He’d finally gotten his EM field under control when First Aid knelt to help clean up the mess of shattered containers. As if Pharma’s castigation hadn’t been bad enough, now he had to deal with his coworker’s pity.
Ambulon’s shoulders hunched as he tried to gather the shards of glass faster. First Aid tentatively reached for his arm, but he jerked it away. “Not now, Aid.”
“He’s not being fair to you.”
“I’m used to it. I just need to keep proving my worth.”
“Let me help,” the doctor—nurse—begged. “I can talk to him about it. This has been going on ever since we got here…”
“It’s my job.” Ambulon plucked a piece of glass from his finger joint. It must have gotten lodged there by his fist’s clenching during Pharma’s spiel. “I’d like to keep it.”
“Do as I say, Aid. I rank you now.” Ooh. Low blow.
First Aid turned away, stung.
Ambulon winced. He stretched out a hand and touched his friend’s shoulder in wordless apology.
Chapter 2: With a hoarse voice, under the blankets
First Aid found the lights off in their hab suite, but a yellow glow emanated from the insulation tarp-covered lump on Ambulon's berth. He cycled his vents once to alert his colleague to his presence.
An strained voice acknowledged his presence. "I hate him," came from under the tarp.
First Aid winced. Pharma got a little worse each day, and no one felt the brunt of it like Ambulon.
He sat down on the edge of the berth and was immediately glomped by seven tons of what he had taken for an upset ward manager. With their EM fields in range, First Aid felt his mistake. Ambulon was furious.
He started to pull away, to give him a little space, but his best friend just clung to him more securely and tucked his face into Aid's collar armor. "I hate him."
"I know," Aid replied softly. "I know."
Chapter 3: Muffled, from the other side of the door
Ambulon fled the bar the moment he had transformed back into root mode. First Aid shot a glare over at Swerve. The bartender pretended to be engrossed in cleaning glasses. Aid huffed his vents and headed off after his best friend.
Their habsuite door was, unsurprisingly, locked. Aid sat on the floor and leaned back against it. He counted thirty second before speaking.
“Are you going to let me in?”
“No.” The short, sharp response made him smile. Peeved, Ambulon was a step closer to okay than silence.
“So I’m to just wait out here, then?”
“I’m never going back to Swerve’s.”
Six words? That was a record for an upset Ambulon!
First Aid let his smile creep into his voice. “And forfeit your access to the long-coveted engex source? Am I still speaking to Ambulon?”
There. That was definitely a stifled chuckle. Time to adjust his tactic.
“You don’t have to go there again. But I bet Ratchet’ll tell him off for you.”
Aid rapped his knuckles against the door. “Trust me, Amby, he’d do it for one oil chip. Pit, he’d do it for free. We’re part of his crew, now. The Hatchet’s got your back.” He dropped the serious tone for a wheedling one. “Now let me innnnn. I have to administer emergency cuddles to the universe’s most stubborn patient.”
“‘M not stubborn!”
“...yeah, okay.” Aid jumped to his feet as the door slid open.
Ambulon glowered at him, but the corner of his mouth was twitching. “Brat.”
He patted his best friend’s cheek. “You know you love me.”
“Now get over here for your cuddle prescription.”
Chapter 4: As a goodbye
The hab was dark when First Aid stepped inside, but no sooner had the door closed behind him that strings of lights around the walls and slung across the ceiling lit up. Decorative crystals lined two sides of a path laid out. It ended at Ambulon’s feet. First Aid reset his visor.
“When you said to meet you in here, I wasn't sure what to expect... And I'm still not sure what I'm seeing.”
His best friend met his confused gaze with one of utter certainty. “Aid. From the day we met, you've given and given, pursued and pursued, done all of the heavy lifting on the good days and the bad, not once asking anything from me. It’s time for me to return that favor.”
He held out his hands, and First Aid took them automatically. A click echoed through the room. It wasn't until the first glimmer of sparklight shone through that he realized what it was he was seeing.
“I bid—” Ambulon’s vocalizer caught. “I bid you stand in the glow of my—my spark, that you may feel the heat of my words... and know them to be true.” Ambulon squeezed his hands, vented, and continued. “I invite you to receive my light and, in doing so, become my...” He forced his gaze to meet First Aid’s, the vulnerability in his expression breaking and warming Aid’s spark at the same time. “My Amica Endura. From now to—well, forever. First Aid, for your empathy... As you have been to me, may I be to you today, tomorrow, and always.”
First Aid’s vocalizer glitched, but he got the traditional response out, pressing his forehead to his best friend’s while seldom-opened chestplates slowly slotted back together.
They were on the shuttle heading back to the Lost Light, Trailcutter’s pieces gathered in a terrible heap in the absence of anything to carry them in. First Aid stared unseeing at the corpse as his recall drew to a close.
Blast the DJD. Blast them to infinity. Without them, Pharma would still be running Delphi. He and First Aid and Ambulon would be a unit, a decent one though never perfect. Without their influence, Ambulon would still be here.
Trailcutter would still be here.
He wondered if Agent 113 was still out there somewhere. A little sick at the thought, he wondered if they had just encountered Agent 113. If it had been him who killed Trailcutter.
No. The war was over. No Autobot would kill so needlessly.
Pharma did, a little voice whispered. Why not him? Why not your hero?
First Aid shook his helm, trying to dispel the wayward notion. Think about anything else.
Frag, but he missed Ambulon. After they became Amica—before then, too, but he never seemed to realize he was doing it—Ambulon had been his sounding board. No matter the ridiculous theories that he came up with, Ambulon listened. He was good at listening. He didn’t understand why First Aid was so obsessed, but he listened anyway.
And he thought First Aid was the compassionate one. If he could only see the apathetic wreck Aid had become.
He’d broken his oath twice now. Once in killing Pharma. Again in stopping his donation to Vos.
If he had done both of those things sooner, Ambulon and Trailcutter would still be alive.
No. He couldn’t think like that. What was done was done.
He had to let go. He couldn’t help people in the present if he was stuck in the past.
First Aid looked at Trailcutter’s body and thought of the other one, the one carefully reassembled and preserved in the morgue, just in case.
He wouldn’t let go of his hope for Ambulon. There was so much they didn’t know about sparks. He had to be ready in case a solution came up. But he would let go of the anger.
What people needed from him was his empathy. It was what Ambulon would want.
First Aid stared at Trailcutter’s body and saw the other one, and he bowed his helm. "I love you. I'll make you proud."