It was hard not to fidget. It was only the third time I'd ridden in Ironhide, and it was still kind of hard to wrap my head around. Walking cannon with the mind of a colonel – not a problem. Empty car tailgating my Chenoworth – weird, but in a reassuring way when he's putting himself between me and Megatron. But as my chauffer? I couldn't help the occasional mental image of what would happen if a Decepticon showed up and 'Hide forgot I was in his cab.
But even worse was wondering what would happen when we finally got to our destination. It was a two-hour drive from Edwards AFB to the ranch, and the closer we got to home, the tighter the knots in my stomach got. Ironhide was no help. Sure, we'd fought together. His commanding officer sacrificed himself for me and the other humans in Mission City just three days ago. There was a camaraderie between us born of blood, but I honestly didn't know how to carry on a civilian conversation with him. How do you make small-talk with an alien?
We rode in silence for almost an hour and a half. We'd just turned off of Highway 58 to skirt Bakersfield when he finally spoke up in surround sound. "Your stress indicators are rising."
"Yes. Are you aware of a threat that I am not?"
"No. Not really."
He wasn't buying it. "Explain."
I snorted at that. "Ever been a dad?"
"Then, no offense, but you wouldn't get it."
After a few seconds of silence, he blurted out, "You are a creator."
"Huh?" My nerves were making me dumber by the minute.
"Your personnel file lists you as the father of a newborn female."
He didn't grace that with a response.
"Yeah." I conceded. "And as long as you're illegally hacking military databases, check out her birth date and the dates of my last deployment."
A few more seconds of silence as he did his research, and then he said, "You have never seen your daughter?"
"No, I've seen her. For a few minutes at a time. Over a webcam." When he didn't comment, I added, "She's beautiful. Just like her mom."
"How does this relate to your battle systems being active?"
"Battle…? Oh, you mean why am I nervous?"
It was hard to put into words, even in my own head.
Ironhide wasn't giving up, though. "Her birth weight five months ago was listed at 8 lbs 2 ounces. Even assuming an above-average growth rate, you outweigh her ten to one. Your training would far exceed hers, as well." That last part was said almost warily, like he was worried about my sanity.
"I'm not scared of her," I huffed in frustration. "It's just...what if there's nothing of me in her? She's gorgeous, just like her mom. I see Annabelle, and I see a little duplicate of my wife. I've never held her, never heard her laugh, never felt…" I felt so stupid explaining this to a being made of metal. "I don't know her, and she's one of the two most important people in my life."
Thankfully, Ironhide let it go until we turned up Caliente Creek Road.
"You are increasingly nervous," he observed. "This is unnecessary. You are half of her, Captain Lennox."
I sighed, nodding my head slightly. He was right, kinda. I mean, yes, there had to be some part of me in Annabelle. But what if it was the wrong part? What if she had all of my temper and none of Sarah's insight?
Worse – and far more pressing – what if she cried when she saw me? I was a complete stranger. The soldier. The big ugly guy.
Sarah was in the yard, idly weeding the rose hedge. She did that, when she was anxiously waiting for something. Annabelle was lying on a blanket under the shade of the almond tree. Seeing Ironhide, Sarah stood, stretching out the kinks in her back from weeding, and crossed the yard to pick up our daughter.
"You extinguished Blackout," Ironhide reminded me, probably sensing how sweaty my hand his door handle was.
"I did." And a small part of the reason I did it was for my daughter. To get home to her. So we could have a chance to know each other. Taking a deep breath, I threw open the door and grabbed my duffel, hopping out into my front yard.
The love in Sarah's eyes when she turned with our child in her arms was breathtaking. How could anything born from that love not be mine? I walked quickly to my wife, and she smiled up to me. "Will, meet Annabelle."
I gathered my daughter up in my arms, and she gave me a huge, toothless grin.
"Hey, pretty girl," I murmured, pressing my face to hers and breathing in the scent of baby shampoo and talcum powder.
She batted at my hat, and I lifted her above my head, grinning goofily up at her bright, innocent eyes. My girl. My child. Mine.