Title: Hound's Valentine
Characters: Hound, Trailbreaker, Jazz, Mirage
Warnings: absolutely none.
A/N: the LJ comm houndxmirage had a February challenge, and I got a brilliant idea on Saturday night, 27 February, and not enough time to write it before the deadline. However, I wrote it anyway because I loved the idea and it just flowed out. So, enjoy a little Valentine's Day story just a bit late.
Hound walked into his quarters, olfactory sensors scenting the stale air. He shared quarters with Trailbreaker who was on a mission down in South America and had been gone for the past month, while Hound had just gotten back from a back country search for a missing hiker that had lasted two weeks. The air in their quarters hadn't been disturbed in all that time and Hound looked forward to airing them out.
The room was simple – two berths on opposite walls, a simple table next to each berth, and shelves along one wall. Hound and Trailbreaker, being two mechs of the same mind, had filled their shelves with reminders of Earth – a gorgeous piece of galena, a bit of driftwood, a piece of friable sandstone showing the depositional crossbedding, a dried cluster of flowers given to Hound by a human admirer. He glanced around, his optics resting briefly on favorite pieces, then passed over TB's dusty berth to his own.
A small pink satin heart edged with lace rested on his berth. Embroidered across it was 'I'm sweet on you' in red thread. Hound reset his optics. No, the pillow was not an optical misfire – it was really there, resting innocently on his berth. He stepped over to the berth and picked the pillow up. It was a human sized pillow, ridiculously tiny in Hound's hand. He brought it up to his sensors and sampled the aroma, finding nothing unusual. He looked around, but the floor was swept clean.
The door chimed, and Hound turned to answer it, still holding the pillow. Jazz stood on the other side and a broad grin crossed his face plates at the sight of Hound.
"So I see ya got a Valentine." Jazz said, stepping through the door as Hound stepped back to let him in.
"A what?" Hound asked.
Jazz indicated the pillow, "A Valentine. Spike was telling us about it. It's a holiday where you show that you like someone by giving them things in this shape. Spike called it heart-shaped, which is a silly name. The human heart doesn't look like this."
Hound looked at the pillow again, "Hm. Did everyone get one of these?"
Jazz gave him an odd look. "No, Hound, they didn't. In fact, not many mechs got Valentine's at all. But that's a great idea! Next year, we can do a Valentine's exchange! Thanks, Hound! Oh, and welcome back. Prowl's out with the military doing war games, so you get to give me your debrief. Tomorrow okay with you?"
"Sure, Jazz. Tomorrow's fine." Hound waved good-bye to Jazz, then eyed the pink pillow. He had no idea who would have given him such a thing, but he appreciated the gesture. He tucked it on a shelf next to a geode Spike had given him and prepared himself for recharge.
The next year, Hound had forgotten all about the Valentine holiday until Jazz set into motion the exchange he'd thought of. Hound laughed at the name he drew and joined in the general merriment. The common room of the Ark had been turned into a giant craft area, with huge pieces of red, white and pink paper, glue, various colors of glitter, paper lace, and huge crayons.
"Jazz! That's cheating!" Bluestreak's objection rang over the room, and Jazz laughed as he displayed his valentine. Bluestreak had been struggling with the small bits of paper and the tiny glue bottles. Jazz's Valentine, on the other hand, had clear lettering and looked perfect. He'd obviously practiced before announcing the Valentine making party.
"Not cheating, getting an edge on the competition," Jazz told them.
"An edge?" Sunstreaker asked quietly.
"Uh-oh, you're in for it now, Jazz," Sideswipe said, keeping his optics firmly on the table. "Sunny's not going to back down from a challenge like that."
Sunstreaker got up and cleared a table, claiming it for his own. He also claimed a piece of poster board from the pile Spike and Carly had brought, then carefully looked over the other supplies, picking out a set of finger paints and a couple of brushes. He then looked over the examples Carly had made to show them before nodding decisively. Returning to his table, he folded the poster board in half, making a card. He then opened the red paint and dipped the brush in, flourishing it over the paper in two strokes. He then opened the card and chose a pastel, his fingers tracing deftly over the paper with the pastel stick carefully held over the paper.
He then held up the finished product, a stylized heart adorning the front of the card with a 'precious' glyph as the ending stroke of the larger side. He opened the card and displayed it. The pastel was a golden color and stood out against the white. The glyphs lettered in high Cybertronian 'Happy Cycle Prime'. He presented the card to Optimus, who took it solemnly and thanked Sunstreaker. The golden warrior then looked at Jazz.
"I concede, man, I'm not getting into a creative battle with you." Jazz raised his hands in surrender.
Sideswipe broke the tension with his own card. All the artistic talent had gone to Sunstreaker, and Sideswipe had made a pink blob on the front of his card that barely had any resemblance to the heart shape. He had used a black crayon to letter his message, and his lettering was precise and clear; 'Happy Day, Prowl. Can I have the day off?'
Hound joined in the general laughter that rang through the room as Sideswipe displayed his card for everyone before presenting it to Prowl, who took it with a firm, "No, you may not."
The mechs returned to making their Valentines with renewed enthusiasm, egged on by Jazz and Sideswipe.
Hound finished his valentine. He'd drawn Perceptor's name and happily presented the heart to the scientist, who thanked him graciously. Hound was proud of the lopsided heart, which he'd spent an inordinate amount of time edging with paper lace. Perceptor seemed to like it, too, and proudly hung it in an open spot on the wall for everyone to admire. Other mechs liked the idea and soon more Valentines were hung on the walls.
Once the valentines had been made and given to the recipients, the crew cleaned the room and the real party began. The Valentines displayed around the walls added the festive touch, while Jazz and Blaster had gone all out to get the right music for this party. The weather had been gloomy and dark, the Decepticons had made a series of successful attacks, and the mood around the Ark had been unhappy. Jazz was aiming to change that with this party and remind everyone that life had its good side. Hound leaned against a wall and watched the mechs that liked to dance, enjoying their moves. He talked with Trailbreaker for a while, then Perceptor came over to thank him again for the Valentine.
Jazz walked by and offered Hound a Valentine. He took it, curious.
"Found it over on that table," Jazz pointed, "it's got your name on it."
"But I already got mine, it was from Warpath."
"I dunno, man, it says it's to you."
Hound opened the card. It was indeed to him, and said in English 'Hound, Happy Valentine's Day. Will you be mine?' He looked over the card for a signature or a hint, but found nothing. He showed it to Jazz and Perceptor, but both mechs also had no idea.
"It's a lot more personalized than the others. Do you have a secret admirer, Hound?" Jazz asked, a big grin on his face.
"Well, I hadn't thought I did, but…" Hound shrugged. "I guess so?"
Jazz slapped him on the back, "Don't sound too sure, there, Hound."
Hound tucked the Valentine into his subspace thoughtfully.
After the party, back in his quarters, Hound pulled the Valentine out and put it with the pillow he'd gotten last year. Trailbreaker looked at the two items and commented, "You do have someone that likes to give you gifts."
"Or maybe they're from two different mechs, TB." Hound said quietly.
Hound looked around a lot more after that, trying to see if there was anyone that watched him, but he was unsuccessful and after a few months, he put the mysterious Valentines from his processor and focused on the job at hand. He had almost managed to cache the entire thing in long-term storage when Valentine's Day rolled around again and brought the situation back to the main part of his processor.
On the morning of Valentine's Day, both Hound and Trailbreaker were in quarters and recharging quietly. Trailbreaker came out of recharge first – Hound had drained himself rescuing a careless human from the icy river. The human had to go to the hospital to deal with a case of hypothermia, while Hound had used all his energy reserves to keep himself warm. Ratchet had ushered him to the medbay upon his return to the Ark and not only fed him medical grade energon, but had supplemented with a spike in one of Hound's arms. Trailbreaker had been called to help Hound back to their quarters and was under orders to let Hound recharge as long as he would like and then make sure he had a cube of energon before he even left quarters.
Hound stirred slightly, and Trailbreaker decided to head down to the commissary and draw Hound's ration of energon. He palmed the door and almost stumbled trying to avoid the box that fell into their room. It had been leaning against the door and gravity had taken over its trajectory when the door slid aside.
Trailbreaker picked up the box. It was Cybertronian sized, but was red in color and had a tag attached to the overly large heart embellishing the top of the box. 'To Hound, from your secret admirer' was inscribed on the tag in lovely glyphs. Trailbreaker laid the box on his berth and went to retrieve the energon.
When he got back, Hound was cycling out of his recharge and was grateful for the cube. After he'd downed about half the cube, he noticed the box on Trailbreaker's berth.
"Oh, yeah, it's Valentine's Day again. What did you get?" He motioned toward the box, and Trailbreaker picked it up.
"Actually, it's for you." Trailbreaker said, picking up the box and handing it to Hound, who set his cube aside to take the box with both hands.
"For me?" Hound read the tag and froze. This was the first real indication that he did have someone giving him Valentine's presents specifically. He set the heart and tag aside and opened the box.
Inside were oil cakes, smelling rich and oily. Trailbreaker took a whiff and exclaimed, "I haven't seen those since the war started!"
"Want one?" Hound asked, picking up one of the cakes and taking a bite. He offered the box to Trailbreaker, who picked a cake out and carefully bit into it.
"Oh, it is." Trailbreaker moaned as the rich confection dissolved on his glossa, sliding easily down his intakes.
"It is what?" Hound asked, savoring his cake.
"It's an old recipe. There was a energon barker in our market that made these cakes for festival days. He'd been a servant in the Towers and had learned to make these when he was a youngling. They're very difficult to make and get just right; it takes a lot of practice. But, oh, they are worth it."
Hound agreed. He closed the box again and put it on his shelf. He put the heart with the other, older Valentines and fastened the tag to the wall above the head of his berth, then finished his cube of energon before leaving to join the festivities Jazz had planned for this year.
Now Hound was serious about figuring out who was leaving him these gifts. He and Trailbreaker kept their optics open for anyone that seemed to watch Hound too much, or tried to watch him secretly, but were unsuccessful. Jazz caught on, however, and came over during a lull in the party to question Hound.
"Now, Hound, you're our best scout. Are you telling me you can't figure out who's leaving you these gifts?" Jazz teased him.
"C'mon, Jazz, the mech is leaving no tracks for me to follow! There are no scent cues, no changes. Whoever is leaving the gifts is really good. I mean…wait, is it one of your bots?"
Jazz raised his hands, "I dunno. It's not me, man, but I can't speak for Bee or Raj. I kinda doubt it, though. "
"Pranking…" Hound thought out loud, "I suppose it could be Sideswipe. And what do you mean, you doubt it? It's got a lot of the trademarks of special ops – no traces, quick in-and-out, MO changes every year…yeah. Well, thanks, Jazz, it's been helpful to bounce ideas off you."
Hound excused himself, more determined than before to find out who was leaving him these gifts.
Unfortunately for Hound, he was needed on a long term mission and left two days after Valentine's Day to go to the Middle East and help fight a Decepticon force. He was gone for six weeks and missed any chance that year.
The following year, Hound remembered and was determined to catch the gift-giver. Trailbreaker helped him set a clever trap outside their door two days before the holiday, with a camera to capture an image and a press plate to trigger the camera. Hound went into his recharge excited about Valentine's Day in a way he couldn't have thought he could ever be.
The next morning, Hound and Trailbreaker came out of recharge ready to confront the gift-giver. The trap, however, had not been sprung. Bewildered, they disabled it and headed out for their morning rations.
Upon entering the commissary, they saw the reason. A box was sitting on one of the tables with a large tag labeled 'Hound' dangling from the lid.
Everyone crowded around as Hound warily approached the box. He lifted the lid and peered in. A smile crept across his face plates and threatened to get big enough to encompass his entire body. He lifted out the first part of the gift, a hydroponic setup for plants, complete with growing lights. There were plants in there, the liquid food, all the tubing necessary for the setup, and two tickets to the local city's garden tour to take place later in the spring.
Perceptor volunteered that there was a corner of his lab that the hydroponics would fit in, and everyone pitched in to move the materials to Perceptor's lab. By the time they finished getting everything set up, it was time for the annual party to start and most mechs trickled out. Hound, however, stayed behind, absorbed in his gift. Perceptor offered him the code to the lab doors so he could come in whenever he wished, and Hound accepted the code gratefully.
Hound slid a finger along some of the tubing, feeling the minute vibration from the circulating pump. This was a gift suited to him and to his tastes, and rather than going to a party, he spent the time thinking about his mysterious admirer.
Over the course of the next few months, Hound did more investigating and eliminated many bots from his list without coming any nearer to figuring out who was being so thoughtful. He and Trailbreaker spent a lot of time thinking over their parameters for who it could be.
"Well, unless it's you, TB, that still leaves the entire Special Ops team, Sideswipe, Prowl, Optimus, Red Alert and Ratchet." Hound ticked off the list. "They are either really sneaky or they have override codes to get into the rooms needed."
"I swear it isn't me, Hound." Trailbreaker told him.
Eventually, Hound left the subject alone and enjoyed his plants, which were growing healthy with a thick mat of roots. Perceptor became fascinated by the whole set-up and designed experiments for different plant solutions. He and Hound spent many enjoyable hours together, and Hound had to admit that his admirer had help the scout get to know more of his crewmates.
The fifth year, Hound again tried the press plate and was not surprised that it didn't work. He stepped out to get his energon and came back, then froze inside the doorway. There was something off. He set his energon down, out of the way, and straightened up.
"I know you're in here. I can feel the air move." Hound said quietly.
Mirage shimmered into existence in front of him. "I apologize, Hound. I'm delivering Valentine's presents for various 'bots." He held out a small card.
Hound accepted it and asked, "Who else are you delivering to?"
Mirage shrugged, "I have gifts for Cliffjumper and Prowl." He pulled a small box and a large envelope from his subspace. The envelope had 'Prowl' printed across it, while the box had a tag with 'CJ' on it. The elegant glyphs that adorned Hound's card were noticeably different than the lettering on the other two.
Hound looked at the card, then back up at Mirage. "Who gave you this?"
Mirage looked away, "I'd rather not say."
Hound sighed, using the air to clear his vents. "Just…tell me if they're playing with me."
Mirage shook his head, "They're not playing with you, Hound. They are quite serious."
Hound nodded, "Thanks, Mirage. I appreciate it. Um, thanks for delivering the gift."
"You're welcome, Hound. Happy Valentine's Day." Mirage took his leave, and Hound sat on his berth to open his card.
It was another elegantly scripted card and contained two tickets to a new botanic garden opening in a city, plus a pass from Optimus Prime giving Hound and another mech of his choice two weeks leave to attend the garden opening. Hound slumped down. His admirer was doing a great job of coming up with gifts that appealed to Hound, but how could Hound move forward if he didn't know who the mystery 'bot was?
He discussed the situation with Trailbreaker, but couldn't find a solution. He invited Perceptor to attend the opening of the new garden, and they had a wonderful time, but when they came back, Hound meandered to the commissary, drew a draught of energon, and moseyed to a corner where he sat slowly sipping his energon.
Jazz and his team entered the room, laughing mightily about a maneuver they'd just managed to do. They pulled their energon and with a tilt of his head, Jazz indicated Hound's table and they all came over, crowding around and welcoming Hound back. After they were all seated, Jazz across from Hound, with Mirage and Bumblebee on either side, Jazz plunged right in.
"What's up, Hound? I thought you were off to your garden show with Perceptor, but you don't look like a 'bot that had a good time."
Hound shrugged and didn't respond. The Special Ops team exchanged looks, then Jazz continued. "In fact, you look like someone shot a turbofox right in front of your optics."
Hound set his cube down and looked at Jazz, replying, "I'm upset, Jazz. Somebot is giving me these amazing gifts, and I can't reciprocate. It's frustrating, because I don't know who it is. I want to, I don't know, spend time with the mech! I want to find out if I like him as much as he likes me, and I. Can't. Do. It. Why? Because I don't know who it is." Hound slumped back in his seat and folded his arms across his winching mechanism.
"Maybe they're scared?" Bumblebee suggested.
"Of Hound?" Jazz asked, amazed.
"They could be really nervous about exposing themselves to Hound that way," Mirage replied. "Yes, Hound is kind, but others are not and once the identity of the mech is known, a fair bit of teasing would occur."
Hound looked up sharply, "Would occur? You speak as if you know. Oh, right, you do know, you're just not telling me."
Flustered, Mirage responded, "Hound, if the situation were reversed, would you want me to betray your confidence?"
Hound shook his head, "No, of course not. I'm sorry. I shouldn't take my frustration out on you."
Mirage nodded, accepting the apology. "Thank you. But yes, teasing would occur."
"But if Hound end up liking the mech back wouldn't that be worth the teasing?" Bumblebee asked.
Jazz answered that, "Dunno. Maybe. Worth thinking about, isn't it?" Once again, the Special Ops mechs exchanged looks.
The conversation strayed to other topics then, and Hound was left with the impression that the conversation had actually occurred on two levels and he was only privy to one.
Hound threw himself into his job – the humans had finally gotten used to the Autobots and called for their help and as a scout, Hound was often called upon to assist with search-and-rescue operations, especially in the mountainous regions around the Ark. He gave passing thought to his mysterious admirer, but no more than that. As winter rolled in, however, he and Trailbreaker came back to the subject.
"I think you should send your admirer a Valentine, Hound." Trailbreaker said, his fingers busy with maintenance.
"Yeah, but what? I don't even know who it is." Hound was busy with his own maintenance, greasing the cogs of his winch.
"You actually know a lot about him. He's sneaky, he's spent time in or around the Towers to get that oil cake recipe, he's thoughtful, he's observant, and he's enlisted Mirage's aid."
Hound paused and thought about that. "I could ask Mirage to deliver something back to him, couldn't I?"
"Yeah, you could." Trailbreaker agreed.
Hound threw himself into this latest idea with enthusiasm. He went to Sunstreaker for help with the project, and the resident artist helped him get the materials necessary. Trailbreaker also helped him, and Ironhide, when he found out about it, helped with the cooling.
Hound was creating a picture out of metal. The humans called it welding, but the idea was to layer sheets of metal over each other and attach them to the layer underneath. He designed a picture of the Towers with an Earth-like sunrise glimmering on one edge. Ironhide helped by super cooling the metal after it was heated. This made the metal brittle, but also added iridescent shimmers over the metal. Perceptor had metal glue that allowed the brittle pieces to be attached without re-heating them, and Sunstreaker guided the process, but Hound did the work. When it was finished, Sunstreaker came up with a clear coat that would protect the metal from Earth's humid atmosphere, then helped Hound frame the metal picture.
The day before Valentine's Day, Hound sent a comm to Mirage, asking him to come to his quarters. When the spy appeared, Hound invited him in.
"I wanted to ask a favor of you, Mirage." Hound started.
Mirage appeared nervous. "Yes, Hound?"
"Would you deliver a package for me?"
"I…yes, of course." Mirage agreed.
"Great!" Hound pulled the wrapped picture out. It was quite large and heavy, but not bulky. "I don't need it to be a surprise or snuck in somewhere. I just want you to deliver this to my secret admirer, please."
Mirage looked at the package, then nodded. "Of course, Hound. Would you help me get it back to my quarters?"
"Sure," Hound agreed, "It's easier with two mechs, anyway."
They carried the picture out of Hound's quarters and went to the next corridor. Mirage, as a Special Ops mech, had private quarters. Mirage keyed the code in the door panel and they carried it in, setting it against the wall opposite the single berth.
"Thank you for helping me, Hound." Mirage said.
"No, thank you for doing this. Are you going to be alright getting it to the mech?" Hound asked.
"I'll get help if I need it." Mirage told him.
"Okay. Thanks again, Mirage. I really appreciate it." Hound took his leave and walked down the corridor feeling happy. He passed Jazz and gave him a jaunty salute as he headed for his shift at communications.
Jazz watched him walk down the corridor before continuing to Mirage's quarters.
The next morning, Hound popped up from recharge and headed to the commissary, full of excitement. Today was Valentine's Day, and for the first time in six years, Hound had sent a gift to someone. He wanted to see what would happen today. He filled a cube with energon, then chose a seat back in a corner where he could watch everyone come in. He had a duty shift today, but it was later, and he wanted to watch the annual Valentine's exchanges. He spent an hour watching. Bumblebee came in, almost marching, right up to Cliffjumper and thrust a package under the red bot's nasal plates. The look of surprise on Cliffjumper's face brought a smile to Hound's face, and he watched as the two mini-bots found a quiet corner to talk to each other.
Jazz came dancing in a little later, laughing up at Trailbreaker as he did so, and they talked while they got their cubes. Jazz filled two cubes and left the room as Trailbreaker wandered over to Hound's table.
"What's up with Jazz?" Hound asked his friend.
"Evidently, the entire Special Ops crew has been helping each other deliver Valentines over the past few years, and this year, they've all made a pact with each other to tell their mechs the identity of their secret admirers."
Hound looked at his friend in amazement. "How do you find these things out?"
Trailbreaker grinned, "I asked. I saw Jazz in the corridor looking uncertain, which doesn't fit with his personality, and I asked him."
"Who's he crushing on?" Hound asked.
"Prowl." Trailbreaker replied, "Bumblebee is talking to Cliffjumper, and Jazz said Mirage is trying to work up his courage."
"Interesting," Hound said, "It's going to be a very interesting day."
Trailbreaker agreed and they continued to watch, idly speculating on the identity of Mirage's crush when the mech himself entered the room. He poured a cube and came over to their table, welcomed with grins. Hound pushed a chair out with his foot.
"C'mon and join us. We're having fun today watching the annual Valentine's craziness."
Mirage seated himself and set his cube down, then pulled a box out of subspace and offered it to Hound.
"Thanks, Mirage." Hound set his mostly empty cube aside and worked with both hands to get the tiny box opened.
A flower, preserved in lucite, fell into his hands. It looked as fresh as the day it had been picked and sealed into the plastic compound. The round shape magnified the bloom, a white daisy, so that Hound had no problems picking out the imperfections that marked the flower as real.
"Wow, it's beautiful. Would you pass on my thanks, Mirage?" Hound smiled at the paperweight and carefully tucked it away in his subspace pocket.
Trailbreaker looked from one mech to the other, then said, "You know, I need to ask Red Alert something. Excuse me. See you later, Hound. Mirage, good to see you." He left, Hound looking after him with a puzzled expression.
"He just talked to Red yesterday. I wonder why he needs to talk to him again?"
Mirage laughed softly, "I think it's an excuse."
Hound looked at him, "An excuse? I wonder what's wrong?" He started to get up and was stopped by Mirage's hand on his wrist.
Hound obediently sat down again.
Mirage looked down at his hand on Hound's arm and spoke to the tabletop. "Thank you, Hound, for the gorgeous picture. It's really beautiful."
The truth finally cascaded through Hound's processor. He had managed to catch his secret admirer, who was clever enough to bluff his way out and continue to deliver gifts. Mirage admired him, and he had been oblivious.
"Mirage…" Hound began.
Mirage shifted uncomfortably. "I know you weren't expecting me, and I'm sorry I've been a bother to you. I agree, it was unfair of me to make this into something so one-sided, and I wanted you to know who I was. I'll just be going now."
It was Hound's turn to clamp a hand on his wrist and stop him. "No, I think we need to talk about this. I'm not disappointed, at all, and, um, can we go somewhere and talk?"
Mirage stared at him for a long moment, and Hound almost dropped his gaze, but finally a smile crept across Mirage's face and he nodded.
"I'd like that."