A/N: right, this is it, finished. I've really enjoyed writing it and I hope you've enjoyed reading, I also hope this outcome leaves you satisfied. Merry Christmas!
The car sped up the motorway, the powerful engine quiet as it purred on the north road. The M25 road circling London had been left behind, and from here the route was pretty straight, now that the roads had largely been repaired. The young woman in the spacious back seat glanced out of the window at the late afternoon sunlight, and the other cars occupying the road. The windows were tinted, for which she was grateful. She was currently in her underwear, clamping a phone to her ear. The other arm was snaking itself, with some difficulty, into a silk gown.
"So you got the dress?"
"Yes, I got the dress! I would be putting it on if you hadn't called to check I've got it!"
At the other end of the line, Sari giggled. "Does it fit?"
"I'll get back to you on that." Alexis passed the phone from one ear to the other as she wriggled the dress over her head. A glance up ensured the screen separating her from the front of the car was indeed down.
"Have you got champagne in your car and a TV?"
Alexis heard a pop of a cork and more giggles. She rolled her eyes and grinned. "Yes, and yes.. And beer, ice, some orange juice, chocolates and oysters. It's like Harrods in here. And I've got a newspaper. I'm still getting used to having those again. Have you seen the photos of the new Tower Bridge? It's nearly finished."
"Whatever, now is not the time for newspapers! Now, jewellery. I've sent you the crystal necklace and the rubies, so you can choose. If you…"
"Hey, hey! We've got hours ahead of us! It's going to be a while before we even get to Scotland! Stop harassing me!"
She laughed and leaned back in the leather, wriggling in her seat to let the dress fall over her legs. It was truly beautiful. Sari had done it again. Alexis had, true to form, left everything to the last minute, leaving Sari to dash around finding her an outfit. Alexis would feel guilty, were it not for the fact that she knew Sari loved nothing more than choosing clothes, whether it was for herself or someone else.
"Is your mum there with you?" she asked, hearing laughter on the line.
"Yes. How about your dad?"
"He can't make the ceremony. But I've just spent the week with him, which was great. He's fidgeting to get back over to the US, though. Some things never change. Are any of the autobots going to be there tonight?"
"No. I don't know if they weren't invited, or couldn't make it. The second one, I'm guessing. If they weren't invited I'd be having stern words with Her Majesty!"
Alexis laughed. There was a pause on Sari's end.
"How about… our friend? Have you heard…"
"No," replied Alexis. "Still nothing."
There was silence. Then on the other end of the line Alexis heard Sari's mother. "Sari. How do you work this remote?"
Sari groaned. "I'd better go. Old Person Crisis here." She shrieked with laughter, it sounded as though her mother had flicked champagne at her. Alexis laughed. "Okay. Sort yourselves out. See you later!"
She hung up, and leant back in her seat, staring out the window in silence. Then a beep from the driver's intercom startled her out her reverie.
"Miss Garner. Do you require anything? Are you comfortable?"
"Alexis smiled. "I'm fine thank you. And the shutter can come down now, I'm all dressed."
"Very good, Miss Garner."
She felt impossibly tired all of a sudden. Dust floated in a fine curtain throughout the vast room. Energon lay slicked across the devastated floor, amid chunks of rubble and a few prone bodies. Her heart banged in her chest, her limbs ached, her head swam.
It was over. Wasn't it? Her body screamed that it was, now was the time to sleep, rest, get medical help. Her ribs creaked and throbbed, she felt inflammation there, along with the deep bruises blooming across her frame. The floor shuddered as huge pairs of feet ran here and there. Voices were too loud.
Across the room, she made out Starscream standing, facing the autobots. This wasn't over. She began to limp, as fast as she was able, towards them. She skirted around the outflung arm of Megatron, remembering as she did so the way she had done the very same thing round the unconscious form of Starscream, it seemed like millennia ago.
As she drew nearer she made out voices above, tense and guarded. A huge boom shook the floor hard behind her as the two other seekers landed with clanks of transformation. She drew level with Starscream, standing with arms folded, in front of the line of autobots. Although not restrained, they were surrounded on all sides by decepticons, none taking their optics off the small band.
Alexis' head jerked up as she sensed the car slowing, crunching across gravel. How long had she been asleep? Outside the late evening light cast soft shadows. The engine stopped. The car door opened and a gloved hand reached inside. Blinking, Alexis took it. The footman smiled and led her out of the car. "Miss Alexis Garner. Welcome to Balmoral Castle."
Aleixs looked up to see dove grey stone spires reaching into the evening sky. In front of her stone steps led to a pair of open doors where members of the household staff were waiting. Other guests were being escorted to the entrance, the open air rang with voices and footsteps. Behind her, more footmen were lifting her cases.
"There are still a few hours until the ceremony, madam," the footman added in a soft Scottish accent. "Do take this time to refresh yourself in your rooms. If you need anything, we will be happy to help you."
Alexis smilled, and for the first time, felt herself start to enter into the spirit of this. Madam, eh? Rooms, eh? She flashed a grin at the footman, looking extremely handsome in his uniform. "I'll be sure to let you know…" she glanced at his name stitched onto his jacket "… Lance! Thank you!"
"You've finally done it Starscream."
Optimus Prime faced Starscream, his head up, blue optics glowing brightly. Only his expression remained inscrutable, beside him, his autobot soldiers glared around warily. "And I suppose your plans from now are…?"
"What makes you think I should tell you any of my plans?" asked Starscream. Behind him, his two wingbrothers drew up and stopped, waiting for their commands.
"Starscream, no matter what you think, no matter what our differences, today things have been changed forever."
"Some things remain the same," replied the new decepticon leader softly. Ironhide moved, his hands twitching towards his weapon, but the tiniest movement of Optimus' head stopped him, and he subsided, glowering.
"Perhaps they do. Even if you refuse to tell me, I must ask you. Will you leave this planet in peace?"
Starscream gave a derisive laugh. "Even when surrounded on all sides, overwhelmed by victors, you still express concern for this wretched mudball!
"I need your word." The blue stare was unwavering.
Starscream snorted. "I'm not sure my word counts for much, to you. Why are you bothering with this mawkish appeal?" He drew himself up, soaking in his new power, drinking up the stares of the decepticons, his decepticons, as they waited all around, watching the autobots through narrowed optics.
A small, tired voice at their feet turned all gazes downwards. "You word counts for quite a lot actually. Especially to me. You will be leaving this planet, my planet, in peace, because you promised. Stop preening and get…me… some…. painkillers…
Cupped hands caught her as she fell, a blur of colours swam in front of her eyes, and voices called overhead… "I can help her…" "…she needs a…" "Hurry…" "Alexis!"
Alexis knocked on the door, scrunching her toes on the sumptuous carpet that almost engulfed her feet. They had been put on a corridor painted a soft blue, the walls lined with portraits of past monarchs in gilt frames. Chandeliers twinkled in the soft light. Downstairs she heard murmurs of people beginning to gather. She pushed it open to find Sari standing in the middle of a room fit for royalty, dwarfed by a mammoth four poster bed, sliding some gold bangles onto her wrist. Her hair was piled beautifully on top of her head. Soft tendrils fell round her face.
"Wow. You look amazing. Now I feel like a wench!"
"Oh shut up! You look gorgeous! Sari hugged her friend tightly. "Ready?"
They descended the spiral staircase, Alexis lifting her gown so as not to trip. She wore her hair in loose ringlets, she had allowed it to grow a little more this past year. Her dress was red, and she wore a necklace of shining red stones. Sari peered at it.
"That's not the necklace I sent…"
Alexis' hands wandered to her throat. "No. I had this cut myself and made. Is it alright?"
"Of course it is!" Sari laughed. "Stop being so nervous."
"I just feel overdressed…" Alexis muttered, as they turned the corner and started the final descent into the hall. Hoards of people stood, talking politely to each other, holding drinks. The men were all in suits or tuxedos, the women were bright splashes of colour in dresses of green, blue, black, gold…
"Still feel overdressed?" Sari whispered. "You're about to meet the Queen, Ali. I think on this occasion, there's no such thing as overdressed. And you look great. Come on, let's get a drink."
Sari gave her friend a comforting squeeze on her arm, then spotted her mother smiling and waving at the foot of the staircase. She moved towards the bar- a set of tables along one wall where footmen were serving wine. Alexis hung back, allowing her eyes to rove around the hall, taking in the incredible décor. This place didn't appear to have been touched by the invasion. A hand touched her arm tentatively. "Erm… Alexis? Is that you?"
She turned round to find a young man smiling nervously down at her, dressed in a black suit with a pale grey shirt. His hair was shorter than it had been, and neatly cut. But she recognized him in an instant.
He smiled properly then, looking relieved. "So you do remember me. How… how are you?"
She threw her arms around him in an ecstatic hug, and he stumbled back, taken by surprise. "I'm great! Wow, you look lovely!"
"So you do you," he stammered, blushing and swallowing nervously. He took in her sparkling eyes and her lips, curved in a smile, a hint of mischief lingering there. She looked the same as he remembered, although without the pinched, burdened look of last time. He thought back to meeting her in the autobot base, her silence and guardedness, the whispers surrounding her and the decepticons. As if reading his mind, she looked down, fiddling with her bag clasp awkwardly.
"I hope you forgive me for running off that night. You must have thought I was a downright little traitor."
"Well… we were all quite… surprised..." he said politely, and she laughed. "But you had your reasons. Someone in the news the other day said you were going to write a book about it all?"
She looked up, horrified, then laughed again. "No way! That's the last thing I want! The people who matter to me most know the truth. That's enough for me. I just want to get on with my life, like everyone else. Put all that behind me."
He nodded, and they stood in silence for a moment. She seemed to be far away all of a sudden, her mind on something, or someone else. A hint of sadness flashed across her face… then she shook her head, the smile back in place.
"So, you're here to get a medal too?"
"Yes," he said, bashfully. "For bravery and services to the country."
She looked impressed. "Well done you!"
He laughed, and the throng of people around them began to move towards the doors. He offered her his arm, and she took it, pleased. She looked over her shoulder to see Sari, gesturing to Jamie and mouthing questions, a sly grin on her face. She returned the grin and looked back round, as they proceeded into the hall, directed to circular tables set with gleaming plates and cutlery, stiff white napkins and candles. She was beginning to enjoy herself.
She awoke, opening her eyes to be met by twin glares of red light, blinding her. She immediately squeezed her eyes shut. "Get out of my face! I've got a headache!"
A deep chuckle rumbled all around her. "You little faker. The autobot Ratchet informs me you have some bruising, torn ligaments, cracked bones, and exhaustion. Is that all? Puny weakling!"
Alexis struck out feebly, hoping to hit a part of him should it be in reach. "How dare you…"
She slumped back on the soft surface, whatever it was. The room slowly swam into focus. They were in the room with the huge table, and they were alone. She was in a nest of blankets, and the way she was feeling, she never wanted to leave it. Starscream stood above her, arms crossed, watching her closely. She wondered how long he had been there.
"What happens now?"
He was silent for a moment before answering. "We leave Earth."
She tried to get up, hauling herself up on one arm and gasping in pain, struggling to gain purchase in the soft bedding. One digit descended, prodding her gently back down. The huge finger and thumb pinched the blankets, drawing them up to her chin.
"Myself and my decepticons will leave." She raised her gaze to meet his. "You will stay. That idiot medic autobot assures me he will be able to look after you."
Her head hurt. She rubbed a hand across her eyes. "When… when are you going?"
"My soldiers are ready to leave now. As leader I am also responsible for the ones loyal to Megatron." He growled. "There is much to do."
She just nodded.
"You also have much to occupy you. Your planet is… something of a mess." A sneer curled his lips. "I'd love to stay and help, but Optimus Prime…" he spat the name contemptuously, "..insists we leave the clearing up to him. So very like an autobot, clearing up after the party is over."
Despite herself she rolled her eyes. "Will you never give them a break?"
He laughed. "Never."
They were silent for a moment, Alexis searching desperately for something to say. Clearly he had been waiting for her to wake up, and now she had, he really had very little reason left to remain.
I don't want you to go.
The thought rang in her head, refusing to be silenced.
"Will you come back?" she said hoarsely, her throat feeling strangely blocked.
"What, to this nasty little puddle-planet? Slag, no."
She nodded. "Of course not."
He lowered his great head until he was level with hers. "Prime is drawing up a treaty. He really is very anxious for us to be gone."
She nodded again, wiping her eyes on her sleeve hurriedly. "So… this is it, then?"
Three years had passed. The first few weeks did not feel very different to when the planet had been occupied by Megatron. The humans had huddled together, surviving as best as they could, waiting, for what, they didn't know.
Then helicopters had flown overhead, dropping crates of food into the fields.
Then camps were set up, offering shelter, medical care and clean water. A census was taken of survivors, and a separate one drawn up for people looking for loved ones.
Roads were the first things to be repaired, and vehicles started to appear, travelling into the worst affected cities to start the long, long task of rebuilding…
Several days now stood out clearly in Alexis' memory. The day all the lights in the street had blinked and come back on, to the gasps of onlookers. The day she had been able to turn on the television again. The day she had received letters through the door. The day she had run as fast as she could down a slippery jetty, flinging herself into a pair of arms that had enfolded her in a tight embrace. Her tears of joy had mingled with his, flowing together down their cheeks as they both fell to their knees, father and daughter, reunited at last.
She lay down her fork as Jamie returned to the table, carrying glasses of wine for them. Life was certainly different now. On the one hand, things had gone back to how they'd always been, and on the other hand, they would never be the same again. Staff moved forward to take their dessert plates away and a hush had fallen. Alexis craned her neck to the far side of the room, where a diminutive elderly lady was entering, a tiara glittering on her head and a smile illuminating her features. A voice called out: "Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second."
Everyone rose to their feet as the Queen made her way to a podium. With a small smile and a nod from her, the room seated itself again with a rustling. Jamie rested his elbow on the table, his fingers brushing Alexis'. She didn't move her hand away.
Suddenly, from inside her bag, her phone began to buzz and a shrill ringing filled the hall. Alexis' eyes widened in shock and she scrabbled desperately at the clasp, a flush of embarrassment rising up her neck and over her cheeks. Beside her Jamie leaned over, the scent of his aftershave mingled with strawberries. "I thought you turned it off?" he murmured.
"I did!" she whispered back, pushing her chair back. People were glancing at her table, shaking their heads and tutting. Flustered, she ran at a half crouch towards the exit flanked by two guards. For one horrific moment she was sure they were going to stop her. But they drew back to let her pass. Behind her the Queen had started her speech, seemingly unperturbed.
Alexis ran out of the front door of the castle and down the stone steps into the night air, still struggling with the clasp of her bag. The phone trilled incessantly. "Alright alright! Shut up!"
The smooth, emaculate lawns only light was that of the moon, that gleamed down brightly over the sweep of grass, surrounded by conifers. Behind them were the hills and beyond them, the stars. Night had fallen fully now, and the air was chilly.
Chunks of turf lay scattered from the impact, the lawn gouged and scarred.
The castle was some distance away now, and she ran, panting breathlessly. Her shoes had been kicked off some time ago and she sprinted, barefoot, her dress streaming behind her, goosebumps sprinkled along her arms from the chill. She leapt up some steps and onto the lawn, the two red glowing eyes in the distance her guide.
She came to his feet and stopped, panting to get her breath back, hands on hips, bent from the stitch in her side.
"I was just about to receive a medal from the Queen," she gasped. "The Queen! All this time, not a word, nothing, and now you choose to show up?"
Starscream bent down, a demonic grin stretching his face. One huge metal hand extended. "Hello, Alexis."
"I suppose it does have a certain style to it," she conceded, stepping onto the palm, using his thumb to steady herself. He straightened up, and she watched the ground and the surrounding landscape recede as she was raised higher.
She settled herself down, tucking her bare feet under her. "You shouldn't be here," she said, with one raised eyebrow. "The treaty outlined the rules."
"I love that treaty," he replied, a sneer tugging his lips. "It means my flouting of the rules is made all the more succinct. I can go if you wish it. You look well, by the way."
She just looked at him, taking in the arrogant features that had been on her mind every day for the past three years. Her gaze wandered up, over his forehead, to an enormous crown, golden, with three horn-like peaks protruding proudly upwards. It added at least 8 feet to his height and gleamed in the dark. "So do you. What is that? Is that a crown?" Her eyes returned to his, a smirk on her lips. "You total poser."
He preened, his wings stretching lazily. "I can't get enough of the feeling, dear one. The power. It suits me ever so well. Do you deny it?"
She laughed, throwing her head back, the red jewels at her throat glinting. "No! By that modest statement I take it things are going well back home?"
He nodded. "Extremely. The might of my planet is being restored, as I knew it could be. I only wish you could see it."
"So… so do I."
They stared at one another for a moment. "My presence here has probably already been detected," he murmured. "We do not have long."
Alexis nodded, hugging her knees and staring into space. Then she lifted her head, looking into his optics.
"Can you just give me one minute?"
Jamie shifted in his seat, taking another sip of his wine. The Queen had finished her speech, now some General had stood up and was talking. He glanced sideways to Alexis' empty seat.
It was wonderful to see her again. She looked beautiful tonight, he thought, so animated, a million miles away from the girl he had met in the base that night some years ago. He had been attracted to her then though as well. Tonight he decided he would get her number. Excitement flooded him. He looked over to the doorway where she had fled. Where was she? What kind of call was important enough to miss this? He shrugged and turned to face the front once more.
Then she was back, making him jump, bending low and scrabbling at the table, hurriedly gathering her things into her bag. Her eyes were shining.
"Where have you been?" he hissed.
She seemed not to hear him, shoving her purse into her bag. "Hm?'
"I said, where have you been? Wait a second… where are your shoes?"
He stared down at her bare feet, covered in grass and dirt.
"No time," she gasped, a wide smile lighting up her face. "I have to go."
"Go? What… go where?"
"Just… somewhere," she replied, taking a deep drink of wine, her eyes shining at him over the rim of the glass. She set the glass down with a thud, whirling her scarf around her shoulders. "Going for a ride."
"But… you are coming back, right?"
She leaned down and kissed him on the cheek. "Bye Jamie."
And she was running, between the chairs and tables, out into the hall, down the steps past the astonished household staff. Out into the dark, where eager hands waited for her to leap into them…
The guests flinched and ducked as, over their heads outside, a jet roared overhead, causing the glass chandelier to shake and tinkle, the sound growing fainter as it flew up and out… into the night sky and beyond.