His engine felt stiff, and the grit of the salt scratched at his chest, but he pressed on, eager.
The convoy of two cut through the snowy muck as easily as they cut through Decepticons. Behind them, an unfamiliar semi had fallen into formation, putting Bumblebee in the rocking chair. Optimus felt relief that they they could save him some strain there, the new Mrs. Witwicky having run the scout cold only a few days prior. Optimus had expected him to sit this “mission” out, feeling a twinge of guilt that Bumblebee should follow in his folly. Still, Optimus wondered if he himself were equipped for the journey, as he found his own engines struggling in the cold. Earth's weather had proven stern, but age had been far more unkind to him.
Finally their exit came, so he turned on his signal. The other truck’s driver commented on the citizen's band, but Optimus dared not reply: speaking would blow their cover, and besides, putting a foreign head of state on those channels violated federal law. He pulled onto the ramp; Bumblebee followed.
They kept to the plan, driving out to a location Optimus had scouted in the summer. Bumblebee trailed Optimus, fanning off as planned once they reached their destination. The pile of snow, months of accumulated plows, sat there, waiting. Optimus ignored the protests of his Transformation cog as he shed his disguise and plunged in.
His hands screamed temperature warnings, unheeded. As they began their work, he looked up for Bumblebee, who had joined him in the yard. The scout smoothed out the snowy white blanket that covered it the way Carly smoothed out a picnic blanket at the park once when they had all met there. Optimus found his hands doing their jobs without him, pressing the chunks of ice together, dusting them in powder as he once saw Judy do with balls of human fuel before dropping them into a vat of oil for processing.
He fought a smile as he rolled his handiwork across the driveway of the strangers' house, where Bumblebee caught it and rolled it back. They kept at it until it had grown large enough for their purpose. Then the Scout and the Prime rolled more.
The moon had moved by the time they'd assembled their materials into the crude shape of a being in Primus' image. He began the roughest adjustments with a blade as Bumblebee started work on the face. Optimus enjoyed the exacting work, as it required the precision of battle, but offered the luxury of time to plan. Sometimes the hesitation seemed to rob him of his clarity. Other times, fear of losing the image forced his hand early, destroying the work’s proportion. Most times, he wondered if Bumblebee liked the process for the same reasons he did, but the little scout kept everything to himself but a satisfied smile and his vision for each sculpture.
The moon had crossed the sky when at last the rough, familiar shape had emerged. Bumblebee moved on to the body, and Optimus finally let himself smile as he took the details of the hands.
The sky began to lighten as they continued their work, black giving way to navy, then violet. Bumblebee started on the legs, but Optimus kept coming back to the hands, hands that belonged at his shoulder and his back. He kept working at each detail of the palm, at every line and seam and hinge, trying to bring to life the snow, to make it sing.
Bumblebee tugged at his shoulder as violet gave way to deep blue, but Optimus had not yet finished. He ignored the cold ache of his hands to perfect another's, longing to make the picture in his mind real again, regretting that this planet could not make of him an artist. Then Bumblebee started behind him. He knew they had been caught, their anonymity sublimating like snow becoming fog.
"Who's that?" asked the tiny voice. Optimus glanced up from the imperfect hands to find her her standing at the door, leaning on the frame. Her pink gown hung low, touching the snow, and her long black hair wrapped in neat, braided rows away from her face.
"His name was Jazz, and he was my friend."
She nodded, seeming to understand. "Thank you for sharing him with my neighborhood. But... why not tell everyone you did it?"
"It is my hope that the people who see this will focus on the sculpture and its subject, rather than its sculptors," he replied.
She wandered out into the yard, dark eyes wide. Optimus could see a hint of purple rubber boots peek from beneath her gown, which drew his eye to her naked hands. Fear rose in his spark for her, recalling the peculiar redness he had seen on the humans’ faces earlier in the season. "Why not make him out of metal, or wood, or stone?"
"We are not... I am not yet skilled enough to commit his image to permanent sculpture. I would not do him justice."
She crossed her arms, looking up at him. "Looks good enough to me. I have to go in before I get frostbite, and before my parents wake up." Then the girl added, "If you go now, they might not realize it was you. Thanks again." She started inside, and he started to change back into a truck. His tires had landed on the ground when she found something else to say.
"When will you and Mr. Bumblebee be good enough?"
They drove off without giving an answer. Bumblebee chattered the whole way back, clips of this and samples of that. Optimus seethed with anger until his engine ran hot.
Then he found the clarity that had eluded him as he sculpted. Optimus finally said, "Bumblebee, there is a lumberyard past this exit. I will meet you back at base."