If Glory had to choose a favorite teacher among the Decepticons who served as her tutors and trainers, Swindle would have won hands down. Not that she hated any of her classes, really - she learned exciting and interesting things in all of them. But Hook was a grouch who always made her feel like she was being a bother when she asked questions, and Onslaught, while smart and full of war stories, was too strict, snapping at her if her attention wandered at all during a lesson. The Stunticons were fun, but all of them had the attention spans of fish, and it was rare that they ever finished a lesson without it ending in a fistfight or an impromptu drag race through the corridors of the base. Uncle T, for all she loved him, didn't really give the most interesting lessons, and Soundwave was so boring that often it was all she could do to stay online during his classes.
But Swindle always made class interesting. Even if she didn't understand what he was talking about, he spoke with such passion and enthusiasm that she couldn't help but listen, enthralled, as he discussed the economic structure of Cybertron and how it compared with Earth's, or explained the culture of the humans they reluctantly shared this planet with. She wasn't sure she believed half his stories of what humans did, but they were fascinating and funny nonetheless. And he seemed to delight in spoiling her, giving her treats and presents if she behaved well in class or just because - something Thundercracker had complained about on occasion but done nothing to stop so far.
She sensed that today's lesson was going to be different, though. VERY different.
As she and Wildfire entered his quarters, she had to reboot her optics a few times to be sure they weren't playing tricks on her. The Combaticon's quarters had changed overnight, the violet walls and stacks of boxed or crated merchandise festooned with sparkling or glowing trinkets of all kinds. Dark green cones of some kind of plant matter stood in two corners of the room, themselves decorated elaborately in red, gold, silver, blue, and white. Ropes of glittering material hung in swags along the walls, and strings of multicolored lights covered every available surface except the floor. On Swindle's computer desk sat another of those prickly green plants, also decorated and with a star-shaped bauble gracing the very top. Even Swindle himself was draped in decorations, ropes of glittering silver and gold hanging from his shoulders and arms as he worked to hang a hoop of green plant matter from the wall.
"Hey Glory, you're early!" he exclaimed, grinning from audial to audial. "Lemmie hang this wreath quick, then you can help me with the rest of the garlands, all right?"
"What's all this?" she asked, looking around with wide optics. "It's so pretty!"
"Aw, thanks," he replied, beaming proudly. "I gotta keep all this in my quarters, Onslaught doesn't like it when I decorate my teammate's rooms... ah well, his loss." He nudged the wreath to make sure it hung straight, then nodded in satisfaction and turned to Glory. "It's Christmas decorations, kid."
"Yup. It's a human holiday. Something about the birth of a god's son, if I heard the stories right. Here, hold this." He took the glittering rope off his shoulders and wound it in a skein before handing it to Glory. "Let out some slack every so often while I hang it, all right?"
"Why are we decorating for a human holiday?" Glory asked, tilting her head curiously.
"Because Christmas is the time of year that the humans spend the most money," Swindle replied, pushing a crate over with his foot and standing on it in order to reach a spot at the top of the wall. "And the time I profit the most from my sales among them. So I like to get myself in the mood for it while I research what the hottest-selling items are going to be this year and start my buying and selling. And why shouldn't I? After all, even if I ain't human it's still the most wonderful time of the year!" He sang those last few words rather than speaking them, and kept right on singing as he hung the garland.
Glory turned to look quizzically at Wildfire. The horse-former just shrugged, then bent down to poke at a figurine of a fat, bearded human dressed all in red. In response to his touch the figure began bobbing and rocking back and forth as if dancing, belting out a song about "jingle bell rocks," whatever those were. Wildfire snorted in surprise and transformed to his beast mode, snarling and backing away from the figure.
"Why do humans spend so much money on Christmas?" Glory asked.
"Oh, a lot of them go all out to decorate, have parties, the whole shebang," Swindle explained. "But most of their cash is spent buying gifts for each other. It's a custom for them to give gifts to friends and family on Christmas Day. There's a lot more to the holiday too - songs and stories and whatnot - but the gifts seem to be the most important thing, judging by how much gets spent on them. There's also a legend about a fat human called Santa who gives out presents to kids, but I never really got that..."
"It sounds fun," Glory replied, unwinding another loop of garland for Swindle. "Why don't you ask Megatron if we can celebrate it? We could decorate the base and everything! And give presents!"
Swindle laughed. "It's a human holiday, kid. Decepticons don't exactly celebrate human holidays. Slag, Megatron'll probably strip me for spare parts if he learned this stuff was going up in my quarters. What he doesn't know won't hurt anyone, though..."
"Who's the funny red human?" she asked, nodding down at the moving figure on the floor. Wildfire was still growling at the figure, despite the fact that it had stopped moving and singing.
"That's Santa Claus. Some magic human who hands out presents on Christmas to kids who behave themselves. Supposedly the naughty ones get coal, though I don't know why that's such a bad thing, coal's great for getting energon. Not the best quality energon, but still..."
Swindle kept right talking about the holiday as they worked to decorate his quarters, continuing on even after Glory quit asking questions. He expressed so much joy about the holiday that nothing seemed to dim his spirits, not even Wildfire accidentally activating the singing Santa again and subsequently pouncing on it and shredding it to bits. And he left Glory with quite a bit to think about as she left his quarters at the end of "class," the usual box of energon candies tucked under one arm and a human Christmas song stuck in her head.
"Humans are silly, aren't they, Wildfire?" she asked, handing him a treat. "They do a lot of funny things for one holiday."
Wildfire would have shrugged had this mode allowed it, but he settled for an indifferent huff before plucking the candy from her palm, crunching it noisily in his dental plates.
"But it does sound fun," she admitted. "I wonder why Megatron doesn't let Swindle decorate the whole base. It would look pretty, wouldn't it? And maybe Hook and Dead End would be happier if they got presents, huh?"
Wildfire huffed again, already looking bored with this turn of conversation.
"Hey," she went on, grinning mischievously as an idea crossed her CPU. "Maybe we can have Christmas here in the base! That way we won't all be so bored while waiting for the next battle! And Swindle could help, and maybe Rumble and Frenzy could play songs..." She danced a little jig in anticipation, utterly pleased with her burst of inspiration. "This is gonna be awesome! Wildfire, wanna help?"
Wildfire tilted his head to one side in consideration, processing the request a moment. "Wildfire help Glory," he finally growled, not sounding too thrilled with the idea but obedient to her desires. "Wildfire do Christmas. Christmas not dangerous."
"Yay!" She flung her arms around his neck in thanks, then pulled herself onto his back. "Let's go find Rumble and Frenzy! I wanna get started right now!"
"The Terrible Trio is up to something, Megatron."
Megatron didn't even look up from the datapad he was reading. "Is that the most original name you can come up with for those three, Starscream?"
"It's an apt description," Starscream insisted, ignoring the jab for now. "The cassettes and Thundercracker's brat of a niece have been far too quiet for their own good of late, and I want to know why."
"Since when did you concern yourself with Thundercracker's affairs?" Megatron demanded, his optics still on the report Shockwave had sent him that morning. "Unless it was for your own gain, or to make a pest of yourself meddling in matters that are none of your business."
"Don't dismiss me out of hand, Megatron! You haven't seen those three lately... sneaking off on their own whenever possible, whispering to one another in the common room, sneaking suspicious packages around. That only adds up to trouble, and you know it. They're up to no good, trust me..."
"Oh, learn a new song, Starscream," Megatron finally snapped. "If you're so concerned about their behavior, find out what they're up to yourself."
"Don't think I won't, Megatron," he snarled, and stalked off.
Once the red-and-white Seeker was gone, Megatron glanced up to scan the common room, looking for the small mechanisms in question. They weren't too hard to spot - the three of them were huddled at the end of one of the tables, whispering and giggling as they drank their morning energon. The hushed conversation continued for a few minutes, then they pushed their empty cubes aside and hurried out of the room, wearing identical expressions of mischievous glee.
A few months ago, the sight of those three rushing off with those smiles would have triggered a silent alarm in Megatron's CPU. Now, he merely found himself slightly interested, nothing more. The base had suffered through enough of Glory and the cassette's antics that not much the three of them could pull surprised or disturbed the Decepticon leader anymore.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this situation is that it has ceased to be disturbing, he thought.
Thundercracker glanced up from his own cube and discussion with Skywarp at that moment, just noticing that Glory was missing. He looked around the room, saw no sign of her, and glanced up questioningly at Megatron. In reply he nodded toward the doorway with a scowl, indicating Thundercracker should track her down before she could execute whatever mischief she had in mind. Nodding in reply, the blue Seeker stood up and turned to go.
A strange sound froze Thundercracker in his tracks and made every mech in the common room go quiet and look up from whatever they were doing. It was a sound rather unfamiliar to Megatron, almost metallic but far too high-pitched to be footsteps or the clank of armor...
Then the voices came - Glory, Rumble, and Frenzy, belting out an annoyingly cheery human song. Their voices were badly out of tune and didn't harmonize well, but what they lacked in talent they made up for in enthusiasm.
"Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh - o'er the fields we go, laughing all the way..."
Megatron felt his jaw drop as Wildfire trotted into the room, wearing a harness studded with round bells and dragging a storage crate behind him. Said storage crate had been modified with some sort of runners underneath so it left parallel sets of scratches in the floor wherever it went, and more of those ridiculous bells lined the sides. And inside said crate sat Glory, Rumble, and Frenzy, all wearing scarves around their necks and strange red-and-white hats. Glory made optic contact with her stunned uncle, waved merrily, and kicked the volume of her song up a notch.
"Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way! Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh..."
As the Decepticons watched, baffled at the sight, Wildfire made a complete circuit of the room, Glory and the cassettes singing merrily the entire time. Then with a toss of his head he trotted out of the room, the bells and the song fading off into the distance as he continued down the hall.
Silence reigned for nearly half a minute as everyone stared at the doorway. Scrapper was the first to speak, voicing what was on every other mech's mind:
"What in the name of Cybertron did we just watch?"
"I knew it!" Starscream crowed, as if Scrapper's words had finally freed him to speak. "I knew they were up to something sneaky, I tried to tell everyone..."
"If that's sneaky, I'm a Dinobot," Skywarp retorted. "Besides, it looked pretty harmless. Weird, but so long as she's having fun..."
"I'll handle this," Thundercracker vowed, and he hurried out of the room. Doubtless he was going to track Glory and her bell-bedecked bodyguard down and try to puzzle out just what they were doing. At least, Megatron thought wryly, they wouldn't be difficult to track down.
The sudden display of bizarreness in the common room was not the end of Glory's antics - it only marked the beginning of a very strange period aboard the Nemesis.
The unexpected "sleigh ride" through the common room continued on through the corridors, making the rounds through the base and ensuring their "caroling" reached every corner of the base. Glory, Rumble, and Frenzy treated the Decepticons to a wide range of human Christmas songs in the meantime, making up the words where their memories failed them and bursting into giggles between songs. Thundercracker finally caught up with them in the medbay, interrupting a rather loud and hilarious rendition of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" in which Rumble had jokingly replaced the unlucky "grandma" of the song with "Starscream."
Later that day, Soundwave found Ravage sulking underneath his desk, a collar of prickly holly around his neck. How Glory and her partners-in-crime had managed to get the wreath on him without having their paint scratched off was anyone's guess. Soundwave delivered the wreath to Thundercracker as soon as the Seeker returned from patrol, along with a terse order to restrain the sparkling from further abusing his cassettes.
Thundercracker strode into his quarters, fully prepared to give Glory a firm lecture... only for the lecture to die on his lip plates the moment he opened the door.
"Hi, Uncle T!" Glory exclaimed. "Do you like it?"
He stepped through the door, letting it shut behind him so that no one else could see this display. And what a display it was - strings of colorful lights, shimmering tinsel, white snowflake cutouts, and evergreen garlands and wreaths covered the walls, desk, shelves, and even the two berths. An animatronic figure of a human with a white beard and dressed in fur-trimmed red stood beside the computer, one arm waving mechanically and a deep-chested laugh coming from it. In one corner stood a fir tree, decorated just as elaborately, if not more so, than the rest of the room, with a toy tetrajet perched atop the highest branch. And Glory was just hanging up what she plainly regarded as the finishing touch to the room - large red socks, one hanging from the foot of each berth, and with his and her names printed on them.
"Glory," he said carefully, trying to keep his voice level, "what is all this?"
"It's Christmas!" she replied, a huge smile on her face. "Swindle told me all about it! His room's all pretty too, you should see it! And the cassettes taught me a bunch of songs, and Swindle helped me get decorations for our room, and maybe we could put some up in the break room too, and I wanna do presents for the Stunticons and..."
"Whoa, whoa, Glory, slow down," he urged her, ducking underneath a swag of tinsel to go to the bed and sit down. "Christmas? Isn't that a human holiday?"
"Yeah, Swindle says humans get weird around Christmas," she replied. "But it sounded like fun. The songs and the presents and the decorations..." Her voice trailed off, and she looked up into his face with a worried expression. "What's wrong?"
Thundercracker sighed. "Glory... I'm glad you had fun today. I really am. But all this stuff has got to come down. We've got inspections tomorrow and if Megatron sees all this..."
"But Uncle T, it's pretty!" she protested. "And Wildfire and I worked so hard on it!"
Thundercracker glanced over at Wildfire. The horseformer sulked in a corner, wearing a set of fake antlers and a red ball on his nose. He just snorted gustily, as if that summed up his feelings on the holiday, and lifted a hoof to paw at his nose.
"I can appreciate that," he replied, "but Glory, the holiday's over now. Let's get this stuff down so everything can be neat and tidy for..."
"It's not over, though," Glory whined. "Swindle says it goes on until the end of this week. An' I wanted Megatron to see it! Maybe if he sees how pretty everything looks he'll be happier about it..."
"I seriously doubt that, Glory. He doesn't exactly like us following human customs, you know. And I doubt he's going to be too thrilled about all this."
Glory gave her uncle a sad, wide-opticed look. "But I wanted everything to look pretty for Christmas."
Thundercracker gazed down at that pleading face, and felt something in his spark melt. "All right," he relented. "We'll leave it up, and I'll try to explain to Megatron that this is part of your lessons with Swindle. But it comes down as soon as Christmas is over, do you understand? And no more hassling Ravage, okay? Don't force him to do anything Christmas-related if he doesn't want it."
"Okay!" she chirped, her mood immediately lightening. "Wanna see the Christmas pictures I found? Maybe we can put one up as the background on the computer!"
"Maybe later. It's about time for you to head to bed. Want a story?"
"Yeah!" She hurried to the shelf, dug out a datapad, and handed it to him. "This one!"
Thundercracker scanned the title - "The Night Before Christmas" - and fought the urge to sigh. "All right, just this once."
While Glory had merely been content to redecorate Thundercracker's quarters to fit the holiday, Rumble and Frenzy had elected to spread the Christmas cheer throughout the entire base - whether the Decepticons wanted it or not. Thus, when inspections went underway the following morning, Megatron was NOT amused to find every single Decepticons' room plastered with gaudy decorations from ceiling to floor. A few mechs had attempted to tear the decorations down, only to find the cassettes had stolen a canister of powerful solvent from Hook's lab to make sure their ornaments STAYED up.
The decorations didn't remain confined to mechs' quarters either. Somehow Rumble and Frenzy had managed to wrangle a large fir tree into the base, and with Glory and Wildfire's help they set it up in the common room and decorated it with odd trinkets they'd found lying around the base, as well as a string of lights filched from Swindle's room. The tree didn't last long, though - when Blitzwing spotted it he'd let everyone know just what he thought of it by setting it on fire. Glory was disappointed, but Rumble and Frenzy merely set about plotting on a more fire-resistant replacement.
The "Christmas cheer" didn't stop there. For the next few days, the base's PA system continuously played Christmas songs at different volume levels, sometimes quite loudly, other times just barely audible enough to be irritating. It got to the point where Soundwave, fed up with having to go back to the control center to fix the PA system, refused to correct the situation and simply locked himself in his quarters. Many Decepticons simply turned off their audials and resorted to communicating by radio, while others tore the base apart looking for the perpetrators, who were wisely staying in hiding.
Even mechs themselves weren't safe from the holiday treatment. Starscream awakened one morning to find he'd been painted green and gold for the holidays. The entire base was treated to his angry shrieking the entire morning as he stormed through the halls to track down the likely culprits. Nor was he the only victim of a sudden repaint - Skywarp came online decked out in red and green (though unlike Starscream, he seemed tickled by his transformation and wore it for days), Astrotrain received a blue-silver-and-white paint job while recovering from a hangover, and even Megatron's fusion cannon came back from the repair bay striped in red and white. Rumble and Frenzy had hidden underneath Glory's bunk for the day, nearly dying from laughter, while the Decepticon leader raged and fumed.
The final straw, though, came when Glory found out about snow, and suggested to the cassettes that it couldn't really be Christmas without bringing some of that fantastic white stuff into the base. She had probably meant that someone could sneak out of the base and harvest some, but Rumble and Frenzy had other ideas.
So it was that on Christmas Eve itself, when Thundercracker came online and booted up his optics, he found his entire room blanketed in fluffy white, with more of the stuff blowing in through the ventilation system every moment.
"What... the... Pit," he demanded flatly, sitting up. Snow had built up on his chassis as he'd recharged, and it created a mini-blizzard every time he shifted.
"It's snowing!" Glory shouted excitedly, springing from her own berth to scoop up a handful of it. "Wow... it melts faster than I thought it would, but it's still pretty!"
"Was this YOUR idea?" Thundercracker asked, giving her a stern glower.
"Uh..." Her grin faded. "I said to Rumble and Frenzy that it might be fun to have a white Christmas, and they said they'd see what they could do..."
"Oh, Glory," he groaned. "This Christmas deal has really gone too far now..."
Before he could go any further in his planned lecture, angry bellowing leaked into the room through the door. Megatron had discovered the change in the base's weather, and he was NOT happy.
Cringing, Thundercracker brushed a bit more snow from his arms and chest, then opened the door. The snow wasn't confined to his room - every vent in the base was billowing white into the corridors, and judging from the shocked and angry looks on many mechs' faces as they stuck their heads out of their rooms, they had received some unexpected snowfall in their quarters as well. Megatron himself was striding angrily down the corridor toward the blue Seeker's quarters, steam rising from his chassis from the cold and damp.
"This has gone far enough, Thunder..." he began.
Breakdown interrupted Megatron's speech at that moment, tearing noisily around the corner in vehicle mode, shrieking at the top of his lungs.
"It's on my plating, it's on my plating!" he howled in terror. "It's seeping into my engine block, it's gonna poison me..." His frantic rambling became a single cry of fright as his tires lost their grip on the snow-slicked floor. Scrambling for purchase, he slewed back and forth across the hall, sending Decepticons diving back into the safety of their rooms.
Megatron moved to get out of the hysterical Stunticon's way, but he, too, slipped on an icy patch of floor. Thundercracker stared in train-wreck fascination as the Decepticon leader wobbled crazily back and forth, arms flailing as he tried to regain his balance. His efforts became for naught as Breakdown slammed into his legs, toppling him. Megatron landed spread-eagled on the floor, while Breakdown slammed into the far wall, still howling his terror.
Someone snorted on Thundercracker's right, and he turned to see Skywarp with a hand over his mouth, trying to stifle his laughter.
"This isn't funny," he snapped.
"'It's freaking hilarious!" Skywarp protested. "Primus knows we could use some entertainment in this base..."
"What the frag is THIS mess?" Starscream snapped, storming out of his quarters at that moment. "Oh wait, let me guess, it's another attempt at foisting this Christmas nonsense on us by the sparkling and her henchmen, isn't it? I keep telling you, Megatron, but will you listen to..."
Despite the heavy fall, Megatron was remarkably quick getting back on his feet. His response to Starscream was a smack upside the helm that sent him spinning into the opposite wall. Satisfied that the Air Commander would be quiet for now, he turned his attention to Thundercracker. The blue Seeker took an involuntary step back, and he felt Glory's arms tighten around his leg as she tried to use him as a shield from Megatron's wrath.
"The sparkling has gone too far this time, Thundercracker!" Megatron shouted, optics blazing with fury. "I've tolerated her antics for the past week, but this is the last straw!"
"Sir, it was a harmless prank..." he tried to defend, but his argument sounded weak even to his audials.
"Harmless, my aft!" Megatron snarled. "As just evidenced by Breakdown, this was a dangerous stunt. I won't have our medbay filled with mechs who suffered injuries from this... this Christmas trash your sparkling seems so fascinated with! If I see or hear mention of it again, the both of you will be severely punished!"
"But it's supposed to be fun," Glory whimpered, still burying her face against Thundercracker's leg. "That's what Swindle says..."
"Then Swindle will face consequences for this as well," Megatron snapped. "You and those blasted cassettes will spend the day cleaning up your mess, child... and there will be no more Christmas aboard the Nemesis. Am I understood?"
She whimpered, clutching tighter to Thundercracker.
"Am I understood?!"
If Glory tightened her grip any more she'd dent her uncle's leg. She took a minute to reply, and when she did her voice was so quiet he had to strain to hear her: "Yes, sir."
Megatron's glower didn't soften. Instead, he swung about to face Soundwave, who had just lifted his foot to inspect it as if worried the snow might cause damage. "Deal with your cassettes at once. Glory might have started this whole situation, but they exacerbated it and deserve to face some consequences."
"As you command," Soundwave replied, sounding the slightest bit irked.
The Decepticon leader stomped off, slipping once in the snow but regaining his balance quickly. Breakdown, seeing he wasn't going to be facing punishment for running into Megatron, hurriedly transformed and scurried off. Everyone else either returned to their quarters or filed off down the halls, muttering. Starscream only offered a triumphant smile before striding away.
Thundercracker felt the grip on his leg suddenly release, and he looked down to see Glory bolt down the hall.
"Glory, get back here!" he cried, but she acted as if she didn't hear him. She continued running, vanishing around a corner.
Primus, he thought bitterly, hurrying down the hall after her. Megatron might have a point, but did he really need to be so hard on her? She was only a sparkling, after all, and sparklings were supposed to make mistakes. And even if this whole human holiday was nothing but nonsense, if it made Glory happy, was there truly any harm in it? Aside from the snow, that was...
Well, at least the snow meant finding her wouldn't be a problem - she left tracks. Slowing to a walk so as not to trip himself up, he trailed after Glory, puzzling over just how to handle this situation.
Megatron took his time getting back to his office due to the slick footing, and the delay helped cool his temper slightly. That and the fact that while there was still a rapidly melting layer of snow on the ground, at least it had stopped pouring out of the ventilation system. Either Soundwave had tracked down the cassettes and shut their little operation down, or they'd realized the trouble they were in and quit on their own, though that wouldn't keep them from some kind of disciplinary action.
Reluctantly he realized he might have been a bit too hard on the sparkling. While he held her responsible for starting this whole mess, it had been Rumble and Frenzy who had carried it all out of hand, using it as an opportunity to prank Decepticons and claim it was "spreading Christmas," whatever that meant. Swindle, too, was at fault for introducing her to the ridiculous human customs in the first place - whatever the Combaticon did with his own time and quarters was quite literally his own business, but he should have known to keep it to himself instead of infecting Glory with it. And for her part, Glory had seemed genuinely sorry for the morning's accident.
Still, he wasn't about to apologize to a sparkling, no matter the circumstances. She was a resilient femme, she would get over this in time.
Rumble and Frenzy must have decided that no prank was worth incurring too much of Megatron's wrath, because he found his office pleasantly dry and snow-free when he opened the door. That was one bright spot to this whole affair, he decided, as he moved to sit at his computer terminal. At least he could get something constructive done while mulling over just how to discipline the cassettes and Swindle...
He paused, scowling. A square package sat on the keyboard of his computer, green wrapped in a gold ribbon. Had the sparkling really had the gall to disobey his orders this soon? But no, there was no possible way she could have smuggled this into his quarters between now and then. This must have been planted here during the night. He was tempted to throw the thing away... but curiosity got the better of him, and he picked up the package and tore it open.
Beneath the layer of green wrapping lay a datapad, the kind that normally carried electronic books or texts, and a flat sheet of metal roughly the same size as the 'pad. He activated the datapad and scanned the title - Art of War by one Sun Tzu. Interesting...
The metal sheet turned out to be a picture, doubtless painted by Glory herself, and depicted Megatron standing atop a rocky outcropping, arm pointed outward as if giving the command to attack, a fiery explosion in the background framing him. While a little crudely done, it was obvious Glory had put a lot of work into the image, and done her best to portray the Decepticon leader as a fearless, triumphant leader.
There seemed to be a note attached to the back of the datapad, and Megatron detached it and began to read.
Swindle told me humans give each other presents on Christmas, to show they like each other. I know you don't like the humans and don't like Christmas, but I thought maybe if I got you a present, you wouldn't be so grumpy all the time. And even if Christmas is a human thing, if it makes people happy, it can't be bad, right?
Dead End helped me pick the book - he says it's something you might like, even if a human wrote it. Hope you like the picture too.
Megatron stared at the note for a long moment, re-reading and pondering it. Then he picked up the datapad and activated it, studying the text. This was no childish prank or nonsense - this was something a lot of thought had been put into, a gift given freely. That was something Megatron was entirely unused to receiving, and at first he wasn't sure exactly how to take it.
Finally, he reached a decision. He set the datapad and picture aside, then stood and left his office, heading for the base's armory. It was time to take care of something.
The unexpected snowfall had been restricted to one level of the Nemesis, leaving the storage levels clear, but Thundercracker had by no means lost the trail. Where small footprints in the snow ended, now damp footprints on the dusty metal floors began. He pulled a lightstick out of subspace and pressed on, following the wet trail between stacks of crates and hunks of outdated equipment.
"Glory?" he called out softly. "Glory, you're not going to be in trouble with me, so come out now."
There was no reply, though a soft sob reached his audials. He sighed deeply, spark aching for his niece. If only Megatron had let him talk to Glory instead of blowing his stack like that. He would have dealt with the situation firmly but in a kinder manner.
He finally found Glory in a corner of the storage area, curled up in a ball and hugging herself tightly, back to her uncle. Her body shook every so often with a muffled sob, but otherwise she was quiet.
"Glory," Thundercracker murmured, setting the lightstick down and crouching down to gather her in his arms. "I'm sorry, Glory..."
"I didn't mean to make him mad," she whimpered, and tucked her face in the crook of his neck. "I thought... I thought Christmas would make everyone happy. I wanted... to make everyone happy. Now they're all just mad at me!"
He rocked her gently, patting her back, letting her cry herself out. He hadn't realized that this had meant so much to her, and that it wasn't just an excuse to prank the other mechs - she had been genuinely trying to make everyone happy. It was just her rotten luck that Rumble and Frenzy had latched onto Christmas as an opportunity to annoy the rest of the base.
"Glory," he told her, "no one's going to stay mad at you forever. I promise."
"But... but now Christmas is ruined. Megatron won't let us do it now."
"He won't let you put up decorations or anything," he admitted, "but maybe there's a way to celebrate it quietly? Are the decorations really necessary?"
She sniffed loudly and wiped optic fluid from her face. "N-no... there's songs and presents too..."
"Humans give presents to each other," she explained. "To show they like each other." Here she managed a faint smile. "I got presents for you an' Wildfire, an' for Uncle Skywarp an' Rumble an' Frenzy an' the Stunticons an' Swindle... an' Megatron too, but he probably doesn't want it now..."
"Did you hand these out already?"
"I left them in people's rooms," she confessed. "Someone called Santa leaves presents for humans in the middle of the night, so I thought I'd play Santa..."
At that, Thundercracker managed a smile. So there was some sense to be made of this holiday after all. There were a few holidays back on Cybertron that entailed giving gifts to loved ones, such as creation-days and the Advent of Primus. He supposed it should have been obvious that humans would have a similar holiday. And oddly close to the Advent of Primus, now that he thought about it, though no one had celebrated the Advent for vorns... not since the war had set in with a vengeance...
"What did you get me?" he asked.
At that, Glory pulled back to give him a comically offended look. "I can't tell you! It's supposed to be a surprise!"
"Well, can you show me?"
She nodded. "It's on your desk."
"Let's go see it, then." He stood, still carrying her in his arms, and headed for the upper level.
Most of the snow had melted by the time they got back to the residential area, leaving the floor damp and slick. Thundercracker walked carefully, not wanting to take a spill while holding Glory. She was going to have to clean this up in a little while, but he figured it could wait a few minutes until she'd shown him what she'd planned to give him for Christmas.
He opened the door to his quarters... and nearly pulled an arm gun and fired. The room was packed with Decepticons, and the sight of so many optics and visors staring back at him made his tanks lurch. Did this many mechs really want a piece of him now...
"Merry Christmas, Glory!" Skywarp shouted, waving enthusiastically. "Oh, and TC too... Merry Christmas, TC and Glory!"
"Skywarp, what the frag?" demanded Thundercracker, looking around. Not all the Decepticons had made it in here, thank goodness - he didn't think his room would have been able to fit them all. It was still a tight fit, however, what with Skywarp, Swindle, Rumble, Frenzy, and the Stunticons packing the room. At least none of them looked to be in a murderous mood, though Motormaster looked vaguely annoyed.
"It's Christmas!" Skywarp replied, reaching up to straighten the giant Santa hat perched atop his helm. "We figured the kid could use some cheering up, so we all decided to give her some Christmas cheer. And presents."
"Presents!" Glory exclaimed, her tears forgotten as she squirmed down from his arms. "Uncle 'Warp, you didn't have to give me presents..."
"You think we're going to NOT give you presents after you were so nice to give us gifts?" asked Skywarp. "Thanks for the can of snap powder, by the way. That's gonna come in handy here soon. And for the picture."
"Thanks for all the music!" Rumble exclaimed. "Gotta admit, we weren't too excited about getting a bunch of soundtracks for Christmas..."
"But that Lord of the Rings music is friggin' epic!" Frenzy put in.
"You're welcome," she replied, grinning broadly. "I KNEW you'd like it if you listened to it."
"I was wondering why you wanted me to buy all those comic books for you, kid," Swindle told her with a smile. "Here I was envying you for getting them, when they were for me the whole time! Thanks! How'd you know I liked Ironman?"
"You have his poster up in your room, silly," she giggled.
"And thanks for the Smash Brothers game," Dragstrip put in. "We were so busy playing it Dead End had to drag us away from it to come down here and say thanks."
"It's a pointless game," Dead End huffed. "But good for killing some time between battles, if only to put off the inevitable..."
"Hey TC, did she get you anything?" asked Skywarp.
"I haven't had a chance to look yet," he admitted.
"Oh!" Glory dashed toward the computer desk, grabbed a red-and-gold package, and thrust it at Thundercracker. "Open it, Uncle T, open it!"
"Yeah, open it!" Swindle gushed, his expression just as enthusiastic as Glory's. "She's been talking about this for days!"
"You're just as much of a sparkling as she is, Swindle..." Thundercracker began, ripping the package open. A disc fell into his hands, and he turned it over a few times, searching for markings of any kind. "What is this?"
"It's the expansion pack for that game you like to play so much!" Swindle replied. "What's it called, 'Yay' or something..."
"WoW," Glory corrected. "World of Warcraft. That's Cataclysm! With the big dragon and everything!"
"Glory... I don't know what to say," Thundercracker replied, which was the truth. He'd been wanting to upgrade his game for awhile now, but just hadn't been able to secure a copy of the expansion. He hadn't even told anyone, though, so how did Glory find out?
"Say thank you, ya goof," Skywarp laughed.
Thundercracker punched his shoulder lightly before kneeling down to hug Glory. "Thank you... thank you so much."
"You're welcome, Uncle T!"
"Hey, ya gonna open our presents or what?" demanded Wildrider. "We didn't come here just to stare at ya..."
While the others had Glory distracted, Thundercracker broke away from the crowd and headed for his shelf. He had something here that just might work for his niece as a "Christmas" present... he'd wanted to wait until she was older to give this to her, but now seemed as good a time as any. Once he'd retrieved it he turned back to see Glory throwing her arms around Skywarp's neck, giggling brightly.
"What did he get you?" he asked.
"Kingdom Hearts!" she gushed. "An' he's gonna show me how to play it!"
"Oh, some goofy human video game," Skywarp said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I'll explain it later."
"Rumble an' I didn't know what to get ya at first," Frenzy said, "but we... uh... figured we owed ya for gettin' you in trouble with Megatron. So... well, part of our present is that we'll do all the cleanup from Christmas for ya, kid."
"But that seems like a lame present," Rumble added, "so the second part of it is that next time the two of us go out on a mission, we've got permission from Megatron to take ya with us. Let ya see one of the human cities up close."
Glory clapped excitedly. "Thank you! That's the best present ever!"
"Hey, don't speak so soon, kid," Swindle urged, handing her a green-wrapped package. "Wait until you open mine, at least..."
Glory tore through the paper. "Wow... it looks like Uncle T!" She held up an intricately painted model of an F-16, bearing Thundercracker's colors and handsomely mounted on a stand for display. "Thank you!"
"Is that why you wouldn't let her in for lessons that one time?" asked Thundercracker. "Here I thought you were just upset that she'd blown your cover about this holiday..."
"Nah, Megatron probably would have found out sooner or later," Swindle said with a shrug. "Having all my decorations confiscated was kinda a letdown, but I can always buy more."
"Why does it seem that whenever Glory gets into trouble, it can be traced back to you... Motormaster, no! I don't mind Glory getting gifts, but I draw the line at weapons!"
Motormaster gave him a glare. "She's learning how to use 'em, ain't she? It's about time she got one of her own..."
"It's cool, Uncle T!" Glory put in, raising the massive sword Motormaster had given her. She proceeded to topple backwards, the weight of the blade throwing her off-balance.
"It's bigger than she is!" he insisted.
"Is not, and she'll get used to it," Dragstrip assured him. "We'll teach her how to use it..."
The door slid open, and the room's occupants turned to see a messenger drone hovering in the doorway. Before anyone could react the drone beeped a few times, dropped a box into the room, and darted off.
"Well, that was weird," Rumble noted.
Glory dashed forward and grabbed the package. "It's to me, Uncle T... from Megatron."
Megatron? That sent a prickle of unease through Thundercracker's neural net. But he put on a neutral expression for Glory's benefit. "Well... open it. It must be important."
"There's a note on top." She read through it for a moment, then handed it up to Thundercracker and applied herself to the package. Well... the note hadn't upset her, so perhaps it wasn't all that bad...
This should prove to be useful to you as you further your training, Glory. Consider it a "thank you" for the war book. I will forgive your Christmas nonsense this once... but next time you decide to bring human customs into this base, clear it through ME first. And keep the blasted cassettes out of it.
Well... Thundercracker hadn't been expecting THAT. Not that he wasn't relieved that Megatron seemed content to let this whole matter drop for the time being. Still, what did he mean by "useful as you further your training..."
"Uncle T, look!"
He glanced up... and felt his spark seize. "Glory, put that down!"
"But it's cool!" she insisted. The sparkling now held a small but sleek-looking pistol, which she was looking over admiringly as if it were a new toy. Unlike the sword, it fit her hands well, and while not the most powerful of weapons it looked plenty capable of dealing some serious damage.
"Listen to your uncle, kid," Swindle advised. "Yes, it's cool, but it's not a toy. Maybe later you can test it out in one of the training rooms."
"Okay," she said reluctantly, and handed it up to Thundercracker - thankfully grip-first, showing that at least some of Onslaught's weapons training had gotten through to her. He set the gun aside, then knelt and placed a hand on Glory's shoulder.
"After all that, my gift doesn't look quite as exciting," he said. "Still... I figure it's about time you had this." And he pressed the datapad into her hands.
Glory eyed the scratched, battered 'pad curiously. "What is it? It looks old."
"It's Windblade's journal," he replied. "It starts about the time she was your age, and goes to... well, the end of her life. I thought... maybe you'd like to learn a little more about your mother."
Glory stared at the datapad a moment, then dropped it and flung her arms around Thundercracker's neck. He hugged her back gently, feeling his optics sting as fluid built up behind the lenses.
"Thank you," she whispered, voice tight with emotion.
"You're welcome, Glory," he murmured. "Merry Christmas."
"Awwww," Skywarp gushed, grinning like a loon. "How cute."
"This is so sweet I think I'm turning pink," grumbled Dragstrip disgustedly.
"Hey shut up, let 'em have a moment," Rumble snapped.
Glory squeezed Thundercracker around the neck tightly one last time, then released him and dashed over to the cassettes. "Let's have a Christmas party!"
"Wait, now?" Thundercracker asked. "Here?"
"No, in the Stunticons' room!" she replied. "It's bigger! An' they got a HUGE vidscreen! We can watch a Christmas movie!"
"Not on your life," grumbled Motormaster. "I'll only put up with so much sappy stuff..."
"But I thought you liked Die Hard!"
Motormaster had opened his mouth to continue his disparaging speech, but he shut it quickly. "That's a Christmas movie?"
"Yeah, and it's awesome!" She turned to Thundercracker. "Can we watch it? Please?"
"Well... sure," he relented. "After all, it is Christmas. But I'll go with you."
"Everyone's invited!" Wildrider exclaimed, waving everyone out of the room. "I'll get drinks, Dead End'll start the movie!" He scooped Glory up, plopped her on his shoulders, and dashed out of the room, Glory giggling the entire way.
"I'm so glad I got the opportunity to volunteer," Dead End muttered, following the Ferrari out of the room.
As the room emptied out, Thundercracker turned to regard Skywarp. "What's the stupid grin for?"
Skywarp chuckled. "Just thinking... if this is how Christmas goes aboard this hunk of metal, I can't wait to see how New Years' will go."