Title: Four Oaths That William Lennox Kept... and One That He Didn't
Disclaimer: Nothing in here is mine and I promise to put them back in the box safe and sound when I'm done playing.
Warnings: Spoilers for RotF, but not the books or comics, most of which I haven't read and will cheerfully ignore. Slight AU from the very end of RotF.
A/N: Set in the same AU 'verse as the previous 'A Series of Four' fics and adds a bit of closure to 'Four Conversations'. The first section is set between the movies, the other four after RotF.
Also, my amazing beta/best beloved rocks my world and keeps the series in much better condition than it could have been. Thank you!
William Lennox had learned the words by heart long before he ended up in Qatar and the world went to hell. It was their creed, their way of life, and while it wasn't an oath to take, he considered it one, anyway.
It wasn't something he normally thought about, but Qatar and what followed had changed that. It had been a constant in the back of his mind, underneath worries about the mission, his comrades, his enemies, his family, and it kept circling even after Mission City was over and done with and Megatron was believed dead.
Acknowledging the fact that a Ranger is a more elite soldier who arrives at the cutting edge of battle by land, sea, or air, I accept the fact that as a Ranger my country expects me to move further, faster and fight harder than any other soldier.
And they had, every step of the way, outgunned and hunted as they had been by Scorponok. It wasn't until he was back home, with his wife and daughter and safe that he realised how tired he had been, waking up eighteen hours after collapsing in bed and wondering for a second just where he was.
It took a week before he really felt settled, and by then he was already up and moving again, called in as the official human commander of the human-Cybertronian alliance that had tentatively been called NEST and faced with juggling a world of politics he didn't want to deal with.
It took the better part of a month before he realised that the words were still there in the back of his mind, but this time it was starting to make sense to him. It was an alien situation, with an alien species and alien enemies, and all of them were grasping for something normal, something that made sense to give them an anchor in the sea of chaos they had been thrown into.
How did you deal with situations that training had never covered? How did you deal with questions and decisions that military law and procedures had no idea would ever be relevant, much less how to handle them?
Never shall I fail my comrades. I will always keep myself mentally alert, physically strong and morally straight and I will shoulder more than my share of the task whatever it may be, one-hundred-percent and then some.
Several of the NEST Marines, Will knew, kept the Marines' Hymn in their pockets. The Soldier's Creed and scriptures of the appropriate religions were popular, too, and as NEST went international, so did the selection of material.
Will himself, deciding that he might as well honour the words that had circled his mind since Blackout's first attack, had pinned the Ranger Creed to the wall in his office and packed away the box of rules and regulations someone had left in his office for him.
"It covers everything I need right there," he had explained when Ironhide had been curious and peered at the tiny piece of paper.
Surrender is not a Ranger word. I will never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy.
The mech had approved. Will wasn't sure if the Autobots had something similar, but he would have been surprised if they hadn't.
He hadn't been lying to Ironhide, either. There were parts of it that he had arguably broken, but nothing Will himself considered against it - my courtesy to superior officers, neatness of dress and care of equipment shall set the example for others to follow had made Epps laugh more than once in the aftermath of Mission City, once they were sure that they wouldn't be court-martialed for what Will had done, but Will considered his treatment of Simmons well within that creed. As far as he was concerned, he had shown said superior officer more courtesy than deserved in not shooting him.
The Ranger Creed was a useful guide through the jungle he now faced, and on his darker days, a useful reminder as well. NEST took fatalities because NEST was on the frontlines, fighting with and against what was essentially giant, sentient war-machines, and humans were humans and painfully fragile in comparison. They had learned that the hard way, hunted by Scorponok and with their sole focus on surviving to pass on their information and maybe prevent someone else from suffering those same losses.
Readily will I display the intestinal fortitude required to fight on to the Ranger objective and complete the mission though I be the lone survivor.
It had come close in Qatar. All he could do was hope it would never come that close again.
There were six new arrivals in the most recent transfer, and already they had begun to be introduced to the many traditions NEST had developed in its short existence. Watching the Topkick parked next to their new commander change into a twenty-two foot tall robot with no warning, for one. The printed sheets of paper that covered survival rules on Diego Garcia, for another - ranging from extremely useful ("Treat Energon like an active nuke and you're not half wrong") to mildly traumatising at best (best embodied in the small folder entitled 'Cybertronian Interspecies Mating Habits' written by an A. Nonymous, who apparently had entirely too accurate a knowledge of the subject for anyone's comfort).
The oldest and proudest tradition, though, was the unofficial NEST Creed and oath. Will was certain he had seen some official mission statement and motto somewhere, but it obviously hadn't been good enough to stick, and so it had pointedly been ignored in favour of a more accurate, if creative, version.
He was currently watching the latest batch of transfers take just that oath, and even if the surroundings had changed a bit, it wasn't that different from the first version the original team had solemnly sworn. It was past midnight and they were in a clearing in one of the most secluded parts of the island they had found, stars above them and the sound of waves in the distance and burning wood from the pyre adding the finishing touches to the night. It was important to really set the scene.
Epps' voice cut clear through the night as they began, and six voices repeated in kind.
"As a soldier of NEST, I will strive to be the best there is. I will be first in and last out of battle. I will remember that there is no such thing as too much ammo. I will not leave an ally behind, and I will watch my comrade's back as I watch my own."
Ironhide, in mech form beside him at the edge of the clearing, was as silent as the rest of the human team, and he was the only one of the mechs who had ever been present for it. Will assumed Optimus Prime and Ratchet knew of it for sure, but Ironhide was the only one with an unspoken invitation to be there. He was a veteran, like all of the NEST soldiers, and while Optimus and Ratchet could be counted as veterans as well, Ironhide was the only one of them who had been built for war. Their Prime and their medic would be welcome if they wished, but Will strongly suspected the entire thing would have made at least Optimus vaguely uncomfortable and so it was easier to simply not mention it to them. What they didn't officially know, they wouldn't feel forced to show up for.
"I will remember that the proper response to Megatron's demands is 'Kiss my aft, slaghead!', and that red eyes mean shoot first and ask questions later," Epps continued in that same strong voice, and Will shook his head.
"Back when I took that oath, Megatron was still dead. Weren't those the days?" he murmured. It had been 'Decepticon demands' back then. Not Megatron's.
Ironhide snorted softly at his side. "Not even the Pit wants him. We'll have to split him into more parts next time. Maybe he won't be able to crawl out, then."
"I will not trust a police car with 'To punish and enslave' written on the side, nor will I assume the jet fighters that just arrived in battle are all friendlies."
"Let's send Starscream after him. Give him a little company," Will muttered. "Primus knows they deserve each other."
He heard more than saw Ironhide's smirk at his side. "Indeed."
"I will not shoot the political liaisons, even if they deserve it, and I will remember that while it's a thankless, dangerous job, I signed up for it and my ass is NEST's, so help me God."
Epps finished his creed, and six voices responded in perfect unison as their owners stood at attention, and only the different flags on their uniforms gave any sign that they were not originally members of the same armed forces.
Epps' role over for the moment, Will stepped forward instead. Transfer papers, rank, uniform, insignia – none of it meant anything if it wasn't backed by the acceptance of the team itself, and they had learned fast that to have any chance at all, NEST needed to be strong. Hence their creed, hence the choice of scenery, hence the secrecy and seriousness and traditions.
Will watched them, let him eyes rest on each of them in turn as he looked – really looked – at the people who would one day watch his back, and then he nodded.
"Gentlemen. Welcome to NEST."
He found Optimus Prime in the Cybertronian-sized office. The Autobot leader tried to make time for less combat-focused duties at least once a day, and so it was really just a matter of waiting, and when Will had passed by said office shortly after noon, the door had been open and their Prime had been standing by the desk, reading some datapad or another.
Optimus Prime had turned to look at him even before Will had had the chance to knock on the door, and he put the datapad down with a curious look. Will had quickly realised that it didn't matter how small they were compared to their massive allies – Optimus Prime still treated the people on the base as equals and worthy of his attention, just as his own troops.
"Can I help you, Major Lennox?" he asked, and Will coughed.
"It's technically not 'Major' anymore, but since I can't really pronounce my new rank..."
"The Cybertronian language is indeed... complicated at best for humans to pronounce," Optimus Prime admitted. "'Major' does seem to have become the accepted alternative among the people here."
"It has," Will agreed, and continued as Optimus gave him a questioning look. He had always been a firm believer in getting to the point. "I need a favour."
Definite curiosity in Optimus Prime's expression at that, and Will took it as a sign to continue. He didn't ask for favours lightly and their Prime knew that, too.
"I'm a Cybertronian now," he began, and while he still wasn't entirely used to that thought, it was getting a bit easier every day. Still not something he was able to wrap his mind completely around as it was, but it was getting easier nonetheless.
Optimus Prime nodded and there was a touch of regret in his expression. Acceptance that it was how things would have to be, that war demanded sacrifices sometimes, but still regret that it was necessary. As a leader himself, Lennox could understand that, and that was part of the reason why he was in the Autobot's office now. Ironhide might have thought up the idea in the first place, but Optimus Prime was the one who approved it, and he was the one most likely to feel guilty about it, too.
"I should pick a side, then," Will continued. "'Hide never mentioned if you had neutrals back on Cybertron, but there isn't really room for it here, and it's pretty obvious what side I'm on, anyway. We might as well make it official."
"You have something in mind, I assume," Prime commented, and Will was pretty sure the Autobot leader already had a pretty good idea of just what that something was. Optimus Prime wasn't stupid, not by a long shot.
"My oath." A slow breath, because his was offering his word, his honour, and no matter how certain he was, there was still that small bit of adrenaline that made his heart beat faster and his muscles tense. "I'm a soldier, Prime. I gave an oath when I enlisted but I'm not part of Uncle Sam's Army anymore."
Another nod, acknowledging his words before Optimus Prime continued.
"You do not have to do this," he told him quietly.
His voice was all Will needed to hear to know that he didn't just listen but actually understood, and if he'd had any doubts, it would have removed the last of them. No one was going to force an allegiance on him. They could have, especially in a situation like this where he had been given no say in the matter and had precious few alternatives available to him, but they hadn't. They hadn't, and he could fight for a side like that. Would fight for a side like that.
"I know," Will replied quietly. "'Freedom is the right of all sentient beings'. That's why I'm offering."
There was more to explain but he couldn't find the words and he suspected he didn't have to. Optimus Prime understood, and likely on a level that Will could only begin to grasp – Cybertronians lived for a long, long time, and one's word was never something to give lightly – and he would understand, too, that Will needed to offer it as much as Optimus' guilt would benefit from having that loyalty freely given.
It was silent for a long moment and then Optimus kneeled with a grace that belied his massive size and brought something out from a hidden compartment on his hip – glowing and small in his hand, and shaped like a double-bladed dagger, and Will felt himself freeze for a second.
He had never seen it up close, but he still recognised it on sight, the tiny alien artefact that had cost Sam his life and brought him back again along with the last of the Primes, and Will could only watch as Optimus held out one massive hand to him, the Matrix of Leadership dwarfed by his size.
He didn't need to explain. Lennox caught on almost instantly and ruthlessly suppressed the slight hesitation at the sheer power contained in the thing as he reached out and put his own hand on the glowing artefact. It was Optimus Prime and he trusted the mech to know what he was doing.
Will hadn't found the Autobot Oath of Allegiance written down anywhere, but he could deal with that, too. He had taken enough oaths in his life to be able to improvise and he took another slow breath to calm his heartbeat again, still beating fast from the sight of the Matrix.
"I solemnly swear that I will protect and defend the laws of the Autobots, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will obey your orders in your function as our Prime, my commanding officer, and my friend, and that I will obey the orders of the officers appointed over me." A pause, uncertain, and then determined- "So help me Primus."
Between their hands, the Matrix looked the same as always, but Will could have sworn it felt somehow pleased.
They celebrated their seventh anniversary on a tropical beach. Granted, it was military property, and granted, they were less than a half a mile from a base populated by soldiers, support crews, and giant, alien robots, but it didn't change the fact that it was still a tropical beach and that it was a fairly secluded one at that, too.
'Uncle' Epps was babysitting, because while Sarah might be willing to trust the Autobots with her husband's life, she wasn't willing to put her daughter in their care for a whole evening unsupervised just yet. Medical attention while she was present herself was one thing. Babysitting was something else entirely.
"One of those crabs tried to get into our trash can the other day," Sarah remarked, curled up next to Will on a blanket on the sand and with nothing but night sky above them. "It was almost bigger than Anna."
Will snorted amusedly next to her. "Coconut crabs are big suckers," he agreed. "Better than rats, I guess. Ironhide still thinks they're unnatural and he's not too happy that it's illegal to shoot at the wildlife, but that's just 'Hide."
They fell silent again, the sound of their breathing mingling with the whisper of waves against sand, and Sarah looked up at the blanket of stars above them. "There's Orion," she murmured.
A familiar belt of stars against the darkness of space, and Will shifted beside her to gesture at another group of light. "Cassiopeia."
"Sirius." Glowing brightly near the horizon, now that the moon was slowly moving behind them. "I wonder if you can see their star from here?" she added quietly. The night sky was a bit different from what she was used to but still every bit as detailed, and the Milky Way spread out before them with the light from the nearby base too faint and too sheltered to drown it out.
"I don't know. I never asked," Will admitted, and something in his voice told Sarah that he intended to change that fact soon. "I don't even know if it's in the same galaxy as ours."
Sarah nodded slightly and it was silent again as they both simply enjoyed being together without emergencies and enemies and politics demanding far more of Will's time than Sarah had thought reasonable. There were downsides to being involved in something as classified as their current situation, too.
She could hear his heartbeat and the steady sound of his breath, feel the heat from the arm wrapped around her and the body she was snuggled up against, and finally she sighed, not unhappy. "I like them."
Will didn't answer for a moment, although his grip on her tightened slightly in silent acknowledgement. "I'm glad," he finally said.
He didn't need to say anything else, because Sarah already knew it. It was his job, even the strange situation they found themselves in now, and she had known that even before he became a Ranger. She knew what she had married, and while she also knew that Will considered their current situation far beyond anything she could be expected to accept, she didn't agree. Not much, at least. The risk had grown, because her husband was definitely a target now by virtue of being him and not just a soldier, but she could see in his every move that he loved what he did, even on the verge of exhaustion, and he had allies he trusted to watch his back.
If she had asked him to retire, she suspected he would have. It would make him unhappy, but he would still do it if that was what it took to make her happy in turn. She knew that, and would never ask. Her heart would never stop twisting when the alarms went off, would never stop skipping a beat when her husband was the one injured, but she knew what she had married and she wasn't going to cage him for her own comfort.
Sarah Lennox wasn't stupid. She had seen the list of fatalities NEST had suffered, and she knew why the actual combat teams were almost all special ops or similar and why a lot of them had no dependants, and she didn't care. She had left firm instructions to the people in charge of the command centre that she wanted to know when things went down the drain, that she didn't want to find out when the plane landed and Ironhide looked ready to tear the world to pieces and Epps tried to find something better to say than a whispered I'm sorry; so, so sorry with a haunted look in his eyes, and she meant it, too.
It was his life, and he would give it all up to make her happy, and she wasn't going to make him do that. And if it meant that he would one day lay it down instead in a battle that would officially never even take place, then she would accept that, too.
For better or for worse, they had promised, before God and family and friends. For richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward, until death do us part.
William Lennox took his oaths seriously. Sarah Lennox would do nothing less.
I, William Lennox, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.
The paperwork took up a full box in his office, an entire court-martial neatly packed and marked. Maybe he was going to read through it one day. Maybe he wasn't. There was a summary in a folder on his desk, but his attorney had wanted him to have a copy of it all and Will hadn't objected.
It had arrived that morning with one of their regular shipments and Will was still wondering what to do with it. "Not much to say, is there?" he remarked quietly at the sound of footsteps in the doorway.
The footsteps moved closer, and Epps put a hand on his shoulder and for once, the man was silent.
"No point in appealing. Might piss them off enough to go after NEST, too," Will continued, talking mostly because he felt one of them should, and because the quiet, almost mindless musings didn't demand focus that he had precious little of this day.
"How bad?" Epps finally asked. He knew the papers had arrived, that the case was settled, but he hadn't pressed to learn anything more. It wasn't his information to share, and he suspected the whole thing had been classified into non-existence. To be honest, he was surprised the court-martial had gone through at all, considering what they had to deal with.
A dry smile, but it didn't reach Will's eyes. "Fifteen years. They tried treason and mutiny, but it didn't stick. Just the rest of it."
Epps nodded. It could have been worse – a lot worse – but it was bad enough. He could read between the lines just fine. There was no point in appealing, because the only thing that would get his commander off of the hook now was a presidential pardon and they couldn't risk it now. The alliance was still too fragile. There were still too many people against what they did, and NEST wouldn't be able to stand up to a close investigation. They fought and bled and died at the side of the Autobots. Of course they were loyal to them. It was about Earth and humanity. Not politics, not on the frontlines.
"We're still alive to bitch about it," Epps said quietly. "And we're still here to stop them again next time." A heartbeat. "Thank you."
The image of a box like that in his own office had been too vivid in his own thoughts, nightmares of NEST with broken wings and picked apart by predators as they were forced to stand by and do nothing as the kid was handed over to Megatron, to watch as cities crumbled and Decepticons tore their allies apart as they died to defend a planet that refused fight for itself.
A tanned hand reached up to grip Epps', and the room fell silent. Maybe next time it would be Epps who had to take that bullet. Maybe it would be someone else. And in his most insane delusions, maybe it would never be needed again, and their bosses would understand what they were trying to do, what they were fighting for, and things would go back to the way they were supposed to be.
For now, there was only silence.
A/N: The five oaths mentioned:
1: The Ranger Creed
2: The unofficial NEST Creed. I couldn't find anything already out there, so I based it off of the joke versions of the various enlistment oaths
3: Again, Google-fu failed me and I couldn't find an Autobot Oath of Allegiance, so I let Will base it on the U.S. Armed Forces Oath of Enlistment
4: Will and Sarah's marriage vows
5: The U.S. Armed Forces Oath of Enlistment