Author's Notes: Oh boy, my second attempt to cram Christmas into one of my fandoms, haha. Written, of course, as a Christmas gift for snarechan. This takes place somewhere between "Crisscross" and the end of season 1. I know the ending is pretty unrealistic, but that's why it's a Christmas miracle. ;P Please take it with an Autobot-sized grain of salt.
The Greatest Gift of All
It was the first of December.
This particular fact didn't mean much of anything if you were an autonomous robot from the planet Cybertron, but it apparently meant a whole lot if you were a human, and it was for that reason that Bulkhead and Ratchet were on this fool's errand into the mountains of western Nevada.
"Remind me again why my presence is necessary on this excursion?" Ratchet grumbled as he trudged through the snow. It wasn't nearly as cold here as the Arctic had been, but that didn't mean it was any more pleasant.
"Duh," Miko called back from her position atop Bulkhead's shoulder. "You've got to cut the tree down! Bulk can do the heavy lifting, but you're supposed to cut it down, not punch it down. Right?" This last she directed at Raf, who Ratchet was carrying on his own shoulder.
"Yeah, I'm pretty sure punching the Christmas tree isn't very traditional."
Miko snickered before turning to face forward again, keeping a look out on either side.
"I know you didn't really want to come, Ratchet, but Bee doesn't have a blade to use, and Arcee's busy today. Jack and his mom wanted to go Christmas shopping while it's still early," Raf explained.
Ratchet grumbled to himself, but otherwise didn't comment.
"I'm still not sure I get this whole thing, myself," Bulkhead admitted.
"What's there to get?" Miko asked. "You need a tree so you have somewhere to put the presents!"
Raf shook his head slightly.
"That's not really the point, either," he began, but was cut off as Miko caught sight of something up ahead.
"THAT'S IT!" she crowed, pointing to the massive fir tree in front of them. "Now that is an Autobot Christmas tree."
Ratchet and Bulkhead exchanged a glance. As far as the pair of them was concerned, this tree looked the same as every other tree they'd passed on their trek through the mountains. Bulkhead shrugged, reaching up to set Miko on the ground. Ratchet followed suit with Raf, and the four of them stood for a moment, gazing at the tree in question.
Raf adjusted his glasses, frowning.
"I don't know if this is such a good idea," he said.
"Oh come on," Miko protested. "You said you wanted to get them a tree! That's why we're here!"
"Yeah, but… now that I think about it, I'm not sure we can just cut down whatever tree we want out of the woods."
Miko rolled her eyes.
"Raf, those trees at the farm were WAY too small to put up back at base. Those were human-sized trees. We need a bot-sized tree." She paused, her expression softening. "Please, Raf? I've always wanted to try out Christmas the way the Americans do it. And for that, we're gonna need a tree!"
"I know…" Raf sighed, clearly giving in. "I just hope Agent Fowler doesn't find out…"
Miko rubbed her hands together gleefully.
"All right, then! Let's do this thing!"
When neither of the bots stepped forward her smile morphed into a pout.
"C'mon, Ratchet – you're up!"
"Where exactly am I supposed to make the incision?" he queried.
"I dunno; probably around here's good," she said, waving her arm toward the base of the trunk.
"Try to make it as flat on the bottom as you can," Raf added. "It'll stand up better that way."
The two humans scurried out of the way as Ratchet reluctantly crouched down in front of the tree, inspecting it for a few moments before converting his arm into a blade for the task at hand.
"Hey Bulkhead, you should probably get in position to catch it when it falls over," Raf said.
Bulkhead nodded, moving around the back of the tree in preparation.
"Ready when you are, doc."
It took only a few moments for Ratchet to saw through the trunk, and as it tipped into Bulkhead's outstretched arms, both children hollered, "TIMBER!" much to the bots' confusion. They chalked it up as yet another odd human behavioral pattern, though, and decided it was better not to ask.
Ratchet straightened while Bulkhead adjusted his newly acquired load across his back, and offered his hand to the children, who hopped up into his palm. Then he opened a comm. link with Bumblebee back at the base.
"We're all finished here, Bumblebee. Bridge us on home."
The four waited in silence for the groundbridge to appear, and it was only after they had stepped through into the familiar confines of the Autobot base that Ratchet realized what he'd said.
Home. He'd called it home.
The Autobots had thought that bringing the tree back to base was the entirety of the project, but as it turned out, it was only the first step in a much more elaborate process. Their human companions arrived the following day with boxes filled to overflowing will all manner of doodads and thingamabobs, and they got right to work preparing them to go up on the giant pine that now occupied one whole corner of the control room.
Ratchet stood motionless at the computer console, fighting an eye twitch as the three humans and their guardians chattered about this increasingly complicated-sounding holiday known as "Christmas."
"Where did you even get all this stuff?" Arcee was asking.
"We've gotten so many ornaments over the years that we can never fit them all on our own tree anymore," Jack said. "This box is full of the spares, and this one…" He indicated a second box with his foot. "I stopped at the junkyard this morning and grabbed all the old hubcaps I could find. I figured a tree this big could stand to have some bigger decorations."
"Good thinking," Arcee agreed.
"We have the same problem," Raf said, indicating the boxes he and Bumblebee had brought with them. "Hopefully my brothers and sisters won't miss them too much."
"What about all these lights?" Bulkhead asked, holding up the tangle of wires that he and Miko were currently trying, with little success, to untangle.
"My host family said I could borrow them," Miko said with a shrug. "They used to put them up on the house, but this year they got those fancy-shmancy new LED things so they don't need these anymore."
"What are we going to put at the top?" Raf asked.
Bumblebee chirped at him in question.
"Usually, you put something like a star or an angel on the very top of the Christmas tree," he explained. "We have a lot of spare ornaments for the branches, but we don't have a second topper. What about you, Jack?"
Jack flipped through the boxes briefly, then shook his head.
"Nope, nothing really, unless you want to use something from the junkyard."
The console beeped suddenly, startling Ratchet and grabbing the others' attention.
"It appears that Optimus is back," Ratchet said with no small measure of relief.
Their leader had been gone for several days on a mission with Agent Fowler, trying to track down the organization that called themselves MECH. Although they'd neither heard nor seen any sign of activity from Silas and his cronies since the incident with Mrs. Darby, that in and of itself was cause for concern. Optimus was much more worried about what MECH might be doing in secret than what they did out in the open.
Optimus drove in through the access tunnel, returning to his bipedal form almost as soon as he was inside.
"Welcome back, Optimus," Ratchet said with a nod, receiving one in return.
They all watched their leader as his eyes lit on the coordinated mess going on in the corner, a look of mixed concern and confusion on his face.
"Is this another… school project?" he queried, moving toward them to take a closer look.
"Actually, we're just trying to decorate the base a little," Raf said. "For Christmas."
"Christmas," Optimus repeated, then shook his head. "I'm afraid I do not know what you are referring to."
"It's an Earth holiday," Jack said. "We celebrate it every year on December twenty-fifth. Well, not all humans do, but the three of us do, and so do a lot of other people. Anyway, everyone kind of does it their own way, but there are a few basic staples, like this." He waved at the tree. "This is a Christmas tree. Or it will be, once we've decorated it."
"Didn't you guys have holidays back on Cybertron?" Miko asked.
At once, all of the bots glanced around uncomfortably.
"What? What'd I say?"
"There were holidays, once," Optimus affirmed quietly. "Very long ago, before the war."
"And even then," Ratchet added, "the festivities were often limited to members of the elite castes."
Optimus gave a nod.
"I'm afraid none of us present has ever experienced a holiday."
The three humans looked around at their alien friends with wide eyes and slackened jaws. Then as one, their faces hardened into looks of determination. They glanced at each other, coming to a silent consensus.
Finally, Jack broke the silence.
"Well, you're going to now."
While Optimus called a meeting with the rest of the Autobots to go over what he and Agent Fowler had learned during their reconnaissance, the humans got to work on the tree. Jack and Miko worked at untangling the lights while Raf arranged an old sheet around the base of the tree, which they had set up in an old kiddy pool of Raf's so they could keep it watered, propping it into a standing position with some old tires Jack had found at the aforementioned scrap yard. It wasn't the most glamorous work-around, but it did the trick.
"Ha! I think I found the end of the string!" Miko said, holding up one end of the tangled mess with a triumphant grin. "Gentlemen, we have ourselves a wall plug."
"Now if we could just get enough unraveled to wrap it around the tree, we'd be in business," Jack said, still bent to the task.
"How'd they even manage to get it tangled up this badly?" Miko asked in exasperation.
"It's tradition," Raf laughed. "Our lights always look like this when we get them out of the attic, too."
"Same here," Jack said. "But we also don't usually have quite this many…"
"Hey, it's a big tree. We're gonna need a lot of lights!"
"You guys are still working on that?" Arcee asked, re-entering the room with the others in tow.
"We'll get it eventually," Jack said.
Bumblebee made a sound of encouragement.
Ratchet crossed the room in a handful of strides and plucked the mass of cords from Jack's and Miko's hands.
"Hey! What's the big idea?"
"You're doing this all wrong. If you start with this section here…"
Ratchet trailed off, wandering away with the wad of lights and muttering to himself. Miko looked up at the sky, mouthing, "Why me?"
To everyone's surprise, Ratchet emerged from the base's back rooms less than twenty minutes later with the lights rolled up like they had just come from the store. Miko let out a whoop of joy as he set them down in front of her, and soon the three children were balanced on their guardians' hands, passing the string of lights between them as they coiled it in a spiral up and around the tree, chattering animatedly about other traditions that went along with the holiday.
"And you have to have cookies. Lots of cookies," Raf was saying. He carefully arranged the lights in his hands around the branches in front of him, then tossed the coil toward Miko and Bulkhead. "And I don't mean the computer file kind."
"That's one thing we don't agree on," Miko said around her tongue, which was poking out the side of her mouth as she concentrated on her side of the tree. "As much as I think the whole couples, kissy-face thing about Christmas in Japan is totally lame, the one thing we've got right about this holiday is Christmas cake."
And she tossed the lights to Jack.
"Christmas cake?" he asked. "You mean like fruitcake?"
"No, Christmas cake. It's shortcake with strawberries and cream frosting and it's super delicious and I'm going to make one and you're totally going to eat it."
"We have a kind of cake here that people sometimes get on Christmas, but we call it fruitcake," Jack said with a shrug, tossing the lights to Raf again.
"Does anyone actually eat fruitcake?" Raf asked, grimacing.
"Not that I know of."
"What's the point, then?" Arcee asked.
"There is no point. It's just… tradition," Jack said.
Miko and Raf nodded in agreement, and the Autobots all looked at each other and shrugged.
Finally, they reached the top.
"Time to light this baby up!" Miko said as everyone gathered around.
"Who wants to do the honors?" Jack asked.
Everyone shuffled and shifted, but no one volunteered.
"…Guess I'll do it, then," Jack said. He moved over to the wall outlet and lifted the lights' cord. "Here goes nothing."
He plugged the cord into the socket.
"Oooh…" Miko and Raf said in unison.
The Autobots stared at it for a long moment.
"Do you like it?" Raf asked.
Bumblebee beeped his approval.
"Gotta admit, it does look pretty nice," Arcee agreed.
"Not bad," Bulkhead conceded.
"It'll look even better once the ornaments are on it," Miko promised him.
"Couldn't have done it without you, Ratchet," Raf added.
Ratchet didn't say a word, but it was clear he was quite proud of himself.
"We still need something to go on top, though," Jack mused aloud. "Maybe Mom would know…"
"I… may have something."
Everyone turned to Optimus in surprise.
With an air of solemnity, Optimus withdrew something from a compartment in his arm and approached the tree. The humans all craned their necks to see. When he stepped away, everyone was silent.
The Autobot leader had fashioned a large replica of their faction's insignia out of an Energon crystal, and it was this that he had just placed atop the tree, adding its faint blue glow to the rest of the tree's lights.
The humans spoke as one.
Well, it HAD been perfect, at least for a little while.
The three humans returned every day that week and did a little more decorating. When they'd finished the tree, they moved on to the railings and catwalks, and even stuck a few static-cling stickers to the computer console. The week following that, they spent teaching their Autobot friends all their favorite Christmas carols and reading all of their favorite Christmas stories.
The week leading up to Christmas, though, everything started to go wrong. They arrived at the base Monday afternoon to find the base dark and Ratchet's mood even darker.
"Blasted human tech!" he cursed. "It was perfectly fine yesterday!"
"What's going on?" Jack asked.
Arcee transformed, crossed her arms, and rolled her eyes.
"We plugged the tree in this morning and now none of the lights will come on. Tree or otherwise."
"Typical," Jack said, shaking his head. "We must've blown a fuse."
"I'll say!" came a voice from behind them.
Everyone spun around to see Agent Fowler standing in the doorway, looking none-too-pleased.
"What the blazes is going on here?"
"You're going to have to be more specific," Bulkhead said.
Fowler dug around in his jacket pocket for a moment, then brandished a piece of paper at them.
"You see this? This is the electric bill we pay for this place. And let me tell you, keeping that big old computer of yours running is no cheap task to begin with. But this…" He jabbed his finger at the bottom right corner. "This is ridiculous! What have you been running that's taking up all this extra power?"
Bumblebee made a few noises and motioned toward the humans.
"The heat, for one thing," Raf translated. "And the Christmas lights."
"Christmas lights?" Fowler stepped further into the dark interior of the control room and peered around. "…What is all this doing here?"
"It's our Christmas tree," Arcee said.
"I can see that. But why do you have a Christmas tree?"
"Tradition," the Autobots deadpanned as the humans looked sheepishly down at the floor.
"You have got to be kidding me," Fowler muttered. "What do you think this is, Rockefeller Center? You can't put a tree this big up just anywhere. You've sucked up all the electricity in the place!"
"Told you," Raf mumbled at Miko.
"Rock-a-what?" Bulkhead asked, bewildered.
Fowler pinched the bridge of his nose in dismay.
"Agent Fowler, we did not mean to cause trouble for you," Optimus said diplomatically.
"I know, I know," Fowler said. "I'm not gonna make you take it down; that would be too Scrooge-ish. But you can't leave the lights running on it all day long. Once we get things back up and running, you'll have to limit it to just a few hours a day so you don't blow it up again, got it?"
"Understood," Optimus said.
"Bah, humbug," Ratchet muttered.
On Christmas Eve, all of the Autobots' human friends came over for a Christmas party, since Jack and Raf both had to travel to visit relatives on Christmas day. Everyone was dressed in red and green and white (or in Miko's case, all three). As promised, she had brought a homemade Christmas cake. It was a little lopsided, but they all agreed that it was pretty tasty all the same. Agent Fowler had brought a plate of his Grandma Fowler's cookies as well.
When the humans had had their fill of sugary treats, they gathered together with their Autobot friends and announced that they were going to exchange the gifts they had meticulously arranged around the base of the Christmas tree throughout the course of the month.
Raf, Miko, and Jack had agreed amongst themselves to each pick one of each other's names and buy one gift apiece, since they were kids and had to buy all their gifts with their allowance money (or in Jack's case, his savings from his part-time job).
"Hope you like it!" Miko said, thrusting a small, wrapped box into Raf's hands. Raf carefully unwrapped it as the bots looked on with interest. Then he opened the plain white box inside and carefully lifted out its contents from the nest of tissue paper inside.
He held it aloft for everyone to see.
Bumblebee gave an inquisitive beep.
"It's a snow globe," Raf said. He shook it, and they all leaned forward to look as the snow inside swirled around a miniature of Santa and his sleigh and reindeer.
"It doesn't really snow in Jasper, and I know you like snow, so now you can have some all year round, right?" Miko said all in a rush.
"It's awesome, Miko. Thank you," Raf said, smiling.
She grinned back, clearly relieved.
"You're up," Raf said, handing Jack a smaller, flatter box than the one he'd gotten himself.
Jack unwrapped his quickly and efficiently, then lifted the top of the box away.
"A pair of movie ticket vouchers," he said in surprise. "Thanks, Raf!" Then he frowned. "Now, who to take…"
"I thought you might want to take Sierra," Raf said sheepishly.
"Who's Sierra?" Mrs. Darby asked.
Jack turned bright red. Miko started laughing, and Arcee had to hide a smirk as well.
"Here, Miko; open yours," Jack said hurriedly, handing it over.
It was a few more moments before Miko had composed herself enough to focus on the task at hand. When she finally had, she tore the paper to ribbons and wrenched the box open with a flourish, revealing a new set of strings and a pick for her guitar.
"Rock on!" she cried. "Thanks, man."
"Oh yes," Ratchet said, dismayed. "Thanks."
"Aw Ratchet, don't be such a Grinch," Miko said.
Mrs. Darby and Agent Fowler exchanged their gifts next, the former receiving a set of four champagne flutes, and the latter receiving a new button-down shirt and tie.
"Ooh, where's the mistletoe when you need it?" Miko teased.
"Hey, now. That's my mom you're talking about," Jack protested, but he was smiling as he said it.
With the humans' gift exchange finished, they all turned to the bots.
"We figured since there were five of us and five of you, we could each get one of you something," Jack said by way of explanation as they all retrieved their respective gifts from under the tree.
The Autobots looked surprised, and then stricken.
"I… er…" Bulkhead began.
Bumblebee gave a sad little whistle.
"Jack, um…" Arcee started.
"We didn't get you anything," Ratchet finally said for all of them, putting it bluntly since nobody else would.
The humans weren't phased in the least.
"That's okay, Bulk," Miko said, patting his foot.
"Yeah, it's not a requirement," Raf added, his eyes on Bumblebee.
"And besides, it's a human thing, not an Autobot one," Jack added. Then he handed Arcee her gift.
She took it cautiously, as though she was afraid she might break it.
Raf, Miko, and Mrs. Darby held out their boxes for Bumblebee, Bulkhead, and Ratchet in turn. Agent Fowler looked up at Optimus.
"I'm saving yours for last," he said, grinning mischievously. "It's kind of for all of you anyway."
Optimus blinked, then nodded.
The other four bots opened their presents simultaneously, and all four looked down at their human counterparts, clearly pleased.
"Polish and touch-up paint," Arcee said, amused.
"I figured they were the Autobot equivalent of cosmetics," Jack said.
Bulkhead lifted Miko up in elation.
"The new Slash Monkey album!" he exclaimed. "I know what I'll be listening to for the next month…"
"I know, right?" Miko exclaimed right back.
Bumblebee held his present up, his eyes glowing in amusement. It was a small, remote-control replica of his alt mode, to match the one that Raf had himself.
"Now we can race anywhere, any time," Raf explained.
Bumblebee chirped happily, then beeped in challenge, nudging him with a finger.
Raf laughed. "You're on!"
Ratchet had opened his gift with no small amount of trepidation, but now he was looking much more pleased.
"An encyclopedia of human anatomy," he said with interest. "How very practical of you, Nurse Darby."
"I thought you might enjoy that," June said fondly.
Everyone turned to regard Optimus and Fowler, then, and the final, mystery gift. Instead of a box like everyone else had used, Fowler held up a simple, white envelope.
"To the Autobots, from the Pentagon," Fowler said.
As Optimus's hands were too large to be suited to the task, Fowler opened it for him.
"I have here an official, government-sanctioned document. It is a written, contractual promise to all you Autobots – even the ones not on Earth right now – that if and when this war of yours with the 'Cons is over, you'll be granted full autonomy here on Earth, whether you choose to stick around or go back to Cybertron. And the day your war ends will be declared a national holiday – the kids tell me that you've never had your own holiday before, so…"
He trailed off.
Everyone stood in stunned silence for several long beats. Finally, Optimus stood to his full height.
"Agent Fowler, on behalf of all Autobots, you have our sincerest gratitude. As do you all," he added, gesturing to their other human friends. "You have welcomed us to your planet with open arms despite the troubles we've brought with us, and that is a gift that means more than you will ever know."
Everyone shifted nervously under the weight of his words, and it was Mrs. Darby who finally broke the spell.
"Merry Christmas, everyone."
And all the rest of them answered, human and Autobot alike,