The metal rods were no bigger than his mid-flange servoes, smooth and gleaming with a fresh-extrusion sheen against the dark metal of his palm. Sensor scans - trained to reflex when handed small metal objects - had already reported back a titanium-technotium-iridium alloy that would register in a warm white spectrum through nearly all of the sensor and optical ranges a mech used.
Four of them in all, small and fragile and inexplicably heavy in his hand. His dorsal plates were itching, drawing tighter to his frame; Ironhide vented a full system cycle and set his struts straighter, forcing the fidget down. His vocalizer, when he spoke, had only a thin thread of static to it which was well within acceptable for the surprise he had just been handed. "I... I don't know what to say, sir. Wasn't expecting this."
Wildstrike nodded, the older mech's expression inscrutable from where he sat, heavy hands - mismatched while the raw metal of two and a half newly replaced servos on his right integrated with his usual matte black limb nanite color - splayed across the surface of the desk. "Know you weren't angling for it. That's one of the reasons you're getting it." He flicked a finger against the modest pile of datapads that sat to the side, each marked with the smooth lines of the Guard insignia on their otherwise darkened screens, hard enough to jostle the whole stack. "That, and a list of action reports. Orbital C-8, L-92, E-320, Perscore, z'Qante, that rock outside of Jzeht..."
Ironhide ducked his helm slightly, armor plates shifting in an uneasy motion at the list. "Just did my job, sir."
His captain exvented in a burst, the sound sharp and dismissive. "I need more mechs who 'just do their job'. You do." He pushed back, standing, and came around the desk to face Ironhide, field brushing crisp against the younger mech's with flat, authoritative glyphs. "You've earned it, same as you earned those specialist stars. Congratulations."
Ironhide dropped his optics back to the rods in his hand, plates and field alike tucking in close to his frame. "I... Thank you, sir. I just..." He twisted his other hand up helplessly, glyphs of apology flickering through his field. "I don't want to let you down."
Heavy hands came down on his shoulders, giving him a small shake, just enough to rock his plating. "You won't." The hands tightened as Wildstrike's field shifted and it was abruptly elder cohort, not captain, who drew Ironhide closer. They were of a similar height and mass but long habit dating from his first onlined moments made the younger mech duck down as Wildstrike leaned slightly up, Ironhide's helm fitting beneath his chin. Wildstrike's arms came around the other, the hum of his powerplant taking on a deeper, achingly familiar note of wordless comfort. "You'll do your best, and that's all I'll ever ask. You can do this."
Relief on multiple levels burst through the younger mech's field, coupled with anxiety and the tiny mass deep tremors of trying to hold it all back, glyphs still sketching silent notes of apology. "You sure? I..." His optics flickered, another burst of anxiety stiffening him. "Primus, puts me at sixth, and I..."
Wildstrike huffed a partial ventilation. "That's what's got your lines kinked?" His hand came up, cupping the back of Ironhide's helm as his engine took up the bass rumble harmonic, forming a tangible vibration that translated from frame to frame. Plates tesselated, shifting, until the younger mech was pressed to spark warm inner layers, cupped within the heavy shield of Wildstrike's armor. "Scrap it, bitlet. Sixth or thirteenth, don't matter. I'm not planning on taking a rotation through the Well any time soon."
"Not a bitlet any more," was the half-sparked response, muffled against Wildstrike's shoulder plate.
The older mech chuckled. "I know. And believe me, if we didn't need it I'd give you a pass on this." He field flickered glyphs of regret as he pressed his cheek plate against the top of Ironhide's helm. "'Hide, you're one of the brightest Solarian sparks I know, always giving, always doing for. I'd have sent you for medical if we didn't need weapons so badly-"
"I like guns," Ironhide interjected, but his harmonics echoed traces of youngling to elder, hesitant and seeking approval in ways a first ranked specialist should never have to. Wildstrike's cupping hold against his helm became a sharp flick that rang off his audials, eliciting a flinch and a sound of protest from the younger.
"Yes, well, lucky us," Wildstrike agreed mildly. "Look - I know this ain't what you do naturally, but you do it and you do it well." His field was steady, a solid warm pulse of strength against Ironhide's own. "I need you out there, on the field, pulling afts out of the smelter, but I promise you this - klik you're off the field, we've got your back. You're off the officer roster on ship. Can you do that?"
Ironhide shuttered his optics for a long moment, just soaking in the warmth and assurance of the other's field. He could, he realized, say no. Wildstrike was a good officer, working within the limitations of his squad. Ironhide could say no and the captain would respect that, but the fact that Wildstrike was offering it to him at all meant the other mech had run every probability already and was willing to take the chance.
They weren't, any of them, in the habit of defying their squad leader. Ironhide cycled a deep ventilation and made himself take a step back, their plates slipping loose from one another until his own were settled crisply back around himself once more.."...yes, sir, Captain."
Approval washed through Wildstrike's field even as the older mech straightened, armor and field duty crisp once more. "Good." He grinned slightly. "You'd best report to medical to let Palisade start drilling, then. I expect to see those inlaid by next shift, Lieutenant." The word was the more startling for being the first time spoken, the Captain's salute sharp and precise across the Guardian brand upon his chestplates. "Congratulations."
Ironhide straightened on reflex, returning the salute just as briskly. "Yes, sir!" The bars of inlay alloy were far heavier in his hand than the slight mass of them had any right to be - would be heavier, by far, as rank glyphs on his shoulder plating - but what the cohort-squad needed came first. If the captain thought he could fill the position, then by Primus, he would.