Just a little one-shot, probably not going to be continued.
Because it's my birthday and I wanted to do it. :D
It kind of goes with a series of pictures on my deviantart account (ArdentAspen) of the barely-introduced character from RiD 2015, Hank. The idea of "imprinting" (an adult Cybertronian forming a bond with a sparkling that causes physiological changes to the adult - like the softening of armor to let the sparkling cling without injury - and allows for free exchange of thought and emotion between the parent - referred to as Guardian - and child. The child's name presents itself to the adult as though they'd always known it) was invented by Foxbear. I highly highly recommend her works. I believe her story "Flickering Sparks" sums up the basic details of imprinting
The month after the battle with Megatronus was unusually quiet. The Decepticons were nearly all locked away, and they even had Optimus Prime back - from the grave, apparently - but it didn't quite feel like peace.
Strongarm rounded the corner to find Sideswipe crouched next to the beat-up diner that served as Denny and Russell's living quarters.
"Hey," she called softly. When the mech jumped, she made an apologetic face.
"I, er, I'm just-" Sideswipe sputtered oddly for a few seconds, evidently unable to come up with a good explanation.
Strongarm crossed the short distance between them and crouched next to him. "You're checking on Russell again, aren't you?" she whispered, examining his optics in the moonlight.
After a moment's silence, Sideswipe nodded and averted his gaze. She couldn't blame him. They'd had some close calls with the humans before, but this one bothered them the most. Fracture and his minicons had been watching the base when Strongarm and Sideswipe were captured. They'd seen Henrietta "Hank" Mendoza arrive to give Russell a football card, and they'd deduced that the two children were close somehow. Divebomb had snatched the girl before she was three steps into the treeline, and the boy had been easy to fool with a hardlight projection.
Denny and Fixit had done what they could to fight the three Decepticons, but the fact remained that if Optimus Prime had not appeared on their plane of existence right there and right then, things could have gone very badly indeed. It was not something any of the Autobots wanted to be reminded of.
Of course, explanations had to be made. It took a full day to tell Hank everything about the Autobots and Decepticons, and another to explain why she couldn't tell anyone, not even her family. All things considered, she took that fairly well. She'd even started following Strongarm around a fair bit, asking questions about law enforcement on Cybertron. Apparently, some of her own family members had been in law enforcement on this planet, and the subject interested her almost as much as sports and exploring.
Strongarm shifted and glanced through the window that Sideswipe had all but parked next to. Russell lay in the tiny bed inside, wide awake. Not that they'd expected him to be asleep. Neither child had slept especially well since the incident with Fracture. For the first time, Russell seemed to understand that the Decepticons weren't going to just magically spare his life every time because he was a child. The revelation had shaken him, and he wasn't even the one who had been injured.
"Nightmares again?" Strongarm guessed.
"Fifth night running," Sideswipe confirmed. "I don't know that much about humans, but I don't think they're supposed to go that long without a full session of recharging."
A shadow fell across them, blocking out the moon.
"I find that in these cases, it may be best to drive with the child until he has fallen asleep." The ringing baritone of Optimus Prime was both unexpected and reassuring, if a little puzzling.
The younger Autobots blinked for a moment before Strongarm summoned the courage to ask, "H-how do you know that works, sir?"
With an enigmatic smile that was more sorrow than amusement, Optimus answered quietly, "I am not unfamiliar with sparklings, cadet."
He turned to go, then stopped. For a moment he gazed at Strongarm as if reminded of something, and the cadet found herself shifting uncomfortably under his searching stare. Then, as if satisfied that he'd seen what he thought he'd seen, Optimus nodded once and walked away.
"Weird, yeah," Sideswipe finished for Strongarm. "I'm gonna try what he said though."
"Good idea," Strongarm found herself murmuring. "I'm gonna...yeah, that's a good idea." The femme stood and stretched out her joints while Sideswipe gently tapped on the window to get Russell's attention.
"Hey buddy," Sideswipe offered a lopsided grin. "Thought you might want to take a drive."
"In the middle of the night?" Russell looked a little suspicious, but secretly excited about the possibility of doing something he might not be supposed to do.
"Sure, just a few turns around the yard, why not?"
Strongarm smiled and slipped away from the diner as a pajama-clad ten year old tumbled out of the window frame into the waiting Sideswipe's hand. She had an idea of her own, something that hadn't occurred to her until Optimus had spoken. Strongarm slipped out the gate and was driving through the woods before anyone really had time to realize that she'd left. The shadows of the trees were stark in the moonlight, and Strongarm felt a tiny twinge of discomfort as she realized the disconcerting shapes would probably be falling right across the Mendoza family house. Hank wouldn't like that. Hank didn't like the dark anyway, but shadows that might remind her of Fracture would be even less appreciated.
The gravel driveway was mostly empty except for an old jalopy that had seen better days. The lack of vehicles reminded Strongarm that Denny had mentioned something about Mr. Mendoza sometimes having to work very late shifts while his mother stayed with Hank and her brothers - when they were home from college.
Strongarm had dropped Hank off a few times, but she still didn't know which window in the tiny cinderblock structure belonged to the girl. Something seemed to draw her to the back window, just over two rusted metal garbage cans. She dimmed her lights and waited to see if anything would happen, then transformed when no one came out to see who the strange truck was.
Hank sat on the edge of her bed, looking too small in an oversized Bronco Kowalski jersey and yellow shorts. She was turning a flashlight over and over in her hands, and still wearing her old fashioned football helmet, which cast shadows over her already sleepless eyes. Moving slowly, so as not to frighten her, Strongarm tapped on the window, just as Sideswipe had done. The human's eyes grew wide, and she leaped off the edge of the bed, tensed to flee as she waved her light at the windowpane.
Strongarm winced more with guilt than at the bright spot hitting her optic. She had frightened Hank after all. But then, a Cybertronian showing up at your window in the middle of the night probably would concern most people, especially if they had once been kidnapped by a Decepticon.
"Sorry," she whispered, "I didn't mean to scare you."
Hank's fear seemed to lessen, but the little girl remained wary as she opened the window. "Strongarm?" she whispered back, "What's wrong? Did something happen to Rusty? Did the Decepticons come back?"
The femme outside huddled closer to the window, motioning for quiet. "Ssh, ssh, everything is okay, I promise," she tried to sound as reassuring as possible. "i just wanted to check on you. How's your arm?"
When Hank had been snatched, Divebomb had snapped her left radius, just to prove to Denny that they were serious. Fixit had stabilized the arm pretty well, and Hank had been able to pass it off to her family as an injury that she got "while playing in the woods", which was more or less true. Now she wore a clunky orange cast from her wrist to her elbow, inscribed with the names of most of the boys she played football with.
"Hurts a little," Hank mumbled. "Dad says I have to wear it for four more weeks."
Strongarm winced sympathetically and settled down to sit beside the window. "That's no fun." Remembering something, she snorted and looked back up at the girl. "Y'know, once when I was just out of my sparkling frame, I had to wear an immobilizing brace on both my doorwings at the same time? It was the worst!"
Hank tiptoed to peer at the appendages in question, then raised an eyebrow. "You had a brace on your doors? Why?"
With an embarrassed chuckle, Strongarm ducked her head. "Okay, so...don't laugh, I had this really bad habit of hitching them up all the time and just holding them like that. I was nervous a lot when I was tiny! I didn't relax my doorwings much at all, and then one day, my back really hurt. So, my Guardian took me to a family clinic in Iacon, and a femme there told us that I had stress fractures in the cables in my back."
She realized too late that Hank would have no idea what some of the Cybertronian words she was using were. Thankfully, the girl didn't have a problem with asking.
"Your...guardian?" Hank tilted her head.
Strongarm thought for a moment. "Yeah, my...my dad. Clamp Down. Cybertronians say "Guardian" instead of "parent" sometimes."
Glad to have something to distract her from her arm and the shadows outside, Hank climbed up onto the windowsill and pulled her knees to her chest. The cast, which her brothers had so unflatteringly compared to an oversized macaroni noodle, lay like a heavy weight against her legs. It hadn't occurred to her that the alien robots had parents and families, but looking back, it made sense to her ten year old mind. If they weren't built, they must've been born, right?
"What's your dad - guardian - like? Is he a police-bot too?" Hank asked, "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
Strongarm had no siblings. She was the only sparkling Clamp Down had ever imprinted, and she was alright with that. It had always been the two of them, Clamp Down and his "lil' ride-along", as he used to call her when she clung to the softened mesh between his doorwings, waiting out the end of the war.
"I don't have any brothers or sisters," she mused, "But my Guardian's spark-brother, Deep Cover, imprinted a sparkling before I was... born. He's on the Sigma Rescue Force somewhere, probably also in law enforcement."
Strongarm stopped and took a moment to research the proper word for that relationship. There was a Cybertronian word for it, but it had been out of use for generations before her, and she had never heard it spoken. The closest thing she could find was a human word: cousin.
"I haven't seen my cousin since I was very little," Strongarm confessed, "So I don't remember a lot about him."
A cloud flitted past the moon, casting a twisty shadow across the house. Unconsciously, Hank flinched and reached for her flashlight again. Very carefully, Strongarm reached in and picked up the little girl.
"Hey," she said softly, "It's okay. There's nothing to be scared of."
"You don't know that." Hank's eyes were fixed on the treeline at Strongarm's back, as if she expected Decepticons to pour out of the woods at any second.
Well, she wasn't wrong. Strongarm couldn't know for sure that there wouldn't suddenly be trouble somewhere, but for now, her scanners were clear.
"Tell you what," the cadet said, "I'll stay right here until you fall asleep to prove there's nothing to be afraid of. Deal?"
Hank tried to cross her arms, but the cast got in the way. "That's what they say in movies, right before something bad happens." she muttered.
Strongarm smirked and leaned against the house, then arranged Hank so that she was halfway sitting, halfway lying against her chestplates with her back resting against the Autobot insignia.
"Well if anything shows up, I'll kick its tailpipe. Sound okay?"
Hank made a noncommittal sound and snuggled back into a little dip between the armor plating just her size. She wasn't ready to admit it yet, but she did feel a bit safer, and certainly warmer. Now, as long as her grandmother didn't wake up and decide to check on her, everything would be fine and she could hang out with her Autobot friend - not just Rusty's Autobot friends anymore, mine too! she thought, but anything further on that subject was interrupted by a massive yawn.
"Tomorrow," she managed through another yawn, "I'm gonna show you how to throw a football, 'kay?"
"Go to sleep, peanut," Strongarm chuckled. It felt odd to refer to a living being with a plant-based nickname, but she'd seen it on Russell and Denny's television, and it was kind of cute.
As the pair quieted, Strongarm realized with a twinge of guilt that there were three messages queued up on her comm lines, all demanding to know where she was. One was from Bumblebee, one from Windblade, and one from Fixit. Sideswipe must've already had a pretty good idea of where she was, or else was too busy trying to trick Russell into falling asleep. Grimlock probably would've been more concerned with why he couldn't just take a walk if he wanted to.
Something wavered at the edge of her awareness, some sense that she needed to be more alert than usual. Of course, the fact that she was out of vehicle mode, sitting against the back of someone's house may have had something to do with it. Raising one hand to curl protectively over Hank, whose breathing had evened out into a steady cycle of sleep, Strongarm scanned the area for any lifesigns, organic or other.
Two spark signatures, barely two kilometers away in the forest, stood as if watching. Slowly Strongarm reached for the neo-forge at her hip with her other hand and widened her scan to see if there was a faction attached to those sparks. Her nerves eased when she recognized the spark signatures as Bumblebee and Optimus Prime. But why would the leader of their team and Optimus Prime be out here?
She realized that they had probably come to see if she was alright, as she hadn't answered their messages.
/Lieutenant, I meant to answer your message, but I was...distracted/ she sent a quick comm burst to Bumblebee.
/Yes, I see that./ The glyphs accompanying the message carried connotations of humor, but also relief. /Optimus thought you might be here./
Strongarm had to consciously focus on keeping her doorwings from drooping with embarrassment, lest the sound of them scraping against the side of the house bring curious adults.
/She hasn't been having as many nightmares as Russell, but there has been sleep deprivation./ Strongarm submitted the scan she'd taken of Hank's systems, almost as a placating gesture, as if she needed an excuse for being there.
Within the woods, Bumblebee started forward, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him.
"Let her sleep a little longer," Optimus spoke quietly, and there was a wistful remembrance in his optics.
Bumblebee guessed who he was remembering. He missed them too, but it had been a good twelve years now since they'd seen any of them. Ratchet could have given them some idea of how they were faring, but Ratchet had not contacted Cybertron in a long long time, and Bumblebee could hardly call him for a friendly chat as he was not supposed to be on Earth at all and the Cybertron High Council would be able to track Ratchet's calls.
"Optimus," Bumblebee whispered, "Hank's father gets back from work at 2:00. He's probably going to check on Hank before he goes to sleep, and I don't think we want him finding out about us that way."
Optimus nodded. "Then we will alert Strongarm when it is time to go. We should not disrupt them now."
Bumblebee shot him a swift look. "Disru- Optimus, what are you saying?"
He knew exactly what Optimus was saying. It was not impossible: there had been several high-profile case studies on interspecies bonds.* But they were all at least a decade old at this point, and there hadn't been enough interaction between the species since to form any conclusive theories.
Bumblebee let out a long, shuddering vent of air. "How far along do you think the imprinting process is?" he asked, a little anxious.
The Prime at his shoulder leaned back as if studying them from afar. For all Bumblebee knew, that's precisely what he was doing. His connection to Primus and the Well of Allsparks would allow him to see things many others could not.
"I believe that at this point in time, Hank's connection to Strongarm is two weeks old. The bond is in its earliest stage of development, but it is there, and it cannot be weakened now." Optimus replied.
Two weeks. That would have meant that Hank had begun imprinting on Strongarm during the eight day period when she had been at the scrapyard tagging along with patrols. A bond like this would take a great deal of time to strengthen, and Strongarm probably wouldn't begin to exhibit the physical signs of the bond for another two months, at which point they would have to keep her off the field for a little while. It was standard procedure for any mech or femme who found themselves the Guardians of sparklings, though Bumblebee was not entirely certain how to proceed from there.
"Do you think she knows?"
Optimus smiled, a little sadly. "I do not know how much her generation knows about the...other... cases. She may not have ever considered the possibility that Hank might imprint on her."
Bumblebee nodded. "Okay. I guess...well, you're probably the best one to bring it up to her. I'll leave that to your judgment."
He opened the comm channels again and realized that Strongarm had been waiting on a response. Oops. Now he couldn't fuss at her about not answering his message earlier.
/Looks like she needs the rest then./ he sent, in reference to the scan he'd received, /Gabe Mendoza gets home in two hours, Strongarm. You need to have Hank back in her room with the window closed and be out of the yard by then. We're heading back to the scrapyard./
He waited until he received an affirmative from the cadet, then faded back into the shadows. From her place by the side of the house, Strongarm tracked their spark signatures for a moment. The Lieutenant left first, and Optimus Prime remained for a minute longer, then followed Bumblebee.
Strongarm wasn't sure why both of them had come, nor why they spent so long just standing in the trees without contacting her. Ah well, who knew why Primes did anything? The femme leaned forward a little to try to ease the cramping in her doorwings, and Hank curled up a little closer, mumbling something incomprehensible. Instinctively, Strongarm kept a hand up to keep the girl from falling.
She had a little longer before she had to leave. Hank was comfortable and Strongarm did not want to move her yet. With a contented hum, Strongarm leaned back again. Maybe after a night's unbroken rest, Hank would start sleeping better. Of course, with the majority of the Decepticons in stasis pods, they would all be sleeping better.
"G'night, peanut," Strongarm whispered, smiling softly. Her spark flared with an unusually warm glow, and the child slept on undisturbed.
They still had time.
* okay, I had to sneak in a little reference to what I call the Foxbear Canon. Seriously guys, you need to read those stories. So much feels and science and awesome!