AUTHOR COMMENTS:
Oh no! It's another fanfic by that psycho Carothers chick!

Actually, this one is safe even if you're in a good mood, believe it or not. All that's needed here is a vague working knowledge of "Only Human." Credits are listed at the end, 'cause I don't want to give everything away before the show starts.

As always, I invite constructive criticism. It's often difficult to judge the quality of one's own work, so if mine is about as appealing as a mouldering pile of garbage rotting away in an alley somewhere, please let me know how to make it better. If, on the other hand, you happen to like what I've served up, compliments will be accepted, as well. :)

USUAL DISCLAIMER:
All fun and games, no money was made, even though my pay went down and my rent went up and I had to give my kitty a bath yesterday. (Not that giving the cat a bath has any bearing on my financial situation, but maybe the powers that be will feel a bit of sympathy should the idea of prosecution actually cross their minds. No? Ok. Well, at least the cat smells better...)

* * *

Presently, I see myself clearer
Why time I visualize
I spy device in the mirror
Checkmate watch the machine die
"Never the Machine Forever," Kim Thayil, Soundgarden

He dreamed.

He was trapped. Struggling against the force-field, he helplessly watched as his friends succumbed to whatever it was that seemed to be sucking the very life out of their bodies. He lunged forward, throwing all of his weight into the effort, body creaking at the strain, but it was useless. The needles at the back of his mind suddenly became daggers, slicing his consciousness away from his awareness. He tried with all of his might to hang on, to remain within himself, but his concentration shattered as Arcee's optics dimmed out before him, her body slumping into the restraints that encircled her. He could barely emit a strangled protest before he was immediately yanked away from his senses.

* * *

The acrid stench of decomposition stung at the front of his face. An arm shook him. Snapping awake, he was immediately aware of a gigantic trash compactor bearing down on him, as he grabbed whoever was within arm's reach and leaped out of a dumpster, seemingly all at the same time. He turned to see the remaining contents of the dumpster mashed to bits, then turned back to follow...

* * *

Springer snapped awake again, for real this time. Sitting up, seeing flesh hands at the end of flesh arms that appeared to be coming from his own flesh body, it all came flooding back to him. Drath. Reluctantly splitting up with Rod. Rescuing Ultra Magnus. Crashing his own shell of a body just outside of Autobot City. He absorbed it all at once, running the heel of his hand up the side of his face against the stubble that had grown there, a habit that had only taken hours to form. He still needed a shave.

Perceptor seemed to notice that he had awakened, and approached the former triple-changer. "All instruments indicate that you are functioning at full human capacity, Springer. What is your subjective interpretation of your internal status?"

In light of the fact that Perceptor was now a few hundred times his own size, Springer found the familiarity of the scientist's jargon to be more than welcome. "Having come out of one trash compactor in several pieces and out of another in the body of a human, I suppose the fact that I'm even functioning at all isn't half bad. How are the others?"

Perceptor hesitated for a beat, something Springer didn't like. "Ultra Magnus has been conscious for half an hour and is being treated for injuries sustained while having been taken hostage.

Rodimus Prime is currently unconscious, but is in stable condition and being treated for a bullet wound-"

"He got shot?!" Springer cut in, alarmed. "But in these bodies-"

"His status is quite unwavering, I assure you."

Convinced, Springer nodded. And waited. Perceptor said nothing.

"What about Arcee?"

The scientist frowned. "Arcee has not been in communication with us."

His greatest fear confirmed, Springer tensed. "But she was supposed to come back here to warn you and get reinforcements."

"Ultra Magnus relayed that information to me as well. I have issued an order to Blaster to have all EDC perimeter patrols report any anomalous human activity directly to him, but I have not received any reports from him as of yet."

Springer lowered his gaze and was silent for a moment. Being separated form Arcee was not altogether a novel experience. Over the past millennia, she would sometimes be MIA for days, sometimes he would. To say that such days were uneasy was an understatement, but not much of one. Such was the life of soldiers, and he knew she could take care of herself. Now, though... now, she was like him. Small, fragile, vulnerable... and missing.

"Drath and his cronies?" His gaze was still lowered. Though he couldn't seem to remember much after the crash, he had all the information that he felt was actually important.

"They have been apprehended and incarcerated within Autobot City security. They are presently awaiting locked transportation, at which time we will release them into US government custody."

He nodded. "Good." If they didn't find Arcee by the time the transport came, maybe he would pay a personal visit to the brig and rearrange a few faces. Nobody screwed with his friends and got away with it.

"I have also accomplished significant success with reverse-engineering Drath's synthoid process. I should be able to return you to your normal bodies by the end of the next solar cycle."

Springer gave an absent nod as he slid off of the examination table. "Thanks, Perceptor. Keep me posted."

He ambled out of the relatively small human medical center, crossing the hallway to the repair bay. It never occurred to him that only transformers would consider placing the near equivalent of an auto-repair shop in the same zoning category as a hospital. As he entered the bay, he was immediately struck by the sheer size of everything. The far wall of the room was nearly two hundred meters away, and the ceiling disappeared into the shadows overhead. The square panels of the floor which were once no longer than the length of his foot were now more than his own body-length. He realized his insignificance among this cavernous room and its giant occupants. Although he had always been large, even by transformer standards, he had never quite appreciated it until now. He figured he now weighed a mere 180 pounds, 200 tops, nothing compared to the few tons of steel he had once been. Casting his gaze around, he found what he was looking for; the immense green and silver husk of his body, still in its helicopter mode as he had crashed it after being shot down by Metroplex's defenses. Hoist was working on him. it, rather, muttering to himself as he pulled the rotor axle out of its damaged housing and set it on the floor.

"Careful with that - I'm low on spares."

Hoist straightened up at the sound of Springer's voice. If he was surprised at the small stature of the voice's source, he didn't seem to show it. "It's no wonder - you go through parts like they grow on trees. No more out-of-body experiences for you, mister. Just because you can't feel the damage done to yourself doesn't mean you should go flying straight down the barrel of an auto-defense cannon, you know."

"Yeah, yeah..." Springer cheerfully waved off the admonishment. "I'll take over from here - I need to make myself useful." He pointed over to Arcee's form, which appeared to have been neglected thus far. "How 'bout you work on her."

"But we haven't heard-"

"Just do it, Hoist." The humor had suddenly drained from Springer's demeanor, so Hoist argued no further. Reaching one of the human-sized tool stations located at each of the work areas, Springer grabbed a diagnostic terminal, lugged it to the port above the blaster strut on the side of his body, and plugged it in. He shook his head as the list of needed repairs spooled up.

It wasn't the length of the list that bothered him - his body had certainly seen worse days. It was the fact that it was the result of something that should have been easily taken care of. It was the result of a mere human. A member of a species that had not yet even evolved into existence when he himself had been downloaded from Vector Sigma and first seen the light of day. A species whose average life expectancy was a mere single vorn, a quarter of which was spent simply in maturation. Even so, Springer hadn't necessarily made a habit of looking down on humans. Rather, he was impressed that they had done so much in such little time, particularly given their limitations. That said, how could just one of them, with a small group of slag-for-brains followers, have gotten the upper hand with the four top-ranked Autobots? How had they managed to underestimate Drath and his group so badly? He mentally kicked himself, realizing that he was the source of that underestimation, remembering his comment to the chief of police. 'This Victor Drath guy might be tough, but he's only human.' He mouthed the words to himself with more than a trace of disgust.

Before he could decide which item on the repair list to deal with first, a comm light on the diagnostic terminal blinked. It took him a moment to figure out what it was, accustomed to hearing an internal beep when someone was trying to get his attention on a radio frequency. He tapped the light, as he had seen other humans doing when receiving such messages in the past.

"Outstanding news, Springer."

"Go ahead, Perceptor."

"EDC has just reported in. A woman matching the description Ultra Magnus provided was taken into custody early this morning."

"This morning?" The time on the diagnostic terminal read 6:45 PM.

"Apparently, the security personnel assumed she was mentally unstable when she claimed to be Arcee."

He smacked the heel of his hand to his forehead. Idiots. "I'll head down right now."

"Springer, I advise you to proceed with caution. They reported that she appears to be quite upset."

Well, gee, you get sucked out of your own body, go on the run from the rest of the world, and when you get home, everyone thinks you've lost your mind. Gotta wonder about that one.

"Noted. Springer out."

* * *

He paused outside of the holding cell to watch Arcee from the security monitor for a moment, wanting to see just how bad off she was before he went stumbling in there without a clue. Her back was to the camera, and she seemed to be staring intently at the wall in front of her. She bent forward, tracing some kind of pattern on the semi-reflective surface, then brought her hand to the side of her face. It took him until that motion to figure out that she was looking at her reflection, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Better that than to have truly gone off the deep end, finding fascination in the very walls of one's confinement.

She turned away from the wall, and he could see that her features were more swollen from last he remembered. He remembered his own disorientation upon regaining consciousness, and even then Perceptor had known who he was. Arcee had not had that luxury upon returning to Autobot City. The limited capabilities of her human brain had undoubtedly prevented her from remembering her lengthy security clearance code to prove who she was to EDC - he couldn't remember his own, come to think of it. Had Ultra Magnus not remembered the first few digits of his after the Autobots had come out to round up the incoming traffic, they no doubt would have been thrown into the brig right along with Drath's pals.

Gathering his thoughts, he manually keyed the lock (only after a failed attempt to do so via radio - how could people live this way?) and stepped inside. When she didn't seem to notice him, he called her name. "Arcee?"

It took her a moment to raise her gaze to his. She said nothing, not seeming to recognize him.

"It's all right. Drath and his men have been apprehended. Perceptor found the equipment he used to steal our bodies - he's pretty sure he can put us back where we belong."

She stood stock still, and he forced himself to remain likewise. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and hold her, if only to make sure she was real and to prove to her that he was real, too. Something in her expression told him that would be an unwise move, however. Better to let her memories surface on their own. Searching her eyes with his, he could only will her to remember.

Seconds passed, yet each one felt like an eternity. Finally, her eyes widened in recognition. "Springer!"

Another sigh of relief escaped him. "It's okay to be a little shaken up." He smiled as he held his hand out to her. "C'mon, Arcee."

He led her outside, wanting the open sky over his head after enduring the confines of her holding cell. She shivered against him, softly whispering her name to herself. The late-summer evening was still warm as the slowly darkening sky began to slip from blue to purple-red, and they walked out over the hydro-electric dam that bridged the river, facing west into the setting sun. He would have preferred Lookout Mountain, but it would have been a heck of a walk, judging by how difficult it was for him to see it from here.

Arcee leaned her elbows against the guardrail, resting her head in her hands, feeling relief wash over her. Judging by Springer's easy demeanor, he had meant what he said. Things had worked out and would be back to normal soon enough. The tactical details could wait for later. She had more urgent needs, however. "My stomach is killing me. I think... I think I'm hungry!"

With a knowing smile, he pulled two candy bars out of his pocket, handing one of them to her, taking joy in the delighted look on her face. "Carly once said that chocolate was the way to a woman's heart. Looks like she was right."

Arcee laughed in spite of herself. "Daniel pesters me for these things constantly. I think his teeth would be completely rotten by now if I even gave in half of the time!"

Springer shrugged, peeling away at the wrapper. "I suspect that you and I won't require teeth long enough to have to worry about that." He brought the bar to his nose, but it didn't appear to smell like anything. "So, uh, how exactly to we get this stuff down without choking, anyway? I'm starving."

She quickly read over the ingredients on the wrapper of the Snickers. "Well, you picked ones with peanuts, so you'll have to chew it carefully. Don't bite off too much, be careful of your tongue when you chew, and stop breathing just before you swallow so it doesn't go down the wrong pipe."

He frowned, thinking that was a lot to remember for something that had to be done several times a meal for a few meals a day. Taking a tentative bite, he chewed carefully. Quickly, his eyes widened as the taste of the chocolate, much stronger than its scent, spread over his tongue. Sweet, slightly bitter, and yet somewhat dry and salty as it melted in his mouth, all at the same time. Perhaps it was worth all of the work of chewing.

Arcee had taken less time, being both ravenous and more knowledgeable about food after having spent so much time feeding Daniel as an infant. She was not at all surprised to find that she liked it, but was slightly taken aback at the look of wonder on Springer's face. "Good?"

Still chewing his first bite, he could only nod vigorously, all previous thoughts of Victor Drath, worries of separation, and human vulnerability left far behind. When chewing seemed to have no more effect, he carefully took a breath, held it, and swallowed. "That was... delicious." His stomach suddenly lurched and a loud belch escaped from his throat.

She chuckled. "You're disgusting!"

He frowned at her in mock disapproval. "Well you didn't tell me not to swallow any of that air when I held my breath." He took another bite, a larger one this time, and they sat in companionable silence, enjoying their first taste of human food. Peanuts crunched between his teeth and he smiled, sitting there on the edge of the dam, staring into the setting sun and eating a candy bar.

* * *

Condition grounded, but determined to try,
Tongue-tied and twisted, just an earthbound misfit, I
"Learning to Fly," Pink Floyd

The stars had come out, and the air had grown cooler in the clear night. Still, they didn't feel like going back inside, quite yet. Gazing up at the blazing points in the sky, Springer had the urge to head west, high at first to clear the mountains, cross the coast, then low over the ocean, chasing his pale shadow cast by the moon as he skimmed over the water. He could almost see the water below him, frothing at the turbulence from his rotor, tiny moonlit whitecaps zipping by, the feel of the wind as it broke apart all around him, the occasional downdrafts daring to plunge him into the sea. Opening his eyes, he realized he would have to settle for the light breeze against his face for now. The level of disappointment almost surprised him; he wasn't used to being so restricted in his movements. Wanting the feeling of suspension in the air, of nothing holding him up, and yet not being able to have it, made him sorely miss it. How could humans stand staying on the ground all of the time, able to fly only with the aid of mere mechanical extensions of themselves, to not know how it felt to really fly under their own power and control?

Arcee's head shifted on his shoulder, having dozed off a short time ago, reminding him that most Autobots didn't know what true flight was, either. But there were other things about this flesh form that he didn't quite like, either. He didn't seem to be able to regulate his temperature very well, and the resulting goosebumps felt strange as the stiffened hair on his arms brushed against the inside of his sleeve. The boots on his feet didn't quite fit right, and though he didn't know it yet, he was developing a good-sized blister on the side of his big toe. And of course, there was the ever-present awareness of being small, squishy, and vulnerable. He supposed that was the biggest thing. A rock could tumble down from the nearby cliffs and kill them both right here, the same size of which he could normally boot right out of the way.

The sleeping form next to him shifted again, trying to get closer to the larger heat source in the cooling night. He smiled. He supposed there were good sides to this, all things considered. Chocolate was definitely one of them. With his arm around Arcee's shoulders, there was a certain unaccustomed... coziness... that he seemed to like, as well. Strength and relative invulnerability were stiff prices to pay for such comforts, though. Maybe it would be a worthy trade in a world with guaranteed peace and tranquility... maybe. In the present reality however, he would breathe a sigh of relief when he could once again feel the armor protecting his soul.

But for now he closed his eyes, content to know that he'd had a bit of both worlds, even if only for a short time.

AUTHOR NOTE: This was inspired by a story of Zobovor's entitled "Trauma," which looked at the end of "Only Human" from Arcee's point of view. Of course, I got it into my head that I had to do it from Springer's. You may have noticed that the dialogue where Springer first meets up with her has been ripped off from "Trauma," but I did so with permission. Thank's Zob! Hope I did it justice.

The End

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