It had been a long time since he had done any negotiating. Longer still since he'd tried to do it in while facing the threat of armed assault by an angry comrade who, for all intents and purposes, could very well have been classified as a irritable, grumbling tank. In all honesty, he wasn't even entirely certain he was up for the task. It would require a great deal of careful words, a calm temper, and time—very much time. None of these things could be had in abundance at the moment, and he voiced these concerns to the party requesting his assistance.
"None of my guys are up for the job," the major had said. He'd run a hand over his hair, glancing around, while other humans ran around the tarmac and hangar floor as if in a carefully controlled panic. Packing up their entire unit on short notice inspired great rushes of adrenaline, it seemed. "Can't spare anyone. Really, just... do us a favor and give it a shot, will you? It's hard enough getting him up on one of these birds when he's not pissed off."
And so, he'd reluctantly agreed to take up the role of diplomat. Logically, he knew he was the best for the job. The only other being who may have sufficed was in a place no one could reach. All the others were nervous, unsure of what to do in the absence of leadership. Squaring his shoulders, he stepped into the dim hangar interior, barely remembering to duck under some of the superstructure before it met an untimely end on the front of his skull. It was not hard to locate what he sought. For all the activity scurrying around the entire base, one particular corner was conspicuously empty of all life, save for a hulking, seething shape—a mass of black armor and weaponry. Even with initial placating, the huge cannons were still primed, and a dent in the thick, soundproofed walls showed great evidence of physical abuse. At his approaching footsteps, the figure turned, shooting him a look that could very well have melted his own alloyed armor plating at close range. He stopped, clasping his hands behind his back, calmly matching the glare with a blank expression.
At that, the figure merely grunted, turning back to the wall. "My answer is still 'no'."
"That isn't why I'm here," he said, carefully keeping the reprimanding tone out of his voice.
"What is it, then?"
"I have to have a reason to speak with you now?"
There was no response, other than a low, rumbling growl better suited to an engine revving than a sentient, albeit angry, being.
"Have you calmed down?" he asked, forging on despite the apparent threat in front of him. Now his tone was lighter, gently mocking. He knew when and how to push. "Or shall I inform the soldiers they have one more threat to their security to worry about?"
"Maybe I am..." There was a beat of silence. Literal gears were turning in the thick, black-armored skull. "They sent you. Didn't they."
He would make this difficult, wouldn't he? That was the entire problem. "Ironhide..."
"You speak for them now, Ratchet? The cowards? The traitors?"
"I speak for the major and his men," answered the medic, going back to placating. "They are concerned about you—about us all. Quite understandable, considering..."
More silence, weighing heavier than the two of them combined. Neither one glanced out toward where the body lay. They didn't have to—didn't want to. When no interruption was offered, Ratchet went on, attempting to pry deeper into the matter. "I fail to see how, even in that head of yours, they've become 'traitors'," he said.
"It's not them," Ironhide said. He was studying the wall with a look that said he'd dearly love to blow it to pieces. Also unsurprising. Brute force was always his way, no matter the situation. "The others... Turn their backs on us, on the boy... on... him. Treat us like drones." A calculated pause, in which the old warrior's anger was nearly tangible. He looked up, back to glaring at the medic, one optic bright, sharply focused in contrast to the other. "Called him scrap! Scrap!"
"Yes, I know. I was there." Time to be the voice of reason. Telling him the truth he was most likely ignoring. "I doubt, however, they realized what they were saying. You cannot fault the human for that."
"You're being a stubborn old fool."
No response came. He'd struck a nerve then. One different than usual, considering there was only sullen silence, and a distinct lack of cannons being brandished. But whatever it was, Ironhide's silence was making it clear Ratchet would get nowhere by digging. Not now. He was surprised they'd made it this far without descending down into a shouting match. Yet... they did know each other best, trust each other the most, outside of their fallen leader. So it was without fear that Ratchet took the final few steps closer, standing against the damaged wall beside the black Autobot, who merely glanced over his shoulder at him.
Outside the hangar, reluctant to take part in the goings-on inside, the others were allowing themselves to be carted off, working under the surprising guidance of Sideswipe. He did glance in their direction once or twice, before maneuvering the more twitchy Jolt into a better position to board the flatbed hauling them to their plane. As if the humans didn't trust them enough anymore to perform the simple task on their own. A fact that did not go unnoticed by Ironhide.
"How can they just... allow this to happen to them?" he growled. Huge shoulders flexed, hands tightening. One of the cannons began to whirr softly, its interior glowing a dull orange. "Have they no honor left? They allow themselves to be treated like... human machines."
Ratchet shook his head, as much at the sight before him as at his friend. "They are afraid," he said, and then frowned briefly, amending his statement. "Well, perhaps not Sideswipe. Sometimes, I doubt he's capable of feeling much besides his own self-importance." That, at least, got a begrudging snort from Ironhide's direction. "But the others..." The medic trailed off, watching the motorcycles change and shift, roaring up the provided ramp. "They came for Prime's sake. For his cause, just as we did. They are feeling lost, I gather, without him."
"What do they know of his cause?" Ironhide barked. The cannon-laden hand gave a dismissive wave in the others' direction as he began to turn away yet again. Ratchet could have groaned—a backstep, to be certain.
"As much as we do, you pile of bolts," he retorted, sharper than he intended to. "They're Autobots, just the same. Arcee has been with us longer than most—save myself." He straightened, glowering back at Ironhide. "And you know it—don't try and deny it. You're smarter than you act."
Ironhide wasn't about to be cowed. He was angry, obviously. But normal anger did not usually extend to arguing these issues with Ratchet; a fact that was carefully noted. "They started with Prime," he said, visibly fighting to keep his voice in check. "They did not... They did not give up everything to follow him. They began the war by his side. They have no idea what it means to believe in his cause! No idea what this..." He gestured briefly outside again, unwilling to say it still. "What this will do to it. To us."
This time, the silence only stretched for a beat.
Ironhide went completely still, his face tellingly blank. "I didn't say that."
"You didn't have to," Ratchet answered smoothly. Honestly, he hadn't thought this would be so simple to diagnose. Why had he been so nervous about this? "It's written all over that sorry face of yours-"
"We're done talking."
The abruptness of the statement caught the medic off-guard. He stared back at his friend for what seemed to be a long while, optics shuttering. "Excuse me?"
"I said, we're done. I have nothing more to say. I will not discuss this with you." Somehow, the simple pronoun became a curse. "You don't understand."
Maybe there was something contagious in anger. Despite his best attempts at calm, Ratchet's own temper flared at the sheer audacity the other had to think this way. He wanted to reach out and shake the old fool. "I understand perfectly," he snapped, rounding on the weapons master. "Honestly, Ironhide, do you really think you're the only one who's lost someone—something—today?"
"Do not lecture me about loss!" Ironhide shot back. He interposed one arm between them, a not-so-veiled threat, should the medic overstep the bounds of their relationship. "Do not even dare—"
"How do you think Sam is feeling at this moment, knowing Optimus fell while protecting him?" Ratchet continued, all premise of a cool head gone. This was something that needed to be aired, to be excised as quickly as possible, lest it fester and rust. Ironhide tried to interject, but Ratchet's voice rolled right over anything his friend had to say. "And what has he done? Hidden himself in a hangar? Pounded holes in the walls?" Derision ran rampant in those words. "Hardly. And he is a mere child! Or Bumblebee. Both of them carry on. What about Sideswipe, Arcee, Jolt?" He hesitated only a moment, before adding, in a calculated risk: "Myself?"
"You have not had to shoot your former friends down in the middle of battle!"
"And you have not had them die under your hands."
The cannon swung up, blazing orange and white hot. While the arm bearing it remained steady, Ironhide did not. He was trembling—whether from the effort of restraining himself, or from his anger, Ratchet didn't care to find out. Calmly, he stood his ground, eying the weapon with detached interest. Both of them were well aware that Ironhide would no more fire on him than he would Optimus. It was a stalemate now. He knew why he had been asked to do this, not because he was a negotiator of any kind. There was pain here, a wound that all of them bore—some better than others—and Ironhide would have allowed no other medic to work on him.
After what seemed like far too long, Ironhide slumped, head dropping forward to rest with a clunk on the medic's shoulder. A few eyes turned their way, and Ratchet ignored them. They really weren't important to this conversation anymore. He stayed still, moving only to rest a hand on black armor in return, drawing them both closer together. After a moment, the other spoke, his voice low, still angry, but no longer heated, violent.
"I... do not... know where to go from here," Ironhide admitted, bitterly. "We cannot leave—we will not leave. We cannot remain... We would be fighting the little cow-"
"-the humans." A pause, and he lifted his head, the hurt still evident in his expression, but it was easing, slowly. There was no longer a need to hide it. "I am no leader... none of us are... Without him..." He shook his head. "What are our options?"
"We help prepare the body for transit," Ratchet replied, smoothly. He made no move to step away, or remove his hand from its resting place. "We remain with the major for as long as we are able... He is an intelligent man—something will present itself."
The bitterness crept back into Ironhide's voice, tinged with shame. "We run. And we hide. As we were told."
"That's..." And now, Ratchet made no attempt to mask his own regret. His hand tightened on shoulder armor. "That is all we can do at this time..."
"I hate this..." The words were so quiet, even another Autobot would have had to strain to hear them. The real heart of the problem, the real blow, lay in them. "I should have... we should have... been there."
Again, and not for the last time, silence—this time thoughtful, as the other tried choosing his words with care. Now was not the time for cutting, the damage had been revealed. Now was the time for healing, mending. His specialty. "We arrived in time to pull Sam out of there. That... was all we could have done. You know that just as well as I do."
It wasn't much, hollow comfort at best, a placebo. But from the muffled grunt of agreement, it worked well enough for now. Smirking faintly, Ratchet pulled away, studying the other at arms' length. "Now... Come on. We have a plane to board..."
"Planes. It would be planes," Ironhide growled, the cannons finally sinking back into their resting places.
"Why do you think I was sent to speak with you? You're impossible to get on board in a good mood, let alone ready to blow my head apart."
From there, the argument picked up once again, but this time, it strayed only along familiar, safe roads, fixing rifts, tears, and releasing the building tension better than any real "discussion" could have.