Stolen Virtue
By Sinead

Author's Note: I just realized how long it has been since I started this story. And I wish to thank everyone who has been patient in waiting for the parts. I wish that I had been able to figure out how to get the ball rolling again earlier . . . but I guess that it just wasn't meant to be finished before now! Special thanks go out to Sapphire and Hacker in pushing at me to continue this story over Botcon 2006. They've been nothing but encouraging that I could get it done, and without them giving me cause to put my brain into gear again, I don't think that this could have been continued, never mind finished. My most heartfelt thanks to those two, as well as to all my readers. Where would I be without you guys?

.o.V.o.

Epilogue

.o.V.o.

Knock-knock.

Groaning, Meara opened the door to the main cabin, not liking having to stand up from her cosy spot on the overstuffed armchair that she claimed while visiting at the house. She especially hated getting up from it while watching her favorite movie. A balding man with observant, deep eyes stared back at her behind thick glasses. "Oh. I'm sorry. I was looking for someone who probably isn't here. He's pulled this prank before about the driveways, and–"

"I'd bet stakes that he probably is," Meara replied, subtly tensing herself and glaring around the man at something moving around the corner of the other cottage. Sighing, she shook her head, muttering something about earlybirds and the idiocy of trying to get things done the day after returning from a convention.

"Ah . . . is Scott McNeil around?"

Turning to look around a corner within the house, Meara tossed a cloth onto the second couch in the living room, which was easily in throwing distance from the back door. "Hoi. Farmer. Get'cherself offa my couch and greet your visitor."

"Now why would I have– Richard!" Scott's voice had started out as a weary yawn, but brightened when he saw his old co-actor.

"Thought so," Meara mumbled. "Make sure you two don't wake anyone else up. They're still trying to recover from Botcon." She made a noise of mock disgust. "Actors. Always up to something."

Richard chuckled, wondering why this woman reminded him of someone he had met at the aforementioned Botcon, then felt, rather than saw, the large shadow fall across him. Turning, all he saw were glowing red eyes.

If Meara hadn't called out, "Rhinox, how are they?" the actor would have expired upon the spot.

Sighing, Rhinox shifted, letting the early sunlight fall upon him a bit differently, showing his face a bit more clearly. "Can't tell. They've all barricaded their cottage windows. I'm betting that they're sleeping in and trying not to see daylight unless it falls directly into their eyes from some missed crack. Who's this?"

"Richard Newman. Your voice," Scott replied, grinning.

"Want a bath, fleshling?" Rhinox growled out at Scott, obviously tired and tense. "The waterhole's freezingly chipper this time of year, and I'm really low on patience and sleep."

"Hold up, hold up," Richard said, looking from one to the other. "What's with all this tension? And how are who?"

Before anyone could say anything, a mud clod hit Rhinox squarely on the side of his head. He turned to glare into the shadows as two more clods were launched with the same accuracy to smack into his nose and chest. He spat out the sodden dirt. "Fiends! Get out here!"

"I think not!" Dinobot's raucous, snarling, and unmistakeable voice replied. "Stop spying on us!"

"We were worried! You two don't sleep as much as the others do!"

"Appreciated," Sinead's voice said softly, and she came out from the shadows beside the house, smiling. "But we're fine. It's distracting, you know? Hearing people all around Valhalla trying not to be heard while they're worrying about the amount of sleep Dinobot and I either are or are not getting."

"It'syou!" Richard said, face lighting up with a grin. "I knew that there was something strange about how your group were so comfortable with us! You've got them around!"

Winking, Sinead replied, "Of course. How was your flight, Uncle?" Before he could answer, Sinead turned to glare into the shadows around a tree. "Dinobot! Knock it off, you've made your point!"

Richard grinned widely, his laugh not loud but hearty and filled with the same type of personality that Rhinox often displayed. Calm, deep and appreciative of the small things. "So I'm still the adopted uncle, eh? With Rhinox around, I can see why you picked me up to adopt."

Laughing in response to his observation, the Bonded authoress shrugged. "Yeah. I thought that I'd just extend the invitation of being part of the 'family' to you."

"Including the Beasties?"

"Including the Beasties. Especially the Beasties. They're almost all here." She glared into the line of trees. "Dinobot! Seriously! Put the mud down!"

Grumbling, a filthy-to-the-elbows Dinobot finally stalked out while dropping a half-formed mudball, but was tackled by Rattrap not three steps out. They engaged in a fight so vicious that it caused Sinead to drop her jaw at how ferociously they were moving, then shake her head. "Oookay. So. Richard. What've you been up to?"

"Nothing that bears speaking until I know what the heck has been going on here," he replied. "Now. Tell me what exactly has happened here. Start to finish, no detail left out."

Grinning, Meara nodded. "Yeah, Shyn, you were completely right. He reallyis like Rhinox."

"Told you," Sinead replied, smiling up the older man. "So. How about we get started on that tale?" Her face dropped, and she snapped over to the still-brawling bots, "Hey! That was illegal, Rattrap!"

"Only if yer human!" the rodent snapped back.

"I happen to like him intact!"

The small Maximal stared at Sinead in shock as Dinobot dissolved into a roaring laugh at the look of shock on his face. Rhinox wisely grinned facing away from the two. Richard was smiling a little, but Scott and Meara were staring at Sinead in something akin to shock. She was grinning. "Knew that would get you to stop. C'mon, help me tell this messy tale and string it up as it should be strung."

"I've da feelin' dat she'll string me up if I don' help," Rattrap muttered to Dinobot.

"Painfully correct," the raptor replied, turning human and walking ahead to rest his hand upon Sinead's shoulder, sighing. "I might need to rest a little . . ."

"You early-birds have no stamina," Sinead said through a snicker. The comment sent ripples of giggles through the rooms of the house. Sapphire, Miss Special and Hacker looked up from where they were pulling Botcon reports and pictures together for the Beast Wars International site. Their update would be an easy one, what with three people sharing the load.

"Th-that wasn't fair," Dinobot said, voice gruff.

"Take a joke, sweetie."

"No. I won't. I refuse."

"Ah. Doomed from the beginning, then."

"Blasted human."

"Wonderfully talented tin can."

Rattrap made smoochy noises in the background, but was cut off by a large green metal hand cuffing the side of his head roughly. The contact sent the small Maximal flying backwards and out into the exact mud hole that the short bot had been trying to land Dinobot in.

Dinobot was blushing quietly as he shifted his weight and began helping to make the hot drinks. Richard was laughing at the smirk on Sinead's face, and she held her hand out to indicate that he could enter. "Welcome to your second home, Richard. Let yourself settle in. We've got quite a story to tell you, and you might never believe us."

Smiling kindly, the older man shook his head, glancing up at the human Rhinox who had followed Meara into the kitchen, helping her with making tea. The two were close, but neither had mentioned plans of becoming closer. Until Sinead unfocused her eyes a little, looking past their physical forms in the way that the Bonded humans could, seeing something that made her smile wider. Dinobot caught her smile, then brushed his hand through her hair once, nodding. He had seen it too.

They sat at the kitchen table, Sinead putting crackers, cheese and Oreo's in the center of it. Within fifteen minutes, a cleaned-up Rattrap and Sapphire entered the room, with Starath and Megatron right behind them. Hacker and a groggy Depth Charge were next. The tall human sat against the wall, seemingly falling asleep. But when Hacker held a mug of coffee under his nose, he took it without opening his eyes and sipped it. Lady Venom and Rampage entered, having followed the sounds of people moving around and dealing with each other and greeting the new voice actor.

Richard watched the activity silently, seeing how everyone was waiting for things to settle before starting the tale. Rampage was watching Dinobot with no little apprehension. The warrior looked to the once-killer with a calm, level look, smiling reassuringly. Not convinced, the Predacon took a seat upon a stool to hear him out. Sinead ruffled his stiff hair and handed him burnt toast. He looked at it, then at her, roaring, "You best be glad that I'm vowed not to harm you, human! This is a sin against creation!"

"Is that Rampage?" came the incredulous question.

Some giggles, a belly laugh, and Rampage's blink answered him. The sometimes-crab spat out, "Duh. No disrespect intended."

"None taken."

"Woman! I want non-burnt toast! Pronto-oh." He blinked at the perfectly-golden double pair of slices that were placed before him by Meara, and smiled up at her thankfully. "Uh. Thank you."

"You're welcome." She turned and walked away amid dry chuckles at how she proved that she could handle any of the Beast Warriors without even fighting them for respect.

When people were still and enjoying their hot drinks, Dinobot took the first turn. "It all started with a battle between Rattrap against two Predacons. They had captured Rattrap to torture. I got wind of it from the rodent himself as a last-minute transmission, then stopped Silverbolt from returning to base upon my way into my patrol sector. I knew that there was something that I could do about it. I traded myself for Rattrap. They tortured me. It was after three days of their torture that this story truly begins." He looked to Sinead, smiling. "And it starts, and for me, ends, with my wife. Sinead."