A/N: This is my first Transformers story wherein the main character is not an OC. I hope I do not write Mikaela too far off from what cannon has laid out for her. ::Frets:: But I was challenged to write a Sam/Mikaela story and I felt compelled to answer that challenge. Hence, this idea was given life.
As always, I want to thank the amazing Razorgaze for all her hard work in editing the many crazy ideas I send to her. She is wonderful. Her story "Our Debt" is also wonderful. Go read it! :D The link is in my profile page.
I have made up the city of Englewood, Mississippi. At least I hope I have. Apologies to anyone that lives in Englewood if it indeed exists. . I needed a place to set this story and none of the towns I had researched really had what I wanted for this piece. I also made up the county of Mallard; at least I hope I have. Again, my apologies if these places exist. It's purely a coincidence and the real-life history (should it really exist) has absolutely no bearing on the events in this story.
Disclaimer: I do not own Transformers or anything in this story save for my OCs. Please don't sue. This is purely for fun.
It was said that it was always hard to come home. But it was so much worse when one had to do it alone.
Mikaela Banes let those words roam around inside her brain as the taxi pulled away, leaving her staring at her childhood home. Her heart raced inside her chest, her breath creating shallow puffs of steam in the air. So much of her wished that this could have been a happy homecoming. Every holiday season, Sam would talk with mock-resignation about how much of a pain it was to see his overprotective mother and father. But secretly she knew he enjoyed every moment of it, looked forward to the loving embrace of people that cared about him.
Save for those rare moments with her father, she did not have that experience.
The late autumn winds had pulled the last of the leaves from the trees, tossing them about the ground like a dirty mosaic, the pattern of it lost to the ravages of time. Bold reds and crisp yellows all mingled with the brown-green of grass readying itself for another long blanketing of Mississippi snow, the only contrast to the white and shadowy grays of the landscape before her. Dry, skeletal branches reached for the sky as if imploring with their fragile limb-like fingers for some reprieve from the coming cold.
And it was quiet, so horribly and terribly silent. Like some all powerful being had hit the mute button on this slice of the world.
She could taste winter in the air, feel it swirling in her blood more than sense it in the eddying currents of the wind. It coated the back of her throat with its death-like tang, adding another twist of foreboding to her already frightened heart. That sense of impending doom was just another bit of proof that she really came from this place, that she truly was part of the Banes family.
Regardless of her feelings to the contrary.
The house loomed before her, a massive colonial structure right out of the movies. The gravel drive was as white as moonlight and as perfectly aligned as she remembered, winding its way to the sprawling three story monstrosity that had held her captive as a child. She tried not to glare at the thing, tried very hard to see the house with eyes of maturity and not with the eyes of her youth. Try as she might, she couldn't stop her past from tainting her present. Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, had once cautioned her about such things. The past had its place and part in making a sentient what he or she was today. But it was dangerous to dwell in the darkness of memory and allow it to eclipse the light of the future.
Because of his kindness, his sheltering of her and taking her under his proverbial wing after the events of Mission City, she had agreed to come to this place again. To face her past and learn from it, that it would not destroy her future. She just wished desperately that she didn't have to do it alone. Again, she forced herself to stop thinking of the negative and focus on the positive like Optimus had taught her. After today, she would never have to face that house again. After today, she could go visit Sam with a clear conscience and face their future together with bright hope.
The sounds of tires on the old dirt road behind her shook her from her reverie, and she turned to face a bus full of people in badly matched jackets and jeans, cameras flashing as pictures were taken. A man stood up at the front of the bus, and she could hear the loud speaker proclaiming his words to the gathered passengers. Ravenswood Manor was a local tourist attraction and probably the only thing worthy of seeing in the backwards little town of Englewood, Mississippi. It was said that the house had stood long before the American Civil War had ravaged the south, that the original foundation predated the American Revolutionary war, even.
She could readily believe that. The place had held a special place in her nightmares ever since she set foot into it. It wasn't hard to believe that the grounds that made up the enormous Ravenswood Estate had seen the atrocities of both wars. Not considering the atrocities it had seen in the times between those conflicts... and the times after.
Mikaela fought not to grab a handful of gravel and hurl it at the offending bus. How dare those people come to the place of her personal hell, taking pictures of a house that should have burned to the ground centuries ago? Could they not see the horror lurking beneath that lovely façade? Could they not taste the terrifying anticipation emanating from the very windows of the place, as if the house were a living thing waiting to suck the innocence and life out of its next victim?
Of course they couldn't, she thought bitterly. They had to experience the sting before the illusion of beauty would shatter for them. And so they took their pictures, muttering in quiet awe as the tour guide rambled on about the "amazing history" of the Ravenswood Estate and the Banes family in general.
"If you only knew," she murmured, fighting back the angry tears. "If you only knew what went on there, and what would drive a man like my father to choose a life of crime just to get away from its legacy."
The bus left her standing alone at the gates again, and she gripped the intricate iron scrollwork tightly, letting her forehead fall against it. Not for the first time did she contemplate just hitch-hiking her way to the nearest bus station and calling Optimus or Bumblebee to come and get her. It was too much, coming to this place. It was too much horror and fear and everything in between. Her heart skipped a beat at the idea of walking through those double front doors alone, facing the family she had left behind in much the same way her father had all those years ago. It would have been so much better if she had someone with her, but that would have entailed a long explanation about her past, and that wasn't something she was willing to divulge to Sam or 'Bee just yet.
So that left her only two choices: go inside or run away like a coward. In her mind, only one of those was a viable option. Taking a deep breath, she picked up the handle to her rolling carryon suitcase and pushed open the gates. Ravenswood stared back at her as she started down the path, and she could swear that she heard a hideous voice rasp a Welcome Home across that frightening autumn wind.
Complete strangers greeted her at the doors, pulling them open wide and smiling at her with fake sincerity. Judging by their crisp suits and plastered-on sympathy, she figured out within moments that they were from the funeral home. One woman in particular held a clipboard and politely asked her name, as if checking to see if she were on the VIP list or something. Once she confirmed that Mikaela was, indeed, part of the approved family, she was shown up the gleaming mahogany staircase to the second floor.
Mikaela wanted to tell the woman to just go away, to stop offering her false condolences for the loss of her grandmother. The verbal diarrhea the woman spewed out about how her grandmother, the late Lorilai Banes, was a sainted woman, a pillar of her community and how much she would be missed was absolute crap. She did her best to ignore the woman, a Beatrice if the name on her tasteful little badge was correct. The words MacGregor and MacGregor Funeral Home… Servicing the Community with Tradition and Dignity for One Hundred Years glinted beneath her engraved name.
She tried to focus instead on putting one foot in front of the other, keeping her head down. But that lead her to take notice of the elegant – if a bit faded – hand-woven oriental runner that covered the deep mahogany hardwood of the hallway. That in turn brought up the memories of having to scrub and wax that floor over and over again until her fingers were raw and bleeding. It had been a familiar punishment for not being 'feminine enough' in her mannerisms. Gramma Lori had personally supervised the scrubbing, telling her in that prim and cultured voice that if Mikaela wanted to act like a heathen, and not a girl worthy of her station, than she could scrub floors like one.
She yanked her eyes upward, her hands and knees tingling with the remembered pain.
The same huge oil paintings decorated the hallway, displaying the proud heritage of the Banes family. To her, they looked like frozen ghosts, their eyes forever staring down at her in disapproval. She used to hate crossing this hallway as a child, having to look at those dead eyes and feel them follow her across the way. When she'd been exceptionally bad in Gramma Lori's eyes, she was forced to polish the glided frames until they glowed, no matter how much she cried about being afraid of them.
It made her nauseous, those staring, disapproving eyes and the swirl of memories that went with them. Her head felt light, the air suddenly hot against her skin and hard to breathe in. And still Beatrice droned on, extolling all the loving charity work the late Matron Lorilai Banes had participated in during her kind and generous life.
"Stop," Mikaela snapped, feeling like she was going to start screaming and never stop if Beatrice spoke one more lie. She held up her hand, palm facing outward towards the woman's face. "Just… stop. Look, uh, Beatrice, I can only handle so much pre-rehearsed bullshit before I start to loose my mind. I'm tired from my flight and I know the way to my room. Gramma Lori would have insisted that my old room was ready for this travesty of a funeral. So just leave me alone, please."
Beatrice looked shell-shocked at her words, and still managed to maintain more grace and dignity in her surprise than Mikaela could manage on her best day. No wonder the woman had been chosen to work this particular funeral. Lorilai Banes would have demanded nothing less. It was enough to make her want to puke all over the hardwood floor. Beatrice smiled politely, though that smile was more strained than before, nodded and walked away. Mikaela could almost hear the silent prissy sniff of southern disapproval as the woman went back down the stairs.
"Good job, 'Kae," she muttered to herself. "Not in the house more than five minutes and already you've managed to offend a completely nice lady. What's next, doing a tap-dance on your grandmother's grave before she's even in it?"
Shaking her head, she yanked her suitcase down the hallway in a hurry, heading for the farthest room at the end of the long wing. I just want this all to be over with, she thought viciously. I just want to go home. No, better than home, I want to go to Diego Garcia when all this is over. I'll ask Sam to take the weekend and stay with me. I need the hot beaches and the nearness of sentients that actually give a damn about me. Going home to my shop just isn't going to cut it this time. I just have to get through twenty more hours. Just twenty more hours until the reading of that stupid will of hers and I can go home.
Her hand trembled only slightly on the brass handle of her bedroom door, her breath hitching again. She didn't want to go into that room, either. Memories threatened to erode her strength, carry her away in darkness and things she had thought long forgot. Mikaela closed her eyes tightly, taking deep and steadying breaths. Optimus' words floated to the forefront of her thoughts again, his kind and gentle wisdom urging her to face the things that frightened her and to emerge stronger for it.
And though she longed so much for his presence, and for Sam's presence most of all, she knew she had to do this alone. Opening her eyes, she shoved her way into the room.
Of course, there was no wi-fi in her wing of the house. No internet of any kind as well. Cell reception was as non-existent as her love for the place. And deep inside, she just knew that Lorilai Banes had orchestrated that on purpose. One last big 'screw you' to the spawn of the whore she had claimed ruined her beloved son. The icing on the cake was the bars on the windows, placed just perfectly so that she could only open the window an inch, just enough to get a timid taste of the freedom outside the walls but not enough to enjoy any of it.
She was forced to either pace around the overly-girlie room or go out and mingle with the rest of the Banes family. Neither seemed to be a good option.
The room was cream in coloring, done up in ash-colored heavy wood furniture. The bed was the same, she remembered, a massive four-poster thing with hand-knitted lace pouring down its sides and canopy. More lace made up the coverlet and the pillowcases, all done in an antique white. All of the furnishings were done in intricate scrollwork. All like something Scarlett O'Hara would have died to possess. The bed itself was as hard as a rock, designed to be so in order to improve a young woman's posture, or so she had been told. The single stool beneath the vast vanity was just as unforgiving, as was the lovely antique armchair beneath the windows.
She could just hear Gramma Lori now, that smooth and genteel southern voice echoing from the darker parts of her memory. "A young woman of breeding need not lean back in her seat. She always perches like a delicate finch on the edge, her knees and ankles touching and her hands folded politely in her lap. She does that regardless of if she is in public or in private. For charm shows its true face not in public like a display, but in how a woman chooses to behave in a private setting."
Mikaela had been an ugly little girl by Gramma Lori's standards, all gangly arms and legs and wild dark hair, way too tall to be considered delicate. She had had the grace of a rock and the desire to go racing through the grounds with all the little boys. She had wanted to play baseball when her Gramma had insisted on piano lessons and afternoon tea. Of course, all these faults did not rest with Mikaela herself, but with her mother… or so decreed Gramma Lori. And her grandmother had decided then and there to beat the wild gypsy out of her only granddaughter if it came to that.
She had already written off her son's wife as a lost cause, and as such took every opportunity to remove Mikaela from her care. Deep inside, Mikaela blamed her for the reason her mother had run off and left them alone. It wasn't too long after that that her father realized what his mother was doing, and lit out of Mississippi with just his daughter and his Harley motorcycle. All the way across the US wasn't far enough away from that woman. Even all the theft, all the things he had done in order to escape the legacy of his family wasn't enough to deter her.
When her father had gone to prison, it had been Gramma Lori that had filed for joint custody of Mikaela along with her mother's parents. Each and every summer until she was sixteen was spent in the hell that was Ravenswood Estate. Each and every summer spent with that horrible woman dictating every step and breath of her future.
Even now, dead and in a coffin, Lorilai Banes was still trying to ruin her life.
She had slept fitfully, tossing and turning, wrapped in nightmares. Most of them involved what she could remember of her mother, of a smiling face with hair as dark as hers and eyes the color of polished amethyst. They would have picnics together on the Ravenswood Estate, choosing to shelter under one of the large oak trees during the heavy summer days when the heat was thick like molasses and the breezes were heavy with the perfume of a thousand blooming flowers. Her mother would sing to her, tell her the old Grimm's Fairy Tales and not the Americanized Disney version.
They would make daisy chains of the flowers and wear them in their hair, dancing around to the natural music of summer birds and insects. And like all those fairytales, her grandmother would loom in one of the many windows of the house, staring at them with sharp disapproval.
Then her mother was gone one day, and all her things were packaged up and locked into the attic. The picnics stopped, the singing and the dancing stopped. She was given an old fashioned governess for her lessons, and then she was the special property of her grandmother for her 'true education.' The things she had had to do in order to win Gramma Lori's favor were unspeakable, even to herself.
Her eyes were dark with shadows when she dressed for the funeral, her face pale and drawn. She looked like she was deep into mourning like all the others. But it wasn't Lorilai that she was mourning, it was her mother and all the years of her childhood lost to the harsh lessons of a southern culture long forgotten. Her eyes were dry at the reading of the eulogy, her hands clutching her handbag with white-knuckles as person after person rose and said good things about that vicious harpy of a woman.
The sigh of relief that left her lips when the last shovel-full of earth hit the grave was also taken for sorrow. The woman was dead and buried now. She couldn't hurt her anymore. It was done.
The whole thing was almost over.
No one in her family noticed her impatience, mistaking it all for pain. Which was fine with her, truth be told. All she had to do was get through the reading of the will. Just hear the reading of the will and get the hell out of there. She had phoned ahead to Bumblebee the moment she had finished her breakfast downstairs, asking him to be at the estate at precisely six in the evening. She was already packed and ready to run for the hills.
He had offered to come to her right away, being in D.C. as part of Optimus Prime's entourage. It was the tone in her voice, the fatigue and sorrow and anger all jumbled together, that had him worried. She had had to fight back the need to tell him yes, to scream at the top of her lungs for him to come and save her. But she didn't, couldn't if she wanted to face Sam and Optimus again and not feel like a coward. If she couldn't handle her own family, what made her think she could handle fighting the Decepticons?
When she declined the offer, he had pointedly told her that he would be there before six anyway. And when she was ready, he was willing to lay rubber as fast as she wanted to get away from whatever was bothering her so much. She kept that thought firmly in place as she walked into the library room, taking her seat among fifty other hopeful relatives. No doubt many had designs on Lorilai Bane's sizable fortune, or maybe even wanted the house, itself.
They could have it, she thought bitterly. And if one of them had the good sense to burn it to the ground afterward, she would gleefully bring the marshmallows.
The lawyer, an old southern gentleman with wisps of white hair clinging to his balding scalp, wedged his sizable girth into the wingtip leather chair behind the desk. He began to read, listing little things that went to this person or that, chunks of money divided into portions according to Lorilai's shrewd decisions. She tuned it all out, thinking only of the feel of Bumblebee's leather seats, the smell of the open road as they hauled ass towards Sam's college. And then there would be peace, the warmth of his arms around her… and she could finally break down and sob with relief.
Because the Banes family legacy was going to die with Lorilai Banes, at least her branch of it.
"And to my only acknowledged granddaughter and principal heir," the lawyer stated, catching her attention and filling her heart with dread. "I leave the bulk of my estate. Ravenswood and all associated claims and grounds go to her. All items contained on and within the real property known as Ravenswood Estate in the County of Mallard, city of Englewood, state of Mississippi, as legally bound by Constitution of the United States of America, withholding only those items hereby given out to the named individuals within this will, are forthwith and immediately bequeathed without exception to Mikaela Lorilai Banes, daughter of Alexander James Banes, my only acknowledged son, to do with as she sees fit."
The world began to swim in and out of focus, her breath laboring in her lungs. "No," she managed to whisper. "No, no, no…"
The ground rushed up to greet her.