Transformers © HasTak, IDW. "Transformers" © Paramount, Dreamworks. "Rise" © Origa and Yoko Kanno. "MIB" and Neuralizer © Columbia - - - - - - - Soldier, Stand or Die - - - - - - - "You're a soldier now!!" He couldn't help but replay those words in his head. Barely five months and while the bruises had faded, the pain lingered, especially the scarring on his hands. As much as Optimus went for gentle, or his equivalent of gentle, falling into a warm metal hand from several stories wasn't exactly the softest of landings, although he couldn't fault the giant mech for trying. Not to mention his choice of shoving the Allspark up without thinking. "You're a soldier now!!" Lord, how that single phrase shook him yet gave him the courage to keep running. "Goodies for ya processors, Sam?" Hazel eyes looked over to Jazz leaning against a wall, head positioned in such a way it appeared as if the Solstice had simply lolled his head towards the open view. A weak smile. "Penny for my thoughts, huh?" He returned a small grin while shifting his bulk, albeit carefully if not weakly. Jazz knew better than to try Ratchet's instructions after forcefully yanking him back using the remaining fragment of the Allspark weeks ago. While the peace in the Matrix was nice with meeting old companions and former enemies, it didn't compared to the constant changing flow of the living world and he had so much to learn! At least the medic was kind enough, albeit reluctant, to let his patient outside the med bay section at the request of seeing something different other than metal walls decorated with various equipment. Ratchet was already dealing with the Twins and an overly excited-paranoid Security Director, who still wasn't used to the way how things worked in the US government and unfreezing the mech's processor almost constantly was plenty, thank-you-very-much. "Ya look like you were stuck in neutral and just pressin' the gas pedal like no tomorrow." Silence save the desert birds and wind in the distance, broken momentarily by a coyote's call. Edwards Air Force Base was hosting most of the incoming Autobots and it was short of a miracle that they were able to make it without rousing any more suspicion with the first five. The original plan was Los Angeles AFB but it was promptly nixed due to proximity to LAX, while the same went for Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station being next to the I-405; Nevada Test and Training Range, originally Nellis Air Force Range before the rename in 2001, was still on the table, despite Las Vegas neighboring Nellis AFB. Mikaela had jokingly quipped about Sector 7 pulling out Neuralizers used in MIB to work the cover-up story, much to the Rangers' amusement and the S7 troops' chagrin, especially Banachek. "How do you do it?" Shutters closed and opened in a way of confused blinking, obviously picked up from the humans. "I mean, how do you do it, being Optimus' -- what was it, oh yeah -- first lieutenant?" A weak shrug, ignoring his gears that briefly whined in protest. "You just do. There's always a bit of a soldier in all of us. Some of us are more inclined, like Ironhide, while others prefer to let it out only when necessary, like Ol' Hatchet." Sam couldn't help but snicker at the nickname the Autobots' medical officer carried, righteously earned due to ability of healing and his temper when patients ignored his orders, according to what a mischievous Bumblebee recounted. "What about you and Bumblebee?" Fingers waggled. "We're the wild cards of sorts in our respective fields, although there are other 'bots that are even more wilder than me an' Bee. None of us Autobots were ever meant to be soldiers, even the defense types, but when Megatron went Pit-bent on the Allspark..." Jazz paused, memory fragments slowly drifting into their correct places. "Becomin' a soldier got kinda necessary pretty quick. Why?" Lanky arms in surplus Air Force fatigues wrapped around his knees, eyes watching yet not seeing the gradual desert sunset. "Captain Lennox..." Dull silver reflected light as he tilted his head, waiting patiently. "...He called me a 'soldier'. While I was helping Mikaela getting Bumblebee onto that tow truck..." Slowly, Sam pulled out one hand, following the scars that would grace his fingers for a long time. "I thought he saw me as a kid getting in the way but... When he gave me that flare and told me about getting to the building with the Allspark and then yelled at me that I'm a solder..." He shook his head. "But I'm not one." Jazz couldn't help but smile, shifting for a moment again as military boots softly made their way on the tarmac. "Yet you became one the moment you took the Allspark from Bumblebee," the captain's familiar voice drifted from behind. Startled, Sam blinked in surprise at the older man's appearance. A warm smile matched the cups he was holding, one containing hot cocoa as he handed it over. "But..." "Like Jazz said, there's a bit of a soldier in all of us." Lennox settled himself next to the teen, nursing his black coffee even as twilight was drawing in. "We're all soldiers, stand or die. It only takes something to bring it out to the front. For you, it was that day, as well Mikaela." The Solstice suddenly chuckled, causing both humans to look over. "What's so funny?" Sam asked, turning around. Instead replying, he simply gave an impish grin and decided to take a page out of Bumblebee's book. Save your tears for the day When our pain is far behind On your feet, come with me We are soldiers, stand or die Save your fears, take your place Save them for the judgment day Fast and free, follow me Time to make the sacrifice We rise or fall The Russian accented lyrics faded into the echoing instrumental of the song. Although only a fraction was used, it struck a chord in both men -- Lennox for his sworn duty and position within the Rangers, Sam for the reminder of what he did on that day. "Stand or die, rise or fall..." Jazz's grin became a somewhat melancholy smile as he looked towards the red sun, fading light glinting across his scarred silver paint job. Mentally he mused about getting different colors, possibly white and blue. "Was our war on your world. Neither of you had to join in but I think that no matter what choice any one of us made durin' that whole mess, we're still soldiers in the end." No sacrifice, no victory. Their drinks did little to chase away the chill that wasn't from the desert night which had finally settled onto the base, memories of facing certain death drifting to the surface. While the hangar the Autobots occupied was still lit, all three could see the stars shining clearly amidst the waxing moon. Easily, Sam was able to make out Orion while Lennox worked out Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, Jazz reading up the stories behind the constellations. For a moment, companionable silence between the three, simply listening to whatever was going around them. The peaceful quietness was soon broken by one of the Rangers offering up a game of cards, to which the trio readily retreated back into the warmer hangar, the Autobot lieutenant especially curious about poker. And it wasn't just because of Ratchet's instruction on keeping his fluids flowing; he wanted to see if he could beat Smokescreen in a round when the diversion tactician arrived and wouldn't that be fun once they were able to hit Las Vegas. "Hey... Jazz, captain..." Both soldiers paused, glancing back at the teen -- young man -- fidgeting almost embarrassedly. Eventually, he straightened his body and slowly rose his right hand, held flat, to his brow, looking straight at them. Lennox paused, and then returned the salute with such crispness that made Jazz idly think Prowl would definitely approve. The Autobot lieutenant mimicked the gesture, although the smile on his face certainly didn't match the move. As if relieved, Sam relaxed and nearly jumped when Lennox wrapped a fatherly arm around his shoulders. "C'mon, Sam. Time to teach you how to play with us Rangers." Startlement and slight panic. "Mom would--" A wink. "Mum's the word." Jazz snickered, slowly setting himself behind an equally grinning Epps as Mulderrig dealt out the cards with practiced ease. Sideswipe, who had been passing by, was also eagerly waiting for the game to start and lent a shoulder for his senior officer to lean on. Soon, soldiers -- flesh and metal alike -- became simply themselves as they laughed, shuffled cards, traded insults (the cruder ones downplayed for Sam's sake), and told stories throughout the winter Mojave night.