Optimus Prime was the first on the scene. In the ten years since he and the others had been reawakened on Earth, there had been dozens of calls like this -- a couple involving him personally. Even still, it was never an easy call to answer.
Spotting a small blue figure kneeling on the shoulder of the road, Prime transformed and walked over toward him.
"Pipes?" he asked, pausing long enough to drop a pair of road flares behind where Pipes was kneeling. "Are you hurt?"
"No," Pipes said. "Just a little. It feels like I'm being stabbed if I raise my arm."
Prime nodded, crouching down beside Pipes and lobbing a road flare in front of him. Traffic was mercifully light on the roads leading to the Ark, but better safe than sorry.
Prime turned on his headlights, just bright enough to fight back the evening gloom, so that he could get a better look at Pipes. It was as he'd feared: Pipes's grill was smashed, one headlight shattered and his cab was awash with blood that had run everywhere once Pipes had transformed back into robot mode. The minibot was streaked with red, brown and black.
Prime looked down, staring briefly at the carcass of the deer -- a black-tailed doe -- responsible for Pipes's injuries. It was a sad, broken thing.
"What happened?" Prime kept his voice steady and calm.
"I was driving back to the Ark and -- and I was being so careful!" Pipes said. "Hound, he told us about the deer, how they've been bad this year on the roads so I was being extra careful but he came out of the woods so fast! I tried to stop, I swear I did Prime! But I couldn't hit my brakes hard enough and I hit him."
Prime put a steadying hand on Pipes's shoulder, not saying anything for the moment.
"I'm sorry," Pipes said. "I didn't mean to, Prime. I swear, I didn't mean to."
"I know," Prime said. "It was an accident. The deer -- it happens all the time Pipes. You're not the first."
Pipes was quiet, still staring down at the deer.
"I know that doesn't help," Prime said. "It certainly didn't help me feel any better when it happened to me, but it was an accident, Pipes."
"It hurts -- I mean, it's different when you mean to do it," Pipes said, mournfully. "When it's the enemy and you have to do it, that's okay because there's a chance he'll get you instead. He's got a chance, you've got a chance, you're equal but the deer...Prime, it just wanted to get to the other side of the road! I swerved, I should have swerved harder. I could have transformed, maybe grabbed the deer but I just wasn't fast enough!"
Prime reached into the space between the back of Pipes's head and his cab, rubbing the more sensitive armor here with a thumb and forefinger. "That you know there's a difference and that it bothers you is what makes you a good soldier. Your wounds will be repaired, the pain from your injuries will fade and, eventually, so will the pain of the memories. But you will remember this, long after the deer is dust and it will help temper your actions and remind you of our responsibilities to the innocents of this world and of other worlds. And while I'd rather it had happened almost any other way, neither of us can change the fact that it did happen. But, you can control how you react to it."
Pipes was quiet again, his optics dimmed as if in thought. "Okay," he said, fingers running over the deer's spine. "I want to put him on the other side of the road, where he was headed. It's only fair."
Prime nodded. "I'll do it," he said. "I want you to stay still until Ratchet gets here. I don't want you injuring yourself further."
"No," Pipes said. "I want to do it. I'm not hurt that bad, sir. Please? It's my responsibility. I should do it."
Prime considered a moment, letting his hand drop to his side. "Alright," he said. "Stand up and I will hand you the deer and we'll walk her across together."
"Okay." Pipes stood, moving painfully slowly. Prime held out a hand, offering Pipes support. When the smaller Autobot was on his feet, Prime reached down and carefully gathered the deer's carcass and placed it in Pipes's hands. With a gentleness usually reserved for his human gadgets, Pipes cradled the deer and began to shuffle across the road.
Prime followed, taking a half step for every three of Pipes's. They moved in silence, stepping across the road and into the woods. It was slow going, even on the side of the road the trees were too close together for Prime to move very far in.
"I'll find a spot," Pipes said. "I can squeeze in, just a little bit. Enough that he's off the road, y'know?"
"Alright." The sound of an approaching engine caught Prime's attention. He turned, watching as Ratchet's headlights drew nearer.
"Why is the patient up and walking around?" Ratchet radioed. "Prime, you know what kind of damage he could have."
"It's alright," Prime radioed back. "He's seeing to the deer. He needs to do this as much as the physical repairs. I take full responsibility, Ratchet."
"Alright," Ratchet said, transforming just short of the road flares as he arrived. He walked over to stand beside Prime, waiting impatiently for Pipes to come out from the tree line. "How is he?"
"Battered, but I think he'll be okay," Prime said as Pipes stepped back out of the woods. "I'll wait for you to finish looking him over and follow you back to the Ark."