Rating: PG-13 for xenosexuality, language and horror factor (but 'Bee doesn't see what he thinks he does!)
Pairing: Bumblebee/Mitzi York.
Notes: Only the character Mitzi York and the non-Cybertronian entities on the freeway are completely the product of the universe in my head-space. Everything else existed before I sat down to write. 11,200 words.
Six months on restriction, confined to the Ark, meant six months Bumblebee spent absolutely as much time as possible on the internet. They were the first six months of what he hoped would continue to be a significant relationship. What am I doing? he thought nervously as he drove out on liberty for the first time since the convention, ZoeSister was a nice web acquaintance, and is a true friend now. Mitzi. Her middle name is like something I can imagine a female Autobot choosing: Ambrosia. He played with Cybertronian approximations, femme-seeming word forms in his own language that might come into English as Ambrosia. It pleased him. There would be bad puns at his expense if his friends ever learned Mitzi's middle name.
They make a lot of fun of me already, but I try to react like they expect me to, so we can all have a laugh. But that thought led him to contemplate more important expectations, namely Mitzi's. Humans have such varied requirements of their friends, more of lovers, can I live up? How can I know what she even wants? What she needs? His processor churned on that for a while, going over all the ways they communicated. He hoped he would learn how to understand her quickly enough, and that they would be able to spend time together regularly.
A really sobering thought hit him, about the time he got on the freeway and began his road-trip in earnest: They're so short-lived! Maybe I should have petitioned for a shorter, more severe punishment? Six months is half a year, so over half a percent of her entire life. More than that, of the lifetime left to her.
He put it in perspective: at twenty-six years old, she was a third of the way through her model's nominal lifespan of seventy-eight years. A third, translated to his model, was over thirty-six thousand vorn, which was longer than he'd been aware. Like most of his brothers-in-arms, Bumblebee refused to count the time in stasis after the wreck of the Ark on Earth. Only Ironhide and Wheeljack insisted on including that down-time in their ages, for reasons he never cared to fathom.
And she's a creator, herself, he remembered, fondly reviewing pictures of her and her family he'd downloaded from her Photobucket account. Byron is a sparkling, even by human standards, he reasoned, lingering on the image of Mitzi with her five-year-old son. If she wants others, this won't last long, he thought, with her hard-wired taboos against having more than one lover at a time. It saddened him briefly, but even if we interact the rest of her life, and she lives longer than most humans... He promised himself that he'd cherish every moment in her company. Megatron might get me next time, anyway, he thought grimly. Just because we can extend our lives indefinitely, doesn't make us immortal.
He realized he'd been speeding. He was nearly to the exit for the Sequoia National Forest when he registered it: the calculated time for the trip was thirteen hours and he was only a few miles out at the twelve-hour mark. There was still daylight left when he was supposed to arrive at dusk so the other campers might not notice or report a vehicle out of place. He slowed down to precisely the speed limit, and farther, and dropped into the right lane, only to realize he was still gaining on the rig a few hundred feet ahead. Bumblebee let the raised pick-up in the left lane overtake him and slipped in behind it to pass.
He noticed the pick-up had something dangling from it precariously. He trained visual sensors on it from a normal following distance and was alarmed to find the something appeared to be the reproductive organs of a male biological, similar to a bovine or equine. His best invasive scans showed that the truck was just a truck, yet his optics saw the organs, testicles, of a mammal. Definitely mammalian. He was fascinated, and he was disturbed. I didn't know their technology was already so advanced. While he poured through his databanks, looking for anything he might have picked up about successful human hybridization of their biological beasts of burden with mechanical vehicles, an awful thing happened: the semi they were passing blew a tire. The semi itself was unaffected because the tire was not on a driving or a steering wheel of the tractor, and the trailer was not heavily laden. It was a recycled and reconditioned tire, one truckers call a "retread", so the treaded part came off in a long continuous piece and was whipped out into the passing lane by the wheel behind it, right into the path of both the pick-up truck-animal thing and Bumblebee. The driver of the pick-up managed to cut the wheel back and forth in such a way that the rubber didn't impact the side of the vehicle and was straddled in the middle of the lane. To Bumblebee's horror, the tire-turned-debris struck the pick-up truck creature sharply and tore the poor thing's flesh, removing the organ. All Bumblebee could do was swerve to avoid hitting both, and in his desperation to avoid crushing the truck-creature's testes the blown retread struck his own undercarriage painfully.
He pulled over to the median to recover and try to figure out how to help the truck-creature without transforming. He watched, aghast, as the driver of the pick-up truck continued on, oblivious to the injury inflicted on his beast. That human's bad as a Decepticon, he thought morbidly. Still, his own injury wasn't anything that would require help, and he thought he could wait until traffic died down a bit then back up quickly and scoop up the lost body part that had come to rest against a reflective lane divider. Maybe it can be reattached, he thought. There was a long break in traffic approaching, after a J.B. Hunt tractor-trailer. His scans proved the composition of the lost part was organic, a complex hydrocarbon, more solid than the flesh of other mammals he'd noticed, but That's some sort of mechanized creature, he thought, so its - his - make-up was bound to be different from natural creatures. Recording the license plate of the F-150, California SKMYBLS, so he could return the poor creature's part, he prepared to make his dash across the lanes.
The driver of the J.B. Hunt rig changed lanes at precisely the wrong time and rolled over the truck-creature's testes.
Bumblebee was horrified.
He sat there at the side of the road, processor functions on hold, pumps cycling fast.
The lost part was a purplish-blue patch of hydrocarbons on the pavement.
He nearly expelled the energon he'd taken in before departing the Ark.
Shaken to his spark by the heartlessness of the human drivers - The owner never even pulled over to check on his animal! The poor thing just had to keep running! And the other- just rolled over it- didn't even notice. Bumblebee sat for a few breems. His holding tank stopped sloshing so violently; he slowly got back onto the road and followed the rest of the directions Mitzi had sent him.
The delay left him only about twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Mitzi was already waiting for him in her car. She got out and stood beside her Mustang as he pulled in beside it. She was smiling, and more than he remembered, more than the pictures he had did her justice. He was suddenly stiflingly aware of the fact that they'd only met in person once before.
He was so happy to see her, and so disturbed by what he'd witnessed, that he almost forgot about the possibility of watchers. He nearly transformed right there beside her in the parking area.
"Hey there, Bumblebee," she said slowly, and trailed her fingers over his front fender as she walked to the passenger's side door. As if she knew he was about to do something stupid, she reminded him of the plan: "I pitched the tent at the farthest campsite."
Before she could touch the door handle, he opened it gently, earlier distress temporarily forgotten.
"Quite the gentleman, aren't you?" she asked. She paused to look at his roof, tracing the near edge of his hidden Autobot insignia with the tip of her index finger before turning her body to get in.
Bumblebee thought he recognized it as a rhetorical question, until she hesitated to get in and sit down. "I don't know how to answer that, Mitzi. But it's very good to see you."
She laughed and seemed to relax: the tension left her hands where they gripped the door frame and his roofline. She was looking at his dashboard and interior. "It's good to see you, too. It's just- I-" she closed her eyes and dropped her head, "Honey, it's weird to think I'm going to sit in you. Like I've sat in any number of passenger seats in my life."
Bumblebee chuckled and let the sound travel in his plating to her fingers. She looked up at that, but couldn't seem to find a place to rest her eyes. "You're welcome to the driver's seat if you want, but..." he approximated a shrug on his suspension, "Have you ever been carried by another human?" The intimacy and care of that ought to be universal, he thought.
She nodded, assuming correctly that he could see her.
"Think of it just like that. Only-" he stopped, nervous about confirming what suddenly struck him as a possible reason for her hesitance.
"What, 'Bee? 'Only' what?" She unconsciously moved her hands back and forth along the door and window frames as if feeling the texture of the finish and the seal.
He reflexively twitched the door away from her hand, "That tickles!" But he admitted his train of thought: "Only, in this mode, I get to touch more of you at once."
She laughed, and plunked herself decisively in the passenger seat. "Fine. I was worried about sitting on something sensitive." Her hand was on the door pull, but it closed of his impulse.
"You are, but-" he wondered if he were somehow in dangerous territory but started slowly forward over the dirt track to the campsites, "is that a bad thing?"
She patted his dashboard and ghosted her other hand over the edge of the steering wheel and gear shift, "If it's okay with you, it's okay with me."
"It's definitely okay with me," he said, and surprised her by fluidly slipping the seat belt across her hips.
"I can handle this," she said, nodding. Bumblebee liked what that movement caused in the rest of her body as she rested against his seat. "Seriously, I think all I need to get comfortable with this- -arrangement," he heard the smirk in her voice before he registered the subtle change in the expression on her face, "is to know where to look when I talk to you. My momma taught me to make eye contact, and the older I get the more I need it."
He thought for a moment about the logistics of his interior and his various optical sensors. "The simplest way," he started, then realized he had passed the last of the campsites in the row, "Mitzi, have I missed your camp?" He slowed down further, barely crawling along the path. With his headlights and variety of sensors, he wasn't terribly concerned for his own sake in the dark, but Mitzi simply would not be able to see much outside in a few minutes.
She looked around them, and shook her head again, "No, we've got a ways to go. When I said I got the farthest campsite, I meant the absolute farthest, the last point in the park designated as still within the camp area. Technically," she searched his dashboard, and he understood she was seeking optics out of habit, "no one's supposed to have a car out this far except the Rangers."
"I hope I don't get you in trouble," he said. He noticed the texture of the path change as it became steadily more grassy and less bare dirt and pebbles. Back to their other conversation, "Would you be satisfied by my optical sensors in the rearview mirror? They're wide-angle, but a big part of how I see in this mode."
Her eyes immediately snapped to that mirror. She reached up as if to move it, but stopped herself, dropping her hands back to the dashboard. Looking closely, trying to see past the mirrored surface, she moved her whole body subtly. She squinted her eyes a little, "You see through the mirrors?" She looked briefly at both outside mirrors, but returned to the central one.
"Yeah, and in other ways, too. I like how you look in infrared, and you reflect a lot of UV. It's a neat effect, but I don't know how to explain it to you. You don't have analogs to those sensors." That was one of the less fun aspects of their differences. He changed the subject: "Are you comfortable, thermally? I can warm the seat if you like, or draw heat away faster." Much more potential in exploring that difference, he thought.
Mitzi seemed to agree: her facial expression relaxed into a knowing sort of smile. She shifted purposely, settling down farther into the seat. "I'm good, thanks. Still seems weird, to be sitting on part of you, have my feet on part of you, be in you. It's- I don't know." She looked out again, "There." She pointed ahead, "That family-size tent, that's mine."
As he pulled up to it, she changed the topic completely: "How are you, 'Bee? Six months without getting out of the house except for work would make me crazy. And how was the drive? Does a long drive like that make you tired?" she referred to his thirteen-hour stretch, "Or, is that even a long way to you?"
He rolled to a stop, the image of that poor truck creature at the fore of his mind again. She unbuckled herself, opened the door and hopped out, then looked at him expectantly.
"Oh Mitzi it was awful, I saw-" but how did he describe what he saw? How describe the sense of empathy he had for the truck-thing. What was it, anyway?
Concerned, she held out a hand, palm up, inviting something. When he didn't speak or move, she prompted him, "I'm sorry you got in trouble 'cause of me." She mistook which question he was answering.
Bumblebee spoke as he transformed. "Don't be! That, the six months, it wasn't bad at all. I-" bipedal, he set his hand over hers, which seemed to be what she meant for him to do. "Today, I saw-" What are the words for what I saw?
He started to try to tell her what happened as she hugged him. "This truck on the highway, it-" he paused to process the technical biological words into ones he was confident she would understand clearly as an engineer, not a medical or veterinary professional.
She moved to step away from him, touching his cheek as she did so. "Let's sit down in the tent and you can tell me all about it, okay?"
He dimmed his optics in agreement, then remembered that she had no way to know what that gesture meant, so he nodded too, as humans did. She knelt to unzip the tent, explaining, "I got the only one at the sporting goods store," finished with the bottom, she slowly stood up as she unzipped the right side, "with a door big enough to drive through, just in case there were people around." She reached across the door flap, fully opening up the tent. She stepped inside and again offered him her hand.
He took it gently in one of his and stepped as lightly as he could into the cloth enclosure. Trying to shake the ill-feeling from seeing the truck-creature mutilated (further?), he attempted a romantic gesture he'd seen in human media - Didn't all the men who met Inara in polite company kiss her hand? - he held her hand as if it were sculpted crystal and drew the back of it to his lip components.
She smiled up at him knowingly, and he wondered if he were in trouble. "We'll get to that, Honey, I promise, but something shook you up." Holding tightly the hand that held hers, she zipped them into the tent, making it just a little darker inside than out with window flaps open on either side wall. She left the bottom of the flap loose. She stepped into him, and released his hand to pet the sides of his face, down to his neck, and rocked up on her toes to kiss him hello.
Optics off, How did you get me all off-balance? cycled through his processor, between the passing horror on the highway and the promise of reliving his memory of their first meeting.
She drew away a fraction. "Definitely not latex," she breathed against his mouth, so he knew she was actively remembering their first kiss, too. He powered his optics, then dimmed them as far as they would go without turning off when he realized they were bright enough to light up everything in the tent at their nominal setting.
Mitzi shook her head, and he wondered if he had done something weird, or something inappropriate. Before he could ask, she said, "I didn't remember that clearly. Wow. Talk about bright blue eyes." She touched his optic ridge, and trailed her fingers down either side of his face as she spoke, "My weakness, blondes with big blue eyes." She paused, then, "When it gets cool enough to close the flaps, I want you to show me how bright your eyes can get," she sighed, with a tone he couldn't read, "but you're right to tone it down." She sat on her sleeping bag, stretched on the floor against one side wall of the tent.
He remained where he was, watching her.
"You're still thinking about it, aren't you, Bumblebee?" she asked, looking up at him. "You don't have to tell me about it if you don't want to, but-" she lay down on her side, facing him, "we've got a few days, and you may not be tired, but I am, and it'll probably help you to talk about it?" In tone, it sounded like a question, but the words didn't, so he didn't answer, just processed her words and his own thoughts. "'Bee?" She seemed very concerned that he remained silent, just looking down at her. "Bumblebee, what happened? Did one of the Decepticons attack you or something?" That possibility seemed to upset her, and she started to sit back up. "Could they have tracked you here?"
He sat a little abruptly, careful not to tear the floor of the tent with his feet. "Nothing like that," he answered, cycling cooling air to try to combat the increased rates of his other systems. He sat with his legs folded up under him, in the way that was comfortable for his model. He felt like he took up the majority of the floor of the tent. Am I really so much bigger than you are? passed randomly through his processor, I'm only a fraction of a meter taller. Flat-footed, he was just over eight inches taller than Mitzi's five-foot-eleven-inch height. But seated with her legs folded before her, Indian style, he thought he'd heard it called, he estimated that he took up nearly twenty-five percent of the floor space of the tent where she occupied less than ten percent. I do out-weigh you by- he did the math, which he hadn't before, -twenty times.
It wasn't enough distraction. One of his pumps whined, and he briefly felt embarrassed by that involuntary expression of distress. Being unfamiliar with his bodily functions, Mitzi had to interpret it within her own experience, and seemed to reach the right conclusion. She looked worried for him, and shifted to her knees to shuffle off of her sleeping bag and closer to him.
Mitzi was very tactile, and reached out to him as he told her, haltingly, what he saw. He off-lined his optics, so he didn't have to see his horror transfer to her. Why am I telling you this? he thought, noting that she squeezed his fingers reassuringly. You're an engineer, you might know something about the hybrid, he reasoned, and you deserve to know what's being done on your own planet. At the point in the story where the tire tore the creature's flesh, she drew in air sharply and made a choked sound.
He didn't know it, but she was trying desperately not to laugh.
Bumblebee thought he was upsetting her, but kept talking, and quickly, clinically, came to the end of the account, with the smear on the pavement. Mitzi was making little gasping sounds, and he could feel her shake violently.
He on-lined his optics when she reclaimed her right hand, recriminating himself for laying such an awful story on her. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-"
Mitzi cut him off with a hand motion, then confirmed the worst by reaching up to wipe a tear from her cheek. He didn't understand what he saw: a human would have seen she was laughing so hard she cried. She was breathing hard. He imagined she was having trouble with her cooling system, as he did with his when he was upset. Her face was contorted so that it almost looked to him as if she were laughing, if she hadn't had tears in her eyes. He reached out to her again, and gently pulled her the rest of the way into his personal space. She cooperated.
"No, I am sorry, I- I should have kept my vocalizer still, I've upset you-"
Gasping, she got up on her knees on his thighs and pulled herself up straight against him to hug his head to her chest and plant a trembling kiss on top of his helmet between his horns. "Oh, 'Bee, no, it's good you told me what happened. Sshhh." She stroked the back of his helm and neck in a way he knew was meant to comfort. He held her around the waist and hips, and she leaned back against his arms to look down into his optics. "Honey, Sweetness, you poor thing," she kissed him between his optics, smiling gently. "That pick-up truck was just a pick-up truck, with a le-se pi-gu for an owner."
He started to vocalize to protest and she shushed him. "No, 'Bee, trust me. That- that-" she shook her head, smiling tightly as she decided on the right word to use, "that appendage was just an affectation, a plastic piece of garbage," she enunciated especially clearly for emphasis, "hung on the frame of a perfectly good truck. A normal truck. Tell me again, what you said the license plate was?"
Bumblebee wanted to believe her, but didn't understand the significance of the license plate. "Ess-kay-em-wye-bee-ell-ess. But I don't think it's related."
Mitzi laughed, and kissed the bridge of his nose, then looked him straight in the eye from so close to his face he could feel her breath across his chin. "That's 'cause you aren't as familiar with men as you think you are. Honey, that is a custom plate, I know 'cause it's too much for coincidence. The jerkwad driving the truck hung plastic testicles from the belly of the thing and ordered a plate that reads 'suck my balls'. He's an asshole. The truck is just a truck. It was jacked up on its suspension, right?"
Bumblebee could not imagine why a person would want to pretend his vehicle was really an animal under its plating, why the phrase 'suck my balls' would be familiar enough for Mitzi to read it in those letters and be so certain it was a vanity plate, or why the scenario as Mitzi understood it added up to an unpleasant entity behind the wheel. At least I was right about that part, he thought, having thought the worst of the driver for his treatment of the damaged truck-animal. He nodded, and wondered how Mitzi guessed the truck rode at least ten inches higher off the ground than it was meant to.
She ran her hands over his shoulders, a satisfied look on her face. "He's - the driver-owner person is - compensating for his own short-comings. Figure the higher the truck's jacked up, the smaller the driver's endowment." She put emphasis on that last word, with a raised eyebrow and a smirk.
Bumblebee tried to look like he understood, dimming his optics a tick. He suspected she was not referring to an interest-bearing monetary account.
She continued, "Think of it as his way of telling the rest of us not to bother to talk to him."
There were several things in her explanation that eluded him, but Mitzi massaged the plating of his shoulders and moved against him in ways he had only imagined for six months. She seemed to remember their first meeting as well as he did, gently working her hands into his shoulder seams and stimulating the sensors and circuits, distracting him from his earlier distress and any confusion from her assessment of the cause.
He moved his hands gently against her body, too. He enjoyed the different textures of her: denim pants with soft fuzzy frayed edges, smooth satiny polyester shirt, smoother skin, and her hair that was somehow soft and stiff at once. It was just short enough that he wasn't worried about getting his fingers caught in it, although he had to be careful not to allow individual strands to get trapped in the workings of his knuckles. He ran one hand through it as delicately as he could, fascinated.
She moved her cheek against his appreciatively. "Mmmh. That feels nice, 'Bee. But I really am pretty tired. Let's just rest tonight, okay?"
"Okay," he answered, continuing to pet the back of her head, still amazed that his improbable memory was true. I know this body, and it goes with the mind I know from the internet. Amazing.
Just as he moved to kiss her, the movement of her hands within his shoulders changed: the one in his left shoulder stilled and the one in his right shoulder started making sampling motions, as near as he could tell. Touching some of his internals almost timidly, then backing off; he could sense her rubbing her fingers together.
"Are you okay?" Mitzi asked suddenly, voice rising a few notes in concern.
"Yeah, I'm fine, why?" he asked, connecting her question to the movement of her hand, "What do you feel in my shoulder?"
She withdrew both hands, careful with her left to touch as little as possible on the way out. "I think you're bleeding, 'Bee." He supported her as much as she would allow as she stood up. "Feels like transmission fluid," she continued, reaching with her right hand for a lantern from the end of her pallet on the floor. Turning it on, they could see her fingers had a pinkish cast on them. She smelled it, continuing to rub her thumb against the first three fingers of her left hand. She held them out to him, "What is this, Bumblebee? This can't be good."
He shrugged a shoulder, wanting to be dismissive, but feeling a little worried, himself. "It's energon. Not the raw stuff we store for long periods and take in as fuel, but the hydraulic version I produce from it in one of my processors. When the blown tire hit me, it must have weakened a line, or cracked it, and when I transformed, the stress made it start leaking. It's not a big deal." He had no internal alarms going off, although he could pinpoint the circuit the leak was in by the slightly lower pressure of the system.
"Will it stop on its own?" she asked, wiping her fingers off on a paper towel from the roll she'd left on the cooler at the rear of the tent. All business, she seemed now, body language very like Wheeljack when he assisted Ratchet.
"I- maybe-," he wanted it to, but, "no, I don't think it will. It's a pressurized system." He wouldn't bleed out, but realistically, he was a twelve-hour drive - thirteen, if I stick to the speed limits - from the Ark and real medical attention. "I'm sorry, Mitzi. I should get back and have it seen to."
"It's on your undercarriage when you're a Volkswagen, right?"
Bumblebee dimmed his optics in affirmation.
He forgot to nod, but she seemed to understand the Cybertronian gesture. "Could I wrap it up, make a bandage, a patch, out of duct tape and a hose clamp to hold the pressure? I have a tool box in my car; I may not be Kaylee, but I'm not useless." She was thinking, looking out the window over his shoulder toward something outside. "Is that selfish? I can do first aid on people- other people- humans," not to leave him out of the former group, he guessed, "-and I tinker with Sally," she named her Mustang, "all the time. I just," she looked back at his optics, then down at her feet, "I don't want you to have to leave so soon."
Impulsively, he reached out to her again, getting up on his knees as he did so, such that he could rest his head on her shoulder if he wanted. He looked up at her. "I don't want to leave, either. Can you patch me up? Just be careful not to let any glue mix in with my energon. Tape may not be a good idea."
She was hugging him lightly in return, and stroked the back of his helm. "Don't worry, Honey, I'll fix ya right up." She kissed him soundly before disengaging. "You wait here, I'll just run down to my car and be back in a shake."
He let go of her and stood up as she unzipped the tent flap. "I'm going with you."
In the light of the lantern, he could see she almost protested immediately, but thought a moment. "It does freak me out a little, to have to walk past all the other campsites by myself after dark," she admitted, "but if you go with me, we still have to walk past all the other campsites." She retrieved a flashlight from her backpack, which he hadn't noticed behind the cooler, and turned off the little electric lantern.
"We can drive past all the other campsites if you'd rather," he offered.
"Only park rangers are supposed to be driving past the campsites," she countered, thoughtfully, returning to the tent flap.
Bumblebee wondered what she wasn't saying. "Right, so won't the other campers assume we're park rangers driving by, and be quiet when they hear us?"
"Yeah, I guess so," she said, expression lightening. "All the druggies and thugs and rapists go on their best behavior for the rangers."
Bumblebee shook his head at her, and took the tent flap from her to wave her through to the outside. "You have such a high estimation of your fellow humans. Druggies, thugs, and rapists on the campground, a le-se pi-gu on the road," he stopped because she snickered at him as she exited the tent. "What?" he said as he followed her out.
"You. I'm just callin' it like I see it, Honey-'Bee."
He dropped the tent flap. "Why would such a 'jerkwad', as you called him, invite the world to suck his balls?" He transformed carefully, and felt the energon seep along the abused line.
Mitzi was already answering him, but instead of getting in, she went down on her hands and knees beside him. She had watched him closely as he transformed, trying to follow where his right shoulder went in the process. "It's a version of 'fuck you', really," she said matter-of-factly. He was impressed: she was close to the damaged line. She rolled over on her back and aimed the light up at his undercarriage. "You understand that curse, right?" She felt gently over the lines she could reach, holding the light in one hand and exploring the area with the other. He rose up a few inches on his suspension, to give her better access.
"Yeah, we say 'frag you' or 'slag you' with the same intent, although they have no connotations of sex." She was getting farther away from the cracked line, "Go back the other way, you were closer where you started looking."
"Thanks." She moved as he suggested. "I see it, I saw it drip. It's not a fast leak, at least." Her voice held relief. She touched the line; the sensor wire on it was unbroken and registered her gentle fingers as pleasant as easily as it had felt the bite of the tire-strike. "'Connotations of sex', huh? Most slang in English has something to do with sex, especially the negative or derisive talk." She felt all around the line, and it seemed to him that she dried the area with her paper towel. His audio sensors confirmed the sound of the paper in her hand.
"How bad is it, really?" he asked, referring to his injury.
"I don't think it's bad, Honey." She wiggled out from under him and stood up, brushing herself off. "I'm gonna get chigger bites from laying in the grass," she lamented, "but you're worth it."
Most of that made no sense, but the last did. "Thank you," he said, and opened the passenger door for her.
She patted her hips and thighs almost comically, as if she were looking for something. "Just a sec, 'Bee, I gotta get my keys." She ducked back into the tent.
Bumblebee scanned the area, remembering her comment about thugs and rapists. There wasn't an animal bigger than a grasshopper within fifty feet of their tent, and no human energy signatures within his range at all. Wish I could read as far as the other campsites, he thought. Decepticons don't own a patent on thuggery, he tried the human words out. It's another universal concept.
Then she was coming back out of the tent. "Got 'em," she offered, zipping the tent flap completely closed before hopping in.
"You left the lantern on in the tent," he told her, as she moved to close his door, "did you mean to?"
"Yeah, 'Bee, I did. Hope anyone who happens by will assume we're in there. Let's go." They moved together to fasten her seat belt.
"Right." He rolled slowly over the grassy path, as it made the transition to bare earth and fine gravel. "Back to what you were saying before, Mitzi. Don't," he was about to pry into a lot of tribal taboos, he knew, but she'd let him do that before - Our whole relationship breaks taboos! he thought. "Don't humans in general, well, like sex? Why is it associated with everything negative?"
"Well, yeah, Honey, most people like sex, enjoy sex, at least to some extent. But, well," she hesitated, looking out the windshield, then directly into his rearview mirror. She could only see the outline of his driver-side door post, he estimated, but she trusted his optical sensors were behind that darkened mirror. "The short answer has to be 'men'. Really. Men enjoy sex to the point of doing sexual things to please themselves with- well, anything." He felt more than saw her shrug. "I guess women are guilty of that, too, but- we approach it completely differently. We can almost become emotionally attached to a vibrator, 'Bee. It's part of our hard-wiring, I guess. Men, though, for most of them - I won't say all, though I'm tempted to - it's um- don't take this the wrong way, okay? For a lot of them, sex is purely mechanical. Pleasure for the body. To be taken, literally taken, stolen, begged or bought. They devalue it at every turn I think precisely because it is so emotional for women, and for men perceived as weaker, and it can be so life-affecting." She was watching the road, too: "I think this is our turn, on the left." Then, "Does that make sense to you, 'Bee? It's not something we think about or talk about much, either."
He agreed that it was the right place to turn, and did so, turning up the output of his headlights to resemble high-beams so he could illuminate Mitzi's Mustang from as far away as possible. At least two cars in the parking lot had occupants who hid when his lights touched their car windows. "I think I do understand. It's actually how we Autobots perceive a lot of the Decepticons. We have known Decepticons to rape prisoners. We have that concept, just as you do. There are horror stories. From both factions, unfortunately. There are members of my unit here, even, whom the rest of us think might be emotionally lacking, who seem to enjoy physical intimacy without appreciating it. Isn't that what you mean?" He pulled up beside her car, opposite to how he had earlier. She moved to unbuckle. "Wait a tick, Mitzi. Let me pull around so we see all sides of your car." Her comment about thugs and rapists nagged him. I might feel better if she spent the night in my passenger compartment, he thought.
Visual inspection and his particular scans showed no one had been near her car, and no one paying them any mind, so he stopped with his passenger side near the Mustang's trunk. "Wanna grab your tool box and head back to the tent?" he asked. I could sit in the light of your car's headlights, but that doesn't strike me as the best idea. We'd draw attention for sure.
Mitzi hopped out, being much more gentle with his door than he'd seen her be with her car's. "Yeah, 'Bee, I think that's our best bet. Rangers and campers," she had the trunk open and paused as she verified the contents of her toolbox, throwing something else from the trunk into it, "come through here all the time." She hefted it, needing both hands. "Pop the trunk, please," she made a head-motion toward his front end.
Of course she knows my alt-mode's a mid-engine car! he thought approvingly, obligingly opening his trunk. He remembered not to engage his subspace compartment.
Mitzi placed the heavy box in his trunk as softly as she could, given the level of effort required for her to manage its mass and bulk with its relatively tiny handle. "Okay," she huffed out, "it's not too heavy for you, is it?"
He laughed. "It's fine, no problem at all. I generally carry a lot more weight than that in that compartment."
She closed the Mustang's trunk as he closed his own, then she hopped back in, this time on his driver's side, and they drove back to their tent.
Mitzi convinced him to roll into the shelter after she unzipped it. The zippers just grazed his mirrors. As a Beetle, his tires were inches from her sleeping bag when he rolled into the middle of the well-lit tent. She zipped the door completely closed, and rolled the window flaps down. "Now," she said, tapping lightly on the side of his storage compartment, "let me patch you up before you change back to yourself." He rolled back and let the cover pop up, pleased that she had no problem with his alt-mode, that she recognized it as the farce it was, not his true self at all. She caught it and lifted it the rest of the way with him. Then she pushed the cooler aside - Bumblebee had pressed it against the rear wall of the tent when he'd pulled in and released it when he backed those few inches after she zipped the tent closed behind him. Now she could stand in front of him, while he held open his trunk, and she removed her tool box. It was awkward for her, but she did it without hitting him with it.
Bumblebee was impressed. He said so.
"Ah," she grunted a little with the effort to set it down gently, and not on her own feet. "It's nothin'. I packed the thing," she caught her breath: the tool box mass was nearly a quarter of hers. "I gotta be able to handle it." She knelt down there beside him to open it up and spread out the things she thought she needed; her sleeping bag happened to be on his driver's side, so she was setting up shop on the empty half of the tent floor. She grabbed the roll of paper towels from the top of the cooler, breathing a little harder than he thought she should have been.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
She took a deep breath, and stretched her arms out in front of her before sitting down on the floor. "Yeah, I'm okay Honey, just tired," she unrolled several paper towels and tore them off in a piece, "It's just been a really long day for me, with the drive up here," she folded the paper towels over so they were doubled-up, "and setting up the tent by myself," she laid them under him, and crouched down so she could see that they were under the broken line, a make-shift drop-cloth, "I had to make a lot of trips from the car down here, and it's catchin' up to me." She started to repeat the process with the paper towels.
"It can wait until tomorrow, really," he offered, assessing. "If I were by myself, I'd have to head back to the Ark immediately, to have it seen to, because I'm so far away and it's exposed during the drive. But, you're here, and you're able to patch me up-"
She cut him off, a bit sharply. "No way." She frowned; he could see her expression clearly in his passenger side mirror. She sighed, pulling up the first drop-cloth. She wadded it up and wiped the floor with it; he could see it was stained liberally with energon. He was leaking more than he thought his pressure sensor indicated. She laid the new one down, and then turned her head to look into that mirror. "I'm sorry, Honey, but you don't see this down here." She held the soiled paper towels up where she thought his sensors behind the mirror might see them. "See? You're losing more energon than you let on. Don't be stoic with me, okay?" Another chest-filling deep breath, followed by another full sigh. "I'm an Oldest Child, 'Bee, and I'm a Mommy," he could hear capital letters, "so I'm a care-taker, a problem-solver. I'm an engineer by personality first, education second." Her expression softened again, and she rested her right hand against his door panel, then her forehead joined it. "I'm gonna do this, then I'm gonna sleep 'til about noon tomorrow, unless it gets too hot to sleep."
"I'm sorry, Mitzi," he wanted to transform and wrap her up in a hug, this entity he had gotten to know very well over the last months, trading emails and instant messages and phone calls. "This hasn't been much of a vacation for you so far."
He felt her smile before he was able to make it out visually. "Yes it has, 'Bee. Yes, it has." She rocked away from his side and lay flat on her back on the tent fabric. She was small enough to fit her head and shoulders comfortably under him if he raised himself as far as he could on his suspension. "Driving up to Sally and back must've made it worse."
"Is it dripping a lot more?"
"Yeah," he felt her shift, "you left a trail inside the tent, so probably outside for a ways, too. Will this stuff dissipate by morning, do you think?"
He approximated a shrug. "It'll break down and look more like something out of a human automobile in a few hours," he explained, "but after that, it'll behave similarly to silicon brake fluid."
She sighed tiredly. Then she yawned. "O-kay. I'll worry about that after we're finished here." Her voice was resigned. She had finished her inspection of the injury and scooted back out from under him. "I'm amazed at how clean you are," she said, as if to herself, as she unrolled a few inches of duct tape and cut it with a utility knife from the tool box.
"Be careful-" Bumblebee began when he saw that.
"-with the glue," they finished together. Mitzi continued, "I remember, Honey. Trust me. I'm treating you the same way I'd treat Byron, none of the sticky will be near the wound, okay?"
Feeling a little sheepish but with no faceplates exposed to show it, no lit optics to dim or head to nod, he had to vocalize a weak, "Okay."
"See, here's what I've got for you," she held a piece of paper towel out to him that she had cut down to about a quarter-sheet. "If I fold it up like this," she folded it over twice to make a four-ply piece, a few centimeters wide by about ten long, then she folded it in half the long way, for eight thicknesses in a shorter rectangle, "the crack runs all the way around the line, now, but it only takes up about half an inch," she held up her right hand in front of the mirror for him, thumb and forefinger held about a centimeter apart, "of the length of the line. So," she did something on the floor that he couldn't see, then held up the duct tape with the rectangle of paper stuck on it, cross-wise and hanging a little off one side, "I can put this on so that only paper contacts the crack but the duct tape holds it in place while it soaks up with energon and I get hose clamps," she held up two little pieces of metal similar to items he'd seen Ratchet use in triage, "on it to make sure it doesn't come off when you transform. Since the wire that runs along the line didn't break, I don't think the movement is that drastic, so I'd like to reinforce the area - like splinting a broken bone - with this," she held up a piece of stiff wire so he could see it, "little bit of farmer's friend." She shrugged, and looked at the mirror as if she could see his optical sensors behind it, "That's what my Dad called it, anyway. Low-tech, but it's the best I can do for you, and," she hesitated, and looked away a moment, then back at the mirror, "I've been looking forward to spending time with you, in person. I know you're not in danger from the injury, but it upsets me that that tire hit you and hurt you because of that hayseed on the freeway." Her volume dropped, and she looked back down at the patch and hardware she had prepared. "I'm mad at him."
"I'm-" Bumblebee didn't know what to say, but felt that he really should say something. "I'm flattered- honored that you set importance on this time we have, but it's not his fault, Mitzi, it's my own."
"No," she dismissed that thought, laying back down on her back to scoot under his frame and get to work, "it is not your fault: you interpreted what you saw under the best light you could, in your own experience, because you are such a sweet-heart, and still figured the driver of that truck was a jerk. You just thought he was an uncaring jerk who not only drove an abomination, but made the poor thing keep running at seventy miles-per-hour injured when what he is, is an uncaring jerk, who thinks his own entertainment is much more important than grossing out the rest of us. I guarantee you, 'Bee," she paused, and he could tell she had wrapped up the break completely because he could feel the slight pressure the tape put on the sensor wire, and the pressure-drop in the cracked line diminished, "that not even the guy who hung those balls on that truck thinks they're in any way attractive, aesthetically pleasing, meaningful. Nothing. He just did it," she clicked the open hose clamps over the line, "to tell the rest of us what he thinks of the world." She started tightening down the first one, on the upstream side of the break.
Bumblebee had no counter to that, he had taken what he saw at face value, and had wanted to give the driver a piece of his mind, but that was secondary to wanting to help the poor truck-animal. Not an animal at all, he reminded himself.
They sat in silence as Mitzi finished up, tightening the hose clamps to a tension that suited her sensibilities.
"Tell me if it's too tight," she began. Then the tip of the screwdriver slipped off the clamp; Mitzi had been exerting enough pressure on the tool to keep it in place that her hand shot forward, contacting the clamp and line.
Bumblebee was startled by the sudden sharp pain that caused and yelped, stiffening a little on his suspension.
"Gorammit," Mitzi cursed softly. Louder, she said, "Honey, are you okay? I'm so sorry." He felt her fingers, a little cold but soft and caring, stroke along the line to try to soothe the hurt.
"It's okay, Mitzi, I'm okay. Is everything still in place?"
She felt all along the patch, gently, and he felt her return to tightening the second clamp, one more turn of the screw only. "You have to tell me if I'm doing more damage, getting it too tight, or if this causes a problem somehow, when you change?" she said as she got back out from underneath him.
"Will do," seemed like the answer she wanted, even though her word choice had not indicated a question. Something that she had done released a trace of oxidized iron into the air, and Bumblebee couldn't imagine what it had to do with the minor repair she'd made.
Mitzi pulled the only slightly energon-soiled towels from under him, and put her screwdriver and the rest of her farmer's friend and duct tape back in the tool box. She stood up. "Well," she asked, looking at him from end to end, "are you gonna try it?"
Careful of the fabric flooring, and careful of her standing so close to him, Bumblebee transformed.
She stepped into him, and rested her left hand on his shoulder plating, under which they both knew her patch now resided. "Did it hold?" She looked up into his optics.
"I think so," he said, resting his hands lightly on her hips, "but I hadn't noticed the leak before you did." He rested his forehead lightly against hers, "Can I impose on you a bit more, to check it the same way you found it?"
"Sure thing, Hon'," she said, and did the strangest thing: she rubbed the tip of her nose against his as she smiled. "But I think you just like to have my hands in there." She raised an eyebrow at him, then sighed, working her left hand once again under his plating. "Checking my handiwork is as far this goes, though," she said, and Bumblebee could see her body language droop a little.
He held very still as she checked out the tubing. She had excellent spatial memory, and found the line quickly, then felt all around the patch and splint. He could tell particularly clearly where the limits of the tape were when she touched them, because her fingers felt less immediate to the sensor area under the tape than bare. The clamps he felt as a comforting increase in pressure on the line. "Thank you," he said seriously.
Mitzi withdrew her hand, and kissed him softly on his upper lip. "Anytime, Honeybee. I couldn't very well let you leak all that sweetness out into the world, now could I?" She patted the side of his face, and stepped out of his embrace. "I have to get some rest. Are you okay with bedding down on the floor of the tent here? You told me not to bother to get you a sleeping bag." She was lifting the tool box again, to move it aside.
"The floor is fine," Bumblebee said, leaning over and picking it up for her easily. "Let me," and, "Where do you want it?" he added.
She pointed to the floor by the cooler, on the side of the tent she seemed to have claimed, and sighed again.
Bumblebee thought it sounded like one of Ratchet's too-many-wounded sighs that he'd picked up from Sparkplug. "How can I help you be comfortable?" he asked.
"I don't suppose you can function as a heater?" she asked, "It's got chilly, to me, since the sun went down." She started the movement to run her right hand through her curls but stopped, as if she had forgotten that hand still held the soiled paper towels. She took the paper in her left hand, and looked closely at the palm of her right, touching it with the tip of her left index finger.
Bumblebee focused in on the place and saw that her skin was damaged, there, and fluid seeped out, welling up slowly. Red, he noted with alarm, remembering the times he'd seen that fluid, blood, from Spike or Sparkplug. Gently, he reached out to cup her injured hand in both of his. "How did this happen?" he asked, immediately calling up all he knew about it, that blood carried energy and oxygen to biological cells analogous to energon, but it also served as a coolant, and was pressurized, low pressure for a hydraulic system.
She dabbed at it with the wadded-up paper towel, adding her own fluid to his there.
Bumblebee found that disturbing, and shifted his focus to watch her face. She was so good about patching me up, he thought, so, "What can I do for you?" he asked.
She pressed the paper towel to her flesh, uncaring that she might be exposing her systems to his energon that was already absorbed into the paper. "'It's too far from my heart to kill me,'" she quipped, "is what my momma would say." She smiled tiredly at him, "And I'm certainly not gonna bleed to death from it, 'Bee," she assured him. She removed her hand from his loose grasp and gestured toward her backpack. "I think I have some disinfectant and band-aids in there. Would you get it for me?" She took a step back and sat herself gracelessly on the sleeping bag.
He brought the pack to her and knelt down, then sat down on the floor to be as close to level with her as possible.
"Go ahead and fish around in there for me, please. The hydrogen peroxide's in a brown plastic bottle and the band-aids are in a zip-lock baggie with a bunch of other stuff."
He did as she asked, the human-ness of the activity striking him: the back-pack was analogous to a subspace compartment in a transformer but even with the extremely personal nature of some of the items in the pack it wasn't nearly as private a storage space as one of his compartments. The zipper bag presented itself quickly, having been placed near the top of the contents of the bag, mostly clothing. He handed it to her, and got back to looking for the brown plastic bottle, locating it at the bottom of the pack. He reached carefully down along one side to pull it out without further disturbing the other contents.
She laid the paper towels on the floor of the tent before her, folded down to less than a fifteen-centimeter square, a clean area on top. She accepted the bottle from him and thanked him, opening the bottle awkwardly, keeping the palm of her right hand, her primary hand, from touching the bottle. She poured a capful of the base and seemed at a loss for a tick as to what to do with the open bottle before holding it out to him. He took it and watched as she pressed the wound to the bottle cap and turned her hand over so that he knew the liquid was in direct contact to her flesh.
"Are you sure," he started to ask but trailed off, sensing her heartbeat speed up slightly and her breathing deepen. It might not have been a change even she noticed, but he did. "That pains you more!"
"Uh-huh," she said, and smiled for him. "It hurts, but I haveta clean it out good, 'Bee. That hose clamp's been in my toolbox for months, and it's not like I washed my hands before starting to work on you - which I probably should have done, thinking about it now. Are you susceptible to infection?"
He could hear the liquid reacting with something, bubbles forming and popping under the cap. It forced liquid out from under it, and he understood the position of the used paper towels, to catch drops as they ran off her hand. He looked back at her face after watching a couple of drops fall, and remembered she'd asked a question. "Yes, but not in the same way you are, not biological bacteria and viruses."
She nodded, and appeared to be counting something, silently moving her lips. "Could you tell me when a solid minute has passed? I think that's enough time to call it clean." He dimmed his optics once, so she continued, "What kind of infections? There isn't any chance I'll've given you one, is there?" She was curious, and genuinely concerned.
"No, I don't think so," he said, "unless you carry cosmic rust somehow."
She thought seriously on that a moment. "I don't think so. That's not an enzyme or a sugar, is it?"
"No, it's a fast-replicating nano-bot."
"Nope, I'm clean then, no nano-bots here. I'm certainly not worried about getting a little energon on me. It may not be the transmission or power steering fluid I'm used to, but it smells enough like them that I'm comfortable."
"Right. I don't think there's anything in energon, even my processed energon, to hurt you. Definitely no microbes, and it's not reactive by itself." Bumblebee's chronometer reached a minute since she asked him to time her process. "Your minute is up."
"Thanks," she said, reversing the actions by which she had flushed her wound: she turned her hand back over so the cap was open-side-up under her palm instead of open-side-down on top of it, and drew the cap away with her left hand, finally pouring the few remaining drops out on the waiting paper. She looked at the injury, curling up her nose.
"What?" he asked, looking as closely at it as seemed appropriate. "Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, Honey-'Bee, it just burns a little." She handed him the cap, and used her fingernail to pry at a hanging bit of skin. "I gouged out a piece of skin on the loose end of that clamp, and it's sorta hanging there now, see?" She held out her hand for him to inspect.
He understood that he shouldn't touch it, and looked at it then back at her face, dimming his optics a tick.
"Would ya close up that bottle and help me get a band-aid out?" She picked up the zipper bag and opened it by holding one side with her teeth and the other with her left hand.
Bumblebee quickly capped the bottle and reached for the awkwardly-opened bag. "Yeah, let me do that," he said, taking it from her.
She sighed. "Thanks, 'Bee. There should be a big one in there, about an inch wide. I'd like that one if you can find it."
He knew what pre-packaged bandages looked like, from working so often with Spike, and since all of the ones he saw in the bag were greater than an inch in their longest dimension, he knew he was looking for one that was nearly an inch in its secondary dimension. He found two, and held them up for Mitzi, "Is this what you need?" He hadn't gotten the question out before she was nodding. The padded part would cover the wound with a little room to spare. Seeing no difference in them, he dropped one back in the bag and set it down. "Now what?"
"Do you see how to peel it open?"
"Like this?" he said, and demonstrated.
"Yep, good. Now if you don't mind doing it, the thing is made so you can apply the bandage without having to touch the pad." She took the bandage from him and turned it over, white plastic up, before giving it back to him. "If you can pinch that little flap," she indicated with a fingernail, "in one hand and the other little flap," again manipulated with a fingernail so he could see how it would move, "with your other hand, it'll stick right where you put it."
"I don't mind at all," he said, taking her right hand gently and placing it palm-up on his own knee. Then he carefully grasped the little white covers as she directed, and peeled them back far enough to expose the pad. She guided him with her left hand, so the wound would be covered, and he peeled the plastic the rest of the way off, stretching the material down against her skin. "It almost matches," he said, passing his thumb across the pads of her fingers, well away from the injury.
She narrowed her eyes a moment, then relaxed. "Thanks," she said, flexing her hand and watching the behavior of the bandage. She then picked up the little covers he'd removed from the band-aid, and held her right hand out to him, palm-up again, but with a completely different look.
He didn't understand what she wanted.
"Hand me the wrapper, please," she said dully. He found the pieces near his side, forgotten, and handed them to her. "Thanks," she took them, crushing them into a ball in her hand, then wadding them up in the paper towel pad from the floor. She reached for her pack, and he handed it to her so she didn't have to get up. She deftly pulled out a piece of thin plastic, and made a motion like untying a knot, then he could see it was a plastic bag, like the kind he saw drifting over the road and caught in vegetation all the time. She stuffed the now useless bandage wrappers and soiled paper towels into it; he understood it was now a refuse container.
"Let me," he said, and took it from her as he stood, picking up the other discarded paper towels from the floor and stuffing them into the bag.
Her expression was just tired. "Thank you, 'Bee," she sighed. He picked up a bit of duct tape from the tent floor and looked at her for confirmation before adding it to the sack. "Just put it by the door, please."
He did so, and watched as she started to remove her tennis shoes.
He returned to her immediate vicinity and knelt before her, nothing else he'd rather do and nothing clearly needed for him to do. "Are you still cold?" he asked, remembering the conversation they had started earlier. "I can keep you as warm as you like in here." He opened the windows on either side of his torso, those that were in the doors of his alt-mode, and allowed his cooling system to put all the air out past the heater vents and out those window openings. He gently took her left hand that was not actively occupied with her shoes and held it in the flow of warm air. "And I can provide light," he said, turning on his headlights very dimly before turning off the lantern, "as bright as you can stand."
She removed both her shoes and paused. "You mean I don't have to sleep in every stitch of clothing I brought with me if it turns off cold tonight?"
It made him feel appreciated that she sounded so hopeful. "Yeah, you can sleep in whatever makes you happy. You can do anything you like in here," he said, and hoped his meaning was clear, "in any state of dress that makes you happy."
She laughed, and reached for his left hand with her right to squeeze it for answer, shaking her head in a way that looked anything but negative.
Confounded, he decided to admit it this time: "I don't understand. Is it all right that I said that? You shake your head as if to say 'no' but nothing else about your body language is negative at all!"
She shook her head that way again, still smiling and looking very pleased. "You sweet-thing! 'Is it all right?' Yes! Perfect. Better than all right." She squeezed the fingers she'd captured again before letting them go. "But I'm going to sleep in a tee-shirt and shorts just in case someone comes knocking about that trail of fluid leading up to the tent." She rummaged in her back-pack a moment, then stood and quickly changed, nothing in her body-language a bit shy about doing it in front of him. "May I ask, how it is, that you are fascinated and watch me like you do?"
He dimmed his optics, then realized that what she wanted was the answer to the question she had asked permission to field, not the yes-or-no question she had really given voice. She sat back on her pallet in front of him.
He thought a moment. "You are a beautiful being," he began. She huffed a breath at him that sounded a little derisive. "And on top of that," he said emphatically, "you have an aesthetically pleasing form, especially with the way you move when you aren't thinking about it. Grace, symmetry, soft curves, colors like yours, are very ..." he searched his databanks for the word, "welcoming."
She laughed softly, and lay down on top of her bedding. Reaching out a hand to him, she invited him to kiss her good-night, and to get comfortable. He chose to sit with his back to the rear wall of the tent, nearest her head, and hold her hand as she cycled into recharge - went to sleep, he reminded himself of the biological turn of phrase. He turned his lights off, except for his optics, which he left powered low until daylight, when he figured thugs and rapists of any sort would be winding down their activity. Some concepts are universal, he thought, cycling down to recharge fully, basic meanness and kindness, injury and repair, grace and symmetry...