Chapter 27: Kith and Kin
For a long minute, Aria thought she was swimming. Of course it was dark, which was odd, and she couldn't really feel the water, which was even odder, but she could hear the gentle, rhythmic whoosh of the waves, so she assumed that the lack of light and feeling must just be some sort of fluke.
But then the ebb and flow of the waves quickened, or maybe her hearing sped up, because the waves turned into an internal heartbeat. It was echoing in her ears, a rhythmic pounding to match the thudding pain taking its place in her head and chest. Feeling reappeared with the pulsing drum beating inside her head and she quickly wished that it hadn't. She hurt everywhere, as if she had been beaten by a wildly thrashing crocodile before being stewed in a large pot. She felt hot and sore and raw and she really wished the swimming sensation would come back so she could at least pretend this was not happening.
External sound, which sounded far, far, too loud in her sensitive ears, appeared to her left, as if somebody had just come to stand beside her and was now fidgeting restlessly.
She knew that voice, she slowly realized, she knew it very well. It was Wheeljack. What was he doing standing next to her in the dark?
Aria gave a small groan to show she had heard him, unable and most unwilling to try speaking at this point. She'd probably have to shout to be heard over the pounding of her pulse in her temples anyway.
"Can you open your eyes?" Wheeljack asked carefully next to her, sounding worried.
Oh. Was that why it was so dark? Well that was easily fixed.
She took stock of her aching, thrumming, pounding body and added a 'maybe' to the end of that last assumption.
It took her a minute, but eventually Aria remembered how her eyelids worked. For
a long, foggy minute Aria stared blearily up at the brightly lit ceiling, too dazed even to wonder what was going on. Then she noticed movement next to her just before the light above her was suddenly blotted out, covered by the large, silhouetted figures of people she ought to have recognized even in the dark. But for some reason – the pounding no doubt – it took her a slow minute to recognize them. Should she be worried about that maybe?
"Optimus?" Aria managed to mumble through cracking lips. Optimus was red and blue right? Or was that someone else?
There was a loud, collective whoosh of relieved air at her barely understandable murmur that brushed against Aria's face and lifted strands of her hair away from her hot face. She slowly closed her eyes and enjoyed the coolness against her too hot skin. Her chest in particularly felt like it was burning. Wait. Hadn't she been hit there?
Distant memories stirred groggily in the back of her mind, but they were too slow to appear before Optimus started talking. She didn't have the attention span to listen to both of them at the moment, so she picked Optimus. He would probably make more sense right now anyway.
"Yes Ariah, we're all here. How do you feel?" He asked, sounding just as concerned as Wheeljack had a second ago.
Aria barely registered that he was talking, much less that he had asked her a question. His words sounded so clear and concise, without the usual hesitation of internal translating Aria had come to expect from all of the bots that had tried to learn her language. But with the state her mind was in, it took Aria a moment to notice.
"You sssound funny." She said, her tongue slipping over the 's'. Then, feeling that she was missing an important piece of the story about why she felt like death warmed over, Aria slowly blinked at the familiar faces looking down on her. She was beginning to regain enough cognitive ability to think that she felt like she had just gone through the Space Bridge again, only ten times worse.
"Wah-wat happ'nd?" She managed to ask with a weak groan. Then she realized that she was lying in a metal hospital bed. "Di' I glitch again?"
As out of it as she was, Aria still heard the muted, relieved laughter of those around her as well as the smile in her old friend's voice. "Sleep Aria." He told her gently. "You're going to be fine."
"A'right," she mumbled, trusting him innately as she started falling back into that big, black swimming pool, away from the pounding in her head and the fire in her chest.
And then the world was black again.
It was some time before Aria had recovered enough to remember what had happened. It was only a few seconds more before she realized that an important part of her was irretrievably missing.
She never said anything of her unease out loud, but they could all feel it, especially the eight that had tied themselves to her immediate life, although Optimus had more then a good idea of how she was feeling. He didn't need a bond with her to know she felt confused about a lot of things.
But he gave her time. There were some things he could not imagine, or even identify with; like the anxiety she felt over receiving a spark. Granted it was an extremely odd circumstance – one that had never been imagined before – however Cybertronians were not new to the idea of interchanging parts of their physical frames. They even changed entire frames as they aged, like the younglings would need to do eventually as their sparks learned and grew. From what Optimus understood, organics didn't need to deal with this at all. New parts were an exception, rather then the rule. He thought it was best to leave Ariah alone so she could come to her own peace with her new circumstance. Besides, it wasn't as if he didn't have enough to deal with as it was. Already Megatron was pushing harder against Iacon, no doubt driven by the thought that younglings were hidden behind its walls.
But time passed, and still Aria seemed lost. Even Bumblebee couldn't get her to talk anymore. Optimus knew that he had to talk with her once he found the yellow youngling moping because his jie mei was never happy anymore.
He found her the next day, sitting on the edge of a step along one of the many staircases that had been built in the Hall of Records. She was looking at her hands, which were laced together in her lap, as she idly swung her legs over the edge. The white light of her new half-spark glowed softly through her white shirt.
Without a word, Optimus went and sat beneath her several steps so that his head was roughly level with her small frame.
For many cycles they sat in thoughtful silence, Aria wrapped up in her turbulent thoughts and Optimus giving her time to process them without his added input.
But eventually he felt the need to speak.
"You are upset." He stated in a low voice, rather than asked.
After a moment, Aria shook her head, and then she nodded. Then she took in a heavy breath but didn't look up from her clasped hands. "Yes and no," she admitted, her voice rough and ragged.
Optimus noted the tear stained quality to her voice, but decided not to bring it up just yet. "How so?" He asked instead.
Ariah sat quiet for another long cycle. "Have you ever heard the saying 'feeling alone in a crowded room'?" She asked eventually.
Optimus blinked at her. He hadn't expected that. "No," he answered her, "but it sounds straight forward enough."
Aria nodded absentmindedly. "That's how I feel." She said softly. Then she swallowed hard as she stared determinedly at the empty air in front of her.
"Why?" Optimus asked, deciding not to speak his mind quite yet. There would be plenty of time for that once she had gotten her feelings out in the air.
Aria snorted a laugh as she looked down at her hands. "Because I don't belong here Optimus, you know that. You've tried to send me through theSpaceBridgeoften enough to prove that." She said somewhat bitterly, although Optimus wasn't sure if that was because she now regretted not going or if she was resentful of his apparent desire to get rid of her.
"It's just," she went on before he could explain himself, "it's just that I always thought I'd get to go home. Back where things made sense and the only thing I had to worry about was getting good grades in school and not getting lost when I dropped Sera off at a friend's house." She said, her throat going tight at the mention of her sister. "Of course I would miss you guys – I thought my heart would break when we said goodbye that night," she suddenly laughed almost hysterically, "and I guess it did! – but it would be alright because I'd be home, in my own bed, safe with my family." She said, chocking up more.
Optimus stayed silent and watched her with sympathetic blue optics as she gathered what self control she could find.
"I'm sorry," she muttered a few moments later as she rubbed her nose, "that sounds ungrateful of me doesn't it? Expecting to be safe at home while you guys fight and die for yours."
But Optimus shook his head. "You want the same thing we do Ariah; a home where we can live in peace, safe and free from bots like Megatron." He told her gently.
Aria nodded as she stared down at her hands again. She cracked a teary eyed grin. "Somehow I knew you'd say something like that." She said, her voice creaking now.
Optimus nodded slowly. "It seems I am getting predictable then." He said, hoping to make her smile.
It worked a little. Her mouth twitched upwards minutely as she wiped her eyes dry again. "Just a little bit yeah."
She stared silently as she rubbed her hands together between her knees.
Soon her small, quiet voice reappeared, momentarily dry, although Optimus hardly expected that to last. "I already knew that if I chose not to go with Sera, then I wasn't going to get home at all. At least not bySpaceBridge. I couldn't ask that of you guys, not again." She told him.
A crack finally appeared in Ariahs' schooled face and she squeezed her eyes shut as tears pitched down her cheeks. She breathed in quickly, throwing her hands over her face but unable to stop her tears.
"Oh God!" She cried through her fingers, "I miss her!" She began to sob, not bothering to try and hide her loneliness anymore.
"I know." Optimus said gently.
"I-I'm n-n-never going to s-see her a-again!" She stuttered, leaning forward so that her covered face rested against her knees as she cried.
He let her. There was no reason she should keep this pain locked up where it would do more damage then good. When it was clear she had more tears in her then Optimus had first thought, he reached up and gently nudged her closer. Automatically she leaned against his cheek, his fingers wrapped around her back in a miniature embrace.
She cried for a long time, clinging to Optimus until she had wrung herself out.
Eventually her tears slowed and her spark-wracking sobs turned into off beat hiccups as she leaned, curled up on herself, against Optimus. "Ariah," Optimus said when he thought she could hear him over her weeping. "I understand why you feel like you don't belong here, but it's not true. You're one of us Ariah, you have been for a long time." He said remembering Prowl's words that orbit she had been bleeding out on Ratchet's table. Even Ratchet giving her a piece of his spark spoke volumes of how much they loved her. "And the reason I tried to send you back so often wasn't because I didn't want you here. I just wanted you to be safe Ariah." He told her earnestly, hoping she would believe him. "And I thought you would be safer on your own planet." He admitted.
Aria hiccupped in answer.
"Well," she eventually said, her voice stuffy, "you might have had a point there." She said, putting a hand over her new spark-heart. "Want to know something weird?" She asked softly a moment later.
Optimus tilted his head slightly so he could see her, but not enough that she had to move away. "What?"
"I can feel them sometimes," she confessed softly, her voice barely above a whisper, "like they're right there with me. Sometimes I can even get emotion out of it. Like right now I think Ratchet's yelling at Hound for trying to leave the med bay again."
Optimus smiled. It was probably true. "That is a bond." Optimus told her, once again feeling slightly upset that he had missed his chance to help her more.
Aria nodded unaware of Optimus' guilt as she looked at the floor. "Yeah, it's actually really weird." She told him with a half laugh. "But I guess that means I'm not really alone, doesn't it? Because can't they feel me too?"
Optimus nodded. "Ariel knew you were awake before Wheeljack had even said anything." He told her.
Aria nodded slowly. "Cool." She said.
"I am glad you saved me you know," she told him after another moment, sounding slightly embarrassed now over her earlier self-pity, although Optimus could hardly blame her for it, "at least now if I can't go home to my blood family, then I get to stay here with you guys. You're like my other family. My extended family," she said with a tiny laugh as she reached up a hand to feel the warmth of the spark that had melded with what was left of her original heart.
Optimus found a smile for her, even if it was a little twisted around the edges. "If only we could have done more for you in the end." He said, his guilt coming out in spades now.
Aria blinked at him and frowned slightly. "What?" She asked, sounding somewhat confused.
Now it was Optimus' turn to wonder if he should say anything.
"If I had only been faster." The words rushed out. "If I had only noticed Bumblebee sooner."
But Aria wasn't having any of that. "If only you had the power to be everywhere at once. If only I had magic, Megatron-proof armor. If only Bumblebee had listened for once and stayed put instead of wandering out onto a war zone." She said rolling her eyes at his guilt. "You can't blame yourself for something that wasn't your fault." She told him plainly.
He decided not to argue with that logic, but that didn't make him feel any better either. "It's just," he tried to sort out what he felt, "when you're heart stopped, I didn't know what to do. You have put so much faith in me, ever since we met, have relied on me and trusted me without question, no matter how much you argue," he said slanting her a look that seemed to say there were times when she argued a lot, "that I could not live with myself if I let you down. You are very dear to me little Ariah."
Aria stared at him so long that for a klik he thought he had blown her processors. And then a playful grin pulled up at her mouth that made him instantly nervous.
"Why Optimus Prime," Aria said, sounding much more like the Ariah he had known all this time, "I do believe that you just said you loved me." She said, finding this immensely funny.
Optimus resisted the urge to roll his optics at her and decided to smirk instead as he reached up a hand and lightly zapped her with a finger.
"Eep!" Aria shrieked as she fell over, laughter just pouring out her mouth as she flapped her arms at him in a meager defense. "S-stop it!" She laughed, hardly able to breathe as the current sped just under skin, tingling enough to make her twitch and giggle like someone was tickling her mercilessly. Despite that she couldn't help but feel he had just pecked her on the cheek.
She was laughing so hard she was crying again and it took her a minute to get control of her laughter. "Aha ha, w-what was, hee, that?" She asked, still giggling occasionally.
"I believe you would call that a kiss, my dear Ariah. Isn't that what you organics do when you're in love with someone? You kiss them all over?" He asked raising a finger again.
Aria gave a shriek of laughter and twitched away laughing. He gave a laugh of his own as he tousled her head instead.
"Cheeky." Aria called him as she pulled her hair out of her face. "You should save that kind of talk for your girlfriend." She taunted, eyes wide and mischievous.
"Wha-" Optimus started, surprised and a little embarrassed.
"Oh yeah, I've noticed the two of you all sweet and buttery around each other. I don't need to be connected with you to notice that." She said, wiggling her eyebrows impishly at him.
"Buttery?" Optimus asked just to be sure he had actually heard her right.
"What?" Aria asked.
"You said buttery."
"I did not." She protested, then getting the insistent feeling that she had, quickly changed the subject by asking, "hey just how can you understand me now anyway? Why aren't there a bunch of mistranslations and explanations needed anymore?" She asked.
"Your spark," Optimus said pointing but not touching, "you can understand because Ariel, Bumblebee, Bluestreak, Chromia, Ironhide, Wheeljack, Hound, and Ratchet can understand."
"Okay," Aria said, eyebrows coming together as she thought about this, "but then how can you understand me?"
Optimus thought about it. "I imagine Ariel had something to do with that. She will be able to understand you clearly now and she is still a master linguist. She's probably assisting in the translation somehow."
Aria half shrugged, accepting what explanation he could give and moving on. "Alright then. That sounds like it could work. Hey you want to go get something to eat? I'm starved." She said getting to her feet.
Optimus offered his hand by way of answer and then stood once she had secured herself in his palm.
"Ariah," Optimus said a few minutes later, wanting to say this before he lost his chance, "I am sorry for not being able to help you when you most needed it." He said, sounding thoroughly contrite.
But then, strangely enough, Aria smiled at him. "Nah," she said, waving away his apology, "it's alright. We'll just have to do things the human way for once." She told him with a grin.
Optimus blinked at her. He hadn't thought about it that way before. "I guess we will."
"Hey you don't suppose this'll make Wheeljack's nutrition experiments taste any better do you?" Aria asked pointing rather hopefully at the glow of her spark as Optimus navigated his way through the Hall of Records.
"Probably not." Optimus told her. "I don't believe it has any affect on your taste buds. Although curiously enough it does seem to have corrected your pancreatic malfunction." He informed her.
Aria stared up at him. "My what?" She asked.
Optimus tried again. "Your lack of insulin."
"Ah," Aria said, nodding this time. "Well that's good, I guess. But what about the side affect Wheeljack's insulin had on my lifespan?" She asked, suddenly nervous. She had been alive for who knew how long already. She didn't want to just up and disintegrate because her diabetes had been healed through spark-therapy.
Optimus looked slightly anxious now. "We can't be sure since this has never been done before of course. However I would think it would be reasonable to assume that you'll now have something similar to our lifespan, as long as the spark doesn't leave your body it should keep your frame in good health for long vorns to come. You'll probably have as much a shot as longevity as the rest of us."
"Hmm," Aria said in mock thoughtfulness, "so the odds aren't all that good then are they?"
"On a good day." Optimus added.
Later that lunar cycle, Optimus stood in the doorway of the room the younglings had been sharing ever since they had learned of Treads' death and Ariah's injury. None of the adults had had the spark to separate them, especially now that it had been decided that splitting them up would be safest for the younglings. It would probably be some time before they all saw each other again.
Aria was with them tonight, curled up at the very middle of the pile. Bumblebee was behind her, staying close to make sure she was still there. On his other side was Arcee, who was usually close to either 'Bee or Cloudraker because they hardly ever moved while they were sleeping, so they didn't end up kicking her during the night or getting so turned around that their feet ended up in the little femme's face.
Val was on Aria's other side, and Optimus noticed that the little organic had wrapped her arms around the young mech's neck in a hug even as they slept. Behind him was Fastlane, who had one arm thrown over Val's shoulder not so much in a comforting hug, but amidnightsprawl. Cloudraker was lying above the others, his knees curled up tight against his chest and his arms under his cheek, the complete opposite of his brother. The very movable Skids and Mudflap were below everyone's feet so they didn't disturb the others as they tossed and turned and kicked each other all night long.
"Even when they sleep they fight," he thought as Mudflap twisted over and planted his feet on top of his brother. Skids must have mistaken him for a blanket because he grabbed his bother's leg and pulled him like he would wrap a blanket around himself, but all it did was make Mudflap lie on his head. It looked horribly uncomfortable.
Disturbed by Skids' bumping his foot with his head, Val pulled his feet up closer to him, setting off a chain reaction that had the rest of the younglings, even Cloudraker who hardly ever moved, shifting and turning to get back into more comfortable positions. Bumblebee nearly rolled over on top of Aria, but she moved too, fitting into the puzzle like all the others.
"It's a wonder they can sleep like that at all." Optimus thought, shaking his head as the eight sleeping figures settled again. But then he had to step forward quickly as Fastlane chose that moment to flop over the side of the bed.
Optimus caught him before he fell all the way to the floor. "You all are getting too big to pile onto one bed." He muttered to the sleeping younglings as he gently set the boy back on the bed, as far away from the edge as possible. As soon as he let go, Fastlane rolled over towards Val, facing the middle of them as he finally fell still.
Optimus shook his head at him. It was like they never stopped moving. They would all be strong soldiers when they were grown.
Optimus gave the younglings a very different look now. They were getting to that age, he knew, when they should start learning how to survive on their own in wartime, a skill that seemed even more important to Optimus' mind now that Treads was gone and Val was left without a guardian to care for him and protect him as he grew. Already the children, especially Val, Bumblebee, and Arcee, knew the basics of hand to hand fighting (it was practically unavoidable living with a bunch of adults that lived through fighting) which comforted Optimus some.
But then he realized he was looking at the children solely as potential fighters, and he couldn't help but think he had been at war too long.
Aria whined softly in her sleep and rolled over onto her other side, automatically burying her head into Bumblebee's shoulder when she bumped into him.
A whole new set of problems swarmed Optimus now as he looked over at the sleeping organic. Like how she was going to take the news that in order to keep them safe, they were separating the younglings and hiding them away in different remote locations along with their guardians and other select bots to defend them against the rampant Decepticon forces. She wasn't going to like it – he knew that much – but a part of him thought that she would at least see the necessity of it and would understand that it was the best way to keep them safe.
There was also the little matter of what to do with her. Like Ariah had mentioned earlier, she had always expected to go home, and so had the Autobots, but now that home was no longer an option, what were they to do? Should she just keep going on as she had been, a temporary resident of their planet?
"Only she's not just here for a little while now. She's going to stay, maybe as long until this mess is over and done with even. And it's not like she can just keep sharing a room with Bumblebee and keeping watch over the younglings, especially since they won't need watching anymore. Bumblebee and Val will probably be the only ones still in Iacon soon and they're already half grown out of their frames. She needs-"
And then he got an idea. A downright brilliant one if you asked him too. He suddenly knew exactly what she needed, and all he had to do was ask Wheeljack, and possibly Grapple, about how to go about it.
Aria noticed her friends acting weird a few days after her talk with Optimus on the Hall of Record's staircase. At first it wasn't all that weird, just a few whispered conversations that stopped abruptly when she walked in the room. She thought it had something to do with the younglings and their impending goodbyes, but that didn't make much sense. It wasn't as if she didn't know about it and avoiding the subject around her irritated her more then anything. And then she noticed that it wasn't all of the bots acting funny, just the ones she knew very well.
They were up to something, she could feel it, but she couldn't figure out what it was. Although not for lack of trying. Prowl had practically banished her from his office after he had found her sneaking around as she tried to follow Bluestreak inside hoping that he'd start talking about the whatever-it-was they were planning.
He hadn't, and now every time Prowl saw her he gave her the evil eye.
"In hindsight maybe I shouldn't have used his papers as a parachute. At least then I wouldn't have knocked his mountains of records over. And after he had organized them so carefully too..."
Aria shrugged in 'oh well' fashion as she walked down the corridor away from the med bay where Ratchet had been looking her over to make sure no unwanted side effects from the melding of her heart and the pieces of spark had appeared. So far nothing had really changed – although Ratchet thought that if her body did change it would be slowly over time so there was really no telling what the future held some fifty years (at the very least!) down the line – so she wasn't all that worried. What would come would come. If nearly dying had taught her anything, it was that the present was all that was certain, might as well enjoy it while she could. Next time she might not be so fortunate.
Aria stopped and shook herself. Apparently near death experiences made her overly morbid too.
She continued around the corner, planning to go spend some time with the younglings while she still could, but stopped when she saw something highly suspicious.
"Aria!" Wheeljack gave a start when he saw her standing there. "Where'd you come from?"
Aria just crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the group of bots clustered together. They had been talking quietly to each other before she had come in. Then they had suddenly stopped.
"What're you guys doing?" Aria asked, her tone telling them that she knew they were up to something.
Bumblebee, standing between Optimus and Ariel's feet, just giggled. He was in on it too.
"Good, now we don't have to go looking for you," was all Jazz said to her. "I guess that settles that. Now come on, we don't have all orbit."
Arai raised an eyebrow at him, but despite her uncertainties about what was going on – whatever 'it' was – she started walking closer. "And where are we going exactly?" She asked slowly.
'Bee giggled again, playfully. The adults just shared a look that Aria wasn't sure should make her feel nervous or excited.
"What?" She asked again, some of her doubt gone from her voice as her curiosity got the better of her. She wanted to know what was going on already.
"We," Optimus grinned as he looked over at Ariel and the others gathered around him, "have a surprise for you."
"Come on Aria! Come see! Come see!" 'Bee shouted excitedly a few cycles later as he dragged Aria behind him through the darkened hallway.
"Alright, 'Bee, alright! Just slow down, I can't see anything," Aria said hesitating over each step because she couldn't see far enough in front of her to even make out Bumblebee's bright yellow exterior, much less where to put her own foot.
"I thought that was the point?" Jazz pointed out in his not so subtle way.
Aria rolled her eyes at all this secrecy, but she was smiling all the same. She couldn't help but feel excited. What in the world could they have done for her that they couldn't just hand it over and say, 'Here, we thought you'd like this,'?
Thankfully the hall was short, although it didn't feel that way to Aria as she stumbled through it in the dark, wondering what was at the other end that could have everyone so excited.
But she wasn't very enlightened when they finally came out into the large room at the other end, although that might have been because nothing was enlightened at all. The room, like the hall, was completely dark except for two or three tiny lights that were diffused by some kind of see through panes sitting in front of them.
"Wait a minute…" Aria thought as she stared through the dark in front of her. Around her the bots were silent, although she could still feel their anticipation, especially 'Bee's, who was practically hopping in place from excitement.
From the dim, little lights, which she realized now were too small to be of any use to the bots, she could just make out a flat sheet of metal surrounding the panes of clear material – windows! Aria realized. The lights were shining through windows!
As her eyes adjusted slightly to the dark, she could barely make out something set into the flat metal sheet. And then the dim outline of a familiar shape began to stand out of the darkness, but before she could figure out what it was and why it was so familiar to her, Bluestreak got tire of waiting and flicked on the lights, making Aria flinch at the sudden brightness and her temporary flash of blindness.
"Surprise!" He shouted, unable to contain himself any longer.
There was a mix of chuckling at his exuberance and grumbling at the sudden light. Even half blinded as she felt, Aria could still make out Ironhide's irritated growl as the most vocal complainer. She smiled, just as much at the deep seated loyalty and concern she felt at the core of her bond with him as at his malcontented grumbling.
"A little warning next time Bluestreak," the mech griped, "now she can't even see what it is." He waved an arm at Aria's general direction where she was rubbing her eyes to try and get the sunspots out of the way of her vision.
She blinked a few more times before squinting at the room around her. "I'm alright Ironhide, I think," she mumbled the last bit, hoping to spare Bluestreak's feelings at least a little. She knew he had meant well. Like 'Bee, he was just so excited for Aria to see her gift.
She didn't ask how she knew it was a gift now, rather then just a surprise. It felt like she understood a lot more about what the Cybertronians meant now then she had a few weeks ago. If she questioned it every time it happened she would never get around to doing anything else. And she thought that she would end up annoying the bots that could feel her too.
"Alright," Aria said once she had most of the vision back in her left eye, "what am I looking at…"
She suddenly trailed off, jaw dropping and eyes going wide as she caught sight of what she knew just had to be her gift, if only because it was too small to be of any use even to the younglings, much less the full grown bots.
There, looking just as strange and out of place as Tinker Bell's cuckoo clock in the lost boys hide out, was a house.
Compared to the bots it looked like a dollhouse, tiny and play-like, but it was just the perfect size for a human like Aria. Tall and thin, it reminded Aria of a townhouse with two floors. It had five windows total; two on the lower level on either side of the front door and three on the upper level, although the one in the middle doubled as a glass-paned door, complete with balcony so she could stand on roughly eye level with her friends, when they were sitting at least. There was also a small set of steps leading up to the front door. Instead of a chimney coming up out of the roof though, there was a staircase that Aria saw led to the table top that sat about another story above the house's roof.
"Wha-?" She somehow managed to move her mouth.
"Well since it seems you will be staying with us for some time," Optimus said with a grin that hadn't appeared on his face in ages, "we thought it would be best if you had your own living quarters."
Behind them, Jazz gave a little shrug. "That and we figured you were tired of living in a cabinet." He said, aiming for dismissive, but he was grinning all the same at the look on Aria's face.
Aria felt downright giddy.
"You," she squeaked in growing excitement, "you made me a house!" Then she started jumping in place and giggling hyperactively, her hands covering her mouth as if that would make it less weird.
Wheeljack started talking, relieved that she looked so thrilled. "We weren't sure where to put it, so it ended up under the table where it would be out of the way. We can move it if you like. Maybe somewhere higher so we don't have to bend down all the time to speak with you…?" Wheeljack trailed off thinking as he looked around the room for a more suitable space.
"Oh my gosh," Aria whispered, barely hearing him as she stared in awe at the little building. Well, it seemed little after years of seeing only buildings made to fit aliens taller then some skyscrapers she had seen. "You made me a house! An actual house," she murmured, clearly stunned. The outside was made of smooth metal and painted white. Distantly, Aria realized that it looked almost exactly like a picture she had on her Ipod. It was a still image from an anime she had used to watch. The two main characters had been in the foreground dancing, but a white, cottage like house had been in the background on the edge of the sea. Through her delighted haze, Aria realized that must have been where they had gotten the decorative design for the house. The architecture though was distinctly their own.
"Well?" Ariel asked expectantly.
Aria looked around quickly. "Well what?" She asked when she finally found who had spoken.
Ariel gave a little laugh, enjoying this immensely. "Aren't you going to go inside?"
Aria just looked at her in confusion. "I can go in?" She asked, pointing one little finger at the front door.
Ariel laughed kindly, along with most of the others. "Yes, of course." She said, her voice light.
Aria giggled and jumped in place in excitement again, and then rushed to the front door. She gave the door knob a twist – it had an actual door knob! Not a control pad! – and after gently pushing the door open with her fingertips – which glided on its newly made hinges – she stepped inside.
She looked around for a breathless moment, mouth wide open as she grinned, before throwing her arms wide open and shouting so everyone standing outside could hear her, "It's beautiful!"
Outside, the group of bots laughed softly amongst themselves. She was so easy to please at times.
Inside her new house, Aria was turning in amazed circles as she tried to drink in every detail of her present. She was standing in a small hallway that opened up onto the two main rooms of the first floor. She peered into the one on the right to see a chair and a desk, perfectly proportioned for her human size, sitting in the sparsely filled room. There was also what resembled a book case that stretched from floor to ceiling on the far wall; although what they expected her to fill it with Aria wasn't sure. It wasn't like they had many paper made, human sized books lying around after all. Although curiously enough there were a few simple codex's that weren't too big for her to hold already on the shelves. The other room was bare apart from a table.
In front of her at the far end of the front hall was a staircase that tightly doubled back on itself to reach the upper level. She bit at her lip as she darted up the stairs.
There was only one main room upstairs and, unlike the two lower ones, Aria could clearly tell what it was; her new bedroom. It was obvious that the most thought had gone into this one room. Everything from the divan like bed to the wardrobe that served as her closet to the curtains that shielded every see-through surface, looked as if they had been made just for her.
There were four windows altogether – the three she had seen from the front of the house and another smaller one sitting just over her bed – and each had soft looking, white curtains hanging in front of them, giving the room a light, airy feel that she much appreciated. It had been a long time since she had been in a human sized anything and, truth be told, she felt just the slightest bit boxed in after spending so much time in places that were bigger then any football stadium Aria had ever seen.
As she was looking around in delight, a tapping sound came from the other side of the middle, floor length window.
Curiously, Aria went over and pulled aside the curtain to see the glass door leading out onto the balcony she had seen earlier. Wheeljack's large, glowing optics were on the other side, nearly filling the door frame he was so close.
After shoving the slightly sheer curtains aside so they wouldn't get in the way, Aria opened the door and stepped out onto the balcony.
"What do you think?" Wheeljack asked as soon as she was out.
Aria hadn't stopped beaming since she'd laid eyes on her new house. "It's brilliant!" She said, barely able to stop herself from just dancing around like a loon in front of everybody. There'd be plenty of time for that later when she was alone.
In her new house!
"You should go look in that ow!" Wheeljack tried to say before his finger rammed into the side of Aria's house. Wheeljack drew back instantly, trying hard to keep the curses Aria could feel building up behind his teeth from spilling out in semi-polite company. Although amazingly enough her house hardly even twitched.
"It's even earthquake proof!" Aria thought smiling wide.
Wheeljack, however, looked less then pleased as he inspected his finger. "Just go look in the second door." He told her before drawing back to a safe distance from the strong structure.
Turning around Aria did.
"Oh my gosh," she murmured in awe when she had opened the only other door in the room that sat over by the wardrobe, "I think I'm in love."
It was a bathroom. A for real and for true tiled, sparkling clean, bathroom complete with tub, sink, and, miraculously enough, running water.
For a moment Aria felt close to crying. "My very own shower…" she thought to herself. She had learned fairly quickly that when your extraterrestrial hosts used various acids to strip the potential corrosives from their exteriors, the little organic guest did not get lots of chances to bathe.
This had just turned from marvelous gift into Heaven on Cybertron.
Aria gave a little sniff that wasn't all dramatics. "It's beautiful." She said softly, wiping away a pretend tear.
"We thought you'd appreciate it." Jazz said as he knelt down to get a better view through the one open window. He ended up bumping shoulders with Bluestreak who was crouched down next to Wheeljack as they all jostled for space to see how Aria was reacting to her new personal space. Window space was quickly becoming scarce, not that the girl noticed.
"Yes, now if you'll just go back downstairs I can show you the house key, so to speak-youch! Bluestreak! Watch your elbows! You just shoved your joint into my sore leg," Wheeljack cried, glaring at Bluestreak.
"Oh for Primus' sake!" Ironhide shouted, throwing up his hands in exasperation and cutting off the growing argument. "This is ridiculous. Just get out of your skins so that we can all see what's going on!"
And then before Aria could even begin to wonder what in the world that even meant, a man just appeared on her balcony without so much as even a glimmer of light.
Aria jumped a foot in the air and gave a startled shriek. "Who the heck are you?" She demanded staring at the man with strong features, black hair, and blue eyes. For a moment her attention was torn between asking why the bots weren't doing anything about this randomly appearing stranger and the realization that there was something just plain off about the man standing in front of her. It was like he was almost…two dimensional.
Ironhide just chuckled. "What?" The man on the balcony said as he stiffly looked down at himself. "Don't ya recognize me? I'll admit I'm a mite smaller but other then that-" he trailed off, giving Aria a sneaky grin. The same exact sneaky grin that Ironhide was giving her.
Aria felt her eyes grow wide as she looked between Ironhide and the 2-D human. "Ironhide?" She eventually whispered, staring at the man.
The human-version of Ironhide grinned wider and spread his arms to show off his new form. "In the holo-flesh," He said.
Aria blinked. "The what?" She asked as she gave into her more childish side and experimentally poked the Ironhide-man in the chest. She jumped back in outright surprise when her hand didn't just go right through the person as she had expected. "You're real!"
They laughed at her as if she was one of the children. "They are made of holomatter; a solid substance that can be created through a special generator we possess." Ariel said as her own avatar sprung up out of nowhere; a picturesque woman that any artist would have begged for as a muse.
"Cool," Aria breathed as she took a step forward to inspect Ariel's human-esque body. "I didn't know you could do that. And after all this time too," then she gave a little shrug, "Figures I guess, you live with someone for too many years to count and something like this pops up. But why do they look kinda, ah," she quickly coughed, "I mean, they're kind of, eh, flat." She said hesitantly, not wanting to hurt their feelings now that they were finally small enough to be on her eye level.
Ariel smiled though and held out Aria's Ipod. "Yes, well I'm afraid this was the only template of other figures we could find." She told her. "Helpful, but not very good for three dimensional figures."
Aria nodded as she took her mp3 player. "That would explain why you sorta look like my Aunt Jeanette." She said thoughtfully. Then she looked over at Ironhide. "And why you look like Adam Baldwin." She said, laughing at the inside joke. It seemed so fitting that Ironhide resembled the infamous Jayne Cobb.
Ariel and Ironhide's avatars exchanged a look. Ironhide just shrugged. He didn't know what she was talking about either.
"Say," Aria said, grabbing their attention again. She was peering at the railing of the balcony now. Bumblebee, who had managed to get right next to Aria's house now that the holoforms had solved the space problem, peered with her. "What are these markings? I think I saw them inside too." She murmured as she carefully traced one with a finger.
"Oh! I know!" Arcee suddenly popped up next to Bumblebee, raising one hand excitedly above her head. Chromia followed her at a slower pace from the door they had just appeared through. "That's one of the characters Ariel's been teaching us. It means pos-prospre-"
"Prosperity." Ariel carefully sounded out the word for the little femme.
Arcee nodded her head over at her older sister. "Yeah, what she said." Then she threw a small arm out pointing through the open window. Aria ducked to avoid getting accidentally hit by an arm as long as she was tall. "I did that one." Arcee said proudly. "I made it up all by myself."
Bumblebee coughed indignantly and bumped her with his elbow.
"Oh right, I mean we made it up. It means jie mei!" She cried excitedly. Then both children waited anxiously to see what Aria thought of it.
Aria smiled when she saw which character Arcee was pointing at. It was engraved just over the head board of the bed, like a sign with her name painted on it. It was bigger then the others and not as neatly drawn. The lines were shaky and zigzagged halfway through their making, but Aria thought it was the most beautiful out of all of them.
"You guys are so sweet. I love it!" Aria told them. "Can you come inside and show me it?" She asked.
But they shook their heads sadly. "No, we're too small to make holo-people yet." Arcee told her, slumping over slightly.
'Bee copied her. "Yeah," he added morosely, but then suddenly brightened up. "But we can show you how we made it!" He said, eyes glowing brighter for a moment.
Aria nodded. "Yes please." She said with a grin. Then the two of them ran off to get their first clumsy attempts at making up a new word which they had left in Wheeljack's lab, purposely positioned next to the med bay.
Aria smiled as they quickly disappeared out the door. Next to her, Ariel laughed at their sweetness.
"They mixed the symbols for older sister and younger sister to make a new word for you. Although I'm not sure how you would describe it. The younglings were so excited to help so we said they could decorate it. They each carved a character for you." The femme that looked like a mix between Aria's Aunt Jeanette and a sweet faced first grade teacher told her, although there was more then enough of Ariel's own steadiness mixed into her new form.
Aria looked back at the inside of the house in amazement. "You mean they did all this?" She asked pointing at the little characters that were engraved on not just the walls, but lined the molding, traced the contour of the bed frame, outlined the wardrobe door, and appeared in some shape or fashion along every other flat surface in the house, upstairs and down.
Ariel's avatar gave her a sly smile. "Well, they might have had some help."
"Yeah," Chromia said as her own human form flickered to life – a strong bodied, dark haired woman that resembled Laura Croft – between her sister and mate. "We left our own marks on this place. Mine's downstairs near the door, but there's Bluestreak's over there by the window. Although his handwriting is so awful I can hardly read it." She said peering over at one of the large sigils engraved under the windowsill. "Is that…slothfulness?" She asked as she leaned down to get a better look with her own two optics as her avatar squinted and made funny faces as she tried to make out Bluestreak's scrawl.
"It is not!" Bluestreak shouted out, affronted. "Why would I write slothfulness? That's not something you bless a house with. It says 'togetherness'."
Chromia looked back at him. "Really?" She asked and looked at it again. "Yeesh Blue you've really got to work on your handwriting."
"Tell me about it." Prowl finally spoke from where he stood on the other side of Aria's house. "I feel like I need a translator to even try and read his reports."
Bluestreak glanced down, embarrassed, but Aria just waved an arm at the two. "Well I like it, now quit making fun of my wall." She yelled up at them before turning back to Ariel. "So what about the rest of you? What'd you write?"
"Luck," Jazz called out, "because you so obviously need it."
"Clear sight," Prowl said directly.
"Prosperity," Ariel told her, "although another way to read it could be longevity I suppose depending on what inflection you use."
Chromia just rolled her eyes at her sister. "Strength, for protection."
Ironhide hmphed slightly embarrassed. "Strong will." He muttered, and then quickly added, "Hound put determination up there somewhere, but he tweaked it because he said it should read 'cussid stubbornness'. I told him you thought it would be an insult."
Aria just shook her head and laughed. "No, I get it."
"Peace," Optimus said almost solemnly, but then he grinned, "or in our language you would say Pax."
Aria laughed and then looked expectantly at Wheeljack.
"Huh? Oh," the inventor said, his mind clearly somewhere else, "eh, ingenuity, but really Aria I want to show you the keys-"
"Common sense!" A new voice suddenly shouted from across the room.
Aria saw Wheeljack's eyes go wide. "Uh-oh," he gasped, "Jazz, didn't you tell him?"
Jazz gave Wheeljack a look that said he was losing his processors. "No, I thought you did."
"Uh-oh," Wheeljack repeated.
"Yeah, 'uh-oh'," Ratchet said as he joined them, Bumblebee, Arcee, and the young twins hard at his heels. "You couldn't wait five more cycles until I was done? Really?" He demanded, propping his hands up on his hips as he stared down Wheeljack and Jazz.
Fortunately he was distracted from chewing out the ones that had left him out, however accidentally, by the rest of the younglings charging through the door. With their usual noise, they all crowded around the balcony where Aria was to show her their first attempts at writing.
"Oh for Primus' sake!" Wheeljack finally yelled, and then before Aria could ask him what was wrong, a blonde man in a white lab coat appeared next to her, grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her back into the house and down the stairs.
"I mean really," the frazzled looking avatar muttered as he and Aria quickly descended the stairs. "It's the most important part and no one's even going to let me finish what I was trying to say." He complained as he led Aria into the room that was empty except for the table.
"There. This," Wheeljack's avatar said, abruptly stopping and nearly plowing Aria into the nearby wall. He picked up a remarkably small data pad that had been left on the table and held it out to her with a beaming smile. "Is the house key. It controls everything in the house; from the temperature to the wall color."
Aria took it with a glance at the suddenly blonde Wheeljack. "Really?" She asked. "Cool."
She reached out to press a button.
"Not that one!" Wheeljack yelled.
Aria jumped, nearly dropping the data pad on the floor. "What? Why not?" She asked in a too loud voice.
"Oh, um, no reason," Wheeljack instantly started looking at everything but her, "none at all, just still working out some, ah, some kinks. Nothing to worry about. Just don't press the doomsday button."
Aria's eyes went wide as saucers. "The what?" She demanded.
"Nothing, nothing at all," Wheeljack said quickly, "you know what, why don't you try this one instead?" He asked and reached out to press a different button on Aria's new data pad.
Immediately the lights dimmed into a comfortable evening glow and the walls around them turned a dark, hunter green that complimented the shadows left by the more prominent engravings.
Aria turned in a circle, mouth hanging upon in wonder as she took in all the details of her new, color-changing residence, momentarily forgetting about Wheeljack's so called 'doomsday button'.
"Best. Present. Ever." She breathed. Then she went outside and thanked each and every one of her friends so much that Prowl eventually left just so she would stop hugging him. Once things calmed down a little she and the younglings spent the afternoon playing with all of the wonderful new buttons now at her disposal, although they made sure to avoid the one, not so wonderful one. Just in case it lived up to its name.
Star Date 10-40 (n_n; I've always wanted to say that, but Hound keeps telling me you actually write Stellar Temporum or ST when you want to indicate the orbit and stellar cycle); Day ten of my new life:
I now understand why all the bots use these data pad things. They're awesome! I swear, it's like they can do anything. Not only do I now have a new, secure, place to keep my diary, but the younglings and I were using it to play with the spectrums (or as I like to say 'wall colors') of my new house and – I have no clue what Cloudraker touched –it suddenly turned the walls into a rainbow!
I can live in a rainbow house!
We all laughed at that, but it was late before I was done explaining what a rainbow was, so afterwards they had to go to bed. And even though I now have my very own house with my very own room in it, I slept with them just that one last time.
It's the last time I'll ever get to, you see. Ariel, Chromia, and Arcee, along with the other femmes, Firestar, Moonracer, all of them, left the next day. We just said our goodbyes.
It was hard, especially with Arcee. I'm going to miss that girl so much. I started crying, which set Arcee off of course. She's not happy about this at all.
Ironhide is the same way. The last few orbits he's either been stomping around, grumbling to himself, or alone with Chromia doing I-don't-want-to-know-what.
Still it was sad to watch them finally say goodbye (although they did take their own sweet time about it where we couldn't hear). I mean, when they were together I could let myself feel at least a little bit better because someone got a chance at happiness together.
Well, maybe they're not the only ones. Right before Ariel and the others left, I saw her step closer to Optimus, to tell him something I guess, but then she zaps him – smooch! – and nearly sends him into some kind of shock! I swear he froze faster then ice in Antarctica. And then she quick steps back again before the whole room could notice. Of course they know about it anyway but…
Hey! Now don't look at me! It was all Jazz, I swear!
…hee hee hee, Optimus and Ariel sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g…
Sorry, sorry, you're right now's totally not the time and place. I'll focus, really.
…hee hee hee…
Anyway, after she stepped back from her kissing (Finally! Lol) Ariel smiled and gathered up her femmes.
"See you soon," she told us.
Where they went, I don't know. Only Optimus and Prowl do. It's a security thing they tell me, and I do understand, really I do, just like I understand why they have to hide the younglings, but it still makes me nervous. It's just, this is the last time I'll see them in a long time. I don't know what I'll do without my little Meimei to even out the masculinity around here. Or Ariel and her obsession with correct word usage and grammar structure. Or Chromia's smirking attitude and Moonracer's clumsy jokes and Firestar's win-or-go-home attitude when we play this game (which is remarkably similar to flag football). But then, if it'll keep the younglings safe, well…what else can I do?
I'm still going to miss them; all of them. Especially since the rest of the boys, except Val and Bumblebee, are leaving over the next few orbits too. Skids and Mudflap are going off with their guardian Treehugger, along with a handful of other trusted and (because it's the twins) patient mechs to keep them safe. If you ask me, they have the hardest job in the universe and not just because the twins don't know the meaning of the words 'laying low'.
Unfortunately, Fastlane and Cloudraker will be sent to different strong holds. Autobot Seekers are so rare that Optimus has split them up to try and even out the vacuum regarding the air front. I'm not sure where they're going either, but that's not so much a secret as I just didn't bother to learn where Smokerunner and Cloudcover – remember them? They look after Fastlane and Cloudraker – have been stationed.
I'm not sure how long Val will stay in Iacon, but since it looks like he'll be joining Ultra Magnus and the Wreckers when he's older, and the Wreckers' home base is in Iacon no matter how many places they go to, he'll be here at least for awhile yet.
...If he doesn't join Treads first...
*sigh* I shouldn't think like that. Ironhide's right; the 'what ifs' will only drive me mad. Of course he also seems to think that Aria is not my real name anymore. Yesterday, I was telling Bumblebee and Arcee to just call me Tinkerbell what with my new mini house sitting on the cabinet top (and yes they do know about Tinkerbell. Well, alright, they know about Tinkerbot but it's the same difference) and Ironhide, who over heard our conversation, comes up and says, "But Sparkfinder's got such a nice ring to it."
I told him to quit eavesdropping and mind his own business.
Only Bumblebee and Arcee know that I secretly like my new name. ;3
And he and Optimus are right; I'm one of them now. And yeah, I still worry about Sera, but I know she made it home in one piece. I can feel it, as sure as I can feel the others through the spark in my chest. She'll be alright. She'll find Mom and Dad and she'll get better. And she has my little journal book now and her bracelet was wrapped around it too, so she'll always know how much I love her. I think she was meant to live on Earth, not Cybertron. But me? Me I'm not so sure about.
I think my place is here. It was always here. It just took me getting shot through the chest to figure it out. I love them all so much, each and every one of them – from my little Bumblebee right on down to my own personal pains in the backside, Sideswipe and Sunstreaker – every single one of them.
Because these guys, well, they're my family now, for better or worse, life or death, forever and ever amen.
And I wouldn't leave them for the world.