Disclaimer: Shall we sing it together one last time? Do let's. I no own and you no sue, dooda, dooda!
A/N: I regret to inform you all that I shall not be able to reply to any reviews from the previous chapter due to time restraints. Sad, but there it is. I am so, so sorry, but I am moving into my dorm tomorrow and I'm using some of my valuable packing time tonight in order to get this up for you all. So... please forgive me. On a brighter note, see the ending A/N.
Chapter Twenty-One: Of 'Rages and 'Rids
Was that her alarm clock? Beep...No way. Her alarm was nowhere close to that soft.
That beeping was awfully annoying, though.
With her eyes still closed, Astrid reached out to slap the snooze button.
Two things made her jerk her arm back. First was the intense, white-hot pain in her shoulder and second was the sound of flesh meeting flesh with an accompanying yelp.
"Astrid?! Are you awake?"
"Mmm." Internally she was going 'ow'.
"What's wrong with you?! The first thing you do after a two week coma is slap me?"
"Well she definitely knows it's you at any rate," a second voice said. "Just like old times."
"No, you shut-up. You're the one she slapped."
"How about both of you shut-up before I kick you out of the room?" said a much grumpier voice. "Astrid? Are you conscious?"
"Mnoo..." Why wouldn't they just all shut-up and let her sleep?
"Good, good." No, not good. Now something was jostling her. "I'm going to check you over and make sure everything is healing as it should be."
Frowning, Astrid opened her eyes, trying to make them stop fluttering against the light.
"Jenna, if you would please dim the lights," the grumpy voice said, though a bit less grumpy now.
The glare subsided a little and Astrid finally managed to force her eyes open. Standing over her was a pair of very familiar faces. "Jeremy? Ratchet?"
A third face - Jenna's - popped into view with a face-cracking grin. "Good morning, sunshine! So glad to see you return to the land of the waking. Ratchet was getting cranky. It happens to crotchety old mechs, you know."
Ratchet's holoform glared at Jenna, but she was far from cowed. Neither contestant seemed too keen on being the first to give up the staring contest - and far too absorbed in it to make conversation - so it was Jeremy who finally broke the silence.
"So... how's she healing, sir?"
Without breaking eye contact with Jenna, Ratchet replied, "She'll live, thank the Matrix. It will take time, but she should recover, though I doubt she will ever be able to participate in any of those activities you call 'professional sports'."
"Astrid always hated sports, so that's fine," Jenna said, also maintaining her stare.
Ratchet continued to glare, and Jenna continued to reciprocate. Astrid was getting a headache just watching.
"Well, if everything's fine," Jeremy said, "could I have a moment with my sister?"
"You've already had several," Ratchet said.
"He means alone, genius," Jenna said. A holographic eyebrow rose, and with a dramatic groan Jenna glanced away from Ratchet to where Astrid was resting on the bed. She gave her roommate a wink and began tugging at Ratchet's sleeve as she started moving towards the door. "Let's go on out to the waiting room; I'm sure the guys'll want to hear that Astrid's awake and slapping already."
"It was a reflexive action," Ratchet said. "I hardly believe that counts."
The door closed behind them, gifting the room with a blessed space of silence. It took a great deal of effort for Astrid to keep from crying after the medic, and in order to keep herself silent she nearly ground her teeth to stubs. Logic told her that she was safe now, and her heart told her that she was happy to have this moment with her brother, but her instincts were screaming bloody murder at the removal of their security blanket. The animalistic sense of self preservation told her that without Ratchet she was in danger, that a Decepticon could just waltz in and take her again. Without the medic her wounds would burst open and she would die in an instant. And although none of these things happened, she still feared.
Her brother took the reaction in stride, though. His hands curled around one of the fists she'd buried in the bed sheets and stroked it until it relaxed as he gradually guided her eyes away from the door with bantering conversation.
"Those two banded together a few days ago," Jeremy said. "Jenna's been here ever since the doctors started clearing non-family members to visit, and Ratchet's been here since Wheeljack finished patching him up. I think they started liking each other against their will in order to survive in the same room for so long."
Slowly, Astrid responded. First she gave her brother's hand a squeeze, and then she tried to remember the use of her tongue.
"Looks like Ratch's taken a shining to Jen," she said. Her voice was soft; her ribs still hurt like anything.
Jeremy snorted. "How could you tell?"
"He didn't try chucking anything at her head when she challenged his authority."
"Maybe he's just saving that for later. I heard he whacks her over the head with all kinds of junk when they're in the lounge. Probably doesn't want to upset your delicate condition."
"Just means he likes her a lot."
"He'd smack you for saying that if he heard you, you know."
"Of course. Think he's gonna be her guardian?"
"Too early to tell."
They sat very still for a couple minutes, and the empty air was filled only with the steady beep of the machines monitoring Astrid. Then Jeremy lunged forward, took Astrid's face between his hands and said, "Don't you ever do that again."
Astrid's awakening had caused a small but happy uproar in the lounge, where many of the off-duty soldiers from Lennox's team spent much of their time. When the doctors had finally given Jeremy the boot and he had joined the other soldiers he had been met with enough slaps on the back to turn his skin raw. But that had been several hours ago, and by this time the lights had been dimmed, visiting hours had ended and Ratchet finally had his chance to evaluate how his patient was doing after her first day conscious.
He was taking note of the most recent changes in Astrid's blood pressure listed on the patient's chart when a hand shot out from under the covers and grabbed onto his hologram's wrist. For an instant he forgot himself and nearly dropped the clipboard to go into a defensive stance, but he remembered himself in time to prevent the error and he instead set the clipboard back on its hook at the foot of the bed and laid his free hand over the white knuckles digging into his false flesh.
"Astrid? It's Ratchet. You are perfectly safe, relax."
"I know," her grip eased just the slightest bit, but did not fall slack. "But please stay?"
For one of the few times since he'd created the hologram, Ratchet contorted the facial features into the up-curve of a human smile. He patted her hand and enjoyed the rare sensation of the holographic skin wrinkling at the corners of his eyes.
"You could never force me to leave," he said. "Rest easy. I will remain while you sleep, and I will be here when you wake."
It was a very good thing, he mused as Astrid began to drift off again, that she desired his presence nearby. Things might have grown complicated if she felt otherwise, as he had no intention of letting her out of scanner-range for a very long time.
It didn't take long for Astrid's room to be filled with cards and flowers, all sent with the written or implied message: "Get well soon." With the gifts came a steady stream of visitors. Lennox and Epps were still in the area doing damage control and chasing down the occasional lead on nearby Decepticon activity. Jeremy was granted emergency leave to stay with his sister, and of course Jenna and Ratchet refused to be pried from their posts.
While Ratchet was still recovering himself from his ordeal at the hands of Soundwave - and was therefore granted the mechanoid equivalent of medical leave - Jenna's excuse was much shakier, and nearly ten times a day she made the trip down the hall to the nearest payphone to continue the on-going argument with her parents. When Astrid suggested she go back to her life for a while, Jenna simply replied, "My school is gone, I have no car, my best friend just got out of critical condition and my family is in another state at present. Do you really think I have the brains to explain all that to them? They think the campus was destroyed by a freakin' gas leak. And I'm injured. You know my mom, 'Rid. Once she sees this cast I have exactly one minute to live. Besides, there are giant alien robots..." Ratchet's hologram cleared his throat, "...mechs out here. Can you see me just skipping merrily back to suburbia after something like this? No way. I'm totally in."
"'Totally in' what exactly?" Ratchet had asked.
Jenna replied with a sniff and a turned shoulder, but Astrid saw through the snoot and caught her hand. "I get what you mean, Jen."
She was rewarded with a cocky grin."Good. If you didn't then I might start wondering if I was really talking to a room of idiots or if I was the real dummy."
"You might start wondering?"
"Shut-up, Ratchet. No one asked you."
Of the Autobots, Ratchet and Jazz were the most frequent visitors to Astrid's recovery room. Ratchet was there almost constantly - besides the times when the medic was forced to recharge by his fellow transformers outside - and Jazz stopped in at least once a day to check up on both his present charge and the one that had grown-up and moved on. Even Prime stopped briefly when his duties permitted to offer his sympathies and express his relief that Astrid was alive and whole. It took much longer for the twins to be cleared by Ratchet, but they eventually weaseled their way in and brought Astrid a carton of chocolate ice cream to help counterbalance the noxious poison called hospital food. Ratchet was beyond livid when he found out, but Astrid slept very well that night, and actually had a smile on her face as she dreamed for the first time since her captivity, so the medic didn't punish the two as harshly as he might have.
But there was one face that did not make an appearance beside Astrid's hospital bed, and that was Mirage. She had learned from Jazz that the spy was still parked outside the building and on duty, but he always slipped off during his hours of rest and didn't take the opportunity to come and say hello. To say that Astrid was upset was a mild understatement, and to say that Ratchet was angry was a serious one.
Several times over the course of the five weeks Astrid was restricted to bed rest, the medic would sneak off while she was sleeping or distracted to do goodness knew what to the reluctant guardian. Jeremy insisted that Ratchet didn't always stay in the parking lot with Mirage, but Astrid was sure he was giving her guardian a long distance tongue-lashing at all hours anyway. It made her a little angry, actually. If Mirage had decided that she was too much trouble after this whole affair, then so be it. This was her business and her guardian's, not the medic's. What right did he have to go sticking his nose into this mess? None. And she would appreciate it if he would just keep out of her relationships. In fact, she made up her mind to tell him so the next time he made an appearance. Then he stormed into the room, fuming about something in his native tongue (a strange thing to hear coming from a man like Ratchet's hologram) and she forgot all about it.
"What's up?" she asked.
"Your fragging governments and their paperwork is enough to wear on even my nerves. All my centuries of life, and I've never seen anything so ridiculously and needlessly complicated as all this slag."
"Why do you even care anyway? You should be asleep. Close your eyes and recharge. Now."
And she complied.
Frustrated by her lack of progress in the simple physical therapy exercises Ratchet had given her to work on, Astrid flopped back on her pillows with a moody scowl. Really, she shouldn't even be trying to practice the exercises at the moment - according to both medic and doctors she needed her rest at such times - but her impatience was too mighty a foe to overcome. Maybe she'd regret it later, maybe she wouldn't. All she cared about at the moment, though, was forgetting that a newborn kitten could beat her in a wrestling match and reaching her cup of ice chips.
The stretch to reach the obstinate cup pulled at her stitches, and she fell back again with the Styrofoam trophy in her hand and a grimace on her face. Owie. Oh, well, ice chips cured all, as she had discovered many, many days ago courtesy of Ratchet. It was like drinking but better: there were no straws to mess with, they didn't make as much of a mess if spilled, and the deliciously cool trickle that dripped down her throat as they melted was to die for.
Unfortunately, when she looked down, all she found in the bottom of the cup was a shallow pool of water. Much slower than she had reached for it, she set the cup back on the table beside her bed. Her bottom lip trembled and she squinted her eyes to see through the gathering mist.
Oh, for the love of...
Was this what she'd been reduced to? Crying over melted ice chips? Honestly, now, a month in the life of a DID and she was really starting to act like one. She needed out of this hospital. She needed away from the doctors and the nurses. Maybe she could convince Ratchet to take her out somewhere. Sunlight was very good for humans, right? Well, in mild doses. Hospitals stank and she didn't want to come back with a case of skin cancer.
Her spiraling thoughts were broken by the crisp tap of a Styrofoam cup being set down by her elbow. She blinked and looked up into the perfectly pale face of Mirage's hologram. The Snowball, Jenna called him. It fit.
The hologram turned to pull over a chair and Astrid's hands fluttered to her hair. It was greasy as heck. She would definitely have to rope Jenna into helping her wash it later. What must she look like now, though?
She was worrying about how she looked when the Snowball paid her a visit for the first time since... since their argument the night she was kidnaped? No way. The jerk deserved worse. She shoved her hands back into her lap.
Once he had arranged himself in the round hospital chair, Mirage folded his hands over his knees. Then he moved them to the arms of the chair. Then back to his lap. Then to the table and then back to his lap. Was he fidgeting?
"I fear I must..." Mirage stopped, closed his mouth, rethought his words and tried again, "I believe I ought to..." he tried again, "...I owe you an apology."
Although Astrid was close to bursting out of her skin, she bit her lip and kept the raging, injured dragon in her chest on its leash. He owed her more than one, she thought.
"That night... I spoke rashly... and foolishly, and I ask for your forgiveness."
"Wait, are you talking about the 'idiot human' comments from... from before?"
Mirage bowed his head. "I am."
"Mirage! I don't care about those!"
His eyes flickered - much as his optics did when he was confused - and he frowned. "You do not?"
"No! You big idiot. You were worried, and you were tired, and you were scared, and if one of my friends had done some of the stuff I did, I'd chew them out, too if I was in your place."
A little light kindled in the depths of his deep blue eyes."So you are not angry with me?"
"Of course not."
"But you were."
"For a little. Then, well, other things happened."
The light in Mirage's eyes was steadily growing. "Then... I am forgiven?"
The light died. "I have committed another error?"
"Yeah. A big one."
"What is it?"
"I have thought, I have thought very much these past few weeks, Astrid. Please tell me."
Astrid straightened in her bed and breathed heavily through her nose. "YOU DIDN'T COME TO SEE ME FOR FIVE WEEKS, YOU MORON! How do you think I felt, knowing that you were sitting right outside and didn't want to bother coming in to see me? I thought you didn't want me anymore! I thought YOU hated ME! And if I didn't keep smiling all the time my brother got worried, and Lennox got all frowny, and Jenna threatened to kill you for me, and Ratchet ran extra scans, and I missed you."
Before she could continue her rant, she found herself enveloped in a cloud of silvery white finery. Mirage had his arms tucked around her with her face pressed to his shoulder and one hand supporting the back of her head as she suddenly released all the tears and screams of anguish for her missing guardian that she'd tried so hard to suppress. It was impossible to hold back with him there, holding her like that. The way he stroked her hair and whispered gentle words in a language she couldn't understand just tore open all the hidden pockets in her heart she had filled with her anxiety and worry.
When she finally surfaced from the depths of Mirage's jacket and wiped her eyes, she found the hologram smiling at her, and she gave him a very weak and watery glare. "Why are you so happy?"
Still smiling, he gently drew her face to his so they were resting forehead to forehead, and as he stroked her hair back behind her ear he said, "Because I missed you, too."
Astrid almost choked on the laugh that tried to bubble up her throat around the tears, and she clamped the Snowball in a good, tight hug. His arms came back around her, and they stayed that way for a while, each enjoying the presence they had so sorely missed.
After a while, Astrid finally roused herself enough to say, "You know, silver and blue are my favorite colors."
A/N: So, yes, I will be doing a sequel. And, no, Astrid and Mirage do not get to skip off into the sunset after this one. Oh, and of course there will be fresh plot in drama as well as old stuff that I plan to build on, so it shouldn't be too dull. A friend of mine is putting together a trailer for it, so check my profile page every now and again for the link.
Thank you to everyone who reviewed and kept me going! I hope to see you when I post the sequel (eventually)! Keep a sharp eye out! And God bless!