And though I can't guarantee
There's nothing scary hiding under your bed
I'm gonna stand guard
Like a postcard of a Golden Retriever
And never leave till I leave you
With a sweet dream in your head
"Father & Daughter" - Paul Simon

.

"Come on, it will just be a couple of hours, two tops! I promise!"

"Why don't you hire one of those… baby sitters? I can't believe you pay others to sit on your children, that seems cruel…"

Lennox couldn't help but laugh at Ironhide's confusion, but a grumble from the impatient Autobot quickly called him back to the issue at hand.

"We tried, but our regular sitter is ill. We waited too long, 'Hide, and I can't hire anyone else in such short notice. Our reservation expires within the hour, and we want to be home before it's too dark." Will was looking up at the mech, exasperation seeping into his tone.

Ironhide folded his arms against his chest stubbornly, "I do not watch protoforms. Especially human children; they're far too… squishy. And fragile." He squinted his optics slightly, filtering the late afternoon's light from his vision while scrutinizing Lennox's growing desperation. "Your mate did not consider this before making plans? She did not ask your opinion regarding your night out?"

Will frowned, "Wife, 'Hide, not mate." This received an indifferent grunt, and he continued, "She wanted to surprise me, a nice dinner for Father's Day. And I already told you, we tried hiring a sitter." He shrugged, "If I had my choice, I would have stayed home with Anna, but Sarah thought I would want a few hours off from daddy duty."

"It's not a good idea." Ironhide shook his head. He looked around Lennox to see the small Annabelle peeking around the corner of the house, a smile stretched wide on her face. She had begun walking a little while ago, and he did enjoy spending time with her. As long as one of her parents was within hearing distance.

Will caught the Autobot looking at the child and grinned, "She loves being with you." Quickly thinking that over, he realized that his little girl might be just a tad odd for not only being unafraid of the giant, alien, death machine, but for also enjoying the mech's company. Shaking that thought from his mind, he continued, "We'll be gone for just a few hours, everything will be fine."

"How do you know it will be fine?" Ironhide raised an optic ridge at the human. The expression was rather comical, and Will had to suppress another chuckle.

"What are you so afraid of? She doesn't bite." He smiled at the 'bot, but the grin quickly faded at the sight of Ironhide's expression.

The Autobot was afraid. Of something. Though he wouldn't admit it verbally, something scared him about the situation.

Lennox placed a hand on the giant leg knelt down beside him, "Come on, you're spooked for real here. What's wrong?"

Ironhide's gaze hardened, and his tone lowered, still aware of the little ears listening to their conversation over by the house. "If you haven't noticed, I'm huge. I could hurt her, Will. If I did…" The sentence didn't need to be completed. Its intent was understood.

Will opened his mouth to answer, but a small hand against his own leg stopped him from saying anything.

Annabelle looked up at the two of them, "Daddy, Mommy said you were going to go eat." A small nod from the father caused the smile to reappear on the girl's face. "Can I stay home with 'Hide? I don't like where you eat…" A little pout appeared in her smile, providing evidence for a past experience gone wrong at the eatery referenced.

Ironhide could have swore Anna had something just a little evil inside of her, always knowing exactly what to ask and which buttons to push to get what she wanted. He thought to look up whether or not all human children had this threshold for manipulation.

"'Hide doesn't think he can take care of you right, so you might have to come with us…"

'I know where she gets it from… Her father is just as bad…' Ironhide hated being forced into anything on the spot, but he offered a sheepish grin for the girl.

Annabelle quickly began to whine, "No! Please, Daddy, I don't want to go there! It's boring! And there's no maracoroni!"

"Macaroni," Will corrected her gently, "And there is macaroni there, just not in a size you can finish. But that's beside the point." He looked back up to Ironhide, "Come on, if you don't agree to this she'll be miserable, or I'll be under fire from Sarah for wasting the reservation money."

A low growl emitted from the Autobot. He knew when he was caught in a corner. "Fine," he grumbled. "But only because she wants to stay with me, and I'll be extra careful…" He added the last part mostly to assure himself.

Lennox nodded, satisfied. He understood where the mech was coming from; he remembered when he had first held his girl. He was so afraid, but so overjoyed to know he had helped create the little life in his hands. He knew Ironhide wouldn't hurt her, the Autobot had that soft side to him. He'd be trying so hard to be careful... The 'bot might even turn out to be the best baby sitter they had ever had, as Anna seemed to like him so much.

o0o

The half-hour following Ironhide's reluctant agreement to watch Annabelle seemed to fly by all too quickly for the Autobot. Within what seemed like moments, the parents were gone, and he was alone in the backyard with a small, incredibly fragile child.

Anna looked up at him, absolutely delighted to be spending time alone with her favorite alien. She moved closer to him, which immediately caused a warning flag to pop in his head. What had possessed him to say yes to this!? Had he believed that he could watch the child for a few hours by himself, and somehow magically avoid close proximity to her? He usually had no problem playing with her, even touching her lightly on the shoulder, but that was when someone was around. He didn't know anyone else in the area; if he hurt her there would be no one to go to. The other Autobots weren't close enough to be any help, and they were just as ill versed in baby sitting as he was, anyway. He was alone.

"Hey, 'Hide?" The little voice bounced against his audio receptors, pulling him out of his panicked, internal ramble.

"Hmm?" He grumbled in response, looking down at her. She had gotten pretty close to him without his noticing, which made him nervous. He didn't want to be too close to her; if he remained distanced, he couldn't hurt her.

She touched his leg, which was still knelt down. He thought it was tactless to not kneel down to hear them. The touch caused his circuits to jump slightly, and she noticed the flinch. Her head tilted to one side, looking up at him. "What's wrong?"

He offered her a grin, "Nothin'." Little white lies never hurt anyone.

"Yuh-huh, something's wrong." Annabelle pouted, the disappointment evident in her tone. She had been anticipating a fun time with her big friend, but he didn't seem to be in a fun mood.

"Nothin's wrong, I swear." The Autobot put a hand to his chest in a mock oath with a smile, and the girl giggled.

"You're silly!" Her pout switched again into a smile. She tapped his leg, staring at him with her grin. The silent signal that she wanted to be picked up.

"Uh…" His smile faltered just long enough for the girl to notice, and the frown returned. Dammit, she was a persistent little thing! But she was her father's daughter… "Sorry, Annabelle, I don't know if I should…"

"But you always pick me up…" The girl insisted. "It's more fun to watch the sun go down from up there," she pointed up, as if the direction needed indication, "and you're warm. I like to be where you're warm."

The Autobot sighed, and with a mental jump he noticed that the sun was indeed beginning to dip behind the horizon. So much for the Lennoxes being home before dark… They had left too late.

He knew that if he said denied her, she would just continue to insist, and then maybe she would start doing that leaking thing, 'crying'. Cybertronians could also cry if brought to that extreme emotional spectrum, but they hadn't had a word for the act. He found this interesting. There were a lot of words the human language contained that Cybertronian didn't, though the ideas expressed by those words were shared between their species. Words like love, kiss, and family. Mother, brother, sister, father… They did not have the same exact units indicated by the human meaning of 'family', but they had similar social groups that could be described as families. He even considered their small group of Earth-bound Autobots as a family unit, with their camaraderie and squabbling…

"Anna, I don't want to hurt you while no one's home, so I don't…"

She interrupted him again, "Hurt me? You never, ever hurt me though." Her frown deepened, and he saw signs of the crying thing. "You just don't want to play with me…" Small tears started forming in her little eyes.

"No, I want to play!" He felt panic rising in his processor. If she started crying, he didn't know how to make her stop! Sarah would rock the girl in her arms until she went into some sort of recharge, that's all he could remember about it. How was he supposed to hold her so closely to calm her down? He couldn't…

With a sigh, he placed his hand on the ground, palm facing upward, before an actual tear was spilled. "I'm sorry, I just want to be careful…" He hoped the explanation was adequate. Annabelle didn't know the extent of his strength, and therefore didn't know the damage he could do to a frail body like hers. He hoped she would never need to know the damage he could inflict.

Anna's mood changed like the flip of a coin once again, and she beamed at him as she climbed onto his palm. "You wouldn't hurt me, you're too nice to do something like that." Ironhide felt himself soften at the statement, the sentiment warming his long-aloof spark. He brought the hand she was riding up against his chest, easing himself down into a sitting position with his free hand.

"Well, I'm glad you have some faith in me." He chuckled, unable to believe the turn of events since arriving on Earth. If anyone had asked him vorns ago what he thought he'd be doing in the future, he would have never thought to answer anything along the lines of sitting with a squishy, carbon-based organic's offspring somewhere in the Milky Way, watching some sun set beneath a tiny, blue planet's horizon. Though, he couldn't say he disliked the turn of events as it was.

Annabelle sat on his palm and curled against his chest. She made a sound, one of those 'yawns'. He wouldn't admit it, but she was cute. Though, Ironhide would never admit that he found anything cute aloud. Maybe when she was older, he could tell her that she had been cute when she was little; maybe that wasn't too weird? No, not weird at all, especially coming from a giant alien robot.

They watched the sun set in silence, Anna too enthralled by the sight and by the huge, beating presence she could feel beneath Ironhide's chest plating, and Ironhide still concentrating a little too hard on not screwing up. He was going to have to chew out Lennox later about not being home by dark. He wasn't sure if he needed to put the child to sleep, and he didn't know how to anyway. For a moment, he closed his optics, unable to imagine being a father. Not that he had ever gotten the chance though… With the Allspark gone, he would never know what it would be like to hold a little sparkling.

"Ironhide?"

The little voice pulled him from his thoughts again, and he looked down to see her staring up at him with wide eyes. "Hm," he rumbled, feeling her touching his thumb. It almost tickled.

"I thought you fell asleep." She giggled, and leaned her tiny body against his chest. "Your heartbeat makes me sleepy." She lied down on his palm, and made a small sound.

Ironhide immediately felt that panic raise its ugly head again. Years of war had never shown him such fear, but now a human child falling asleep in his hand scared him out of his armor. "Hey, Anna? Anna…"

The girl gently curled in his hand, and she didn't answer. What was he supposed to do now? He couldn't put her to bed in the house; he didn't quite fit inside. He was going to have to hold onto her until the Lennoxes returned… Or put her down on the ground. He highly doubted she would be comfortable on the ground, so he positioned himself to be further reclined. He wanted her to be as close to the ground as possible, just in case one of them moved and she fell. Just a precaution.

There was no sound beneath the darkening sky. The sun had set and the night's setting increased. The only thing he could hear was the thrum of his own systems, and the occasional murmur coming from his small charge. He turned on his lights, at a dim level, so he could keep an eye on her little form. His own sapphire optics created a dull blue stream of light in the darkness, but they didn't disturb the surroundings.

Ironhide just watched her, absolutely sure after a few minutes that she had fallen asleep. His sparkbeat must have acted like a metronome; she had said it made her sleepy. He didn't think he could ever make anyone drowsy, with all his gruffness.

'I knew I liked her for some reason…' He still couldn't place what exactly caused his affinity for Annabelle. He wasn't fond of most other human children, but she appealed to him. Maybe it was just because she was a friend's daughter, but somehow, he doubted it.

A few more moments passed in silence, and he had shut his optics again, making sure not to allow his systems to go into recharge. He was quickly pulled back to attention, however, as the little girl began to squirm in her sleep.

He opened his eyes, and returned his focus to her, noting that she had flipped from leaning on one side to its opposite. She made little, distressed sounds, but he didn't know what they meant.

"Daddy…" she mumbled in her sleep, turning again. He watched her, but he couldn't figure out what was going on… He began to feel that panic in his head again, but he stifled it. He sat up to free his unoccupied hand of his weight, bringing the servo over against his chest with its partner.

"Anna? Hey, wake up…" He didn't know what was wrong, but he figured she could tell him if she was awake. She still didn't respond, and he didn't want to prod with one of his fingers for fear of hurting her. He started to say her name again, but she interrupted him.

"Daddy!" She cried out, making him jump. What in the Pit was he supposed to do? "Daddy! 'Hide…" She turned again on his hand, and began to mumble, her cries dying down.

Hearing his own name troubled him. He tried to remember what he could about humans while they slept, but he was drawing blanks. Well, what did Cybertronians do? They recharged. Abnormalities sometimes appeared in their CPU when recharging, something the humans would call 'dreaming'. Dreaming could be good or bad, and the humans called the bad dreams… 'nightmares'. A Cybertronian could have a 'nightmare', but they wouldn't cry out like Annabelle was. Their vocal processes were not allowed the functioning threshold for such volume during recharge. But humans didn't have that same control, which would explain her shouting.

She was having a nightmare! And he was doing nothing to help. What a great sitter he was.

"Daddy! Come back, you can't leave…" The crying started again, but he had been anticipating it this time.

He gently shook his own hand in an attempt to wake her up, careful to just barely disturb her. "Hey! Anna, you're having a bad dream, wake up!" He spoke in a volume that would be considered loud by human standards, but he wasn't demanding. Just firm in waking her up.

"Hnn…" The girl came to quietly, and looked up at him with bleary eyes. She frowned as if she had just been caught pilfering from the cookie jar, "'Hide, I think I had a nightmare…"

"I think so, too." He smiled at her, and brought his second hand above the one holding her, just to ensure she couldn't fall off. She reached and held onto one of his fingers.

"When Daddy goes to work, sometimes Mommy is really worried. I dream he doesn't come back… Sometimes you go with him, and you don't come back either…" She hugged his finger tightly, as if afraid he would disappear like the nightmare. Her sincerity pulled at his spark.

"Come on, you think I'd ever leave you?" He tilted his head, "Your father and I will never leave you forever. We can promise you that." He felt something tell him that was a lie, and he knew it was. They couldn't promise her that, but it was what she needed to hear for now. He hoped they would never have to leave her forever, and if one of them did that maybe she would have forgotten the promise by that point. How awful of him, he could feel the bitter taste of dishonesty on his glossa.

She grinned at him, nightmare seemingly forgotten. "I'm glad you won't leave. I would miss you too much." The idea of sleep seemed to have been temporarily forgotten along with the dream. "'Hide, did you ever have a daddy?"

The question caught him off guard. He had to think about it for a moment, causing her to tilt her head in confusion. It was a simple yes or no question… But he didn't want to explain the mechanics of Cybertronian reproduction or the social differences noted between a human father and a male creator.

He took the simple route, "Probably. I don't really remember. He wasn't like your father."

She frowned, missing the point, "Was your daddy mean?"

"I don't know, I just don't remember him really." He shrugged, causing her to frown more. He tried to make amends, "But it's okay, none of us really remember our creators."

"Your… creators?"

Dammit, he had gone too far. He walked into a trap he had purposefully been trying to avoid. "It's nothing you really need to worry about, but to answer the question: I did have a father at some point. Our fathers aren't like yours though."

The answer did little to suffice the girl, and she decided to press with another question, "Were you ever a daddy?" She seemed to grin, probably trying to imagine baby Ironhides running around.

His smile faltered, and she noticed but didn't interrupt. "No, I never got to be one."

She was intuitive enough to see how he found this question to be uncomfortable, so she just smiled, "Well, you can be like a daddy for me when Daddy isn't around."

The innocence of the statement nearly floored him. He felt his spark ache, but it was warm at the same instance. He hadn't felt so warm since first bonding… "Sounds like a plan," he responded softly, noting her yawn.

o0o

"Hey, 'Hide we're home…"

The robot in the backyard was hard to miss or avoid, but Lennox tried to be careful in his approach. He had no idea how Ironhide would react to how late they had come home… Damned Sunday night traffic, it seemed like every other wife had tugged their husband out for Father's Day…

When the Autobot didn't turn around, Will feared the worst. Something must have not gone well, and/or Ironhide was really miffed about them being back well after dark. He tried to anticipate the worst reaction, but he was pleasantly surprised.

"Shh, she fell asleep…" was the hushed response from Ironhide. He wasn't turning around because Annabelle was in his hand, and he didn't want to move too much.

Releasing a mental sigh of relief, Lennox grinned, "And here I was thinking you were mad."

"Oh, don't worry. I am."

Lennox's grin didn't disappear; 'Hide's tone indicated there was nothing to be afraid of. He probably had been angry when it became dark, but he had simmered down while waiting. "Here, let her down. I can take her."

Ironhide lowered his hand with the utmost care, keeping his unoccupied hand around it's other to prevent any falling. When the hand was safe on the ground, the other was pulled away and his fingers relaxed so Will could reach and take the sleeping Annabelle.

"Hold on, I'll be back when she's in bed." He smiled from around the girl's back, and the Autobot nodded silently.

It only took a moment to hand his daughter off to Sarah to be put to bed, and there was no ritual arguing to get her to go down as she was already asleep. Easiest night yet since she had begun walking…

Lennox quickly ran back to the yard and found Ironhide exactly where he had been, positioned the same, but obviously thinking about something. And thinking pretty hard.

"Y'know, you look like Optimus when you're thinking like that," he joked. The weapons connoisseur rarely thought too hard about anything, but there were moments when he displayed that same intuitiveness shared by his fellow Autobots. He wore it just as well as the others, the thoughtful expression suiting him somehow.

"Hm? Well…" The giant repositioned himself now that his human companion returned, and he looked down. Whatever he had been thinking about still weighed in his eyes.

When nothing else was divulged, Will pressed the matter, "Well? Are you going to tell me what's up or not? Did you and Anna fight or something?"

"No, we did not argue." He quickly answered. "Everything went quite well, actually. She had a nightmare, but she went back to sleep after a little while…"

Will nodded, "Yeah, Sarah told me about her dreams." He kicked a rock on the ground, watching as it bounced down the dusty path. It left little clouds in the light given off by Ironhide's humming systems. "How'd you get her to go back down?"

Ironhide squinted his optics; the way Will spoke of getting her to go back to sleep made it seem like some great feat. "I just talked to her for a few minutes. She asked me a couple of questions, and she went back to sleep."

"She must really like you," Will grumbled mockingly, "She gives us a hard time, usually. Maybe you should put her to sleep every night." He expected an immediate refusal to come from his mechanical companion, given his previous reluctance to help. But no such comment was made.

"Maybe I could… She said my sparkbeat made her sleepy," he stated matter-of-factly.

"Wait," a surprised Lennox gaped at him, "I had to argue with you to baby-sit her because you were afraid to touch her, but now you'd put her to bed nightly?"

"As long as one of you were around." Ah, there was the loophole. Lennox nodded, remembering that part of Ironhide's argument.

"Well, we'll see what she says about it in the morning." He yawned, stretching his arms backward.

"Will?" There seemed to be a question waiting to be addressed. Will had sensed it when he had first caught the Autobot so deep in thought.

"Hm?"

"Now that you're a father… Would you ever go back? To not being one?"

Strange question. Lennox stared up at him, "No, of course not. Anna's the best thing that's ever happened to me, to us." He included Sarah, but didn't know that he had also intended on extending the 'us' to their Autobot friend until after it was out of his mouth. "Why would you ask?"

Ironhide gave a shrug, "She asked me tonight, if I had ever been a father. I told her I never had the chance to, which was half true. I had the opportunity, I'm sure, but it never occurred to me that I would ever want a sparkling to look after. But seeing how happy she makes you, maybe I would have liked to have been somebot's creator. Maybe I would have been good at it."

Will walked up to the 'bot's leg and leaned against it a little. He couldn't imagine what it would feel like, wanting to be a parent but having no means to. "But, now…" he started, and Ironhide picked up:

"Now, without the Allspark none of us can imbue life onto anything. I'm not going to get another chance, because I didn't stop and think about it. And now it's too late, but here I am stuck being sentimental." The Autobot's large hands clenched against the armor plating they were resting on, causing an audible squeak. "Right after the Allspark had been destroyed, I almost asked the others what they thought about it, especially Prime. He always seemed like the type who would be good at the whole sparkling thing, but I didn't say anything. I figured they all didn't want to talk about it. Or maybe they didn't care."

Lennox tapped against the leg armor, almost trying to soothe the big guy. He didn't know what to say, as he had no idea what it would be like coming from the 'bot's position.

"Anna said I could be like her father when you're not around…" the soft statement pulled Will out of the awkward inability to say anything.

"That sounds like a good idea," he responded gently. "You know Ironhide, I need to thank you for tonight. I'll make it up to you, I swear."

Ironhide shook his head, "No, letting me spend the time with your daughter was sufficient. If I were you, I would have never allowed something like me near her. That's why I didn't agree to it initially."

"Well, you need to have a little more faith in yourself. I knew you would do fine." He pushed himself away from the giant limb, and smiled, "You would have been a good parent to anyone lucky enough to be your… sparkling." He tried for the word, and Ironhide's smile indicated that he had gotten it right. He started back towards the house, while Ironhide got ready to transform and park for the night.

"Hey, Will?" There was a set of electronic pulses as Ironhide compacted himself into the Topkick, his voice coming through the speaker sets much more quietly than just moments ago.

Lennox turned one more time to face the truck, "Hm?"

"Happy Father's Day."

Will considered the impossibility of the situation, being wished a happy Father's Day by a pick up in his driveway, which was secretly an alien robot who regretted the chance of never being a parent himself. He shook his head, and chuckled:

"Happy Father's Day, Ironhide."