It was quiet in the corridor outside of medbay; too quiet after all of the post-combat flurry. The cohort had dispersed, only the hum of the engines and the distant sounds of movement and working drifting into the quiet where too many frames and voices had been packed, echoing, only joors before.
Quiet enough to hear the thrum of his own spark when he lagged back to stay, the hiss and fluid rush of his own internal systems, and the tell-tale metal on metal dissonance where he couldn’t stop vibrations from shifting through his frame. Ironhide vented, hating the sound of his own vapor cycle, the tremor he couldn’t squash, and the silence, as he stood, rooted to the deck plating, watching the heavy double orange and white barred doors of the medbay as though willpower alone might open them.
“Yer allowed t’ go in.”
He didn’t, quite, yell, but his full frame flinch of surprise was sharp and sudden, sending him clattering back against the far wall of the corridor before he could catch himself. Wildstrike paused, hands flicking up in a brief gesture - at-ease, calm - but his field was off-duty warm, brushing Ironhide’s in silent support. “Sorry. Didn’t mean t’ startle yeh.”
“Yeh could try takin’ th’ fraggin’ baffles off,” Ironhide snarled, slamming his back plates up against the wall as though the reassuring solidity of the ship could ward off other unwelcome surprises.
The older mech made a noise of agreement, field tinged in rueful apology. Wildstrike was still kitted for their last combat action, his usual black plates splashed in visual spectrum distortion patterns, the sounds of his system and treads muffled under insulating strips inserted through joints and plate edgings. “Sorry,” he repeated, easing into the space at Ironhide’s side.
Joor. It had only been a few joor, barely enough time for the squad captain to finish the debrief, reports and washrack waiting until after. There was still silicate grit in Ironhide’s lower seams; he had pulled his own baffles out at some point, but couldn’t remember when. Barely enough time to stow gear and cycle the ship back up, hardly enough time to see to any minor injuries…
The tremor came back, harder, setting his plates to shaking. He was gritting his dente, struts clenched, trying to still the damned fault in his lines that was making it happen, when Wildstrike’s hand pressed warm to his shoulder. “Yeh can go in,” the captain told him, gently.
Ironhide shook his helm, numbly, the gesture too stiff and jerky. “’S medbay…”
“I know,” Wildstrike said. The hand on his shoulder tightened, but Ironhide couldn’t feel it properly, pressure parsing separately from heat and EM. “But this ain’t like when Palisade yells ‘get out’ ‘cus he needs us out of his way. Nothin’ sayin’ yeh can’t go in.”
Something was wrong. He knew it, dimmly, could feel it in the asynchronous trip of his ventilation cycles, in the way his processor threads were running too many all at once, data streams tangled and slowed. “Shouldn’t… Ah… Should Ah?”
“Don’t know,” Wildstrike told him. “That’s up t’ yeh, an’ yeh ain’t gonna know until yeh try.”
“But, it…” The tremor was all through him now and he couldn’t formulate a whole thought, one thread splintering into the next, and the tremor was through all his plating now no matter how tightly he locked his struts. “Frag!” It came out harsh, clipped, and Ironhide didn’t know he had slammed his fist back against the wall until Wildstrike caught his arm, pressing it down so that he couldn’t do it again. “Sorry, Ah can’t…” There was static in his vocalizer, glyphs broken by the uncontrolled tremor. “Frag, Ah shouldn’t be… Ah…”
“Shhhh.” The other mech crowded in against him, catching Ironhide’s hands in his own, the warm press of field and frame thrumming with the deep comfort of elder cohort, safety and soothing. “Shhh, bitlet, it’s alright. Yer fine.”
“No Ah ain’t!” It burst out of him, sharp and strident, and in the safety of Wildstrike’s embrace the tremor dissolved into full on shakes, rattling through his frame. Ironhide sucked in a ragged vent cycle, vocalizer breaking into glyphless sounds of pain. “Frag… frag, Ah shouldn’t be… Ah know, Ah know, Ah just… Ah can’t…”
Wildstrike caught him close, his hand on the back of Ironhide’s helm pressing the younger mech’s head down, tucked against shoulder plating, a mass equal to his own pushing him back against the safety of the wall. “Yer fine,” the captain repeated gently. “Yer right, yeh know, an’ that’s the problem. It’s alright, bitlet. Stand down, Ah’ve got yeh.”
It was one part order, couched on a comfort that Ironhide couldn’t have pushed away even if he had wanted to. Vents choking, he buried his helm against the other mech’s shoulder, shaking, the words in his vocalizer thin and breaking. “Ah shouldn’t be… this ain’t, Ah just can’t…”
“’Course yeh are,” Wildstrike hummed soothingly, his hand cupping the back of Ironhide’s neck, fingers digging into joins at the base of his helm. “Bitlet, yeh ain’t had yer name more’n six vorn, an’ we ain’t lost a spark since yeh came online. Yeah, yeh know, here,” he tapped against Ironhide’s helm, “but not here.” The second tap was to his chestplates, over the insignia that stood out against Ironhide’s red plating. “Have t’ learn it new, every rotation out of th’ Well, an’ it ain’t ever easy. Yeh can know it in yer memory all yeh want, but in yer spark? That’s all new. Ain’t nobody expectin’ yeh t’ just get on with it.”
Something broken and pained surged up through Ironhide’s vocalizer. Wildstrike didn’t try to shush him, only held him as he shook, frame and arms solid and safe. He couldn’t protest, couldn’t even look up when another frame pressed up against his other side, wrapping him in the warm, familiar press of cohort and an even greater mass, Blitz’s flight engine humming a deep felt vibration through him that eased the formless tremors. The hum of private plate to plate comms passed him by and finally, when he could draw a full vent cycle again, Wildstrike eased back enough to lift Ironhide’s chin.
“Yeh want t’ go in?” the older mech kept the question open, no judgement in it, just let Ironhide look at the closed medbay doors and decide for himself. Untrusting of his own vocalizer, he nodded jerkily.
It was Blitz who helped him up when Wildstrike stepped back, the big aerial frame holding him steady. “It’s okay if yeh can’t,” he said softly, as the captain triggered the heavy doors to slide back. “We’re right here with yeh. All of us, ‘cept Palisade’ll strip th’ plates off us if we all come bargin’ back in here again. Easy, bitlet. C’mon. Just go take a look.”
The four steps from one side of the corridor to the other had never seemed so long, or so hard to make his fault ridden hydraulics cross. Wildstrike was already inside the medbay, speaking softly to Palisade who was at the counter, hands busy with pieces of something at the sterilizer.
The body - it was only a body, Ironhide told himself savagely, only a cooling frame, inert metal and parts - lay on the primary medberth, already scrubbed clean. Bright, silvery metal, without a hint of glossy black pigment or the bright splash of gold trim. Just a heavy ground combat frame, the same as Ironhide’s own, laid out as though ready to be wrapped and packed for shipping, as unmarked as any newspark before initialization.
Like Windspeed, Ironhide thought, memory files recalling vividly the combat aerial frame of the newspark who had come online with them only just before Ironhide himself had gone for advanced training. A pristine frame, just waiting, nothing but raw potential - except it was anything but. There was nothing left of the silicate dirt or the char marks but the metal of the chassis was still warped where it had melted, the chestplates distorted into unfamiliar lines despite having been pushed back into a semblance of order.
There was no potential there, there was nothing there, no life, no spark, no remnant of the mech it should have been. Ironhide could hear his own systems roaring inside of him, his spark nothing but pain, fans a shriek of broken, stuttering cycles. There was nothing left and for as many times as he had known death through all of the lifetimes he had served in the Guard there was nothing like this, like the empty mockery that lay on the medberth, devoid of Burn’s rich, flashy colors or vibrant energy or his vornmate’s easy, ready grin.
The sound, wordless and strident, crackling through a static shot keen of grief didn’t parse as belonging to him until Blitz caught him up against the other mech’s chassis, his own sound throwing a counterpoint buzz against the thrum of the other’s larger engine. Dimly he saw white and orange, Palisade’s frame blocking the medbay from his view, the medic’s face in focus one moment, his hands the next, as though his buffer memory was losing every other segment. The world spun, his gyros loose and tumbling, medical codes bursting like tracer fire across his processor threads.
When Ironhide could focus again his first awareness was of cohort, the press of multiple frames and sparks, the warm, seamless wrap of overlaid EMs. Shockcharge, he recognized dimly, curled around his back, Breaker’s mass and steady presence wrapped around both of them. Rampart at his side, Nitro tucked into a smaller ball against the other side, Windspeed trembling against him and it was Blitz’s chassis Ironhide was pressed to with Shellburst another greater-mass presence wrapped around the whole, more of the cohort pressed close beyond that.
Safety, cohort, the frames that weren’t within easy reach touchable by comm, except for the one blank line that fed back only the hum of a dead connection. Ironhide tried to brace for the pain but it was muted, dizzy and too distant to feel.
“Easy,” Rampart hummed, a hand touching Ironhide’s face. “Easy, bitlet. Palisade took it all offline for awhile, it’s alright. You’re safe, we’re here.”
Ironhide managed a sound, reaching blindly. Someone’s hand found his, fingers sliding together, holding tight. Someone else - one of the heavy artillery, a bass sound deep enough to vibrate through all of them - made a wordless sound of grief, then another, settling into a slow rhythm. Other engines took it up, the lighter keen of the scout classes, the mid-grade thrum of the grounders, a sound of loss woven into and through their very frames.
Ironhide shuttered his optics, curling down tight. Muffled by medical coding, it still ached, an undefined cold spot where his vornmate should have been, and all the press of his cohort couldn’t replicate the way Burn’s field had meshed and prickled with his own, or the way the other mech had forever sprawled across him when their recharge cycles lined up, elbows in Ironhide’s vents and fingers slipped into loosened joints just to hold on. ‘Get off’, he had said, times beyond count, from the first moment his newly initialized vorn sib had been pushed into the center of the cohort along with him. ‘Get off, let go, you’re grabby.’
There was nothing grabbing him now, nothing holding on, and that loved and hated, infuriating and charming presence would never be there again, not the way it had then. Vents skipping, Ironhide opened his intakes, let his own grief and the prickling sense of emptiness warble through his systems, engine falling brokenly into synch with his cohort as they sang the first threads of loss.