"Art In Me"
by Nightwind


A wee slip of an author's note:

This one is a sequel of sorts to another story of mine called "Vigil," which can be found here on FF.net if you look hard enough. :) If you haven't read that one, you might want to first or else this little tale might seem even stranger to you than it actually is. Suffice it to say that my Dinobots are a bit different than your standard Dinobots. :) Reading the other story is not really required, no…but it is recommended.

In any case, this is the first of a "series" of li'l post-"Vigil" Dinobot tales that I've envisioned, one to focus on each of the Dinobots. No, I'm not going to say which one this is about because that would ruin the "surprise," such as it is. (And it isn't much of one. Mystery is not my forte.) And I have no idea when the others will come out. This one just hit me the other day, as I was floating in my pool. The others will arrive…uh, eventually. In the meantime, enjoy this one. :)

Oh, and a nod to the bad known as Jars of Clay for the title of one of their songs, which I have shamelessly stolen for this story…


Prowl was halfway down the corridor before it registered with him that he had seen it. Pausing for a moment, frowning deeply, he twisted to aim a perplexed stare down the length of the corridor behind him. He briefly considered the notion that he had merely hallucinated it. But then, shoving aside that thought as patently ridiculous, he backtracked to the spot where he had seen it.

Sure enough, it was there, not a figment of his imagination at all. For a long time, Prowl simply stared down at it, his hands on his hips and a frown on his face, wondering where on Earth it had come from. And then, finally, he went down on one knee to get a closer look at it.

The image of a galloping horse was small, no more than eight inches across. Yet it was a small masterpiece, anatomically perfect down to the finest detail yet artistically-rendered as well, with a sense of motion to it made evident by the horse's flared nostrils, its galloping legs, and its streaming, flowing mane and tail. It was exquisitely, expertly drawn. Or etched, rather, Prowl discovered as he wonderingly traced one white finger over the black lines of the image and found that it had apparently been burned into the wall plating by, probably, a surgical microlaser, as fine as the lines were. Whoever had etched it had even used the laser's various power levels to render various shades of grey in the etching. Prowl felt as if he could stare at the image forever and never notice all of its minute details.

As lost as he was in the drawing's perfection, Prowl almost forgot to wonder how, much less why, it was there. But when he started to think about that…he remembered that he had already been running late for the weekly staff meeting that he'd been heading toward when he'd noticed the drawing. Reluctantly, he rose to his feet again and headed off down the corridor, but not without resolving to further investigate the matter of the drawing later…

* * * * * *

Grimlock marveled at the spectacle before him, as he walked into the Romper Room.

The first thing he noticed was Swoop, who was quietly lying belly-down on the floor, his chin resting on his folded forearms. One of his legs mindlessly kicked up and down, creating a quiet, rhythmic clank as he intently studied a datapad lying on the floor in front of him, which was no doubt filled with medical stuff, something that absorbed nearly all of Swoop's attention, lately. And he always has to have some kind of noise when he's studying, Grimlock thought to himself before his gaze shifted to Sludge, who was quietly watching TV off in the corner, minding his own business. He turned his head toward Grimlock, gave him a small smile and a wave of acknowledgment, and then returned his attention to whatever it was that he was watching. But then…then Grimlock turned his attention to Slag and Snarl…and was amazed.

They both sat cross-legged on the floor…with, of all things, a chessboard between them. Grimlock immediately recognized it as Ratchet's chess set, the same one that Ratchet and Wheeljack used when they both had some free time on their hands. Ratchet had picked up a liking for the Earth game from Prowl, and at some point Ratchet had subsequently infected Wheeljack with a liking for it, so they played often.

And now the infection's spreading, Grimlock thought, amused.

As Grimlock watched, Slag suddenly shifted from his sitting position to lying on his belly in a position not unlike Swoop's, his knees bent and ankles crossed, his gaze entirely focused on the pieces in front of him, never leaving them even as he changed position. He was studying the chessboard so intently that he apparently hadn't heard Grimlock come in, although Snarl had glanced at Grimlock noncommittally. Slag continued to study the board for a good long time before he finally reached out one hand and moved one of his knights, putting one of Snarl's bishops in jeopardy. Afterward, Snarl shifted a bit himself, bent one knee up, rested one elbow against it, rested the side of his face against his fist…and proceeded to study the board in the same serious, absorbed manner that Slag had been using, formulating his next move.

Grimlock, amused that two Dinobots who were generally the surliest, most violent, and most impatient of the five were absorbed in so cerebral a game, shook his head…and decided to join Sludge in his TV-watching.

He had come back to the Romper Room after a long, boring staff meeting. As part of Optimus Prime's efforts to integrate the Dinobots more with Autobot affairs, so that they would feel more "a part of the team," he had decided that Grimlock should attend the weekly meetings. While Grimlock appreciated the sentiment, certainly, he still found the meetings stultifyingly boring, and he hardly ever contributed anything to them. And after sitting listening to people talk for two hours that seemed like two years, he was now feeling a little…punchy. He had been going to suggest that he and the others go outside and just generally cause havoc, maybe with a game of laser tag or something…but he was loath to disturb the peace that the others were displaying – and apparently enjoying – since it was so very rare. Usually, someone was sparring with someone else, at least...

"Fun meeting?" Sludge teased as Grimlock dropped his bulk onto a couch in front of the TV with a long, drawn-out groan.

Grimlock aimed a glare in Sludge's direction and then said with a drawn-out sigh, "Sometimes me think me better off when I was ignored. Me not think it possible for someone to talk for so long…"

"Optimus Prime?" Sludge asked sympathetically.

"Worse," Grimlock moaned, shaking his head. "Prowl."

Sludge snickered.

"Could have been worse," he teased. "Could have been Perceptor."

For Sludge's benefit, Grimlock shuddered exaggeratedly, evoking the giggle that Grimlock had anticipated. Sludge was so predictable, but somehow he managed to make his predictability incredibly endearing. And it was, Grimlock had to admit, nice to have someone around who would never do anything that one didn't expect. Unlike, for instance, Slag…

As if on cue, a low-pitched growl that was obviously Slag's floated to Grimlock's audios.

"You, Snarl, can't do that!" Slag howled angrily a second later.

Wearily, Grimlock sighed, propped himself up on his elbows, and peered warily over the back of the couch. Slag was sitting back on his heels now, scowling, glaring prodigiously across the chessboard at Snarl. Snarl's back was to Grimlock, but Grimlock could easily see the tension in his posture. Grimlock's first impulse was to stand up and get ready to intervene in the brawl that would no doubt erupt between the two most volatile of the Dinobots in the next few moments…but something told him just to wait a moment. And then, all at once, Snarl's shoulders slumped.

"Why not?" he asked, and the tone of his voice was, amazingly, curious and perhaps a bit perplexed, but not at all angry.

Even more amazingly, the anger abruptly drained out of Slag's posture and expression. Reaching out to pick up a piece from the board, he calmly, patiently explained, "Knights have to move in an 'L' shape, like this. See? They not move diagonally like that. That what bishops do. This one, see?"

"Ohhhhh," Snarl said, nodding comprehendingly. "Me sorry, Slag."

"It OK," Slag assured him with a casual shrug. And then, shockingly, he added, "Me sorry, Snarl. Shouldn't have yelled."

"It OK," Snarl answered with a shrug similar to Slag's, his tone of voice almost happy…which was nearly as shocking as Slag apologizing for something. Snarl was not, after all, known for happiness. "It just what you do," he was saying. "Now, can I move knight this way…?"

Grimlock, shaking his head in wonder, laid back on the couch again, since the impending disaster seemed to have been averted. And, amazingly enough, no intervention on his part or Swoop's had been necessary in order to avert it.

"Wonders never cease," he muttered.

Sludge grinned at that, chuckled.

"Him Slag learn how to play chess from Wheeljack. Now he teaching Snarl how to play so he have someone to play with," he said. Leaning conspiratorially toward Grimlock, he added in a whisper, "And they not argue all day, Grimlock!"

"Never thought Slag would have patience to teach," Grimlock remarked.

Sludge smiled serenely and leaned back comfortably in his chair.

"We all have our talents, Grimlock. Sometimes they just hard to see," he said, and then he, along with Grimlock, returned his attention to the TV.

* * * * * *

This time, it was a rose, as exquisitely detailed as the horse had been the previous week, down to a few drops of dew sitting serenely on petals that, although they were etched into the wall, looked as soft and pliable as the real thing.

And this time, Prowl stopped in his tracks as soon as he saw it. It had been drawn right outside of the meeting room's doors and Prowl, since the previous week when he'd found the horse drawing, had been trying to develop a habit of looking at the walls as he wandered the corridors of Autobot Headquarters, searching for further drawings. But he had seen none…until now. Neither had he said anything to any of the others, preferring to wait to see if anyone else would notice the horse in the other corridor…but apparently no one had. Or if anyone had, they'd chosen not to say anything about it, as well.

"What's wrong, Prowl?" Red Alert, who'd accompanied Prowl out of the staff meeting in order to further discuss some security issues, asked. His tone of voice was utterly perplexed…and then he saw what Prowl was staring at. "What in the world is that?" he asked warily.

"It's an etching," Prowl answered quietly, already absorbed in staring at the rose on the wall.

"Where did it come from?" Red Alert asked.

Prowl shrugged eloquently.

"It's the second such thing that I've seen," he said, as he knelt down and began to trace the drawing, as he'd done with the horse drawing the previous week.

"The second one you've seen in here?" Red Alert demanded to know.

"Of course in here," Prowl answered, as if that should have been obvious.

Red Alert frowned at that for a few long moments, chewing on the thought and its implications, while Prowl stared at the drawing, utterly mesmerized, once again, by it.

"I don't like it," Red Alert suddenly declared, scowling in deep and sudden suspicion.

Red Alert's voice broke Prowl out of his appreciative reverie, and he aimed a perplexed glance up at him. Prowl knew, naturally, that Red Alert wasn't offering an artistic criticism of the piece but was instead saying that the drawing's very presence made him…uneasy. The security chief was, in general, overly suspicious. It could be argued that such a quality wasn't a bad thing in a security chief, of course. Caution, suspicion, vigilance…they were all good qualities in a security chief, and they were all qualities, of course, that Red Alert possessed in spades. Which was why he generally excelled at his job, a fact that Prowl, who admired competence and efficiency, certainly appreciated.

But sometimes…Well, a part of Prowl mutinously thought that Red Alert possessed those qualities in overabundance…and Prowl actually pitied him for that.

It must not make for a very enjoyable life, he thought sadly, if you feel compelled to fret about something so harmless as a beautiful rose drawn on the wall...

Aloud, Prowl ruefully pointed out, "I hardly think that intruders come into Headquarters simply to draw on the walls, Red Alert."

"You can't be sure of that, Prowl," Red Alert asserted, his eyes suddenly narrowed suspiciously, his gaze quickly darting around the corridor as if he expected to spot whoever it was that had drawn the rose.

Prowl sighed exasperatedly, but was saved from having to answer when Wheeljack and Ratchet emerged from the meeting room laughing at something or other. They noticed Prowl and Red Alert examining the wall, exchanged a curious glance, and without discussion decided to see what was going on.

"What's up, guys?" Wheeljack asked as he and the medic joined the other two Autobots. Then, seeing what Prowl was looking at, he added, "Whoa! That's really good!"

"Isn't it?" Prowl asked mildly.

"Who drew it?" Wheeljack wanted to know. "And…why'd they draw it on the wall?"

"That's what I'd like to know," Red Alert said ominously, prompting Wheeljack and Prowl to exchange an exasperated glance.

Ratchet, meanwhile, had knelt down next to Prowl…or tried to, at least. With a snort, Ratchet rapped sharply on one of Prowl's door panels.

"Would you move that thing?" he said with mock irritation. "I want to get a closer look."

"Oh! My apologies," Prowl said, shifting the offending door panel out of the way so that Ratchet could kneel next to him.

"Swear, I don't know why you put up with those things," Ratchet said lightly.

"Because they look good," Prowl answered in the same tone.

At that, Ratchet looked suspiciously at Prowl.

"OK, Sunstreaker," he said, deadpan, after a moment.

"No need to be insulting," Prowl said, with mock offense.

In response, Ratchet merely snorted…and then he leaned forward so far that his nose was approximately three centimeters away from the drawing on the wall.

"Hmmmmmm…" was all he said for a moment as he studied it, his eyes narrowed appraisingly.

"Hmmm, what?" Red Alert demanded. He was staring severely at Ratchet, his arms folded across his chest.

"I'd say it was a #2," Ratchet announced after a few more moments of studying the drawing.

"Yep," Wheeljack cheerfully concurred. "Absolutely."

A moment of perplexed silence followed, which Prowl finally broke.

"Uhhh…a #2 what?" he asked.

"A #2 surgical microlaser," Ratchet answered readily. "A #1 wouldn't have been powerful enough to cut even that deeply into a wall plate and anything bigger than that wouldn't make lines that fine. It's really amazing work, either way. Whoever did it has quite the eye for tiny details. And I don't even think I could be that precise with a microlaser even if I knew how to draw… You know, I should recruit whoever— Wait a minute!"

"What?" the others answered, in almost perfect unison.

Ratchet grinned.

"I think I have an idea who our mystery artist is…"

"Who?" Red Alert asked.

Ratchet smiled fondly.

"A certain Dinobot who regularly takes #2 surgical microlasers from the medbay so that he can practice…"

"Yeeesh!" Wheeljack responded. "Swoop's just full of talents, isn't he?"

"Are you sure?" Prowl asked of Ratchet, ignoring Wheeljack.

"Nah," Ratchet answered with a shrug. "Not absolutely sure, at least…but it's a good hypothesis that you might want to test, Prowl." And then, that being said, Ratchet stood up abruptly and announced, "Let's go, 'Jack! The chessboard and your weekly humiliation awaits."

"Ohhhhhh no, Ratch," Wheeljack protested as he and Ratchet started off down the corridor. "You, my friend, are goin' down!"

Prowl, amused, shook his head after the medic and the engineer as they ambled off down the corridor, bickering back and forth as usual. He stood up and aimed a speculative look at Red Alert.

"Let's experiment, shall we?" he said.

Red Alert sighed.

"It's not as if I have anything better to do, after all…" he said mournfully as he followed a deep-in-thought Prowl down the corridor.

* * * * * * *

The middle of the night had always been his favorite time of day. He wasn't quite sure why, really. It had just always been that way, from the day of his creation. Perhaps it was because it was quiet in the wee hours of the night. Or at least it was quieter than it was during the day, for Autobot Headquarters was never completely quiet. There were always Autobots on duty, and they, of course, always had to be vigilant about the possibility of Decepticon attack or Decepticon intruders. Still, the corridors were dimmed at night, a power-saving measure more so than a nod toward the time of day. And they seemed cooler, too. And they were certainly emptier.

That last quality was the most important, for his purposes.

So, when he was quite certain that the other Dinobots had settled in for the night, he slipped quietly out of the Romper Room, microlaser clutched protectively in one hand, in order to wander the corridors, seeking out a particularly empty one.

Just as he didn't know why he liked the night, he also didn't know why he felt the need to be…secretive…about doing what he did, about his little artistic hobby. Perhaps he didn't want to attract attention to himself. He wasn't like that. Whatever the reason for the need to be secretive, though, it kept him from practicing his craft in the Romper Room, where the others would see it and then be able to figure out that it was he who was doing it. This way… He wasn't even certain that anyone else had noticed his drawings, much less that they would even think to connect them to him.

He smiled a bit at that. He'd probably be the last person that anyone would think would be an artist…

In any case, no one, so far as he knew, had said anything about noticing his pictures. But if anyone did notice them and found out that he had drawn them… He feared he'd get in trouble for defacing the walls of Autobot Headquarters, and he feared getting in trouble more than anything in the world. He feared disapproval, especially so since he and his compatriots were edging ever so slowly closer to more general acceptance amongst the Autobots. Still, the urge to draw, to express his talent, was strong, strong enough to overcome his fear of trouble.

And he didn't know why about that, either. He hadn't even known he had the talent until just a few weeks before. He'd been outside one morning, just idly wandering around…and he'd come upon a small field full of wildflowers, a riot of color nestled in a patch of green. He'd thought it was one of the most beautiful things he'd ever seen, although there was a part of his mind that insisted that an appreciation of beauty wasn't exactly "in character" for a Dinobot. But somehow…somehow that realization had only made him more determined to appreciate beauty whenever and wherever he found it. Perhaps he did have a contrary streak in him, after all…

Whatever the case, he had spent the better part of the day in that field, drinking it all in. And he had watched as a butterfly – brilliantly colored, delicate – had alighted on one of the flowers in the field, and it occurred to him that that, too, was beautiful…yet fleeting. He saw so many things around him that were beautiful, but they all seemed to him as if they lasted for only a very short while. A butterfly landing on a flower, a rosebud just beginning to unfurl its gorgeous, sweet-smelling petals, a wild mustang galloping freely and with gleeful abandon across the desert...

They were all stunningly beautiful. So many things were beautiful. And it seemed to him that the most beautiful things, cruelly, were the most ephemeral of them all…

So he had suddenly felt the need to capture those split seconds of beauty, in order to make them permanent, in order to make them something that he – and others, perhaps – could enjoy forever, long after the moment of beauty had passed into history. Right then and there, he had decided to capture the butterfly's beauty…except that he hadn't had anything to make that happen. But then he happened to notice a small stick lying on the ground by his feet… He had spent the rest of the day drawing the butterfly on the flower as best he could, working from a memory of it that discovered was quite startlingly vivid, laboriously etching it into a patch of dirt in the field.

It was much harder than he'd thought it would be, not just because of the primitive materials that he had to work with but because he'd never in his life drawn anything. It took him until sunset to finish that one little drawing, until he got it just right, until it echoed, as well as a drawing in dirt could, the picture that was in his mind. But when it was finished…Oh, when it was finished, he knew that he had found his calling. He knew that he had found something that he could contribute to the universe, something that was uniquely him, something that no one else could do exactly as he did it.

He had never in his life felt so exhilarated. He liked that feeling.

So he now found himself often wandering the corridors of Autobot Headquarters in the middle of the night, capturing things of beauty for the enjoyment of others, even if they never noticed them. Maybe one day he'd call attention to his work…but for now he was content to create art in secret. Just because.

Smiling to himself, he happily settled cross-legged on the floor of the corridor he had chosen and powered up the microlaser in his hand. The sunset had been particularly gorgeous that evening; he had decided that it would be his subject tonight… Drawing was still a long, laborious process for him, but he was getting better with every drawing. Still, what he was envisioning was particularly ambitious, for him, and he knew it would take him long, long hours until he got it just right. Perhaps it would even take more than one drawing session. But that didn't daunt him at all. He'd just keep working at it, quite contentedly, until it was perfect, until his drawing exactly matched the vivid image in his head. So, he settled in, quite happily, to work.

He had no idea that he had been followed and that he was being watched…

* * * * * * *

Prowl and Red Alert were silent until they were far enough away from their mystery artist that he couldn't possibly overhear them. Two corridors away, they finally felt free to speak.

"Sludge?!" Red Alert blurted. "Sludge can do something like that?"

Prowl nodded wordlessly, amazed himself…yet in some ways not amazed at all. Recently, there'd been all sorts of things revealed about the Dinobots that none of the Autobots had ever suspected, after all…

"Apparently so," was all he said.

"Where the hell did that talent come from?" Red Alert demanded of the universe.

Prowl shrugged, regarded the other Autobot calmly.

"We all have our talents, Red Alert," he said, smiling softly. "Sometimes they're just hard to see."