Disclaimer: If I owned Transformers, I'd be rich, and I wouldn't have to sweat and strain to get the money for four years of college. However, I am very sweaty and very strained, so I think that's a negative.
A/N: Hullo again, all! This fic is dedicated to my brother, who I rarely like but always love. Here's hoping my few loyal reviewers shall find me again. Thanks to my beta reader, Mrs. Optimus Prime! Enjoy!
Chapter One: Of Sisters and Airmen
She was in the middle of nowhere. Well, not technically, she thought it might turn up on some sort of census map, but it close enough. Normally she enjoyed putting some distance between herself and the rest of 'civilization', but she did also enjoy coming home to her house in the suburbs. The military base she was now heading to was nestled next to a town that would be lucky to be classified as a suburb. There were no cities for many a mile, and even fewer good libraries. It was the second of these observations that had Astrid in such a melancholy state as she bounced along in her brother's friend's car.
The massive truck rumbled beneath her as they passed by the barracks. Men and women wearing a variety of BDU's and civilian attire were rushing around to take full advantage of their free time or marching into lines for evening review. Beside her, Captain William Lennox was flipping casually through the radio stations with one hand resting almost carelessly on the wheel. From time to time one of the soldiers they passed would wave at the occupants of the big black truck, and Captain Lennox would slow down just enough to acknowledge them in return. Astrid was a little more subdued, but she was still smiling, and Will had her talking... even though she'd been left to rot at the luggage claim.
"So, what was your brother's excuse for not showing up this time?" he asked.
"Oh, the usual," Astrid replied.
"And what's the usual?" said Will.
Will chuckled. It sounded like something he might have done, years ago, before he had a family to care for. He'd learned that forgotten wives tended to get a little testier than forgotten sisters.
It didn't take long to reach their destination after that. A group of men were walking back from the mini mall, talking and laughing as Will pulled up and parked the truck. Epps gave Will a wave, saw Astrid, paused, and broke into uncontrolled laughter. A couple other men looked over and started snickering until finally one of their number turned around and saw what had caused his friends such amusement. His ears flushed almost instantly and he ducked swiftly out of the conversation. Quickly, he walked over and gave Astrid a hug.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey," said Astrid.
"Uh... looks like I forgot again, huh?"
"Yeah, just a little bit," Astrid agreed.
"Dang, man," Will said, hoisting Astrid's suitcase out of the back, "forgetting to pick her up from school is one thing, but the airport?"
"You're slacking, Fenner," said Epps.
"Oh, come on, you didn't remember, either," Fenner grumbled.
"Jeremy, could you possibly give me a lift to your house?" Astrid asked, swinging her backpack onto her back. "I think Captain Lennox has done enough for one day, and you are my brother you know."
"Yeah, right, sure," said Jeremy. "Let's go." He bent down and snatched up her bag before leading the way towards his own car.
"Hey," Will shouted after them, "Astrid! Let me know if he forgets you again and I'd be glad to give you a ride!"
"Will do, and thanks!" said Astrid.
"And don't forget the picnic!" Epps added.
"We won't!" said Jeremy.
Astrid leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes as they pulled away from the barracks. "It really stinks to be stranded at the airport, you know."
"Yeah," her brother sighed. "I know. I'm sorry."
"It's ok, just don't forget next time." She let the silence sit for a minute before asking, "What picnic?"
"Oh, you know... just some of the guys and their families getting together..." Jeremy trailed off.
"You have got to be kidding me," Astrid groaned, letting her face drop into her hands. "Couldn't you just give me a week without any of that kinda stuff before initiating me into the gang?"
"In my defense," Jeremy replied, "this was planned a long time before... before you had to come."
"Nothing we can do about it now, I guess," Astrid shrugged. "What's going on exactly?"
"Nothing much, just a picnic up at the look-out," said Jeremy. "It's nice up there, you should like it. And there'll be lots of food. Kind of a pot-luck deal."
"So what are we taking?"
"Uh... I was kind of hoping you could make something," Jeremy said.
"And when is this picnic?"
"Aw, you are such a jerk."
The sun was just setting over the lookout, and the city below was perfectly illuminated in red with bright highlights of gold. Families were trickling in and the strong scents of freshly cooked dishes pervaded the air. Beauty, laughter and friends. All in all, a perfect evening.
At least, that's what Optimus thought as he looked out over the scene. His friends, old and new had all gathered together to socialize and simply enjoy each others' company. Granted, he and his men couldn't reveal themselves in their true forms, but still, everyone who needed to know he was there knew and he was free to watch the humans interact. Most of the transformers residing on Earth were there anyway, and they were happy to carry on a conversation through their comm channels whenever one of their number got bored. He could have been there without any of his men with him, though and still enjoyed himself. The humans were a truly incredible species. He had seen them fight as hard and as well as any transformer unit, and now he was starting to see them in an entirely new light. They had such a passion for beauty and the finer things in life. Art and music were highly thought of in nearly every culture and great effort was put into training up the next generation's artists. High schools, the last required form of schooling for children, were filled with instrumental groups, physical art classes and vocal music troops. Whether or not they even knew it, practically every human being that he'd come into contact with was somehow involved in the arts.
How Megatron could have ever wanted to exterminate this species was beyond him. It was true that they weren't so large and powerful as the transformers, but they were so incredibly beautiful. They loved one another almost through instinct, they sang or whistled when they were happy, and their soulful expressions could be seen everywhere in artwork and musical creations. Even their language had been honed into an art.
His thoughts were disturbed as Ironhide pulled up with the Lennox family.
As Sarah, Will's wife, pulled little Annabelle out of her babyseat another car pulled up, and one of Captain Lennox's friends, Jeremy Fenner, popped open his door. When, after several minutes, he had not climbed out, Optimus noticed a second passenger in the car and sharpened his audio receptors.
"Come on, Astrid," Jeremy said.
"Go on, I'll come out eventually," said the girl.
"Just give me a minute, Jer, I'll be out in a just a sec."
Jeremy nodded and finally got out of the car, leaving the girl to take her time. As Will Lennox passed by, Optimus asked him quietly, "Captain Lennox?"
"How can I help you, sir?"
"It's Optimus," corrected the semi truck. "I believe you humans connect friendship with addressing one another by your first designations."
"Fine, I'll call you Optimus if you call me Will," replied the army man.
"Certainly, Will. I have a question," said Optimus. "Who is the young woman with Airman Fenner? Their behavior does not seem to fit that of a 'couple'."
"That's because they're not," said Will, leaning against Optimus's bumper. "Astrid is Jeremy's little sister. She's come to visit for the weekend before she makes the move."
"Why would she move to live with her brother?"
"Their, uh, their parents were in a wreck about a month ago, and guardianship passed to Jeremy," said Will.
"I am sorry."
"Yeah, me too," Will nodded. "They've both taken it really well, but, ah, Jeremy's still having issues adjusting to the new role. He forgot Astrid at the airport when she came."
"How could one forget their own sibling?" Optimus inquired.
"Force of habit." Will shrugged. "I don't really know. He's just used to living on his own, I guess. It'll take them a while to get used to spending so much time together again."
Will moved off after a couple more minutes and Optimus continued to watch the girl. She was maybe a year or two younger than Sam and Mikaela, but she was strikingly different. Her hair was much longer, and her clothes looked something like how the 'hippies' from several decades past had dressed. As he tried to puzzle out the meaning behind her choice of attire, she climbed out of the car, a large messenger bag on her shoulder, and started towards him.
To his surprise she didn't continue on past him to join the others. Instead, she sat down near his bumper and pulled out a thick pad of paper and a box of pencils from her copious bag and began to sketch. The book was already at least halfway filled, and judging by the rate she was drawing, Optimus didn't think that the rest of paper had long to wait.
'Who's the girl, Optimus?' Ratchet asked over the com.
'The younger sibling of Jeremy Fenner,' he replied.
At that moment Sarah, Captain Lennox's wife, walked over and thrust a hand casually towards the seated teenager.
"Hi," she said. "I'm..."
"Sarah Lennox," said Astrid. She looked up from her growing sketch with a smile. "Yes, I saw you get out of the car with the captain. Pleased to meet you. You have a beautiful baby."
"Why thank you!" Sarah exclaimed. "And I gather you're Jeremy's sister, Astrid."
"Care to join us?" asked Sarah.
Although Astrid had already shaken hands with the woman, Sarah kept her palm open and inviting a foot or so away from Astrid's face. For a moment the two of them paused, one offering an invitation and one wavering on whether or not to accept it. Then, suddenly, Astrid beamed and accepted the hand. Sarah hoisted the girl to her feet and ushered her towards where the others were gathered around the food and cooing over her little girl.
As she walked, Astrid packed her things back into her bag, and Sarah took the opportunity to ask, "Do you like to draw a lot, then?"
"Oh, no, not a lot, just a bit of sketching," Astrid said. "I'm into a lot of stuff."
Optimus kept an audio sensors peeled as the girls moved farther away, knowing that his comrades were doing the same, curious as he was about the latest addition to the thriving military base.
"What kind of stuff?" Sarah asked, keeping the conversation going.
"Well, I like to sketch, as you saw, and I like to sing, and act when my friends bother me enough... Guess you could say that I'm just into a lot of different things."
"Sounds like it," said Sarah. "Now let me introduce you to Annabelle..."
Astrid woke up to the annoying noise of her alarm beeping incessantly from the coffee table. For some reason she'd forgotten to turn the blasted thing off before she went to sleep the night before. The party had gone well, but jet lag was a nasty thing, and by the time Astrid crashed on the couch she'd been more than ready to get some shut-eye. Jeremy had set her up in their new and scantily furnished front room while he tripped off to his own, where the air mattress awaited his arrival. Astrid cracked her eyes open to the view the pre-morning gloom ( stupid clock wasn't even set on the local time...), and promptly dropped face-first back into her pillow.
The plan had been quite simple. Astrid finished highschool, then Astrid got scholarships and borrowed a bit of money to go and attend college for four years, utilizing one of her numerous artistic skills. Astrid opening the door to find a cop apologetically explaining that her parents weren't coming back from their anniversary date was not in the plan. Unfortunately, that was just what had happened, and now she had to move all the way out west to live with her brother, who was clearly just as thrilled with the situation as she was. It wasn't that he wasn't as sad as she was, and it wasn't that he was jerk. He was just used to living on his own in the military equivalent to a dorm room, as he had for the past few years, and now he'd had to swap around and live in one of the basic family housing units on base. Needless to say, Jeremy didn't really want to give up his late nights or learn to guard his pocketbook in order to provide for a growing teenage girl. The only consolation for the two of them was that it would only be for one year. Then they could both go back to their original plans. Astrid doubted a college would hesitate long to fork over most of the dough to get her through, considering her shining volunteer record and straight A grades. And of course a good sob story that made the college look good by giving her a full ride never hurt anyone, either.
Still, Astrid was desperately unhappy, though she tried not to let Jeremy see. She missed her old house. There was no way she could do the traditional senior activities at her school, and her friends... She didn't want to think about her friends.
With a muted groan, she swung her legs over the side of the couch and looked dimly around the dark living room. All the stuff she'd crammed in her bags was now scattered around the space, making it look like the world's worst (and largest) dorm room. The alarm clock that had woken her so inconsiderately was on a table her brother had salvaged from a local thrift store in his hour of need, and on the floor next to it sat a hefty pile of books. Attached to the room was the kitchen, and even the sloppy teen was forced to grimace from at its condition. A teenager and a twenty-odd-year-old Air Force recruit were hardly the ideal culinary artists. Or the most adept clean-up crew.
Painful memories, both recent and old, suddenly flooded her, and Astrid gave up the rest of her night's sleep. She dressed quickly and left the house before her brother woke up to go for a jog around the neighborhood. There were still a lot of details she was sketchy on concerning military protocol and how she was supposed to behave while on base, but at the moment she didn't care if she broke some high-faluting rule by taking a run at three A.M. She needed the release, and someone would probably wind up paying if she didn't get it. Without further debate she tugged on her sneakers and headed for the door.
Her feet beat the pavement rhythmically as she pursued her imaginary goal line down the quiet street. There was very little chance of bumping into anyone who was off duty, or on duty for that matter. Not that there was anyone living on base that she'd know, but still, it was comforting to believe that she was alone with nothing but her thoughts and her running shoes for once.
Once she'd found the beat of her stride Astrid's thoughts began presenting themselves in far greater order than they had when she first awoke. With her body in motion, it was easier to use logic rather than her raw and chaffing emotions.
It wouldn't be an easy transition for anyone involved. While she didn't want to move, her friends didn't want her to leave either, and goodness knew Jeremy was too busy finding his own path as an adult now to deal with his flash from the past sibling. On the other hand, she knew, honestly, that she wouldn't be alone. Captain Lennox had already showed her a friendly face, and they'd been introduced by her brother over the computer before she even came to the base. Mrs. Lennox was shaping up into a good comrade as well. Still, though, there were some groups and individuals from her old home that she knew she'd never be able to find replacements for.
Feeling much calmer and resigned to her fate, Astrid trotted back up to the door of the very small house she was to share with her brother. At least it was only for a year.
A/N: Hit the pretty blue button. You know you want to.