1. A Night Like This by Scott_Kampa
"Which one is that?" Daniel Witwicky asked, pointing up at the sky.
"That's Cassiopeia," Spike answered, watching as the stars twinkled in the sky above them.
Hound paused in watching for wildlife in the woods around them to look up at the constellation the humans were looking at. He could not help but feel relaxed. It had been several days since they had heard a peep from the Decepticons. Several Autobots on Earth were obviously worrying about the silence, starting to wonder what they were planning. Hound knew the feeling. It was almost more assuring when they were making noise. At least then they knew where their enemy was and had an idea of what they were up to.
Hound tried to drive the thought from his mind, but to little avail. Optimus Prime was about to leave for Cybertron, leaving the newly arrived Ultra Magnus in his place to oversee the construction of the Autobot's new stronghold. A host of other Autobots, fresh from Cybertron, were going to help with the construction. Others, including Hound and two of the Autobots lounging under the stars, were going with Optimus. With so many changes going on, it seemed like a perfect time for the Decepticons to strike.
"What's a 'Cassopia'?" his son asked, obviously shaking Spike from his own worries.
"Cassiopeia is a mythical queen that was put in the sky by the gods as punishment for her vanity," Skids answered before Spike could speak. "As part of her punishment, she has to hang upside down half of each night."
Springer laughed. "They punished her vanity by making it so that she is visible the entire year? Yeah, that makes sense."
"About as much sense anything else on this planet," Gears groused.
"All part of the beauty of it," Hound interjected, staring off into the forest.
Gears grunted. "Is part of that beauty how the dew that's starting to form will start rusting out my shoulder joint? Or squinting at some W in the sky and trying to figure out how in the name of Cybertron they got person out of it is going to fry out my optics sensors faster than that computer screen I was working at earlier."
Springer placed his feet on a tree stump and smiled. "And here we go. What was that? About ten minutes?"
"Just wait, youngster," Gears offered. "This is what twenty years on this rock will do." Gears sat up and swatted the air around him. "Look at this place. Parasites fly around trying to eat anything that so much as moves. I think I'm starting to get metal fatigue on my faceplate from them. Rain, snow, wind, rocks, sun... all of it exists for the sole purpose of wearing your vital components down to nothing."
Springer tilted his head backwards and looked at the smaller Autobot. "So why are you out here?"
Gears simply grumbled and said nothing. Hound smiled inwardly, still watching the forest. He did not know why Gears bothered to come out here either, but something about the over-the-top complaining always seemed to bring a smile to his faceplate. If Hound did not know better, he would have suggested that Gears was going to miss being on Earth. Hound certainly knew that he would. He had spent twenty earth years on this planet, surrounded by its interesting and varied lifeforms and terrain. It felt like home. Certainly more so than Cybertron in the years before they crashed here long ago.
Hound shifted uncomfortably. Sometimes he felt a twinge of guilt when he compared Earth and Cybertron. Cybertron was his true home. It was where he was created. It was, for a long time, what he fought for. But all those years of fighting took its toll. In the years leading up to their departure aboard the Ark, Hound could not help but look at Cybertron and see the dying world it had become. Friends and even foes were becoming sparse. Everything that still stood around him stood simply as reminders of the war and how different Cybertron had become because of it. He could see in the optics of those old enough to remember what life was like before the war that they thought the same thing. Though he was too young to have lived in the Golden Age, he had seen holo images of Cybertron during that time. It was beautiful. It seemed to glow. Now it was a dying husk.
And then he found Earth. It was like opening his optics for the first time. Scars the world held were not primarily because of endless war, but from natural phenomena. Instead of stark, bleak grays, there were bold and vibrant colors. Earth was chaos, but it embodied chaos at its best. Even the stars, a constant on both worlds he had set foot on, seemed different. They weren't cold reminders of a barren existence. They were a symbol of freedom and hope.
Hound turned his attention away from the forest and back to the sky above him. He looked darkly at the clouds obscuring the main reason he had come out here. Perceptor had mentioned that the aurora borealis would be prominent tonight. Aurora was something that had been completely foreign to the Autobot scout. He remembered the first time that he had seen it. He sat outside the Ark's immobile form and simply stared at the sky, watching the waves of light slowly dance across the sky. It epitomized the beauty Earth represented to him. And, yet again, it was something that he doubted he would ever see on Cybertron.
"Even if it did,' Hound noted, "who's to say that anybody would have noticed it?'
Another question from Daniel prodded Hound from his thoughts.
"Dad, what's that one?" the child asked, pointing at another group of stars. "The one with that bright star."
"That's Canis Major. It basically means "big dog'."
"Oh," Spike's son replied, leaning forward as to get a better look at the constellation.
"Oh yes," Gears stated sarcastically, "I can certainly see how they got that. And here I thought it was a big mess of stars."
Skids, ignoring Gears, leaned towards Daniel and pointed up at the sky near the constellation the boy at indicated.
"Do you see those two stars there, Daniel? That's Canis Minor, the little dog."
"Oh sweet Primus," Gears shouted, throwing his hands into the air. "Are you telling me you humans look at those two little stars, in a line, and see a DOG?! I have seen and heard some ridiculous things on this rock, but come on."
"Just takes a little imagination," Springer suggested without looking back at Gears. "It's not like you don't have one with all the ailments you keep making up."
Gears simply grunted, refusing to take the bait. "It's all in my head, eh? Have a listen." Gears sat up and twisted his neck, which made an odd creaking noise. He laid back down and grimaced, clutching his neck. "Didn't do that yesterday."
Springer chuckled. "Old age."
"Old age, my ion distributor." Gears retorted.
He reached beneath him and pulled out a chunk of rock. He scowled at it and mumbled something before tossing into the distance. Hound watched the path of the rock as it dropped into the forest further down the mountain. Several birds took flight, rising above the canopy of coniferous trees, obviously surprised by the rock dropping out of the sky at them.
"Every time I try to shift," Gears griped, "a sharper rock pokes right into the joint. Any minute now, I'm expecting to hit one that just slices my head off. Then it would go rolling down the mountain...."
"Without a doubt, still complaining as it rolls," Springer interjected, followed by a couple of chuckles.
"...until it reaches the den of some animal," Gears continued unabated. "Probably make a nest out of me. I'll spend the last minutes of my existence thinking about my headless body wandering off a cliff as some ferret makes small talk with what's left of my vital components." Gears crossed his arms over his chest. "All to watch some light show that will probably stay behind the clouds anyway. Don't mind that dew-covered rustball without a head lying at the bottom of the cliff. That's just Gears waiting for the clouds to blow away."
Hound smiled. As if on cue, the clouds that were slowly dissipating through Gears' diatribe vanished, leaving nothing but black sky, pinpoints of stars, and the soft glow of green light to the north.
The group fell silent. The only sound that was to be heard was the soft chirp of crickets and the mountain breeze sifting through the foliage. All of them simply sat quiet in their own thoughts, watching the northern lights softly shimmer in the distance. Hound's mind started to wander, thinking about all the years he had spent on his surrogate home world. It still felt unreal, like he was living a dream. Especially since it came in the middle of a war. He started to wonder what the others were thinking. No doubt Skids was thinking much the same thing as Hound. The Autobot was a like a kid on this planet, taking in everything he could in the time he was here. Perhaps Springer, new to this world, was getting a first-hand look at the surprises this planet had to offer. Spike and Daniel were perhaps simply reveling in being a family.
Hound looked down at Gears. His grumbling had stopped. It looked like the small Autobot was looking at the sky, but Hound could not tell for sure. He did see an unreadable look on his usually stern face. Hound continued to watch Gears for several minutes, thinking back over the times the two of them had crossed paths in the past. He realized he knew very little about other Autobot. In fact, he was not even sure there was anybody who really knew who Gears was. All he could really say for certain was that a lot of things with life in general that seemed to get on his nerves. Was the complaining an act, as Springer and others seemed to think? Or was it a defense mechanism, a means to keep potential friends at a distance? Or could he really be that ornery? It always seemed unlikely to Hound that he could be so surly at such a constant clip.
He nearly chuckled. "A "bot would tired himself out complaining so much,' he thought.
Just then, Hound turned his head towards the two humans as Daniel's foot rustled through a few leaves.
"Dad, you don't think the Decepticons will attack tonight, do you?" the child asked.
Silence again fell through the group. All them, it seemed, had been able to drive the war from their minds. It was not an easy feat to accomplish, not after all this time. But now that the question was posed, Hound found it hard to ignore the possible threat. He had seen too many perfect moments like this shattered by the war. He looked back up at the aurora and repressed a sigh, trying to enjoy a sight that he may not see for a long time. And ignore the nagging tug of responsibility that always seemed to accompany thoughts of the war.
Suddenly, Hound heard something he thought he would never hear. While resting his head near Hound's feet, he heard Gears answer Daniel in a whisper, "Primus, I hope not."
Hound was taken aback. It was not the words he spoke; it was how the other Autobot had said it. It was almost wistful, as if he were as tired as the Hound himself felt when the war was weighing heavy on his mind. Hound heard Gears fidget uncomfortably, and he shifted his optics to look at the other Autobot curiously, being careful not to move his head. It seemed that those words and that tone had slipped out. It was as though he had just dropped his cover. Hound watched Gears quickly look at the other Autobots and humans in front of him, trying to gauge if they had heard him or not. After a second, he seemed content that they had been too far away. He half-turned towards Hound and stopped, knowing that Hound was the only one that could have possibly heard him.
"What was that, Gears?" Springer asked distantly, still lost his own thoughts.
"Nothing," Gears growled in return, reverting back to his usual self. "Just commenting about the conspiracy nature has in regards to leaving pine cones around for the sole purpose of severing the motor relays in my back."
"Oh, the usual then," Springer said, a smirk growing on his faceplate.
"Yeah." Gears looked back at Hound, his optics narrowed as Hound's optics darted back to the stars above. A guilty smile started to grow on the scout's faceplate as Gears continued to stare at him.
"What were you not looking at?" he asked knowingly, almost daring Hound to repeat was Gears undoubtedly knew the scout had heard.
Hound simply blinked at the blue and red Autobot innocently. "I'm not sure what you mean."
Gears and Hound looked at each other for another moment. Gears slowly nodded and turned around again, looking up at the sky.
Hound tilted his head up and followed Gears' gaze. "Incredible,' he thought. "Just when you think you know somebody they always end up surprising you.' Hound could not help but wonder how many of the other Autobots, who had spent the better part of 20 years with him, would have been surprised to hear Gears sound almost hopeful. Even more, Hound was starting to wonder how many would not have been surprised at all.
"So Gears," Hound said finally, "do you know what causes aurora?"
"Yeah," the smaller Autobot grumbled. "A bunch of radiation that is in the process of disintegrating my boron compressor. Why do you ask?"
Hound smiled, still watching the ribbons of light dance in the sky.