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Fall Challenge 2016

Chapter Text

“Aaah,” said First Aid, stretching his arms over his head as he joined Barricade on the dorsal hull of the Retribution. “A balcony, a warm autumn night, a full moon. And all the kids are asleep!”

“What?” Barricade side-eyed him. Balcony? A full moon just made it harder to find cover. The hatchlings – all forty-five of them – were recharging, though. He couldn’t figure out what any of the things Aid listed had to do with each other.

“Yes. Now all we need is someone playing violin and a plate of spaghetti!”

That did it. Aid was teasing him. Or being silly. His fields had a giddy whirl to them, which meant Aid was a certain kind of tired. Not exhausted, not call Ratchet, not sic Hot Spot on. Just tired. Forty-five second-instar hatchlings would do that to anyone. The first fourteen were approaching their second molt, too, and Barricade suspected no-one was ready for third-instars. Certainly not him.

Surreptitiously, he looked up cultural referents to full moons. Werewolves, lunacy, romance, generalized strange behavior. High tides. Earth’s moon was pretty big, compared to its parent planet, he’d give it that. Almost made up for only having the one.

First Aid tipped slightly toward him, leaning. Barricade’s left arm moved of its own volition, making a space for the ambulance to snuggle in. Aid’s tweep of happiness was tiny and very quiet and quickly stifled, but Barricade heard it. Yes, fine, give the kid a hug. Just for a minute.

Full moons made people do weird things.

Chapter Text

Reeeak. Reeak.

“What was that?” Barricade scanned, but didn’t pick up anything odd.

“Birdie!”

“Nah, Skids, I’m right here!” Thunderbird, nee Birdy Boo, stroked his chin thoughtfully. “I think my name should be Flamefalcon, though…”

“Prolly just a frog,” Cade Jr. huffed.

“If it is a frog,” said First Aid, “it’s gotten inside, where it could dry out, and have a hard time finding food.” There was a small cache of human food for their frequent visitors, but those were sealed containers, and even the most adventurous spiders found the interior of the Retribution a little rambunctious for their quiet predatory pursuits, with forty-five 2nd and 3rd instar hatchlings aboard.

“We should go find it,” said Ducky, sounding worried. Starshine wrapped his arms around him.

“That would be best,” Aid said. “Who would like to help?”

A chorus rose of “Yes! Yes!” and “Find roggie!” and “Ribbit-ribbit!” with one “MooOOoo!” from Leeway in his excitement. They searched and searched, the hatchlings and all their adult caretakers, but they didn’t find any frogs.

Reeeeak reeeeak reeeeaaaaak.

I shall decide what it is!” Starscream proclaimed from the top of Barricade’s head. Barricade smiled. Loquacious for a second-instar, but this was Starscream. There had been more searching, this time in high places in case it was a bird after all, though First Aid and Groove and Beachcomber all said they didn’t know what kind of bird made that exact sound, other than all the ones who could mimic car alarms and chainsaws and anything else. Which didn’t actually narrow it down all that much. And they still didn’t find a living thing.

Barricade put extra jounce in his steps as he followed Starscream’s directions on which hallways to search, and the little hatchling giggled and fanned his winglets. The Retribution was just a shuttle, there were, after all, only a couple of corridors.

Still, they found nothing.

Rreeeaaaak. Reeaaak.

Ultra Magnus looked up from the sleeping pile, optics wide, fully alert. Barricade stifled a growl. This was getting out of hand. Larks and fun searching for a mysterious sound in daytime was one thing. Waking hatchlings who needed their recharge was another. Now Silverbolt was stirring. Great.

Barricade stood, exchanged a look with First Aid, who was buried under most of the hatchling-heap. Aid squinched his optics at him, behind the visor. Cade nodded and ghosted off.

“Not voice,” murmured Jazz.

“Hmm, dearest?” Aid asked, freeing an octo-tentacle to pet the tiny silver helm. Jazz had spent a few days in the medbay again, just to monitor a spark irregularity, but seemed to be fine, curled up like a baby opossum against Pingback’s chest.

“No’ voice,” Jazz said, blinking sleepily up at him, a wee smile at the corner of his mouth. “Metal. Metal thing.”

“I see.” Jazz did have a good audial for tonal subtleties. The echoes and peculiarities of how the sound transmitted through the metal of the ship made it difficult to track where it was even coming from. They could bring Red Alert in, who would probably solve the mystery if Cade didn’t find anything. Jazz says it’s a metal sound, Aid transmitted to Barricade.

Huh. All right. I’m not picking up anything organic or Cybertronian. Where’s Mirage?

On my shoulder, next to Wheeljack.

Oh. Yeah. Twenty-odd years on, this was still weird.

Reeak. REEEEEAAAAAAAK REAAAAAK.

“The slag.”

Barricade had half of Galvatron’s lot clinging to his shoulders, helm and chest, and all of them had stiffened at the sound. First Aid took his hand, perhaps to keep Barricade from charging off after the possible threat.

“Hmm,” said Hoist, who was carrying most of the rest of Galvatron’s batch, including Jazz, who had sat up, cocking his head side to side.

“Other side,” said Jazz. “Ssaaboh…starboard.”

“Yes, I agree,” said Hoist. “The floor?” Jazz shrugged.

Barricade was already loping off across the shuttle, having handed as many hatchlings off onto Aid as would go. Ironhide clung stubbornly to his helm, but at least it was the back of his helm. He rounded a corner, nearly taking out Groove, coming the other way.

“Wooo!” Groove said, swinging around by Cade’s arm. “Morning, ‘Hide!”

“See anything?” This was meant to be gruff, but Ironhide’s currently chirpy hatchling voice lost somewhat in translation. Groove blinked.

“That sound,” Barricade clarified.

“What sound?”

“Not a frog,” said Ironhide.

Groove blinked again, and seemed to drift off for a moment. “Do…?” he asked, taking slow steps backward down the hall. “You…? Mean…? This…?” His foot came down and pressed an odd seam between deck-plates.

Creaaaaaaak!

“Oh my fragging Primus.” Barricade snapped his mandibles shut. Oh well, Ironhide had heard – and said – worse. Hoist, Aid; we found the problem! It didn’t sound so loud and resonant – and weird – right at the source.

Soon there was a gathering of hatchlings and caretakers. Frenzy jumped up and down on the seam to no avail, he didn’t have the mass. Groove only just barely did. Hot Spot made the most spectacular creaks.

“I did most of it, I’m afraid,” Spot said. “I didn’t realize the whole shuttle could hear it.”

First Aid took Barricade’s hand again and leaned close. “Mystery solved!”

“Looks like.” Barricade leaned in, dipping his head to brush a cheek spar against Aid’s helm. From atop Barricade’s head, Ironhide cackled.

Chapter Text

Nobody even cares that I left, Slingshot thought, stomping even harder through the leaves and brush. He kicked a log as he passed, and it made a satisfyingly loud cra-THOONK as it splintered in two. Take only pictures, leave only footsteps could go get slagged. He was almost fifth instar and smart enough to know the bugs that ate logs would be just as happy with broken up bits.

Nobody cares about me. Everyone’s too busy cooing over Silverbolt and Firefly. He sloshed through a creek. He could get much farther, faster if he flew, but that took a lot of energy, and entailed contacting the FAA and all kinds of red tape and he’d be tracked and who needs that slag? Stomp, stomp, stomp. He slapped saplings out of his way, scuffing downhill into denser woods. It was already a dim, overcast day, with thunderstorms incoming, which suited his mood perfectly.

Stomp, stomp. He punched a tree, leaving a pale, splintery rectangle of barkless wood. Nobody’s even following me to make sure I’m okay! The wind was picking up, loud in the trees overhead. He increased his pace – stomp stomp stomp stompstompstomp! – pushing off bigger trees, shoving at smaller ones to get past. He yelped as a wingtip grazed through a hackberry trunk, but kept going, pain fueling his anger.

Nobody cares! Bad enough there were forty-four others for the adults to take care of, but Autobot scuttlebutt had it that either First Aid or Optimus was going to try spawning yet another batch. Nobody cares about me! It started to rain. He ran faster.

Evening was falling, light failing, so it was only his scans that warned him of the clearing ahead; a wide, grassy meadow when all he wanted was deep dark forest to fight. Rain poured down, cold and stinging on plating that could hardly be called armor yet. He shouted and dragged his feet in wide swathes, uprooting the grasses and dead annuals, gouging muddy crescents into the ground, thunder rumbling close. He felt a weird tingling from the top of his head, down across his fuselage, to his pedes…

A flash whited out his optics, a crashing so loud his audials shorted, and he was thrown, knocked across the meadow!

He came to in a heap, dazed, drumming of rain dull in his head, blind? He thought he should still be getting IR, but…drumming in his head…cold rain, cold rain and…footsteps?

“Oh, Slingshot!” Warm hands helped him sit up, and he felt deep medical scans sweep through him, blurred by his shivering. How long had he been out there? Where was here? His chrono and GPS were fried. He could barely feel the fields of people around him, more than one, more than First Aid, but that was all he could tell.

“Crazy Pit-spawn.”

Slingshot lunged for that voice, clung to a sturdy chest. Mama Bear! He didn’t, would never, say that aloud, but Barricade meant safe.

Someone else chuckled. “At least he wasn’t trying to fly in this.” Blades.

“Like you were?” Streetwise.

“Meh, I’ve been hit by lightning in mid-air before; I’m insulated.”

“Blades,” said First Aid. “Let’s get him home.”

There was a muffled sound of transformation, someone big, probably Hot Spot, then, and Slingshot felt himself lifted in Barricade’s arms. Carried a short distance, another lifting, climbing, and then the warmth of bodies around him as a big engine beneath them geared up. A bumpy ride for a while, then smoothing out.

Slingshot didn’t care. Barricade was there, strong and steady, and First Aid completed the circle of arms around him, with Streetwise and Groove filling in the gaps. He onlined his optics, looking up to see Aid and Cade’s helms tipped together. Shielding him from the worst of the rain.

“You followed me,” he accused.

“At a distance,” Aid said, his optics behind the visor warm. “Barricade felt you needed a little space to vent.”

Slingshot scowled, and buried his face in Barricade’s chest.

“It’s all right,” Aid said, stroking his back and wings. “You’re all right. Most of the charge travelled over the outside of your plating. I’ll need to do a few minor internal repairs – it looks like the strike’s field fritzed a couple of things, and there’s some thermal damage – once we get back home. How do you feel?”

“Fine,” Slingshot huffed. Hot Spot beneath them made a turn that felt familiar. One more straightaway, then through the tingly fence-field. “Didn’t even get that far.”

“A few miles,” Aid said, a smile in his voice. “Not bad for two legs.”

“Being angry’s not a capital offense,” Barricade grumbled, squeezing him a little. “Pit-spawn.”

Slingshot sighed air through his vents, blowing bits of mud and grass out. A good long soak in the oil bath sounded good. “I know.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure that’s enough?”

Time and human cultures moved on, but the Earth still turned on its axis, still faced toward and then away from its parent star in a four-billion year old dance. Seasons changed, and the Cybertronians remembered. They had an important date with their homeworld in just a few more thousand years.

“No,” said Voyager, nee Starshine, in answer to Skids’ teasing question. “Hoist is making another dozen.” He set the bundle in his arms down by the next tree lining the front driveway. Opening the canvas revealed six more colorful metal skeletons to be added to the thirty-odd already hanging from the trees. The “bones” were all hollow and any breeze set them ringing and chiming together in a strangely beautiful, if macabre, rhapsody.

“Only a dozen?” Skids grinned, and set to helping Voyager hang them. Skids and Mudflap didn’t really remember much from the time they’d been captured by Thundercracker and tortured by Flatline, nor of their brief stint on Earth before being respawned by Galvatron.

Under the trees, First Aid and Barricade sat on a park bench, watching the 5th instar youngsters decorating for the annual All Souls tour the Cybertronian enclave put on to benefit local charities. Barricade had an arm companionably draped over Aid’s shoulders, and Aid had somehow finagled an arm around Barricade’s waist.

“We’re going to be lucky with the weather this year,” Aid said, listening to the local broadcasts.

“Spared from muddy humans. Joy.” Barricade usually found an excuse to be absent for these seasonal tours, but the youngsters enjoyed it, so he tried to keep his grumping internal. Mostly.

Jetfire sproinged by on his long legs, coltish and awkward, myriad head-fins akimbo, a stack of cardboard headstones under one arm, a mist machine under the other. Barricade felt a twinge of relief that the rejuvenated Seeker hadn’t relearned how to teleport yet. (Neither had Skywarp, and there was an even greater relief.) There were so many hideous ways for that to go wrong.

Barricade had thought that he would only love that first fourteen. Wasn’t that enough? Galvatron’s clutch were all revenants, and with so much history, and so much of that history in civil war, he thought he could keep a little more distance. Properly respectful, but detached. (He still wasn’t sure, even now, how to deal with Soundwave.) But they had all been so tiny, so perfect, so themselves – so…cute. He couldn’t help worrying about them, too. They were starting over. How did they keep everything from happening again as it had the first time? How could things possibly go the same way after everything that had already happened? It made his processor ache.

“Urgh. What is this gunk, anyway?” Windcharger flapped his hands, trying to get clingy strands of “spiderweb” off his fingers. He’d been helping Hot Spot and Silverbolt spread great nets of the stuff over the treetops and just about everything else along the tour route, but was now having second thoughts.

“Wheeljack invented it,” Hot Spot said. “In 48 hours it’ll biodegrade into something like dandelion fluff, only without the seeds. Try not to get any in your vents, though.”

“Dah!”

“I’m glad Wheeljack accepted the “stretch and drape” deployment option instead of the ‘giant spiderweb gun,’” First Aid murmured to Barricade. Cade shuddered.

As Silverbolt and Hot Spot lofted another web, Skids and Voyager stopped in mid-skeleton-hang to watch. Their optics traced the lines of Silverbolt’s slim frame, and the small, graceful gestures of his wings as he moved. It wasn’t until Bumblebee – carrying at least twenty first instar hatchlings and trailed by half a dozen second instars – broke their line of sight that they blinked, glanced at each other sidelong, and went back to decorating. This sort of thing had, now that Barricade thought about it, been going on all afternoon.

No, he transmitted to Aid. Don’t do this to me. I’m not ready for this. At all.

Awww, Aid replied, profoundly unhelpful. But they’re so cute! Silverbolt stretched and Powerglide and Hot Rod tripped over each other, helped each other up, mutually baffled. Aid sighed happily.

None of Galvatron’s lot were ugly, not really. Not even Bonecrusher, who was solid and dependable and built for function over aesthetics. Skids was dashing and charming and handsome, even if he had the biggest pedes Barricade had ever seen on that frametype. (His sports-car mode got back.) Hot Rod, Elita, Starscream, Chromia, Jazz, Arcee, Knock Out; handsome mechs and femmes, and would be more so when fully adult. But Silverbolt was wildly attractive; shy and soft-spoken, graceful the way jets generally were.

“He was so small,” Aid said, wrapping his other arm around Barricade’s waist, squeezing.

Cade put his free hand over his own spark. “I’ll never forget: Optimus Prime, mooing to him.”

“Not for the last time!” Aid laughed. He retracted his mask, gazing at Cade, optics vivid behind the visor. There were universes in the spark behind those optics, Barricade thought. His Prime.

You’re going to give them ideas.

Better they get ideas from us, than from some…some memestream! Aid giggled.

The humans. Barricade groaned. We need to get the hatchlings off this planet… There had already been an increasing number of awkward moments between Ratchet and Ironhide – too many of which Barricade had inadvertently witnessed. Ironhide’s spark yearned, but his body wasn’t ready. Barricade wasn’t ready either.

There was a sudden shrieking, dopplering noticeably as the source approached. Aid and Barricade started and looked up to see Sideswipe come barreling down the road, swerving madly, arms over his head, pursued – and being soundly sprayed with silly-string – by an annoyed-past-endurance-looking Prowl. Barricade reset his optics. Twice.

Ultra Magnus observed coolly, momentarily distracted from the sign he was painting. “Fully deserved,” he said, and went back to his calligraphy.

Chapter Text

“Once upon a time,” Barricade said, using the cadences and idiom of Uncle Quig, Dion, and the Aunties, from whom he’d learned this version of the story, “a vast being lived in the universe all alone. After uncounted eons, it observed other life arise. First across one galaxy, then another, then every galaxy it visited. Startled and pleased by the notion of many individuals forming a whole, it divided itself – first into two, so that it and its daughter cell would not be lonely. The two were not exactly alike, for life, the first being had seen, loved wondrous variability…”

Hot Rod had heard this fable many times before, but he snugged into Barricade’s side and shuttered his optics, the hitching in his engine smoothing out. Barricade had taken a chance by choosing this particular tale. A hundred years had passed since Ironhide – the last of Galvatron’s first clutch – had emerged from his last molt into his adult frame, and Hot Rod had not yet begun his own final molt. Nor had Elita or Ultra Magnus, but that was to be expected; they were both Prime sparks – much to Elita’s surprise, for she had not been, in her previous life.

There had been more than a little bit of whimpering.

“The One Made Two had each other, orbiting in close harmony for many, many ages. But as time went on and they saw more and more kinds of life emerge, they felt keenly that they were the only two of their kind in all the vastness, and though they had each other they were lonely. So again, the mothercell divided, this time splitting off thirteen smaller versions of itself.”

“Thirteen Primes,” Hot Rod murmured. Optics lit. He was paying attention.

“Yes.” Jetfire talked about them sometimes, his optics and voice gone soft and strange. It was strange to hear, strange to think about, that Jetfire’s spark was that ancient. Barricade continued the story; how the daughtercell also created copies of itself, but could only make five, and they were very different from itself and each other. How the daughtercell, though intrigued by these differences, eventually became jealous and angry at the mothercell’s ability to create more and more kinds of itself, all working together, with the glow of the mothercell in their eyes. How eventually the daughtercell turned to destruction, unmaking, and at last threatened the very existence of the mothercell. How the Thirteen Primes banded together to defeat the daughtercell, and the price they paid in doing so, the light of some of them being extinguished and the light of the survivors changed forever.

Hot Rod’s engine ran quiet and slow, ventilations barely discernable. Deep in recharge.

“May I?” Optimus asked, stooping when Barricade nodded and reaching out his big, blunt-fingered hands to scoop Hot Rod up. Roddy frowned in his recharge, then pressed his cheek against Optimus’ chest, humming to the great spark within.

“He usually stays awake through the battle part,” Barricade said, sitting up somewhat and stretching. Optimus chuckled, wandering off with Roddy in his arms, to go look out at the night sky, Cybertron distant in its orbit now, but visible to Cybertronian eyes.

Barricade debated the virtues of getting up and checking on the other youngsters in their berths, or just staying where he was and getting in some quality recharge himself. First Aid peeked around the doorframe and knocked gently.

“I’ve been told off,” he said. Barricade lifted an arm and Aid scurried in, climbing up onto the berth and curling up with his head on Cade’s chest. “Elita was lecturing Hot Spot about getting enough rest because he’d told her to go recharge, and then Uncle Dion stepped in and I thought he might actually knock their heads together, and…oh, I’m tired.”

Cade chuckled, cuddling Aid closer. If Aid was admitting it, he was tired indeed.

“Rest, then,” Cade murmured against the curve of Aid’s helm.

“Mm,” said Aid, and Barricade heard the soft click of his face mask sliding open.

Barricade angled an optic down at him, supraorbital crest raised. Aid pinged him with a link request, which he accepted and initialized with an automatic thoughtlessness that would have horrified him seven thousand years ago, but felt normal now. It wasn’t a medical link, hmm, but it was definitely…physical. Because exhaustion plus exhaustion equaled…still really tired? Oh, hmmmm. Mostly physical. Warmth bloomed through him, centered from his spark, and he could feel the resonances of Aid’s spark; strong and infinitely layered, beautiful but unfathomable. Aid’s hand traced patterns on his chestplates.

“Are you feeling…spawny? Is that what this is?” Aid had been in Arizona four months ago, and press footage had shown him sunbathing.

“Would it be so terrible if I was?”

“…I suppose not.” Largely due to the fact that Optimus had spawned again two years ago (because clearly they didn’t have enough to do, rebuilding Cybertron and keeping Earth and the rest of the Sol system stable, so having 41 first instars all at once was the logical course of action), and Barricade, will-he nil-he, had witnessed several stages of that procedure. Not as horrific as he’d thought. Weird, yes, but not horrible.

Aid scooted up a little, just enough to put their faces close. Cade tipped his head down and they bumped forehelms. Brushed cheek spars. Soft, warm vents tickling over plating gone sensitive. Cade stroked Aid’s waist in gentle spirals. Both their engines thrummed.

“Not…spawny,” Aid said, grinning. “Or. Well, yes, but not…right this instant. Is that all right?”

“You’re serious.” Traitorous fans, kicking on. Ridiculous. Impossible. Why wasn’t he panicking at the very idea?

First Aid tilted his head and kissed him…and the link… expanded, billowing out to encompass the nearest stars in an instant, and Barricade fell through the veil separating himself from all other life. Only for a moment. That and the complexity of it saved him, until Aid took hold of him with precise, implacable control and the teeming, seething sea faded, replaced by the spinning of this planet, hurtling around its sun, the whole system careening around the center of the galaxy in a wild fandango.

Laughing, Aid did some new thing, and Barricade’s spark blew outward joyously in flares and ribbons, memory and life-force, embraced and embracing…and just as suddenly contracted, back to the limits of his pinpoint self, where he could feel everything, every molecule of air, every cosmic ray, every stray neutrino, with exquisite delicacy. He might have fallen offline for a second. Or three.

Blinking his optics into focus, he found himself completely prone, First Aid draped over him, strutless. “Whaa…?” he said muzzily.

“It’s good to be a Prime,” Aid laughed, and kissed him again.

Chapter Text

“Try this?” A steaming mug of something slid into First Aid’s field of vision. Aid blinked at it for a moment. The aroma drifting up to him from the liquid reminded him of…

“Cider? Apple cider?” It even faintly resembled cider, in that it was deeply golden, though this stuff glowed with its own light. Hoist had clearly been experimenting. The combination of Borealis’ human sensory files and Hoist’s culinary fascination did not always result in potable liquids, however. Aid lifted the mug and inhaled the vapors. It smelled like the human beverage, in a roundabout way, but layered with scents Cybertronians found enticing. High-yield things, which corresponded to “sweet”. That was easy enough – a lot of radioactive isotopes had that quality, especially in purer forms. How on Earth had Hoist managed to translate the “apple-y” aspect, though?

“It’s not poisonous,” Mirage said, folding his arms on Aid’s desk and resting his chin on them. “Shall I take a sip first?”

“Oh pfft,” Aid said. “I’m appreciating it.”

“Mmm,” said Mirage, appreciating him.

Aid found blushing in humans (and cephalopods) quite fetching, but hadn’t yet gone so far as to program his chromatophores to do it. He took a sip. Sweetness, tartness… spice? Layers of it, and a pleasant warmth all the way down. He took another, larger sip. “Mmmmmm.”

“Mmmmmm?” Mirage stood up and leaned over the desk, turning his head to get his chemoreceptors closer to Aid’s mouth.

“Mmmhmm!” Putting the mug aside, Aid kissed him, full of spice and sweetness.

Chapter Text

Fire ran before them, the air full of smoke and ash and flying sparks. The roads through Cajon Pass were closed, empty of all but firefighter traffic…and Autobots.

Optimus took the rear, and the brunt of the buffeting gale force winds, Mirage tucked neatly in front of his bumper, in the protective shadow of his greater mass. The thick, heavy air of this world was interesting, though, against their bodies, and for a moment Mirage scooted out to the side, hunkering down on his tires but gunning his engine, not even pretending to make normal Veyron sounds. Normally, this recklessness would have been a scolding offense, but Optimus felt it too, this weird urge to test his limits against the wild, unfamiliar forces of this planet. Mirage fishtailed a little, and Optimus sped up – sheer show of power from a rig his size – to run beside him.

But the roads of Earth were not like the roads of Cybertron. Not smooth swathes of metal, textured for traction but engineered to micrometer tolerances over their entire spans, and maintained with loving care over millennia after millennia.

It didn’t take much, for a car as low as the Veyron, and Mirage could sleek himself lower still, compensating rapidly for the irregularities in the asphalt – until one moment of inattention, admiring the strength of his Prime, sent him flipping into the air.

Mirage transformed, hoping to land better in root mode, but was tossed unpredictably, sent cartwheeling toward the shoulder, chips of blacktop spanging away as he ricocheted off, sending him flying in another direction – Optimus transformed too, and the crew in one ambulance following carefully at some distance behind them were treated to a robotic midair ballet usually only seen in the heat of battle, as Optimus sprang, reached, caught Mirage, tucked him close and rolled, plowing great rents in the pavement with his shoulders and back.

“Prime!”

Optimus shook his head, waving Aid off. “We’ll keep until you’ve treated those more gravely wounded.”

Aid lanced a quick scan in their direction anyway, confirming for himself that neither were in immediate peril, and spun resolutely back to the humans at the medical field station.

It was a long night, under the howling of the Santa Anas. The humans gulped water and electrolytes and food, and grasped at trailing ends of sleep, or sank into the unconsciousness of the exhausted. Blades continued water drops, Groove kept watch and poked around Mormon Rocks, while Streetwise and Hot Spot prowled the edges of firebreaks, widening them as much as they could.

At the far end of the camp, Optimus sat with Mirage in his lap, both of them sooty and scored; Mirage recharging, more thoroughly mangled.

“Oh, Mir,” Aid said softly, reaching for him and scanning. The injuries looked uglier than they really were, but Mirage would be in substantial pain when he awoke, if his nociception wasn’t blocked properly. Aid slipped in a medical link, wrist cable to cervical port. (Optimus was already healed, beneath the soot, and First Aid shook away the thought that the Allspark was spreading every time it did this.) Initiated a sub-string that would keep Mirage unconscious until repairs were complete.

Mirage’s optics reset on the second try. He reached for Aid’s hand, and warbled and trilled Cybertronian so refined and nuanced it was nigh unintelligible.

“Goodness,” hummed Prime. “I’ve just had my vocabulary updated.”

Aid giggled. Bumped forehelms with Mir. “You’re welcome, I think.” He prepared to disengage the medical link with an almost shy reluctance. Mirage’s body was really quite lovely, inside and out.

Hound?

“Still in Tanzania.” Aid scanned deep, checking the helm injury again. Just a rakish graze along one side, it had left Mirage’s face untouched, but snapped off one of his main comm antennae.

“Oh, yes.” Mirage shifted, feeling out the new repairs.

“Is there—?” Aid began, but Mirage smiled and pulled him into Prime’s lap, too, wrapping arms around him, twining legs. Aid felt Optimus firm up and extend his shields around them all. No awake humans close by, but there were curious wanderers and you never knew.

“I’m fine, thanks to you,” Mirage said. He kissed Aid gently, but his optics stayed shuttered, and his fields were still tired.

“So,” Aid said. “300mph in the Santa Anas. Good idea yes or no? Streetwise wants to know.”

“If they’d smooth the roads-!” Mirage fussed. Optimus huffed laughter, making the smaller mechs in his lap fizz and beep with delight.

“Recharge, both of you,” Optimus said, smoothing his big hands over them. “We can debate road maintenance techniques versus reckless driving with the humans in the morning.”

Chapter Text

Arms slipped around his waist, and a narrow but warm chest settled against his back. First Aid jumped minutely in startlement. “Evening, Mirage!” There was a soft chuckle at his shoulder, and then EM shimmered and bloomed and he could sense entirely the Towers mech behind him.

That never stopped being weird and kind of fantastic. Aid worried, though. That system drew so much power, and of course, like all high-energy systems, ran off Mirage’s spark. No wonder the invis-suits they’d tried building for humans still couldn’t be made to work without slowly frying the human wearing them. The humans had worked out visible-light camo, but you needed more than that to foil Cybertronian, Decepticon vision. Aid patted Mirage’s hands.

Mirage chirped him a small data packet. A stream of Cybertronian sunsets, like a time-lapse vid, filtered over the sky in First Aid’s vision; pale and feathery compared to the splash of hues and billowing clouds before them in the present. Mirage’s fields spiraled in a complex mixture of sadness and admiration and determined happiness and nostalgia. And anger, that this world had come so close to annihilation. Autumn closed in, and even there in southern Nevada, standing on the mesa top, the winter breathed cold through the bright colors in the west. First Aid and his brothers had only stopped at the Embassy for a few hours rest on their way to somewhere else. So much rebuilding to do, and natural disasters didn’t cease just because humanity was already busy.

“It’s good to see you,” Mirage said, smiling at the implied return joke.

First Aid chuckled, undecided whether to turn in Mirage’s arms and get a proper snogging, or stay as he was and watch the clouds turn fuchsia and the sky indigo. Mirage missed Countermeasure, that much he could tell. Distracting himself with the beauty of this world. “I wish we could stay longer,” he said, leaning his helm back against Mirage’s.

“So do I.” Mirage kissed his shoulder, but kept his optics on the sky.

Chapter Text

It was November. No one joked about “winter is coming” any more, because the worry was, winter might not leave, for reals. Kilometer-deep gashes in the Earth’s crust, raking through cities all over the world, still had molten rock in their depths. All was not despair, however. There were deltas ice-skating on the Great Lakes.

The other Autobots soon found this an irresistible idea, and joined them. No skates needed! Just some minor pedal modifications, and a strengthening of personal shielding to maintain a comfortable core temperature.

First Aid skated near the shore, leisurely, enjoying the forest – balsam fir and spruce – and relative quiet, away from the deltas’ impromptu self-instruction in figure-skating. And Blades’ indoctrination of some of the Waterbabies into the world of ice hockey.

Optimus overtook Aid, hands behind his back, plumes of steam unfurling from his helm- and core-vents. Aid watched him, smiling, reminded of buffalo in Yellowstone. Or some kind of watery dragon. Massive, powerful, wondrous beasts. Optimus was large enough to need to dump excess heat even in these conditions, as long as he was exerting himself. Aid knew his own trails of fusion-steam were modest by comparison.

Cliffjumper and Bee sailed by, hands linked, trying to throw each other off-balance. A hail of snowballs heralded Hound and Trailbreaker, adding a complication to their game. First Aid swerved a bit to avoid being hit.

“Mind the collaterals,” Mirage called out, skimming up to Aid, sleek and fast, blowing hard from a race with Blurr. Aid reached out and Mirage took his hand, twirling them about their shared center of mass, sliding a hand around Aid’s waist. The twirl became an effortless waltz. “I know you,” Mirage sang softly, “I’ve walked with you once upon a dream…

“I’m the one dreaming,” Aid said, pulling Mirage close. The wafts of steam from Mirage’s slim frame seemed to float and glitter, delicate and icy wings from the main core vents on the backs of his shoulders. “You look like a winter spirit.”

“Oh?”

“Not the cute, pixie 19th century fairies,” Aid said. “The dangerous kind, that would just as soon turn you into an equal volume of spiders as look at you.”

“I like spiders,” Mirage said thoughtfully.

“They are pretty, aren’t they!” Aid agreed, rubbing his mid-helm buttress against Mirage’s.

"Yes, but I think I like your volume the way it is," Mirage huffled, and cloud-wings swirled behind him. An ethereal steam engine. They danced faster, the Tchaikovsky waltz now in both their minds, wreathing themselves in white mists that deepened to gold as the afternoon waned.

Chapter Text

“Mirage? Mir… Oh dear.”

Mirage blinked, looked up into the concerned face of First Aid quite close in front of him. Aid’s hands were warm over his on the handle of the rake.

“Mir?”

Aid patted him, and he felt scans through the cold air. So much water, strange, organic scents. What planet was this? Oh. He reset his optics, taking in blue sky, red and orange and gold-yellow leaves, dark stems of trees half-bare. Colorado. He’d been thinking of three million years ago, and home-that-was-gone-forever.

“Mir, it’s so beautiful, what you’ve done,” Aid was explaining. One arm around his waist, not taking the rake from him, but guiding him slowly, step by step, somewhere else. “But the people who live on this street aren’t used to you doing this, like they are on the Epps’ block, and Theresa is worried.”

“Ah.” Vibrant fractal whorls against the damp, black street. Several cars were parked at either end, with a handful of humans out and watching, talking, exchanging interested but slightly unsettled looks. No one had wanted to drive across the leaf-patterns, but people did want to get home. “I am so terribly sorry!” Mirage called, ducking a quick, sincere bow. “I simply lost track…”

“We don’t mind!” a tall, brunette woman and her three teenaged children assured him, waving. “May we post the photos?”

“Of course,” Mirage said, nodding a slightly deeper bow to her. He followed First Aid back to the Epps house, kneeling to take Theresa’s hand when she came out to meet them.

“Mirage, you’re freezing!” she scolded. “Get to the sunroom, both of you!”

“Yes, ma’am.” They stepped over the fence and squeezed through the double door into the sunroom Theresa had had built onto the back of the house. Optimus-sized mechs would have trouble fitting, but anyone smaller could manage it. Mirage curled up with his helm in First Aid’s lap, the young medic stroking his finials and shoulders soothingly.

“Are you going to plant trees,” Aid asked, “when Cybertron is moved? So that you can rake the leaves?” Theresa sat up in her rocking chair and set her teacup down.

“Mmm,” said Mirage. “Maples.”

“That will make Maggie happy,” Aid said.

Mirage strafed through the maple - syrup - pancakes - happy Maggie set of logical leaps and chuckled. “So it will!”