Gears stomped into the medical bay, fists clenched at his side. "What do you want, Hoist?" he demanded. "I've got work to do; we just got a new load of supplies in from Cybertron and nobody else around here seems to have the time to get them hauled where they need to go. Not that that stops them from whining at me when they don't have what they need for repairs."
"Thank you for coming, Gears," Hoist said. He sounded too distracted to notice Gears's bad mood -- something that annoyed Gears no end. "I know you're busy, but you're the only person I could turn to for this."
Gears paused a moment, looking Hoist over warily. Something about the bigger mech's demeanor made him think this was more than just a case of needing debris hauled or packages delivered. "What's wrong?"
Hoist hesitated. "It's Pipes," he said. "He won't transform."
Gears sighed. "We got some replacement transformation cogs in this shipment," he said, throwing up his hands in exasperation. "If you'd bothered telling me this before, I could have brought you some. Now, I have to make another trip. I'd think you'd understand about wasted motion, Hoist."
Hoist raised his manipulating hand, wriggling the fingers in agitation. "I said he won't transform, Gears," he snapped. "Not can't transform. He's…there's nothing physically wrong with him -- believe me, I was more than thorough -- but he will not transform out of truck mode."
"So? Sometimes it's easier than walking," Gears said with a grunt. "I'm still not seeing where this is a problem, Hoist."
Hoist's optics flashed angrily. "Oh really? Well, I suppose you don't think it's a problem that Pipes has been backed into a corner of one of the storerooms for nearly a week now? It's not a problem, in your opinion, that he won't answer when he's spoken to? That he hides when anyone comes near him? That he won't refuel?"
"Wait…wait," Gears said, thoughtfully. "He's in a corner of what storeroom?"
Hoist looked puzzled for a moment. "I fail to see where that's important," he said, optics dimming as he frowned. "But it's the small one, near the training room. He's in the far back corner."
Gears winced. "Huffer's Sulking Corner?" he asked, though he was pretty sure he knew the answer.
Hoist nodded. "How did you know?" he asked, sounding surprised.
Gears glared at Hoist. "Never you mind," he said. "That's none of your business. What do you want me to do?"
"I was hoping you could talk to him," Hoist said, fingers fluttering again. "Convince him to transform and come in for some refueling?"
"Me?" Gears said, snorting loudly. "You are desperate, aren't you? I'm not exactly known for my gentle disposition."
Hoist had the decency to look embarrassed before he replied. "I know," he said carefully. "But that's rather what I was hoping for."
"Oh?" Gears glared at Hoist. "What do you mean?"
"I've tried talking to him, but it doesn't seem to be helping," Hoist said. "He's…it's as if he's trying to shut himself off. I'm afraid he's trying to, well, make himself non-sentient."
"And you're hoping for what, Hoist?" Gears said. "That I'll bully him out of it?"
Hoist looked anywhere but at Gears. "You have a certain gruffness that I thought might be useful," he said. "And, well, you're closer to his level than I am. I was hoping a fellow Mini-Bot might be able to help where I couldn't."
Gears grunted. "And you've got other patients," he said, then held up a hand as Hoist made a noise of protest. "No, no, I didn't mean it like that. Don't worry about it, I'll take care of him."
X X X
Pipes was, as Hoist had said, backed into a corner of the storeroom. Huffer's corner. He could hear Pipes's engine revving nervously, but he couldn't see his fellow Mini-Bot. Gears grumbled rather than sighed as he moved closer, trying to spot Pipes's hiding place amid the nearby shelving.
Unfortunately, this also meant he had to get a better view of Huffer's Sulking Corner.
Huffer had claimed the area as his own. More so even than his quarters, this area was and always would be Huffer's. Artwork depicting some of Cybertron's architectural wonders -- most of which were long destroyed thanks to the War -- hung on one wall. A holo-protector sat waiting to be viewed on a desk cobbled together from two packing crates.
"Pipes, I know you're here and I'm not leaving until you come out," Gears said as he took a seat on the desk chair Huffer had assembled out of scrap metal. "And I really don't have the time to waste with this slag, so how about you don't make me sit here doing nothing, huh?"
Silence, except for the anxious rumbling of Pipes's engines. Gears sighed.
"Pipes, if I have to come drag you out, this will not go well for either of us," Gears said. "Come here."
Slowly, his headlights dimmed, Pipes rolled out from where he'd hidden behind a shelving unit. He approached Gears nervously, stopping a few meters from the desk.
"I said come here, Pipes," Gears said, indicating a place in front of him. "I know damn well you can understand me well enough for that. Now get over here."
Pipes obeyed, parking himself in front of Gears. Gears reached out to stroke the top of Pipes's cab. As Pipes started to try and reverse away from him, Gears hopped down and wrapped his hands in Pipes's grill. He braced himself and pulled backwards, trying to keep Pipes in place. The semi was stronger than he was, but Gears wasn't in the mood for nonsense.
"Oh no," Gears said as Pipes squealed his tires, leaving black streaks on the otherwise clean floor. "You're staying here, Pipes. Right here. You and me are having a talk whether you like it or not."
Pipes's engine revved in what was almost a scream of frustration, his whole body shaking as he fishtailed his rear wheels, fighting to get away. "Keep struggling," Gears said, almost conversationally. "Just makes it that much easier to hold onto you."
Just as Gears was afraid Pipes would redline his engine and burn himself out, he stopped revving, engine dropping to a low, ragged idle. Still, Gears hung on to him with both hands just in case. "You ready to behave?" he asked.
"Yeah," Pipes said, quietly.
"Good," Gears said, moving to sit back down on the chair. "Transform, then."
"Don' want to," Pipes said, moving closer to butt his grill almost affectionately against Gears's legs. "Wanna be a truck."
Of course it couldn't be that easy, Gears thought. "Being a truck won't bring Huffer back," he said.
"I know," Pipes said, retreating a few meters, his voice cracking. "It hurts, Gears."
"He's not coming back," Gears said. "He's dead, Pipes. He's really dead."
"I know," Pipes said again, voice distressed. "I know, Gears, I know. That's why I want to be a truck. It doesn't hurt for trucks. Trucks here don't have to think. Trucks don't have to lose the people they care about."
It didn't really surprise Gears that Huffer and Pipes were more than friends. Generally, he didn't pay much attention to romantic entanglements unless they were his own, but from what little he'd noticed of them, Huffer and Pipes had made a good pair. Pipes had a seemingly endless tolerance for Huffer's reminiscences about Cybertron, particularly pre-Third War Cybertron, and Huffer had appreciated having a rapt audience.
More than that, Huffer had helped show Pipes that there had been life before the war and that there could, one day, be life without war again. Not a bad legacy for a constant whiner like Huffer.
Gears sighed as his suspicions were confirmed. Yeah, Hoist, I know why he's here, he thought angrily. You slagheaps might try to remember that short doesn't mean neutered. Just because we're not sports cars doesn't mean we don't get attached to each other. It might be more difficult for us to hook up but that doesn't stop it from happening.
"You're not just a truck, though," Gears said. "You're more than that, Pipes. You can't shut down because Huffer's not here, Pipes." He didn't add Huffer wouldn't want that That sort of emotional blackmail was for other "kinder" mechs. Besides, Huffer was dead. He wouldn't know or care what Pipes was doing -- but not even Gears was callous enough to say that.
"It hurts," Pipes said. "I loved him, Gears. I loved him and he's gone and it aches and I don't want to have to think about it anymore!"
"I know, Pipes, but by this point, how many people have you seen die?" Gears asked, hating himself for saying it. "Huffer's one among, what? A few dozen? A few hundred?"
"More," Pipes whimpered, his body shaking now. "But this is different! They weren't…we didn't…I didn't feel like this about them! We died so fast on Cybertron -- the Decepticons hit us so hard and so often people were there and then they were gone! I barely had time to learn people's names, let alone find out if I liked them or not! We had so much else we had to worry about -- it wasn't like it is here! There wasn't time to think about anything other than finding supplies and fighting and retreating and fighting some more -- I didn't know we could feel anything other than scared until I came here!"
Gears winced. Damnit, Huffer, why'd you have to die and leave me with this mess? I hope wherever you are, you're at least half as miserable as this stupid kid is right now. As Pipes shook and rattled, Gears sat quietly, saying nothing.
What could he say? "I know how you feel?" No, he didn't. Sure, the war was going badly when he and Prime and the others left Cybertron, but by all accounts it had gotten so much worse afterwards. While those left behind were running like petrorabbits from Shockwave, Gears and the others had been sleeping under a mountain on Earth. And on Earth? Here the Autobots had the advantages.
Gears considered "I've loved and lost too" -- except that having a partner leave because you've got a personality like sand in a camshaft didn't seem quite the same as losing one because he was crushed in battle. Nothing I can say is going to make him feel better. This isn't something I can grump him out of.
"C'mere," Gears said, giving Pipes a gentle tug forwards. "Get in closer."
"What're you gonna do?" Pipes asked.
Gears didn't answer. Instead, he searched over Huffer's desk until he found what he was looking for. Picking up a well-worn box of cleaning supplies, he pulled out a can of cream wax and a microfiber cloth. Scooping a generous amount, he spread it over Pipes's cab, rubbing the wax on in slow, easy circles. Pipes jerked back. Gears wasn't sure if it was because he was startled by the coolness of the wax or simply by being touched but he pulled back, waiting to see how Pipes would react.
Pipes came back to him. "Sorry," he said. "Wasn't expecting that."
"It's okay," Gears said, going back to his waxing. "Just relax, I'm not gonna hurt you."
"I know," Pipes said, though he still sounded relieved. "I just…Huffer did that."
"No, really?" Gears said, unable to keep all the sarcasm out of his voice. "I figured," he said, gentler this time. "But I'm not trying to be Huffer. I'm not looking to replace him for you, you understand? It's too soon for you to even be thinking about that and anyways, you need to find somebody who's going to treat you better than I will, get me?"
"Yessir," Pipes said.
Gears paused, looking down at the roof of Pipes's cab. "'Sir'," he said, chuckling. "I could get used to being called 'sir'. Beats 'Grumpy' any day."
Pipes laughed. It wasn't a big laugh, but it was a start. "I got a stuffed one of him," he said. "I found it at a flea market in Ohio a few months ago."
"Yeah?" Gears said. "You can keep it."
"I'm gonna give it to Toys for Tots," Pipes said. "I was gonna give it to Huffer, but I can't now, y'know?"
"Yeah," Gears said, moving forward over Pipes's driver's side door. "Why Huffer?"
"He asked me to find him one," Pipes said. "Said he just wanted to have it around. Wouldn't say why, though. I was kinda surprised, 'cause I know he hated that movie."
"Yeah, well, if you'd spent the better part of nineteen Earth years listening to "Snow White and the Seven Minibots" jokes, you'd understand why he did," Gears said.
"No, no, I got that," Pipes said. "A couple of th' others called me "Bashful" when I first got here until I asked 'em to stop."
"Oh?" Gears said, pausing. "And that actually worked?"
"Well, I asked 'em really nicely," Pipes said, rather too innocently. "An' it might have helped that I was tearing a piece of armor plating into strips an' braiding it back together when I was talking to 'em."
Gears snickered, giving Pipes's cab a pat. "Good boy," he said. "I like your style."
"Thanks, Huffer liked it too," Pipes said, falling silent for a moment, while Gears finished spreading on the wax and began wiping it off with the microfiber cloth. He rubbed in slow, easy circles, following the grain of Pipes's armor.
"Hey Gears?" Pipes said, voice relaxed and content. "I really appreciate you letting me talk about Huffer. I know you didn't like him."
"Who told you that" Gears stopped, standing beside Pipes with his fists clenched, startled at just how angry -- really angry -- he was. He forced himself to calm down before he spoke again. "Who told you I didn't like Huffer? Did he say that?"
"Nobody said it," Pipes said, retreating a few meters. "You just, I mean…you were always mad at him 'cause he was getting on your nerves an' you just seemed like you didn't like him, that's all. I'm sorry."
Gears unclenched his fists, shaking his head. "I liked Huffer just fine," he said, stiffly. "Got tired of him whining about stuff he couldn't change, but he was alright. Things didn't work out between us the way we'd hoped, but we parted friends just the same."
Pipes's headlights blinked. "Huh? What do you mean?"
"I mean…" Gears stopped himself before "Where do you think I learned how to wax a semi?"came out. The kid deserved better than a sarcastic reply. "I mean, you're not the only one who loved Huffer, Pipes."
"I knew that," Pipes said, still sounding surprised but, to Gears's great relief, not devastated. "I mean, I knew he had others before me 'cause he was more experienced than I am, but I didn't know you were one of 'em."
"Yeah," Gears said. "It was brief, just after we first arrived here. We both hated this place and that drew us together. It was good while it lasted, but well, let's just say hating something is nothing to base a relationship on. You? I think you made him happier than I ever could have. An' for that, I'm grateful. Thanks, Pipes."
"You're welcome," Pipes said.
"Now, when I get the rest of this wax off you, will you please transform and come down to the repair bay with me before Hoist burns out his fuses? You've got him pretty scared, kiddo."
Pipes considered. "Yeah, okay," he said.
"And…I'll take the Grumpy doll, if you don't mind."