them would recharge well tonight.

Two decacycles later, Ratchet was waiting in the transport bay, talking with Jazz, when Prime walked in.

"Jazz, leave us," Prime said quietly, as he locked optics with the medic. The door closed, and Ratchet was pulled into a hard embrace and a long, lingering kiss.

"No matter what happens, my promise to you stands," Prime said softly, and then he was gone.


"You ready, Ratch?"

He pulled himself reluctantly back to the present and nodded, gathering up Ironhide's requested supplies, ignoring Jazz's sympathetic look, the distress for him that radiated through that quicksilver sparkling field as he brushed past.

::We'll need more supplies soon.:: the medic commed as they dropped down to alt-modes outside the Base.

::I'll get 'Bee on it.::

Ratchet acknowledged with weary thanks, waiting while Maggie stowed an armload of equipment into the silver Solstice and then settled herself in the small cockpit.

Jazz's field wrapped around his, conveyed wordless sympathy, understanding and comfort. It was all Ratchet could do not to curl himself into it and seek relief.

But no. He was the Chosen of a Prime, and this particular torment was of his own making.

A last ripple of comfort and then the field withdrew, and Jazz headed off the Base and towards the Lennox ranch.

Ratchet followed slowly.


Mikaela paced the perimeter carefully, the boundary Ironhide had drawn for the range of Barricade's field. The storm of tears had taken several days to dry up, leaving her tired and sad, an empty ache inside. It felt an awful lot like breaking up, she admitted wryly, but what did she just break up from? Or with?

Not a bond, a connection…

Need… want… only you… she basked in the glow, the center of all his attention…

If she were brutally honest with herself, she had fed that connection as much as Barricade.

"Don't go near him again until you are sure of what you want," Ironhide warned.

So…. What did she want?

Mikaela sighed, one sandal scuffing through Ironhide's line, drawn with a fingerpad through rough grass and dirt. She could walk this circle all day and be no closer to solving the problem. Communication was what they needed, and the one thing they didn't have.

She came to a stop facing Barricade. No movement, no acknowledgment of her presence, no hint that he was even aware.

Ironhide stared down at her. "He knows you, femme, far better than you know him. Any weakness, and he will pounce. Any opening you give, he will take advantage of, and he will give you no quarter in return."

Mikaela glanced over at the silent Saleen. "You make it sound like a battle."

Ironhide arched one optic ridge. "If you think this is not, you are very much mistaken."

She watched the Saleen, gathering her thoughts and her nerve, and finally took a step forward, across the boundary. Sandals crunched into dirt and pebbles.

It was almost easier to state what she didn't want. Barricade might not understand the words, but Ironhide assured her he was well aware of her emotions.

She took another step, projecting the feelings behind the words as strongly as she could.

I am not a trophy, not arm candy.

Two more steps.

I am not your possession. I am not your toy.

Three more steps and she slowed and faltered, shivering with the silky glide over her skin, as strong as an actual touch.

His field, she knew what it was now, how it felt…

God help me…

The pull of Barricade's field was stronger. Mikaela took a steadying breath and three more steps.

You cannot order me. No one orders me.

Four more steps, nearly there…

You don't own me, I am not your slave.

One last step brought her to just in front of the Saleen.

A low purr of his engine, another silky stroke over her skin. If she concentrated, she could almost hear the words.

My little one, I have missed you. Come.

Mikaela stiffened, imagining her own field rough and prickling, sprouting spines in a warn off.

Barricade's field was suddenly sliding against a wall of bristling energy. His field drew back, engine stuttering with surprise, then he pressed in harder.

You are MINE, little one. COME.

Mikaela trembled under the call, the pull intoxicating, overwhelming, relentless.

Ironhide was right, this was a battle, whether she was ready for it or not.

She bit her lip hard, using the pain to help regain focus, calling up anger and throwing every ounce of her will into feelings, building them up like a shield.

I am NOT yours. I am ME, I am my own. I belong to MYSELF and no other.

His field was thrown off by a sudden flash of energy. The little one's field blazed white, crackling with power and a clear warning.

Barricade's first instinct was to fight, to battle and batter against that wall of resistance until it was utterly vanquished, then take the one behind it, subdue it, make it his….


Guardian's voice, with a ghostly echo behind it.

Warnings… reminders…

His engine choked, throttling the defiant roar that threatened. He clamped down viciously on the wild clawing in his spark. The warning in that vibrant white field was clear. He would respect that.

The pressure eased, his field withdrew. Mikaela gave a shaky sigh and rested one hand on Barricade's hood.

"Can we call a truce now? Please?"

She might have imagined the gentle flicker against her skin, it was so completely different from that compelling call. Then the engine gave a rough growl and the Saleen backed away just as Ironhide's horn beeped a welcome.

Tech support was here.


Sarah sat on the old glider on the farmhouse porch, cup of coffee in hand and Annabelle napping on her lap. Mikaela fidgeted beside her.

Ironhide had herded a reluctant and very grouchy Saleen towards the new arrivals and their small pile of equipment.

Barricade did not like the medic. He was never going to like the medic.

When the Saleen braked and snarled a protest, Ironhide promptly thumped the roof with a large fist and muttered, "Suck it up."

He had clearly picked that up from Will; Sarah sputtered laughter into her coffee.

Beside her, Mikaela smiled nervously and continued watching Barricade, mind roaming again and again over that unexpectedly gentle touch of his field.

It held its own pull; not a demanding summons, more like a beckoning, an invitation that carried with it a hopefulness.

If they could just communicate, maybe there was a chance for something more...

She glanced towards Jazz and Maggie. Soft hair brushed gently against plating as she pointed to something in the headset. Jazz's low rumble brought a quick smile and an unconscious lean into the large metal hand pressed lightly to her back as Maggie continued making adjustments.

Even occupied as they were with readying her new headset, there was an intimacy, an understanding and affection Mikaela could only dream of.

Ratchet was beckoning Barricade closer and running scans. One hand rested on the Saleen's hood, the fingers reconfiguring into the slender fibers of a deep probe. The silvery threads spread rapidly, disappearing into gaps between plates and connecting to hidden ports. The Saleen shuddered; Ironhide placed a steadying hand on the roof.

Finally it was her turn.

"Good luck," Sarah murmured.

"Thanks." Mikaela took a deep breath as she left the porch to join the others. Technically speaking, this was the easy part.

Maggie handed her the headset, lighter than her regular one. She fumbled a little before putting it on, fingers trembling.

Another deep breath, and suddenly she was the center of all eyes. "I… what do I say?"

"Anything," Maggie supplied unhelpfully, entirely focused on the comms panel before her.

"Just say hello?" Jazz suggested.

Ironhide's optics pinned on her. "He does not know your name."

Mikaela swallowed and nodded, touching one finger to the headset.

"Barricade, my name is Mikaela."

"Negative." Jazz leaned over Maggie as she shook her head. "Try again."

"My name is Mikaela."


"My name is Mikaela."

"Again." Ratchet, this time.

"My name is Mikaela."

"Got the access point," Maggie beamed.

"Port is functional," Ratchet confirmed, "but just barely open. Strong interference from whatever is left of that barrier."

"I could try forcin' it the rest of the way," Jazz offered, but Ironhide shook his helm sharply.

"Not without his cooperation. I haven't put myself through all this just to have him backtrack now. Let me try."

Ironhide knelt by the Saleen, resting both hands on the roof as he merged into their bond.

Guardian… The rough rumbling welcome purred around him. The bond tugged, pulling on systems, drawing out energy.

Ironhide waited, allowing Barricade to access his outermost thoughts and decide for himself what he wanted.

The pull stopped, surprise washing through the bond.

Communicate? Now?

Now. But there is a slight problem. Ironhide showed him an image and location of the port. If you cannot clear this, allow me to do it for you.

Another wait, this time nearly a click longer, an impression of searching, a clumsy fumbling through systems that made Ironhide wince in sympathy, followed by a soft whine from the Saleen. Cannot find port. Guardian must open.

Very well. This will hurt, Ironhide warned, and nodded to Ratchet. "Get ready to lock that port open."

The brief warning, a distracting burst of rich energy through the bond that left Barricade quivering, and then he was steeling himself against a wave of pain, then another, and another, each one sharper, carving deep into his internals as Ironhide methodically broke down the barrier wall shielding the port. The Saleen shuddered and bucked under restraining hands. Barricade moaned. Guardian…

Almost there… "Ratchet, now!"

Another burst of rich energy, followed by a tidal wave of pain. Barricade screamed through the bond as something forced its way into his processors and then the pain vanished and he was being wrapped up in his Guardian's embrace.


Barricade whined, trembling in the strong grip of Ironhide's field, his own sucking greedily from the rich stores of energy.

Ironhide stood up slowly, more of an effort than he wanted to admit with Ratchet's optics pinned hard on him. "Port is open. Try again, Mikaela."

::I'm fine, medic.::

::You are very far from fine, bolt bucket.:: Ratchet snapped back, and Ironhide's mouthplates twitched at the familiar snark.

Mikaela touched a finger to the comm on the headset.

"My name is Mikaela."

Static through the headset. Jazz and Maggie were bent intently over the comms screen.

"My name is Mikaela."

Another burst of static, followed by a strange burble of sound.

Ratchet and Ironhide looked at each other, and then Jazz all but smacked his own helm. "His translator."

"Well, frag."

"If that's gone, that's a whole different problem," Ratchet warned. "I have one that may work, but integrating it with his systems will take more time."

Ironhide snarled silently. The one thing his processors continuously worried over. Nothing specific that his AI could detect, but Ironhide was aware of an increasing sense of time running out.

"Ratchet," Jazz spoke up, visor shifting rapidly through the spectrum before flashing to pale grey. "Prime's on his way here, ETA five clicks."

::Sorry, Ratch, I didn't know he was-::

::I did::

The medic turned accusing optics to Ironhide, who met his glare calmly.

::I asked him to come::

::I could have helped you!::

Ironhide tilted his helm with a slight snort.

::Not in the shape you're in, medic::

A single brush of Ironhide's field was enough to set Ratchet's into trembling chaos.

Optics dimmed; he struggled for control.

The sound of a powerful engine rumbled in the distance. Jazz grimaced. "Make that three clicks."

Optics and emergency lights flashed panic; sirens gave a single aborted bleat of sound. The speed at which Ratchet collapsed down into his alt-mode left the three humans open mouthed and staring.

::Jazz, tell Bumblebee I'll collect the cache.::

Jazz barely had time to acknowledge before the medic cut the comm link. Another panicky flash of emergency lights, and the Humvee was out of sight.


Prime hid his disappointment as he greeted Jazz and Ironhide, then knelt to greet the humans. The telltale tracks of a Humvee leaving in a hurry told their own story.

He wasn't sure what was worse, Optimus mused as he rose, the realization that Ratchet was deliberately avoiding him or the knowing looks of his Second and Weapons Specialist.

Prime inclined his helm, acknowledging their concern, the sympathy behind those steady gazes. Not for nothing were these two members of his inner circle, trusted implicitly.

"Status report?"

He focused with an effort, shifting his attention from the tracks to Jazz and his brief explanation of their progress—or lack thereof.

"His translator is beyond repair?"

Jazz hesitated, then lifted one shoulder in a shrug. "We don't know for sure."


"There is one…" Jazz's quick glance to Ironhide was met with a glowering stare. "Let him gain the information himself."

"Ah." Prime's optics glimmered with interest. "You would connect him to the world wide web and let him learn the languages as we did?"

"No!" Ironhide practically snarled the negative, and Prime turned optics to him, noting the strain taxing the heavy frame.

"You object to this?"

Ironhide crossed arms in a stance both defiant and weary. "I do. He will not be able to control the input. He could gain more information than is strictly necessary and that could be dangerous."

Prime's helm tilted.

::You truly believe he is still a threat, old friend?"

::With every circuit and processor of my being, Prime.::

"What about a filter?" Maggie suggested. Jazz nodded vigorously.

"Something ta regulate the input."

"Hmm..." Ironhide's optics flickered as he considered the possibility and finally, reluctantly, signaled agreement. "It would at least minimize the risk."

"Then proceed."

::And then I will see to you, old friend.::

::My thanks, Optimus.::

I'll need it. Ironhide's mouthplates pulled tight and grim as he turned to kneel beside the Saleen once more.


It began as a slight flicker, a movement out of sync with what she observed. Sarah blinked but the flickering continued. She closed her eyes and almost gasped at the blue shimmer, vivid against the blackness of her lids. The shimmer increased, grew larger, blue curls and delicate swirling tendrils spilled across the dark. Sarah watched, utterly entranced.

The tendrils reached, beckoning and drawing her into the luminescent blue ocean that lay at her feet, and Sarah went willingly.

She did gasp then, emotions rippling out like waves in that blue shimmer. Everywhere she looked was filled with stars. Awe and wonder and amazement created little eddies and swirls, joining in with the larger flow around her.

It might have been moments or an eternity that she floated in that vast blue ocean of stars, lost in wonder, then a rushing current pulled her out and away.

No! She didn't want to leave, she never wanted to leave. Let me stay, please?

Warmth, affection, a gently amused understanding answered, and a familiar presence surrounded her. The current placed her back on dark shores, the blue ocean began to dim.

My dear one, you are wonderful, but not now…

Sarah blinked, eyes opening on the scene before her that was not much changed: Jazz and Maggie with heads down, monitoring readings on their small pile of equipment, Mikaela fidgeting next to Prime, Ironhide kneeling beside Barricade.

I must have dozed off, she thought, dazed and blinking against the over bright daylight. Oh but that ocean… the stars…

Later, dear one, I promise.

She startled at the brush of that familiar presence again, and a deep rumbling voice that was nowhere and everywhere at once.

Ironhide… how…?

Her gaze sought and found Ironhide's, the optics steady on her; a slight incline of his helm acknowledged her guess. She was about to press for answers when a gentle but firm denial formed in her mind.

Later. I must see to Barricade now.

Ironhide's optics glimmered the same blue of that ocean, and Sarah could have floated in them forever.

Then he turned back to the Saleen and the contact shut down completely, leaving a curiously empty place behind.


Barricade settled as his Guardian laid hands on him. Good things always followed this contact. The loud angry one was gone. Except for his little one, the others who remained were of no significance or interest, and he was free to sink himself into the bond.

A crack appeared in the grey wall of nothing that encircled his processors. Barricade watched it, alert and curious. Something different, and different was always good.

The crack widened steadily, like a door opening, and a stream of data trickled through. His processors pounced immediately, sorting, classifying, activating memory cells he had no idea were there.

He had not known this was all missing, information, knowledge, the ability to see beyond, to know, to communicate. His processors clamored for more, and Barricade thrust mental hooks at the doorway, forcing it wide, wider, the trickle becoming a stream, becoming a river, becoming a flood of information, a whole glorious universe of knowledge opening up.

Then the flood slowed, the door began to close, and something in Barricade roared up in denial.


Ironhide had not expected this to be easy. Filtering petabytes of data from the internet, isolating language components, then downloading to Barricade, first in terabits, and when that proved too fast, dropping down to gigabits, and finally megabits of data per second, mere drips of information compared to what Barricade should be capable of processing.

Like Sarah spoon feeding her child, Ironhide thought wearily, Primus, just get him through this and he would never ask for another thing.

He tracked the flow until the last bits of data were downloaded, then began closing off the port. Too late his AI flashed a warning, and Ironhide cursed steadily.

He really should have anticipated Barricade's response. All the signs were there, the sudden ravenous hunger, something waking up that had slumbered for too long.

This was not the charge he had come to know, stubborn but overall biddable and cooperative. This was a Pit-spawned demon straight from Unicron.

Suddenly Ironhide was struggling to keep the port locked down but the Decepticon snarled and forced it wide with a strength that was surprising. And dangerous.

Ironhide fought grimly, but Barricade sensed his Guardian was weak.

I can't… can't hold him back… Prime!


Sarah had just finished tucking the soft blanket around the sleeping Annabelle when the vertigo hit. She clutched the rail of the crib, her vision flooding with shimmering blue. Same shore, same glittering starry sky, but across the calm and beautiful ocean a storm was raging. Blue lightning cracked the skies, thunder reverberating in a continuous roll. The waters churned and seethed and emotions buffeted her. Anger and grim determination battled with rage and defiance.


Sarah sensed one side of the battle weakening. Ironhide, slowly collapsing under the relentless attack from… who?

A call went out from the Guardian, unknown language but the meaning was crystal clear. Ironhide needed help, now.

No answer, no one here but her, and Ironhide was battered, faltering, fading… Then she caught a flash of what—and who—Ironhide was facing.

Sarah's hands fisted, anger surged high, the storm-tossed waves at her feet suddenly turned to a conduit. Take me to my Guardian. NOW.

If Barricade really was the one at the center of all this, she was going to kick his ass.



The call went nowhere, too much interference.

Ironhide held on grimly, but his reserves were nearly gone, strength failing. If he lost control over the Decepticon now, he might never get it back.

Primus, help me…

A sudden blinding flash of blue lightning and the deafening boom of thunder that followed rattled his plating and paused Barricade's attack.


Ironhide gaped at the small figure materialized in front of him. Small but powerful. Fury crashed into the opening between Guardian and Decepticon, strong enough to drive Barricade back.


But Barricade had already taken the measure of this new threat and was on the attack again.

Sarah, watch out!

The blow staggered her but she lashed back, fury and outrage a roiling shield around her.

Red optics stared contemptuously down at the small being who dared to challenge him, processors weighing and then dismissing the threat. Weak, insignificant, useless.

Barricade snarled and took a menacing step forward. He would annihilate this interfering little glitch so utterly, not even the echoes of screams would remain.

Sarah looked up, wide-eyed, trying not to panic. After her initial burst of outrage and Barricade's punishing blow, she had clarity enough to realize she was woefully outmatched. Barricade's optics were murderous as he advanced and all she could do was fall back.

She didn't know enough, about how to function here, how to use her emotions—

Not yet, dear one, but I do.

The shadow of her massive Guardian engulfed her. Sarah leaned against one large metal foot, shivering with relief as Ironhide mantled protectively over her. Something reached out to her, like a hand extending, and Sarah felt herself slipped into a strong, firm grip. Ironhide's presence surrounded her, gratitude and relief and a new strength and determination flooded her.

Now, let us get this glitching 'Con back in line, together.

She was part of him, and the stronger part she realized with surprise. Ironhide would provide the guidance and expertise she sorely needed. A part of her exulted as she turned to face Barricade again, then drove him back with solid heavy blows, fueled by her fury and guided by Ironhide.

You. Will. OBEY.

The last blow sent the Decepticon to his knees at Ironhide's feet, helm bowed, frame shuddering.

I… obey, Guardian.

The door to the universe slammed shut. Part of Barricade wailed in protest at the loss, but the rest of him was simply grateful that the Guardian's discipline was over.

Not only the Guardian's.

His helm lifted. Red optics stared into wide blue eyes. The small being lifted its chin and gave him a defiant glare.

His processors kept droning on about unworthiness and weakness, but this one had clearly earned his regard.

Respect. Barricade inclined his helm slightly then withdrew from bondspace, leaving the small one gaping.


Mikaela sensed the backlash of Barricade's energy, not gentle now, not coaxing. This energy was violent and furious. She glanced around to see Prime bending over Jazz's shoulder to watch Maggie's screen. No one else seemed to realize what was happening. She wrapped arms around herself, braced against that raging fury and profoundly grateful that none of it was directed at her.

No more than five minutes could have passed before calm returned but the furious turmoil left her shivering, a red tinge behind her eyes when she blinked.

She smothered a gasp when Ironhide slowly rose to his feet, looking like one of Ratchet's vid lectures. She could hear his voice, pointing out the telltale indicators. Dimmed optics, the shining black armor dulled and washed out.

The nanites in armor will withdraw from maintenance routes on armor, retreating back into the core and collecting near the spark until they can be replenished-the last stage of energy depletion before stasis.

"Are you alright?" Mikaela asked, barely above a whisper, because Ironhide was weak now, very weak. Another shiver traced down her spine. She couldn't shake the feeling that something was biding its time, just waiting for the chance, and that something was overwhelmingly dangerous.

A chance for what?

He could thank Primus that Ratchet wasn't here trying to haul him off to Medbay. Mikaela was bad enough; a mini-medic lacking the clout, but definitely seeing too much at the moment.

Ironhide nodded to her. "He has the linguistics, try now."

The doubtful arch of a delicate brow seemed perfectly timed to his own clamoring systems. Ironhide silenced the alarms and inclined his helm to the small medic-in-training. "I will see to my energy levels as soon as we are done here. Sufficient?"

"Yes… thank you." Mikaela gave him a look of gratitude and a shy smile. Deferring to her medic status, albeit a junior one, was high praise from Ironhide.

She adjusted the headset and turned to face Barricade, hope and anticipation warring with worry and fear.

Communication was progress, a very large step forward in Barricade's recovery.

"Barricade, my name is Mikaela."

The memory of that furious rage sent shivers tracing up her spine. Barricade clearly had a temper. What if he turned that on her, could she calm him, or worse case, defend herself?

"My name is Mikaela."

Stop it Banes, just stop. Stop leaping ahead, stop borrowing trouble, and while you're thinking about it, ask Ironhide for more lessons.

"My name is Mikaela."

What would it be like, to hear those words she only felt through his field?

Want… need… only you…

"My name is Mikaela."

Would everything change, once he could talk? Would he change? When he recovered fully, and Ironhide ended their bond, would Barricade just… leave?

Don't leave me… please don't leave me...

"My name is M—"

"Mikaela," Maggie touched her arm gently, "It didn't work, he can't respond. I'm sorry."

The sympathy in her friend's eyes was more than she could take. Mikaela bowed her head and let the tears come.

Comforting pats from Maggie were replaced by a deep soothing rumble. "I share your disappointment, Mikaela, but rest assured, we will continue seeking a way to communicate with Barricade."

Only one Autobot had a timbre that deep. Heat from a large engine was warm against her back.

Mikaela turned into Optimus's waiting hand, letting the heat wash over her. She rested her cheek against a large finger. Prime's hand closed around her and that rumble deepened, infinitely calm, infinitely soothing.

She startled at the grind and shriek of tortured metal, followed by a loud thud, and another, coming from behind her. Prime's rumble had stopped, his hand around her loosened, engine stuttering with surprise.

A large frame rose, unsteady, metal groaning under the strain, armor plating pitted and dull and nearly colorless.

He's going to need more nanites, the inane thought flitted through her shock as Mikaela forced herself to look up.

Bright crimson optics stared down at her, then shifted to glare at Prime.

Another tortured shriek of metal. Her headset crackled to life with a sound as deep as Prime's vocals but harsh and guttural, a snarl given voice.

It rumbled deep and menacing through every commlink and headset:



A/N: Thank you, lovely readers, for the comments, faves and follows, and most of all your love for this story; it keeps me going, it really does! Many many thanks also to the constant support, encouragement and poking of sharp things from my beta, Quidamling. As always, so much love, hun, this would not get done without you.