AN: Here it is folks, the last chapter of my first story. I almost can't believe that it's been eight months already since I started. I know you guys are eager to know how this is going to wrap up, so without further ado, here it is.
Disclaimer: Transformers are not mine, but I'm currently in negotiations for the ownership of my favorites. Original inspiration for the story came from Ray of Starlight's "Twin Times the Fun."
Ch. 15 – …And Beginnings
~ 8 days later ~
Nolan leaned his head back on the head rest, watching the scenery go without seeing it, his mind a million miles away as it usually was these days. The gentle rocking of the truck was lulling him into a sleepy daze, which was only exacerbated by the monotony of almost four hours of driving from the suburbs of Tranquility to the boondocks. The late afternoon was already morphing into evening, a slow, lazy process in the summer, and he could feel his own brain turning into molasses. Not that he was doing much to fight it. It was nice, not having to think. It used to be that he always had to keep busy, always had to be doing something, so that he wouldn't think of what had happened, that Elita was –
The boy jumped as the truck yelled at him. "What? Yes? What?"
"Welcome back," Ironhide noted dryly. "Only took me three times to bring you down to earth again."
Aine giggled from the passenger seat. Their backpacks and hand-me-down duffel bags were tossed into the back seat, and Nolan himself was behind the wheel, playing the part of an attentive driver and failing in epic proportions. At least he remembered to keep his hand loosely on the bottom of the steering wheel.
"So uh, mind saying it again one more time?" Nolan asked sheepishly.
"I was asking what you thought about…all this?"
Ironhide didn't need to elaborate. Nolan let out a breath and let his head fall back again. "Frankly, I'm not sure. I mean, I trust your judgment and all, but I don't even know these people, not really."
"They're good people Nolan. You'll both be well cared for."
"Yeah, but we're being kind of dumped on their laps, haven't we? I mean, they've only had a few days to get used to the idea. Plus, they already have a baby and all, and…yeah."
"We're not being dumped, they volunteered. Besides, even if it only turns out to be a little while, at least we're not imposing on the Witwicky's anymore." Aine pointed out.
"This is true," Nolan acknowledged with a sagely nod.
Eight days ago, when it became clear that Nolan and Aine didn't have anywhere to go, several options were discussed as to where they were to stay until someone could figure out what the heck to do with them. From what Nolan heard, Sam had only mentioned the mess to his mom almost in passing, and Judy instantly volunteered their home as a halfway house for the siblings. They had been staying in their guest bedroom ever since. Or rather, Aine had been in the guest room, Nolan in Sam's room, and Sam on the living room couch. Thank goodness the other teenage boy was such a good sport. And that the couch folded out into another guest bed.
Now, don't get him wrong, Judy and Ron were sincerely nice people, and Judy did her very best to make them feel at home, even taking them shopping to replace all the clothes they lost when they had had to abandon their bags back when Onslaught had first attacked – but frankly they were the oddest couple Nolan had ever met. Judy wouldn't let him or Aine do anything, insisting they rest and recuperate from their ordeal. For an entire week, Aine had been expressively forbidden from cleaning, laundry, cooking, washing, or anything else even remotely resembling chores, and if she caught them so much as picking up a little she'd swoop in and take over as if she thought the exertion of lifting a pillow would break their spines.
As Aine had put it, "Having so much free time was just too weird."
And that wasn't even the half of it. Seriously, what the heck kind of person made a house rule against walking on the freaking grass in his own back yard?!
So in that sense, it was good to get out of the Witwicky home. They were nice people, and Nolan was sincerely touched that they were willing to open their home to them on such short notice, but frankly it felt awkward living as the perpetual guests and occupying someone else's living space.
The downside was that they were being shuffled again to another family for an indefinite time. He knew they had lucked out big time, that this couple had decided to take the plunge and open their home to them for the possible long term; if this worked out, the RDA would be able to ensure they could stay and be cared for, and that nobody, not Social Services, and not Richard, would be able to take them away. But if it didn't…he actually had nightmares of this being what the next few years were going to be like for Aine. At least he was almost free of it. What was going to happen to her if this didn't work out?
"Relax Nolan, they're not going to eat you." Ironhide interrupted the boy's dark musings again with a flat tone. "We can all vouch for them. You've already met them, haven't you, when they came to visit the base?"
"Well, yeah. They're nice and all, but aren't they kind of, you know…young?"
"This from the kid who had been hoping for guardianship of his sister at the tender age of eighteen," Aine mentioned with a smile.
"Yeah, well, I was desperate and stupid."
"He admits it!"
Nolan mimed stabbing himself in the heart. "Ack! Et tu, Aine?"
Aine poked him in the side, eliciting a laugh. "Hey, you said it first, you know. But yeah, I liked them a lot. Elita would've loved them, I think."
Oh, that was such the wrong thing to say. The almost lighthearted feeling Nolan was nursing crashed and died, and Aine cringed as she saw the pain flicker across his face as memories, vivid as they day they were created, hijacked the forefront of his thoughts again. But Aine wasn't about to let him spiral down that dark hole again, not if she could help it.
"Nolan," she said gently, but firmly, putting her hand on his. "Please, don't go there again, not now. You've spent the last week beating yourself up over it. No one blames you for anything, not even Optimus. Right Ironhide?"
"Right." The topkick agreed. "What's past is past. Reliving it all the time isn't going to change it."
Nolan glared at the dashboard. "That's your sage advice? 'Forget it and move on?' Pardon me for not being so callous!"
"You'll never forget." Ironhide said, uncharacteristically soft. "But everyone else has already forgiven you. You might as well learn how to forgive yourself as well."
Nolan lowered his head to hide his eyes, unable to respond. The oppressive, depressive atmosphere overshadowed them all, and Aine squirmed under its weight.
In a desperate attempt to chase off the darkness being emitted by Nolan's palpable guilt, she tried to steer the conversation back to its original course. "Ironhide, are you SURE this is okay? I mean, this is so last minute, and I don't want to impose on them or anything."
"From what I understand, they'll be getting an allowance for your basic living expenses, until you're done with high school. Didn't you two get an Incentive or something for after that?"
"Something like that, yeah."
"I'm sorry, you're going to make us sign a what now?"
"A non-disclosure agreement. It means you agree to never speak of what you have seen and experienced regarding Autobots and Decepticons to another human that has not been expressively approved by us. We're not saying we think you're planning to run to the local papers about this, we just…need to be especially cautious considering the sensitivity of what you've fallen into, and that involve specifying the boundaries. Once you sign it, you will be given, ah, "compensation" for everything you have done."
"So you're gonna bribe us into signing the thing." Nolan translated flatly.
"No no no no, of course not. That would be unethical and illegal. A "bribe" only refers to when you give money to a government official to do something they would otherwise not do. This is more of an…incentive, if you will."
Nolan and Aine, along with the agent, were at the Witwicky home, in the living room, sitting across from each other on couches with a coffee table separating them. The agent, by the way was the woman who had, with one phone call, completely turned their lives over all over again: Alicia Grit. Frankly, neither of them knew quite how to act with her, not until the dust settled and they learned whether she had saved them or damned them. Sam was out, but Ron and Judy were off to the side, monitoring the conversation like a pair of protective birds, wanting to be sure the agent didn't try anything with them.
"So explain to them how this is going to work." Ron said. "Is it going to be the same deal Sam got?"
"More or less, Mr. Witwicky. You see Nolan, Aine, the government isn't going to write you a check right of the bat. Instead, we will be creating two separate trust funds for the both of you in your names, which you'll be able to claim when you turn eighteen."
"Um, not to sound like a greedy materialistic jerk or anything," Nolan hedged, "but how much are we talking?"
Grit looked a little amused. "I can't promise an exact figure right now, but it should be plenty satisfactory. I can give you a ball park figure though."
From a pocket inside her jacket, she pulled out a pen and a small notepad.
"Please keep this confidential, we're not supposed to share these numbers with other recipients," she requested as she wrote something down. "And don't quote me on this either. This is a conservative ballpark figure, you understand."
She ripped off the paper, turned it face down, and slid it across the table. Nolan exchanged a raised brow with Aine (come on, this was the government. They paid their own workers in peanuts, how big a number could they possibly offer?), before picking up the paper and scanning it quickly.
Only to fall back against the couch as all the breath left his body. Aine plucked the paper from his limp fingers and kept staring at it with eyes the size of saucer cups.
"Oh my gosh…" she whispered in disbelief. "And this is a conservative figure?!"
"Adjusted for your age and future needs," Grit said. "You're both young, with a full life ahead of you. We won't tell you what you should do after high school, so think of this as our way of opening your options."
Nolan felt like he couldn't breath. He leaned forward so that his elbows were on his knees and buried his face in his hands.
"Nolan?" Judy asked worriedly, coming over. "Nolan, is everything okay?"
"I'm going to college," he said, almost crying. "I'm actually…going to be able…to go to college."
"So the two of you are already set." Ironhide said, snapping Nolan out of his reverie yet again. "What're you so worried about then?"
"I don't know," Nolan breathed out. "I guess I'm mostly worried about what Plan C is going to end up being, if this doesn't pan out as well as everyone keeps thinking it will."
"At least reserve judgment until you meet them. They're more normal that the Witwicky's were."
"Way to set the bar Ironhide."
Up the winding dirt path they drove, and in view came a large white farm house, charmingly old fashioned, with green shutters and a porch swing. A little ways away Nolan could see a red barn, paint fading, looking like it had been built when the property had first been established. Ironhide had mentioned this was an old family home, and Nolan could believe it. They had roots here, going generations back.
Even as far back as they were, they could see the tall metal figure speaking to the homeowners, kneeling down and speaking. A little ways away, the imposing figure of Optimus Prime waited, with his hands folded behind him, letting the others have a chance for one more talk.
Ironhide drove up and parked, letting the kids out. They pulled out their bags from the back seat, but with nothing left to do, they just…stood there, watching the adults.
Nolan felt awkward, not sure what to do. Say hi? Join in? Wait to be called over?
Thank goodness for Aine.
"Hey everyone. Still getting along?" She asked cheerfully.
The Lennox's turned to see them. The wife, Sara, with baby Annabelle on her hip, beckoned them over with a smile and a wave.
"Sure, everything's great. Your guardian was just making sure we were all set for you guys. If I didn't know any better, I'd think she didn't trust us."
"Of course I trust you, Sara. Think of this as an…over abundance of caution."
Sara waved off the apology. "Hey, I'm a mom. No need to apologize, I get caution. I remember when Annabelle was born, I was afraid to leave the room for a week."
With a good natured chuckle, the Autobot unfurled to stand at her full height, shining in the afternoon sun behind her:
Elita One, as whole and vibrant as she had been the first time Nolan had seen her almost two weeks and forever ago.
Even now, Nolan still felt a small part of him soar when he saw her, active, moving, talking, and so gloriously, beautifully alive. It was the same part of him that had died when he had heard Optimus' crying for sheer joy and relief and had mistaken it for grief and despair.
Nolan had honestly collapsed against the wall and nearly fallen apart right then and there, until Ratchet corrected his erroneous assumption. As for Ratchet's ominously quiet nature upon leaving the infirmary? That was just him trying to rest his CPU for a few seconds after so many intense hours of concentration and delicate surgery.
Nolan was still a little mad at him for that. Those few seconds between believing Elita was gone, and being told that she had made it through the surgery and would be making a full recovery, remain some of the worst of Nolan's entire life.
But the few seconds immediately following them being allowed to visit her after she and Optimus had their alone time, and he was able to confirm her survival with his own eyes, seeing her raise up her head and smile, would remain some of the best. He would visit her everyday she was recuperating, sometimes spending hours by her side, just to convince himself that she wasn't going anywhere. Ratchet had only cleared her to leave the med bay yesterday; hence why she had been unable to meet with the Lennox's personally before. She had left base hours before, just so she could have a chance to speak quickly with them herself. But Ratchet had done an excellent job putting her back together. There was nothing in her smooth, graceful movements to suggest she had nearly been blown in half and clung to life by a bare thread only a week ago.
However, Elita had not come out of her experience unscathed. As she turned her head and upper body to look at the siblings with clear fondness, it also exposed the remaining damage:
Nearly the entire right side of her face, the side exposed to the blast, was still carrying damage. The fins on that side were crooked, smaller, fractures still mapping out her face from her eye down to the corner of her mouth, and the eye itself was dark. One half of her face was perfect, the other warped, scarred, and blind.
Ratchet had taken with him the necessities for essential, life saving repairs, at the reasonable expense of having nothing to repair cosmetic damage. As for the eye, the components were simply too delicate for him to even think of touching before they were able to get the supplies still on the Ark – which, mind you, was still hiding on the moon. Ratchet had put in a piece of glass to keep debris out, but for now Elita would be walking around with one blind eye.
Every time Nolan saw her scars, another piece of him would twist with guilt at the constant reminder of what she had suffered for him, what she had been willing to suffer for him, and that she was walking around scarred and partially handicapped because of his actions. No matter how many times he heard her say she didn't blame him, that it wasn't his fault, he knew he would be carrying that guilt until she was fully repaired again, and that wouldn't be happening for a long while yet.
"So uh, you guys getting along?" Nolan asked, scratching the back of his head. Elita smiled.
"Yes, we are, very much so. They are good people Nolan. You and Aine will be in good hands."
"Right then!" Will Lennox said, clapping his hands together. "So, how about I show you your rooms? It's not much, but you guys can personalize it later. I mean, if you want to stay anyway."
Nolan and Aine exchanged a look. Nolan glanced up at Elita, who had taken a step back and away, letting them make their own choice. Nolan and ran a hand through his hair.
"Well, we're already here. We might as well try and see how it goes," he muttered quietly, just loud enough for Aine to hear. She grinned.
"That's the spirit."
Feeling remarkably like he was finishing a long, tiring journey, Nolan hefted his backpack a little higher on his shoulder, and with his sister by his side, approached the waiting couple who had invited them into their home, and their lives.
Elita stood by, watching the young O'Connell's interact with the Lennox's, Sarah handing Annabelle to Aine to hold, to the girl's obvious delight. Will took their bags, and the husband and wife led the siblings into the house, letting the screen door shut behind them.
Elita cycled a breath of air, feeling both relieved and a little sad that they didn't need her so much anymore. Well, at least with the Lennox's she'd be able to visit them, and there were few others she would trust their safety to more than the Weapon Specialist, even if he pretended to grumble about being the 'human babysitter'.
"I think this just might work out," Optimus said, wrapping an arm around her waist. She leaned against him.
"I sincerely hope so, Optimus. Those two deserve a sanctuary for a home."
Optimus let go and stepped back, so he'd have enough room to transform into a flame-painted Peterbilt truck. Taking a cue, Elita transformed into her Maybach alt mode, and followed him down the road, back toward the base.
Or at least, that was where she had initially assumed they were going, until she realized that Optimus was taking a decidedly different route. Curious, she sent a ping to his comm. link (and sweet Primus did it feel good to have all her systems working again, including all her communications!).
"Optimus, where are we going?" she asked. "This is not the way to the base."
"No, it's not", Optimus confirmed cryptically, but with a youthful air of being very pleased with himself. "Bear with me for a little while Elita. There's something I want to show you."
Had Elita been in root mode, she would have been grinning. She couldn't conceive what Optimus wanted to show her, but she was already looking forward to it. They hadn't had much alone time in the past week, and she had only been released from the med bay yesterday. She was happy to take whatever she could get, even if it was just a stolen hour or two on the way home.
So she followed him down roads, up another path, uphill where the wide paved road became narrower and narrower, until it ended completely high up a tree covered hill and around the bend, out of sight of the bigger road. Optimus transformed, and Elita followed suit. The area was surrounded by tall trees, most almost as tall as Optimus himself, and certainly taller than Elita. Optimus took her hand.
"It's not much further. Be careful, the undergrowth can be tricky in places."
Optimus guided her along, helping her avoid the dense foliage that kept trying to trip her up. She only lost her footing once, but Optimus had been quick to catch her. She "lost" her footing once or twice again afterwards, until they broke through the tree line and Optimus came to a stop.
Elita gasped, fingers covering her mouth.
The sun had nearly set, and Optimus had led her to a bluff overlooking the nearby city, all lit up and glittering like thousands of starry gems, illuminating skyscrapers and towers. The sun was setting, letting the stars shine, and between the sky and the lights, it felt like there were stars both above and below her, made more wonderful by the atmosphere that made them twinkle merrily in a way they never could in the cold emptiness of space. It was just so beautiful.
"Oh my…" she breathed.
"I thought you might like it," Optimus said with a smile, coming up behind her and wrapping his arms around her middle. She leaned back against him and laid her arms over his, enjoying the view.
"You have excellent taste." She complimented.
But even with the romantic moment, Elita could feel something off. It wasn't any one thing, but after so long, Elita could pick up that something was a little…off with the Prime. He seemed tense, in an anticipatory sort of way, the way he usually got when there was something he needed to say but was having a hard time getting to it.
"Optimus?" she queried, twisting her head around to look at him.
"There's another reason I asked you out here," Optimus started. He took her by the shoulders and turned her around to face him, and she put her small hands on his chest, keeping close contact. As close as she was, she had to crane her head back to look up at Optimus.
"Yes?" she asked, feeling her fuel pump start to speed up. Optimus paused for a second, cycled a breath of air, and slowly began.
"Elita…this war we've been fighting has taken so much from us both. We have both given so much, so that we can protect our soldiers, our friends, and our way of life. I did it all gladly, and I was never afraid to die for it. But nothing, nothing, scared me more than seeing you almost die right in front of me.
"When Primus gave you back, I knew, with all my spark, that I would never be able to let you go again. I don't want to lose any more time with you. I want us to live our lives to the fullest. I want us to share in our happy times, and comfort each other in our sad times. I don't want another moment to go by wasted because we were too scared."
"Become my bondmate, Elita, and share those moments with me."
Elita dropped her gaze and stepped back a little. "Optimus, I…you know as well as I the war is not over, the danger has not passed. Had we been bonded already, and Onslaught killed me, I might have taken you with me. The risk…I am sorry, but the risk is still too great."
"Had we been bonded, I would have known it was you who had landed, and this whole mess could have been avoided." Optimus pointed out. Elita's lips quirked.
"Perhaps. But I must say, for all that has happened, I could never regret meeting Nolan and Aine."
"No, I suppose not," Optimus agreed with a smile. But he sobered. "I'm well aware of the dangers. But I need you to help me remember why I keep going, Elita. I don't care about the risk."
"But you HAVE to care about the risk!" Elita exclaimed. "You are the Prime! You are not a mere military Commander; you represent all the hopes of the Autobots! If I…if we lost you, it would be devastating. If you will not consider your ultimate well being, then I will!"
Optimus tilted his head with a smile. "In that case, you can protect me, I can protect you, and between the two of us, we'll be able to keep each other safe."
Elita shook her head in mild frustration. "Optimus Prime, you are not listening to me. I am trying to saaAAH-AAAHH!"
Elita arched her back as Optimus (slag him!) trailed a finger up her spinal strut, sending delightful shivers all through her body.
"Stop what?" Optimus asked innocently with a mischievous grin, just as his finger (ooh!) started back downwards.
"That! I am trying to have a serious conversation here!"
"What a coincidence, so am I."
Optimus placed his trailing hand flat on the small of her back, then leaned down until his forehead was touching hers. "I love you Elita. I want to love you with everything I have. You're afraid of taking me to the Matrix? I'm afraid of going on without you at my side."
He leaned back up slightly and cupped the scarred side of her face.
"And there is no one else I trust more to keep my spark safe than you."
Elita's optics widened and her lips parted slightly. This was not the first time Optimus had asked her to bond with him, but he had never struck such a chord as he did now. Why? What made now so different? Was it because he had finally found the right words? Was it because she had come so close to dying, and she too didn't want to lose any more time either? Or was it simply because, for once in her life, she wanted to throw caution and common sense out the proverbial window and say finally 'yes?' That she just wanted to be selfish and think about what she wanted for one, pure and simple?
Then again, they had already given so much. Surely, Primus would forgive them for this one act of selfishness.
Elita reached up a hand behind Optimus' head, pulling him down to herself, while her other hand teased the armor directly over his spark in just the right way she knew would make him squirm and gasp in delight. Within minutes, the bright glow of two sparks shone, would touch, and became one.
Unfortunately, on the way back to base, both Commander's navigation and communication systems suffered simultaneous and spontaneous malfunctions far too technical for them to repair on the spot. Consequently, they had no choice but to spend the next four days wandering lost until their systems unexpectedly rebooted and resolved their malfunctions on their own and they were able to find their way home again.
When they drove up to the base in the desert, they had sand in their joints, a taste for Spanish music, fiesta beads hanging from their review mirrors, and for Elita, a bumper sticker that cheerful proclaimed "Carino Mexicó!"
Sam was horribly disappointed.
September 23, 10:46 pm, Nevada ~
"Okay, seriously, we had the ENTIRE summer for these guys to show up, and they wait until AFTER school starts, on a school night, to finally show up?"
"I thought your parents extended your curfew for landings, Sam?"
"Yeah, till midnight, so I've only got another hour before Dad puts me on mulch duty again. Do you have any idea how much that sucks Aine? Do you?"
"Hey Nolan, you think it sucks worse than cleaning a horse's stall on a hot summer day?"
"No freaking way."
"…Is that what Wills gonna make you do if you break your curfew?"
"That's what he's been threatening."
"What will Aine have to do then?"
"Same thing. Will call's it 'gender equality.' I call it 'Will-not-wanting-to-clean-up-his-own-horses-crap-if-he-can-help-it.'"
"How're you going to clean the stall with a busted leg?"
"You know Mikaela, I'm not entirely sure. I think that's supposed to be part of the punishment."
"Oh! I see them! – wait, wait, no, never mind, that's another plane."
It was a beautiful night, out in the desert about a hundred miles away from the base. The humans – Sam, Mikaela, Nolan, and Aine – were gathered around a campfire and enjoying the marshmallows, hotdogs, and soda that Sam had thought to bring, to everyone else's delight. There had been a little debate whether Nolan could come because of his leg, but he was adamant about not being left out and, well, it wasn't like he was going to be called on to run a foot race or anything. If anything, the cast was becoming a little bit of a running joke, what with it being liberally covered in signatures and messages in both English and Cybertronian. For some reason, they couldn't get enough of seeing the massive forms of Ironhide or Optimus scrunch down, delicately holding markers in their fingers, and write something in a script that should have been far too small for such huge beings to handle. Not to mention the ongoing "Guess what Jazz Wrote" game that was driving Nolan and Sam nuts but amused the Solstice to no end.
With everyone chatting, exchanging stories, and Sam catching his marshmallow on fire and waving it around like a flaming baton, it was easy to believe it was a normal camping trip among good friends.
"Sam, if you don't put that down before you set yourself on fire, I won't be held responsible for what I do next."
Well, the presence of six giant metal robots did mess up the illusion a little, admittedly. But they were good friends too, so it was okay.
"I wasn't going to hurt anyone," Sam defended, but blowing out the charred sugary treat all the same. When Ratchet told you to do something, you did it, no questions asked, not unless you wanted to go home with a bump the size of a grapefruit on your head.
And why was the odd ensemble out in the desert in the first place?
Because only two weeks ago, the Autobots had received a transmission: Elita's team had arrived, and even better, had bumped into another small team on the way.
~ Two weeks prior ~
"Are you serious?" Nolan exclaimed in delight. Jazz grinned.
"Better believe it. Elita's femmes bumped into another team, and they're all on their way here. They won't all be makin' planet fall though. Some of them need repairs, so most of them'll be staying on the moon with the Ark while two go ahead and land. Once we get the logistics figured out, they'll be landing the ship wherever an' whenever we need 'em to."
"So how many are there?" Sam asked. Jazz stopped to think.
"In total, eight. Four on each team."
Nolan frowned in confusion. "Wait, for on each team?"
"And one of them is Elita's?"
"…………………Elita's entire Division only has four femmes?"
Jazz threw his head back and roared with laughter at the look of crushing disappointment on Nolan's face. "O' course not! Her Division's much bigger than THAT! This was just her personal team, her elite, if ya will. Kinda like how we were Optimus' personal team. Just because we were the only one's here, don't mean the rest of the army didn't exist, now did it?"
Nolan visibly relaxed. "Oh. I get it now."
"Any idea when they're going to be here?" Mikaela asked.
"Well, barring unexpected circumstances, we'll be expectin' them in ten ta fourteen days."
Nolan's brow raised. "Talk about timing."
Sam looked at him curiously. "Timing? Why?"
"Well, if they get here later rather than sooner, they'll arrive in time for my birthday."
~ Present ~
It actually ended up being the day before, but Nolan was still counting it as a present.
"So you kids never gone campin' before?" Jazz asked, the silver bot lying on the ground with his hands under his head. Aine shook her head.
"Not like this, way out in the middle of nowhere. I kind of remember sleeping in a tent in the backyard though."
"Yeah, that was something Mom did sometimes," Nolan confirmed, examining his marshmallow. "We never got to go on real camping trips, so Mom set up one in the back yard, even with a little fire pit so we could cook hotdogs, and she always brought a little fire extinguisher, just in case. It was a lot of fun."
"What was your moms name again?" Mikaela asked.
"K-E-E-V-A or K-I-V-A?"
"Neither. It's C-A-O-I-M-H-E."
Every single pair of eyes not Aine's stared at Nolan in disbelief.
"You're making that up," Ratchet flatly accused. "From what I understand of phonetics and the English language, that name has too many letters and most of them with no purpose whatsoever."
Nolan raised his right hand. "I swear on my honor it's true. You pronounce it 'keeva' and spell it like…um, 'cay-o-im-hee,' I guess."
"That makes no sense whatsoever."
"It's sort of a tradition in Mom's family to give their daughters traditional, unique Irish names," Aine explained between liking her fingers for fluffy sugary treats. "How'd do you think I ended up with a name like 'Aine' instead of 'Ellie' or 'Annie'?"
That was another change in the siblings, a more subtle one than their choice of camping buddies. Before, it had almost been taboo for them to talk about their Mother, let alone speak so casually about her. It didn't happen often, but Aine had honestly delighted in learning about her mother, and the more she wanted to head, the more Nolan got used to talking about her without stumbling over his words. The picture he had kept so close now sat in a lovely frame on his bookcase, next to the much beloved paperback that had kept it safe all these years. The letter itself rested in the bottom of a drawer, safe, but not darkening the happier memories with its dark ending.
There was also one more change, one only Nolan appreciated: two days after Richard gave them up, Aine came downstairs without the pigtails she had worn every day since she was nine. Nolan had to do a double take when he saw her, and when he asked, she just smiled and said "I just felt like it was time for a change."
It was strange, how a simple change like wearing her hair down made her look…older. Even now, as she tucked a bit of stray hair behind and ear, she looked less like a little girl and more like a blossoming young woman. Nolan had no doubt it would be a long, long, long time before he saw those pigtails again.
"How are you two with Will and Sara, by the way?" Elita asked. Nolan shrugged.
"It was kind of weird the first few days, but it's not bad. I think Aine is about ready to steal their baby though."
"I am not!"
"You're always volunteering for diaper duty, even when it's number two! That's Not Normal!"
Bumblebee jumped up and pointed wildly at the sky. "There's one of them now!"
Everyone jumped up to see a bright streak of light cutting across the sky, over their heads, and to hit the earth several miles away with a thunderous crash that sent vibrations that bare-footed Mikaela could feel in the ground.
"Whoo hoo! Perfect landing!" Aine cheered, throwing her hands up in victory.
"Um, actually, they kind of missed the landing site by, a lot." Sam pointed out, gesturing towards the drawn out target a little ways away.
"Yeah well, compared to Rochester, those two practically hit the bull's eye."
Everyone transformed, Sam with Bumblebee, Mikaela with Jazz, and the siblings with Elita, all heading for the closest crater. When they arrived, they transformed again about thirty feet away. The minute Ironhide has his feet again, he hurried ahead while everyone else held back. Sam gave Bumblebee an odd look.
"Um, what're we waiting for?"
Bumblebee grinned at him with his eyes.
"This one here? It's Elita's SiC and Ironhides bondmate, Chromia."
"Chromia!" Aine squealed, already going starry eyed, clasping her hands under her chin in girlish delight. "Oh my gosh, this is going to be so romantic!"
Ironhide approached the edge of the crater, and peered down, partly anticipatory, partly nervous.
A click, a whine, and a shot of white energy that nearly took of Ironhide's head was his answer.
The Topkick scrambled back, just in time to avoid another shot, which was followed by a slender silver frame still shooting at him like a person possessed. Ironhide wasn't just taking it though, and had whipped out his own cannons and was circling around and shooting her right back.
"What the frag is wrong with you, femme?!" He demanded.
"You're what's wrong, you slag-eating frakking pit-spawn!" Chromia yelled back. "Get back here and let me shoot you!"
"Are you insane, you lunatic?!" he shot back, along with a couple of plasma blasts for good measure. "What the frag did I do??"
"You almost died at least TWICE, you pathetic excuse of a mech! Did you think I wouldn't notice? And stop running, you coward! I've seen glitch mice with bigger cast irons than you!"
While the happily bonded pair continued to circle around and shoot each other in seemingly honest attempts to cause bodily harm, everyone else stood by and patiently waited and/or gawked.
"That's Chromia?" Sam squeaked.
"Yep, that's Chromia." Bumblebee answered mildly.
"……….Wow." Aine said, hands still frozen in their clasp under their chin, considerably less starry eyed than she'd been seconds ago. "They're very, um…wow."
"They're certainly quite, um…." Mikaela tried. "…they're quite, um…" And failed.
"Do not think about it too hard," Elita advised, looking like she was trying not to laugh. "You might hurt yourselves."
"I'm more worried about them hurting each other!" Nolan said, watching the bondmates(?!) chasing each other around and shooting insults and energy blasts at each other like they were trying to kill each other.
"What, this?" Elita waved a hand at the pair. "This is only them getting reacquainted after being apart for so long. Once you witness an argument, you will understand the difference."
"Oh dear god."
Ironhide and Chromia had been circling each other, firing off shot after shot, yet somehow managing to avoid any misfires toward the bemused/amused audience. After several minutes and several rounds of fire exchange and increasingly colorful insults being lobbied, Chromia came in close and threw herself at him with a hard uppercut that sent Ironhide stumbling back. Off balanced, Chromia took the advantage and tackeled him, sending them both tumbling down the ravine of a dried out river bed, rolling out of sight. Even then, everyone could still hear metal hitting metal as Chromia and Ironhide continued getting "reacquainted," so everyone waited patiently for them to finish.
Then the clashing became disturbingly rhythmic.
Sam's eyes bugged out of his head. "Um, are they…?"
His question was (mercifully) cut off by a second 'meteorite' crash landing a mere hundred yards away with a thundering shock.
"Perhaps it would behoove us to greet our other new arrival and give those two a chance to compose themselves," Elita suggested calmly, bending down and shepherding the horrified and slightly traumatized teenagers along.
Nolan wasn't one for praying, but as they left they left Chromia and Ironhide to finish their, uh, "business" (don't think about it don't think about it don't think about it ARGH! I'm thinking about it!), Nolan was inspired to compose a quick one of gratitude.
'Dear God, thank you for letting the robot that landed in my backyard be one of the sane ones. I don't think the world is ready for an unsupervised Chromia. Or Ironhide. In fact, if you could make sure those two are never alone together in a crowded parking lot, I'd really appreciate it. Amen.'
The other crater wasn't too far, so they covered it on foot, Elita carrying Nolan out of consideration for his leg. They all lined up around the rim of the steaming crater, the rocks fading from intense white to red as they cooled. At the bottom of the crater, a medium sized, dull silver mech frame uncurled to his full height, bright blue optics shining up at them.
Before anyone could say anything, Jazz beat them all to the punch.
The solstice literally leaped down into the crater onto the not-so-mystery mech and promptly, literally, unbelievably, for lack of a better word…glomped him.
"Hello Jazz." 'Prowler' greeted him, a tad flatly, and making no motion to return the hug. "And my name is not 'Prowler', it's 'Prowl'. It hasn't been so long you've forgotten my name."
"Aww, don't be like that!" Jazz pouted. "Didn't'ya miss me?"
"Like Cosmic Rust." Prowl said flatly. But in spite of the slightly harsh words, there was an undercurrent of long-suffering fondness, not just in his tone, but in the slight curve at the corner of his mouth and his eyes. To the observant person, it was plain as day the long friendship these two, already demonstrating to be as different as night and day, must have shared.
"So, are these guys friends or not?" Nolan asked, scratching his head.
Optimus leaned down and gave Prowl a hand out of the crater, with Jazz crawling out after him. "Prowl. It's good to see you again." He said, warmth coloring his tone.
"It's been a long time, Prime," Prowl said back, Jazz still grinning like a maniac behind him. Prowl turned to acknowledge Elita, but couldn't completely school his expression before a flicker of shock flitted across his expression.
"I had a more difficult landing experience," Elita said by way of answer.
"I…see," Prowl said, looking a bit uncomfortable. Optimus looked over his shoulder, back where they had left Ironhide and Chromia.
"They are likely finished by now. We could try seeing if they are ready yet."
Elita scooped up Nolan again and put him on her shoulder, with the rest of the humans dogging their heels.
Jazz started off after them, but was stopped by Prowls hand on his shoulder, keeping him close. Prowl wasn't looking at him, keeping his optics down, but his firm grip on Jazz's shoulder said enough.
The saboteur gave him a gentle smile, and patted his hand. "S'okay, Prowler. I missed ya too."
Prowl smiled slightly, and let his hand slide off after giving his dear friends shoulder another squeeze.
Everyone got back just as Chomia and Ironhide were coming up out of the ravine, both looking considerably more relaxed than before.
"Did you manage to get it out of your system?" Elita asked mildly as her shorter SiC came close. Chromia grinned shamelessly, but did a double take once she got a good look at her leaders scarring.
"Primus Elita, what the Pit happened to YOU?"
"Many things," she answered dryly. "Would you prefer the list now or the story later?"
But Chromia wasn't fixated on the scarring anymore. Instead, she was distracted by the human riding on her commanding officers shoulder.
"Hey Elita, you've got something on your shoulder." The shorter femme shrugged, and two huge cannons unfolded from her back and rested on each shoulder, whining with building power. "Want me to get rid of it for you?"
"Get away from me you freak!" Nolan cried out, throwing his hands up in defense. Yes Nolan, that will totally protect you from being vaporized by plasma cannons longer that you are tall.
"Stand down Chromia," Elita warned, bringing up a hand to cover Nolan. "I will not have you terrorizing our human allies."
"I was just joking!" Chromia said, sounding a little off put. "I wasn't actually gonna shoot him right off your shoulder. I just wanted to show off my new guns."
Sam gaped in horror.
"Oh dear sweet merciful god, now there's two of them." He groaned. Ironhide snickered, and gave Chromia (shudder) googly eyes from behind.
Sam's comment didn't go unnoticed. Chromia looked down and seemed sincerely surprised by the organic entourage.
"So, we're collecting humans now?" Chromia asked, squatting down for a better look. She poked Sam in the stomach. "Funny looking things, aren't they?"
"Cut that out!" Sam protested, slapping it away.
"Oooh, I like this one." Chromia decided with a grin. Sam scrambled backwards out of her reach, and Bumblebee bent to swap Chromia's hand out of way.
"Too bad, I have dibs." He warned.
"Hey!" Sam protested.
Several of the Autobots chuckled, Prowl with the ever present straight face, either because he has no sense of humor, or couldn't laugh a loud to save his life. Possibly, only Jazz knew which it was.
"So, any of you got a name?" Chromia asked congenially.
"Yes Sam, perhaps you should handle the introductions, seeing as general consensus has you as the future Human-Autobot liaison," Optimus added. It was hard to tell if he was teasing or not, but Sam snapped to attention anyway, so quickly he almost gave himself whiplash.
"Right, right. Um, I'm Sam, Sam Witwicky, nice to meet you, Prowl, Big Scary Robot Lady."
Chromia snorted in her hand, so he must be making a good impression (yay). Sam half turned to indicate the other teens.
"And this is Mikaela, she's sort of Ratchet's apprentice,"
"She is?!" Prowl exclaimed, staring at the girl. Mikaela huffed and put her fists on her hips.
"What, you think I can't do it because I'm human?"
Jazz stopped Prowls response with a hand on the shoulder. "Don't even go there," Jazz warned his friend quietly. "She's prolly gonna be doin' your next check up."
Prowl briefly considered, then wisely chose to shut up.
Sam stared for a few seconds, looking both impressed and a little scared.
"Right, up, yeah, anyway, this is Aine, and you've already met Nolan."
"Why does he have that white thing on his leg?"
"Partially for the same reason I only have half a face," Elita answered lightly.
"Yeah, that's a story," Sam said, rubbing his hands together. At a loss for what else to say, she shrugged and spread his hands, looking at Chromia and Prowl.
"So, yeah, Chromia, Prowl, welcome to Earth. Please watch your step, we're very squishy and I hear we make a big mess that's a pain to clean up."
And that's it! After nearly eight months, the story has finally run its course. Sorry if the ending seems a bit abrupt, but I really really really wanted Chromia and Prowl to show up (but mostly Chromia, and you can probably guess why), and I couldn't think of a way to tie it off without dragging it out.
I want to thank everyone who's read and reviewed my first story. You guy's made it all worthwhile, and you've boosted my confidence so much, you have no idea. One writer named A Midnight Dreary even told me that she was inspired again to pick up her own story, "Till All Are One" after re-reading TPWIP (if you're a fan of the Seekers, I highly recommend her fic), which made me all giggly happy inside. A special thanks to Lasgalendil and Slink T. Ferret, who have never failed to leave long, detailed, wonderful reviews for every chapter. I swear, if you two were the only ones who commented, I think I would have kept with this story to the end just for you guys!
Writing this story has given me another gift: I've rediscovered my love for writing, and my old dream of become a young adult fiction writer. I don't know if it'll be something I can do full time – we can't all be J.K. Rowling's or Stephen King's, after all – but I feel like I've connected with my original passion and once again it's something I want to try and do. For giving me that, you all have my deepest, most sincere gratitude.
See you all next story!