"Alright, Belly-bean, time for bed," Sarah crooned to her little girl, who was perched in Ironhide's hand in their back yard.
Annabelle whined, leaning down to pout dramatically at her mother. "Ironhide's telling about the stars."
"Well, honey, the stars will be there tomorrow night," Sarah replied, leaning against Ironhide's leg and reaching up to help guide the four year old down.
"Nooooo Mommy…" Annabelle clutched at her Guardian's hand like a kid in danger of being dragged from their blanket fort. "The Cybertron stars. He's telling the stories."
Tipping her head, Sarah looked from Anna to Ironhide and back again. "What stories, baby?"
Ironhide purred low in his chest, clarifying for his charge. "Our culture had ancient myths surrounding the star patterns, much like your constellation stories. I was relaying them to the bitlet."
Sarah grinned back at the purr, patting Ironhide's black armor beside her. "Ahh, I see. So you got your story time, Anna. Come on, to bed and maybe Ironhide can tell you more stories tomorrow."
The whine rose disturbingly in pitch, usually a sure sign of Annabelle revving up for a tantrum. "But Mommy…"
Frowning, Ironhide made a sharp buzz and a corrective trill, the Cybertronian language conveying the chastisement, expectation and proffered forgiveness all in one complex sound.
Annabelle turned and looked up at him, then hung her head sheepishly. "Yes, sir. Sorry, Mommy." She wriggled from Ironhide's hand as he lowered it down to her mother, and squirmed into Sarah's embrace.
"Much better, sparklet. More stories tomorrow," Ironhide said, his optics shining softly on his adoptive charges. "Rest well."
Sarah laughed quietly, taking a moment to get Anna's limbs wrapped comfortably around her waist and neck. "Thanks Ironhide," she said fondly. "I'm spoiled; you're too good at sidestepping temper tantrums."
"Only because deep down, she is a sweetspark. Just like her carrier," Ironhide rumbled.
"Hey," Will barked jokingly from the porch where he had been watching them for the last minute or so. "Quit flirting with my wife." He hopped the rail and trotted over to the rest of his family, patting Annabelle's thigh then pressing up against Sarah's back with his hands resting lightly on her belly.
Ironhide shutter-blink-rolled his optics, snorting through his vents. "As opposed to her glitch of a sire…" he amended with a teasing rev of his engine.
"Frickin' bastard," Will griped, then he grunted when his spouse expertly elbowed him in the ribs.
"Say goodnight to your daughter, honey. Then you can mantalk with Ironhide all you want," Sarah managed around her giggle.
"Yes, ma'am," Will choked out, milking it for the intended effect of his daughter's darling little laugh. So she enjoyed her daddy's misery as much as anyone else did – and for her, it was worth it. "G'night baby," he murmured, rubbing Annabelle's back and kissing her forehead over her mother's shoulder.
"Night, Daddy," Annabelle chirped, seeming to know exactly how much she had Daddy wrapped around her little finger. She twisted in Sarah's arms and gave Ironhide her "Very Serious" face. "Good night, Ironhide. Tomorrow, tell me about the Twin Stars, OK?"
"Yes, sparklet," Ironhide replied dutifully.
"Thanks for dealing with Anna tonight," Will said. "Sarah and I needed to have some adult talk. Time flies, hmm?" Will breathed deeply, that lazy, dopey expression that so perplexed Ironhide playing across his face.
Ironhide nodded. It seemed only breems ago that Annabelle had been a larval human, unable to speak or care for herself in any way, and woe betide any individual that seemed a threat to her in Sarah or William's eyes. Initially, even Ironhide fell into the category of 'perceived dangers to the baby,' but after long hours and thoroughly demonstrating his gentler capabilities, he was implicitly trusted with Annabelle. "She is maturing beautifully, Lennox," 'Hide said. "Can't say I miss the sparkling phase, but it still seems so short."
"We live fast, Ironhide," Will consoled. He chuckled and looked up with a slightly wicked expression. "But you saying you don't want to relive that baby phase any time soon?"
That seemed far too pointed a question, and Sarah suddenly bursting into a choked laugh did not bode well. He had the distinct feeling that he had been missing a layer of communication, lately.
Ironhide grunted and narrowed his optics at Will. Sarah's bioenergy field had been fluctuating differently for a while now, and the flush of pheromones between her and Will was obvious enough, even to him, to be distracting. Ratchet joked that 'Hide often returned to Base reeking of aroused human. "Are you making a specific implication?"
"Well, sort of," Will chuckled and kissed Sarah's cheek. She beamed, her eyes practically alight as she looked up at Ironhide, then she buried her face against Annabelle's blond curls, purring to her drowsy child. "Yes," he continued, pointedly rubbing over Sarah's belly. "Not that the news is out. We're still waiting a few more weeks. But, figured you should know… unless you already do?"
"No," Ironhide huffed. "Though, maybe Ratchet would… or does." He flagged a glyph on his HUD to badger his mate about the matter when he next saw him, nudging him with a curl of curiosity through their bond. If nothing else, it would tweak the nosy medic's gears.
"You're the first, Ironhide," Sarah murmured, delighted, but trying not to disturb Anna too much in case she drifted off in her arms. "The grandparents are next on the list, once we get past… you know, the riskiest time... You can keep a secret?"
Ironhide blinked, and then cycled his vocalizer. "I- Yes. Maximum security encryption."
"More than enough, 'Hide," she replied with an amused hum. Sarah nuzzled at Will's cheek and squeezed her hand over his. "Don't chat too late, babe."
Will growled softly, loathe to move his hand from her stomach, but he was forced to as Sarah turned back towards the house. "Won't," he promised. "Don't go to bed without me, my lady."
She paused and smirked at her husband over her shoulder, then simply winked at Ironhide.
The old Cybertronian tipped his head and watched the two females enter the house. He turned his attention down to his remaining charge, suddenly unsure what to say to Will. "So…"
Lennox bumped his hip against Ironhide's leg. "Didn't mean to drop a bomb on you. But, it's what we had been talking about inside. It's only fair to tell you that there'd be another to 'Guardian.' And- considering your position, I'd want you to look out for all of them if, you know, something happened to me."
A pointed word choice, Ironhide noticed. No longer 'both' but 'allof them.' "You've put a lot of thought into your own mortality, Lennox," he rumbled tightly.
The Ranger took a deep breath, leaning into the spot on Ironhide's leg that Sarah had recently vacated. "It comes with the job, mech." He scratched a little too idly at his ear, but Ironhide could sense the simmering tang of adrenaline and stress hormones increasing around Will throughout the conversation. "I know the more bars on my shoulder the better my odds, and we've not lost men like in World War II in decades. But fighting giant aliens is not safeby any means. I'm delusional if I pretend every mission's going to go smooth."
"If it comes to that, I will ensure they are safe in your stead," Ironhide murmured.
"Thanks. It helps. All of the little steps help. Even if that doesn't make too much sense," Will said, lowering his head in something like apology.
Ironhide made a low churr. "There are other 'little steps'?"
"Yeah," Will admitted. "I have sort of a memory capsule. Sarah knows where I keep the key, and the number to the safe deposit box," he said quietly. He rubbed the back of his neck, and one shoulder shifted in a shadow of a shrug. "I add stuff, sometimes, when I think of it."
Ironhide tipped his helm in question, making a small chirp to ask for clarification.
Lennox chuckled, looking up to the two bright blue stars of his partner's optics, haloed by the rest of the white pinpricks in the night sky behind him. "The worst case scenario box," he explained. "In case I don't come home. Letters for Sarah, a diamond necklace for her birthday and some extra money for that first Christmas. Pictures and notes for Annabelle, so she can hopefully remember daddy. Things for her to open on her sweet 16, graduations. So I can be there for her."
"What do you mean?" Ironhide asked, perplexed enough at the turn of the conversation, but not understanding how Lennox intended to be present at these future events.
Will sighed and rubbed at an imagined spot on black armor. He could catalog the whole box in his head; and he had, lying in faraway bunks. Sometimes he'd even added notes written there when he got back stateside. "Like, when she gets married, there's a sapphire and pearl anklet I got her. You know, something blue. Notes saying, 'You will manage being a mommy for my first grandkid. No matter how terrifying this new little life in your arms seems.'" Miming the position of holding a newborn, he breathed a laugh and looked up at Ironhide. "There's even some stuff for… well, Number Two. Though, that's only been in there a month."
"Of course," Ironhide rumbled, his right cannon whining irritably. He snorted and manually overrode the settings, forcing it to cycle back to quiet readiness.
"Hey, Ironhide," Will murmured, not wanting to perplex his Guardian with his own mortality on top of his expanding responsibilities all at once. "It's a safety net. It's insurance. Cautious optimism, maybe they'll never need it. Maybe it'll just be a time capsule and at each milestone I can pull out a letter and say 'I wrote this when…' But, just in case. Prepare for the worst even as you hope for the best."
"I understand, Lennox. Don't like it, but understand," Ironhide grumbled sullenly.
Lennox rapped lightly on Ironhide's plating, drawing his attention back. "I didn't mean to bring on the doom and gloom. It was supposed to be a night for good news."
"Sorry. Yes, good news."
"Think of it this way, worst case, you're stuck with me for another sixty years. But you could always get a reprieve," Will grinned faintly. "Don't dwell on the negative, Ironhide. But the rest of the family should be pestering you for much longer."
Ironhide went still, staring at Lennox, then he snorted. "I can only hope."
Will nodded, "I better go give Sarah a hand, if Annabelle went and got fussy again. But seriously, I'm not inviting heartache. Just shoring up preparations."
"Of course," Ironhide said, still sounding distracted. "Go, see to your mate."
"Alright. G'night 'Hide," Will patted Ironhide's leg, looking the old mech over one more time before he returned to the house.
A few weeks later, Ironhide came to Sarah with, by his own standards, a small box. It was etched with Cybertronian glyphs and shimmered with inlayed metals. "May I entrust you with this, Sarah?"
She eyed the cube, about as large as a decently sized moving box, then nodded. "Of course. Set it down, I'm starting to get leery about lifting things." Sarah patted the nearly imperceptible bulge and grinned. "What is it?"
"Insurance," Ironhide replied, running a fingertip down the front of the box. It lit up and then clicked open with a soft whirr of tiny gears. "Mementos in case," he tipped his helm and made a low, rough tone of apology.
"Oh, Ironhide," Sarah whispered, reaching out and placing her hand on his.
"It's keyed to the bioenergy of your family, and the Autobot sparksignatures," he explained.
Sarah nodded, looking into the container.
Ironhide shifted and moved his hand to block her view. "It's… mostly data files. Some holos, recordings." He pulled one out and activated it, showing Ratchet curled up over his chest with his helm tucked against his neck, a low, Cybertronian whistle-purr sounded as he offlined the hologram. Settling it back within the box, Ironhide gently resealed the container and looked at his charge. "What I would like for you to have is all marked."
The items included small hybrid weapons for both Sarah and William, the soldier in him was realistic enough to know that if he were gone, they would likely need extra protection. If that were the case, Prime's refusal to allow humans Cybertronian weaponry was something he would willfully disregard. A datapad for Sarah contained the holographic recordings of the family gleaned from his memory banks. For Will, there was a data chit with an advanced Artificial Intelligence system blended with Ironhide's signatures, along with the demands that it be installed in a black pickup. There was a delicate Cybertronian pendant for Annabelle, woven golds and alloys and crystal, mimicking the mech tradition of receiving the transformation cog when coming of age, and like the cog, it included communication and tracking software.
"I understand," Sarah whispered, "Will didn't really want me to know what he left either." She hummed quietly to her Guardian, leaning into Ironhide's hand.
He nodded, appreciating the comfort of Sarah's support. "There are a few items beyond the data chits for the other Autobots. For Prime, my first badge as a member of The Guard. And the spark glass globe for Ratchet."
The small glass sphere, meant for his mate, was probably the most precious of the items Ironhide intended to leave with his human family. Silica was rare on Cybertron, but so inordinately prevalent on Earth. Ironhide had learned of the rare glass made when lightning bolts struck sand, and had worked on a way to combine sand and his own nanites to create a slurry. It took the most time to create and perfect, but when the mixture was struck with the electricity from his spark, it melted to a black and blue swirled orb of glass.
"I'll see to it, Ironhide. But, you may outlive me by generations," Sarah said gently.
"I know, Sarah. I might need to add to what is kept in there. But, the most important item will never change." Ironhide hated to think of leaving his family, but on some level, they were mortal, and were prepared to cope with death and loss. Cybertronians were essentially immortal, and it tore at his spark to think of Ratchet, his beloved mate having to carry on without him. More than a holo, or even a voice recording, Ratchet would always have a piece of Ironhide by his side. 'Hide hoped there would never be a time when a small swirl of spark glass was all his bonded had left of him, but the globe would forever echo with the faint resonance of his spark signature.