Arcee stared at the picture Jack was showing her, optics glimmering with sadness as she recalled fond memories. The children's arrival back brought a lot of questions from everyone. His mother had been worried and held him close as Optimus explained what had happened to them. Miko was all too willing to share with everyone the names she had given Optimus and Ratchet. The medic had looked aghast at the name 'Dude,' muttering something about being 'unprofessional' and how there was 'no respect.'
They had all shown the pictures of the buildings and sunsets of Cybertron, and Jack would never forget the wave of homesickness that washed in the room. Optimus had looked at them, his optics bright and sad. "Thank you," he had said. "For reminding us."
"No joke," Jack said slowly, looking at Arcee. "But that's you?" Arcee, his partner and friend, was Squeaks? He decided not to tell her the name Miko had given her then.
Arcee nodded as she gazed at the picture of Chromia holding the sparkling. "Yes, that's me," she said softly.
Jack blinked. "So that means...that Optimus is kind of like your brother-in-law!"
Arcee grinned. "Something like that."
Jack could barely process this new information. "Do you share a bond with him then?" he asked.
Arcee frowned thoughtfully. "There are times when I can...feel him; Feel his pain, and I know he can feel mine."
Jack shook his head. "That's amazing," he breathed. He had so many questions running through his head. What were her earliest memories? What did she like to do? He looked back at the picture, his eyebrows drawn in confusion. He shook his head, chuckling. "Wow, that's so weird that I saw you as a baby." He looked up teasingly. "You were adorable."
Arcee huffed. "All sparklings are adorable, Jack. I remember your mother showing me pictures of you as a child."
Jack blushed at the memory. Clearing his throat, he started. "So, I only saw you and Ariel with the blue femme-"
"Chromia," Arcee corrected fondly.
"Chromia," Jack said. "Yes, I saw you with her. But, I didn't see your parents."
Almost immediately, he could see Arcee's demeanor change. She shifted around, looking away as her optics dimmed. Jack didn't need to share a bond with her to feel the sudden sadness washing over his partner.
"Arcee," he started quickly. "It's okay, we don't have to-"
"No," she said. "It's alright." She took in a deep breath, her optics shuddering closed. "I lost my creators when I was very young. I couldn't have been more than a few months old when they perished. I still needed them, my spark needed them. Elita and Chromia had to take on the role as my parents. They had to hold me close to their sparks to forge a parental bond with me to keep me alive." She grimaced. "They would stay up late, afraid that my spark would give out at any moment. My life was at risk, and death was always knocking at my door. Chromia would have to take me to work just to hold me close."
Jack was silent for a moment, reaching out to gently touch her servo. "I'm sorry," he said.
Arcee finally looked at him with a small smile. "Even as a sparkling, I can still remember the warmth and love they had for me. My birth was a true surprise to our creators, but Elita always told me I was a blessing." She chuckled. "But Chromia would then tell me how much of a 'Pit-spawn Devil' I was when it came to disturbing her sleep."
Jack chuckled, suddenly seeing the blue femme with her servos on her hips, reciting such words. "What was your life like?" he asked suddenly.
Arcee blinked, surprised. "What?"
"What was growing up like for you?" he asked, settling down as if he expected that he would be there for a while. "What did you do as a child? Who were your friends?"
Arcee looked at him uncertainly. "Oh, I'm not sure my childhood would be very interesting," she confessed.
"But it's interesting to me," he persisted.
Arcee looked caught off guard, falling silent. Glancing back at her partner, she could see that he was serious and genuine. She sighed, fond memories swarming back. "My earliest memories were of Elita taking me to Iacon…"
"No way!" Miko exclaimed excitedly. "You built that?"
Bulkhead nodded. "Yep, I was one of the construction workers on that building," he said, gesturing to the picture Miko was showing. "Though we never finished, since tensions were rising between the caste system."
Miko looked back at the picture. "Cool," she breathed. "I wonder if I saw you and just didn't know it."
Bulkhead chuckled. "Probably." He fell silent, and Miko looked at him sharply. She could see the concern in his optics, the way his jaw clenched and how his optics flickered over to look at her when he thought she wouldn't notice. Normally, Miko wouldn't be this observant, but the past few days had changed her. It made her value the small things in her life, made her value her own life. She felt...different, like she was in tune and noticing things she normally wouldn't have before.
"What's wrong Bulk?" she asked, turning to face him.
Bulkhead shifted, glancing at his large servos. "I...uh…" He let out a frustrated breath. "Are you alright?" he asked suddenly, looking at her.
She blinked, not expecting that question. "Um, yeah. I'm fine." She cocked her head. "Why?"
Bulkhead swallowed. "It's just that...you were gone, and in danger. I wasn't there to protect you from harm...or from Megatron."
Miko frowned. "But Bulk, I'm-"
"I mean, for Primus sake, you almost died!" he exclaimed. "And I wasn't there to help you at all. You walked right by my work station and I didn't even notice you."
Miko rose from her seat, her face firm. "That's not your fault. As far as you knew, we hadn't even meet. You wouldn't have known who I was even if I walked right in front of you. I'm not even sure I'd have recognized you. I didn't even recognize Optimus! And I practically live here!"
Bulkhead looked at her. "Yes, but I almost lost you," his voice came out hushed, pained. "You were...from what you told us of your experience, it sounded like you were dying. You were being pulled back, and you were in pain." He let out a shaky breath. "What if Time had managed to do one of its...things and erase you from history? What if I had never meet you? What if you were never born?"
Miko only took a moment to respond. "The thing about Time, is that it's always changing. The past is done with and is history. We don't know what tomorrow will bring. But what we do right now in this moment will affect that future. But we can't make the best choices in life if we're always stuck in the past, asking a bunch of useless 'what if's'."
Bulkhead blinked, as did Miko. "Woah," she said. "I think I need to check myself for a beard of wisdom or something," she joked in an effort to lighten the mood.
Bulkhead grinned. "I can see a stubble." At Miko's startled yelp, he chuckled. "No, not really." He stared at her with soft, blue optics. "I'm glad you're alright."
She nodded. "Yeah, me too." She settled back in her seat. "So, tell me about your work."
Bulkhead grinned excitedly. "Well, I would get up at the crack of dawn, when it was still dark out. I was mostly used for demolition, but when I would get the chance to build, I handled it with care. I loved creating things and walking by a building I helped put up and knowing that I had something to do with it. My shift would end way into the night, when it was still dark."
Miko frowned. "Didn't you ever get tired of getting up so early? I know I would."
Bulkhead nodded. "Sometimes, I would grumble and wish that my life were different. But when I arrived at work, I would look up and see the most beautiful sunrise ever. That was, as you guys would say, my million dollar view. I would hear the people stirring awake, and shops opening. But those moments, when it was just me and the sun, I could pretend that I was the only being on the planet."
Miko hugged her knees to her chest. "All alone on a vast planet? Wouldn't that feel lonely?"
He shrugged. "There were times when I would feel...uncertain. I never liked the feeling of being alone. But I always had my construction buddies with me."
Miko smiled. "Maybe I'll do what you did, Bulk."
The green mech looked at her. "Well, here's the thing, Miko. Sure, I enjoyed some of the stuff about my job. But I didn't have much of a choice in what I got to do with my life. That was all up to the Council. But you," he stared at her with intensity. "You have a choice. You can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it and work hard for it." He shook his helm regretfully. "I could build things, but I never had a say on how to build it. I never got to choose what designs went into my work, or how I thought it should be done, and there was nothing I could do to influence my opinion. My suggestions would go unnoticed, and I could never improve my craft."
Miko frowned. "That sounds...sad," she said.
He shrugged again. "It was what it was. There were times when I wished to just give up. But seeing the finished project was always worth it."
Miko beamed. "Yeah, I get that feeling sometimes," she said, thinking about her drawings. She smiled excitedly at her guardian. "Tell me more."
"I think you cheated, Bee," Raf teased.
The scout placed a servo over his chassis, as if he had been struck. "Cheated? Me? Raf, how could you think so little of me?"
"Because you always win," Raf pointed out.
"That's because I've had more experience then you," Bumblebee said, and Raf could see him grin behind the mouth guard.
Seeing that brought a familiar pain of guilt running through him, and Raf had to look away at his guardian. If Raf had only tried harder, Bee would still have his voice back. He would still have a family.
"Hey, Raf," Bumblebee said, and Raf found himself being turned around by the Autobot. Bumblebee's large optics gazed down at him with concern. "What's on your mind?"
Raf swallowed, looking away. "Nothing," he mumbled.
Bumblebee let out a small beep of concern, and Raf knew that he wasn't going to get out of this one. His guardian could be persistent. "You know you can tell me," he reminded him.
Raf nodded quickly. "I know," he said. A quick glance up confirmed that Bee was still waiting expectantly. "I'm sorry," he whispered softly.
But Bumblebee heard him anyway. "Sorry for what?"
"For not being able to save you...or your voice." He glanced up at his friend. "I know it still hurts, mentally and physically."
Bumblebee straightened up, and Raf feared that he had poked at a still sensitive wound. But Bumblebee's optics were kind as he regarded Raf. "Optimus told us everything, and none of us blame you for what you did. Trying to stop the past, especially without communicating, would be like trying to stop a massive boulder from rolling downhill. It was never your fault."
Raf nodded, staring at his shoes. "I...understand."
"Besides," Bumblebee said cheerfully. "I never would have meet you. Even without my voice, Primus has blessed me with a way to communicate with you. It's something only we share; it's our thing." He looked at Raf with pure happiness. "I enjoy spending time with you, Raf, and I value our friendship. I wouldn't trade it for anything, not even my voice."
Raf looked up with a small smile as Bumblebee gently placed him on his shoulder. "So, what's on the agenda now?" he asked. "Do you want another rematch? Maybe learn a trick or two on how to cheat-I mean...win?"
A sudden thought occurred to Raf, and he glanced at his friend's helm. "Maybe," he said. Then, he reached over and gently rubbed the side of Bee's helm.
"Raf? What are you-?" The Autobot stopped, closing his optics in content. "That feels good," he murmured.
Raf smiled. "I thought it would."
Optimus gazed at his team, his family, with warmth and love. Everyone was chatting excitedly, all at ease for a moment. There was no war, no death. Everyone was just content to seize the moment of peace.
"'Dud'," Ratchet muttered. "She couldn't have come up with a better name? One that describes my craft and talents?"
Optimus chuckled. "It is Miko, what would you expect?"
"Anything but that!" Ratchet exclaimed. "That name lacks a certain creativity!" He looked at Optimus suddenly, his helm cocked. "Can you still feel them?"
Optimus automatically reached out where his spark chamber was, feeling the life and bond of the three children. He smiled softly when they all responded to his silent nudge like eager sparklings, ready to accept and learn. Looking up, he could see Jack, Raf and Miko all looking at him with knowing and excited smiles. Jack sent a small feeling of warmth, to which Optimus responded back.
"Yes," he said softly. "Yes, I can."