Title: Heaven's Shore
Disclaimer: Transformers and all related characters therein do not belong to me. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Ironhide's job was to break down walls. Ratchet's job was to know who was truly the one in trouble. Ironhide x Ratchet.
Author's Note: Written for lyricality, as we decided on a fic trade. Megatron x Optimus for me, and Ironhide x Ratchet for her. I hope you like it, Lyric! If you don't, then I'll be across the border before you read this message.
On the foothills of the eastern Sierra Nevada, south of Mammoth Lakes, California, the land dipped into a valley to cradle lush grassland, bordered by conifer forest. Ironhide had approved of the spot, impressed by the seclusion and defenses offered by the mountains. Upon his recommendation, the United States government had quickly acted, purchasing the outlying lands and closing its associated hills to hikers and campers; the sky above was restricted to military aircraft. Base construction had begun almost immediately, though it was proceeding slowly to avoid attracting attention. Runways and barracks were given priority; the roads were still dirt. But the first stage to be fully completed was that of infirmary, its architecture as much art as it was engineering. Ironhide suspected that this was a result of combining Cybertronian efficiency with the human aesthetic: the building was large, its ceiling arched high enough for even Optimus to stand up comfortably, and the lines of architecture were kept simple, the colors clean and cool. The design was a far cry from the makeshift medbays in which Ratchet had previously been forced to operate, and even farther from field conditions; from the start, the building was designed so that it would be a hospital, belying the base's purpose as foundation for a future city and the hospital's place as that city's cornerstone.
Ironhide stepped up to the infirmary, its stone façade the picture of elegance; the edges were concave out as if in stretching in welcome. Next to the glass entranceway, etched into the stone: May I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help. Below it, a gold inlay of the emblem of the Cybertronian medical guild, paired with the rod of Asclepius. Safety and waste disposal inspections were still being conducted, and human and Autobot workers were still painting and posting signs, but Ironhide stepped around them as he followed the main corridor to general admission. The hospital was, for all intents and purposes, complete, and Ironhide wanted to see Ratchet. For the moment, he was free from worries and obligations. Being appointed with the task of building a new medbay had taken its toll on the medic: confronted with two standards for health, and the need for both mechanical waste disposal and human sterility, Ratchet had spent all hours of the day researching, speaking with consultants, directing construction, and ordering supplies. Whatever spare time was left to him was exhausted in learning human medicine from the military's top physicians.
Ironhide found him in the western wing: an open, undivided room in which to house and treat the less serious cases, be they human or Autobot. Ratchet was resting, stretched out on a berth, his hands folded across his abdomen. Like the lobby, the wing was lightly colored, mostly white but with touches of tasteful green, and open to the outside. Windows almost overwhelmed the room, high and open to encourage in the faint breeze and framing the blue mountains. They made the room light, airy, and even Ironhide with his distaste for medbays found this human touch to be….soothing. Ratchet himself was staring out the windows, and Ironhide was pleased to see that Ratchet had consented to taking a few moments of relaxation.
"I like the windows," Ironhide said as he walked into the room, the doors sliding shut behind him.
"There has been much research done showing that high ceilings and natural ventilation work to reduce the exposure to airborne contagions," Ratchet replied, not turning to look back at Ironhide. "As well as elevating psychological health. A view of nature seems to reduce anxiety, and promote a sense of tranquility."
Ironhide ran a hand along the edge of the berth, fingertips skimming the padding.
"Getting a sense of how it feels for us?"
"I need to make sure they're comfortable," Ratchet said, finally turning his head to look up at Ironhide. "I borrowed a few ideas from human beds, and I wanted to test their efficiency. The only way for me to know how the patient is experiencing comfort is for me to test it myself."
"Can I try?"
Ratchet's glance was fleeting, barely enough for Ironhide to feel the pointed weight of it before Ratchet shifted, moving to the side to make room. Ironhide let himself sink into the padding, the cables and gears in his joints loosening atop the softest support he had ever felt, and he could not stop himself from making a grunting sound of approval.
"Modified memory foam technology," Ratchet said. "Durable and firm enough to withstand tearing, but with enough give so as to relieve pressure points and support sensitive or injured joints. It even adjusts its shape to conform to different Autobots and their needs. The human beds are equipped with similar mattresses."
"You did good, Ratchet. I'm impressed."
"There's still work to be done, but it's adequate."
Ironhide scoffed. As though Ratchet would settle for 'adequate' when it came to his patients' welfare. While Ratchet would more often curse at his patients than not, any time the quality of his medbay fell below standard, every officer within the Autobot ranks would soon hear about it. On more than a few occasions had Ratchet even impeded on Ironhide's weaponry budget and raw materials, taking them for his own. His tenacity had paid off, however. While the Decepticons had the better artillery, the Autobots, thanks to Ratchet, had the greater numbers. And there was no doubt in Ironhide's mind that Ratchet's hospital would be on par with the Cybertronian Medical Guild's college when it had been at its peak.
"What?" Ratchet asked, pulling back slightly at Ironhide's stare.
"Just thinking that it's been a while since I've seen you this friendly," Ironhide responded, letting a tint of tease into his voice.
"And why not? I'm friendly, I'm nice," Ratchet said with a frown, though Ironhide could think of a few individuals who would be willing to argue those particular statements. "Besides, I have exactly what I always want: an empty medbay."
Ratchet sounded content enough as he said it, but, truth told, Ironhide had always felt sorry for medic 'bots, and Ratchet was no exception. A Ratchet who was not working on repairing injuries, or worrying over a patient's status was a disquieting sight—and no one could miss the relief and pride that Ratchet felt at a patient's recovery, but at the same time, Ratchet never wanted to see anyone have to need him.
This was the reason, among others, why Ironhide knew that he himself could never be a medic. In fact, to say that Ratchet, of all Autobots, was the strongest could easily be a well-supported argument. He was efficient, yet considerate; deliberate and clear-headed; quick-thinking and brilliant. Most important, though, was his ability to take losses hard, but not personally. He could be sorrowful, remorseful, but despite Prime's concerns, Ratchet had long since learned how to absolve himself of guilt and accept his own limitations against those circumstances beyond his control. No, Ratchet was a better medic than that. He would have destroyed himself long ago if he weren't. Ironhide had found himself wishing many times that his soldiers could possess the same mind-set.
All of it was very compelling, and Ironhide was moving before he realized what he was doing. He shifted on to his side, reaching out to capture one of Ratchet's hands in his own. Ratchet flinched in surprise, but Ironhide had found his grip. As Ratchet relaxed, Ironhide shifted his hand from Ratchet's wrist, running fingertips along the support bars and radial joint before stretching out to rest his palm against Ratchet's in a Cybertronian kiss. The armor between them made attempting a human-style kiss near impossible, but Ironhide did not particularly mind. He was less interested in mimicking human methods than engaging in the old, far more elegant style of Cybertronian intimacy. Ratchet was old enough to share in Ironhide's classical taste, and pressed back. Intimate, indeed.
A mech's hands contained the most sensitive of all the tactile cells, and to touch hands was considered deeply personal. Many of the younger mechs, Prime included, considered the idea old-fashioned. But those younger bots were built differently; their outer plates had more sensory cells, were more receptive to touch. Ratchet, like Ironhide, was of an older construction, and most of their bodies consisted of dermal dead zones. It was what had given Ironhide the mythos of being impervious to pain, and had made him the perfect warrior; Ratchet could tear spare parts from himself in the field with no consideration, the only sign of anything awry being the warnings that would flash through his central processor. They just did not build mechs like that anymore.
But the hands…Ironhide knew that a mech's hands, be they small or large, dented or smooth, jointed or inflexible, intact or missing parts, defined who that mech was as an individual. A mech's life was etched into their hands: their caste, their past, their injuries and repairs. Hands were how mechs felt the world around them. How they felt others. To touch that, to know that his own life and personality were being explored in return…'intimate' all at once became too weak a word.
Ratchet too rolled on to his side, facing Ironhide as he reached for Ironhide's other hand. His optics were dim, almost dark against the bright light streaming in from outside, and Ironhide let their fingers lightly—ever so slightly—intertwine. There was hesitation, for the both of them. There always was, but to let their fingers fall in together, to let them slide between and settle in those tiny seams where cabling and gears came near the surface, was all too easy. A long time had passed since they both had had a spare moment—even longer since there was peace enough to enjoy it.
Oh, but Ratchet was tired. Ironhide could feel it in his medic's hands: the wires were kinked and uncomfortably taut, the gears grinding together more harshly than they should. Ironhide worked his fingers along Ratchet's palms, massaging the plates to encourage lubrication valves to open and ease the stiffness, to let coolant lines activate and let them carry away the heat wreaking havoc on the intricate machinery in the carpal and phalangeal joints. These were problems that had plagued Ratchet before, their frequency increasing with the building years. Ratchet was hard on his hands, forcing upon them delicate, precise, repetitious work, and they were wearing down accordingly.
Ironhide let a small part of himself relish the small moan of relief from Ratchet, at the same time cautious of becoming too involved too quickly. More often than not, Ratchet had to be coaxed, as he detested being dragged into a situation that had not been his idea in the first place.
"Do you think this is it? The end of the war?" Ratchet asked, reading Ironhide's own aches and uncertainties in the crumpled black plating. "Now that Megatron is dead."
"Perhaps. As long as those reports of Soundwave's and Shockwave's deaths are true. Starscream certainly will not be able to hold the Decepticons together. At any rate, I admire you for building this hospital like the war is over," Ironhide answered.
"And what will you do?"
"Don't know. Never thought I'd get this far."
The look that Ratchet gave him was searching, and a little uncomprehending.
"I can't imagine what it must be like," Ratchet said. "To be so involved with war. I could never do what you do."
I could never devote my life to finding new ways to kill people. A little condescending perhaps, but Ironhide suspected that Ratchet did not intentionally try to sound as such. Besides, he simply would not be a medic without that touch of arrogance.
"Trying to heal me, Ratchet?" Ironhide questioned. Ratchet shook his head.
"Not at all. You seem to have your own way of working things out."
The exasperation in Ratchet's voice was amusing, and Ironhide gave Ratchet's hands a gentle squeeze before letting his fingers slide down and towards the seams of Ratchet's forearms. Ratchet stilled, tensing as Ironhide found the latches to the casing that protected the wires and cabling.
"I don't want to do this," Ratchet murmured, but Ironhide would have found the complaint more believable if his voice had not wavered when he said it.
"Why not? We've been together before," Ironhide countered, keeping his touches deliberately light and soothing.
"Yes, when we thought we wouldn't be coming back."
That did cause Ironhide to pause, and there was a flicker of irritation in his Spark before he reined it in, keeping it from flaring into anger.
"I see. So now, you have no excuse. I had hoped it wasn't just desperation."
It hurt more than Ironhide would have expected. While romance had not been a factor for either of them, Ironhide had at least thought that there had been some measure of respect between them. The implication that Ratchet had been with him only when he believed that he would not return, when he did not have to face the consequences and his own conscience, prickled at Ironhide's pride, fatiguing him.
"I don't appreciate being used."
Ratchet flinched, and the flare of insult that flashed in those oh-so-blue optics let Ironhide believe him when he said,
"It's not like that."
"Then let me just—"
"Damn it, Ironhide! I said no!" Ratchet exclaimed, pushing Ironhide back as he swung himself off of the berth, taking several steps back. Ironhide let him go, taking note of Ratchet's defensive stance and the sounds of saws scraping together. While Ratchet ever actually attacking him was unlikely, the warning was clear enough. But there was something off about him, too: a tremor in each step he took backwards, the way his head was slightly dipped instead of held high. And whether Ratchet liked it or not, Ironhide knew him well.
"What?" Ratchet snapped, and the unnecessary force—Ratchet's tell—further increased Ironhide's uncertainty.
"I can't tell if you mean it or not."
Ratchet was all too happy to have a reason to get angry.
"For the love of—do I have to spell it out for you? I do not want this, and I do not want to be with you anymore."
Before he thought to argue, before his reply formed in his vocal processor, Ironhide heard the catch.
The plates around Ratchet's optics narrowed, the light in them darkening. For a moment, the room was quiet, complete silence broken only by the muted sounds of the birds just outside the windows, the high and uneven crescendos of the cicadas and crickets, the wind coming down from the mountains. Human voices, mixed with Autobot, were even more distant, their laughter carried on the breeze. Ironhide could only wonder on how brave Ratchet was going to be, but his expectations were low. As devoted as he was to saving the injured, healing the sick, and how demanding he was of their own self-fortitude, Ratchet himself was rather helpless in the face of uncertainty, pulled about by its tethers. While Ratchet could regularly be seen using unorthodox methods, he despised recklessness. It lost him patients. It lost him control of the situation.
"I enjoy our friendship," Ratchet answered, and Ironhide found his expectations proved right. The honesty was there, but Ratchet had used it with a sort of…mal-purpose, as it was his anchor for keeping him from taking a risk. Always better to 'play it safe.' "As frustrating and time-consuming as your disregard for your well-being can be, you do seem to have a modicum of sense in your processor. I will admit to our compatibility, but that does not mean that we have to do anything with it. I would think us both capable of imposing at least a little self-restraint."
Ironhide chuckled as he shifted on the berth, reaching for the frame to support himself as he moved to roll off. Ratchet was the most ornery, contradictory, prickly person that Ironhide had ever met.
Never in his life had Ironhide wanted anyone as badly.
Old he might be, but Ironhide's Spark was made for fighting; he felt it as keenly as Prime yearned for peace, and Ratchet was doing little more than proving to be Ironhide's hardest fight yet. A lot more than that pitiful argument was needed before he was discouraged enough to—
"I asked Prime about her," Ratchet said, sounding just a little panicked. Ironhide froze mid-motion, one foot resting on the floor while his other leg was folded awkwardly underneath him on the berth. Her. There was no need for Ratchet to clarify who 'her' was, for Ironhide knew, her name ringing like a struck bell in the back of his processor. Chromia.
Ironhide winced as the old injury in his hip complained at the strain of supporting his weight, and he brought his other leg down, immediately shifting his weight off the bad joint.
"Your hip bothering you again?" Ratchet questioned, but Ironhide waved it away.
"It's fine," he replied, and let his weight shift back. It wasn't fine; the cogs in his hip twinged in pain, but there was no way that he was going to let Ratchet side-step his way out of this one. Ratchet seemed to sense this as well: his shoulders slumped slightly in resignation.
"He said that he met her a few times, back on Cybertron. He said that you loved her."
"I did," Ironhide replied, seeing no reason to be anything but honest. He had loved her; there was no reason to hide it. He never had wanted to hide it, though he had finally reached a point where he could talk about her without aching, without falling into the hole her death had left in him. But Ratchet would not have known that, would he? Ironhide knew this was partly his fault. He had never really spoken to Ratchet about Chromia's death, and Ratchet still saw him as attached. Ironhide stepped forwards, and though Ratchet took a step back, he had been near the wall, and Ironhide was able to corner him all too easily.
"I will not compete with her," Ratchet interrupted. "I will not be a replacement."
Ironhide moved even before he himself realized it, one arm coming up to throw Ratchet up against the wall and hold him there while the cannon in his other arm snapped into place, heating with a building charge. Ratchet froze, absolutely still as the cannon hovered dangerously close to his head. Judging by the look in Ratchet's optics, Ironhide could only imagine the expression on his own face.
"I care about you, Ratchet," Ironhide began, voice rough and graveled as he fought to keep a level temper. "I may even love you—"
Ratchet started violently, but Ironhide held him firm.
"—and because of that I will take a hell of a lot of your abuse. But I'll be damned if I ever let you insult her, or me, like that again."
Replacement. The word burned its way through Ironhide's processor. It twisted painfully in his Spark, and, just like that, Ironhide could nearly feel her loss again, making him sick. No one would ever be able to replace Chromia.
Just as no one would ever be able to replace Ratchet.
"No one can replace Chromia," Ironhide murmured, cannon powering down as it folded back into place. Ratchet did not relax. "But the fact is is that she's dead, and I am not."
"That easy for you to give up a lover, is it?" Ratchet countered viciously, but Ironhide refused to rise to the baiting. Rather, he felt that he should have seen this coming long ago.
"I lived a hell of a long time with only her memory for company. It's time that I moved on with my life."
Ironhide waited for a response, but Ratchet stayed quiet, and Ironhide finally released his grip on the medic. Ratchet did drop his gaze, though, looking off to the side and studying the far corner. He was almost shaking—a slight trembling that crawled across the line of his shoulders—and Ironhide did not think anyone could blame him when he reached for Ratchet, reached out to once more bring those rough, chipped, worn-out hands into his own.
"Ratchet," Ironhide murmured as he stepped in closer, only the width of a breath between their chests. "I want you."
Ratchet's gaze flickered to Ironhide's, but the expression in his optics was unreadable. Ironhide was less concerned with that, however, than with the way that Ratchet shuddered as Ironhide's fingers slid across the seams of his armor, and the way that Ratchet's resistance was steadily crumbling. Ironhide was pleased, and not a little self-satisfied. His job was to break down walls, and he was good at it. He followed as Ratchet leaned back, resting against the wall for support, and he carefully dipped beneath the deltoid plate to find the central brachial cable—the primary energon circulation line for the arms. The younger bots had their cables protected by heavily reinforced, flexible polymer sheaths; mechs like Ratchet and himself had theirs armored by thin, metallic casings. It left them stiffer, their range of movements smaller, and once the casings were opened, the cables were vulnerable. And sensitive.
Ironhide freed the brachial cable and pressed it between thumb and forefinger, releasing it seconds later. The effect was immediate, if as of yet unimpressive: Ratchet tensed and relaxed, leaning his head backwards against the wall. Ironhide could feel his own internal mechanisms begin to hum and churn in anticipation, relishing Ratchet's strengthening reactions with each repeated squeeze-and-release. The technique was originally medical in nature: momentarily cutting off energon circulation before restoring it created a state of energon-saturation, a condition that deadened internal nerves to pain and made them tingle delightfully. The sensation was dizzying, euphoric, creating a sense of light-headedness and overall bliss. Medic 'bots used energon-saturation as anesthesia. Others used it as a method of lowering inhibitions, of re-creating the sensation of Spark-to-Spark contact without the risk inherent in such raw intimacy.
It worked beautifully; Ratchet's hold was awkward on Ironhide's elbow joints, alternating between nearly crushing and non-existent as Ironhide worked the energon circulation in Ratchet's arms, enticing out those stuttering rumbles from deep within. There was something heady, almost empowering, in making Ratchet lose his composure. That Ratchet was letting him was even more exhilarating; Ratchet trusted well, but not easily, and Ironhide felt his own Spark thrum in response to that trust. Desire stretched, uncoiling as Ironhide ran his hands out and across Ratchet's broad shoulder armor. He could feel the strength there, even as the machinery trembled and stalled; Ratchet could carry wounded mechs nearly twice his weight and size off the battlefield. So much power, and to keep it so tightly reined was a shame, almost a waste. To see it unleashed…Ironhide himself shivered at the thought before drifting onwards, his fingers catching lightly on the grill guard across Ratchet's chest.
He was aiming lower, for the tires at Ratchet's hips and upper thighs, but was stopped as Ratchet grabbed at his wrist and held it, letting Ironhide's hand come close enough to the chest plates that Ironhide could just feel the stirring energy from Ratchet's Spark. Ironhide stilled. He and Ratchet had never gone Spark-to-Spark before, mostly due to Ratchet's introversion and Ironhide's unwillingness to push him. They had been perfectly happy without it, their assignations satisfying, but standing here with Ratchet pressing up into his hand, Ironhide realized how much he wanted it.
Ironhide was almost surprised by how deep that want went, too. And it was strange—something almost forgotten—to have the familiar pangs of lust be absent and instead have desire curling like deep ocean currents. It carried in its wake the soft waves of memory, sad and refreshing and dangerously close to nostalgia. The desire threatened to rip him apart, slowly, stretching the wires and gears so taut that they would eventually snap.
In short, he was dying.
Ratchet was the one to pull him closer, the grill across Ratchet's chest splitting as the plates retracted into the broad stretch of his shoulders. Exposed was the thin layer of cables and soft metal that covered Ratchet's Spark. Ironhide could feel it through the casing, warm and pulsing, with such sharpness and control that lightning had only in weak imitation. Ironhide let himself indulge, stroking his fingertips along the Spark covering, and Ratchet's grip dug almost too tightly into the back of his head. The casing's seams parted behind his caresses, silently but brightly, flooding the small spaces between them with pale blue light, like sunlight through sea ice. Not until that light darkened did Ironhide catch up with himself, and see that his own chest plates had separated in response. His Spark was darker than Ratchet's, deeper and maybe dimmer, a polished slate that over the years had begun to lose its luster.
Their fit was awkward, but Ironhide could not bring himself to care. Not when Ratchet was clinging so desperately to him as the first tendrils of their Spark energies touched. And he would be damned if that first touch did not throw him in bodily, Ratchet crying out incoherently as Ironhide pushed forwards, trying to get the cores of their Sparks as close as possible.
The breach was painful, the surge of energy almost too much for circuits unused to the flow and unfamiliar Other. It was painful. And electrifying. And overwhelming. And—
"Ironhide," murmured Ratchet. "Why are you hurting so badly?"
--and the most overpowering sense of relief that Ironhide had ever felt. Sudden warmth, where he had not known that he had been cold. Peace, when all his life he had been at war. Land, where he had been drowning.
He had fallen in.
Ratchet hissed as Ironhide rushed inwards, curling into Ratchet, digging in even as Ratchet winced around him. This was Ratchet, all of him: bad-tempered and uncooperative, stubborn and methodical, conservative and prone to anger. He was everything Ironhide wanted. And absolutely nothing like—
Ironhide pulled away, violently enough that he staggered as the entwined tendrils of their Spark energies tore and the connection severed. He stumbled, not bothering to catch himself as he fell to the floor and relishing the sharp, stabbing pain of his jarred hip joint. He curled in on himself, covering his optics with his hand to avoid seeing the white walls of the medbay around him. To avoid seeing Ratchet move to kneel next to him.
"It's okay, Ironhide," Ratchet whispered as he ran a hand along the side of Ironhide's face. "It's okay. I forgive you."
"Make her go away," Ironhide said, unable to care how badly his voice modulator cracked under the strain, making the words choke. "Make her leave me alone. I love you, Ratchet."
There was a moment of silence—of breeze through the curtains—before he heard Ratchet slump in resignation, his weight settling heavily on the floor.
"No," said Ratchet. "You don't. But you want to, and you're making yourself believe that. 'Replacement' was a wrong choice of word and I regret that, but you are trying to run away, and I can't help you with that."
Ironhide could feel the bite of his own grip as he dug his fingers into his palm, unable to escape the white hot lance of Ratchet's voice, of his words. Damn it to the Pit that she was still here, following him, sitting in the corner, hovering at his shoulder. He had loved her with all that he had, he missed her, but why that was not enough for her to just let him be…and she had shown herself to Ratchet, the one person who would never be able to ignore her.
"I wanted to believe you," Ratchet continued. Ironhide found little comfort in the way that Ratchet's voice was wavering, too. "I wanted it so badly. But this is something you have to do on your own."
"I thought you were supposed to heal people."
"I can only give the medicine. You're the one who has to take it. And now," Ratchet said, though it was more to himself than anyone. "I have to walk away."
Ironhide felt Ratchet almost pause, almost hesitate before getting up and leaving, but no. Ratchet was a better medic than that. He was the best, to leave Ironhide on the floor of the medbay, to let the weapon's specialist to eventually gather up his own strength to stand up. Ratchet left. And Ironhide could not even fault him for it, not even when Chromia settled down beside him, waiting.
Ironhide's job was to break down walls.
Ratchet's job was to know who was truly the one in trouble.