Title: Evening

Rating: PG-13

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

Summary: Even if it's just…Ironhide/Ratchet

Author's Note: A ficlet, using a method on how I think a songfic should be. No block of lyrics inserted to interrupt the flow of a story. If you can guess the song I used, I shall be happy indeed.

8888

The radio was on. It was playing over the PA system, quiet and easy but with a bit of energy—far different than the grating, circuit-rattling noise that Jazz had always seemed to favor. Most likely, Bumblebee had left it on from when he and Sam had been at the base earlier, abandoned in favor of an evening drive. Ironhide debated going to turn it off, but having just arisen from a recharge cycle, he could not muster up the energy enough to care. Instead, he just walked around the base, trying to shake off the vestiges of sluggishness that seemed to plague him after recharging. It should not be like that, he knew. A Cybertronian, be it Autobot or Decepticon, was supposed to be immediately alert and ready for anything upon waking, but Ironhide could never quite clear whatever bug was in his processor that prevented instant awareness. In the past, Ironhide had assumed an implanted virus via Decepticon attack, faulty programming, and even personal shortcoming.

Now, he just suspected he was getting old. Old and nothing but tired.

Which is probably why it felt so good to have the base be quiet for a change. Everyone was either out or sequestered in their quarters, enjoying a rare moment of peace. Ironhide stepped into one of the larger corridors—its walls made of near floor-to-ceiling glass windows rather than the thick cement and steel that made up the rest of the base. Ironhide had argued with Optimus for days on the construction of this particular hallway; glass was thin, breakable, easily breached. He had made his case for safety, but Optimus had made it clear how sick he was of being cooped up in a fortress; he had given vague reasons, something like wanting 'natural lighting' and a chance to enjoy Earth's weather. However, despite the obvious risks, Optimus was incredibly stubborn and used to getting what he wanted. Truth be told, it was one of the more nicely built areas of the base—the rest of it was going through awkward stages of both human and Autobot construction; there had been more than a few cultural misunderstandings when it came to size perception, and most of the base was an eclectic mix of small, large, and strange combinations of the two. It had somehow ended up efficient, but a lot still needed to be done to make the whole place more…aesthetically pleasing. In other words, what a dump.

At least Optimus had compromised, letting them construct the corridor as a wing, well isolated from the main grounds of the base. The glass corridor was well-suited for being alone, but this evening, the solitude settled uneasily. Ironhide supposed he could go find Optimus and ask for something to do, but Optimus had been suspicious of him lately, convinced that he was melancholy. Optimus had been trying to corner him into 'talking' with him, and Ironhide did not feel up to trying to explain that he had nothing to say.

Ironhide stopped, raising a hand to press it against the glass, which was chilled by rain. While still only early evening, the pale gray clouds reflecting the lights off the distant city, casting everything in a purple-green light. The rain was not heavy, but steady, quiet, with no wind to blow it around. Sam had said it was good for the plants—it gave the soil a chance to soak the water up, let things grow rather than be drowned by a downpour or teased by a sprinkle. The rain was quiet against the glass—so much so that Ironhide could not feel the thrum of it through the glass, and the air conditioning in the hall was pleasantly cool, giving his internal cooling system a rest. It felt good to be inside, with everyone else sleeping or recharging the evening rain away.

In the glass, Ironhide could see just the barest outline of his reflection, dark even against the dimming light, distorted and broken by the rain. He could see his own optics, bright blue, and their light was broken too, only instead by scarred optic panels that were drawn heavily across the rims. He had seen his face before, of course, so little of it ever changed, especially with Ratchet around to fix any injuries. But it still felt odd to look at his reflection, like looking at the same picture day after day. Sometimes he almost wished Ratchet would make good on his threats to reformat him into some sort of novelty gadget, even if just so something could be different. His coloration was even always black, for Primus's sake—had been ever since he had been a military commander on Cybertron. He had thought about changing, but had always ended up disregarding the idea. To change his appearance would be all to easy, but he would still be himself, and there was no amount of programming that could change that. Perhaps that was the problem. He was the oldest living Autobot, and the price he paid was having to live with himself for so long. And the truth was, he was getting tired of his companion.

Getting tired and bored with himself.

Ironhide started as the sound of a heavy door opening broke through the drum of rain. His arm dropped back to his side, body tensing in anger that he had been caught by surprise. Must be getting old, Ironhide scolded himself. If you're caught reminiscing. Ironhide relaxed, though, once he saw who had come in. Ratchet must have been surprised, too, since he also jumped, taking a miniscule step backwards.

"Ironhide," Ratchet said, shaking his head. "I didn't know anyone was here."

"Hey there," Ironhide replied, turning back to the window. "It's all right. I was just leaving."

Ironhide turned to leave, to escape Ratchet, but Ratchet was too fast for him.

"Are you all right?"

"Why?"

"You have just been…acting oddly. I was wondering if anything were wrong."

Ratchet had always been observant, keen to pick up on the slightest variation of behavior or function in nearly all the Autobots. Ironhide knew that both he and Optimus were under especially careful watch, but he had long since gotten used to that. It was merely Ratchet's way of helping to keep the team together, of keeping himself sane and focused.

Ironhide had misinterpreted that close attention many years ago, and Ratchet had been quick to correct him, distance him. Ironhide had not made that mistake again. But even while they were good friends, insulted and pushed each other, argued and complained about the other and together, that moment still sat between—under—them, like dust swept under a rug.

"Same as always," Ironhide replied, shifting his weight. He wanted, needed, to leave. This was a bad time. They had received word that the unit Wheeljack had been in had gotten into a confrontation with a group of Decepticons, and had not fared well. Everyone was still waiting on the names of those who survived, which were trickling in slowly as it was, and each passing day saw chances slip even more. Ratchet had taken one day off. One. And then he had back to work, muttering about having something to do rather than sit around in his quarters feeling sorry for himself. Optimus had already spent a few hours with Ratchet; he always knew exactly what to do and how to keep his teammates from falling apart, could offer unparalleled comfort and reassurance.

As for Ironhide, he had two weeks of non-stop practice and inventing lines, and he still did not know what to say. Much less how to say it.

What was worse, though, was that Ironhide could not quite stop the tiny, itching thought that looped in a back corner of his processor. It was the thought that said that Ratchet was potentially free of attachment, that a long-standing obstacle was gone. Ironhide cringed, drawing inwardly to berate himself. It was awful to feel that way. Wheeljack had been a good friend of his, had been a welcome, uplifting spirit when times were rough. Ironhide had even helped him create a little mayhem on occasion, when that mayhem involved large, super-powered weapons. And here he was, sorry for the situation but still unable to help the sense of relief, of being able to take advantage of the situation. It made him feel like a horrible person.

"Will said you haven't been at the target range in a few days," Ratchet said. He took a few steps towards Ironhide, who made sure to turn partly away and keep the broad side of his shoulder between them.

It was suspicious, and he knew it, but he simply had not felt like going to the target range. While guns, and firing them, had in no way lost their appeal, the targets had. Millennia of nonstop war, when the only target practice was the battlefield, and here he was, shooting at pop cans. The Decepticons had not swarmed to Earth as everyone had feared. No, they remained spread throughout the galaxy, causing havoc well away from where the most powerful Autobots were staying and trimming down the rest of the Autobot ranks. It was a surprising tactic, and it had Ironhide nearly vibrating with frustration. Everything was happening somewhere else, and he was stuck on Earth, sitting around getting older. He needed to get rid of this restless energy, the lethargy that prevented him from finding an outlet…he needed some action.

Ironhide glanced back over his shoulder and saw that Ratchet had moved several steps closer, shifting his weight as though trying to decide whether to leave or stay.

There was a joke here somewhere, and Ironhide suspected it was on him.

"Haven't felt like it," Ironhide replied, turning back around to face Ratchet fully. Ratchet cocked his head, disbelieving him and probably even more convinced that something was wrong with him.

"Oh? And why is that?"

"Trying to write a book."

"Is that so," Ratchet said, his disbelief finding its way into his vocal processor, accompanied by a note of amusement. "What is it called?"

"Zen and the Art of Plasma Cannon Maintenance: An Inquiry into Boosting Firepower," Ironhide answered matter-of-factly, leaning back to rest against the glass. "It's a philosophical analysis of creating a crater 200 feet in diameter."

"I am not entirely sure Earth is ready for your brand of philosophy, Ironhide."

"So say all the critics of progressive literature."

"I'm already impressed that you even know the words 'progressive literature.' I'll let you get back to your work, then," Ratchet said, moving to leave. It was horrible—selfish, desperate, and too soon, but Ironhide had not been able to stop himself from reaching out and grabbing Ratchet's wrist to yank him back. Ironhide brought Ratchet's back flat against his chest, quick to wrap an arm around Ratchet's waist.

"I'm sick of trying to write it. I need a little more action."

Ratchet's weight felt good against him, heavy and pressing Ironhide into the glass. But Ratchet was tense, unsure of how to react—had been taken by surprise. Ironhide let go of Ratchet's wrist and trailed his hand up Ratchet's front to come to rest over the Spark chamber. He did not delve inwards, did nothing more than hold his hand there and splay his fingers over the metal plates. Oh, but he was being cruel. But he was struggling to shake the world off his shoulders, to do something other than sit around getting older, and Ratchet was what he needed.

And the message that Ratchet was sending kept getting clearer; Ratchet needed someone to pull him out of his own corner, and Ironhide would be more than happy to oblige. If it was what Ratchet wanted, a gun for hire he could easily be, albeit one who was starving for just one look.

It did not even have to mean anything. It could just be a way for them to relax, to find something they were both missing, and Ironhide would let the laugh be on him.

"Ironhide, I don't—" but Ratchet cut off whatever it was he was going to say—perhaps he even lost it. But he did bring his own hand up to cover Ironhide's, and Ironhide arched forwards, resting his head in the cup of metal in between Ratchet's neck and his siren lights.

There had been a reason why Ratchet had pushed Ironhide away so strongly all those years ago. Ratchet had already been attached, yes, but he could not deny the spark between them, one so strong and resonant that it was enough to frighten him. One step towards it would have thrown him in bodily, to be consumed by a fire. One so encompassing that he had avoided it all costs, and Ironhide had politely kept his distance. It must have been how Optimus and Megatron had felt, so helplessly and hopelessly drawn to each other that they could do nothing but run, pulling away and doing their damndest to resist.

Ironhide would not have attempted it, would not have approached Ratchet at all if he had not felt that hint of what could become so much more—how had the humans put it…one could not start a fire without a spark. So pleasantly fitting. And now Ironhide was free to fan that spark, but he still had work to do. Ratchet would not be able to respond if he were too busy sitting around grieving, watching his world fall apart.

But really, it did not have to mean one damn thing.

It could happen, they could let it flare, even if it was just finding a distraction.

He knew when Ratchet reached the same conclusion, as Ratchet relaxed, leaned back into him. Between Cybertronians, there was no need for physical closeness as there were between humans. There was no warmth to share, no myriad of sensations that accompanied touch. And while there was no 'biological imperative,' as it were, somewhere along the lines they had discovered that it felt good to have another—and no other—be close. Some romantic fool would probably say that it was a testimony to how attraction, love if it came to it, was one of the few true universal constants, developing in even those species who had no use for it. Ironhide knew this, because it was the sort of thing that Optimus was always saying. He would say things comparing it to the birth of stars—enough gravity between bodies to collide with the force to start an inferno. Optimus would say it, understood it, because it was what happened between him and Megatron.

So, perhaps, that universal constant was not necessarily love. That was hard to find. Rather, it was simply finding the right combination to start a reaction. Having a spark. Love had little to do with that. It came later if the individuals were lucky, but simple matching was enough for most.

Enough for them.

Ironhide shifted, pulling Ratchet up straighter as he sought the connection ports. Ratchet was quick to comply, moving plates and opening covers. Humans had sex when they found a compatible person, even if that person was not their match. They were hardly unique, as most organic species participated in procreation for both reproduction and the building of social bonds. As galactic travelers, the Autobots had noted the human's way of sex, and had been unimpressed. It was not a new concept, and the Autobots had seen more creative ways of performing the act on other planets.

Cybertronians, of course, had nothing similar, no activity that could be compared to sex.

They had, however, found something different, and it was so new to them they still had not developed the proper name or description for it. What came as a surprise, was that the humans had. It had been unexpected, to find that humans were far from solely physical beings. They were spiritual, emotional, beings whose Sparks were not focused into a single, pointed structure but rather spread throughout their bodies, dissolved in their cells and blood. Even more significant, they too felt the building the energy, the need to purge it and cleanse themselves, finding a moment of restoration and revitalization.

Catharsis.

An emotional climax that came from a dramatic change in emotional state, or a sense of being completely overwhelmed by one single feeling. It was a release, a relief, a purification that came with the complete dissolution of self into something larger, into someone else.

It was what the Cybertronians had. With no physical needs, catharsis was the ultimate form of liberation. After living for so long, one found it magnificent to be free of oneself, to dissolve and vanish and lose all sense of weight and heaviness.

And Ratchet opened up so beautifully, let him in and was nearly in pain from the sheer freedom of becoming part of something whole, and warm, and imagining that this is what it must feel like to die.

Humans, they called it catharsis.

They called it happiness.

They called it dancing.

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END