Phase IV went off without a hitch, and I got to be present for the capstone achievement of our conspiracy – Phase V.
It was movie night for the 'bots, and everyone from NEST was gathered in the Autobot hangar for a special screening of the remake of "Independence Day." Mom and Dad were sitting on Ironhide's shoulders while Arcee was holding me. Theresa had made herself comfortable, leaning against Jolt, waiting for her husband. Once everyone was settled in and the lights were dimmed, Epps connected to the streaming Netflix and joined his wife and the Autobot.
Epic music began playing, and the title faded in on the projection screen. "Daddy Day Care – Autobot Edition."
There were murmurs of confusion and variations of "What in the Pit is this?"
Someone turned the lights back up. "Must be a prankster," Ironhide said, glaring at Sunstreaker and Sideswipe while a frowning Epps went back to the movie server to see if he could figure out what was wrong. Before he could get there, though, the black screen faded to the first scene of the movie. It opened with Sunstreaker's holoform standing in front of a kitchen stove wearing a pink, frilly cooking apron.
Laughter erupted, and several voices called out, "WAIT!" and "PLAY IT! PLAY IT!"
"Hey!" Epps exclaimed. "That's my house!"
A voice-over by Theresa Epps said, "Just to keep things easy, go ahead and make Akeela macaroni and cheese for lunch."
"You look ridiculous," the Sideswipe holoform on the screen said to his brother. He was sitting at the kitchen table, bouncing Akeela Epps on his lap.
"So why don't you get over here and stir this [beep]?"
"Because I think we should keep the homicidal one away from the baby as much as possible."
Sunstreaker snorted. "Fine, mommy dearest. You get to feed the critter, and you'll be begging to wear this thing before you're done. I've seen toddlers eat – they aim for the mouth and miss. It's amazing they don't die of starvation. I'd rather look silly for two minutes than like a slob for the rest of the day. Human fuel is disgusting, and I'm not getting it all over me."
"You still look ridiculous."
"Shut up. Or better yet, get over here and help me figure out the directions for this stuff."
With a smirk, Sideswipe set Akeela on floor with a couple of toys and then joined his brother. "Boil for 8-10 minutes until tender," he read. "What does that mean?"
"Epps talks about his steak being tender…"
They both gave a doubtful look to the simmering pot in front of them.
In the Autobot hangar, a ripple of chortling and sniggers ran through the group, but the humans laughed the hardest.
"Maybe we'd better comm Spitfire," movie-Sideswipe suggested.
"No," Sunstreaker snarled. "We slice and dice Decepticons and terrorize NEST. We are cunning, capable, and dangerous, [beep] it. We can make [beep]-ing macaroni and cheese without crying to a human femme for help!"
Neither of them noticed Akeela stand up and toddle out of the kitchen.
In the Autobot hangar, Mom and Mrs. Epps were trying to stifle the laughter so hard tears were streaming down their cheeks. I was starting to really lose it, too.
Onscreen, Sunstreaker reached for the biggest butchers' knife in the knife block and fished a noodle out of the pot. Setting it on the counter, he cut it with the knife. "What do you think?" he asked.
Sides shrugged. "Looks tender to me." Picking up the box, he read the next step in the instructions. "Drain."
The brothers shared a confused look and then simultaneously glanced at first the pot on the stove and then at the kitchen sink. "There's no plug to pull in the pan or anything," Sides observed.
"I'm not an idiot."
"Well, Mr. Cunning-Capable-and-Dangerous, how are you – "
"We'll just dump off all the water we can. I mean, it's not like they tell you to towel the noodles dry. I'm sure it's okay if there's a little water left in the bottom of the pan. And besides, it's not like Little Miss Drool is going to care if it's not perfect." He glanced over his shoulder and did a double take. "Where'd she go?"
"I dunno," Sides grumbled, walking back toward the kitchen table where he'd left her.
"Go find her, stupid. You're supposed to be taking care of her while I do the cooking, remember?"
"So do the cooking already and stop distracting me from the real work!"
The sound of a toilet flushing reached the kitchen.
"Aw Pit!" Sides bolted out of the room, and you could hear him slam open a door. "She's not in here!"
"Check upstairs!" Sunstreaker called as he carefully poured the water out of the pan into the sink. A series of thuds revealed Sideswipe's sprint up the stairs and there was another bang as the upstairs bathroom door slammed open.
There was another flush and Sideswipe yelled, "She's not in here, either!"
"MASTER BATH!" Sunstreaker shouted, putting the pan back on the stove and pulling off the apron to go help his brother.
The camera angle switched to the Epps' bedroom, where Sideswipe stood in the doorway of the master bath, holding a half-soaked and happily-squealing Akeela while Sunstreaker looked on in disgust.
"What did she do?" Sides said, looking a little shell-shocked.
"I don't know, but the toilet is overflowing and it's everywhere!"
"I'm comming Spitfire."
"Mo-ped," Sunstreaker said. "Two-cylinder wuss."
"You got any bright ideas about how to even stop the stupid thing from overflowing? And then what are we supposed to do with all the water on the floor? And what's that white floaty stuff?"
A faint trickle could be heard in the background.
"Who do I look like, Wheeljack? I've got to go finish lunch."
"[beep] you. If you're not going to help, you leave me no choice." Sideswipe's expression grew distant as he accessed his comm. Sunstreaker shook his head and started to walk away, but Akeela started yowling, and he looked back.
"Spitfire says I have to mop it up," Sideswipe announced. "You want to hold her or clean the floor?"
"She's soaking wet."
"So go change her clothes. Or mop. You choose."
"UGH!" Sunny snatched Akeela from Sides' hands and stomped out of the room. "Next time, we just go quietly to the brig!"
"Or take a solid month of monitor duty," Sideswipe hollered in agreement, wringing out a mop into the tub.
The scene cut to Akeela's room, where Sunstreaker was digging through drawers trying to find some dry clothes for her. "Or wax a C-17 with a toothbrush!" he bellowed.
The image cut back to Sideswipe working the toilet with a plunger. "Or go on a suicide mission against Megatron!"
The camera angle switched again. "Or just let Prime decapitate us!" Sunstreaker shouted, his voice muffled because his holoform's head was in the dryer, still looking for a clean outfit.
"Or Prowl," Sideswipe agreed, experimentally flushing the toilet, only to jump up and utter a few [beeps] as it overflowed again.
In the Autobot hangar, Prowl muttered, "Wax a C-17 with a toothbrush. Why haven't I thought of that?"
Jolt shushed him.
On the screen, Sunstreaker's holoform yelled, "Hey, do you smell something burning?"
The scene cut to the kitchen where the pan Sunstreaker had left on the burner was now billowing smoke. Thuds and more bleeped-out cussing announced the twins' arrival.
"Put it out! Put it out!" Sideswipe shrieked, snatching up Akeela, who had been happily unloading everything she could reach in the kitchen drawers. Sunstreaker used the apron like a hot pad to pick up the pan and threw the whole bundle out the window.
The twins stared at each other for a second in blank shock.
"So. Macaroni and cheese is out," Sunny said, recovering.
"Literally," Sides retorted. "What are going to feed the may-as-well-be-a-Decepticon baby? And why the [beep] isn't she dressed?"
"Because I can't find a [beep]-ing outfit."
"How hard can it be? Put a [beep]-ing shirt and pants on her."
Sunstreaker sneered, "Well they had to match. I couldn't have her looking like you dressed her."
Sides rolled his eyes, and only then did he notice the extent of the mess. Kitchen towels were mixed with silverware and spatulas with a dusting of plastic sandwich baggies over the top.
"[beep]-ing [beep]! [beep], Akeela, what did you do?"
The toddler broke out in peals of giggles.
Sunstreaker sighed heavily and took Akeela. "First shirt and pants I lay hands on, she's wearing them."
The scene on the projector screen transitioned to a close-up of Akeela. She was wearing orange-and-white striped shorts with a pink shirt that had red hearts all over it. Her mouth was ringed with a dark-brown mushy mess.
Arcee, who was sitting with me, flinched and groaned. "Orange and pink? That's just painful."
I patted her hand sympathetically and murmured, "The things the poor girl endured that day." Stealing a glance at the femme, I caught her wink.
"You sure this is okay?" movie-Sunstreaker dubiously asked as the camera panned out. "It's not on the list of approved fuels."
"It's chocolate and she's a femme. Of course it's okay," Sideswipe retorted, handing another cookie to the baby. "And the most important part is Oreos don't need to be cooked. That almost puts us back on schedule. Her nap is next and we'll get some quality time with the PlayStation as a reward for all our hard work."
The scene cut to Akeela standing up in her crib, holding on to the railing and happily jumping up and down on the mattress. A voice-over by Mrs. Epps said, "If she gives you any trouble falling asleep for her nap, try singing to her, and don't forget to blow her a kiss at the end. You might have to sing it a few times to get her down. If that doesn't work, you can always take her for a ride – that puts her out like a light."
The twins' holoforms stood uncomfortably near the doorway, arguing.
"You do it!" Sunstreaker said, nudging his brother.
"Nuh-uh. I'll look like an idiot."
"And this would be different how?"
Sideswipe cuffed his twin. "We'll both do it together."
"No, you start."
"Alright. Fine. Together on the count of three. One, two, three…"
They both took a deep breath and half-mumbled, half-sang.
I love you, you love me
We're a happy family
With a great big hug
And a kiss from me to you
Won't you say you love me too!
And then both holoforms blew a kiss to the now-squealing toddler.
A mix of sniggers, snorts, and exclamations of "awww" rang out through the Autobot hangar.
On the screen, Sideswipe roughly elbowed his brother. "You [beep]-ed it up – it didn't work!"
"[beep]-er. Mrs. Epps said we might need to sing it a second time. And it's 'cause you were just mumbling instead of actually singing. Now sing, [beep] you! We're not gonna get any gaming time at this rate."
The video spliced them singing it four times back-to-back, with the two of them coming to blows at the end of the fourth one. By that time, you couldn't hear them over the uproarious laughter in the hangar. But both the twins and the audience were cut off by a piercing wail. Akeela was crying, huge tears rolling down her cheeks as she gasped a stuttering breath.
"Now look what you did!" movie-Sunstreaker accused his brother.
"I did? You're the one too afraid of looking stupid."
"Would you just shut up?" Sunstreaker demanded, and Akeela wailed even louder.
"Let's take her for a drive like Theresa said."
"Fine. In your cab."
"Nuh-uh. You're the one who [beep]-ed up the song. And the macaroni and cheese."
Sunstreaker glared once at poor Akeela, who was turning all red and her nose was starting to run she was crying so hard. "I'm outta here."
"Wait!" Sideswipe exclaimed, picking up Akeela. "Fine. She can ride with me."
The scene cut to a view of the front door. It slammed open, with Sideswipe storming into the front room. Sunstreaker followed, laughing so hard he was having a hard time holding the still-awake Akeela. She had black goo all over her mouth, her hands, and down the front of her shirt. "It's chocolate and she's a femme," Sunny mocked, wheezing for breath. "I told you it was a bad idea to give her cookies for lunch."
Sideswipe returned to the front door, carrying a cleaning basket full of wipes, car-leather cleaner, an upholstery cleaner, and a can of air freshener. "Shut. The. [BEEP]. Up! Or I'll smear that vomit all over your interior!"
Sunstreaker tried – he really did – but as soon as Sideswipe slammed the front door behind him, he busted up laughing again. That is, until a look of intense concentration crossed Akeela's face, and she loudly filled her diaper.
"Oh [beep]," he swore under his breath, holding her out at arms' length.
Giggles, guffaws, and snorts of laughter filled the hangar at his slightly shell-shocked expression.
"You get that joy of that one," movie-Sideswipe called from outside.
"How much longer until Firebrand gets back?" Sunstreaker demanded of his brother.
"Twenty minutes! Now stop complaining and go change her [beep]-ing diaper!"
Sunstreaker grimaced, no doubt at the smell. "Disgusting."
Akeela's bottom lip started trembling and turned down in a pout before she burst into tears.
"No, no, no," Sunstreaker frantically begged. "Not again! My audios can't handle it!"
Akeela just wailed louder.
With a roar of frustration, he stomped up the stairs.
The final scene of our cinema masterpiece was me bringing Danny and Graham through the front door after school. Akeela was still wailing.
"Firebrand!" Sideswipe exclaimed, hurrying in from the living room with a manic sort of relief in his voice.
Eyes wild, Sunstreaker dropped the diaperbag at my feet and bolted out the front door without a word.
Sideswipe was only a couple of steps behind him. He all but dropped Akeela in my arms as he sprinted to his altform. I turned my attention back to her just in time to see her heavily-duck-taped diaper slide out from under her dress to flop onto the floor.
The screen faded to black amid uproarious laughter, and someone switched the lights back up.
"Encore!" someone yelled, and Sunstreaker's head swiveled to glare at the speaker, but his optics bounced from laughing femme to chortling soldier to grinning Prime to sniggering mech, unable to figure out who had hollered. No way could he decide who to yell at by process of elimination, partly because everybody had good reason to prank the twins but also because several other people had taken up the cry.
Nodding in acceptance, Prowl gestured to Epps to have him re-start the movie. This time, the sniggering started with the music. I glanced over to grin at Optimus, and he nodded slightly my way as if to say 'Well done.'
My heart warmed with pride and I returned his nod. Mission accomplished.
Author's Note: And that completes this story arc. :) I'm afraid I'll have to pause here for a while, though. The next story arc has spoilers for the ending of The Tie That Binds, so I'll need to finish that fic before I can do more in this one. Unfortunately, my pace of writing on TTTB has slowed a bit due to work getting really busy. The law firm I work for recently took on a murder exoneration case that's going to eat up a lot of my spare time for the next month and then I'm up against the holidays. I'll write when I can, but I won't be very consistent. Don't worry, though; we're only about 2/3 of the way through Annabelle's story, and there are some great things still to come (hint: more time with Tim). ;) Until then. ~ Eowyn77