Title: Acoustic #3

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: Transformers and all related characters therein do not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.

Summary: Ratchet has trouble with words, sometimes. Some Ratchet/Ironhide. Three drabbles.

Author's Note: To give myself a break from writing "That Still Small Voice," I asked lyricality to give me a prompt. She gave me: Ratchet. And the lyrics, "I tell myself too many times, why don't you ever learn to keep your big mouth shut?"

If it's good, thanks. If you don't like, it's lyricality's fault.

I. Etiquette.

Speech had never been Ratchet's strong point. Oh, sure, he had mastered the mechanics of it just fine, and his vocabulary was perhaps the most extensive out of all the Autobots. However, the eloquence of it, the art of it, had managed to elude him ever since he had been in his youngling stages. He had never understood the complexities of conversation, with its nuances and double-meanings laced throughout. That was Optimus' forte. As a diplomat, and a good one at that, Optimus could place his inflections just right, know what to say lines ahead of where it would be needed, how to delicately dance around another person's or species' closely held beliefs and principles. Megatron, though the leader of the Decepticons, could be admired for his ability to work words like paint, like seduction, and make the words of the Devil sound sweet and irresistable—a spider's promise to a wary fly. Megatron could entice stars to stop shining. Ironhide managed to avoid the awkwardness by simply rarely speaking at all, but he was a virtuoso at listening—the side of conversation upon which so few placed proper emphasis. Perhaps it was due to his age, or experience in dealing with people who were, at a moment's notice, ready to jump into war, but he could hear the hidden agendas in people's seemingly casual observations, could hear the webs they were weaving behind the glitter and two-way mirrors.

As for Bumblebee and Jazz, they could empathize with the greatest of ease, so in tune were they to another's emotions. Those two, they had learned an even lesser known side of conversation: body language and, in the case of humans, facial expressions. Much of conversation took place silently, but Bumblebee and Jazz could read that as though they were reading giant billboards. Despite all of his status as an "advanced living robot and marvel of technology and intelligence," Ratchet still felt rather stupid when it came to understanding body language. It was hard enough to understand what people meant as they were talking, much less what they were trying to say by not saying it to make sure that the other person understood that what they were not saying should be read as the true contradiction to what they were actually saying aloud.

That, Ratchet could simply do without.

Perhaps all of his communication skills had been forfeited to make room for his skills as a medic. Whatever the reason, whenever the situation did not apply directly to top-secret plans or doctor-patient confidentiality, Ratchet become notorious in the Autobot ranks for saying the most embarrassing things imaginable. What was worse, he would say it with no humor and certainly no idea that it was indeed mortifying to the person in question.

"The boy's pheromone levels suggest he wants to mate with the female."

And always someone, usually Optimus, had to explain to Ratchet why what he said was embarrassing. That in itself was humiliating, for not having understood so himself, and to be told to watch what he said in the future. It was harder than anyone else realized, to simply be unable to understand the etiquette of speech, and early on in the war he had spent countless hours telling himself to just be quiet. Until he realized that the subtleties of conversation would be forever beyond him.

So much easier was to use his extensive vocabulary and simply curse the miscreants to Cybertron and back for not having the simplicity of mind to avoid injuring themselves. If one was unable to handle elegancy, brute force and volume worked to wondrous effect in striking fear into others, and that suited Ratchet just fine.

II. Acoustic #3

Ratchet's mouth had gotten him into trouble before. So few of the authorities in medical school training had believed that "speaking one's mind" was a virtue, "few" being a generous number. While the other medics-to-be coddled their patients, tried to coax them into well-being with gentleness and such a sense of delicateness as though the slightest sign of stress could startle them into offlining, Ratchet would tell his patients that if they were going to get better, they better hurry up and do it so that he could get some work done. It was not that he did not care about his patients. Far from it. He just believed that people were made of stronger stuff than others gave them credit, and that a little kick in the aft could go a long way, if just to be able to leave his care and get out of firing range.

Talking to his patients in such a way that would make House, M.D. impressed had certainly earned him more than a few lectures from mentors, CMOs, patients' friends, and international peacekeepers. And lectures were all he had ever really gotten, since he was far too valuable and intelligent to simply send to the shipping yards. Maybe the lack of severe punishment had made him complacent, careless. Nonetheless, even he could tell that what he had just said went way too far.

"At least now I won't have to worry about him dragging his aft in here for something like a stupid blown fuse."

It had been an awful thing to say, the night after Jazz's death, as Bumblebee reminisced out loud over their fallen comrade. And it had been the way he said it, as most people interpret such things. Not with a fond laugh, or teary wishing, but with a bitterness that made it sound as if he were glad for Jazz's demise. At least, going by the utter silence, by the looks he received from the others. Bumblebee left soon afterwards, making timid excuses, and Ironhide followed soon after. Only Optimus remained, staring so resolutely at Ratchet that Ratchet did the only thing he could: he talked some more.

"All he did was cause me trouble!" Ratchet exclaimed defensively, bristling even more when Optimus did not respond. "Day in, and day out: Ratchet, you need to get out more! Ratchet, you need to relax! Ratchet, fix this! Ratchet, clean all the sand out of my gears! Ratchet, watch the twins for me even though it's my turn! He was nothing but a nuisance!"

What's the point of all this screaming? Nothing's changing anyway.

And why couldn't he stop? Optimus would never forgive him for it; Jazz had been his best friend, as far as it could be considered. And each passing phrase made it worse, he kept digging himself in deeper with harsher words, bitterness strong enough to make a person seek out a lemon for a toned-down flavor. Just keep your mouth shut, Ratchet scolded himself, over and over. Just keep your Primus-forsaken mouth shut. And he was getting angrier, though why, he did not know. But it kept building, threatening to break him.

"There's no point in getting all upset—" with whom? "—maybe I'll finally have some peace and quiet around here—"

Ratchet's tirade was cut off by Optimus' hand on his shoulder. He had almost forgotten that Prime was there at all. Fully expecting to be scolded, Ratchet was taken by surprise when Optimus said,

"It's okay, Ratchet. It's all right. Bumblebee likes to laugh. Ironhide mourns in private. You…you just talk."

And with that, Optimus turned to leave.

"And you?" Ratchet could not stop himself from asking. Optimus stopped in the doorway, pausing only to answer him.

"I listen to all of you."

Talking, arguing, snapping at what frightened and hurt him…it was his mask, his shield, just as Optimus' faceplate was for him. Others would not understand it, but Prime did, and that was enough. It was okay. And Jazz would have simply told him to just relax.

III. Important Things.

The most important things were the hardest to say, because words diminished them. Was that not how the saying went? Any way it went, it did little to boost Ratchet's confidence. Having never been good with words to begin with, finding that other people also struggled through certain phrases was demoralizing at best. Most of it lay in courage, though that had its own difficulties. It was easy to have courage when working for someone else's benefit, when someone else's life was on the line. It was easy to devalue one's own life when another was in danger; easy to run out into the middle of a battlefield to retrieve the wounded and provide field medicine. Easy to set aside one's one sense of self so that thoughts of personal cowardice could be silenced, ignored. To have the courage to put one's own self on the line…that was something else entirely, and perhaps required more strength than Ratchet felt he had.

Especially when he had to express what no words seemed to be able to properly convey. He had never, ever been good with words. It was a self-deprecating mantra, repeating itself endlessly in the back of his processors. It worked to dampen the sense of insufficiency, whenever a grieving friend could not find the comfort they needed from him, or when his ideas were looked at with distaste. It was not his fault. It was not that he did not care. He just was not good with words.

And words seemed to dislike him in return, since they seemed to fly from his vocal processor with little provocation and no sense of reprecussions and insinuations.

"I love you."

Coming from him, Ratchet thought, they sounded cheap. They sounded fake, like lightbulbs to full sunshine. 99 cent Hallmark cards to full out, heart-filled sonnets. Those words were nothing more than embarrassing, and did not fit what he truly felt. Why was it not him that had his vocal processor damaged? He would have left it that way, too. Would have saved him a lot of grief, and would have saved him the look he was getting from Ironhide across the table.

To Ironhide, it must have come out of nowhere, no line of conversation leading in to it, no hint of it up until now. How many times have I told you, Ratchet questioned himself, ready to simply disassemble himself and sell the parts to Decepticons. You need to learn to keep your big mouth shut. When will you learn?

"Well," Ironhide said at long last, though he sounded more intrigued than disgusted. "Why don't we talk about this?"