Chapter 1: Purple Heart
Part 1: Purple Heart
The twenty one gun salute rocked the calm of the cemetery where Corporal Steven Robredo was being laid to rest. Conditioned to not bat so much as an eyelash, Major Will Lennox stood stock still as the collective fire of seven M-4 rifles boomed over his head. Giving the call to dismiss, the mourners broke for their cars to begin the procession to the Corporal's home. Eyeing the Peterbilt idling near the gates, Lennox readjusted his beret and made his way across the cemetery toward it.
Lennox hopped in the open door and settled himself into Prime's cab. Will hadn't had much time to talk to Optimus since returning from Egypt in anything but a professional sense. Both leaders had simply been too busy.
"Major. Will," Prime corrected himself, his speaker crackling to life. Though Lennox had been in command of NEST for over two years, it was still slightly unnerving hold full conversations with the dash of the Autobot vehicle's alt modes.
"Optimus. Thanks for coming today. Even though Corporal Robredo's widow can never know, it was nice of you guys to come."
"It is our honor, and the least we can do," the big leader answered, notes of sadness touching his vocalizer. "It is our war that is costing your lives."
Will sighed. "I never got to thank you for what you did in Egypt and with Sam. If not for you, Megatron would have finished what he started in Mission City. You took on three Decepticons by yourself, and…" Lennox's statement hung in the air, the Major not particularly caring to say out loud what happened next.
"I died to protect him," Prime finished.
"Yeah. That. We owe you a ton there, Big Buddah," Will said, using the call sign NEST had lovingly bestowed upon the Autobot leader.
A rumble from the truck's engine shook Lennox's feet. "As I owe Sam for my resurrection."
A silence hung between the two soldiers, but not an uncomfortable one. Will shifted in the driver's seat. "Optimus, can I ask you something?"
"Do you…give awards for combat?"
A pause. "In what sense?"
"Bravery. Heroism, stuff like that," Will answered.
"Oh. No. Please don't take offense, Will, but we don't work for recognition. We work and we fight to save our species, our very way of life," Optimus replied after some consideration.
"That's not what I meant, and no offense taken. I just meant, do you recognize any of your people specifically for things they've done? Is it proper?" Lennox rephrased.
"I guess I've never given it consideration. My soldiers know when they've done well, and they know when they've not gotten the job done," Optimus conceded.
Lennox smirked. "Well, then I guess I get to be the first, then."
"I don't understand. The first to what?" Optimus asked. Lennox could imagine the slightly befuddled expression currently plastered all over Prime's face, even though his head was still stuck somewhere near his engine block.
Lennox reached into his breast pocket and set a small medal on Optimus' dash. The medal itself was brass colored, made in the shape of a heart. It was suspended from a purple ribbon with a white border.
"In our military, awards and decorations are things to be extremely proud of. It's probably not the right one because people who do stuff like you did usually get a silver star or in some cases, a medal of honor, but this is the best I've got."
Another pause from the Peterbilt. Lennox assumed Prime was running a scan on the object and researching its meaning on the internet. "Major, is this yours?"
Will tucked his chin down and nodded. "Yeah. Got it for being in the way of a bullet in Kosovo a few years back."
Firmly, Optimus spoke. "Will, I appreciate the generosity, but in good conscience, I cannot accept this from you. You earned it."
Not missing a beat, Lennox replied, "So did you. Like you said, you died. I spent a week in the hospital. Big difference."
Optimus' speakers remained silent. "I don't know what to say."
Will let out a hearty laugh. "I'll be damned! I've stunned him speechless. I need to write this down!" Settling into a decidedly more serious note, Will added, "I want you to have it, Optimus. I can think of no other person, no other being who deserves it more. If it wasn't for you, Sam would be dead, The Fallen would have sucked our sun dry and Earth would be hasta la vista, baby."
Optimus shifted on his axles. "Thank you, Will. I don't think you have any idea what this means to me." Indeed, as the leader of the Autobots, Optimus alternated between praising his subordinates and disciplining them. No one told him when he'd done well, and Earth's governments were more intent on figuring out just how much the giant leader would divulge rather than helping his species adapt to life on their planet. For just one moment, it was nice to be appreciated by someone for a sacrifice he personally made.
Lennox hopped out of Prime's cab and came to attention. Firing off a perfect salute to the flamed truck, Lennox said, "On behalf of a grateful nation." The Major executed an about face, spinning on the heel of his foot. He walked back toward Ironhide and hopped in. Ironhide clicked his lights at his leader as Prime idled, contemplating what just happened. Optimus materialized his holoform in the driver's seat and picked the small decoration off his dash. Running it through his fingers, he wrapped it in a handkerchief erroneously left in his cab by Sam and tucked the award carefully into his glove compartment.
Prime let out his clutch and started back toward Diego Garcia with a lightness he hadn't felt in months. Perhaps Ironhide was wrong in his initial assessment of the human race, and Lennox's most recent act of complete unselfishness proved that in spades. Optimus smiled to himself. Every time he began to question his choices, humanity's goodness swooped in to show him why he'd made the choice to name Earth the Autobot's new home.
He was glad he made the right call.
Chapter 2: Silver Star
Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when it's someone who everyone thought was invincible. 2009 Movieverse. This is the original, and most assuredly sadder version of my challenge fic, Purple Heart. I was told that this part of the story needed a tissue warning, so there you are. Grab a few, I guess.
I lied. This whole uploading thing is easier than I thought, so here is the second part of Purple Heart. I was really, really happy with the end product, maybe a little shocked with how well it turned out. See, I'm really not an angst writer. I dabble in it, but it's not my forte. I can honestly say I was afraid to post this part of the story when I originally uploaded it to Livejournal and to FF.Net in October of 2009 because I wasn't sure if I could write something other than crack. In the end though, I think it got the job done. Enjoy!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Major Will Lennox walked silently across the tarmac of NEST's temporary home. New Jersey was simply not his cup of tea. Lennox's current bout of insomnia was proof positive that the young officer couldn't wait to leave the foreign base and return to the familiarity of Diego Garcia, even if he did feel everything that was once right was spinning out of control. His confrontation with Galloway earlier that evening hadn't helped matters, and things had gone from bad to worse since then. The precipice of distrust between the remaining Autobots and the American government was growing larger by the moment, and Will didn't have a damn clue how to stop it.
Slipping into hanger 314, Lennox eyed the looming mass of a C-17 parked directly in front of him. He flicked on a couple of lights and activated the loading ramp, climbing up when the walkway lowered enough for him to stand. Lennox never really marveled at the feat of aerodynamic genius that was the Globemaster, since it was the normal mode of air travel for NEST. It never appeared all that large when the Autobots were near or inside it. Looking at it now, Will realized that the C-17 was an absolute behemoth, capable of carrying and dropping several thousand pounds of equipment up to and including the M1A1 Abrams tank.
Or, it could be used to carry the remains of Optimus Prime back to Diego Garcia.
Lennox ran a frustrated hand through his spiky hair. Optimus would know what to do, how to diffuse the situation with a minimal amount of ruffled feathers. It was what he did. Stopping near the right side of the Autobot leader's head, Will suppressed a sad chuckle. For all the times he thought it was superbly strange to talk with nothing but the dash of the Autobot's alt modes, here he was, about to hold a conversation with someone he knew could never answer back.
"Big Buddha," Will started, using the call sign lovingly bestowed upon the Autobot leader by the NEST team. He unfolded one of the palletized seats and plopped down into it, posture sagging gloriously. Screw decorum at 0400.
Lennox took in the extreme battle damage literally dotted all over Prime's once proud chassis. There wasn't an inch that hadn't been blackened, dented, scratched, broken, buckled or missing all together. Reaching out, Lennox plucked off a chunk of grass stuck on Prime's helmet armor and threw it out the plane's open side door.
"I really could use your help here, big guy. Galloway wants my nuts in a vice, the President is pissed, half the world's generals are just itching to press the red button, Ratchet wants to bail on Earth all together, and we don't know where the hell Sam is. The Fallen put out a worldwide ransom on the kid's head. The world's in a panic. Marshal law, hysteria. You name it, it's happening. Oh yeah. NEST has been deactivated. Great twenty four hours, huh?"
Will half expected a twitch, a nod, a half smile, or just a shift of Prime's intelligent blue optics. Instead, the only sound that greeted him was that of his own breath.
"You know, I always meant to ask you if your army decorates its soldiers with medals for bravery or heroism. If it doesn't, maybe that's something you should look into. Might be good for morale."
His attempt to be funny failing miserably, Lennox shifted before he continued.
"But, knowing you, you would just turn and look at me with that damned regal expression of yours and say, 'Major, we don't work for recognition. We work and we fight to save our species, our very way of life,' or something incredibly noble like that." Will dropped his voice an octave as he spoke, doing his best impression of Prime. It was still dismal in comparison to Optimus' rich, warm baritone.
"But even if you don't understand, I wanted to make sure that you're aware that in our military, awards, medals and decorations are big deals. They're things to be extremely proud of. Now, I know it's not the right one because people who do the crazy shit that you did usually get something better, like the Distinguished Service Cross or the Medal of Honor, but this is the best I've got. Before you ask, yes, it's mine, and no I won't take it back. And because you're a damn curious pain in my ass, I got it for playing that fun game called 'shoot the evil helicopter' at Mission City."
Lennox reached into his pocket and pulled out a small medal, forged in the shape of a five pointed star and affixed to a red, white and blue ribbon. Will ran his thumb over the brassy colored star, feeling its metaphoric and physical weight in his palm. The Major walked around to the left side of Prime's body and laid the medal gently on a tiny part of intact windshield. Stepping back, Lennox drew himself to attention and fired off a perfect salute.
"On behalf of a grateful nation." Will thought about the connotation of his words. Irony unconfined. Had he lived, the being that so very selflessly gave his all to protect life would have been shunned by the very people he strived to protect. Settling back in his chair, Lennox continued his monologue.
"You took on three Decepticons; Starscream and Megatron for Chrissake, by yourself to save Sam. You ripped Blackout's twin's face in half. Sam told me over the sat line that you saved him from some crazy doctor probing his brain. Came through the ceiling and started blasting away. Sounds like you, you know."
Will leaned forward, his elbows rested on his knees, and once again let his eyes run over the Autobot leader. Even in death, Optimus Prime appeared to be every bit of the intelligent, powerful being he had been in life. The Major sighed. He still hadn't figured out how he was going to convince Ratchet and Ironhide that the Autobots were still needed, that he wouldn't betray their trust. The job wasn't done, and Lennox hated leaving things unfinished. He owed it to the medic and the weapons specialist, and more importantly, Will owed it to Prime to follow through.
"So, how do I earn back their trust? Any bright ideas?" Lennox forced a laugh. "Any incriminating video I can use to blackmail Ratchet and Ironhide, maybe?" Rubbing a hand over his tired face, Lennox asked earnestly. "How do I reassure your troops that not all humans are pathetic, whiny pieces of bureaucratic bullshit like Galloway? Optimus, how do I convince them to stay?"
A voice cut through the darkness. "You just have to ask."
Lennox nearly jumped out of his track pants, whirling around to see two sets of glowing blue optics approaching from the cargo ramp. Ratchet and Ironhide must have been in the hanger all along, or they had come in quietly while Will was holding his monologue with their fallen leader. Clearing his throat, Lennox got to his feet. "Ratchet. 'Hide. I'm sorry. I didn't know you guys were there."
"That was the idea, Will." Ratchet's voice had a note of sadness to it, though he tried to lighten his tone. Cycling his vents, the Hummer stopped in front of the Major. "I owe you an apology for my actions during our earlier meeting. My lust to leave Earth was somewhat premature. I was…upset."
Lennox scoffed. "You have every right to be. As it was, I was ready to rip Galloway's head off myself, right after I got done with the helo crew for literally dropping Optimus to the tarmac like a piece of garbage."
Ironhide grumbled his agreement. "You showed amazing restraint, Lennox."
"Pot, meet the kettle."
"Touché," Ironhide answered.
A pause as Ratchet and Ironhide came to halt flanking Lennox. All three looked with sadness at Optimus' silent form. Ratchet's silver and yellow hand gestured toward the Autobot leader. "He deserved better than that."
Lennox turned toward Ratchet and placed his hands on his hips. "He deserved better than us. Humans. He believed in us, even when I didn't."
"Agreed," Ironhide grumbled. "But that was Optimus."
Will shuffled his feet unsurely. If he were a betting man, he would have put money on the fact that Ironhide and Lennox found themselves in the belly of a cold C-17 during the middle of a New Jersey night to say goodbye. As the two Autobots had done for him, Lennox resolved to give the two closest to Optimus their privacy.
Will turned and began his trek back to his temporary housing. As he reached the hinges of the loading ramp, Ratchet's voice nibbled at his ears. It wasn't the Hummer's voice, but the words that caught him by surprise. "The soldier stood and faced his god, which must always come to pass. He hoped his armor was shining, just as brightly as his brass." Turning, Lennox walked as quietly as he could back toward the two senior Autobots.
Ironhide's heavy drawl picked up where Ratchet left off. "Step forward now, young soldier, how shall I deal with you? Have you always turned the other cheek? To Primus have you been true?"
Like a magnet, Lennox found himself drawn back up toward the battered remains of the Autobot leader. Before he could stop himself, Lennox began to speak, the words ingrained into his memory from a young age as a military brat. "The soldier squared his shoulders and said, "No, Lord, I guess I ain't, because those of us who carry guns can't always act like saints."
Ironhide and Ratchet's optics snapped toward Lennox as he walked back up the ramp in the direction of the two Autobots. Both gave an almost imperceptible nod of approval to their human counterpart before Ratchet took over once again. "I've had to work most holy days, and at times my talk was tough. And sometimes I've been violent, because the universe is awfully rough."
"But, I never took a credit, that wasn't mine to keep, and I took the mission on myself, when the cost just got too steep." Lennox could hear the hurt in Ironhide's normally steady voice.
Will stared into Prime's darkened optics. Whispering, he delivered the next line. "But I never passed a cry for help, though at times I shook with fear. And sometimes, Primus forgive me, I've wept unmanly tears."
Ratchet and Ironhide cracked watery smiles as they caught Will's Cybertronian alteration of the most decidedly human poem. The three glanced at each other, and with a raise of an optic ridge or a quirk of an eyebrow, continued together. "I know I don't deserve a place among the beings here. They never wanted me around, except to calm their fears. If you've got a place for me here, Primus, it needn't be so grand. I never expected or had too much, so if you don't, I'll understand."
The three quiet voices dropped away to leave Ratchet, Optimus' oldest friend, to finish the soliloquy. The medic's deep voice echoed eerily off the fuselage of the plane. "There was a silence all around the throne, where the saints had often trod. And the soldier waited humbly for the judgment of his God. Step forward now, young soldier! You've borne your burdens well. Walk peacefully on Heaven's streets; you've done your time in Hell." As he had seen Will do for his fallen soldiers, Ratchet reached out and shuttered Prime's optics, patting his helm in a fatherly gesture of affection.
The three maintained a silent vigil for an immeasurable amount of time. Ironhide was the first to speak, saying the three words Lennox wanted to hear; no, needed to hear. "We will stay."
Will smiled at his guardian as he and the Autobot medic turned to exit the aircraft, dawn beginning to break over the horizon. Suddenly exhausted, the two Autobots escorted Lennox back to the VOQ for a couple of hours of rack time before turning in for a brief recharge of their own.
On Prime's chest, Optimus' silver star was catching the morning rays of the sun.
A couple of closing notes: the poem on which this chapter is based is The Soldier's Prayer. I remember it hanging in the living room of my grandparents' house when I was a kid. It was, strangely, one of the first things I read aloud when I was about four. I had no idea what the words meant at that time but I could recite it from memory. Obviously, I altered it a bit to fit the 'verse, but it seemed so utterly fitting that I couldn't not use it. I have no idea who the original author was - ours just said 'author unknown' - and a quick sleuthing of Google proved fruitless as well. I mean nothing but respect by its use. I only hope I did it, as well as anyone who has served their country, the justice deserved.
Chapter 3: A Letter
First off, I want to say thank you to all those who have reviewed, alerted and favorited. I am most completely humbled, and also blown away at the reception Silver Star has garnered. I opened my email tonight, and I couldn't believe how many alerts were in there! It was something that just grew in my mind, and it demanded that I write. I'm glad so many of you are as touched by it as a reader as I was to write it. Thank you, everyone. I'm tickled pink. (Or, red and blue with flames.)
I've had a couple requests for the name of the real poem I used in as the basis for Will's words in Silver Star. It's called The Final Inspection, and a quick Google should do the trick for you. I used to have it posted as part of chapter three, but in light of the recent purge at FF.Net coupled with my uncertainty of that piece being part of public domain, I figured I'd better err on the side of caution and replace it. Instead, here's a letter from an eight year old Annabelle Lennox to the Autobots.
I know I'm not supposed to know you guys are real, but shh! That can be our secret, okay? See, I knew there was something weird about my daddy's truck from the moment I was old enough to understand what a truck is. And I know for sure that the black truck my daddy always drives isn't a truck.
But it's okay. It's not a monster that's big and scary. Well, it is, but not to me. Ironhide is just a teddy bear anyway. (But I'm not sure I want him to know I said that, so no telling!)
I'm not afraid of him or his friends because I know they won't ever hurt me. They might be huge and made of metal and strong enough to squish me with their thumb, but they never have. They don't hurt people on purpose. They're here to protect us.
Kind of like my daddy.
He's a soldier. He keeps us safe. I can't tell anyone what he does because I don't really know, but I'm sure it's something important. All soldiers are important. All soldiers are special. All soldiers deserve our respect. And you guys? You help keep my daddy safe, so I guess that makes us friends. I think that's pretty cool.