Chapter 56

Critter winced, pushing a dusty, bloody hand through his wild red hair. His green eyes were half closed with exhaustion. He was tired physically and emotionally, between everything that had happened and was still happening. He was worried sick, about Sundance, about Demona and Jolt if they ran into the seekers, about Ash and the little girl she'd hidden somewhere.

The gravel shifted around him. Critter caught a flash of yellow armor, and Ratchet's voice echoed over him, "You're damaged, Alex."

"Find Ash," He said simply.

The medic hovered, ready to argue, but then someone came thrashing through the destruction. He turned his head to see Ironhide, crunching the debris beneath his feet like the brick and steel was nothing but dried leaves on the earth. He had his hand cupped around something, holding it with a gentleness uncharacteristic of the weapon specialist.

Critter's heart pounded when a step jostled whatever he was holding, and a slim, long human arm slipped off to dangle between his fingers. Above him, Ratchet vented sharply, "Primus."

Critter dug his fingers into the gravel, ignoring the pain it caused, and hauled his body closer a foot or so before Ironhide knelt and lowered the limp form of a teenage girl to the ground. His breath froze in his chest when his eyes scanned over matted, bloody blonde hair and a bruised skinny frame. He whispered, "Ash?" He waited, reaching a hand out hesitantly. When she didn't even stir, he swallowed. "Ashlynn?"

A red laser-like light scanned over the small girl in Ironhide's huge armored hand, and Ratchet said, "Her heart still beats. She's alive, but her frame is bruised."

"You mean...her bones?" Critter slipped his hands beneath her arms like she was just a child, and lifted her slightly to drag her off of Ironhide's palm. She was heavy, and he was shaking with the effort of lifting her with his already weak arms, but he managed not to drop her too heavily on the ground beside him.

Ratchet seemed to think over his words before saying, "Yes. She must have been thrown...it's wonder how she didn't shatter on impact." He raised his optics to Ironhide, nodding. The huge mech turned and lumbered off to keep searching. Critter reached down to her, taking hold of her shoulder with the intentions to shake her until she shouted or hit him for waking her up.

She was alive. Ratchet had said so himself, she was just bruised, nothing fatally serious. She would live, and in a day or so, she would back to her old annoying, hard-headed, cussing self. She would survive. But after everything that had happened, all the way back to her and Sundance being taken prisoner by those damn Hunters, he couldn't bring himself to relax.

They'd nearly lost them both, and it still scared the hell out of him. They were his nieces. Not by blood, but the bond was there. He had seen both of them grow up, loved them, supported them. They were his family. And, from the way things were looking, it seemed as though he had already lost one of them.

Critter squeezed his eyes shut, thinking of Sundance. He still had some faith in her, as small and hopeless as it felt now. She was Demona's daughter, and Demona had succumbed to darkness then fought her way back to them. Sundance was capable of doing the same. But there was smoke still curling up towards the blue sky, staining it an ugly gray. There was shattered booths and crushed stands, shoes and pieces of clothing scattered across the ground where people had flailed to free themselves from crushing jaws. He had seen her trap and scoop up mouthfuls of humans to swallow them whole. The images burned in his mind.

Where does it end?

Instead of shaking her like a doll, he clenched his fingers in the sleeve of her shirt. Ratchet stood over them, watching as a few of the several searching autobots brought back more wounded. Two more women. A man, one Critter recognized as the one that had almost turned back to help him and the little girl when he'd fallen. Ratchet scanned each one of them, counting through their injuries and dealing with the more severe ones himself.

It wasn't long before sirens began to sound, a string of emergency vehicles and cop cars swerved into sight and rode through the destruction. The people stared at the autobots but didn't waste time. They joined in the search, cops calling in reports over their radios and paramedics rushing to the wounded.

Ash was pulled away from Critter, lifted into the arms of one of them as he scurried back to one of the ambulances. Hands appeared around his shoulders and someone braced an arm against his back. He let them pick him up, hating himself for losing his legs again. They set him up on the back end of one of the vehicles, and went about asking him questions while taking care of his wounds and wrapping both legs in a temporary splint.

He answered them numbly, mind elsewhere. He didn't snap out of his trance until a shout rang up and people scattered. He jumped, tensing up in fear of it being another attack-but they were running towards something, not away. He blinked, green eyes falling on the source of all the commotion as both, man and mech scrambled.

It was a little girl, clothes dirty and skin coated in dust. She was running, dodging every attempt they were making to catch her. Critter leaned closer, eyes widening slightly when he realized that she was running straight towards him. Her hair was dark and straight, her blue eyes wide. "Oh God..." He whispered, raising an arm to her. She survived.

Before he could call out to her, she was clambering up the bumper his legs were draped over. She slammed into his side, burying her face in her chest and wrapping all four limbs around him so tight it was hard for him to breathe.

Relief flooded through him. He closed his arm around her, pressing his hand to her back. A few paramedics gathered around, unsure of what to do at first. When one tried to coax her away she held Critter tighter and shook her head. Critter looked over her quietly, not seeing anything worse than a few scrapes on her arms. He said quietly, "Hey there."

She loosened a tiny bit, turning her head to peek up at him with her face still pressed to his shirt. He said, "The doctors want to make sure you're okay."

"I'm okay." She said hurriedly, tiny voice hoarse.

He tried to remove her himself but she shook her head again and clung. She whimpered, "Please don't let me go!"

Critter stilled, unable to respond. The fear in her words struck him, and for a moment he couldn't do anything but stare at the back of her head as she went back to clutching him. The paramedics tried to speak with her, using kind voices, but she wouldn't budge. When none of their coaxing worked, one of them just reached out and grabbed her, yanking her away.

She screamed, reaching for Critter as she was transferred to a different set of arms. She fought them, kicking and hurling her little fists at their faces and arms. Critter leaned towards her, taking hold of one of her hands and squeezing it gently. He promised, "I won't let you go."

She fell quiet, staring at him. The paramedics sent him a grateful look before cleaning up her wounds and bandaging them. She was then placed back in his hold, where she stayed. Critter wrapped both arms around her, watching everyone move about but not really seeing. He asked, "What's your name?"

"Brooklyn," She whispered, like it was a secret. He smiled when she added in the same tone, "what's your name?"

"Alex." She shifted against him, curling slightly with her little legs bent.

She said, "Hi, Alex."

A few moments later they started packing their ambulance up. Critter, with Brooklyn still curled up in his arms, was lifted and carried further inside. To avoid another episode of screaming and kicking, they set him up on one of the benches inside, and one of the paramedics sat down beside him to make sure nothing happened.

Critter didn't know where they were when the girl fell to sleep, but her breathing slowed down and she loosened against him, completely leaning into his chest and stomach. Critter tilted his head back, closing his eyes.

"She your's?"

Critter blinked, looking at the guy who was watching with a raised eyebrow. "What?"

"Is she your's?" He repeated, motioning with his hand, "You don't look related, but I've never seen a kid freak over a complete stranger before. Is she your kid?"

"...No." Alex said, blinking.

"Well, do you know her parents?"

Critter's heart clenched. He said, voice softer, "No. I just found her in the middle of the fair, after we were attacked. I think her parents were...killed."

The mans face saddened, "I'm sorry, man. It must have been hell on earth. But it's over now, right?"

Critter blinked slowly, "It's never over that quick."

The guy stared at him like he was crazy, leaning away from him slightly. Critter looked away from him, whispering, "It goes on and on." He rested his head against the side of the vehicle, listening to the sound of their breathing and the rattle of the equipment as the vehicle ambled on. He felt empty and worn, threadbare. The only thing keeping him together was the knowledge that Ash was safe, and so was Brooklyn. He didn't dare think about anything else, the attack or how many people had been snatched up around him an hour or so before. He thought, for a moment, that he would really just like to fade away, so he could just erase it all.

As if she knew what he was thinking, Brooklyn fisted her hands in his shirt then pressed into him, like she was desperate to keep him grounded and in her arms.


I LOVED writing this one. I think a big part of it was just getting away from the 'cons for a few minutes to focus on the humans. And I enjoyed writing the interaction between Critter and Brooklyn.

Anyway, tell me what you think. Much love.

Critter, his family and friends, Brooklyn, the trine, and the story belongs to me. Transformers does not.