Sam looked around curiously. They had been at Diego Garcia for over a week now, but this was the first time she had a chance to explore the base relatively unnoticed. That might have something to do with the fact that everyone that saw her only saw a wolf, or a large dog as they had led NEST to believe.
At first the humans had been wary of the large K-9s, but they had been careful and always accompanied one of their teammates in human form. They had all been on their best behavior and slowly everyone had started to accept the ‘pets’ the strangers had brought with them. However, that did not translate into less attention on the team from Atlantis. No sir. Rather the opposite in fact. Now when the animals had started to become old news, the humans (and mechs) of NEST could concentrate all their attention on the new arrivals.
In addition, the Autobots did not help things the slightest. More often than not there were at least one of the first arrivals close by, keeping an eye on her. Everyone was treating her like some sort of royalty. Some even going as far as calling her ‘Lady‘ Samantha. As for the human equation of NEST, some of personnel that had arrived after Egypt had a spark of hero-worship or awe in their eyes after hearing stories about her and her encounters with Megatron. Therefore, no matter where she went there were always someone keeping an eye on her and on extension her team.
That lead her to where she was now; exploring the Autobot base as Phoenix without any human company.
It was amazing how much you could learn and overhear when everyone around you thought you were just some animal. It was not like nobody could see her, they were soldiers after all and their lives often depended on their awareness of their surroundings. No, they knew she was around, but wrote her off as not a threat and therefore mostly ignored her and went on with their business.
So far she had learned that even though they were amazed by the stories they had heard about her and was curious about her team, they believed her team were undisciplined and strange. Not that Sam could fault them for their believes. She figured that a gate-veteran would be strange for any outsider, and when it came to their claim of being undisciplined… Well, the scientists had already come up with their theory about the ATA-gene, but she speculated that some of the attitude might come from living under constant threat from life-sucking space-vampires and various other unknown alien situations they often stumbled upon in their exploration of the universe. Either way, she knew her team would be there when it counted and that they knew what they were doing most of the times. They were not just a team; they were family.
She had settled down in the shade of one of the hangars and silently relaxed as she took in the activity around her, when she suddenly caught sight of something out of the corner of her eye that was out of place. A small child hiding behind a crate, sobbing silently.
Sam froze for a second as she recognized the girl to be Annabelle Lennox, Major William Lennox’s child and Sarah’s niece. What could have happened to the girl to make her hide out here, crying? Was there not some sort of school for the children of NEST that she should have attended? There were not that many of the NEST-personnel that were married, but those that were had permission to bring their families to Diego Garcia because of the threat that the Decepticons posed. And even in such a small community the children needed an education.
Carefully to not scare the child, she made her way over to the girl. When she seemed content to ignore her, Sam whined softly and slowly wagged her tail like a normal dog.
“Leave me alone.” the girl sobbed violently, but let her hand rest in Sam’s fur when Sam first initiated the contact. She whined softly once more and licked the girl’s cheek to clean away some of the falling tears.
“Why are they so mean?” Annabelle sniffed softly. “I haven’t done anything to them.”
Sam felt her heart ache for the little girl and wished there were anything she could do to make everything all right.
“It isn’t my fault that I have no Mommy.” the girl continued lowly, and Sam had to force down a growl as she realized what the problem was. Today was Mother’s Day and unfortunately kids sometimes had a tendency to be mean to those that were different.
“I never knew my Mommy.” Annabelle explained to what she thought was a dog. “Daddy won’t tell me much about her, but I know she didn’t want me.” Sam was not fast enough to stop the growl this time, but she quickly converted it into a quiet bark and proceeded to give the young girl a bunch of doggy kisses until the sobbing stopped and turned into giggling.
Sam was quite content to stay there with the girl and was not sure how much time had passed before she decided that they needed to get moving. Carefully she bit down on Annabelle’s shirtsleeve and started to lead her away. Full of innocent trust the girl did not have a single protest and happily followed her new friend. Sam did her best to stay out of her way from any living being, both human and mech, knowing that Annabelle probably did not want any attention drawn to her, and for once lady luck seemed to be on their side since they managed to make it all the way to their destination without much fuss.
“What…?” Whatever the Major had been prepared to say, it stopped when he realized what had opened his door, and who stood in the doorway.
“Sweetheart? What’s wrong?” The man quickly stood up from behind his desk, and with long and fast strides walked around it and towards them.
“Daddy!” Annabelle exclaimed and ran straight into her father’s waiting arms.
“Are you alright Princess? I got a call from the school just now and they told me you were missing.” Lennox asked as he hugged his daughter tightly. At that Sam released a small growl. They had just now called him to inform him that his daughter was gone? Annabelle had been gone for ages. Okay, maybe not ages, but Annabelle had been gone for a while. Anything could have happened. Then again, maybe they simply did not want to trouble the base commander before they were certain that she was truly gone and not just playing hide and seek. Still, she promised herself to keep an eye on both the school and Annabelle when she had the chance.
Her growl had unintentionally drawn the attention of the two humans in the office, and when she looked up, she met the steady gaze of the Army Ranger. It held both curiosity and caution while he fingered the damp patch where her teach had left small marks on his daughter’s sweater.
“Doggie, stay.” Annabelle pleaded when Sam started to slowly back out of the room, and Sam had to suppress a groan when the girl looked at her with eyes so similar to her father. Those eyes in combination with that voice should be classified as a secret weapon. She was sure not even McKay would be able to resist it. Why was it the girl that had the puppy-dog eyes, was it not Sam that was the one that was currently looking like a dog? It was so unfair.
Calmly she walked over to the duo and rested her head on Lennox’s knee, so that she was within reach of those small fingers that immediately started to comb through her fur. Mm, that felt really good.
“You’re one of Sam’s dogs, aren’t you?” the Major inquired thoughtfully as he too started petting her, and now she knew from where Annabelle had inherited her petting skills. Unsure what exactly she should do now, she just wagged her tail to confirm his suspicion.
“Wasn’t Shadow the russet one? And Ares and Gauss was black. That makes you Phoenix.” Sam wagged her tail again and gave his fingers a quick lick. Sam might be mad at him, but that did not mean that Phoenix had to be too. Besides it would be a little hard to explain if a dog suddenly started to treat him strangely. Not that it would unusual, but Sam figured that right now they did not need more attention.
“So how did you meet Phoenix Sweetheart?” Lennox looked questioningly down at his beautiful daughter. The girl in question squirmed a little, obvious not wanting to tell her father what had happened and what leaded up to their meeting.
“I was hiding. Doggie found me and then she brought me here.” Annabelle finally answered. Sam growled slightly and nudged her with her head, trying to get the girl to tell the whole truth, something she seemed to understand.
“Don’t wanna!” the girl whined, and turned her head into her father’s neck. Sam let out a deep sight and sat down to study the duo. Stubborn girl, just like her father, she thought almost fondly.
“What don’t you want?” Lennox asked gently, but all he got in reply was a violent shake of the young girl’s head.
“You don’t have to tell me Sweetheart, but if you don’t I will not be able to know what I can do to make it all better.” Annabelle nodded her head to say that she had heard him, but stubbornly refused to open her mouth to explain things. Sam shook her head in resignation.
“Alright Sweetheart, do you want to stay here and play then? Unfortunately Aunt Sarah is at work today so you can’t spend the day with her and little Adam. I don’t think your Uncle Quinn is quite ready to watch both you on his own yet.” Sam wanted to roll her eyes. She did not need to be psychic to know what the answer would be.
“I want to play with Doggie.” Annabelle giggled as she demanded to be let down. Reluctantly the Ranger did so, but he frowned as he looked over at the big ‘dog’ in the room.
“That’s great Sweetheart, but what if Phoenix doesn’t want to play? Maybe she needs to be somewhere else?”
Letting out a long suffered sight, Sam sank down to the floor and prepared herself to be climbed upon and petted for an unknown amount of time.
“Or not.” the Ranger muttered as he sent Sam another wary glance. “Just remember to be careful with her, okay? Do you promise?”
“I promise Daddy.” Annabelle nodded solemnly before walking over to sit next to Sam and started running her small fingers through her fur. “But Doggie wouldn’t hurt me. She’s nice Doggie.”
“She might be a good dog, but even good dogs can do something if you hurt them. And I believe Doggie’s name is Phoenix.” Lennox lectured kindly before grabbing his phone. Sam assumed it was to call off any search that he might have ordered, and as she eavesdropped on his side of the conversation, she was proven correct. The Major then went back to his paperwork, but Sam was aware of his frequent breaks to look over at her and Annabelle. One thing should the man have, he was a good father.
Suddenly Sam raised her head and stared intently at the half-open doorway. She could have sworn she had heard the near silent footfalls that came from one of her own. Moments later she was proven right as Josh, in the form of Shadow, walked into the room.
“Everything okay Boss?” Josh questioned as he took in the sight of his commanding officer on the floor next to a little girl.
“Mother’s Day.” Sam answered and it explained everything to the man that had been an orphan all his life. “Is there a special reason why you came looking for me?”
“The ‘bots are starting to get a little antsy. Figured it was best to hunt you down before they started to send out search parties.” Josh absentmindedly.
“Go figure.” Sam sighted. “You feeling up to some playing today? Perhaps fetch?”
“Love the way you think sometimes Boss.” Josh gave her a doggy-grin, immediately on the same wavelength as her.
“I need to go back so I can change then I’ll come straight back. Just don’t make any threatening moves or move too fast.” Sam instructed. Lennox had immediately stopped working when she tensed up and he had yet to start again. In fact, he was staring at the two wolves with a look in his eyes that she could only describe as intense. It was obvious that the Ranger was ready for action in case he saw anything that he could label as ‘threatening’ behavior; he was not ready to take any chances with his daughter in the room.
“I hear you.” Josh responded and slowly moved close to her and the child before lying down on his side and wagging his tail, trying to act as nonthreatening as possible. Sam did not move until she saw Lennox visibly start to relax. Then quickly, before the Ranger had a chance to protest, she gave the girl a doggy kiss and trotted out of the room.
“That can’t be normal.” she heard Lennox mutter before she was out of hearing range. If he only knew the truth.
“So this is where you went.” Sam said as she arrived at the open door way, smiling while she took in the sight of her teammate and the child on the floor. “I see you’ve found a new friend.”
She walked further into the room and gave Lennox a quick nod before settling her concentration on the duo on the floor. “Hi there Princess. I am Sam and this big softie is Shadow. Who might you be?”
“Annebelle.” the girl shyly responded, her face almost completely hidden in Josh’s fur.
“Annabelle.” Sam repeated. “What a beautiful name. It is truly worthy of a princess. Princess Annabelle. It has a nice ring to it. Don’t you agree Shadow?” Josh barked happily in agreement and Sam received a shy smile from the little girl.
“It just so happen that Shadow and I was planning on going out and play a little, so that Shadow could get some exercise. If your Daddy agree, you could come and help me if you wanted.” Sam offered and Josh played his role to the fullest with his playful antics.
“Daddy?” Annabelle directed bright and hopeful eyes in her father’s direction and Sam was happy to see that she was not he only one to cave under those puppy-dog eyes. It probably did not help that Josh literally added his own puppy-dog eyes.
“You’ll have to behave for Sam and do exactly as she says. I don’t want to hear anything about you not behaving. Okay?” Lennox lay down the rules with a soft smile on his face.
“Yes Daddy!” Annabelle yelled and gave her father an ecstatic hug before running back to Shadow’s side.
“Why don’t the two of you go on ahead? Shadows knows where we’re going.” Sam suggested and had to smile at their speed out the door. She did not know which one was the most excited about this ‘play’-date.
“You didn’t have to-” Lennox started to say, but Sam cut him off before he had a chance to finish the sentence.
“No I don’t, but I want to. She seems to be a little angel.”
“She normally is, but today…” the man sighted heavily. “I have no idea what happened before one of your dogs found her and brought her in here. They are really smart, aren’t they? You have trained them well. I hope it was alright that I let Annabelle play with them?” Lennox looked weary; his concern for his daughter was obvious.
“Don’t sweat it. They love children and as I told you earlier; they have plenty of experience with children. Some even younger than your daughter. As for what is wrong with her… you might find your answer in the calendar. You can ask one of the ‘bots where we are when you are finished working and want to collect Annabelle. I am sure they’ll keep an optic on me.” Sam stayed only long enough to see his confused face change as the date’s significance dawned on him, then she was out the door and jogging to catch up with the rest of her company.
“You know I think we might have managed to make Shadow tired. That is a miracle that does not happen often.” Sam grinned down at the girl that was visibly tired, and Josh took his cue from his Captain and dramatically collapsed onto the ground, making both females laugh.
Sam settled down on the ground next to him and Annabelle quickly joined them, starting combing her small fingers through his fur in a way Sam knew he secretly loved.
“Children can sometimes be cruel if things are different from what they consider ‘normal’.” Sam suddenly said, not looking at the girl next to her, but knowing she had tensed up anyway.
“Or they might be jealous. That is not an excuse. Best way to handle such bullies it to just ignore them, not fall down to their level. If they don’t get a reaction out of you, they’ll quickly get bored and stop.” Sam was silent for a moment, waiting for the girl to speak, but nothing came.
“When I was your age, I didn’t have a father.” Sam confessed. “Never did until I turned fifteen and the Witwickys adopted me. Father’s Days was always hard for me, but I got through it. I had my brother, my mother and my friends. Another friend of mine never knew his parents.” Sam broke off again; she knew she had Annabelle’s attention.
“I used to think that there were something I had done that made my father leave, but you know what? It wasn’t me; it was him. Same with my friend’s parents.” For the first time since she had begun to speak Sam turned to look at Annabelle.
“You’re mother leaving wasn’t you fault. I am sure she will one day look back and realize what a huge mistake she made. It’s bigger than Ironhide, so it is impossible to miss.” That drew a subdued giggle out of the girl. “You’re a beautiful girl. A girl I would not hesitate to take with me home if I did not know that your father would raise heaven and earth to find you. And he would. Annabelle, your father loves you very much. He would do practically anything for you.”
“You would?” the girl blinked up at Sam with very big eyes, and Sam had to bite back a laugh that that had been the part the girl took notice to.
“In a heartbeat.” Sam instead answered soberly and hugged the young girl close to her side. “But I don’t think we’ll want to make your dad mad at me, do you? And can you imagine how lonely he would be if I stole you away from him? Perhaps instead we can visit each other. We can also always play with Shadow some more? And if I can’t be there, I am sure Phoenix would love to keep you company.”
“Yeah!” The girl looked thoughtful for a moment before turning hopeful doe-eyes at her. “Does that make you my Aunt Sam?”
“I’d love to be your Aunt Sam.” Sam answered honestly. “Now what do you say about go snatching some ice-cream? I know I’ve got some in the freezer, but I don’t know for how long my teammates will let it stay there.”
“Ice cream!” the girl exclaimed and was on her feet so fast that she was almost a blur. Her previous exhaustion seemed to have vanished as if it never happened.
“You truly like ice cream, don’t you?” Sam laughed as she and Josh got back to their feet. “Then who I am to deny you a treat? Come on.” She tried to tell herself that the warmth that filled her when the girl smiled brightly and grasped her hand did not mean anything, but she feared she was lying to herself.
It felt like his heart was bursting at the sight in front of him.
He loved being a father and tried to do everything he could for his daughter, but sometimes he knew that was not enough. Like today. Sarah was great, but she was Annabelle’s aunt, not mum, and Annabelle knew that. When Sam had made him look at the calendar, he felt like kicking himself when he realized what had most likely happened. His first instincts had been to ignore his paperwork and run out after his baby girl, but when his secretary came to inform him that the General wanted to speak with him, he knew that he could not do that. He trusted Sam to take care of Annabelle, and after the previous scare he also knew that Ironhide would be close by. So he obediently did his work. Okay he only did what he needed to do before leaving to track down his daughter and Sam. Ironhide, as expected, could immediately inform him that they were in the barracks Sam and her team had been assigned. There the Ranger had signaled him to be quiet before pointing him towards one of the bedrooms. Which led him to where he was now. Standing at the threshold of Sam’s bedroom; looking at two of his three important females sleeping together, Sam holding Annabelle tenderly while they both slept peacefully. Oh how he wished this could be part of his daily reality. That he could walk over to bed and lie down together with them. But that was not possible. The black dog at the end of the bed had already woken up and he could see that Sam was not far behind.
The sweet smile Sam sent him as she opened her eyes was enough to momentarily take his breath away. His daughter seemed reluctant, even in sleep, to let go of her new friend, but Sam solved that problem by picking her up with seemingly no effort.
“She’s exhausted. Been playing with Shadow practically all day, but I think it helped.” Sam informed him in a low voice.
“Thank you.” There were so much more he wanted to say, but it seemed impossible to find the right words.
“No problem, she is a sweet girl.” Sam smiled gently down at the girl in her arms, and Will felt another burst of warmth in his chest, before trying to hand the child over to him.
“Hmm… Aunt Sammy…” Annabelle protested drowsily while blinking tired brown eyes up at them. Will looked up quickly to see fondness grace Sam’s face at the title his daughter had given her.
“Shh… Bells. Your father is here to bring you home now.” Annabelle made a sound that could be translated into agreement, but it also sounded like a protest.
“Now remember what we talked about outside, and you know that you are always welcome to visit.”
“G’night Aunt Sammy.”
“Good night Princess.” Sam grinned and bent down to give the already asleep girl a kiss on her forehead. She then looked up at him. Her face was not the blank mask she usually wore when she was around him, but he still could not read anything from her. Then without a word she led him out and opened the front door.
Will stopped for a moment and tried to put his chaotic thoughts into words, but all he managed to do was thank her one more time.
“I had fun today; she really is a sweet girl. So if you ever need a babysitter, you know where to find me.” Her voice stopped him after only a few strides from the door, but before he could turn back around Sam had closed the door. It did not matter as Will could feel a small sliver of hope bloom in his chest.