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Transformers 4 fic: A Total Loss (1/1)

December 27th, 2014 (08:06 am)
anxious

feeling: anxious

Title: A Total Loss

Disclaimer: I do not own Transformers.

A/N: Look, this movie is terrible. It doesn’t really warrant fic. But this happened, okay? I don’t know why. This fills my wild card square on hc_bingo with a beta by the dependable sockie1000.

Summary: In the aftermath of extinction, Cade Yeager is coming home. Or, what’s left of it.



-o-

Going home isn’t everything Cade thought it would be.

Hell, it’s not even close.

To be fair, he’s not entirely sure what he expected, but the last few days have been such a mess of horror, tragedy and disaster that he’d sort of assumed that going home could only be an improvement. After all, he’d been the hero. He’d helped save the world. In all honesty, he hadn’t completely thought he’d get out of that mess alive, but here he is.

Here he is.

In the aftermath of extinction, Cade Yeager is coming home.

Home.

Or, what’s left of it.

Which actually isn’t that much.

The place is decimated. It’s a pile of rubble, strewn all over the land he fought for so hard. It’s in ruins.

That’s ironic, probably. It’s not like it was a lot before all this started, a clapboard house and a cluttered barn and an eviction notice on the front door. That’s part of the reason Cade never came out of that damn shed. As if he could lock himself inside, bury himself in his work, and invent things that could be in order to avoid seeing all the things he’d already lost.

And Cade’s lost a lot, even before the Transformers came into his life and changed everything. He lost the woman he loved; he lost the deed to his property; and it was only a matter of time before Tessa walked away and didn’t have time to look back.

It hits him now, standing there. All this time he’s spent clinging to things as if there’s something special imbued in them. Like they can come to life like a Transformer and remind them all of what really matters.

That’s not how it is, though. It’s just not. It’s just stuff, and now that it’s literally a pile of rubble, Cade begins to suspect that his life has been in ruins all along.

Because Cade’s invented a lot of things, but he can’t reinvent the past. He can’t bring his wife back to life or give his daughter back her childhood. The things he’d wanted to protect, and the things he’d nearly sacrificed in his own blind pursuits, they’re the things he could never piece together with a few wires and a soldering iron.

Cade’s spent a lifetime inventing solutions for problems he didn’t have to avoid the fact that he can’t fix the problems he does have.

At the end of the familiar dirt lane, he’s not even sure where to start anymore.

Next to him, Tessa’s breath catches. Shane pulls her close, and Cade’s too tired to say anything about that.

“Well,” he says instead as he looks at the charred planks of the mostly demolished structure and the bits of their life strewn far across the lawn. “Welcome home.”

-o-

It’s not a total loss.

After Tessa finishes crying for a little bit -- and it takes all Cade has to let Shane comfort her instead of doing it himself -- they start to find a few things to salvage in the rubble. There are random things, like the pots and pans and the couch in the living room, but also some of the things that matter, like the pictures and a few home videos from when Tessa was little and her mom was still alive.

Still, though it’s not a total loss, after spending most of the day in the wreckage, it’s pretty clear that it’s a pretty sizeable loss. The house will have to be started from the ground up, and Cade hasn’t even gotten to the barn yet.

“Hey,” Tessa says, shifting through the debris and pulling out something. “Looks like my laptop made it.”

Shane comes over, dusting it off while Tessa powers it up experimentally. “You won’t need it as much anymore,” he says. “I think our Skyping in secret is a thing of the past.”

Cade frowns, adding another broken picture frame to his salvage pile. “In secret, sure,” he says. “But I’m pretty sure you two will still need some distance.”

“Well, I,” Shane starts, and he cuts himself off with a frown.

Tessa shuffles her feet and looks away.

Cade realizes pretty quickly that there’s something he hasn’t been told.

Shane glances at Tessa, who just sighs. “Dad, we’ve got no place to stay,” she says, as though she’s thought about this. Hell, it sounds like she’s rehearsed it.

It’s Cade’s turn to frown. “Joyce said he could have this place rebuilt in no time,” he says. “Better than before.”

“But that’s months, Dad,” Tessa says, as if this is entirely obvious. “Or, best case scenario, weeks.”

It is obvious, but Cade doesn’t want to concede that point. Cade doesn’t want to concede anything, quite honestly, and given that he’s probably saved his daughter, her boyfriend, the Autobots, and the whole world, he actually thinks he’s entitled. “We have the car,” he says.

Tessa’s shoulders fall. “Dad--”

“Or camping,” Cade says, gesturing absently at nothing and hoping it amounts to something. “You love camping.”

“No, I don’t,” Tessa says.

“Yes, you do,” Cade says.

“Name one time we went camping,” Tessa says.

Cade opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. He can’t remember a single time because he’s pretty sure there’s never been a single time. They might have owned a tent once, but it would have been in the attic, and they currently don’t even have an attic and what the hell.

He takes a breath. “Well, we could start a tradition.”

“My place is pretty big,” Shane says, obviously trying to be helpful. Trying and failing. “You could stay, too. Crash on the couch.”

“But where’s Tessa going to sleep?” he asks.

Shane reddens.

Tessa closes her eyes.

Cade feels like he’s going to be sick. “Seriously?”

“Dad, you’re missing the point,” Tessa says, collected once more. “We can’t stay here.”

“But this is our home,” Cade says, voice pitching just slightly with desperation. It’s only been a few days since Hong Kong, and time before that is really pretty hazy. It’s hard to imagine that it’s only been a week or so since he accidentally fixed Optimus in the first place. A week.

He looks around again. A week ago, Tessa was thinking about college, and Cade was scraping together anything to stave off the inevitable decline of his home and family. A week ago, Tessa had been angry at him, and he hadn’t even known Shane, and Lucas--

He stops short, grinding his teeth together.

A week ago, Cade would have thrown down for this.

But Cade’s fought too many battles lately. He sort of thinks the odds aren’t in his favor.

“Fine,” he says, shoulders slumping. “You can stay with Shane.”

Tessa brightens. But then cocks her head. “But what about you?”

Cade straights a bit, wiping his hands on his pants. “Well,” he says. “Looks like I’ve got a lot of work to do around here.”

Tessa looks concerned. “But--”

“But this is home, Tessa,” he says, because that’s what it comes back down to. He doesn’t want to think about losing that, because he doesn’t want to think about losing anything. He won, and that’s going to count for something. “I’m going to build us a home.”

She inhales, something certain settling over her face. She’s gorgeous, is the thing. She’s so damn beautiful and so stupid smart, and she can do anything. She will do anything. And Cade can’t give her anything except the one thing he doesn’t want to give up: her freedom.

After all that’s happened, though, it just doesn’t seem right to hold on.

Not anymore.

“I’ll be back tomorrow,” she says. “First thing. I swear.”

Cade smiles, and he wants to hug her, but Shane’s still got his arm around her. It’s funny, he thinks. He saved the world, which is great. It’s just not the world he thought it was at all, which is less great.

“Sure thing, sweetie,” he says. “I’ll see you then.”

-o-

Shane insists on getting them dinner first, and Cade only relents when Tessa suggests she stays until he gets back. Together, they sit on the grass at the end of the drive, looking at the sun as it sets.

“It doesn’t feel real, you know?” Tessa says. “I keep thinking I’ll wake up and none of this will have happened.”

Cade looks at her, then squints out at the horizon. It occurs to him that he’s felt that way for years, ever since he first held his baby girl and his life changed. His life has been one of harsh, fast changes, from Tessa’s birth to his wife’s death to a Transformer in his barn and the dawn of extinction.

“It’ll make you better,” he says finally, throat feeling tight and a dull ache growing in chest. He looks at Tessa. “Not that I thought that was even possible.”

She blushes, smiling just like she did when she was little. She leans into him, hesitant at first, but then she rests her head on his shoulders. “Thanks, Dad,” she says.

He wraps an arm around her, kissing the top of her head and blinking back the tears burning in his eyes. “Anytime, sweetheart.”

-o-

When Shane gets back, they eat together. It’s dark when they leave, and Cade scratches his head as he stands alone, watching them pull out down the dirt road. It’s funny, he started this whole thing with a daughter and a best friend. Along the way, he’d met billionaires and black ops commandos and robots.

And now, when it’s over, he’s alone.

That doesn’t seem right, but it’s hard to begrudge anyone what they need. It’s not like Optimus can stay, given what he’s trying to do. And Bumblebee has promised to come back, but he has to do whatever it is giant, sentient robots have to do in the aftermath of a battle they fought for a world that may still reject them.

Hell, if not for Joyce’s generous spending cash to buy them plane tickets and a new car, Cade would have literally nothing.

At least he’s back on his property, and no one’s going to try to take it from him again. In addition to the rest, Joyce has bought his land and promised to rebuild his home with enough space to conceal the Autobots when they need a place to stay. The agreement is, of course, that Joyce can communicate with the Autobots as he wants for research, development and defense, and that’s all well and good, but Cade tries to focus on the bit where he’s home.

He’s home.

He swallows hard against the feeling in his throat.

He sort of thought it’d feel better than this.

He sort of thought it’d feel like something.

Right now, all Cade wants to do is to go to bed.

For a very, very long time.

-o-

The bad news is that Cade doesn’t have a bed. He also doesn’t have a car, he realizes belatedly, since Shane had taken it back to his place with Tessa. And Cade’s not opposed to camping, but he doesn’t have a sleeping bag or a pillow or running water.

The good news is that Cade’s been all over the damn world in the last week, and he’s been blown up and he’s done some blowing up, and really, between almost dying all the time and almost seeing the end of the world and realizing his daughter has a boyfriend, he’s so tired that nothing else matters.

Cade hobbles together a few supplies for sleeping, including two charred blankets and a flashlight. He balls up one blanket for a pillow and curls up under the other before turning out the light.

And then Cade sleeps.

-o-

In the morning, he feels a little sore. Apparently, he’s not a kid anymore and sleeping on the ground is about as uncomfortable as it sounds.

Plus, he’s sort of done all sorts of crazy stuff over the last week.

In that light, he feels remarkably good.

Still, he wishes he had a working coffee pot.

Or food.

That’s not the point, though. The point is there’s work to do.

Standing up, he folds his blankets, wipes his hands on his jeans, and gets back to work.

-o-

He’s mostly done in the house by the time Tessa and Shane show up with breakfast. They seem to want to be leisurely about it, being silly and cute while they eat egg McMuffins. Because of course you can be cute eating fast food after nearly dying together.

Truthfully, Cade’s too tired to protest.

Instead, he eats his McMuffin in silence. He eats another one because it’s there, and he downs several cups of coffee, barely tasting anything except the bitter aftertaste on his tongue.

It seems like the thing to do.

When Tessa starts talking to Shane about racecars, Cade decides these are more details he doesn’t want to know, and he gets up to start working.

“Come on, Dad,” Tessa says. “Sit with us a little longer.”

He shakes his head, crumpling up the wrappers and stuffing them in the paper bag they came in. “I need to get the barn cleared out before they can demo the place,” he says.

“We have time,” Tessa says.

Cade takes a breath, shrugging. “Do we?”

“Dad,” Tessa says again. “I was talking to Shane last night -- about school. I haven’t missed graduation, you know.”

“Hey, maybe now you’ll qualify for aid,” Cade says. “Being homeless and all.”

Tessa bites her lip. “We’ll figure something out,” she says.

“We were also talking about if she attend something locally,” Shane adds. “She could save money on rent.”

Cade blinks. “But the house isn’t--”

He stops while Shane pales. Tessa presses her lips together.

“You know what,” Cade says. “Whatever works. You do whatever you need to do.”

“Dad--” Tessa starts.

But Cade doesn’t have it in him. He’s fought too many battles. He’s giving up on this one. “I mean it,” he says. “It’s hard to think of you as a child now, I think.”

Tessa’s shoulders start to fall.

“Look, I’m just going to--” he says, moving toward the barn. “Take your time!”

Because really, Cade realizes. What else is there now?

-o-

There’s one other thing, as it turns out. In addition to time, there’s junk.

Now, Cade’s never been partial to the j-word, not in his life, not in his house, and especially not in his barn.

But as he shifts through the remnants of his inventions, that’s really all it looks like. There are broken parts and tattered wires, and Cade still remembers what they all were. He remembers mechanical dogs that barks wrong and beer bots that taunted you with beer instead of bringing it to you. There are robots that can’t paint, and music players that don’t play music.

It’s junk.

None of it works; none of it ever worked.

Cade’s spent his life trying to salvage junk, hoping to build something magnificent.

As it turned out, all he’s done is create more junk.

He swears, running a hand through his hair.

“Bad, huh?” Tessa asks tentatively.

He doesn’t have to look to know she’s standing not far behind him. He shakes his head. “There’s nothing left.”

Tessa approaches, lingering beside him. “This is what you live for, though,” she says. “Finding the pieces that matter and putting them together in new ways. No one can do that like you, Dad. No one.”

He laughs hoarsely, the sound so hollow that it hurts inside his chest. “You know, Joyce was so focused on the idea that he could make something that he never thought to think if he should,” he says. “He nearly risked everything he had with the promise of what he might get.”

Tessa steps closer, her arm pressed against his. “This isn’t the same thing.”

He looks at her. “Isn’t it? You always said--”

“I was wrong, Dad,” she tells him flatly.

He stares at her, a little surprised. She’s still his little girl, but she’s not a child anymore. She probably hasn’t been for years. “Huh,” he says finally, because it’s a bit of an unexpected twist. “I think maybe I was, too.”

She exhales heavily. “Come on,” she says, nodding toward the mess. “We have some work to do.”

-o-

So they work.

Tessa’s good at this stuff, she always has been, even when she never wanted it. She knows what parts are good almost instinctively, and she starts to sort the piles without even being asked.

Shane, as it turns out, is pretty terrible at it. As a racecar driver, Cade had held out some slim hope that he may be somewhat useful when it came to mechanics, but his working knowledge isn’t that great. It seems that it’s one thing to make a car work, and entirely another to drive it.

Despite this, Shane tries, which probably counts for something if Cade wants to be magnanimous.

Cade doesn’t really want to be magnanimous.

Mostly, Cade wants this to be over.

And if it can’t be over, he’ll settle for sleep.

-o-

By the third day back, Cade knows this could go on forever. The wreckage of his property would take years to sort through properly, and while Cade likes sorting through junk, he also wants a house. A place for Tessa to stay.

A place where Cade doesn’t have to sleep outside every night.

Because it’s getting worse. For whatever reason, the Texas weather is being cruel to him with chilly temperatures at night. He’s being sustained on fast food and potato chips, and he hasn’t had a proper shower in, well, Cade’s lost track.

He’s losing track of everything. He doesn’t know what time it is when he wakes up, and he doesn’t even manage to get back to his blanket to sleep at night. If not for Tessa and Shane showing up in the morning, he’s not sure he’d have any semblance of reality at all.

So when he dials Joyce up, he’s a bit ready to move this along. “So you said you could build my house,” he says, barely giving Joyce a chance to say hello.

“Yeager?” Joyce asks, sounding a little confused.

“Yeah,” Cade says. “You said you could build my house.”

“Uh, yeah,” Joyce says vaguely. “But I wasn’t sure when--”

“Now,” Cade insists. “I want it now.”


“Understandable,” Joyce says. “And I want to help you, I do--”

“Then do,” Cade says. “Remember the part where you almost made the human race extinct? Remember the part where I helped you prevent an apocalypse?”

Joyce draws a terse breath. “I’m going to follow through for you, I am,” he says. “But you have to understand--”

“Understand?” Cade asks. “Understand what? That I lost everything?”

“That we’ve all lost something,” Joyce interjects. “Look, this whole thing is a mess. We’re all rebuilding, and I’m putting out fires for everything, Cade. What I’m doing now ensures that you can settle down. It ensures that you don’t have to look over your shoulder. It ensures that your daughter will go to school, that the Autobots will be safe, that the world will be safe.”

Cade draws his brows together, rubbing at the vague pounding between his eyes. “So soon?”

Joyce sighs. “Give me a few weeks, okay? I just need a few weeks.”

Cade squeezes his eyes shut and grinds his teeth. Joyce needs a few weeks. Bumblebee needs a few days. Optimus might need a few years. Tessa needs a few thousand dollars and some space. And who the hell knows what Shane needs.

As for Cade.

Well, Cade needs…

What does Cade need?

A warm bath, a comfortable bed, a daughter with her virginity still intact, a best friend who isn’t dead, a world without giant talking robots and near death and destruction?

“Fine,” Cade grumbles into the phone. “Fine.”

Because really, what else is he going to say?

-o-

When Tessa shows up, Cade’s a little preoccupied. She is standing right behind him before he realizes he’s not alone.

“Oh,” he says, wondering when she learned to be so stealthy. Though, considering the whole secret boyfriend revelation, he figures maybe he’s better than he’s wanted to give her credit for. “Did you have an okay night?”

There is an inscrutable look on her face, and Cade realizes belatedly he’s asked a question he probably doesn’t want to know the answer to.

“Never mind,” he says, shaking his head.

“Dad,” she says. “Are you okay?”

He actually laughs at that. “You’re the one who’s told me all along that nothing is okay.”

“That’s not what I mean,” she says.

He grows somber with a sigh. “You know what will make me better?”

“What?”

“Fixing this,” he says, nodding to the debris. “Seeing if we can salvage something.”

She nods, drawing her lips together. “Okay,” she agrees.

He smiles. She can do that to him. She can make the worst things better. She can make anything better. She can make the end of the world worth it. Just him and his baby girl, the way he’s tried to make it work so many years now. The two of them, against all odds.

“Let me just go get Shane,” she says.

It shouldn’t be, probably, but it’s a little like a punch in the gut. “Yeah,” he says, doing his best not to falter. “Okay.”

She smiles a second longer, and he manages to smile until she walks away.

This is a salvage operation, after all.

He can afford to be picky.

-o-

Shane brings them lunch and dinner. He spends a lot of time on the phone, and there are periods when he and Tessa just disappear. Cade doesn’t ask any questions.

He doesn’t have the energy for that.

Instead, he doubles down and focuses on the task at hand. He’s never had a hard time doing that; he’s never had difficulty believing in the impossible or the unlikely or what the hell ever.

And after what he’s done; after what he’s seen.

This much is easy.

At least, he reflects as he works into the night, it should be.

-o-

“I just got a bonus from Red Bull,” Shane tells him while they work the next afternoon. Cade doesn’t exactly remember where Tessa said she had to go, but she’d mentioned school and honestly, Cade’s got no business telling her otherwise. He just hadn’t quite counted on Shane sticking around, although that seems to be a thing now.

And he does care about the kid. And he knows the kid cares about his daughter. Hell, Cade had been willing to hand over everything to Shane, his daughter’s safety and future and the whole shebang. That hadn’t been easy, but it sure as hell had been easier than this.

Bonding with the boy who wanted to do unmentionable things to his daughter.

Instead of reply, he grunts and shifts another piece of wood out of the way.

“It’s pretty sizeable,” Shane continues. “And this whole thing is getting some traction. It’s all over the news.”

That’s a novel idea. Shane’s never exactly kept up with current events, but now that he basically lives by himself on a rural property with no working electricity, he’s sort of out of the loop.

Or beyond the loop, really. It’s not like he doesn’t know what happened, and he’s a little skeptical on the government right now.

“We’re heroes, you know,” Shane says. “People are saying all this stuff, like why can’t there be more people like Cade Yeager. They’re comparing you to Sam Witwicky.”

Cade wipes a bead of sweat off his forehead, ignoring the protest of his muscles while he bends over to see what he can save of his robopuppy.

“You don’t have to do this alone,” Shane continues. “I know you cut a deal with Joyce, but--”

Cade stands up, squinting over at Shane.

Shane blinks, looking a little like a deer in the headlights. “You deserve the gratitude, is all,” he concludes awkwardly.

“I don’t want gratitude,” Cade says. “I never did this for the money.”

“I know,” Shane says. “That’s what makes you a hero.”

A hero, Cade thinks. That’s not why he started this. Hell, he can’t help but think how much easier this would have been if he’d just called the government like Lucas had wanted to in the first place.

Of course, the human race might have been destroyed, but Cade wouldn’t have known any better. Except he can’t leave well enough alone; Cade thinks he can make everything better.

He looks back over the debris.

A bang up job he’s done.

He looks at Shane again. “They forgot about Sam Witwicky,” he says. “And they hunted down the Autobots until they couldn’t afford otherwise. This world isn’t good to its heroes.”

Shane pales a little. “I just think you could use this,” he says. “For you and for Tessa--”

Cade shakes his head. “You believe that?”

“Yes,” Shane says with an earnest nod. “Yes, sir.”

The fact that Shane means it is a little reassuring.

But Cade can’t help but let out a wry laugh. He exhales heavily, and lifts up another piece of plywood to reveal the rest of his decimated robopuppy. “Then you’re stupider than you look.”

-o-

Cade doesn’t exactly remember falling asleep that night, but he does remember waking up to the sound of Tessa’s voice. He opens his eyes with a start, nearly yelping when he realizes she’s standing right over him.

“Seriously, Dad,” Tessa says, looking somewhat mortified. “Is this how you’ve been sleeping since we got back?”

Movement hurts like a son of a bitch, and even though he’s blinking his eyes, nothing seems quite in focus yet. He has to clear his throat, and even then his reply is nothing but a croak. “It’s not so bad.”

“Dad,” Tessa says. “You’re literally sleeping on the ground.”

He presses his palm to his eyes, trying in vain to shake the lingering vestiges of sleep. In his mind, he thinks about just how many explosions he’s been through in the last week or so, because he’s feeling them all now in painful acuity. “Well, they destroyed our beds.”

She gapes, and it’s not clear to Cade whether she’s upset or offended. “You can’t do this,” she lectures. “I thought, after everything, you could take care of yourself--”

“Hey,” Cade says, struggling to his feet. He feels a little light headed but it only takes a few seconds to get his bearings. “I can take care of myself. I took care of the whole world, didn’t I?”

“That’s different,” she says, sounding completely unamused.

“I know,” he says, rolling his shoulders in an attempt to loosen them. It mostly makes them hurt more. “It’s easier, right?”

“In theory, probably--”

“So it’s fine, Tess,” he says. “Really.”

She flattens her mouth, but seems to deflate. “There’s plenty of room at Shane’s place.”

“I’m not staying with you and your boyfriend,” he says. “Which is an arrangement I feel weird enough about already.”

“Then what about a hotel,” Tessa says. “Something in town--”

“This is my home,” he says.

“No, Dad, this is a pile of trash,” Tessa says.

His chest tightens, and he shakes his head. “It’s all I have.”

She deflates a little more and finally just shakes her head. “Here,” she says, holding out a bag. “At least eat some breakfast.”

Cade hesitates, but takes it. “You don’t have to look after me, you know.”

“Yeah?” she asks. “If not me, then who?”

“Bumblebee said he’d be back,” Cade says, unwrapping a breakfast burrito. “And Joyce is going to have people coming.”

She rolls her eyes. “A robot and the man who nearly destroyed the world,” she says. “Nice.”

He takes a large bite when he realizes that he’s not just hungry, he’s famished. “I just want things to be like they were,” he says. “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

“Things really weren’t so great, Dad,” she says.

“Maybe,” he says, taking a swig of coffee. “But they weren’t so bad, either.”

-o-

It’s a good day, actually. Tessa stays while Shane has to do something -- he’s not sure what racecar drivers do on a day to day basis, but apparently they have responsibilities that they must attend to -- and Cade is glad for a little one on one time with his daughter. She’s smart, his girl. And she’s good. Really, they make a good team.

Over the course of the day, Cade gets through most of the barn, and with Tessa’s help, they manage to set up a makeshift organizational area using some containers and a few pieces of furniture that survived the destruction. Tessa even manages to find some of his clothes and a working water spicket, and she insists that he cleans himself off one way or another.

The water’s cold, and it takes longer than it probably should to scrub himself clean. When he’s done, he uses a hand razor and a piece of metal to shave. When he comes back around to the front of the property, he’s pleased that he looks a little more like a human being.

Tessa looks like she approves. “At least I know it’s still you,” she comments. “You were sort of starting to look like a mad man.”

Cade snorts, sitting down next to her heavily even while his knees protest. “I sort of feel like one sometimes.”

“I meant it, you know,” she says. “What I said earlier. You don’t have to stay here.”

He knows she means well -- she always means well. And maybe she’s right, and maybe it’s smarter just to move on. There are memories here, but they aren’t as good as Cade might think they are. This is where he watched his wife die; this is where he saw his little girl forced to the ground with a gun to her head. It’s not that Cade fights the wrong fight, it’s just that sometimes he fights for the right things in all the wrong ways.

What he’s trying to save here, it might already be gone.

Maybe it was gone a long, long time again.

He wets his lips, shaking his head. “I’ve got no place else left to go.”

“You can go anywhere,” she says. “Let Joyce get you out of here. Hell, let the government give you what you’re due.”

“I don’t trust the government--”

“It’s not all black ops,” Tessa says. “I’m serious when I say this. They’ve had to post building security down at Shane’s place just to keep the reporters away. We’ve both turned down countless interviews.”

Cade looks at her. “Really?”

“Really,” Tessa says. “And the only reason they aren’t out here is because you don’t own this land anymore. Whatever Joyce did, he bought your anonymity.”

“Then why would I want to give that up?” he asks.

“Because,” Tessa says. “What are we hiding from now? What are we trying to protect?”

That’s a question, and it’s one Cade doesn’t exactly know how to answer. He just knows he doesn’t feel like a hero. He doesn’t feel like some knight in shining armor. He’s not a soldier; he’s not a patriot. He’s just a guy who found a Transformer and wanted to build a better future for his daughter.

“I’m worried about you, Dad,” she continues, her voice softening. “You’re starting to freak me out.”

“Honey,” he says. “We survived the end of the world. I really think the rest is going to be fine.”

“But what is the rest?” she asks. “I mean, you haven’t asked me about school. Do you even know when graduation is? Have you asked me about scholarships?”

“To be fair, I have been a little busy,” Cade tries to say.

“With what, Dad?” she asks. “With your junk?”

He bristles, almost out of habit, even if she’s right.

“At least before this, you paid attention to that much,” she says. “Now it’s like you’re on autopilot.”

“It’s just a lot, okay?” he says, starting to feel his ire rise. “I’m still trying to get over the fact that you’re living with your boyfriend, and that I nearly took you to the end of the world, okay? It’s a lot.”

“Well, what about Lucas, then?” she presses. “Have you thought about a memorial service? Have you even called his brother? Have you thought about him at all?”

That one hits him like a punch in the gut, and Cade feels very sick. He hasn’t thought about Lucas, because he doesn’t know what to think about Lucas. He doesn’t know how to think about the best friend he led into this mess; the best friend he got killed. He doesn’t know how to think about how when no one else would be here, Lucas was. Lucas would have been.

Shit, he doesn’t know how to think about the fact that it was Lucas’ money that bought Optimus in the first place. Lucas gave him everything, not without complaint of course, but still. Every time.

And the only thing Cade gave him in return was a horrible, early death.

That’s the thing, after all. That’s the hard part. Cade’s junk saved the human race, but a lot of people still died. A lot of things were lost. And Cade’s sifting through the pieces because he has to believe that there’s still something left. That it was worth it.

“I just...I need some time, honey,” he says hoarsely, throat so thick he can barely talk.

“Time for what?” she asks.

“I don’t know!” he explodes, because he doesn’t. He doesn’t know anything anymore. “I just....I have stuff to do, okay?”

She shakes her head with a scoffing laugh. “One more invention, right?” she asks. “You think you can fix this?”

He shrugs helplessly. “I think I have to try.”

At that, she sighs, getting to her feet. “Then I guess you better get to it.”

“Tess--”

She stops a few paces away, turning back. “I’m going to call Shane, have him pick me up,” she says. “He can meet me at the end of the road.”

“Tess--”

“You have stuff to do,” she says, voice sharp and brittle in a way that shouldn’t be possible, not for her. “I won’t get in your way.”

As she walks away, he wants to tell her that’s not what he meant.

Problem is, of course, he doesn’t know what he meant.

He just knows when she walks away, he feels hollow inside.

It’s a feeling he figures he may as well get used to.

-o-

That night, Cade stares at the stars. He remembers what Optimus said, about seeing his soul in one of them.

The problem is, he doesn’t know which one it is.

Cade doesn’t know anything.

Joyce is sending help; Bumblebee is coming back. His daughter is healthy and safe.

But for tonight, Cade Yeager is alone.

-o-

Tessa’s busy.

She’s always been busy, his baby girl, doing all the things that Cade could never remember to get done. It seems like with all that’s changed, that much is still the same. She tells him about school and how she’s got her financial aid figured out for next year. She’s going to college, just like they always planned.

Shane visits from time to time, telling him about racing or something -- Cade actually stopped trying to figure out what the hell he’s talking about. But he also spends a lot of time assuring Cade that Tessa’s doing great, she really, really is. They invite Cade out a few times, but when Cade says no, they just stop asking.

They sort of stop coming.

Joyce doesn’t return his phone calls.

It’s just as well, because Cade’s too tired to be conversation, and he has plenty to do. He constructs a makeshift shed from the rubble, and starts to store his parts. When he gets distracted -- which, there’s no one to pretend with now, he’s always distracted -- he begins fixing some of the circuits until he has a functioning toaster that also serves as an alarm clock.

This might be useful, if he had any bread.

He does build a small bunk for himself, and even throws together what he’s calling a bathroom over his one working spigot.

All in all, it’s not so bad, Cade tells himself. He’s still achy, and his head still hurts, and he’s lonely. Hell, he’s mostly talking to himself until his voice goes hoarse and his throat gets too congested to bother. He falls asleep in the strangest places, and he sometimes doesn’t know if it’s day or night.

It’s a blind determination that keeps him going, even when his body seems all but ready to give out on him. The very stuff that changed saved Optimus, reunited the Autobots, changed Joyce’s mind and saved the world.

This time, he’s just not sure what he’s trying to build.

He can only hope he knows it when he sees it.

-o-

It’s Shane who comes, tentative and awkward. He attempts to help, but mostly makes a mess. When he tries to make conversation, Cade growls at him.

He’s not trying to be rude, at least not entirely, but his throat feels like he’s gargled glass or something and he can barely think straight with the pounding of his sinuses.

“Look, Cade,” Shane finally says.

Cade stands up straight and looks at the kid, but he has to blink a few times for things to come into focus.

Shane takes a breath, as if rallying his courage. “You look horrible.”

Cade makes a face. “I wasn’t aware I was trying to impress you.”

“You’re not,” Shane says. “I mean, that’s not the point.”

“Then what is the point?” Cade asks, because damn it, he wants to know.

Shane wets his lips, swallowing convulsively. “Tessa’s really worried about you.”

“So she’s said,” Cade mutters, picking up another piece of salvage and shuffling it to another position.

“I know it’s probably hard,” Shane continues. “Coming back when everything’s so different.”

Different, Cade catches on that word. All he’s worked to keep things the same and he’s saved a different world than he thought.

“But Tessa loves you,” he says. “She loves you more than anything. She’d do anything for you, and she wants to know you’re proud of her--”

“I am,” Cade cuts him off. “I’m so damn proud of her it hurts, okay? It hurts.”

Shane doesn’t back down. “And she wants to know you’re okay,” he says. “Because she’s okay, but she needs you to be okay, too.”

Cade stares at him, almost incredulous. What does that mean? What does any of it mean? What does it mean to get everything you want in none of the ways you want it? What does it mean to feel like you’ve aged decades in a week? What does it mean to close your eyes and see explosions? To fall asleep and see a gun pressed to your daughter’s head? What does it mean to hold metal and wires in your hand and believe in the impossible?

What does it mean that Cade Yeager saved the world and he’s still the same idiot he was when he started this?

“Cade,” Shane says, sounding a little desperate now. “Please.”


He sighs, shrugging. “I’m trying, okay?” is all he can say. “I’m trying.”

Trying, he says.

Failing, is what’s implied.

Either way, Shane goes home with Tessa that night.

Leaving Cade alone.

Which sort of seems to be the way it’s meant to be.

-o-

Joyce starts leaving messages for him, but Cade’s too busy plugging his tools into his one working outlet to bother charging his phone. He does plug it in long enough to get a few texts from Tessa, saying she’s going with Shane to one of his races and that she’ll be back in a couple of days. The next message seems to say it’s from the Office of the President, which Cade thinks must be completely ridiculous so he deletes it without listening to it.

Tessa leaves him another message, reminding him to get food at some point. He listens to that one a few times, not because he’s inclined to go to the store, but because Tessa sounds so damn happy, and when she says, “Miss you, Dad,” it sounds like she means it.

You’re the best thing I ever made,
he remembers. It was always you.

The rest, Cade finally concludes, doesn’t matter at all.

-o-

That night, Cade sleeps hard.

And the next morning, he just doesn’t get up.

He doesn’t have the energy, sure, but he also doesn’t have the desire. No one’s coming, after all. No one’s going to miss him. Tessa’s grown up and she’s safe and she’s happy, and at this point, there’s nothing else.

Cade closes his eyes.

There’s just nothing else.

-o-

When Cade sleeps, there are no dreams.

Nothing good.

But nothing bad.

It’s just nothing.

-o-

He wakes to the touch of metal, cool against his skin. He feels it, brushing against his skin and the smell fills his nostrils. Awareness is cruel, though, assaulting him with a myriad of pains he can’t quite place. It hurts to think; it hurts to breathe; it hurts.

When he opens his eyes, he squints up against the sunlight to see a smear of something yellow. There’s a garbled sound, like a radio transmission, and Cade lets his head loll to the side, ready to go back to sleep.

“Hey,” a voice says. “Is everything -- okay?”

The voice is piecemealed, changing frequencies and tones. Cade groans. “Bumblebee,” he murmurs. “We have to look at your -- voice processor--”

The thought escapes him, though, and he lets out a shuddering breath, letting himself go lax again.

“You’re burning, man,” Bumblebee says. “You’re on fire!”

That’s something to consider, because Cade feels cold. Of course, he also feels hungry and nauseous and exhausted, so in the big picture, the chill had seemed less important. He grunts. “Sorry,” he mutters.

Bumblebee nudges him, big fingers surprisingly gentle. “Come on,” he cajoles. “You got to get up.”

It seems like a pretty earnest plea, but it’s hard to tell with a sentient robot that speaks through hacked radio transmissions. The technology behind that is impressive, but Cade’s too tired to even think about that.

“You’re scaring me,” Bumblebee contends in a scratchy feminine squeal.

Cade’s breath hitches on a laugh, tapering off with a whimper. “I’m scaring me, too,” he says, because he’s never been this tired before. He’s never been this far gone. He’s never been so lost that he just stopped caring. It’s not that Cade’s too tough or too strong or too smart. It’s just that he’s too set on a goal to know when to stop.

But this time, there’s no goal.

This time, there’s nothing.

He doesn’t even have the willpower to apologize. There’s no point. There’s no point.

Optimus is gone. Tessa’s living with Shane. Joyce is rebuilding the world.

No one needs Cade.

Hell, they probably never did.

Suddenly, he’s lifted, plucked off the ground carefully until he’s laid into a metal cradle. His eyes slit up, and he’s just enough aware to realize that Bumblebee is carrying, tucked securely into the palm of his hand. The robot’s eyes light warmly. “I’ve got you, little buddy,” he croons. “I’ve got you.”

-o-

This time, Cade dreams.

He’s in Hong Kong, a gun to his head while a madman lectures him about patience like it’s something Cade knows nothing about. He’s skittering on the edge of a roof, sending a man falling to his death. But it’s not him; it’s not him.

In Chicago, he’s dangling above the city, not looking down to see how far it is to fall. He’s saving his daughter on an alien ship, because no one takes his daughter -- no one. And Cade can’t fail; he won’t.

He’s speeding away in his daughter’s boyfriend’s car, away from the home that no longer exists and the life he no longer has. He looks back to see Lucas, horror still carved into his metal face, contorted and twisted in pain. He keeps going because there’s no other direction to go.

Then he’s pressed to the grass, a gun against his head. He’s crying and screaming because they’ve got Tessa, and they’re going to kill her, they’re going to kill her. And that’s not okay. Nothing about that will ever be okay.

Inside, Tessa tells him they have no money over dinner. She tells him she’ll have to take out loans for college, and they’re going to have to stop paying for electricity or water, he can take his pick. Cade doesn’t pick, because choosing to lose one things is worse than being forced to lose both.

In a graveyard, he buries his wife, and he cries. God help him, he cries so hard it hurts and then he just keeps crying, because this isn’t supposed to happen.

None of this is supposed to happen.

But Tessa hands him a report card with straight A’s and she’s got pigtails on her first day of school. She takes a lurching step, giggling in delight as she falls into Cade’s arms. She shows up in Hong Kong to save Cade’s life, because she’s smart and she’s strong and she’s so damn brave and Cade’s known that since the beginning, since he holds her in the hospital when she fits in his arms, this tiny, squirming baby that screams so loud just because she can.

He can still remember, after all. He still remembers everything, back to the beginning when his girlfriend hands him a stick with tears coming down her face.

“I’m not sure we can do this, Cade,” she admits, and she’s young, younger than Tessa, and she’s so pretty and so perfect and Cade would give the world for her.

“We can,” he promises, taking her hands because he believes it. Unlike he’s believed anything, he believes that.

“But we have nothing,” she protests.

“But that’s what I do,” he says, grinning stupidly as he puts his arms around her. “I can build things out of nothing. Just you wait, baby. I’ll invent a future for us. I’ll invent a future where we can be happy, me and you and our baby. You’ll see.”

You’ll see, Cade thinks.

Between the bills that don’t stop coming and the junk that accumulates in the barn. Between the paychecks Cade can’t earn and the parts he just can’t fix. Between the dreams Tessa has and the ones Cade wants to help her realize. Between the Transformer in his barn and the gun pressed to Tessa’s head. Between an alien ship and the age of extinction.

Between victory and failure.

He sure as hell hopes they all see.

-o-

“Dad? Can you hear me? Dad?”

“What’s wrong with him? Why won’t he wake up?”

Someone grabs his hand. “Dad, please. Not after all this.”

“He doesn’t quit, Tess. I know he doesn’t.”

“I know. As long as there’s a reason to keep trying.”

That’s funny, really. Because it’s never been the case that Cade’s too good to quit. Or too smart or too brave or too anything really. He just doesn’t know when to quit because he always thinks there’s just one more thing to try, just one more thing to do.

He’s been wrong, though. About most of it. Honestly, quitting seems pretty good right.

But the thing is, there is still one thing to fight for. One thing to hold on for. Because Cade’s not alone.

No, he’s not alone.

Optimus saved his life. Joyce changed his mind. Bumblebee came back. And Tessa’s still here.

He could do without Shane, but he could do worse than Shane, that’s for sure.

“I’m going to be here, Dad. Just like you were always there for me.”

And even if that’s not much, it’s sure as hell more than enough.

-o-

Cade wakes up in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV with a heart monitor above his head. That’s really not so good.

But when he turns his head, he sees Tessa in the chair by his side. And that, he knows, is very, very good.

She brightens when he looks at her. “Hey, Dad.”

He smiles back -- or tries to. He quickly finds the task a bit more difficult than he anticipates, mostly because he feels like he’s been sucked dry and left to shrivel up and die. He feels terrible, mostly. “Hey,” he stills says, ignoring the way his lips crack as he almost manages a feeble grin.

She sits forward, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I’m glad you're awake,” she says. “Your fever finally broke a few hours ago.”

“Fever?”

She nods. “A bad one,” she says. “They stopped telling me how high it was, but you were pretty out of it for a few days.”

He tries to swallow, finding his tongue swollen and sticky. “Days?”

“You were admitted three days ago,” she says. “They’ve been trying to get things under control, but you scared us.”

At that, Cade stops. “Us?”

As if on cue, Shane appears in the door. He’s holding two cups of coffee, and his face lights up when he sees Cade awake. “Hey!” he says. “Are you really back this time?”

Cade glares with what little energy he can muster, watching as Shane gives a cup of coffee to Tessa, who accepts it willingly. He then proceeds to sit in the chair next to hers, draping an arm over her shoulder. “Where else would I be?” he asks tersely.

“I just meant, you know, with it,” Shane amends.

“The fever made you a little out there,” Tessa explains.

“And I thought you were scary conscious!” Shane says.

“Wait,” Cade says. “You two have just been sitting here watching me sleep?”

“It’s called holding a vigil,” Tessa tells him in a no-nonsense tone. “Like I said, you scared us.”

Cade wants to protest that, but frankly, he’s still too tired. “What exactly happened anyway?”

Tessa’s expression darkens for a moment, her humor slipping. “They said you probably wouldn’t remember much.”

“I remember Bumblebee,” he says vaguely.

“Yeah, he’s the one who found you,” Tessa says. “And I swear, he literally stormed right onto Shane’s racetrack to get us.”

“Been killing him not to be in here -- he’s been parked outside the whole time,” Shane says. “He feels guilty about not getting back to your place sooner.”

Cade takes a moment to prop himself up a bit more, looking over his own condition with a bit more scrutiny because it’s pretty clear he’s been out of it, and while he remembers not feeling the greatest, he doesn’t recall anything that warrants this. “I still don’t understand what happened.”

Tessa huffs. “You didn’t take care of yourself, that’s what happened,” she says. “They don’t know for sure what you managed to do to yourself, but from the dehydration and exhaustion, you managed to basically shut down your body.”

“What?” Cade asks, looking back at his daughter in confusion.

“That’s what happens, Dad,” Tessa says, sounding exasperated, worried and relieved all at once. “When you don’t eat and you don’t sleep and you basically don’t take care of yourself at all. You get tired; you get sick; and then you almost go and die from absolutely nothing.”

Cade’s gut twists guiltily. He hadn’t intended that, but he can’t deny that that sounds entirely plausible and more than a little likely. “I didn’t realize…”

“What?” Tessa pounces. “That you were going to work yourself to death?”

He takes a measured breath. “That I was so bad off.”

“Well, Dad, that’s always been a problem with you,” Tessa says.

“I know how to take care of myself, honey,” he says.

“Not really,” Tessa argues. “But that’s not really what I’m talking about.”

He furrows his brow.

She sighs. “You are so smart, and you can see things that no one else can see,” she says. “But you never see the things that are right in front of you. It’s all right there, and you just can’t see it at all.”

Only, this time, Cade thinks he can.

Because lying there, he sees things pretty clearly. He sees a daughter, who is smart and capable and giving. She’s going to do things, anything she wants, and nothing is going to hold her back. She’s going to have a life, and a future, and it’s going to be amazing.

And next to her is a boy who loves her. He’s not the bravest or the sharpest, and he’s not good enough for her -- not by a long shot -- but he loves her. He loves her so damn much that it’s impossible to deny. Through everything, he never left and that counts for something.

And there’s a world out there, and it’s going to survive. It’s going to change and be difficult, but it’s going to survive. There’s hope for mankind, just like there is hope for the Autobots.

There’s a home, too. A home he can rebuild; a home he can make better than before. There are friends he won’t take for granted, and a future where everyone has a shot at being happy.

He sees a world where he’s fulfilled that promise he made so many years ago. He sees a future that Cade built out of nothing.

And it’s sure as hell something.

This time, he doesn’t have to invent anything.

Not when it’s all right in front of him.

Tessa and Shane. Bumblebee outside, and Optimus in the far reaches of space.

It’s all right here.

“Okay,” he agrees, starting to smile. “Maybe I’m ready for something new.”

Tessa’s face breaks wide with a grin, and she leans into Shane’s touch even as she squeezes Cade’s hand. “Maybe we all are.”

Cade’s invented a lot of things, but he knows that this is something he’ll probably never be able to top. At least, not on his own.

The good news is that he probably won’t have to.