It was late afternoon on the Serengeti, and though the night was following quickly on its heels, life did not cease to move by any means.
The sun was an orange orb setting in the distance, the hot air rising from the ground in shimmering waves making the image swim. Occasionally, giraffes would cut into his line of sight, their long necks standing out as slender, elegant silhouettes against the sun. In the distance, he could hear the quiet roar of lions, and underneath that, if he adjusted his audios enough, he could also make out the deep, steady drone of the elephants that he and his partner were following.
A familiar hand touched his leg, and he refocused his optics to the human woman standing next to him. The gathering dark required him to focus his optics once again to see her clearly, but when he did, he could see the smile on her face as she looked up at him.
"Are you alright, Hound?" Her voice was low and rich, a sound that, he assumed, came with maturity. She was, after all, well into her thirties, though many would say that she looked older - the result of being outside at almost all hours of the day in nearly all weather conditions.
He smiled back at her, wondering if she could see it. "Yes, I'm fine."
Her face grew concerned. "No word on the ones you've been keeping a lookout for?"
He shook his head this time. "No, and thank Primus for that!"
She laughed, and leaned companionably against him, her eyes focused on the setting sun. "Beautiful, isn't it?"
"Yes," he replied quietly, watching as the last crimson sliver finally disappeared beyond the horizon, allowing the stars to come out in their full glory.
He tilted his head so that his optics could take in the full dome of the sky. Somewhere, out in those wide, vast, dark spaces, was Cybertron, wandering through the galaxy, and still under Decepticon control. It made his spark dim a little, to recall that his home planet was in enemy control, but at the same time, there was a quiet sort of thankfulness. If he and his fellow Autobots had not been forced off of Cybertron, after all, then they would never have discovered Earth, and he would not have the pleasure of sitting out here, in the wild, beautiful African savannah.
If they had not come here, he would never have met her.
Her name was Adelaide Rowan, Addy as she was called by her friends and colleagues at the Seronera settlement. She was a part of the Elephant Listening Project, which was trying to understand how elephants communicated with one another through ultra-low frequency sound waves. That was why she was here: to help in the project by following a herd of elephants that roamed Serengeti National Park.
As for Hound... Well, that was a bit more complicated. He was here as a scout, to watch out for any Decepticon activity in and around the area of Mount Kilimanjaro. However, since he could not give any outward indication of his presence in the area, he decided that he would volunteer his services to the researchers and staff who worked in the park. His jeep alt-mode, after all, was the most practical mode of travel across the savannah.
And that was why he was here with Addy. The other park rangers and researchers had been a bit troubled by the idea of having a sentient vehicle that could also transform into a mechanical biped, but Addy didn't seem at all threatened by it. In fact, she welcomed his company, claiming to look forward to having someone to talk to on her long, lonely circuit around the vast savannah to follow the elephant herd she had been assigned to.
So far as Hound could tell, her words back at Seronera when they had first set out were ringing true.
"You can't count all the stars in one night, Hound."
The amused tone of her voice brought Hound's attention back to her, and he realized then that his CPU had been wandering. "Sorry," he replied sheepishly. "I was thinking about home."
"Home... You mean Cybertron?"
"Yes." The two of them had talked a lot, mostly during the quiet lulls when the elephants were sleeping and they did not have to monitor the equipment. In that span of time, Hound had learned about her family and life in England, while she learned about Cybertron, the Autobots, and the long, long war they had been waging against the Decepticons. Now, Addy knew as much about the war as Spike, Sparkplug and Carly, despite not being directly involved.
Hound preferred it to stay that way.
She nodded once, her eyes lifted to watch the stars as well, and for a while, they shared a moment of silent communion, joined only in their contemplation of the heavens above.
After a while, though, she straightened, and gestured towards the small campfire she had built to keep herself warm. The smile she gave Hound was welcoming, understanding. "Care to sit with me?"
Hound smiled back, and though he did not need the warmth from the fire, joined her anyway.