In honor of the upcoming American Independence Day. Happy July Fourth, ladies and gentlemen. :) And also a belated Happy Canada day to all the lovelies in Canada.

Ratchet stood, allowing his optics to sweep over the vast expanse of ocean that lay before him. It was July fourth, a date which the human side of N.E.S.T. had insisted on celebrating here on the beach, and had invited the Autobots present on Earth to celebrate as well. They were all gathered together in various recreational things up and down stretch of beach right off of Diego Garcia. Affable though he was, Ratchet, pensive, had wandered away from the group to stand on a small hill cresting the shoreline. Digging his feet slightly into the soft sand below, he turned contemplative optics up to the sky momentarily as he heard the tell-tale sound of another bot approaching.

"This planet is very beautiful," Optimus said quietly, voicing the medic's thoughts accurately as he came to stand beside him. The CMO only nodded silently in agreement, filling his intakes with salt-tinged air. It was something so starkly opposite of Cybertron, this planet. It was so soft, so pliable, so… organic. He had never seen anything like trees before, or animals, or humans. Nothing like water or soil or weather. Nothing like the peculiar organic creatures that called the planet home.

Ratchet's optics flicked away from the horizon and closer to the shore where aforementioned organic creatures were gathered. The medic took the time to observe each of the N.E.S.T. members participating in the gathering with keen interest.

Mikaela, Sam and several other human participants were chasing each other up and down the shallows just off the beach, splashing along and laughing vociferously as they lobbed brightly colored balloons filled with water at a pursuing Bumblebee. The scout came striding after them, keeping up easily as the humans fled in mock fear from his massive feet. An all too familiar high pitched cry pierced the air as the Camaro scooped up Sam into his hand in a quick movement and tossed him into the ocean just passed the shallows. Mikaela marched up to Bumblebee bravely, her hands on her hips in a gesture very similar to a certain medic's. She shook her finger at the scout, who pretended to look cowed for a moment before picking her up and tossing her in the same manner as his charge. Mikaela screamed, flailing her arms and legs madly, a string of colorful curses escaping her mouth right before she hit the water. Ratchet heard a low rumble of laughter from Optimus as the girl surfaced next to Sam, shouting obscenities at Bumblebee, who was nearly doubled over with mirth on shore.

"I am compelled to wonder," Optimus said lightly, "Just who she has learned such colorful language from."

Ratchet made a noncommittal sound, lip plates twitching with a knowing smile. He watched as the two sopping teenagers dragged themselves back onto the shore toward Bumblebee before the three of them made their way over to where Will Lennox and several other soldiers were piling wood to make a bonfire. Laughing at their soaking wet state, Will said something that compelled Mikaela to flip him off before flopping down next to Sam on their guardian's leg.

Ratchet quirked a grin as he watched Ironhide lumber over the hill that rose just behind the beach, burdened down with a massive armful of dried wood for the fire. The black mech dropped the lumber unceremoniously on top of the pile the humans had already amassed, startling them and making them scramble backward with various oaths as their pile of wood suddenly tripled in size.

"There," Ironhide declared loudly, placing both servos on his hip struts in a stance that Ratchet instantly recognized as cocky. "Now you will not have to stress your frail little organic muscles."

Ratchet could easily detect the teasing tones in Ironhide's words, but could not stifle a chuckle when Jorge Figueroa, one of Will's team, strolled casually up to the Weapons Specialist and delivered a swift, indignant kick to the side of his foot. The Topkick cocked a dark optic ridge in wry amusement as the young soldier yelped in agony and went hopping across the sand on one leg, back to his teammates.

The CMO turned to look behind where he was standing, attention drawn by a sudden burst of static from the top of the hill that crested the beach. Robert Epps had jumped backward from a huge set of surround sound speakers in alarm as Jazz plugged them in.

"Yo, man! Warn me when you're gonna do that," the soldier shouted. "Almost electrocuted my ass."

Jazz chuckled, flipping his visor up on his helm as another burst of static jolted the speakers to life and a fast beat began playing. His optics sparkled with mischief as he sent another arc of electrical current surging toward Epps, who danced on his feet to avoid the mild shock directed at him and promptly pegged the saboteur in the back of the helm with a well-aimed handful of sand.

Ratchet allowed himself a moment to revel in the companionship that had been forged between the Autobot force and their human counterparts. Both sides seemed to forget that they were two separate species from two separate galaxies, millions and millions of miles apart. As if to lend further credence to this theory, the CMO turned just in time to watch as Jolt and Sideswipe came careening down beach in their alt modes, kicking up sand in an arc as they raced each other to the site of the fire. Several humans had their upper bodies hanging out both Autobot's windows as they shouted friendly taunts back and forth. The race ended in a swirl of flying sand as both mechs drifted to a stop in a half circle, Sideswipe winning by a hair's breadth. The frontliner's human passengers hopped out immediately, dancing around and crowing in victory as Jolt surged out of his alt form with an apologetic shrug directed toward his own human cargo.

Looking in the opposite direction, Ratchet tilted an optic ridge in surprise as he saw that several N.E.S.T. soldiers and the remaining Autobots had put together a game of… volleyball. It was Arcee's three units, along with the twins Mudflap and Skids against a team of twenty or so human soldiers. Despite their greater numbers, the humans were losing miserably against the sheer speed and power of the opposition. The fact that both Skids and Mudflap were taller than the net by several feet also did nothing to help the human's cause. Despite how heavily they were losing, every time the soldiers managed a point, there was a great raucous from their side of the net as they cheered and high-fived one another in ardent celebration.

Ratchet shook his helm good-naturedly. "Such emotional creatures, humans."

"It is what makes them so striking," Optimus observed, his optics taking in the scene as well. Ratchet could feel the calm emanating from their leader's demeanor in his gentle tone and he basked in the wash of peace it caused to settle over his own spark.

Their ways of life were not so different, if one were to think on it enough. Ratchet remembered, with incredible clarity, their celebrations of their own planet before the war overtook it. Every vorn, massive balls and banquets were held in Iacon in honor of Cybertronian prosperity and accomplishment, not unlike the human's "New Year" celebration, or the celebration he was currently baring witness too; the American Independence Day.

Ratchet allowed memories of celebrations long since passed to drift through his processor unchecked. Those days had been happy, filled with a peace and contentment that permeated every inch of the planet. The feeling of unity had seemed indestructible… the happiness and pride in the air during those celebrations was tangible and contagious. There was not a single mech or femme on the whole of Cybertron who did not observe the importance of the dates and none missed the opportunity to celebrate their planet and rejoice in the success of their race with as much fervor as it deserved.

The CMO's spark suddenly ached with a fierce longing for his home planet and he rubbed absently at his chassis as memories of war and the near-death of his race rained on his proverbial parade. Optimus, ever vigilant, gripped Ratchet's shoulder lightly in such a way that told the medic that he, too, missed their home.

"The past," Optimus observed softly, "Is clouded with violence and betrayal. It is easy to let such tragedy overshadow the joy that was with the joy that could have been, had the war never came into existence."

Ratchet only "hmm"-ed in concurrence, his optics sweeping back to the gently rolling ocean as the sun began to dip below the horizon.

"But today is a new day, and a celebration of not only the past, but the future to come," Optimus continued. "Tonight, let us forget what could have been, and celebrate what is ours; a new home and new kin to share it with."

"Yes," Ratchet said quietly, turning to face the taller mech and placing a servo lightly on his shoulder in return. His optics met those of his commanding officer. "I'm proud of you, youngling. Proud, not only of what you have overcome, but of what you have become as well. The Primes could not have chosen a better mech to lead our people through this war."

Ratchet was graced with a rare glimpse of the young mech hiding under the mask of their leader when Optimus ducked his head in an unsuccessful attempt to hide the hint of pleased embarrassment that lit up his optics at Ratchet's praise.

"Thank you, old friend," Optimus said after a moment when his regal composure had returned. "Hearing those words from you soothes my spark."

"Now, don't you go repeating that," Ratchet snipped amiably. "I have a reputation to uphold."

Optimus barked a laugh. "Ratchet, I highly doubt that any allusion to your softer side could not be quickly overshadowed, should you so choose, by a few of your renowned threats and your transcendent aim with a wrench."

"You know me well," the CMO chuckled, turning his attention to a small figure jogging toward them.

"Hello Sam," Optimus said warmly as the boy approached.

"Hey Optimus, hey Ratchet," Sam greeted with a small wave, slightly breathless. "We're lighting the fire now, if you guys wanna come over."

Optimus nodded, crouching slightly and offering a servo to the small human, who clambered trustingly into his palm without so much as a second thought. The towering mech straightened, curling his fingers slightly around his fragile cargo and he and Ratchet set off toward the gathering group of Autobots and humans.

Within minutes, with the help of Ironhide's expertise, the humans and mechs alike were seated around a gigantic, roaring bonfire. Ratchet made a low sound in his vocalizer to gain attention as Optimus stood, clearly waiting to speak. The clamor of conversation died immediately and all eyes and optics turned toward the flame-adorned mech standing before them.

"I would like to thank you all, once again," Optimus said, "For allowing us safe harbor on your planet. It is my pleasure to recount that since we have arrived here, we have formed many close, long lasting bonds with certain people of N.E.S.T. and of Earth and we have also added more Autobots to our ranks," he nodded at Arcee, Sideswipe, Jolt, Skids and Mudflap. "We are most grateful for the allowances you have given us and for your acceptance, your tutoring in the ways of your culture and for your patience with us. Your friendship, companionship and assistance mean more than we can ever convey to you."

There was a small rush of approval directed at this, followed by several thumbs-up gestures as the Autobot CO continued;

"There are times when I have convinced myself that I am much familiarized with human culture, rituals and behavior. It seems unavoidable that most times I find myself humbled and surprised when something else comes along to prove me wrong in this notion. You are an ever changing species, constantly adapting to what life has given you to the best of your abilities. There are a few traits of the human race that have remained constant, however; you are a proud people, and rightfully so. You are immensely diverse in culture, language and tradition and yet still you have the ability to unite under a country's flag as though you were brothers and sisters by birth. You fight and die, much like we do, for the freedom of your fellow man. Today, we are proud to celebrate that fight for freedom alongside you, not as a different race, but as fellow soldiers united under one cause."

He finished with a slight inclination of his helm to erupting cheers and applause from all present. He extended a massive servo to where Bumblebee sat with Mikaela and Sam, nodding at the scout and informing the gathered crowd; "I believe Bumblebee has something he wishes to add."

As Optimus moved gracefully aside, Bumblebee stood, stepping carefully over the humans to stand beside his commander and the rest of his teammates. There was a moment of silence before a sudden burst of static was emitted from his vocalizer, followed by a deep and familiar voice; "I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, 'My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring,'" there was a crackle of static as Martin Luther King's voice faded, and a voice that was definitely Bumblebee's own croaked, "Happy Independence day!"

Thunderous applause and whistles rose from the soldiers as Bumblebee finished and the scout flashed a peace sign coyly as the humans rose from their seats in a standing ovation. Ironhide clapped him on the shoulder roughly, making the smaller bot stumble forward to catch himself before face-planting in the soft sand.

"Ya did good, scraplet," the Weapons Specialist said loudly. Ratchet and Optimus nodded their assent as the younger Autobot arrivals joined in the applause.

Before the cheers had a chance to die down, a song that Ratchet quickly recognized as America's national anthem, "The Star Spangled Banner," began blaring from the speakers that Epps and Jazz had set up. A group of soldiers rushed forward to the edge of the water where Ironhide had strategically placed several firework launchers for the mortar shells the humans had planned to light off. As the flares were activated, all of the humans stepped forward to stand in a line in front of the roaring fire. Hats were removed and hands were pressed to hearts all down the line as a voluminous chorus of voices began to pour lyrics from the speakers.

Ratchet found himself unexpectedly caught up in the moment as his optics swept over the line of small, organic creatures assembled around him; some had their eyes lifted toward the sky, their faces lit with emotion and pride, some had their heads bowed respectfully, but all of them were singing along with the choir. Out of the corner of his optics he saw Optimus lift his servo to his chassis in respect. Nearly at the same moment, the entire Autobot faction moved to mirror their leader's move and Ratchet reverently held a massive servo to his spark in the same manner, pressing lightly on his chassis as the music blared and the fireworks were shot into the air over the ocean. The powder in the rockets ignited against the dark sky, reflecting off the rolling water below in a dazzling display of light and color perfectly in tune with the crescendo of the music. Ratchet's spark suddenly thrummed with pride and realization. This was not Cybertron, but Earth. A whole new planet teaming with a variety of life, uncorrupted by war and devastation. A whole new diverse race; young, thriving, proud and enthusiastic, cultured and absolutely buzzing with confidence and aspiration. He shuttered his optics, a gust of air escaping his intakes as the anthem built to its' climax and the humans burst into applause. He would forge many friendships here.

These humans were family. This planet was home.