I haven't written a story in YEARS, but just recently, someone asked me, "Do you think they'll ever make an Animated Christmas special?" And I said, straight away, "Well, that'd be fairly straightforward. It'd be about…" and as I spoke, I realized, y'know, that really IS what an Animated Christmas special would be like. For the first time in a long time, the basic idea wouldn't get out of my head, and it just kept building on itself the more I thought about it until I finally decided that I had to get it down. I was really shooting for something that could easily BE an episode of the series, and I THINK I've got the feel of it down, so I hope that comes across. So, without any more blather, I present: "Yes, Bumblebee, There is a Santa Claus," or "How Ratchet Saved Christmas."
- - -
YES, BUMBLEBEE, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS
HOW RATCHET SAVED CHRISTMAS
A Christmas story,
by Chris McFeely
- - -
It was a few nights before Christmas, and all through one particular house in Detroit, Michigan, not a creature was stirring, not even the family's pet mouse. But had that family been awake, they would no doubt have been surprised to see a portly figure quietly tip-toeing his way through their hallway, a sack slung over his shoulder as he stealthily sought out the object of his quest.
"In here!" a squeaky voice hissed as quietly as it could.
A diminutive, knee-high silhouette appeared in a doorframe, beckoning the figure into the pine-scented living room. The elfin figure scampered towards the family's Christmas tree, resting beside a still-warm fireplace, and pointed at its base.
"Ah, but of course!" the larger figure smiled, setting his sack down and reaching inside it. After a moment of rummaging, several beautifully-wrapped gifts were produced from the depths of the sack and neatly placed beneath the tree. "Perfect!"
"These kids are going to have the best Christmas ever!" the small figure giggled, genuine glee evident in its voice.
"Best to take our leave, my little elf," the larger one said, and the small figure nodded, hopping over to the window and quietly sliding it open. In seconds, the small figure was gone, and the larger one paused for a second before following. "Merry Christmas to all," he chuckled to himself, his mighty belly jiggling like a bowlful of jelly.
- - -
"Explain to me again," Optimus Prime started, speaking with a slow and bemused tone, "the purpose of this 'Chris-mass' tree".
The Autobots' factory base had been a hive of activity for the last couple of days, as the robots had been walked, piece by piece, through the necessary preparations for the impending holiday by their eager young human friend, Sari Sumdac. Halls had been decked, apparel had been donned, and Optimus was reliably informed that the time of year required that he be "jolly," but it seemed like every time the Autobot leader turned around, there was some other obscure seasonal tradition that didn't make any sense to him, and he was having a lot of trouble remembering what was what. He was in the process of clearing away a space in Bumblebee's "entertainment zone" for what Sari had promised was to be the centrepiece of the holiday.
"C'mon, Optimus," Sari smiled, "we've been over this! It's Christmas Eve, already – you think you'd have it down by now!"
"Just this one last thing, I promise," Optimus lied.
"I believe I can field this one, Sari," Prowl dropped down from the ceiling beside the pair and dusted his hands off, having completed his task of hanging an assortment of ornaments from the rafters. "I've been conducting some research into the nature of this festival and its trappings. You see, Optimus," Prowl adopted an authoritarian air, "the so-called 'Christmas Tree' is a sacrificial offering the humans make at this time of year. An evergreen conifer is slaughtered and brought into the home, where it is festooned in ceremonial raiment, and offered up to a vengeful deity that the humans believe observes their world on one night out of every year. If this offering is not made, humans fear violent reprisal from the deity, who will gore them with the claws from which he derives his name." Prowl punctuated his speech by miming a ferocious pincer-like action with his fingers.
"I... see," Optimus said, haltingly.
"It's barbaric, of course," Prowl shrugged, "but fascinating in an anthropological sense."
Sari stared blank-faced and the black and tan Autobot, so completely dumbfounded by his treatise that she didn't quite know where to start. "There is so much wrong with that," Sari eventually found her voice, "that I don't even know where to start."
Prowl arched his optic ridges in genuine surprise. "Then… uh…" he leant in to whisper to Sari, "what… is a Christmas tree for?"
Sari opened her mouth to speak, then paused, and tapped her chin for a moment. "Well, uh..." she thought for a second more, "If you don't have a Christmas tree, then... what would you put the presents under?"
Sari grinned a broad, toothy grin full of complete innocence, as Prowl nodded in understanding. "I see!" the Autobot spoke as though the secrets of the universe had been laid bare in the girl's words. "It's an altar around which the sacrifices are placed!"
Sari rolled her eyes.
"There's no sacrifices, Prowl!" Bumblebee cackled as he zoomed into the room on his leg-wheels. The little yellow Autobot did a few laps around his three allies, before coming to a halt at Sari's side, but even then, he didn't stand still, hopping and twitching constantly. Of all the Autobots, there was no question which of them had become most excited about the notion of Christmas, although it was just as clear to his friends that Bumblebee had latched onto the holiday for the all the wrong reasons. "The presents are what Christmas is all about!"
"I'm fairly sure I've picked up something about peace on Earth and goodwill to all sentients, too, Bumblebee," Optimus looked down at the small Autobot over folded arms.
"Yeah, Bumblebee!" Bulkhead's syrupy voice drifted into the room. "Where's your Christmas spirit?"
"I'm hoping somebody will buy me some," Bumblebee snarked.
"Bulkhead!" Sari sprinted over to the doorway as the heavy tread of the largest Autobot drew closer. "How'd it go with the... Christmas… tree?"
Bulkhead stumbled slowly into the room, a giant red felt Santa hat upon his head, and a huge and terrifying construct held tightly in his arms. "Well, I tried to copy the picture in the book," Bulkhead strained as he shuffled forward towards the spot Optimus had cleared, "but I don't think I got it quite right."
With a thunderous crash, Bulkhead set his makeshift "tree" down in its allotted space, and Sari and the other Autobots regarded it with mixed emotion. Ever the artist, Bulkhead had fused a huge, conical stack of vehicle tires together in imitation of a tree's shape. Melted into to the rubber surface were chains of scrap metal and glass, encircling the "tree" as sparkling tinsel, while a cable lined with halogen headlamp bulbs was wrapped around the whole structure, lighting it from top to bottom. At the top of the stack, a television aerial poked crookedly into the air. Bulkhead leaded down to Sari, a child's picture book in hand, open to a page depicting a cartoon Christmas tree.
"Bulkhead, you didn't have to make a Christmas tree," Sari tried to explain. "I meant for you to go buy one from..." Sari stopped as Bulkhead's eyes widened. She smiled again. "It looks great."
"So," Prime started, slowly again, "where do the presents that go under it come from?"
"Well," Sari stood up straight and raised a finger into the air, "we give some of them to each other, but..."
"Oh, oh!" Bulkhead squeaked excitedly, and delicately flipped through his book with giant fingers. "This guy right here take care of the rest!"
Prime blinked as Bulkhead shoved the book under his nose, open to a page featuring a painted illustration depicting a portly, bearded organic in a red and white suit, with a large sack slung over his shoulder, handing a gift to a small child. "And this would be...?"
"Santa Claus!" Bulkhead beamed.
"Aw, gimmie a break, Bulkhead!" Bumblebee leant against his big buddy's leg. "Don't tell me Sari's got you suckered in with that silly story too!"
"Santa Claus is too real!" Sari bellowed, pointing a finger accusatorially at Bumblebee. "You can't say stuff like that, otherwise you're not gonna get anything but coal for Christmas!"
"C'mon, Sari," Bumblebee threw up his hands, "I can totally dig the whole "free stuff for doing nothing" shtick, but you can't expect me to believe that a human who lives at… where was it?"
"The North Pole," Sari folded her arms and growled in reply.
"…who lives at the North Pole, and who can see me no matter where I am or what I'm doing, manages to fly all around the world in one night and gives presents – made by dwarves! - to the kids that he decides are worth it!"
"Mathematically speaking, that does seem improbable," Prowl stroked his chin. "From a mythological standpoint, though..."
"Santa Claus isn't a myth!" Sari shrieked. "He's real! You'll see!"
"Yeah!" Bulkhead weighed in and began counting on his fingers. "Him, and the elves, and the reindeer, and..."
"Okay, okay," Bumblebee waved his hand. "Look, as long as I get a set of bronze chrome wheel trims, I don't care."
"BAH!" Ratchet's derisive bark echoed sharply through the air. "Sounds like a complete waste of time and effort!"
Sari and the four robots all turned to look at the elderly Autobot, who was busying himself on the far side of the room, his back to the rest of the group. He banged and crashed about on his workbench in a manner that told the Autobots he was doing very little, but wanted everyone to know his feelings on the matter.
"Aw, lighten up, Ratchet!" Bumblebee remarked. "No holiday cheer for your buddies?"
"Holiday cheer?" Ratchet whipped around, wrench in hand. "When I was your age, we didn't have 'holidays'! We were a little busy fighting the Great War, to make Cybertron safe for ingrate protoforms like you, who are busy slacking off and fooling around with some backwards Earth ritual, ignoring the fact that the Decepticons are out there planning!"
"Now, Ratchet..." Optimus Prime held his palms up.
"Do you think the Decepticons are celebrating Christmas?" Ratchet sneered, banging the wrench down on his workbench. "You think that Megatron's just decided to play nice for one day? Oh, yes, I'm sure he's sitting back, sipping some ener-nog, and saying to himself, 'What the heck, it's Christmas!' Bah! Christmas spirit, my waste-port!"
Ratchet punted a small stuffed reindeer out of his way and stalked past the other Autobots, who tensely watched him leave the room before uttering another word.
"Geez," Bumblebee muttered, "who shoved a pinecone up his tailpipe?"
A smirk crept across Sari's face yet again. "Bumblebee, Bulkhead, c'mere..."
- - -
Night was setting in as Bumblebee, Bulkhead and Sari gathered by the doorway of Ratchet's quarters, each of the three costumed in a bizarre fashion. The faint wheezing of Ratchet stasis-napping could be heard inside.
"And you're totally sure this will cheer Ratchet up?" Bulkhead asked hesitantly.
"Totally!" Sari replied. "This has absolutely worked in every single Christmas special I've ever seen."
"That's all well and good for cartoons," Bumblebee raised an eyebrow, "but this is real life, and I don't want him any madder than he already is."
"I practically guarantee it," Sari smiled.
"Okay, but why do I have to be the one wearing the dress?!"
"Just get in there and say your lines!"
"Can I have a moment to compose myself, please?"
At Sari's instruction, the large green 'bot opened Ratchet's door, placed a large hand on Bumblebee's back and shoved him through. As the door shut behind him, the small Autobot stumbled and tried to regain his balance, smoothing out the sparkly, gossamer gown that Sari had draped him in. Straightening his large, conical hat, Bumblebee quietly cleared his throat, and began.
"Hrmm..? Whuzza?" Ratchet stirred.
"WHAT?!" Ratchet shot bolt upright and roared directly in Bumblebee's face. "Can't a 'bot get some peace and quiet?!"
"I am the Ghooooost of Christmas Paaaast..." Bumblebee waved his arms around in what he surely imagined must be an eerie manner.
"Bumblebee," he said, quite calmly, "what in the AllSpark are you doing?"
"I am not Buuuuumblbeeeee..." beads of coolant began forming on Bumblebee's forehead. "I am the Ghooost of Christmas PaaaAAAGH!"
With a crackle of pink energy, Bumblebee was magnetically flung through Ratchet's door and collided with the opposite wall. Bulkhead and Sari started at the crumpled form of their friend, and then peered back through the doorway at Ratchet.
"I don't know what fool Christmas game you're playing at," Ratchet snapped, "but leave me out of it!" With another quick magnetic tug, he slammed his door shut in their faces.
"Nyaaah!" Sari loudly stuck her tongue out at the closed door, while Bulkhead rubbed the back of his neck, and removed the laurel wreath from his head. Bumblebee, meanwhile, peeled himself from the dented wall, and slumped down to the floor.
"Told you it wouldn't work."
"Oh well," Sari shrugged her shoulders. "Never mind! Let's go Christmas carolling!"
- - -
One explanation on what exactly a Christmas carol was later, Sari was leading Bulkhead and Bumblebee through Detroit's streets, all three parties wrapped up in scarves and ear-muffs – not that the Autobots were feeling the cold, but Sari insisted on the completing the traditional look. All in all, it was going pretty well.
"Boy, this sure is fun!" Bulkhead cheerfully declared, as the three crunched their way through freshly-fallen snow, the Autobots leaving deep imprints in their wake. "Let's do this house next!"
"Sure!" Sari ran up to the nearest doorway, and knocked loudly. "Huh, I can't see any decorations..."
A minute later, the door swung open, revealing the broad-shouldered form of Captain Fanzone, who stood in the doorway with a mug of yellow liquid in his hand. Everything was silent for a moment, as Sari, Bumblebee and Bulkhead smiled at the sight of their "friend", while Fazone's expression remained unchanged. The trio breathed in deeply, about to burst into song, but had to catch themselves as Fanzone wordlessly held up a single finger, indicating that they wait a moment. The captain took a long, hard swig from the mug in his hand, then returned his gaze to the threesome in front of him.
"Oh cooooooome all ye faaaaaithfullll..." the three crooned, as Fanzone did his best to remain unfazed, concentrating all his discomfort into one, twitching eyebrow. And to his credit, he was able to keep it up... until an overly enthusiastic Bulkhead reached the crescendo of the song and hit a note so high that the mug in Fanzone's hand shattered, along with all of his windows. Eggnog splattered over the captain's face and shirt, and Sari and the two Autobots immediately fell silent at the sight of his soaked, unmoving form.
"Sorry," Bulkhead mumbled sheepishly, removing his hat from his head and nervously wringing it between his giant hands. "My bad."
"This..." Fanzone said, thick yellow liquid dripping off the end of his nose, "is why I HATE CHRISTMAS!"
For the second time in an hour, a door was slammed in Sari's face. "Yeah, well we're not so crazy about you either!" she shouted back, although Fanzone probably wouldn't have had any trouble hearing her, given that he didn't have any windows to muffle her words.
"Man, he could give Ratchet a run for his money!" Bumblebee rubbed his head.
"Y'know, Sari," Bulkhead changed the subject, looking up at the night sky, "It's gettin' kinda late. We should probably head back and get to sleep... otherwise, Santa might not come!"
"Oh brother!" Bumblebee pinched the bridge of his nose.
- - -
"Look, all I'm saying is, I've gone through this book three times, and there are like two songs about Santa in here!" Bumblebee smacked the open carol book with the back of his hand as the trio walked back to the Autobots' base. "If he was real, don't you think there'd be a bit more acknowledgement? Most of these things are about this 'Jesus' guy, and you haven't even mentioned him! What's up with that?"
"I don't know!" Sari spread her arms wide. "What am I, a Christmas expert?"
"You said you were!" Bumblebee poked the side of her head. "How am I supposed to believe any of this stuff?"
"Uh, guys…?" Bulkhead said quietly.
"I might not know everything," Sari snapped back, "but I know Santa exists!"
"He does not!"
"He does too!"
"HE DOES SO TOO, STUPID!"
"WHAT?!" Bumblebee and Sari turned in unison to shout at Bulkhead, who was pointing at the sky.
"Is that what I think it is?" the large Autobot asked. Following his gaze, Sari and Bumblebee stared slack-jawed at the silhouette that was silently gliding its way across the indigo sky. Squinting against the moonlight, they could see a parade of eight miniature four-legged creatures silently yet swiftly moving through the sky, towing behind them a sleigh. The sleigh itself, they could just about make out, was carrying a portly human figure, which held the reins of the animals in his hands. The faint crack of the reins was heard by the trio, and the strange shadow picked up speed, threatening to disappear from their field of vision.
"No… slagging… way," Bumblebee breathed.
"I told you!" Sari hopped up and down. "I told you! Come on, come on, let's follow him!"
"I... I don't know..." Bulkhead fidgeted, looking down at the hat in his hands. "Aren't you, like, not supposed to? I mean, if it was okay, he wouldn't wait for you to be asleep, and…"
Bulkhead looked up, to see Bumblebee in vehicle mode, with Sari aboard, already roaring off down the street in pursuit of the festive figure.
"Aw, wait up!"
- - -
"Up there!" Sari cried.
Bumblebee slammed on his breaks and screeched to a halt in front of the house Sari had indicated, on the roof of which the dark outline of the sleigh could just about be seen. Second later, Bulkhead rolled up, and the pair transformed to robot mode after Sari hopped out of Bumblebee.
"I take back every bad thing I ever said," Bumblebee whispered quietly, clasping his hands and directing his attention skyward. "I swear!"
"Ssssh!" Sari held a gloved finger to her lips, and inched forward to the front window of the house they had stopped in front of. "I think I can hear something..." Carefully, silently, Sari peered up over the windowsill, and squinted to see into the house's living room through the gap in the curtains. Quivering with tension, Bumblebee and Bulkhead leant in to see what could be seen.
Moving stealthily inside the room, the dark outline of a chubby figure could be seen kneeling by the house's Christmas tree, a sack open on the ground beside of him. Sari gasped sharply. "Oh my goooosh," she whisper-squealed, "It's really him!"
"Ooooh, I can't take it any more!" Bulkhead lost his nerve, and cried out at full volume. The figure inside the house jerked his head around in the direction of the noise just as Bulkhead turned on the vehicle-mode headlights in his stomach and streamed their light directly in through the window.
"Gadzooks! What deviltry be this?!"
"Hey, wait a second!" Bumblebee pointed through the window. "That's no Santa Claus... that's the Angry Archer!"
The green-suited super-villain scowled at the sight of the Autobots staring at him through the pane of glass. "Curses!" he swore in his antiquated dialect. "Yon mechanical menaces conspire again to vex me! Have at thee!"
The Archer drew his bow and launched an arrow that shattered the window and landed in the snow behind the three young heroes, where it lay beeping with a red light.
"Get down!" Bulkhead shouted, and moved as swiftly as he could, getting his large body between the arrow and his friends, just as the explosive shaft detonated. Fire licked across Bulkhead's back, but he gritted his teeth and bore the brunt of the blast, sheltering Sari and Bumblebee underneath his massive arms. As the blast faded, he looked up to see the Archer bounding through the window.
"I fear this festive frivolity must be branded a misstep!" the villain declared. "Best to depart while time is on our side!"
"Who are you talking to?" Bumblebee emerged from beneath Bulkhead.
"On, Gumdrop!" a sickly sweet voiced cried from the top of the house. "On, Snowflake! On, Treacle and Treasure!"
"Oh, no..." Sari moaned.
"On Cuddles! On Clip-Clop! On Sprinkles and Feather!"
As scraping noise came from the roof of the house as the sleigh was dragged into the air, and looped around into view over the Autobots' heads. Drawn by eight child-sized, super-deformed reindeer plush toys, the hot pink sleigh was decorated with stars and glitter, and if the trio hadn't already figured out the identity of the Archer's accomplice, this would definitely have sealed the deal.
"You nasty Autobots!" Professor Princess squealed from her perch at the head of the sleigh. "You're running my Christmas!" Wand in hand, the professor gestured at the crowd below, and fired a beam of rainbow-coloured energy that hurled Sari, Bumblebee and Bulkhead across the street.
"And with that declaration..." the Angry Archer drew another arrow from his quiver, and fired it at the sleigh. The arrow expanded into a cable that grappled onto one of the sleigh's runners, and the Archer was towed into the air as the sleigh banked away and rose higher into the sky. "Fare thee well!"
By the time that Sari, Bumblebee and Bulkhead had managed to untangle themselves from the heap in which they had landed, the two villains were lost against the night sky. Bumblebee swiped snow off his shoulders, and put his hands on his hips.
"What the heck was that all about?" the Autobot demanded.
"That's what I'd like to know!" a head appeared in an upstairs window of the house the Archer had just departed, one of many that had sprung into life all down the street. "What do you think you're doing?"
"It wasn't us, guy!" Bumblebee shouted back. "You were being robbed!"
"Don't believe a word of it, Spike!" a blonde woman called up from the living room, through the broken window. She held up the sack that the Archer had left behind, and angrily threw it into Bulkhead's hand. The Autobot peered into the small bag, and a look of surprise crossed his features.
"What is it, big guy?" Bumblebee asked.
Bulkhead gently pinched the sacked between two fingers, and tipped its contents into his other palm. "It's… presents."
As Sari and Bumblebee gawped at the immaculately-wrapped packages that tumbled into Bulkhead's hand, a small brown-haired boy appeared at the wife's side, peering out the window at the Autobots. "Mommy?" he tugged at her trouser leg. "Did they just fight Santa Claus?"
"Oh, for the love of--!" Bumblebee smacked his forehead and turned to face the window. "Santa Claus doesn't exist!" he barked.
The small child immediately burst into tears.
"Ooh, a-heh…" Bumblebee gulped. "Sorry."
- - -
After a quick look back over his shoulder to make sure that nobody was looking, Ratchet turned his attention to Bulkhead's artificial Christmas tree, eyeing the strange structure as if it was about to pounce on him.
"Don't see the point in any of this...," the crusty Autobot muttered to himself, cautiously prodding the rubber cone with one outstretched finger. His patience expired, Ratchet was about to turn away when he happened to notice Bulkhead's picture book lying on the ground beneath the tree. Grunting as he stooped to pick it up, Ratchet caught sight of something beneath the tree he had not spotted before: a small cluster of gifts that Sari had placed beneath it, each one slightly crudely wrapped and bearing a name tag scrawled in marker. There was a gift for each of the five Autobots, and Ratchet lifted the one with his own name on it, straightening up with a creak of gears and squinting quizzically at the box in his hand. Seeking some sort of explanation, he carefully opened Bulkhead's picture book and leafed its pages until he came to an illustration of a child clutching a gift not unlike the one he was currently holding. Scrutinizing the drawing for some hint of what he was supposed to do, Ratchet emulated the child in the picture and lifted the present to his audio receptor, shaking it gently. The Autobot blinked in surprise at the slight clatter that resulted, and he looked down at the book again, then back at the present. With an expression of complete confusion, he returned the gift to its place beneath the tree and angrily flipped through the book's page, scratching his head. "I swear," he grumbled, "if I live to be a billion, I will never understand humans."
A flickering caught Ratchet's attention, and he turned back to the tree to see that one of the bulbs lighting it was blinking. "Shoddy workmanship," Ratchet tutted, as he tapped the bulb with his finger. "I suppose I'd better fix it... nobody else around here's going to…" Ratchet tugged on the bulb, but it did not come free from its socket, and the whole chain of bulbs clinked as they shifted. Ratchet emitted a dissatisfied growl, and tried reaching around to the rear of the tree in order to find where the cable began, so that he could unwind it to take the unruly bulb to his workbench. Muttering all the while as his hands explored the back of the tree, Ratchet finally succeeded in finding the start of the cable, only to lose his balance at the last second, and tumble backward, inadvertently dragging the whole tree down on top of himself.
"Ratchet, are you in here?" Optimus Prime came sprinting in the room. "We just got a distress call from Bumblebee! Seems that the Angry… Archer… is… what are you doing?"
Ratchet shoved the tree aside and sat up in a flash, the cable of lights still tangled around his own body. "NOTHING!" he bellowed. "Nothing at all!"
"I… see," Prime blinked, watching as the elder 'bot righted himself, and put the tree back in place. "Well, uh, Bumblebee says the Angry Archer and Professor Princess are up to something. We'd better go back him up. Prowl's already on the way."
"Hah!" Ratchet scoffed, as he struggled to disengage himself from the web of lights. "So much for all of that 'goodwill' scrap!" With a final, defiant grunt, he tore himself free, and flung the lights back on top of the tree. "Well, let's get on with it, then!"
"Uh, right," Prime nodded. "Let's, uh, transform and roll out!"
- - -
"I declare, madam," the Angry Archer blustered, "I need no aid in performing my allotted task!"
"Oh, because you did it so well the last time!" Professor Princess spat, as she hopped off the sleigh to join the Archer on the rooftop of their latest target house. "I'm obviously going to have to help you spread Christmas cheer some more! It's that right, Cuddles?" The girl nuzzle the nearest of her reindeer creations. "I'm gonna have to help him, aren't I? Yes I am!"
The Archer rolled his eyes skyward and hefted a sack from the pile of many in the sleigh onto his back. "Then by all means," he bowed and gestured with his cybernetic arm. "Damsels first."
Professor Princess giggled and skipped over to the roof's chimney, hopping onto its rim and producing her wand. Aiming the twinkling rod down the chimney, she unleashed a beam of its rainbow-energy, and used it to steadily lower herself down into the sooty shaft. "I'll be waiting!" she called back up.
Muttering under his breath, the Archer launched another cable-arrow that latched on to the building's gutter, allowing him to rappel himself down the side of the house. A diamond-tipped arrow in hand, the portly villain came to a halt beside an upstairs window, and neatly cut himself an entranceway in the glass. Secure in the knowledge that Professor Princess had successfully disabled the house's alarm systems, the Archer slipped through the window in silence, and immediately sprang to attention as his booted feet hit the landing with a soft thud. Stealthily prowling from room to darkened room, the Archer's sticky fingers found any loose cash or jewellery in seconds, and stuffed them into his arrow quiver.
"Where are you?!" Professor Princess hissed from the base of the stairs. "Those icky Autobots will find us if you don't hurry up!"
"On my way, my dear!" the Archer whispered back, as he hurriedly padded his way down the stairs and followed the girl into the living room. By the time he reached her side, Professor Princess was on her hands and knees in front of the Christmas tree, holding up an electronic device to the gifts lying there. The flat-panel device displayed an x-ray image of the presents, revealing their contents to the two super-criminals.
"This is awful!" Professor Princess lisped, jabbing the stumpy index finger of her free hand at the screen of her device "Just look at all these horrible, violent toys these poor kids are going to get for Christmas!" Identifying an assortment of video games and war toys, the appalled professor hauled them out from beneath the tree, and beckoned for the Archer to open his sack. Reaching in, the girl removed a collection of gifts packaged in bright pink and silver wrapping paper, adorned with all manner of gaudy ribbons, and placed them beneath the tree in place of the ones she had just removed. She held up her device again, and beamed at the sight of the stuffed ponies and fashion dolls that she now knew were nestled under the tree, while the Archer scooped up the discarded boxes and tossed them into his now-empty sack. "There!" the girl smiled. "Now they'll have the bestest Christmas ever!"
"Verily," the Archer replied dryly.
"Doesn't it feel good?" Professor Princes jumped onto the Archer's shoulder. "Helping all these people have such a merry Christmas?"
"Oh, indubitably," the Archer nodded with mock enthusiasm that the young girl either didn't notice, or chose not to acknowledge. "And all without any personal reward."
- - -
A few minutes later, the two costumed criminals had returned to the roof and boarded their getaway sleigh once more. Professor Princess picked up the reins and cracked them. "On, Gumdrop!" she started.
"Could we just get to the part where we make ourselves airboen?" the Archer interrupted.
"Tsk!" Professor Princess screwed up her face. "Where's your holiday spirit?"
"He probably couldn't find any to steal!"
Both villains choked at the sound of Bumblebee's voice, as the yellow Autobot shouted up from the street below. Peering over the roof's edge, the two could see that he was still accompanied by Bulkhead and Sari, and that their group had since been joined by Prowl.
"Fortunately," the ninja-bot informed the duo, "the energy signature of Professor Princess's creations is… unique, to say the least. Makes it easy to track."
"You smelly cheaters!" Professor Princess raged, leaping into the sleigh and cracking its reins. "Sic 'em, babies!"
The Angry Archer had to make a quick dive into the back of the sleigh as the eight reindeer dolls sprang to life and charged forward, hauling the craft off the roof as they launched into the air once more on anti-gravity generators. Circling over the Autobots' heads, their antlers began to glow with shimmering energy.
"I don't like the looks of this," Sari took a few steps back.
"Get down!" Prowl leapt forward, shoving his allies out of the way and hurling one of his shurikens into the midst of the reindeers overhead. The whirling blade cleaved one of the creatures' antlers off before it could release the energy beam it had been charging, and it exploded rather dramatically, showing the Autobots below in glitter and ribbons and jostling its fellow reindeer and the sleigh they were pulling. The beams the other reindeer had been building up went wild, vanishing off into the night sky with a burst of stardust.
"Snowflake!" Professor Princess shrieked in horror. She stuck her head over the edge of the sleigh and bellow down at the Autobots. "How could you?! All we wanna do is give presents to all these needy children!"
Bumblebee was about to come out with a typically sarcastic comeback, but didn't get the chance, as rainbow-beams from the girl's wand punctured the ground around the Autobots. Sari dived behind a snowdrift, seeking some semblance of cover, while Bumblebee returned fire with his stingers, forcing Professor Princess to pull her head in to the relative safety of the flying sled.
"Bulkhead!" the small Autobot shouted. "Bring 'em down!"
"On it, little buddy!" Bulkhead replied, swiftly transforming his hand into its wrecking ball mode and launching the heavy projectile at the villains' craft. At the last second, Professor Princess seized the reins and hastily steered the sleigh out of the way. The wrecking ball fell back to the ground, and Bulkhead quickly began winding it back in for another shot.
"Perhaps we should avail ourselves of the better part of valour?" the Archer ventured, clinging for dear life to the sides of the sleigh as it bucked wildly through the air.
"Did anyone ever tell you you talk funny?" Professor Princess asked. "Anyway, we should probably make a run for it."
A bolt of electricity from Bumblebee's stringer clipped the edge of the sleigh as the professor steered it higher in the air, out of the range of Bulkhead's ball, as the Archer looked back at the shrinking forms of their Autobot opponents.
"Oh no you don't!" a crotchety voice was suddenly heard, as Ratchet and Optimus Prime came speeding up the street in vehicle mode. Slamming on his brakes, Ratchet spun on the spot and transformed to robot mode in a flash, deploying his magnets and aiming them at the sleigh. The Archer and Professor Princess were nearly thrown overboard when their escape vehicle juddered to a sudden halt, as Ratchet captured it in a magnetic grip and began pulling it back down to earth. "A little help?" he snapped at his team-mates.
No sooner had Ratchet issued the command than Prowl's shurikens and Optimus Prime's axe were whipping through the air, and both blades found their mark, severing the reins that held the deer in place. Without Professor Princess to command them, the toys floated off into the air, while the sled did just the opposite, floating down to the ground as Ratchet gritted his teeth and slowly, carefully lowered it. Before it had passed rooftop-level, however, the Angry Archer stood up and unsheathed his bow.
"I fear I must take my leave, dear lady!" he apologised, offering another bow before launched another of his cable arrows at a nearby building. "A fair Noel to thee all!"
"Huh?!" Professor Princess was speechless.
"I don't think so!" Bumblebee linked his stingers and loosed off another volley of electrical bursts in the Archer's direction, as the crook swung on his line towards the roof. The bolts sizzled through the air around the Archer, but Bumblebee's aim was not true, and he missed the cable that he had been targeting. Just as the Archer landed on the icy target rooftop, however, Bumblebee's final blast struck the villain's quiver of arrows, which was knocked from his back and sent falling through the air. The surprised Archer let out a squawk, and struggled to get his footing as he twirled back around in shock. Unfortunately for him, he could do nothing but watch as his quiver landed in the descending sleigh, scattering its contents at Professor Princess's feet. Amongst the arrows, wallets, loose cash, jewellery, silverware and assorted other petty thefts lay. Professor Princess reached down and picked up a pearl necklace.
"You were…," she swallowed, her eyes growing wide and moist as he looked back up at the Archer, "…stealing?"
"A-heh," the Archer let out an embarrassed chuckle. "Well, you know, Christmas doesn't come cheap for those in our profession... and your little scheme seemed like an opportune method to…"
The Archer trailed off as he watched Professor Princess's expression darken. "You… you…," she snarled through clenched baby teeth, "you… BIG STUPID SMELLY-HEAD!"
A rainbow-blast arced from the professor's wand and struck the Archer full on, reducing him to a blackened crisp. Wobbling unsteadily on his perch, he coughed once, producing a small grey cloud, and then collapsed forward, falling off the rooftop and plummeting into a snowdrift below. From beneath the snow scattered by the Archer's impact, Sari emerged and shook her head vigorously to fling away the flakes clinging to her.
"All I wanted was to give everybody a great Christmas!" Professor Princess raged, tossing the necklace away. "But NOOOO! All of you big doody-brains had to ruin it for everybody!"
"Speak for yourself!" a voice came from behind the Autobots. Professor Princess and the heroes turned to see a crowd of children and their parents, who had all been drawn from their homes by the sounds of battle. In their hands were the gifts lefts by the professor and the Archer, unwrapped and standing out quite brightly against the night. The kid who had spoken, a young boy, held up a plush purple pony and waved it angrily at the girl. "Where's my Mage Master Maze Knight video game?"
Professor Princess folded her arms. "Those games are nasty and violent and make you have bad table manners," she sniffed. "Thanks to me, you'll all grow up to be productible members of socemnity."
"I want my G.I. Joes!" another boy shouted, and lobbed the make-up kit that the professor had left him at the sleight as Ratchet finally set it down on the ground.
"Yeah!" the rest of the kids chorused, as they joined the boy in hurling their non-offensive presents at the masked girl. The Autobots inched closer to the sleigh, as Professor Princess began turning beetroot with rage.
"FINE!" the junior criminal howled at the top of her lungs. "You don't have to like my presents… but you're not getting these horrible things back!" She grabbed the sack in which she had placed the stolen presents, and cupped her free hand to her mouth. "Powdered SUGAAAAAR!"
With an electronic whinny, Professor Princess's familiar steed responded to its master's cry and came soaring into view, streaking out of the star-spotted sky and scooping up the girl and the sack faster than any of the Autobots could react.
"Merry Christmas to none!" Professor Princess sneered, sticking her tongue out at the assembled masses below as he zoomed away. "And a stinky New Year!"
"Hold it, you…!" Ratchet stepped up to the plate once again, and seized Powdered Sugar with his magnets before the robotic steed could get out of range.
"Let my darling Powdered Sugar go, you old meanie!" Professor Princess brandished her wand, and lined Ratchet up in her sights.
"I'm getting really tired of that thing!" Bumblebee shouted. With a well-aimed blast of his stingers, the Autobot knocked the wand from the professor's grasp, allowing Prowl to snatch it out of the air. The girl let out a defiant wail as Ratchet poured on the magnetism.
"Faster, Powdered Sugar!" she spurred her mount on. "You can do it!"
As it turned out, Powdered Sugar couldn't.
Straining its servos against the pull of Ratchet's magnetism, a look of surprise passed across the cartoon horse's face a second before something inside it overloaded, and it exploded in a small pink cloud. The squealing form of Professor Princess was launched into the air along with the sack of toys, which opened in mid-flight and rained down its contents on the children below. As Prime snatched the girl out of the air with one of his grapplers, the kids cried out with delight as their true gifts landed in their hands.
"Yay Ratchet!" one of the kids whooped.
"Yeah!" another agreed. "YAAAY RATCHET!"
Ratchet's optics bugged as the crowd of children swarmed towards him, hugging around his legs. He wobbled a little, taking a slight step backwards. "Hooray for Ratchet!" the children cried. "Ratchet saved Christmas!"
"Well, I.,. uh…," Ratchet looked down at the grinning faces, and a small smile began to creep across his own faceplate. "Heh. I… I guess I did, at that."
"You see?" Sari hopped out from behind her snowy shelter now that the fighting was done and walked over to Ratchet, smiling up at him from ear to ear. "Happiness and friendship - that's the true spirit of Christmas!"
"Who'da thunk it?" Bumblebee laughed, reclining against Bulkhead and gesturing at Ratchet with an open palm. "The doc-bot found himself something to like about Christmas after all!"
Ratchet turned his head slowly and silently grimaced at Bumblebee. The smaller Autobot yelped and ducked behind Bulkhead for a shield, and then poked his head out to add:
"But I promise I won't tell a soul."
"Hey!" Bulkhead started, as one of the kids tore open the wrapping paper on their present. "He can't do that! It's not Christmas Day yet!"
"Actually, Bulkster," Sari raised her arm and pointed to her watch. "It is! It's after midnight!"
Bulkhead's jaw hung open. "We've gotta get back home! Santa's definitely not gonna come if we're not in bed!"
"It's been a long night for everybody," Optimus Prime spoke up. "Let's all roll on home."
- - -
The sun had barely risen on Christmas morning when Sari had the Autobots roused from stasis for the opening of their gifts.
"Isn't it a little early?" Prime inquired, groaning as he stretched his limbs.
"Are you kidding me?" Bumblebee was practically running in place. "I could barely get an astro-second of sleep! Let's do this!"
"Easy, Bumblebee," Prowl laid a hand on the younger 'bot's shoulder. "Sari, would you care to lead the way?"
Sari skipped her way into the main room of the Autobot base, the group was taken aback to see Ratchet already sitting in one of their chairs.
"Morning," the old bot grunted. "Merry whatever."
"What're you doing up already?" Bumblebee eyed the medic with suspicion. "I figured you'd stasis-nap your way through the whole day."
"Hmph," Ratchet snorted. "Too much work to be done around here for me to waste the day in recharge mode, if you youngsters are going to insist on going through with this thing." He folded his arms and turned away.
"Ahh, who needs ya…," Bumblebee dismissed him.
"Y'know," Bulkhead pinged a piece of metal on his tree. "I do good work! My tree looks even better than I remember it!"
"Oh, uh…!" Ratchet jerked around. "Probably… just… looks different in the daylight."
"Mmn…" Bulkhead murmured, then let out a small noise of surprise as Sari rushed between his legs and dived into the midst of the gifts at the tree's base. She held up her gift to Bumblebee.
"I couldn't get you the wheel trims," Sari smiled, "but I think you'll enjoy this. Merry Christmas!"
"Gimmie gimmie gimmie!" Bumblebee lunged for the present and rolled across the room with it while Sari passed the Autobots' other presents around. Ripping furiously at the paper, he had soon exposed the box within, and flung the lid off to reveal: "Flame decals! Sa-weet! Man, these are going to make me the hottest thing on the road! Thanks, Sari!"
"Titanium-weave paintbrushes!" Bulkhead's eyes widened as he opened his gift. "Aw, Sari, you're the best!"
"Most thoughtful," Prowl smiled and nodded as he regarded the bonsai tree Sari have given him.
"What is it?" Prime stared in befuddlement at the basketball he had just finished unwrapping.
"It's a game," Sari explained. "I dunno, I just had this feeling you'd enjoy it."
"Thank you… I think," Prime smiled.
Sari basked in the goodwill of the Autobots, and after a moment, looked back over her shoulder at Ratchet. She emitted an expectant hum.
"Yes, yes, it's wonderful, I'm sure," Ratchet waved his new wrench in the air. "Happy day, and all that." Sari smiled and shook her head in good-natured defeat. "What about those other ones?" Ratchet asked.
"Other wh…hey!" Bumblebee followed Ratchet's pointing finger back to the tree, and jumped at the sight of more gifts he hadn't noticed. "There weren't this many here last night! Where'd these all come from?"
"We told you, Bumblebee…," Bulkhead began.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," the little bot waved his hands. "Saaaanta. Right." He lowered himself down, sitting cross-legged by the tree, and picked one of the new presents up. "Doesn't say who its from…," he remarked, turning it over in his hands, "but these are probably just 'thank-yous' from those kids last night, right? They must've dropped them off this morning. Optimus?"
The Autobot leader shrugged. "I didn't see anyone," he said.
"Oh, come on," Bumblebee was growing exasperated.
"Well, Bumblebee," Prowl pointed at the box in his team-mate's hands. "Why don't you open it?"
Bumblebee's hands became a blur again as strips of wrapping paper were scattered all about. He set the box on the ground in front of him, and lifted the lid with both hands, as Prowl, Bulkhead and Sari leaned in to see what it contained. Bumblebee's optics nearly fell out.
"Buh… bronze chrome wheel trims!" the young Autobot lifted two of the metal discs out of the box, holding one in each hand and looking back and forth between each of them, staring at his own amazed reflection. "But… those kids didn't know I… and… and they couldn't… but how did they… and… but… and…"
Sari and Bulkhead looked at each other and giggled as their smiles spread in unison. "And…?" they both asked.
"He…," Bumblebee's eyes shimmered as he raised them heavenward. "He does exist!"
"We told you!" Sari and Bulkhead chorused.
And in his chair, with the other Autobots backs' to him, Ratchet simply leaned back and smiled knowingly to himself.
- - -
Captain Fanzone stood in his front doorway, and breathed deeply of the crisp, frozen air. The mist of his breath hung before him for a moment, as he took a step forward....
…and promptly fell face-first into a pile of snow, as his foot caught on something at the foot of the door that he hadn't noticed. Spluttering and wiping snow from his face, the captain turned back to see the slumped forms of the slightly-charred Angry Archer and Professor Princess - tears and mucus frozen on her face and nose - who lay on his doorstep tied tightly together by a huge, red ribbon. Scratching his forehead, the captain got to his feet and lifted the tag on the ribbon, reading off the message on the other side.
"Merry Christmas, Captain Fanzone," he read. "From your friends, the Autobots."
"This is why I hate Christmas."