Sam didn't love his second car as much as he had loved his first. He knew he never would. His second car didn't change stations on him, mysteriously take off in the middle of the night, come back the next morning to stalk him all over Pasadena, and get him embroiled in interstellar wars that had been going on longer than his species had even existed.
And that, frankly, was the problem.Stardust: We All Fall Down
by K. Stonham
released 5th February 2008
The car was not only not Bumblebee, it was an utter hunk of junk, and the more time Sam spent working on it, finally learning the ins and outs of automobiles under Mikaela and Ratchet's guidance, the more he appreciated that fact. He stuck with the blue paint job, though he occasionally thought of changing it to yellow with black racing stripes, but usually that thought made him freeze and have to take deep breaths, willing away the cold wave of loss that threatened to swamp him.
Once in a while the car actually helped, though. He sometimes almost forgot, when he had a grimy piece of engine or undercarriage in his hand and was cleaning it up so Mikaela or Ratchet could determine whether or not it was still sound beneath its mucky exterior. Covered in grease himself, he almost forgot that his friend was dead, had died protecting him, was never coming back to wake him up with a cheery beep from the driveway and an open door, an invitation to just ride...
Bumblebee was never coming back, but when Sam woke up in the middle of the night and looked out at the driveway, at the Camaro sitting there, colors muted and silvered by the moon and streetlights, he sometimes almost forgot.
The minute after waking was the worst.
The Camaro wasn't Bumblebee, it was never going to be Bumblebee, and even when Sam turned the ignition and the new engine rumbled to life, he wondered why he wasn't sharing in Mikaela's elation at a job well done, or even in Ratchet's bemused tolerance of the repaired inferior technology. He listened to the engine and his girlfriend's whoop of delighted laughter, and wondered when he was going to feel better. If he was ever going to feel better.
Quietly, he shut off the engine and stepped out of the open driver's door. "Mikaela!" When her head turned to look at him, he tossed the keys in the air. They arced up and then back down, a glittery silver object tumbling through space, and she grabbed them instinctively.
He forced a smile. "Why don't you take it for a spin? You've put the most work into it, after all."
"Sam..." Her expression showed what her voice didn't: that she was still worried for him.
"I just need some time to think, okay?" He walked to stand in front of her, hands catching hers, holding them.
"Sam, it's been months."
He nodded, holding her gaze. "I know. I just... I just need time, okay?"
She studied him, then slowly nodded. "You just let me know if there's anything I can do, okay?"
"Yeah." He kissed the top of her forehead in a promise. "I'm going to be at the overlook for a while. Call me if you need me."
She nodded. "Okay." And she let him go.
He made his way out of Ratchet's hangar and up the gentle slope of the hill beside it. About a mile down through the tall grass, with its well-worn path of tire treads crushing a road of sorts, was the overlook with its scrubby brush, view of the city, and the tree that they'd strung white lights on a long time ago. Sam used the walking time to think, and wasn't surprised at all when a few minutes later a long, leisurely stride brought flame-painted blue legs level with him. "Hey, Optimus."
"Sam," the alien leader replied, and matched his pace. Sam didn't know if Optimus was worried about him the same way everyone else seemed to be. He probably was. Prime was like that. Sam wondered if there would come a point when the subtle attention everyone was paying to him would start irritating him.
He clambered up in the tree when they reached the outlook. Ironhide was already there, folded into Topkick form, catching the lingering last rays of the sun. The tree's lights came on as Sam was hefting himself up a branch, and he smiled a fraction, wondering which of the mechanoids had remotely turned them on. Optimus sat on the cliff, legs dangling out over the precipice, so that when Sam reached his destination branch and got himself situated comfortably, there were almost eye-to-optic.
They spent a few wordless minutes each looking out at the sunset vista, before Sam broke the silence. "He's not the first person in my life to've died, you know?" he asked rhetorically. "I had four grandparents. I'm down to one now, my mom's mom. I went to three funerals between the ages of five and fifteen." He took a breath. "I took their deaths bad, but... it didn't take me this long to deal with it for any of them."
Optimus was silent for a minute, save for the ever-present clicking and whirring of gears and servos within the mechanical body. "Once in a great while," he said eventually, "we meet someone who changes our lives forever, becomes so much a part of ourselves that we find it difficult to remember what life was like before that person." He turned his head to look at Sam. "Isn't that right?"
Sam swallowed against the sudden tightness in his throat, fought back hot tears. Optimus had hit the proverbial nail on the head. "Yeah," he forced out.
The engine of the black Topkick rumbled softly. "Bumblebee did not make bad choices," he opined. "Whether in battle, or in friendship. You've proven that."
Sam closed his eyes, drew a shuddering breath. "I still see him in my dreams," he confessed. "I know it's stupid and he's gone, but it feels like he's really there, and we talk..." His voice trailed off and he didn't know what he was trying to say.
"What do you talk about?" Optimus asked.
"Stuff. Why he died when he could've just gotten away." Sam blinked open his eyes at the sound of transformation, confirming that it was just Ironhide returning to his humanoid form. "The damn car," he added.
Ironhide snorted a laugh. "Even dead he's still concerned for you. Typical."
Optimus vented a sigh. "I knew Bumblebee for a long time. Longer than you could imagine, Sam. He was always driven to do the right thing. More than some Autobots," he added pointedly, and Ironhide snorted again. "He protected you because you were his friend and he valued that. I can tell you with no doubts that the only thing he would have regretted was leaving you in this pain."
Sam breathed the ghost of a laugh. "That's what he keeps saying."
"Then you should listen to him," Ironhide grumbled. He looked past Sam. "Optimus?"
The leader of the Autobots shrugged. "If you think he's ready for it," he deferred.
"I think we should have given it to him months ago," the weapons specialist grumbled. "Sam, your hand." Unsure where this was going, but trusting his friend, Sam obeyed and held out a hand. Ironhide placed giant digits above his, then, out of a hidden compartment, something small and cold fell into Sam's hand. His fingers closed instinctively around it before he caught full sight of what it was. Curious, he unfolded his hand.
A gleaming yellow ring rested in his palm, two black stripes racing around the circle.
Sam raised his eyes to the two mechanoids. "It was made from his armor," Optimus Prime told him. "We believed you might eventually want a way to remember... a physical tie to remind you of him."
"Since your kind can't take on pieces, it was decided this would be the best kind of memento," Ironhide said gruffly, and looked away. "Not like you'd forget him anyway," he grumbled under his breath.
"Bumblebee served under my command for over fifty thousand of your years," Optimus told Sam. "He was always a brave soldier, desiring to be better than he perceived himself to be. It was only in the last three years that I ever saw him realize he was good enough."
Sam couldn't speak. He hadn't thought he'd affected Bumblebee at all--how could someone as small and weak and ephemeral as himself change someone who was so old, and strong, and who had seen so much? He turned the ring over and over in his hand, staring at it dumbly.
"He did not give his allegiance blindly, nor do any of us value his insight and sacrifice so little, Sam," Optimus told him. "You are worth Bumblebee's death. Not one among us would say differently."
Ratchet had probably made the ring. It was light and cool and warming quickly to the touch, like a part of Bumblebee was contained within it. Sam knew without measuring that it would fit perfectly. Who knew that Ratchet's scans could be used for jewelry. He breathed out a small sigh and looked back up, meeting first one pair of blue optics, then another. "I'd be honored," he said quietly, and slid the ring onto the third finger of his right hand. It fit like it had been made for him.
Optimus and Ironhide both smiled, and the three of them returned back to contemplating the sunset. Eventually Ironhide spoke up again. "When are you going to get that vehicle of yours repainted?" he asked. "It's leaving blue paint molecules all over the hangar."
"Mikaela says the paint should be the last thing to worry about fixing," Sam told him. Ironhide snorted his opinion of that.
"What color would you be considering?" Optimus asked.
Looking at the ring on his finger, part of his friend, Sam suddenly knew the answer. "Red," he replied. "Red with two black stripes." It wasn't the same as Bumblebee, but it would remind him of his friend, and that was enough. He smiled a little. "The red ones go faster, you know," he teased.
"Interesting," Optimus said.
"That would explain some driving I've seen," Ironhide agreed.
Above them, a shooting star fell to Earth.
Huh. Sam's issues with the car ended up less volatile in text than I'd thought they would be. Nonetheless, the end came about to where I thought he'd end up. This story, in retrospect, ends up owing props to Dwimordene's "Bridges" and David Hines' "Pieces of the Dead" for fairly obvious reasons. Sorry the story ended up so talky; I hope y'all enjoyed it regardless.