"Frag that. Speed or strength," Ironhide growled over the cards. Humans had some interesting games, the recent teaching of poker to the mechs led to no few all-night rallies, be it human, mech or mixed participants. One such game was currently in progress; finding Wheeljack, Ratchet and Ironhide berating each other over a long round of Texas Hold 'em.
"So ya've traded yer speed, 'Hide?" Wheeljack chuckled.
"I'm fast enough," the soldier snarled, though all malice was blithely ignored by the amused mechanic. "With the torque to haul more around than you little sports-sprites can manage."
Ratchet rolled his optics, chiming in. "Is that a fact, boltbucket?"
"Yes, damned medic. You're the same, when's the last speed record you've broken?"
"And when is the last hauling record you have?" the Hummer retorted, reaching across the table to prod Ironhide's chest playfully while Wheeljack's headfins glowed with amusement.
"Name the time and the stakes," Ironhide replied. Defending his pride blinded him to the quick flick of optics between the two mechanically inclined mechs opposite him, accompanied by the low hum of a rapidfire private comm.
"A pulling contest." Ratchet purred, turning back from Wheeljack with a smug smirk. "You win and I give back that case of Lambo-brew I confiscated last week."
"I knew that was you!"
The Hummer held up a hand, "You lose, and you show 'Jack and I a femme holoform."
Ironhide stopped cold, peering from inventor to medic and back. Ego and caution battled as he narrowed his optics and pointed at Wheeljack. "So a pulling contest, and those are the stakes?"
The sportscar smiled behind his facemask, pausing then to speak carefully. "Ya pull more weight ov'r the dist'nce, you get the Lambo high-grade. Yer o'ponent pulls more, we get lil femme 'Hide." He held out a hand to the black mech.
Ironhide growled, considering; it seemed so much like a 'gimme.' High performance sportcar engine, verses his own. He took the demolitions expert's hand and shook, then did the same with a cat-with-cream grinning CMO. "Tomorrow?"
"Sounds good," Ratchet said, fighting a snicker. "Shoo, get some recharge, idiot. 'Jack and I need to bang the sleds together."
The TopKick snorted, stood and made his way to his quarters.
The next morning, the weapons specialist headed outside the base, fully expecting to see Wheeljack waiting to begin the competition. He paused, seeing Optimus standing with Ratchet and the inventor.
"Come to watch 'Jack get his aft handed to him, Prime?" Ironhide rumbled as he walked up.
"No," the Peterbilt replied, mild confusion coloring his voice. "I am here as your opponent."
The old soldier furrowed his optic ridges. "The deal was against Wheeljack."
"Nope, 'Hide. 'O'ponent.' N'ver said me," the white mech replied, finials flickering and glee dancing around his optics.
Ratchet snickered, and Optimus crossed his arms with a knowing look, catching on to his subordinates' little game.
The TopKick's engine stalled, jaw working with no sound. He glared at the two old friends that had just pulled a fast one on him. Wheeljack was right, he really should have paid attention to the fine print, verbal or not.
At least there were no… Ironhide snarled and scrubbed his face with his hand as more mechs began trickling from the base. Obviously there was going to be a crowd for this fiasco.
When it became apparent that most of the Autobots were gathering, Ironhide's optics narrowed in annoyance. He made a mental note to check the comm logs and figure out which of the co-conspirators had invited everyone, and stick a plasma bomb firmly up his aft. If it was both of them, all the better.
The TopKick's plotting was cut short by the sounds of approaching engines. Many heads turned to see yellow and tan driving up to the base. Bumblebee, in his Camaro form, skidded to a drifting halt to let Sam and Mikaela exit. The young humans waved and greeted Prime, who inclined his helm and smiled down at the pair. Ironhide grunted an acknowledgement at the younglings, attention more focused on the non-sentient military Humvee that had driven up at the same time.
"Who invited the Rangers?" the weapons specialist growled while a very amused-looking Lennox and Epps climbed from the vehicle.
Ratchet slid up to the black pickup and rubbed soothingly at the small of Ironhide's back. "Figured it would be nice to have your human here cheering you on," the medic replied, all helpful innocence in his tone.
Epps snickered loudly as they two military men walked up to the mechs.
"Hey, big guy. And Ratchet, for the thousandth time," Will rolled his eyes up at the search and rescue vehicle. "I'm not his 'human.' You make me sound like some little pet mouse or something."
"Lennox," 'Hide greeted his military counterpart. "Trust me, Ratchet is in for payback as it is."
"Don't ask, don't tell!" Epps roared before collapsing into a fit of hysterics, leaving both confused mechs with the blank look of diving the internet.
His superior officer promptly connected a size 11 army boot into one of the comms specialist's many back pockets, encouraging Sgt. Epps off to speak with Bumblebee, the teens and Jazz.
"But seriously. If you all are so bored you need stuff like this for a distraction, I can ask for more assignments," Cpt. Lennox tilted his head sarcastically at the two mechs above him.
The pair grunted and huffed, respectively.
"I assure you, Captain," Ratchet supplied, in his normal information-overload manner. "This was a last minute diversion, thanks to a bit of hubris on the part of our resident weapons specialist."
Ironhide just hunched his shoulders and tried to look menacing. Sadly, his companions were used to it, so neither man nor mech were fazed.
"Alright," the Ranger shrugged. "Little fun, I know how it is. Have to admit, though, I am kind of curious to see the walking arsenal up against Prime."
"As are the rest of us."
"Can we get this over with?" Ironhide groused.
The others laughed, and the black mech went back to scowling.
"Yes, Ironhide," the medic rolled his optics. "Captain-"
"Ratchet… for a smart mech… geez." He emphasized the two syllables of his name with a chopping hand motion. "Len-nox."
"Captain Lennox," Ratchet missed the 'I give up' gesture from the human, "Feel free to occupy yourself while I get him ready." He glanced over and saw Wheeljack already working on getting one of the sleds secured to Optimus in his Peterbilt mode. Giving a knowing smirk to the turning human, he added "I'm glad you could make it."
Ironhide glared between the chuckling human jogging over to the others, and the smirking medic. Then he grudgingly let himself be herded over towards Optimus, Wheeljack and the second sled.
Ratchet nudged his hip against the TopKick's, laughing softly at the warrior scowling furiously at the sled. "Alt mode, scrap heap. Come on."
"Why did you set me up for this," the warrior groused.
"Just putting you in your place-"
"Do that often enough!"
He stroked the back of Ironhide's neck until the weapons specialist relaxed minutely and then rapped sharply against his helm. "Damn right. Now transform already." Ratchet leaned in with a predatory grin and murmured, "You do have a chance of beating Optimus. I'd help you celebrate if you manage it. Either way, though…"
"Yeah, either way, you win."
"Smartaft," Ironhide growled, dropping down into his pickup form. His engine grumbled moodily and he rolled into position.
Ratchet moved and knelt beside the black truck's tailgate, checking back and forth with Wheeljack about how the inventor was coming along with hitching up their CO to his own weighted sled. He wasn't lying, Ironhide had a reasonable chance. On his knees, Ratchet was nearly optic-level with the roof of the cab. The surly mech had chosen an alt that was practically a big rig in its own right, the modified pickup almost as tall as Optimus' Peterbilt form. The medic chuckled as he started securing the sled to an array of points around the TopKick's frame.
"'ey, Ratch, ya wan' me ta' get 'em lined up?" The inventor came ambling over, having finished with rigging Optimus up.
"Hmm?" The CMO glanced up at the Saab, then over his shoulder at the flame-painted semi waiting patiently. "Yeah, Wheeljack. Might as well call 'Breaker, Hound and Inferno over. Primus forsaken wide-aft fire truck."
The demolitions expert commed the named mechs, who all started over with slightly wary expressions. It was never intelligent to agree to Wheeljack's instructions without very specific explanations.
"And why the isolation of the three approaching mechs, Ratchet?" Optimus queried as Inferno, Hound and Trailbreaker walked up.
"They're part of the initial weight," the medic replied, rocking back to rest his haunches on his heels.
Ironhide tipped on his suspension in an automotive head tilt. Ratchet smacked his rear quarterpanel and he snarled back in annoyance.
Wheeljack's headfins simply flickered with a suppressed laugh. "Yeah, no one matches 'Ferno, 'Hide. So fire truck plus Jeep equals Hummer plus Sierra."
"What the frag are you talking about, glitch?"
"Go, 'Jack. Get the rest set. Thanks," Ratchet grumbled, waving off the white mech and turning back to finish the last few hitches. "I'll explain the rest to Optimus and the bolt bucket."
"Bolt your sorry aft to the wall, Ratch-" the weapons specialist growled, rocking against the sled a bit and testing the feel.
"Yeah, yeah…" Ratchet replied with a dismissive wave of his hand, he stood and rested fingertips lightly on Ironhide's cab. "You both are to pull the sleds straight along the lines of mechs. We figured out similarly weighted pairs, and as you go by, they step on. When you can't drag anymore, you're out. If you both make it through the full gauntlet, whoever can go further wins."
Then the medic turned to cast a haughty look at the innocent befuddlement on Inferno's faceplates. "And you each get a start of two mechs on the sled because no one really matches our resident fire truck lead aft."
"Aww, dun be like tha', R'tchet." the enormous red mech chuckled, looking a little downcast.
"You are one of the, larger of us, Inferno," Hound chimed in politely. The rest of the mechs failed to muffle the snickers.
"If'n you're tryin' ta give me a c'mplex, ain't happenin'. Not some org'nic wit issues 'bout bein' fat," Inferno laughed.
The Hummer rolled his optics, "Just get your wide aft, and Hound's, over on Prime's rig already. 'Breaker, you're with me on 'Hide's."
The red and green 'Bots walked over and settled on the sled secured to the Peterbilt, exchanging encouragement with their commanding officer.
Trailbreaker chuckled. "So, ol' mech, I get to be with you for this." He took a spot on the rig behind the other black truck. "Excited?"
"Thrilled…" Ironhide replied dryly, huffing hot air from his stacks.
Ratchet purred softly at 'Hide and moved off to help the inventor finish lining up the chosen mechs then chase the others off to the sidelines with the human audience. The first pair that the competitors would come to were the easiest weight match, Sunstreaker and Sideswipe. Then came Red Alert opposite First Aid, Wheeljack and Blaster, Bluestreak and Bumblebee, two young rally cars - FireBond and Twilight, and finally Jazz and Prowl.
Once everyone was arrayed, Ratchet stalked down the line, giving a particularly pointed glare at the twins. "This is about hauling power, not the strain their frames can endure. You make any flying leaps onto the rigs, and your afts are a colorful array of household appliances." He narrowed his optics at an innocently grinning Sideswipe. "You're with me, no Ironhide Judo. Same for you with Prime, Sunny-boy." The golden twin scoffed and crossed his arms.
Optimus laughed, a lighter, more honest sound than those present had heard in a while. He revved his engine. "I appreciate the concern for the structural integrity of our frames, Ratchet. Truly. Yet, I believe everyone is in their assigned location with the exception of yourself."
The medic spluttered and glared at the semi. "Fine," he snapped, choosing the nearest mech. "Mirage. You're starting this. Someone…" he waved at the rest of the audience of mechs and humans then went and sat on the sled hitched to Ironhide. "…be a judge."
Smokescreen confidently raised his hand. "Odds are 5-3 on Prime," he chuckled. "I've got a vested interest in fairness." A good number of mechs rolled their optics, and the predominantly blue mech waved over the scientists Skyfire and Perceptor. They glanced at each other and sighed, following after Smokescreen and giving the indignant Mirage a shove away from the sidelines.
Hound made a shrill whistle through his dental plates when the racecar, radiating displeasure, walked out between the two engine-idling trucks. The highborn mech whipped around and graced the Jeep with such a withering look that the green mech should have melted.
"Hey, Raj, just the local culture," Hound replied with an endearing shrug.
The blue and white racer sniffed, turned and gracefully raised a single middle digit at his lover. "Just the local culture, as you so elegantly put it." Only the glint of light in the corner of his optics gave him away.
Hound chuckled softly, joined by an amused shift of Optimus on his shocks.
As much as the Autobot leader was enjoying watching the banter between the troops, he decided that his weapons specialist wasn't going to last much longer without inflicting damage on something. "Awaiting your signal, Mirage," he prompted.
The blue and white mech started, tearing his gaze from Hound. "Ahh. Yes sir, Optimus." He pondered half a second then produced a white race flag from his subspace, his explanation was consistently that it scanned with the alt. In scale to the Cybertronians, it was barely a handkerchief. Mirage raised the flag above his head, and the trucks' engines roared. "Ready, steady…" He snapped his arm down, "Go!"
Tires spun briefly before they dug in, then both Optimus and Ironhide started forward. Once they began moving, mech and human alike on the sidelines started hollering and whistling. Those waiting to be weight and part of the challenge twitched and craned necks to see the two mechs.
Prime and Ironhide both reached the Twins at about the same time. Sunstreaker rolled his optics and stepped behind Optimus with delicate condescension. Sideswipe, opposite him, smirked and made like he was going to Superman-dive onto Ironhide's sled, but then quietly stepped on and plopped down beside the CMO. The red twin's gleeful smile did not impress Ratchet, who simply huffed and swatted Sider's helm. The Lambo pouted for a brief moment then glomped onto the neon mech with a cackle. A rough engine growl from the TopKick and he surged ahead of his CO. The jolt was just enough for Ironhide to draw beside First Aid, who calmly settled with Trailbreaker. It also caused Sideswipe to tumble off of Ratch with a squawk.
Opposite, the semi came to Red Alert. Sunstreaker seethed that he was going to be stuck next to the flailing, complaining mech for the duration of the competition and silently shifted to the rear of the platform. Inferno just wrapped a calming arm around Red's shoulders once he was settled on Prime's rig, and Peterbilt's engine revved in a vehicular chuckle.
Gradually the added weight was beginning to wear, but less on the mechs than the terrain. As they arrived at Blaster and 'Jack, Ironhide's marginal lead was starting to falter. He could hear the Rangers hollering, but four tires were dragging almost 20 tons. The TopKick snarled and revved harder, fighting as his own wheels dug deeper into the mud instead of making headway.
Optimus pulled ahead and the crowd of gathered mechs went absolutely wild. Wheeljack bounced on the balls of his feet until he was able to take his place behind the flame-embossed mech. The inventor whooped and waved back at the black truck with a glee written all over his optics.
"Come on, 'Hide," Ratchet murmured, his encouragement barely audible. However, the rest of the audience on the sidelines was much more vocal in their cheering. Lennox and Epps were still standing behind their fellow soldier, while most of the others were split between yelling for the semi or the pickup.
The weapons specialist snarled something about the semi's extra six wheels of an advantage, and rocked for traction. Smoke surged from his stacks but he dragged himself back into motion. Just as the Prime was reaching Bluestreak, Ironhide made it to Blaster. Before the comms officer had a chance to even wipe the smile from his faceplates and say something, Blaster was ordered to 'Get his aft on the platform' so the TopKick could catch up.
Here things got a little messy, FireBond had wandered off to romp in the mud kicked up by the two competitors. So the Peterbilt needed to slow down while just about everyone involved or even not involved in the truck pull was yelling at the young mech to return to his place. Red Alert grumbled about sabotage and buried his face in his palms. Eventually the red offroad rally car, now completely covered in thick mud, was back in place and about to step onto the rig. Sunstreaker snarled, pointing the muddy mech to the opposite end of the sled. The young Lancer simply smirked and flicked dirt at the golden twin before flopping in his place.
Meanwhile, the old soldier was making use of his younger commander's difficulties. His engine tone dropped and he strained, pouring energy into his drive system. Bumblebee quickly took his place, for once unwilling to cooperate with Sideswipe on yanking the black mech's proverbial chain. Mostly, he knew that the former Guard would have his tailpipe if his actions lost the game. Twilight also stopped yelling at her counterpart for playing in the mud, and quickly hopped onto the rig. Space was almost at a premium and she squished in between the scout and friendly Communications lead.
Finally they were down to the last pair of mechs. Both trucks had slowed noticeably, but were still moving. Optimus drew even with Jazz almost as Ironhide seemed to trudge up to Prowl. The silver Solstice and monochrome Nissan both took their seats.
Jazz grinned and called over to the police car. "'ey Prowler, looks like yer not that straw that broke ol' 'Hide's back."
The tactician's lip components tightened, but his doorwings flicked in a combination of wry amusement and annoyance. "Perhaps not Jazz."
"Afts, both of you. Mute it," Ironhide huffed, panting smoke from his exhaust stacks. He was ticking up on infrared, and Ratchet was starting to get prickly about it. The medic glanced over at Optimus, who was also showing the wear of dragging so much weight. Their CO was no longer chuckling or making noises of agreement with the troops' banter. It seemed that the victory would come down to which mech could keep moving for longer. The old Guard gritted his gears; with them both fully weighted he just had to pull further than the Prime. That meant he had to outlast his Commanding Officer, who happened to be a hauler built for unrelenting endurance. The black mech swore softly and revved his systems harder, swearing in numerous languages to himself.
Optimus hummed when the mechs along the sidelines poured around them, he and Ironhide were barely making more headway than a crawl. He was slightly concerned about the safety of the humans running amongst the mechs if one of the rigs failed under the strain, but a quick scan over his weapons specialist seemed to indicate this would be over soon. His subordinate grunted at the tingle of a scan, and the Peterbilt turned his attention back to the task at hand.
Both of the sleds were dangerously close to burying in the dirt and dragging the mechs to a forced halt. Long afterwards, Ironhide would grouse that it was simply bad luck that his rig tipped forward and anchored him in place before Prime's. Wheeljack always maintained that if 'Hide hadn't slowed and was able to keep up the pace as their leader had, the rig would not have dug in and the pull-off could have continued. Whichever was the case, suddenly the black mech lurched, and no amount of straining and snarling on his part could get him moving again.
When the flame-painted semi was a full length ahead, Smokescreen came bounding forward with Skyfire and Perceptor close at his heels. "Winner - Optimus!" the diversionist hollered, 'wings flared in elation.
All those assembled, both spectator and onboard the rigs were already going wild, but once Prime's victory was official everyone erupted into another round of yells and Cybertronian trills. The semi stopped and settled with an exhausted laugh.
The mechs all pounced off the sleds, some were telling Ironhide that he gave a good show, but most were congratulating their Prime. The first notable exception was Red Alert, who was immediately stalking back into the base grumbling about distractions and nearly squashing Mikaela in his haste. Inferno turned from slapping the TopKick on the roof and gave the young woman and apologetic check-over, then he trotted after the cranky Security Chief.
FireBond had continued to wallow in what Twilight often called his 'Attention Deficit Disorder,' diving back into the mud tracks and then, perhaps in a fit of suicidal joy, hugging Sunstreaker. So soon enough, one Lancer and two Lamborghinis were much more engaged with barreling away from the base than anything else that involved any of the others. Twilight groaned in the general direction of their retreating dust plumes and turned back to give Ironhide a sympathetic pat on the fender. The soldier rumbled at her in moody gratitude. She tended to get away with that sort of thing as barely more than a youngling. Blaster came over and bowed to the young femme, escorting her off to see if FireBond had been well and truly Lambo-pancaked.
The two younger humans found their way to Sam's guardian, after adroitly dodging Hound, who was ribbing on Mirage for always having a flag in his subspace. The three ducked, dodged and wriggled their way to Optimus, with the Camaro keeping a careful watch for wayward metal steps. Sam awkwardly congratulated the semi, while Mikaela fondly rolled her eyes at her boyfriend. Ever the diplomat, Prime received all the compliments with good grace.
Bluestreak zipped happily over to Jazz and Prowl, excitedly reiterating the outcome of the event as if the two elder mechs had not been there. The saboteur laughed, quieting the gray gunner for a moment by giving him a friendly cuff across the shoulder.
"We know, mah mech, we know," the Solstice crooned, tipping a helm fin towards the pickup. "Now go pay your respects to ol' 'Hide. It'll make 'im feel better."
Looking to Prowl for confirmation, Blue bounced on the balls of his feet.
The tactician nodded, "Of course, Bluestreak."
Trilling excitedly, the sharpshooter headed over to the TopKick. First Aid and Trailbreaker were standing together with the black mech, chatting amicably while the CMO had moved to beside Ironhide's cab. Ratchet had a hip leaning lightly against black paneling, his hand resting on 'Hide's hood as the metal pinged and cooled. TB was laughing at a wry comment from First Aid when the smaller mech approached, they exchanged a few last words with the Chief Medic and Ironhide grunted in return as the pair drifted off.
"Primus! Did you see that? Ironhide you did great, but sorry you didn't win and- Oh! Hi guys!" Gray doorwings fluttered excitedly in a repeated greeting to the two Rangers making their way over.
The mech continued with barely a pause to let the humans reply and Epps snickered, looking about ready to descend into another round of hysterics. Lennox helpfully elbowed him in the ribs before he gave himself a stroke. The experienced father simply gave Bluestreak the same look that he gave Annabelle when she was determined to tell him about her entire day of pre-school - and what every classmate did - at length – sprinkled with lots of childhood 'umms.'
"-I mean, I know that Optimus had the advantage, well, because he had a higher hauling rating even back on Cybertron, but maybe that changed with Earth alt modes. I thought that you had a chance Ironhide, you can do better off-road than Prime, right? You come back from driving sometimes dirty enough, I guess that means you do fine in the mud, otherwise, like if you got stuck all the time then Captain Lennox wouldn't want to go with you-"
"Bluestreak- Blue," Ironhide rasped. "Hermph… Optimus won. Better torque. But; thanks, mechling." That drew a pleased churr that quieted the sharpshooter effectively enough to earn a chuckle from the humans.
"I know my Cybertronian-in-English ain't that great," Will said, looking up at the pickup. "But isn't that like calling him 'little man'?"
The TopKick rocked in a non-committal shrug, Ratchet gave him a sidelong glance.
Blue trilled and nodded, "Yeah, but 'Hide's called me that as long as I can remember, so I guess if he stopped now it would be weird, but no one else gets called that, just me, so really I can't complain even though I've been a full-proto mech and an enlisted member of the Autobot Army for ages. So 'Hide, is it just old habit? I never really asked."
"Ratchet," the weapons specialist barked suddenly, noticing that Wheeljack was crouched behind Prime's semi and beginning the process of unhooking the sled. "Get the fragging rig off so I can stand, already."
The Hummer scowled and hip checked the cab, "A Pit-forsaken 'Please' wouldn't offline you, old mech." Ironhide growled softly, but the CMO moved around back to the tailgate to disengage the connections.
Will gave a half-shrug, "Hey, I'm not gonna knock some weird military nicknames."
"Corporal Cupcake?" Epps supplied, and both men snickered at the memory of an old comrade.
The medic swatted at 'Hide and the soldier transformed, grumbling when he felt the tingle of Ratchet scanning over his systems.
"I'm fine," Ironhide snarled, glancing down when the Ranger Communications Officer knocked on his shin.
"Tough break, but gotta tell you, man. Better than that crap monster truck rally that came through few months back."
"Bobby's right," Will agreed. "Wicked, 'Hide. And bet you could manage in a 'best two outta three'."
"Yeah yeah," the old Guard rumbled, a shrill tone catching Optimus' attention when the Peterbilt stood as well. He gave his CO and old friend a nod over the sea of other helms between them. The Prime understood and nodded back, accepting the silent concession of defeat. Suddenly shifty, Ironhide tried to sidestep behind Ratchet and towards the base. "Thanks Lennox, Epps."
The Hummer chittered, confused for a moment until he figured out why the TopKick was trying to beat a hasty retreat. A gleeful white Saab was picking his way between the mechs and heading in their direction. Ratch smirked and clamped a hand onto Ironhide's elbow.
"Sooooo..." Wheeljack drawled as he meandered up to the black mech. "Yer a mech of yer word, righ' 'Hide?"
The bulky black mech squared his shoulders, dropping his helm threateningly. "Frag right, I am." He snorted at the confused looks from the humans and turned back to the entrance. "Got work to do," he growled low.
Even over the continued chatter between all those assembled outside, the deep laughter of two very old friends seemed to echo off his back as Ironhide stalked back into the base.