A quiet Sunday afternoon at the Autobot base in Jasper, Nevada, there was no Decepticon activity to speak of, not currently, as Ratchet constantly reminded. Miko sat hunched over the table, feverishly scribbling down math equations and often yelling at the book to make more sense. Jack and Rafael had helped her with the first several problems until it became apparent she wanted only the answers and the helpful actions ceased. Bulkhead shakes his head reminding his human companion that she had brought it upon herself. Bumblebee and Raf were attempting to teach Cliffjumper about the racing game, despite Cliff's ability to constantly hit his own traps.
Jack seemed to have to oddest behavior, quickly picked up by Arcee, as he laid across the arms of a chair mumbling something to himself over and over again. His tone changing each time as well as the wording but the words 'Sierra' and 'dance' were constantly repeated. Becoming concern with Jack's frustration Arcee decides to ask, "Jack, what are you doing?"
The teenager jumps out of his trance, letting out a startled yelp, locking his blue eyes with Arcee's optics, "I... um... nothing." A light blush spread across his cheeks as he looks away and coughs, "Just thinking."
"About a 'dance'?" she questions knowing that was far from a usual thing the human thought about. His mind was mostly on tools, mechanics and school.
Miko looks up, "'Dance'? Darby you're actually thinking of going to that? I thought it wasn't your thing."
"What?" Jack asks sitting up and looking at Miko, "You're going aren't you?"
"Only so I can get on the stage and rock out!" the punk girl pronounces pumping her fist, "I'll have the entire place hopping! So, who are you going with?"
He merely huffs at her, "No one... why do you care?"
Arcee chimes in, "You kept talking about Sierra."
"A-Arcee!" Jack sputters at his guardian.
"Sierra?" Cliffjumper looks up from the game, he had managed to crash once more and come in last.
Raf answers without looking up from the television, "The girl Jack likes."
"Raf!" Jack turns holding his hands up gritting his teeth at the younger preteen, was it really necessary that the they tell the entire base about it!
Cliffjumper laughs, "Trying to get yourself a femme, Jack?"
Jack sighs and shakes his head, "I shouldn't even bother. Vince probably asked her anyways. She wouldn't give me a second thought."
Miko points her pencil at Arcee, "Why not use her? Sierra pays attention when you have your motorcycle with you."
"Yeah and I'm supposed to just wheel Arcee into the school," Jack speaks in dripping sarcasm
"Vince..." Cliff titles his head, "You mean the bully you three talk about?"
"The one and only," Raf answers, "You in on the next race?"
The older human shakes his head, the silver horns reflecting the light from the TV as he did, then stands up, "So in a sense, Vince is your rival, right Jack?"
"Oh, slag, here we go," Arcee groans not sure what he was going to tell the young boy.
Jack looks to Arcee confused then back to Cliffjumper, "What do you mean by rival?"
Cliff flashes a smile, "A rival, for the same femme you want to ask to this dance. Whatever that is."
"In that respect, yeah, I guess so," Jack nods.
"Okay," Cliffjumper rolls up the sleeves of his red plaid shirt to his shoulders, "Here's what you should do. Miko come here a second." He gave her no time to respond instead grabbing Miko and pulling her to the center of the platform, then grabbing Jack and pulling him over as well, "First, just be who you are. No point using a fake front. Alright?" Jack nods eying Cliff suspiciously, what would a Cybertroain know of Earth courting customs. Cliff nods and continues, "Second, don't be shy about it. Go up to her, a simple greeting works. Something along the lines of, 'Hey there. Want to come to the dance with me?'"
Jack laughs, "I don't know about Cybertron, but on Earth, girls seem to travel in packs."
"It wards off creeps," Miko shrugs, "And it works pretty well."
Cliffjumper was taken back a little bit by this news, "Packs? Hrm, okay. Well make you sure you stay near Sierra. Keep eye contact, no looking away. Got it?"
Jack nods again then voices a flaw, "One problem, Vince won't be to far behind. He sees me with Sierra, its going to go downhill really quick."
"Not a problem," the humanized autobot smirks, "If Vince shows up, stay between him and Sierra."
"Death sentence," all three spoke at the same time, once more catching Cliff off guard.
Rafael looks over to them, "If Jack does that. Vince will give him a bloody nose. Or at least a black eye."
Jack nods, "He's right, and Mom will finish me off for getting in a fight, then probably come for you."
"Seriously?" Cliff asks looking between the three of them. He then smiles, "Ha! If he's a true bully, then he won't start swinging. Probably shove you out of the way. Get back up and go back to Sierra. Like so." He gestures Jack to stand next to Miko, then elbows Jack away, "Now come back, don't hesitate." Unsure, Jack obeys and stands back between Cliffjumper and Miko. "Good. That easy."
"Until Vince grabs Jack by the collar," Miko points out.
"Like this?" Cliffjumper mimics the grapple and holds Jack up by the collar of his shirt, "This is an easy break, use both hands and shove my chest right over my spark, hard," the older human pats the spot on his chest, "Go on."
Nodding again, Jack roughly shoves Cliff's chest pushing him back, and freeing himself from the hold. "Good, now turn back to Sierra. Don't leave until you get an answer. And don't attack. I do not need your mother chasing me with a high heel shoe again."
Shaking his head, Jack sighs and crosses his arms, "Okay, in theory, this is a good plan. But I can see as soon as a shove Vince, him grabbing me again and throwing a hard right."
"Then block," the red head replies, "If he swings a right hold up your left arm so he hits your fore arm," Cliff holds Jack's arm in the position and gives a light punch to the arm, "You'll get a bruise arm and save your face. The framework in your arm will stop the punch. Clench your muscles as well to help. Ready?" Cliffjumper waste no time and swings at Jack, the teen quickly holds up his arm, blocking the punch, Cliff swings again and Jack blocks the other side, "Good! Keep your defense up and stay between him and Sierra at all times. If needed, grab and pull her from the wall if he starts back you up. Try to stay in the open. If I recall, you cannot get in trouble for self defense but Vince will from attacking you. Correct?"
"Uh.... yeah I think so," Jack scratches the back of his neck, "You think this will work?"
Cliff smiles, "I wouldn't suggest it if I thought otherwise."
Jack returns the confident smile, "Alright, if this works, I'll owe you one."
The next day after school, Cliffjumper had decided to join the other Autobots in picking up their human allies from school, he was eager to see if his plan had indeed worked. Adjusting the hat some, Cliff watches eagerly from Bumblebee's driver seat.
Arcee's voice came over the com link, "Cliff, you realize if this idea causes Jack to be badly hurt, I am going to get you for it."
"I would count on it, knowing you, 'Cee," Cliff replies keeping his crystal blue eyes on the school's front door.
The last bell rings and the youth of Jasper come pouring out of its halls, the humans scurry around the yard, chattering and gossiping, some making a straight dash to their cars or lining up to board the dull yellow school buses, others taking a seat on the low walls, several in small groups started to walk in different directions down the sidewalk. They quickly spot Miko skipping across the yard then jumping up on one of the low walls, standing and looking around much like a scout, Rafael soon joined her.
"Come on Jack, what's taking you so long?" Miko groans.
Raf pushes his glass back up his nose, "Maybe he's looking for Sierra."
They suddenly see Sierra walking across the yard and towards the sidewalk with two of her friends, Vince lingers by his car taking to other members of the street racing gang, Jack came darting down the steps struggling to close his backpack. Frantic he calls out, "S-Sierra! Wait!" He runs forward and catches up to the group of girls moving to the front of them so he's standing in front of his 'prize'.
"Oh, hey Jack." Sierra replies nervously as they begin to walk around him, "What's up?" Vince looks up from his buddies, narrowing his eyes and marches over to Jack.
"I... I... uh," He begins to walk backwards to stay in front of her, "I... You want to go to the dance with me Friday?"
Miko sees the incoming attack and starts to wave her arms trying to get Jack's attention while Raf tries to mouth out 'behind you'.
"Uh-oh," Arcee, Bulkhead, and Cliffjumper whisper in unison, Bumblebee letting out soft two shorts beeps.
Sierra blushes, "Oh! Um... I...."
"Trying to move in on my date, Darby?"
Jack stops cold turning around finding the taller bully standing directly behind him. He swallows and calls for help from a higher power before turning his back on the green-eyed red hair teen and faces Sierra again following Cliffjumper's advice, "You... what?"
Vince snarls and grabs Jack's collar, "Hey! I'm talking to you!"
"And I'm talking to Sierra," Jack performs the shove after a slight hesitation. In shock from the counter Vince drops him and wears a look of confusion. Victorious, Jack turns back to her, "Sierra, allow me to take you to the dance Friday. We'll look good on my motorcycle don't you agree."
Bulkhead struggles to hold back a laugh. If Arcee had been in her biped form, a look of shock would be on her face.
"Oh!" Sierra's face brightens slightly, "Um, like, sure okay, Jack, right?"
Jack's cheeks went rosy with blush, it had worked, "Y-yeah! See you at six then?" Sierra nods, her girlfriends giggling as she playfully tells them them to shut up, the group of girls hurry down the sidewalk from the school, Vince still standing in stunned silence.
Jack watches them go then pumps his fist with an ecstatic 'Yes!' Miko and Rafael cheer hopping from the wall and climbing into Bulkhead and Bumblebee respectively. Miko cheers, "Nice going Cliffjumper! Jack gets the girl!"
"Can you show me that?" Raf asks leaning on his shoulder from the backseat.
Vince finally recovers from his stunned state, snarls and grabs Jack by the shirt collar again and tosses him across the yard, Jack barely able to keep on his feet, "You are going to regret that Darby! Sierra is going with me! Got it!"
Jack stood his ground even with nervousness showing through, "I do believe she said yes to me, not you."
Arcee watches with worry and mutters in feeble hope he would hear her, "Jack get out of there. You won. Let's go."
"Slag," Cliff mutters, "Come on kid, get out of there."
Vince let out a yell and charges at Jack tackling and sending his opponent flying a few yards across the school yard, Jack hitting the ground and picking up some grass stains. While Jack lays stun, Vince charges in like a predator to prey, right fist pull back ready to pound the idiot who decided to mess with his girl.
"Jack!" Arcee cries knowing she was helpless.
Miko yells, "Jack get up!"
"Jack!" Raf calls out, "Move!"
"Frag!" Cliffjumper bolts out of Bumblebee's passenger side door and races across the school yard, the hat hanging on for dear life to hide his horns.
With a groan Jack come to looking up just in time to Vince's fist coming swinging down to him, his eyes go wide, body frozen, a yell escapes his throat.
Next thing the he knew, he was snatched to his feet and being half dragged back to the waiting Autobots by Cliffjumper, Vince's punch leaving a dent in the parch earth, "Hey! I'm not done with you, Darby!"
"Jump on!" Cliff orders leading Jack to Arcee. Acting on instinct, Jack hops onto Arcee, Cliffjumper taking the seat behind him. Tires screech and away the three Autobots went turning the corner and heading for the outskirts of town not allowing any time for Vince and his crew to catch up to them.
Jack breathes heavily, keeping a death grip on Arcee's handles, "Sweet slag that was close!"
"Run next time, you idiot!" Arcee snarls at him, "I am not losing a partner again due to them not calling for help or running!"
"Hey!" Cliff retorts from behind Jack.
Arcee snaps back, "Do not get me started Cliffjumper! Be glad Jack is safe and you are stuck as a human!"
"At least it worked," Jack notes.
"And nearly got your face smashed in," she points out still angered.
"Hey Jack," Miko calls over the com link, "You okay?"
"Ask once Arcee is done with me," Jack replies with a sigh. He then looks over his shoulder at Cliffjumper, "Alright, I owe you one. What do you want?"
Without skipping a beat, he answers, "Next patrol, I go with Arcee and you stay at the base."
"Done," he replies looking forward again as they approach the hidden base entrance.
Night had fallen over the Nevada desert scape, and as promised, Cliffjumper joined Arcee on the twilight patrol, usually she did this with Jack so she could then take him home but a deal was a deal. Using a length of string, Cliff had managed to tie his hat down so it wouldn't be blown away again. He grips tightly on Arcee's handles as the duo speeds down the all to well known trails they had made around the desert.
"Just like old times, huh, Cliffjumper?" Arcee remarks sounding rather pleased to have some alone time with him.
"Yeah, it has been a long time since it's just been you and me out here, alone," Cliff pauses in thought then adds, "Together."
Arcee gave a short laugh veering from the old trails and to and open area and close to a rock wall, "Thought while we had some time, on patrol, we could visit some old places." She stops allowing him to dismount before resuming her biped form.
Cliffjumper looks up seeing some of the stars starting to shine in the growing night, "This... this is where we landed." She hums giving a short nod and walks across the open area, he follows in quick step, "Before we got our vehicle modes to hide on this planet, seems like a long walk now."
She nods again, "Remember what you did when we first hit this rock?"
"Of course," he smirks and hugs her leg trying to pick up the larger femme to no avail, "Was much easier, when I was ten feet taller."
Unable to stop her laughter, Arcee had to bite her hand to muffle it, "And several tons heavier," she reaches down scooping up the human, "'We're alive!~' I believe is what you said."
It was his turn to laugh, "And you told me to lay off the hugs." Cliff knocks the hat off his head, the string catching around his neck letting the hat settle on his back, "You still think these organic creatures are cute?"
"They are adorable, the fuzzy ones," she remarks then looks at him curiously, "Why?"
"The fuzzy ones, hmm?" Cliff hums, "Then maybe I should let myself become fuzzy then." With one hand he strokes his chin and cheeks regarding rough whiskers that has once mare tried to reappear, this constant grooming had become annoying.
Arcee scoffs, "I prefer my mechs smooth as cold metal." she moves one slender finger to trace his horn, following its curve to the point and back again to the base hidden in his hair.
It made Cliffjumper shudder, the way she caressed his horns. They didn't look it but they were sensitive to her loving touch, the broken one even more so, making him whimper and shake his head when she started to trace it, "Easy there, 'Cee."
"Sorry Cliff," she replies moving to sit on a small ledge, holding her arm so he could easily move or climb up if he so choose.
"A-Arcee," he starts hesitantly, "is... is it true what Ratchet said?"
She blinks looking down at him, "What did he say."
Cliffjumper averts his eyes, "After, Starscream, snuffed my spark. He said you were taking it the hardest of everyone at base." He turns back to look at her curiously.
Her optics drop this time looking towards the dusty ground, "I thought I could save you, but, the Dark Energon had already gotten to you." She clenches her free hand, "Megatron had turned you into an experiment! I watched you slip away from me," Her optics close as purple lubricant 'tears' form, "I could only watch. Like I watched Tailgate slip away. And then you as well. I felt so helpless. There was nothing I could do." Her intakes hitch in a sort of sniffle, "I should have gone when you called for back up. Then you would still be here, and we need your help. All the extra fire power we can get."
He says nothing instead climbing up her chest to her neck and nuzzles his head under her chin, "Don't you start worrying about that. I... I think I have a plan. I do not know if it will work." Cliff was unsure hat to say to comfort her, he was never any good with this, "I am almost there. I don't know how I know, but I do."
Arcee reaches up to wipe the tears from her eyes, "I'll trust you on this one, Cliff." she reaches up with one hand in a sort of hug being ever gentle, "Just... please don't do anything rash."
"That's what I do best, we agreed," he remarks back with a smile and moves to see her better, pushing against the hand so he falls back into it once more, "So, partner. What's the story with you and Jack?"
He looks at him rather taken back by this question, "Well, Jack. I told you how we met. He's smart, cautious, and able to think of plans on the fly. He has leadership quality, but I don't think he knows it fully. Not yet anyway. We are partners. I am his guardian against the Decepticons. And some times it feels like he is trying to protect me. I've taught him about Cybertron, and he's told me a lot about Earth. If anything, he is almost like a little brother to me."
"That's it then?" Cliffjumper asks in slight relief.
"Well, yeah," she looks at him, "What else d- Cliffjumper!" Arcee snarls catching on, "Honestly! We are two separate species!"
He flinches, "I was not suggesting that!"
Arcee felt her core temperature rise sharply, "Oh, uh, good." she coughs feigning clearing her intakes, "He's my partner in the fight. And a brother to me. That's all. As a partner, no, he won't replace you. No one can."
Cliff doubles over in laughter holding onto his sides, he hadn't laugh like this in ages, and Primus did he need it, "Did I actually make Arcee stumble! I can't believe that! The uptight strict second command to Optimus Prime himself."
She simply glares at him shaking her head and decides to change to subject, "So what is this master plan of yours?"
"Secret!" he replies regaining himself making her pout, "Now another question for you. Is that offer still open?"
Arcee gives his a quizzical look, "What offer?" She searches her memory banks then blinks when she finds it, "Oh! That. Well, if you had your old frame back, then, yes."
Cliffjumper gives her a warm smile again, "When my master plan works, I'll take you up on it." A sudden beep came from Cliff's phone prompting him to pull it out, there was a text message waiting for him, "From Jack, 'Mom found out about fight at school. Grounded for a week. Won't be at base. Bumblebee is taking me home.' ... I feel kinda bad now."
"I'm not even surprised he got in trouble, honestly. I don't blame you," she remarks catching a glimpse of the timer as he clears off the text message letting out a soft groan.
"What?" he asks looking back at her.
Arcee taps the phone's backside lightly, "That stupid timer. Just a constant reminder I'm going to lose you again."
Cliff's eyes shift back to the screen, watching as the seconds tick by until the screen goes blank, and the phone reenters stand by mode, "There's still time left. And I plan to take advantage of every second I have."
"Aww, how sweet!"
Both autobots look up and around hearing the voice of a femme, Acree snarls, "Arachnid!"
"Who else were you expecting? Tailgate?" The ground rumbles and from under the earth emerges the spider decepticon, "Well, well. You got a partner back, as a human! How quaint. You know, Arcee. You should really find partners with some more resilience to them then that organic shell. Now, I'll give you a chance. Hand me Cliffjumper and his communicator, and I'll let you scurry back to Jack. I won't be long, dear. He is next on my list."
Arcee puts Cliff down on the ledge, "Hide!" She then turns to Arachnid pulling out her rifles, "Not if I scrap you first!"
Arcee opens fire on the decepticon spider, Arachnid making quick use of her long legs to skitter away and up the cliff face holding out her hands and firing twin globs of sticky webbing, both hitting Arcee's wrists and pinning the Autobot to the rock.
Not taking any chances, the spider launches forward spinning her web to encase Arcee's body and legs, immobilizing her, "As the humans say, game, set, you lose." Arachnid traces one claw across Arcee's face leaving a small acid trail, "I'll come back for you. Oh Cliffjumper." The spider hops onto the ledge and scurries across the rock face scanning the ground for the horned human.
"Scrap!" Arcee shouts struggling against the bindings, "Cliffjumper! Get out of here!"
A sudden shot of energon flashes over her head hitting Arachnid square in the back making the 'Con tumble slightly. It was quickly followed by the agile yellow and black Bumblebee. Arcee hears a familiar voice shouting orders, "Keep the spider busy! I'll free Arcee!"
"Jack!" Arcee calls out in worry for the much smaller human watching as Bumblebee darts past her and Jack pulls out his pocket knife, starting to cut away the webbing, "But how-"
"Cliffjumper," the teenager replies, "Bumblebee and I were the closest."
Arachnid shouts darting around Bumblebee gunfire, kicking the scout and firing the webbing at him, trapping the young 'Bot to the ground. She laughs, "And just like that. I catch a bug in my web."
"And you get the horns!" Cliffjumper charges forward, head down and digs his silver horn into Arachnid's left leg.
In pain, Arachnid cries out, kicking the human off of her and sending him flying towards Jack. Jack looks up just in time for Cliffjumper to fly into him knocking both of them into the dusty ground. Examining her leg, the 'con sees the horn actually managed to leave a small gash, it now leaking a steady stream of energon, "You'll pay for that!" Forgetting about Bumblebee, Arachnid shift to her spider like limbs and charges towards the down humans, one claw drawn back.
"He-yah!" Arcee pulls free of the weaken webbing jumping up and delivering a swift punch to the spider's jaw, knocking her opponent back. With out a second thought she let's loose a volley of kicks and punches, giving the two humans time to get up and free Bumblebee.
Getting her guard up, Arachnid blocks a kick, catching Arcee's ankle, using her spider like limbs to grabs and toss the Autobot away from her. With a hiss, acid leaking from her jaw the spider runs forward and pounces on her prey, "Oh my dear Arcee. You have been my prey for far to long. Time to end this hunt."
A loud mechanical whistle and Bumblebee pounces on Arachnid's back pulling the spider off of his comrade only to be tossed and caught in the web again, "Wait your turn bug!" the 'Con hisses turning back to Arcee and trapping her in the webbing again, "Now, where was I?"
"At the part where you leave!" Jack calls out, getting a piggy back from Cliffjumper, the humans get on Arachnid's back, Jack forcing the knife into one of the joints of the spider limbs making the con falter. Cliff grabs Jack and jumps again as Arachnid crashes to the ground changing back into her biped form.
"You humans are more annoying then scraplets!" the spider hisses then turns hearing Bumblebee pull free of the webbing and train his cannons onto her.
Arcee laughs, "And that is why I like to have partners. Always help to have someone watching your back." With a grunt, she pulls herself free and trains her rifles onto her rival.
With a growl, Arachnid backs up slowly, her purple optics dart between the 'Bots and humans. Two legs injured leaving her with a limp in both forms, she leaps and morphs into a helicopter, taking to the sky and fleeing as Bee and Arcee fire until she disappears into the night.
"And stay gone!" Jack calls out, "Arcee, Cliffjumper, you two alright?"
Arcee lowers her weapons kneels to her human friend, "Thanks, partner."
"It was all Cliffjumper," Jack notes motioning to the horned-human, "He called for back up." Bumblebee nods with a chirp.
Cliff gives Jack a friendly pat on the back, "Don't be so modest, you and Bumblebee helped scare off Arachnid. That's no small feat. Um, sorry about getting you in trouble."
Jack smirks and shrugs, "Not your fault. I did the action."
"Shouldn't you be getting home," Arcee suggests, "Before June tries to scrap me?"
"And not save my partner and her old partner?" the youth crosses his arms, "I thought you would be more grateful for me trying to protect you Arcee."
"Trust me, I am," Arcee replies, "But I am your guardian, even against your mom at times."
Bumblebee let out a string of clicks and whistles. Cliffjumper looks up and nods, "Exactly. Autobots are suppose to protect everyone they can."
Peace...Forgiveness...Protection. Another piece to the puzzle falls into place, and with it, Cliff can't help but think that is the final one.
As the small group hurries away from the scene, a certain seeker watches with red optics from the shadows, hidden by the night, "I owe you some thanks, Arachnid," Starscream speaks to no one keeping his optics on the cowboy, "You lead me back to Cliffjumper. And this time, I'll make sure his spark stays out."
Time Remaining: 3 months, 16 days, 16 hours.