Disclaimer: I don't own them.
That feeling was called panic, though Hot Spot had never experienced it before in his short life thus far. He didn't even have a name for it at the time, the awful, unthinking, spark-pounding horror that gripped him as he crawled over the broken ground to his brother. No. No. Oh no, please no. First Aid did not move, crumpled in a smoking red-and-white heap after the blast that jolted Defensor into five separate entities again. It had been First Aid's doing to take the brunt of it, a point blank disrupter cannon blast that would have otherwise blown the main base reactors. They had only been Defensor a few times, and Hot Spot was still learning to steer, so to speak, but he was fairly certain that had been First Aid's assessment of blast power and survival probabilities that had flashed through their collective mind. Hot Spot hadn't been at all prepared for his brother's sudden, stubborn determination that had swung Defensor's left arm directly into the line of fire.
Somehow, in all of his planning for his team, for every scenario of battle and rescue he could run through his processor, he had never, not even once, considered that First Aid might get hurt. He knew injuries to his team were not going to be completely avoidable, but in all of his hypothetical situations First Aid was there, still medically untrained, but nevertheless a well of instinctive knowledge and calm that they could all draw on, were any of them to be damaged. First Aid getting damaged was never part of the equation. They wouldn't let that happen. His processor hadn't even let him consider it. Hot Spot hadn't counted on First Aid taking matters into his own hands.
He was certain First Aid was dead, deactivated, in those first few terrible moments. Optics offline, limp, paint scorched and beginning to blister along his back and side from the blast. The gestalt bond was a buzz of white noise. He couldn't feel First Aid, he couldn't feel any of them, although he could see the other three were alive at least, stunned but beginning to stir.
The others joined him, Blades and Groove staggering, supporting Streetwise who couldn't seem to stand. The conflict roared around them, the cannon might even be aiming straight at them now, but they were beyond noticing such things. Hot Spot looked up at them, staring blankly, cradling First Aid as best he could with arms that didn't want to function. First Aid's optics flickered faintly, and they watched him, afraid to touch, frozen with hope and fear and numb shock, and the burning buzzing pain of the disrupter blast started to work its way through all of their joints and circuits.
Groove reached over, fumbling and awkward in a way Groove never was, and placed his hand over First Aid's chestplates to feel for his spark pulse. He shook his head after a moment and leaned over further to rest the whole side of his face against Aid's chest, pressing his auditory sensors close. He said something, but none of them could hear, and only then Hot Spot realized the battle was still full force around them. Jets screamed by close overhead, friend or foe, deafening. Hot Spot could feel Groove, distantly, trying to tell him something through their bond, but the constant buzz drowned it out. He tried regular comms and that worked better, although still wracked by bursts of static.
… spark pulse…really weak, Hot Spot…not good…but it's there.
Hot Spot nodded to let Groove know he got the signal, but he still couldn't organize his thoughts to do anything more. After awhile First Aid blinked and stirred a little, and Groove and Blades talked to him, held his hands, tried to get him to respond, but he did not seem to see or feel or hear them. His optics were unfocused but aware, his hands moved in theirs feebly, as if trying to feel out his surroundings, but he did not respond to their gentle squeezes.
I think his entire sensory network is offline. He can't feel us, Groove commed, and Hot Spot felt a spear of grief and frustration pierce through the numb haze, that First Aid should be hurt and maybe dying and not know they were there.
Then First Aid twitched and arched like a bow, too agonized to even scream as all of his tactile sensors came abruptly online and his hands clutched at Hot Spot's armor and First Aid was clinging and making soft broken noises of pain and Hot Spot could only try to hold him in places that weren't hurt and sob himself in panic and helplessness. It seemed an eternity until he realized Groove was shouting at him, he could hear him now, and Blades was pulling at his fire coolant nozzle and he shakily set it to its lowest setting and Blades sprayed First Aid's back and side with the soothing, numbing spray. First Aid still clung tightly, hands gripping and relaxing and gripping again as the pain eased, air cycling harshly through his vents with a damaged, rasping sound.
"We need help," Streetwise coughed the words out painfully, from where he leaned heavily against Hot Spot's back. Something was not right with him too, and Hot Spot wished he could turn to see him better, but he couldn't let go of First Aid.
"Ok. Ok," Hot Spot said, finally starting to think again. Things were quieting down, the main battle had moved elsewhere, the huge cannon-bearing tank was gone. A few 'bots ran by in the distance. He didn't recognize them, but that was hardly surprising; they'd only been at the base for a quarter orn and their very existence was supposed to be under wraps. They'd really blown that one, he thought with a brief inner wince, but he'd worry about that later, if there was a later.
"Comms. Can anyone comm. Wheeljack?" If Wheeljack was still alive. He did not say that part. And Ratchet. Ratchet had been caught in the first explosion. First Aid had done his best to stabilize him before Wheeljack had arrived.
Groove and Blades shook their heads. "Just getting static."
"Blades, can you get airborne?"
Blades shook his head. "I can walk. I'll find help, just hang in there. I'll be back soon."
Groove nodded. "I'll keep an eye on them," he promised, and Blades staggered away at a limping half run, while Groove suddenly had his hands full stopping Streetwise from getting up. He seemed to have the sudden notion that he was going for help too. Groove made him lie down next to Hot Spot, and Streetwise stretched an arm over with a faint groan of pain to touch First Aid's face. First Aid sighed softly and seemed to relax a little more.
"How are you doin' Street," Hot Spot asked him in concern, and his spark eased a little as Streetwise managed to give him a faint semblance of his usual crooked half grin.
"Don't worry, I'm still in here…somewhere. How 'bout you?" Streetwise asked, his normally smooth voice rasping and hoarse.
"I'm ok," Hot Spot answered, although his body was starting to tell him, insistently now that he had a klik to spare for it, that every circuit and strut was fried, and every tiny movement shot jolts of pain directly to his processor.
Groove touched one of the panels on First Aid's arm uncertainly, with a hand that shook slightly. Hot Spot was humbly grateful that Groove and Blades had kept their heads, even when he had lost his, but he could also tell Groove was rattled to the core. They all were. "I know Ratchet stocked him up with basic supplies. I could try to find some painkillers, something for the shock, but I don't know the right dose. I'm afraid I'll do more harm than good."
"This seems to be helping," Hot Spot murmured, giving First Aid another light spray of coolant and hoping it wasn't doing more damage, but what else could they do?
Groove nodded. "First aid training. When this is over."
It took Hot Spot a moment to figure out what Groove meant, but then he nodded as well. "Definitely."
First Aid tensed and arched weakly for a moment, with a short cry of pain as some internal spasm wracked him, and then subsided against Hot Spot again, panting short and rapid. Groove rested one hand on First Aid's helm, stroking gently, although his expression was as fierce as Hot Spot had ever seen on Groove's quiet face.
Blades returned with remarkable speed, with a large all-terrain transport he had commandeered out of Primus only knew where. First Aid was still online, resting against Hot Spot quietly now. Maybe it was only wishful thinking, but his vents seemed to be working more easily. His optics were dazed and unseeing, but he responded weakly when Streetwise squeezed his hand. Hot Spot could sense him again, just faintly, although he was not exactly comforted by the way his sense of him seemed to flicker, skittering unevenly through the white noise of their gestalt bond.
"The Decepticons are gone; they're saying it was a diversion to get the Allspark," Blades reported breathlessly, as he and Groove helped Streetwise onto the transport. "One of the security mechs told me they're triaging the wounded over at the secondary shuttle bay."
"The Allspark," Hot Spot murmured as they carefully lifted First Aid. He wasn't sure if he could stand himself, so he settled for rolling up to rest on his hands and knees for now. They were still learning all the permutations of the war they were now a part of, but he knew if the Allspark was taken…well, they wouldn't give up, but still...."Do you know if they succeeded?"
Blades didn't answer right away, occupied with gently maneuvering First Aid to rest next to Streetwise.
"There were a lot of conflicting reports," Blades said as he returned to brace Hot Spot as he staggered to his feet. "I didn't stay long enough to get the whole story, but from what I could gather Prowl is leading a rescue mission to get it back…so…"
Not good then. Hot Spot felt helplessness tug at him. They should be doing something, but he couldn't think about it too much, trying not to pass out as he struggled onto the transport.
"Hot Spot?" He heard Groove's worried voice, felt him touching his face, but all he could do was nod faintly to reassure him as darkness whirled and his head pounded relentlessly. He tried to concentrate on his sense of First Aid, dim fluttering presence, pressed up against him again, trying to surround it both to steady and be steadied. Sound faded in and out, rumble of machinery, voices, cries of pain and fear, Blades and Groove, someone deeper he didn't recognize. He didn't hear Streetwise, and that worried him, but he could feel his presence close, dimmed but steady in the gestalt bond. They took First Aid from him, at some point, and he moaned in protest.
"It's ok, Hot Spot." That was Wheeljack, and Hot Spot eased a little, despite the strained undertone in Wheeljack's voice. Wheeljack had been with them from the beginning. He would know what to do. Hot Spot tried to online his optics but couldn't make them focus. He was lifted, and for awhile he lost touch with time. When he came to himself again, he was propped in a corner of a large shuttle bay, his frame humming slightly with a strangely pleasant numbness and an energon transfusion line attached to one arm. His head still pounded, but it was distant, as if his processor belonged to someone else. First Aid was to his right, nestled close against him with his arm and injured side draped across Hot Spot's chest, connected to his own collection of tubes and monitors. First Aid's optic shutters blinked once, slowly, as Hot Spot looked at him, but Hot Spot could tell he wasn't really seeing anything, his gaze still unfocused and blurred. Hot Spot felt his spark twist painfully with worry. Streetwise was on his left, head tucked into his side. He seemed to be recharging, and Hot Spot was somewhat comforted by the quiet hum of his systems and lack of monitoring equipment or tubes. If Streetwise didn't need them then he must be doing alright.
There were mechs everywhere, some moaning on berths against the wall, others lining the floor, some sitting, looking about with dazed expressions, a few medics along with anyone uninjured enough to help moving among them with swift purpose. It made him dizzy to watch. He spotted Blades and Groove helping more walking wounded inside, but from the stiff and weary way they were both moving it was hard to tell who actually needed the assistance more.
Wheeljack appeared then and waved some other mechs over to assist, taking Groove and Blades by the arms and escorting them over to where the rest of their teammates were laid out. Wheeljack looked harried and much the worse for wear, the white parts of his armor gray with dust and smeared with streaks of energon.
"Spot…" Blades murmured, kneeling next to them with a pained groan to touch his shoulder. Groove seemed too tired to say anything; he just huddled up against Streetwise and rested his head against Hot Spot's other shoulder.
"You two, stay here and rest." Wheeljack ordered, his voice hoarse. "You shouldn't have been up in the first place." He turned to Hot Spot next and scanned his vitals. "How are you doing now Hot Spot? Feeling better?" Hot Spot nodded.
"First Aid and Street?" Hot Spot asked. His vocalizer was raspy from grit and smoke.
"Streetwise is stable. He has a broken leg strut and a badly bruised fuel pump, but it's nothing that puts him in immediate danger. His self-repair should be able to handle it, but if it gets worse over the next few cycles we might have to replace the pump. We'll keep an eye on it. I've braced the leg for now but we'll need to do surgery on it later to set it correctly. First Aid…" Wheeljack's voice trailed off and Hot Spot clenched his hands tightly in trepidation. Wheeljack didn't want to tell him.
"Wheeljack, just tell me."
Wheeljack checked the tubes and monitors attached to First Aid, trying to buy a little time while he figured out the best way to say what he had to say. "Hot Spot…the damage is…pretty bad. That was a point blank blast he took. He really…he really shouldn't even be alive. The redundant electrical systems and buffering from his secondary energon network helped disperse the blast energy, and thank Primus Ratchet insisted on iridium-reinforced armor. Without it he would be missing most of his back right now, but even so…" Wheeljack sighed and delicately smoothed part of the damaged area on First Aid's back. It was shiny with some sort of oil, and Hot Spot could see bare armor where the paint had sloughed off.
Wheeljack took a deep intake, and gave them the worst of it. "He's leaking internally from just about every capillary energon line, but the damage is too small and too widespread to go in and fix surgically, and even if we could, his spark is so weak and unstable right now he wouldn't survive it. The blast burnt out pretty much his entire sensory network, no optics, no chemo or audios, all he's got right now is tactile. I can't get good CPU readings – there's too much residual energy, but there's a good chance he's suffered some…some major damage there as well. Even if he survives, the effects could be permanent."
Hot Spot bowed his head for a moment, unable to speak, while Groove let out a muffled sob against his shoulder and Blades stood up to stare grimly at the wall. He moved his hand to take First Aid's hand where it rested on his chest, and ran his thumb gently up and down the palm.
"Ratchet will be back online in another joor or so, and we'll have him take a look at Aid as soon as he's able." Wheeljack said softly. "I don't know if he can tell you anything different, but…"
Ratchet. Hot Spot had almost forgotten. Ratchet had been hurt too. First Aid's first patient. Maybe his only one. As if sensing his thoughts, Wheeljack said, "First Aid probably saved his life. He did everything right." Hot Spot nodded, unable to meet Wheeljack's gaze, and concentrated very hard on First Aid's hand. It stirred a little under his touch, and Hot Spot looked over to find First Aid had lifted his head and was looking blindly towards him, faceplates crinkled slightly in a concerned frown. His hand gripped Hot Spot's weakly for a moment, and then he let go and felt around, searching for something.
"What does he want?" Groove asked, and Blades turned away from his fierce contemplation of the wall to join them again. Groove reached his own hand out to touch First Aid's, and Aid felt it carefully with his own, systems creaking and whirring a little with strain.
"He wants to know if we're ok," Hot Spot realized. Of course.
Groove blinked and then lowered his head so First Aid could feel his face. "I'm ok, Aid, it's all right," he murmured to the searching fingers. First Aid smiled a little and then reached his hand into empty air again.
"Your turn Blades," Hot Spot said, and Blades came around to let First Aid touch him gently. They guided his hand to Streetwise, still deep in recharge, and First Aid seemed to sense all was not completely well, as the worried frown creased his face again. Wheeljack took his hand then and bent so First Aid could feel his vocal indicators. First Aid let out a faint, happy hum and Wheeljack smiled.
"Well, this is a good sign at least," Wheeljack said. "He can recognize us, which means his CPU may actually be fairly intact."
First Aid felt around some more, still not satisfied, and they looked at each other, puzzled. "Ratchet," Groove said softly, and Wheeljack pressed Aid's hand back down to Hot Spot's chestplates and patted it reassuringly. First Aid made an unhappy noise that caught in a cough. The monitors beeped a few times and they all tensed in apprehension, as the line showing his spark pulse wavered erratically.
Blades made his way back around to sit next to First Aid, and began running a soothing hand over his helm. "Shh, Aid, just rest, we're all ok, you can rest," he murmured, even though First Aid couldn't hear him, and gradually his intake cycles evened out and the spark pulse line…still wasn't steady, not by a long shot, but the big peaks and dips grew less and less. Hot Spot started to relax, but First Aid's optics had that dazed, unfocused look again, and he felt another wave of worry wash through his circuits. Permanent damage. Well, they would find a way to cope with that. As long as he survived, please, Primus, just let him live. As long as First Aid was alive and recognized them, they could figure the rest out as it came.
"Wheeljack, is there anything else we can do for him?" Hot Spot asked.
"Keep doing what you're doing – stay close and keep him calm. The main thing right now is supportive care, and I've got him on anti-convulsants since he's been experiencing some pretty intense power surges from the excess energy in his systems. He's on some hefty painkillers as well, so if he seems out of it, that's part of the reason. I'm frankly amazed he's still awake. If you can get him to recharge, that would be good. I don't want to give him a sedative; I'm afraid it might depress his spark rate too much." Wheeljack scrubbed at his face wearily, smearing the gray dust across his face mask, and Hot Spot wished they weren't hurt so they could help him. He could see more injured mechs being brought in.
"We'll be fine, Wheeljack," Hot Spot told him. "I know you need to get to everyone else. Don't worry about us."
Wheeljack gave him a weary smile. "I know. I've got alerts set up on Aid and Streetwise, so I'll know if anything changes. You all stay put," he added more sternly. "You took a massive energy surge and you're going to need several orns of rest to completely recover. Don't push it or you'll risk permanent circuit damage and the wrath of Ratchet."
Despite his exhaustion and worry, Wheeljack almost laughed as their optics widened. Smart sparklings. He was fairly sure they hadn't experienced any of Ratchet's more colorful moments directly, in their short existence thus far, but they must have heard the stories from Ironhide. He'd be lucky to avoid the wrath of Ratchet himself, once Ratchet was back online and saw the state of his medbay. It had been one of the first places hit.
He needed to go look at the newest arrivals, check on the other critical patients, see if they could salvage more supplies from the ruins of the medbay, make sure the shuttlebay was still structurally sound and wasn't about to come crashing down on top of them…hopefully he could keep everyone alive until Ratchet woke up. Then he'd have another battle on his hands keeping Ratchet from working himself into stasis lock before he recovered. Slag Ratchet for getting himself slagged in the first place and leaving him in charge of this slagging mess.
Wheeljack realized he was still standing in place and now Hot Spot was giving him a worried look. He mustered a smile for them, his poor battered creations. He hadn't seen them in battle (and they would need to talk about that later. As Wheeljack recalled he had given them strict orders to get to the underground bunkers where it was safe, not fling themselves out into the thick of things) but by all reports they very well could have lost the entire base without their actions. If the blast that hit First Aid had gotten through everything would have blown sky high. They'd already exceeded all his expectations, and their lives had barely begun. If they lost Aid…Wheeljack didn't want to think about it. Gestalts. They could lose the whole team.
"I'm proud of you guys, ok?" he told them, guilt and affection and fear for them tugging painfully at his spark. So much for all their well-intentioned plans to ease the Protectobots into the war effort gradually. Hot Spot smiled at the praise, in slightly baffled but pleased oh-thanks-did-we-do-something manner. "I won't be far."
After Wheeljack left, Blades continued to try to coax First Aid into recharge, but when he kept nodding off himself Hot Spot made him lie down. Groove had already drifted into recharge snuggled against his side next to Streetwise. First Aid had tucked up both hands under his chin in his usual recharge position and was resting quietly, but he hadn't shut down. Hot Spot tried to find him with their bond again. It still buzzed painfully with the after effects of being ripped apart by the cannon blast, but his sense of Groove and Blades and Streetwise was back, nearly full force now, especially with them all in close physical proximity. He could feel First Aid's presence as well, but it was shuttered, closed off, in the way that usually meant something was bothering him. What it meant now was anyone's guess. He sensed First Aid's spark pulse finally, not sure if he was feeling it physically or through the bond, but he could pick out that weak rapid fluttering from the thousands of other sensations that were the ever shifting sparks and random processor signals of the other three recharging.
He tried to surround it as he had before, slow and deepen the spark pulses, sync it with his own. He could feel the other three drawing closer even in recharge, almost as if they were forming Defensor but not quite. Their four sparks pulsed in unison, while First Aid's slowed a bit, matched them for a beat, then two beats, then four…five….
Much later Wheeljack and the now functional (barely) Ratchet watched the recharging Protectobots for a long while, glancing down at their medical scanners, comparing the results. All five sparks pulsed in perfect accord. First Aid's spark reading was still somewhat weaker than the rest, but completely stable.
"Do you know what they're doing?" Ratchet asked him.
"I'm as baffled as you are. I know I designed them, but gestalt technology still has a lot of surprises for us apparently."
"Well, let's hope they keep doing it, whatever it is. From the amount of damage and looking at these prior spark readings…he shouldn't have survived, his spark should have given out before he even got here." Ratchet reviewed the readings again, shaking his head in disbelief.
"This is incredible. His spark pulse rate has completely stabilized, even his engine readings are well within normal limits. Still, the level of circuit damage, and the internal leakage," Ratchet shook his head again. "The fact that he's so new is in his favor, but…"
"What's the prognosis for getting his sensory network back online?" Wheeljack asked.
"Normally I'd say pretty poor, but at this point it's anyone's guess how much function he's going to regain. We could always go through and replace the wiring, system by system, but that might end up causing more problems than it solves. I think our best bet is to just give it some time, see what his self-repair does."
"The way they're stabilizing his spark…have you noticed anything like this with the Aerialbots?" Wheeljack wondered.
"Well, they certainly swarm the medbay any time one of them has so much as a scratch, but…I suppose it's possible."
"Maybe you shouldn't be so quick to kick them out. Could be their programming's been telling them something we don't know."
"Hmph," Ratchet snorted. "Maybe next time one of them gets slagged to Pit I'll consider it, but until then if they're not actually in danger of deactivating they can stay the frag out of my medbay." Ratchet looked around the shuttle bay glumly, thinking of the scrap heap that had replaced his medbay, and Wheeljack took his arm and began to steer him back to the portable berth at the other end of the bay.
"Ok, we've seen all the critical patients. Back to bed."
Ratchet snorted again. "Your energy levels are lower than mine. When was the last time you recharged or refueled?"
"I'm not the one who got an entire ceiling dropped on him."
"Oh, is that what happened?"
"And our fledgling Protectobot medic is the one that pulled you out, opened you up, and sealed the cracks in your primary energon line before you could leak to death."
Ratchet stopped at that, looking at Wheeljack as if suspecting a joke.
"I did not," he said finally, as they continued their careful pace towards the berth, "give authorization for him to practice medicine on real patients."
Wheeljack laughed. "Showing signs of insubordination already. I can tell you're going to have to keep that wrench of yours handy to keep this one in line."
Ratchet didn't smile or respond, and Wheeljack looked at his friend, questioning.
Ratchet shook his head. "I hope so."