Title: Four Days William Lennox Spent With Barricade... and One That He Didn't
Disclaimer: Nothing in here is mine and I promise to put them back in the box safe and sound when I'm done playing.
Warnings: Spoilers for RotF, but not the books or comics, most of which I haven't read and will cheerfully ignore. Slight AU from the very end of RotF.
A/N: I have no excuse for using the two-enemies-get-stuck-in-a-bad-situation-together cliché. Absolutely no excuse whatsoever. I like Will, and I wanted to poke the 'Cons a little, that's all. I write what I have fun writing, and I had fun writing this, even if it probably feels a bit long and slow compared to the rest of the fics in the series -cough-. It's set in the same 'verse as the previous 'Four' fics but they're absolutely not needed for background information and this can be read as a stand-alone just fine. There'll be two or three sets coming up that serve as companion pieces/epilogues for this as well, to cover the background stuff this one didn't. Also, the unofficial working title for the longest time was 'Barricade and Lennox: Adventures in Fail'. I'm somewhat tempted to keep calling it that.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to my awesome, amazing beta for not groaning too much when I sent her 20 pages of fic to look over. All mistakes are mine, not hers.
He hit the ground mid-motion as thunder cracked around him and dry ground became soft undergrowth, knocking the breath out of him as momentum threw him against unyielding wood, and he felt the sharp pain of breaking bone ricochet up his arm.
The sound of something heavy and metallic making an equally ungraceful entrance echoed among the trees for a few moments and then died, the silence broken only by an ominous creaking of wood giving way to something stronger.
He was up an instant later, pain forced aside by adrenaline, gun in his less-injured hand, and Barricade seemed to have the same idea, weapons charging with a high-pitched whine as the two glared at each other but didn't fire... immediately. Possibly because they were surrounded by something that looked suspiciously like a clearing in a rainforest, and a ground-bound Cybertronian would have a Pit of a time getting out of that without offlining from mud and rain and decaying plant material stuck in joints and plating, and for once in their war, Will was glad he was human and evolved for Earth-based conditions.
"Where are we, fleshling?" the Decepticon demanded harshly, and Will snarled at it in return.
"How the frag would I know? It was your goddamn space bridge that got us here. Aren't you supposed to have that tentacled freak watching you?"
The Decepticon snarled, and Will tightened his grip on the gun, but still neither of them seemed willing to take the first shot and they stayed where they were for endless seconds, neither willing to back down, either, and Will suspected that only their surroundings had kept the mech from shooting him where he stood. Sabot rounds would hurt like slag, but there would be no way he could have taken down the 'Con in time if it had attacked. Gotten off a shot or two, possibly, but not killed it, and there was no chance he'd be able to get to the incendiary grenade in his pocket in time, and Barricade knew that, too. That meant something else was staying the 'Con's hand, and Will was willing to bet his life – and in a way, already had – that their surroundings had the Decepticon unsettled enough to let him live.
Another pause, and Will started to get a nagging suspicion. He hadn't been the target of that bridge, Sam had been, and the whole attack, he suspected, had been set up with the specific purpose of capturing the boy. The 'Cons had also never displayed space bridge technology before until Ironhide had returned with reports of an encounter with Thundercracker, and sure, they had put Jetfire's remains in a safe location, but...
'Hide mentioned Skywarp's a scientist. He could have worked it out.
"Your space bridge is still experimental," he said, and there was no question in his voice. "You're still fragging around with the goddamn tech, aren't you? You really have no clue where we are." And suddenly he wanted to kill something, because he realised something else and this was just slagging peachy. "You're supposed to have a slagging positioning system in you. Please tell me Megatron fried it in a bad mood."
Another inhuman snarl, and maybe he'd pushed his luck too much, and Will grabbed his gun tighter and ignored the throbbing in his wounded arm as Barricade's harsh words answered him. "I would watch my words, fleshling, in your place." A sudden, dark glow in the optics, and then it was gone again, and Will had a bad feeling about it all as the Decepticon continued. "My space bridge module has been reduced to slag and my communication centre is offline due to the unbalanced jump you just caused. By extension, so is that tracer the Hatchet put in all of you squishies. You expect a rescue. There will be none."
Which would explain the dull feeling of pain and warmth in the spot on Will's back where the tracer had been injected, and he didn't bother to try and argue, and whatever Barricade had meant about the jump being his fault could wait as well. "Communication centre," he repeated and already dreaded the answer. "Everything?"
Communication, navigation, information from the internet-
"Everything, human. Yours will have fared no better."
And slag it, they could be anywhere, and while they might be able to figure out what continent they were on, they would have no clue exactly where they were past that – and even if they did, they'd have no way to pass on the information.
Another long moment, and still none of their weapons moved from their respective target, and Will was starting to realise that the Decepticon was not going to make the first move about anything. Then again, it wasn't a surprise. It was a 'Con, and while it might have been put at a distinct disadvantage from their situation and clearly had a reason behind keeping its small, organic enemy alive, it was just as clearly not going to admit to it.
It did leave a problem, though. How the hell did you talk to a 'Con? He'd exchanged, at the most, a dozen words with the things in his entire NEST career, and that only in battle, and he strongly suspected that Barricade would tolerate his continued existence only for as long as it was useful to him.
Megatron ruled by force. 'Cons respected strength and ruthlessness in battle, Ironhide had told him as much. 'Cons didn't care for fleshlings at all, but there had been vague indications that they had grudgingly come to respect NEST as an adversary, just as NEST had learned in turn to respect the ruthless destruction the Decepticons were capable of.
"So you're telling me we're stuck in the middle of a fragging jungle, no communication, no evac, and no intel," he finally concluded and deliberately used the term 'we' before he continued, more biting. "I assume there's a reason we haven't killed each other yet."
Barricade made a harsh, disgusted sound, but his weapons stayed still, and Will forced himself to keep from moving, too.
Don't show weakness. Don't back down.
"Your pathetic weapon could not kill me, fleshling. Even Optimus Prime could not do that. You are alive only because you are a native of this planet and may be useful to me." Red optics narrowed at him and every instinct in Will's body told him to shoot at the enemy before it shot at him, and still he remained still. If his tracer was really fried – and he strongly suspected that was indeed the case – then he wouldn't have much of a chance of getting out on his own. Not with a broken arm and no idea of where he even was. Oh, sure, civilization could be only ten miles away, but Will doubted it. They weren't that lucky. They were never that lucky.
That dark glow in the red optics again, and Will got the distinct impression that Barricade was evaluating what he saw, and just as clear an impression that his life depended on the conclusion. Red optics lingered for a brief moment on the insignia on his uniform, and for a lot longer on his Cybertronian rank.
Barricade made another harsh sound, and this time it sounded distinctively mocking. "Special Operations. I assumed you to be Ironhide's pet fleshling, but perhaps they partnered you with him to keep him reined in. He always belonged with us. His processors are just too old and faulty to realise it."
The 'Con was baiting him, Will realised, and the instinctive objection died before he could voice it, and maybe there was some twisted logic in what Barricade was doing, testing that a possible temporary ally was stable before taking further steps, and maybe it was just a cat and mouse game for sports, but whatever it was, Will refused to play along. He wasn't Ironhide. He was a human, and he could slagging well hold his temper when he needed it.
"You done taking potshots at us, or do you have more to get out of your system before we can get the slag out of this place?" he bit out instead, and tried to keep the balance between too aggressive and too weak. "I'll set up a playdate with 'Hide later and you can go play with his cannons. Right now, I'd prefer to get the slag out of here."
He got another long, hard look in response, and this time the optics lingered on the broken arm, blood slowly seeping through the sleeve of the uniform, obviously judging if said potential, temporary ally would actually be able to function at all in their surroundings. "You are leaking, fleshling."
First time Will even noticed that it was an open wound and not just a broken bone, and something in his stomach twisted.
"So are you," Will bit back as he pushed the thought aside and forced himself to focus on his enemy, and Barricade shifted, plating sliding to hide the already-drying tickle of Energon near one shoulder, and in a less serious situation, Will would probably have smirked at that. As it was, he settled for a challenging look. "I've survived worse."
Survived much worse, but always with medical attention within reach, and never in a situation like theirs. He had spent a lot of his career pre-NEST in desert environments. Rainforests came with a whole different set of dangers, and while none of them went anywhere without first aid kits, it was still limited what they contained. Their current surroundings were hot, humid, and dirty, and he had an open wound... it was asking to get an infection, and although Ratchet had added handy little pills for that in the kit, there was only three days' worth of them.
On the other hand, with Barricade around, he might be dead long before that became a problem.
Barricade still had his weapons aimed at Will, and Will's gun still hadn't wavered from its target, and if neither of them did something, they'd still be there at nightfall. Even if the 'Con hadn't realised the full seriousness of the situation, Will had, and after another long moment, he made his decision.
Trusting a 'Con was a pretty sure way to get killed, but trying to get out of whatever place they were stuck in, injured and on his own, would be pretty much suicide.
He raised his head, silently prayed he had read the 'Con right, and then he lifted his palms upwards, gun held loosely in one hand and aimed harmlessly at the surrounding vegetation. "Neither of us have a slagging chance of getting out of here on our own, and we both know it. Now, you can play Starscream and kill me, and I'll be dead but at least it'll be fast. You'll still be stuck here, offlining bits and pieces at a time until there's nothing left of you but a dead pile of metal, and in another year you'll have been reduced to just another convenient thing for the local plant-life to grow on."
Red optics narrowed – at Will's deliberate dig about Starscream, probably, because it was well-known that Barricade was loyal to his leader – and the hum of alien weapons remained steady for another several seconds before they were powered down and Barricade lowered them.
"Remain useful, fleshling, and you may remain alive," the mech responded. There was more than a bit of a threat in the response, too, but Will didn't particular care. It was a 'Con. He would have been suspicious if that threat hadn't been there, and he simply nodded and reined in the worst of his sarcasm.
"So glad we're in agreement." A slow breath, and then he continued. "I'm going to pull out a first aid kit and do something about my arm so it won't slow me down. Try not to get a twitchy trigger finger."
An annoyed sound from the Decepticon, but it didn't move as Will brought out bandages and disinfectant, and so he kept talking, if mostly to keep the mech from reconsidering their arrangement too much.
"As for where we are... it looks like a rainforest to me. It was afternoon in Saudi Arabia when you opened that slagging bridge. It looks like morning now. That'd put us somewhere in South America. The Amazon Rainforest, probably," he clarified, and his fingers worked with just a little hesitation as he finished up cleaning the wound – it hurt like slag but like hell he was going to let the 'Con know that, and he did not like the fact that there was a bone fragment sticking out – and then he carefully wrapped it up before he finished up with one of Ratchet's little first aid medical cocktails in pill shape. "No roads, no airports, no nothing. Trees and plants and animals, and that's pretty much it until you reach human settlements or hit populated regions again. Our best bet is find some running water and follow it. Sooner or later, we'll reach a bigger stream, and it'll eventually hit a river somewhere. Then..." A careful shrug. "There'll be human settlements there, of some kind."
"The lack of certainty in your plan does not inspire confidence, fleshling." Definitely a threat this time, and Will snarled in return.
"You think I want to be here?" An angry gesture around them, at the maze of plants and vines and growing trees in the clearing, and further out at the massive, green wall that surrounded them. "I want to get the slag out of here just as much as you do. You think of another plan that'll get us out faster, and I'm all ears. Until then, listen to the fragging fleshling that was born on this planet."
The hum of weapons instinctively charging and then it faded again as Barricade's optics narrowed but he made no move to attack, and Will didn't make a move to reach for the grenade most of the NEST team carried one or two of around. Not something that burned hot enough to destroy a 'Con outright, but with a good hit, it would still be dead without medical attention, but as long as Barricade only seemed to be interested in proving his dominance, it wasn't a weapon Will was going to use. Not until he didn't have a choice. Too much of a risk of injuring yourself as well, and the NEST teams had all been drilled in that, too.
Then clawed fingers reached up and pointed towards the darkness of the rainforest, and Will had no clue what direction it even was – south-ish, probably, but that was about it – and even if he'd had a compass, he doubted it would have worked after the jump they had been put through. "You asked for running water, fleshling," Barricade said in the harsh voice that was already becoming uncomfortably familiar to Will. "You will find it there. Your audio processors are too inferior to locate it."
Arm taken care of as much as he could given the circumstances, Will let the insult pass and nodded, a slight bit of annoyance in his voice as he spoke. "Fine. Let's get the slag out of here before it starts raining."
The Decepticon made an annoyed sound, and Will almost thought they would get stuck in another argument... but then the mech moved and they set off, heading into the dense plant-life around them, and it was too late for second thoughts.
By Will's estimate, it took them a full hour to reach the edge of the clearing. His watch had been fried in the jump, and even if it hadn't, he doubted it would have lasted for long in their current conditions.
An hour, and he was already reconsidering his original estimate. He had enough pills – painkillers, antibiotics, and other Ratchet-approved cocktails – to last him for three days, but he was seriously starting to wonder if Barricade would last that long. An hour of half-grown trees, dense undergrowth, a tangled web of lianas, and soft ground that yielded to two tons of metal, and the mech's only immediate advantage seemed to be the clawed hands that cut and tore through anything in their way. Will wasn't normally in the habit of wishing Decepticons good health, but as they reached the edge of the clearing he found himself desperately hoping the 'Con would do better in the darkness underneath the canopy, because the last thing he needed was an offlining 'Con that decided to take a fleshling with it to the Pit.
If nothing else, the slow progress through the clearing had allowed him to take stock of the situation. His arm put him at a distinct disadvantage, but there would be less obstacles under the canopy and that would hopefully allow the wound and broken bone some rest and let Ratchet's pills do their work and speed up the healing process a little. Radio – fried like everything else, and there was a small, annoyed voice in the back of his mind wondering why the jump couldn't have fried Barricade, too, while it was at it. Three days' worth of edibles, since he wasn't going to call all of it 'food', but it was calories, and he needed that. Three days' worth, four if he stretched it, and he intended to. Two candy bars in a pocket, of a kind he knew from his time in Qatar wouldn't melt in the heat. A lighter, and a week's worth of water purifying tablets, if his estimate was right. Gun, two full magazines, incendiary grenade, one Sector Seven grade knife made for use against Decepticon bodies, one hunting knife...
And one snarly Decepticon, Will sighed silently and followed Barricade into the darkness of the forest, towering trees dwarfing even the alien robot – twice the height of the 'Con, easily, to Will's estimate, and that killed any chance of getting a look around to see if they could spot anything that might be civilization in the area.
No bug spray, his mental inventory continued, which would be pretty much guaranteed malaria. No mosquito net, no handy little book of the local plant-life and animals to let him know which ones to stay the slag away from, so he had found himself a walking stick that wasn't too heavy to keep the local creepy-crawlies away if they got too interested.
All in all, he had concluded, they were pretty much slagged, but he had forcefully pushed that thought aside to focus on their surroundings instead, because the last thing he needed was more injuries to add to his list, and if he let himself sink into the hopelessness of it all, he might as well just have laid down and died in that clearing.
The light vanished around them as the canopy blocked out sunlight, and although there were sounds around them – something, he realised, that had been missing in the clearing, most animals scared away by the sound of Barricade's crash landing – it was a dull sound, muffled by leaves and towering trees, and the colours of the forest became the more muted brown and green of tree trunks and exposed roots and decaying material, joined by moss and ferns.
Even in the warm temperature, Will still felt a shiver down his back and gripped the walking stick tighter. He had spent two weeks in a jungle on a training exercise once, but the majority of his experience had been in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East, and the nagging feeling of being in unfamiliar territory was not a welcome one.
Even Barricade seemed to be mildly affected, clawed fingers clenching and unclenching as the mech looked around and seemed to itch for something to tear down to break the endless roof above them. Will couldn't really blame him. From what he knew from various reports, Barricade had spent his time in civilization, in his alt-mode disguise, and only occasionally found himself in less... tamed areas. Even then, it had been deserts and mountains – dry places, usually, with little of Earth's abundance of organic life. Not anything like jungles or rainforests. Never anything even close to it.
The sound of water came shortly afterwards, barely a whisper of a sound, and Will said nothing but simply followed as the mech led the way. Neither spoke, and Will was fine with that, too. It was an arrangement of convenience, nothing more, and he had about as much desire to chat with a 'Con as Barricade had to talk with a human. Staying clear of each other seemed like the best course of action and the one least likely to end with weapons being fired.
The sound turned out to be a stream, only a few feet across, but it was clear and it flowed fast, and Will refilled his canteen and dropped a purifying tablet in it before they continued. Barricade's only response was a disgusted snarl that Will chose to interpret as the standard Decepticon displeasure with organic weaknesses, and then they moved out of the dense vegetation around the stream and went back into the forest again to follow the stream from there.
Will didn't argue. They had Barricade's audio processors to keep them on track, and it was easier for both of them to find a path among the trees and roots, rather than fight their way through the vegetation. Less risk of getting caught on thorns and spines, too, Will realised, although it wouldn't be a concern to the mech. Still, he was willing to take any help he could get.
They were silent, and they stayed silent as they made their way through the forest, and even if they stayed in the shadow of the giant trees, it was still not without difficulties. Easier for Will, being small enough to slip between the plants and small trees that managed to survive in almost perpetual shadow, but Barricade, while not the largest mech around, was still big enough to face the annoyance of the what few plants and trees did live under the canopy. Will doubted it was something that was really draining to tear through, but it still didn't improve the Decepticon's mood, and Will chose the wise solution and didn't comment.
They were silent, and they stayed silent even as the rain began in what Will judged to be the mid-afternoon and which his body considered late evening, because jetlag was a slagging bitch to deal with like that. They heard the sound on the leaves above them, but it took another several minutes before the rain made its way through the treetops to be felt by human and mech.
No poncho in his mental inventory, either, and Will sighed quietly and kept walking as the rain slowly soaked them.
Night came fast. It had rained on and off for hours, and Will's inner clock was thoroughly messed up from the space bridge, and it shouldn't have surprised him when he finally looked up to realise the light was rapidly vanishing, but it still did and he mentally cursed himself for it.
"We need to stop for the night."
First words either of them had spoken for most of a day, and Barricade stopped and narrowed red optics at the human. "Are you growing weak, fleshling?" Harsher than usual and definitely a threat in it, and Will made a disgusted sound in return.
"It'll be dark within half an hour. If you want to spend energy keeping your headlights on to keep walking, be my guest." Red optics looked up to judge the light that seeped through the canopy, and Will saw his chance to continue. "There are likely no human settlements nearby. No cities, no harbours, nothing. That means no light, either, even in the unlikely case it could get through that slag up there to help us. It's going to be the same with moonlight. So either we stop for the night and light a fire, or you light up those headlights and we keep walking."
The red optics returned their attention to him, and finally the Deception snorted. "Fire?"
"Light, heat, keep the predators and worst of the creepy crawlers away," Will replied, because he remembered that much from his training exercise, at least, and he tried to ignore the throbbing in his arm as he continued. "I'll need to find something to sleep on, too. I don't particularly want to share a bed with bugs or snakes."
Or mosquitoes, for that matter, but he didn't have a choice about that, and so he ignored it. Maybe the smoke would keep away the worst of them, but he didn't feel that hopeful.
A sigh, remembering something else, and he was already missing the familiar deserts of the Middle East. "And palm fronds for a shelter to keep out the rain."
This time Barricade's response was a flat-out snarl, and the mech stalked off before Will had time to react. The Decepticon vanished into the forest around then, and Will was almost considering setting after him before he heard the distinctive sound of metal slicing through wood, and when Barricade reappeared a minute or two later, he was dragging the top of an unfortunate palm tree. "Shelter, fleshing. Burn the rest. I will recharge on the ground. So will you." Another disgusted sound. "I have no patience for this foolishness. Prime made you a Cybertronian. Act like one."
Will resisted the urge to face-palm at that. It was shelter, at least, and while he had gotten his share of mosquito bites already, he had noticed that most animals did keep a distance to Barricade. With some luck, that would continue even when the 'Con stopped snarling and moving around – it was something big and alien and there was always the hum of energy around mechs, even in recharge – and so he didn't press the matter.
He set to work as Barricade cleared himself a place to sit with his usual brutal effectiveness and got Will some additional firewood for work with, and by the time it was getting dark around them, they had a fire going, a human-sized shelter, and Will was almost starting to feel human again, socks and boots drying by the fire as his feet enjoyed some fresh air. Combat rations, purified water, hunting leeches and ticks in the light of a fire while disinfecting assorted minor cuts and scrapes from their rough landing...
Really, take the Decepticon out of the equation, and it was almost like being back in Ranger School.
His body craved rest, but Barricade made no move to go into recharge, and Will wasn't even surprised, because 'Cons were backstabbing slaggers, every single last one of them, and the fragger was probably expecting to be shot through his spark at the first inattentive moment. Not that Will could blame him. He had entertained the thought, briefly, before common sense took over and reminded him that he needed the 'Con to have any chance of getting out alive, and that Sarah was going to kill him if he decided it was worth dying there to get rid of Barricade.
A glance at the Decepticon on the other side of the fire, red optics never moving from him, and Will narrowed his eyes slightly.
Don't show weakness. Don't back down.
"I'm going to sleep. Try not to kill me overnight," he bit out. And with that, he curled up in his shelter and surrendered to the blissful, restful oblivion of sleep.
Dawn arrived painfully on the second day.
Will's first, somewhat surprised, realisation was that he was still alive after spending a night asleep less than thirty feet from a Decepticon. His second was that he hurt like slag.
Cold muscles felt the full soreness of battle and the failed space bridge jump, and the broken arm sent flashes of pain all the way up to his shoulder whenever he moved it and made changing the bandage an excruciating experience. Splintered, Will had noticed, not just broken, but he was not going to linger on that – he had a makeshift sling for it and three days worth of pills from Ratchet to keep infections at bay, and that was the best he could manage given the circumstances. The bug bites weren't too bad, most of the fraggers probably kept away by Barricade's presence, and the minor cuts and scrapes that he hadn't noticed until they had actually stopped for the night were healing already. A bit faster than usual, but not much, since the handy mix of pharmaceuticals that Will couldn't even begin to pronounce the names of were already occupied with his broken arm, and he could live with that, too. There was some chance they would be healed enough to avoid infections by the time he ran out of pills, and as long as he kept from getting scraped again, he would manage. Unpleasantly, but he would manage.
Barricade didn't look much better. Mud covered a good part of the black and white paint job, and branches and undergrowth were stuck in joints and under plating, and injuries that Will hadn't even noticed when they had first arrived were already starting to show from lack of proper medical attention. The thin line of dried Energon was long gone under the layer of mud, but the weird way the 'Con kept from moving his head in certain directions told Will that he had suffered more damage than could immediately be seen, and two claws on one hand seemed to respond slower than the rest.
Still, the Decepticon looked marginally more graceful than Will felt as it got to its feet... and then the image was ruined as the 'Con snarled and clawed at several branches that had jammed between its plating.
Will very firmly did not smirk, but still the dark head turned to find him and red optics narrowed. "This is your planet, fleshling. Fix this."
Will considered arguing for a moment, but Barricade's mood the day before had looked positively cheerful compared to the expression he now showed, and Will strongly suspected that those branches would become a real problem soon if they weren't taken care of, and he still needed the 'Con if he wanted any chance of getting out of there.
"I can't use my arm," he said, and tried to keep the worst of the annoyance out of his voice. "If you want help with that, you have to sit the slag down where I can actually reach."
Not that he in any way wanted to help a 'Con with slag like that. It was one thing to help 'Hide, whom he trusted not to crush his fingers or hands on accident by shifting plating or moving at the wrong time, but this was a Decepticon, and he had no doubt the fragger would pull stuff like that for fun if it thought it could get away with it.
Barricade glared at him for another moment, but sat down with an annoyed huff, and then a second later leaned back on the cleared floor of the forest. "Move it, fleshling. I have no desire to linger here."
Mud nearly covered the distinctive 'Police' written on Barricade's arm, but Will still hesitated as he came within range of the 'Con – close enough to kill him on accident, easily, because 'Cons weren't used to being around organics at all – but the mech remained unmoving as Will reached out.
"I'm starting now, but if you move as much as an inch, you can get the slagging scrap out on your own. I'm not letting you crush my hand because you got pissy," he said flatly, and then he tugged hard on a branch with his good arm before Barricade had time to snap a response.
The branch came loose with a crack, already mostly-splintered by the movements of the mech, and Will's task consisted mainly in getting all the bits and pieces out. The branches were probably like getting a piece of wood jammed in your elbow if you were a human, and even if Will was never going to admit it, he was surprised that the Decepticon stayed completely still. Whether it was programming at play, or that his pain receptors had been turned off, or it was a matter of sheer stubbornness, he had no idea, but whatever it was, it made his task easier.
It took half an hour of struggles and the occasional bit of violence, and by the end of it Will found himself with several new scrapes, but none that had drawn blood, and so he simply shook his head and stepped back. "I'm done. You can get up again."
Eighteen feet of Deception moved, and Will watched with vague fascination as the mech got up. He was used to Ironhide and the rest of the Autobots, but this was the enemy, and even if the species was the same, it still felt different when it was someone new. They all had their own, distinctive way of moving, and Barricade was obviously no different.
The Decepticon glared at him but didn't comment. Instead it turned around and continued along the game trail they had found the day before, and Will shook his head and followed.
At least the weapons hadn't come out again.
It was sometime just past noon to Will's internal clock – and just after lunch to his stomach – that Barricade finally broke the almost complete silence that had been between them since they had arrived.
Judging by the faint, toothy smile on the Decepticon's face, Will really doubted he wanted to hear what it was about to say, and Barricade proved him right a moment later.
"Is it common for fleshlings to be confused about their loyalties or are you merely an exception?"
"... What?" Whatever Will had expected, that wasn't it, and his reaction was less anger and more complete confusion at Barricade's words.
"Your loyalty," the Decepticon repeated, a smirk on its lips and a dark glow in its eyes as they continued through the forest. "To have the insignia of your faction branded on you is the Cybertronian tradition. Once marked, a Decepticon brand is only removed by replacing the part it was placed on. Even Autobots, pathetically weak as they are, carry permanent branding. You carry only a piece of painted, organic matter to show your allegiance. The obvious conclusion would be that you were simply not sure of your choice, but perhaps the Prime has merely grown soft... or feels that organics are too weak to carry the proper brand of allegiance."
What the slagging frag, you piece of scrap? Will mentally snarled, but reined in his response before his temper got the better of him.
"And somehow it's still not enough to make Starscream remember his supposed loyalty when Megatron turns his back," he drawled instead and deliberately pulled out what he knew was a sore spot with a mech as loyal as Barricade. "I don't need a brand to remind me of my loyalties, and if Prime hasn't suggested it because he thinks organics aren't strong enough, I can live with that, too. Primus knows the human race hasn't done much to deserve his respect."
It still felt strange sometimes to use Cybertronian terms – Primus, especially, felt strange, what with it being a Cybertronian deity that would probably have no clue what a human even was – but it was habit by now and using them around Barricade meant less reminders to the mech that it was around one of the annoying squishies that continued to be a pain in the aft to them.
Barricade smirked, a gesture that only served to put Will on edge again, and the Decepticon looked entirely too smug about it all. "Perhaps pets, then. Yours species live for only fractions of our lifespans. Give them a rank and a little bit of organic material and let them pretend to be useful. I am surprised they let you into battle at all. I would think Prime and Ironhide would prefer their pets to be sheltered, but perhaps they merely fail in those intentions, as the yellow bug continues to fail around its fleshling."
Will's fingers itched to stuff the incendiary grenade somewhere nasty and unpleasant on Barricade, but he resisted the urge and merely flexed his fingers instead and kept from reaching for his gun. "I thought Megatron was the only pervert who overloaded at the thought of human pets, but maybe it's just a Decepticon thing," he bit out with faked disgust, because Barricade was just trying to get under his skin and he knew that, but it didn't mean he couldn't do the same in return. "Sam and 'Bee are friends. You want a human to play ''face with the squishy' with, we have some former liaisons you can have. Slagging freak."
Clawed fingers flexed as something flashed in red optics, and then Barricade narrowed them in annoyance at Will's smirk. "You are still expendable, fleshling," he threatened, but the even tone was enough to make Will frown mentally, and his suspicions were confirmed as the Decepticon offered him a dark smirk. "Perhaps I should make your confused loyalties more permanent. Carve our insignia into your flesh so that you may bear it with pride in battle. You should be honoured. You would be the first fleshling to be allowed to pledge loyalty to this army."
"You get those claws anywhere near me, and I'll put two magazines' worth of sabot rounds up your exhaust pipe," Will threatened quietly. "And it will be worth it. 'Hide can hammer your aft up in the firing range back on base, and you get to explain to your buddies in the Pit that a pathetic fleshling took you down."
He has expected anger from the 'Con, but all he got was a dark purr that sent a shiver down his spine. "No wonder old Ironhide claimed you, fleshling. You have his violence. Not a very Autobot thing to show."
"It's war," Will replied flatly. "I've seen Optimus Prime in battle. Good luck telling me he's a pacifist. You use violence for the fun of it. We do it to protect the rest of the planet from you. We didn't ask to have you try and take over. You showed up here, you attacked us, you tried to kill us."
"Actually, fleshling, you have the story all wrong." That dark purr again, like tar sticking to skin, and Will clenched his fists. "Your Prime sent the Allspark into the far reaches of the universe. Lord Megatron went after it. He was brought down on your planet, encased in ice, and when he was finally retrieved by your species, you kept him in stasis and experimented on him for your own technological gain. Unprovoked violence against the rightful leader of a people? Any civilization, on this planet or any other, would consider that a declaration of war. Your species dealt the first blow, fleshling. We intend to deal the last."
The story was the truth, to the best of Will's knowledge, and arguments like 'Sector Seven' and 'government conspiracies' wouldn't do the least bit of good against Barricade, and he knew that, too. The fragger would find a way to twist that against them, too.
One-zero to the slagging 'Con, and Will kept his mouth shut as they continued through the forest.
By the time it was getting dark again, they were long since drenched by the daily rain showers – to the Pit with Primus-damned rainforests, Will had decided, and he was never, ever going to complain about sand again – and neither of them had spoken again beyond the rare one-syllable words of direction. Not that Will minded. Silence, he figured, was a lot better than whatever other topics of conversation a slagging 'Con might think of, and he kept his attention firmly on his surroundings to avoid further injuries, and to spare his arm from any mistakes. The painkillers left only a dull ache behind but that didn't mean Will was going to risk anything. If he left it alone, there was some vague chance that the skin, at least, would be healed enough to keep out infections when the drugs ran out.
It was around the same time, chewing on a nutritional bar that had never tasted so good before while letting his feet dry by the fire after taking care of assorted blisters and other nasties, that he realised Barricade had another disadvantage. He wasn't sure just how often the Decepticon needed Energon, but whenever it happened, the mech would have a problem. No Energon, no oil, no gas, nothing that could in any way be used to keep a mech running. Will, at least, could find some of the local wildlife to eat when rations ran out – most animals still stayed clear of Barricade, but he'd seen some lizards around, and they wouldn't even be in the top five of weird slag he'd eaten over the years – but Barricade didn't have that option. Sooner or later, he would reach a point where he needed fuel of some kind, and Will could only hope they had made their way to civilization by then, or things would get real messy, real fast.
There was no way Barricade was going to let an enemy fleshling live if he knew he was slowly offlining, and Will couldn't even blame him. He wouldn't have left a 'Con alive if the situation had been reversed, either.
He had no clue when that 'sooner or later' would arrive, though, and so he ignored it. He certainly wasn't going to ask and thus let Barricade know that he was aware of the mech's potential weakness. It was just asking for things to get messy, too, and Will had enough to deal with as it was. The 'Con might look like walking scrap, but Will definitely wasn't doing much better, and he knew it.
Familiar red eyes watched him from the other side of the fire, clearly waiting for something, and Will glared. Fragging cowards, the lot of them, and he made a disgusted sound before he curled up in the relative dryness his shelter.
At least the fragger is stuck outside in the rain.
And with that cheerful thought accompanying him, he surrendered to sleep.
The dull throbbing in his arm had turned into a constant ache by the third day, even through the effects of the painkillers as they set in again, and Will took several seconds to steel himself before he carefully – carefully – put his broken arm back in its sling, biting back a sharp hiss. Not that he thought Barricade wouldn't know, but it was the principle of it. He was still strong and stubborn enough to manage, and it was slagging well going to take more than a broken arm to make him show weakness.
He suspected the ache was bone fragments moving around inside the wound despite his best attempts to keep it from moving at all, but there wasn't much he could do about other than eat his pills like a good boy and do his best to keep from making it any worse.
Barricade watched him carefully through it all, and when the arm was finally properly back in its sling, Will raised his head and gave the 'Con a challenging look, silently daring him to make his verdict.
A long moment of silence as the two watched each other, and for a second Will was sure the mech had decided that he had grown too weak, too useless to keep around, and then Barricade snorted and laid down on the forest floor in an echo of the previous morning.
"Get moving, fleshling," he growled, and Will glared but headed over to the massive shape on the forest bed.
More scrap stuck on the body than the day before, much more, and his brain was twitching at the sight of it and the realisation that it would be next to impossible to manage without moving his wounded arm in the process, on accident or otherwise.
It didn't mean he had a choice, and red optics never moved from him as Will quietly set to work cleaning leftover rainforest from the body of the mech.
It took until what felt like noon for one of them to speak again, but this time it was without the dark smirk that had accompanied their unwanted discussion the previous day, and if anything, Will would have said the 'Con looked almost... amused.
Different from the smirk, but not really much of an improvement in Will's mind. An amused Decepticon wasn't something he wanted to be around, either.
"How long until your body gives up, fleshling?" he asked, and no, amusement was definitely not an improvement to Will. "Your species is weak. Even your own planet is a danger to you. Pathetic little organics."
"Says the mech that took a mud bath," Will bit back. "You'd be offline already if I hadn't been around to pick the slag out from between your plates. Offline or in stasis somewhere with so much mud between your plates you couldn't move at all. A grand Cybertronian taken down by a rainforest on a mud-ball of a planet. I'm sure the 'Cons would sing songs of your glorious end."
A snarl – touchy spot, probably, and Will offered a dark smirk to match Barricade's own as he put the information aside for later use and watched the 'Con flex its claws in a silent threat. "At least they'd remember me, fleshling. Your species is younger than me, and it will be extinct again long before I am even old. You name will be forgotten, your breed lost to time, your planet reduced to ashes under your dying sun."
Definitely a touchy spot, and Will's answering grin was just a bit more toothy than Optimus Prime would probably have approved of, even if he had no doubts that Ironhide would have understood. "We'll have slagged every last 'Con before that ever happens. You, and Starscream, and Megatron, and anyone else who decides to frag with our planet. We might be weak, but there's six billion of us. How many 'Cons could you dish up on a good day. Thirty? Forty? Believe me, we haven't even started."
And maybe it was the painkillers hitting his mind, or exhaustion, or the first cracks showing from the stress of the situation, but Will didn't care, adrenaline singing in his blood as red optics darkened, narrowed, and the tension was thick enough to feel as both of them just waited for the first sign of motion in their opponent-
And the Barricade laughed, a harsh, unwelcome sound, and the tension drained as suddenly as it had appeared, and there would still be no weapons drawn just yet.
"Does your Prime know, fleshling? Or does he believe your species grew up and became peaceful like his own breed?" And then the mech kneeled and Will's heartbeat kicked into overdrive as he overruled every survival instinct in his body that told him to move, but the claw that reached out for him stopped fractions of an inch from his Autobot insignia. "A thin layer of supposed civilization to hide your true nature. Scratch it a little, stress the fractures, and your inherent violence shows." Another bark of laughter. "Your species is still worthless, human, but still, you will be a far more interesting challenge than I thought. We will still grind you into dust, but at least it will be a more amusing challenge to us. A change from pathetic, idealistic Autobots who refuse to acknowledge the realities of war."
Will's eyes narrowed, but Barricade continued, still with the amusement that made Will itch to take him down. "Nuclear weapons, biological warfare, chemical agents, all used against your own breed, your own cities. I thought you had lost your edge, fleshling. That progress had made you complacent. I see now I was in error."
The constant temptation Will had felt to shove the incendiary grenade up Barricade's exhaust pipe returned in full force, and it did nothing but prove the Decepticon's point, and Will bit back a snarl. Not that the fragging 'Con wouldn't know anyway, with Will too tired to really hide the play of emotions on his face, but it was the slagging principle of things, and Will glared and kept his mouth shut.
Two-zero to the slagging 'Con.
Things were not going well at all.
Half a day later, and things were still not doing much better, sheltered by the makeshift roof of an unfortunate palm tree and staring at the dance of the fire as the sounds of the rainforest blended into a murmur around him. Barricade was still awake, if powered down – the faint, red glow in the darkness across from the camp-fire told him as much, and he wasn't surprised. Barricade was a Decepticon. Of course he would expect to be stabbed in the back as soon as he let himself be vulnerable around an enemy. That Will was able to sleep at all around him, much less sleep well, was a constant source of amazement to himself, but not one he was going to question too much. He strongly suspected the constant mental strain of being around the Deception in daytime had a lot to do with it. One wrong step could make it all blow up, and he knew it. Dealing with that for one day had been bad enough. Three full days of watching your every word, every step, every tiny bit of body language, and his mind desperately needed the rest.
His mind and everything else, if he had to be absolutely honest.
His body craved sleep, every muscles in his body letting him know that he desperately needed rest, but it still eluded him on this particular night. His feet throbbed even through the painkillers, three days of jungle walking in wet shoes taking their toll, and his arm was a mess. Not healed enough to keep infections at bay, and he was running out of even reasonably clean bandages. The mosquito bites were a plague, even if they had been blissfully few, and he knew his body well enough to know that it was slowly breaking down. Even so, it still wasn't what kept him awake, and he watched unseeingly as flames danced among burning wood and his thoughts were thousands of miles away, on a small island in the Indian Ocean.
He had accepted Barricade's assessment of the situation – even agreed, after getting a chance to consider it – and he didn't expect the cavalry to arrive. Depending on the distance to the nearest bit of useful civilization, they stood a chance of getting out alive. Not much of a chance, granted, but a chance, and that was what he held on to as they fought their way through forest that hadn't seen human life in years, if ever. He wasn't sure if the area around his injected tracer was still sore – the joys of painkillers; thank you, Ratchet - but even if it wasn't, it meant nothing more than it had probably burned out completely. If they wanted to get out of there alive, they had to do it themselves, and if he had held any doubts about it, they would have vanished after three days without any sort of contact with the outside world.
If anyone had known they were there, someone would have been there already. Even if it had just been a reconnaissance flight. Even if had just been the sound of a plane in the distance. The 'Cons might not believe in helping their wounded and missing, but NEST would have looked, and they had still heard nothing.
If they got out of there alive, Sarah was going to kill him for making her worry like that, and his heart twisted at the thought of her.
I'm sorry. So, so sorry.
A wife and a daughter, but even if kids grew fast, Annabelle was still young. Sarah was the one who would worry, Sarah was the one who would lie restless waiting for news, and Sarah was the one who would watch the minutes and hours and days tick by. She'd already thought she had lost him twice, gone in the devastation of Blackout's attack, and then later in the explosion in Sydney, and now she would wait again, and there was nothing Will could do to help. Keep himself alive, get out of there to apologise and tell her he loved her, and shoot every single last 'Con involved in the whole fiasco...
Being a Ranger would never be safe, and she had known that in marrying him, but going through the uncertainty once had been bad enough. Going through it three times because of things that were classified so far to hell that none of them would ever be able to breathe a word about it... she hadn't signed up for that, and he would have given anything to be able to let her know his fate for sure, one way or another. Sometimes, the uncertainty was the worst part of it all, and they had both known that NEST would be a dangerous assignment, and she had let him do it, anyway, and if she ended up spending the rest of her life married to a MIA husband, he would personally come back and haunt Optimus' metallic aft until someone did something about the whole slagging situation.
And he was rambling, he knew that, too, but then, it wasn't entirely unexpected and he could deal with it. Tiredness did strange things to your head, and despite the rest he had gotten, it was still an exhausting situation.
The dim, red glow remained across from the fire, and Will sighed. Whether or not his mind was willing to settle down for the night didn't matter. He still needed sleep, and with one last glare at the red glow, he turned around and resolutely closed his eyes.
The fourth day dawned with the knowledge that the last of Ratchet's medical cocktails had run out and that his wounds would likely be running rampant with infections come nightfall. He had painkillers to spare, but they would do slag against infections and would at the very most just knock down the fever a little.
It was not a particularly happy thought, but then, Will didn't feel like a particularly happy person. It was raining when he woke up, it was raining when he crawled out of his shelter, it was raining when he snarling and cursing cleaned leftover rainforest from Barricade's joint and plating, and it was raining when he followed the 'Con through the vegetation, ever following the sound of the stream that was steadily growing stronger and wider.
The only improvement in Barricade was the fact that the rain had washed off most of the mud again, but the mech didn't seem to appreciate it a whole lot, and if Will'd had the energy to spare, he would have smirked as Barricade snarled at the canopy. He understood the mech's frustration with the situation, but it didn't keep him from finding amusement where he could, and his main comfort was that he might feel like slag, but his unwanted companion didn't look much better, either. He didn't have the energy to smirk properly at that, but he also didn't have the energy to keep his emotions from showing completely, either, and red optics glared at him as Barricade turned his attention to Will instead.
"I would not be amused in your situation, fleshling," he snarled. "I will tear your life from you before I allow this pathetic mudball to offline me."
"And I'll stuff a thermite grenade through your ugly face if you try," Will bit back. "I'm human. I'll be dead in fifty years, anyway. Not like I have a lot to lose."
Barricade watched him for a long moment – enough to almost make Will reach for said grenade, because if the 'Con really did snap, sabot rounds weren't going to do slag and he might as well do things properly – and then the 'Con turned and stalked off again down the game trail they had followed for the past two days, leaving Will scrambling to catch up.
Still better than weapons being drawn, he decided. At least for now.
It was past noon when Will started to notice Barricade acting... off. Not much, not something readily obvious, but Will had spent three days with his life depending on his ability to read the mech, and right now, something was off.
It had stopped raining, but the mech still looked up occasionally, a strange expression on face plates that had been washed mostly clean by now, and Will wondered what the mech knew that he didn't. Thunder storm, maybe, but it wasn't like they could get more wet than they already were, so it wasn't an option he could be that concerned about. Then again, there could be other dangers out there, but before Will could decided whether to risk the mech snapping by actually asking, Barricade took the decision out of his hands.
"Less incompetent than I thought," he said and bared his teeth in a humourless grin. "You earned your life, fleshling. Be grateful."
Will didn't respond, didn't even move, because while the words could have sounded reassuring in other circumstances, he had no idea of what Barricade was talking about, and it could be anything from a distraction to keep him from bringing up a weapon in time, to mud and rain and lack of Energon finally taking their toll on the Decepticon and slowly wearing down its processors, and he had no way to be be sure which one it was.
"Aircrafts," Barricade continued and flashed his teeth again. "Planes and choppers. Your audio receivers are too worthless to register it, but they are there. Yours, human, not mine."
Rescue, Will realised, or at least he desperately hoped it was NEST and not whoever else might have an interest in tracking them down, and still he didn't move. The fact that rescue was there didn't mean he was safe yet. It was Barricade. There was a very real chance that he had snapped for good and was just waiting for Ironhide or Prime or someone else to get within reach before he decided to finish off the annoying human he had been stuck with. Strike a blow at his enemies if he was offlining from everything that had happened, anyway. It wasn't something he would normally have thought that particular 'Con would do, but they were both showing fractures after four days in the rainforest and he wasn't going to trust Barricade to be sane.
Or maybe it was all just a test to see his reaction and kill him if he had grown too weak in the 'Con's eyes, and Primus, if they got out of there, his paranoia would take weeks to return to even a reasonably normal level again.
"I thought you said my tracer was fried," Will finally said. When in doubt, more information was good, and Barricade didn't look ready to attack... yet.
A snort, disgusted. "The correct assessment at the time, fleshling. Who knows what the Hatchet is capable of? The Prime did not choose a sheltered medic to join him on this pathetic ball of dust."
And then Will heard it, too, the low, familiar rumble becoming audible through the sound of the forest around him, and he wasn't going to believe it yet, wasn't going to let himself trust it until he actually saw the rescue team, but it was so tempting, so easy to give in, and he couldn't afford that. Not yet.
His arm hurt like slag and his feet were throbbing painfully, but he still glared right back at Barricade without flinching-
-Don't show weakness, don't back down-
- And the dull sound became a roar as choppers passed overhead, a plane joining them as well, and the noise almost drowned out the sound of a discharged cannon and tumbling trees followed by the soft crunch of something heavy landing on branches and half-decomposed leaves.
Ironhide, he would recognise the sound of the cannon anywhere, and still he didn't move, because turning his back on a Decepticon would be asking for trouble, even if they all knew without shadow of a doubt that it would mean a painful offlining at Ironhide's hand.
A soft hiss from Barricade – counting on someone weaker to show up, fragger? – and then Ironhide stomped into view, a snarl on his face and the harness from his parachutes neatly torn off and tossed in a bundle behind him.
Big, alien mech or not, Will could have kissed him. As things were, he didn't, and settled for keeping up his staring contest with the Decepticon and didn't dare move until Barricade did, turning to face the new arrival. He exchanged a brief, brief look with Ironhide before the mech turned his attention to the 'Con, just enough to let him know that he was okay, that he would manage for a little while yet, and then Ironhide's sole focus was on Barricade.
The soft whine of a weapon charging, and for a moment Will was absolutely certain Barricade was about to be blasted into microscopic bits, and then the Decepticon honest-to-Primus smiled, a dark, unpleasant smirk, and crossed his wrists in front of his chest.
No weapons, no sign of attack, no chance of moving without being spotted long before he could do anything, and Will realised the meaning only after Ironhide's angry growl spat out the word.
"Surrender? You pathetic, worthless 'Con!" Two long steps and Ironhide was right next to him, one large hand grasping Barricade's throat, ready to tear it out, and Will had to give that much to the 'Con – even then, he still didn't move, didn't even flinch, and for a long moment, the two stayed locked where they were.
"'Cons show no mercy," Ironhide growled. "Why should I accept your surrender, you worthless piece of scrap?"
Another faint, dark smirk and that all too familiar look in his optics at that. "Because your Prime wants me online for interrogation, we both know that."
A hiss, the world around them forgotten as Ironhide answered. "I'll tell him you shot first."
"You could no more lie to your Prime than I could do so to Lord Megatron," Barricade mocked quietly, and Ironhide's hand tightened for a moment before he made a disgusted sound and let go, pushing the 'Con back in the process and Will let out a breath he didn't know he had been holding.
For a moment, none of them moved, and then Ironhide smirked darkly, a mirror of Barricade's previous gesture, and Will recognised the glow in his eyes from the few times he had seen the large mech put aside all restraints in battle. "If you surrender, Decepticon, then do it properly." Pure, ruthless pleasure in his features at the sudden tension in Barricade's stance, and his voice mirrored it as he repeated the order, a dark purr more than anything. "Properly, Decepticon."
And this time Will did have time to wonder about it, about the sudden, guarded tension in Barricade and the unusual hesitation, and then the Decepticon snarled and was slowly moving, the hard crack of trapped branches splintering in joints and under plating before he was finally kneeling on the ground, and with the sort of things Will had seen sticking out between those plates, it had to have been painful. It had been hours since his joints had last been cleaned.
Barricade looked up and Ironhide still didn't yield, and after another moment he lowered his head, suppressed anger radiating from his every motion.
Only then did Ironhide focus on anything else, speaking out loud in his radio for the benefit of both Will and their prisoner as the plane came roaring back and the sound of choppers filled the air around them. "This is Ironhide. Area is secure."
And for the first time in seventy-six hours, William Lennox relaxed.
He woke up in a vaguely familiar infirmary on the fifth day.
The human infirmary, not the Autobot one, which was why it took him a moment longer to identify it. He wasn't sure how he had gotten there, either. The last thing he remembered for sure was a chopper somewhere over the rainforest – Amazon, it had been the Amazon, someone had confirmed that – and an insistent NEST medic with an arsenal of injections, and then... nothing. He assumed they had switched to a plane somehow, somewhere, but he didn't know where and it probably didn't matter.
He moved slightly to sit up a bit and take stock of the situation. His arm was immobilized in a cast, his feet were bandaged, and his head felt vaguely fuzzy from what he assumed were industrial strength painkillers, but other than that, he felt... decent, at least. And he would feel a lot better when he was up and moving again.
Something soft and warm next to him, and his hand lingered gently on his wife's face as she slept peacefully at his side on a spare bed that someone had moved next to his.
I'm sorry, he mouthed soundlessly, because he didn't want to wake her up, and only then did he notice the third occupant in the room, and he looked up and met Ironhide's gaze. It wasn't a big room for a mech, even if it had been adapted for access for Cybertronians as well, and he nodded in gratitude and knew Ironhide would understand the gesture.
"How did you find us?" he said quietly, his voice little more than a whisper as he rested his good hand on top of Sarah's.
Ironhide took his cue, low voice almost unnerving when paired with the large mech as he spoke. "Your tracer is simple technology and only transmits every three seconds. The 'Con's systems got fragged by the jump, but your tracer was too simple to be affected. Most of the circuits burned out in the jump, but a few lasted. Ratchet made that batch to stand up to an EMP wave. After that, it was merely a matter of getting close enough to pick up on what remained of the signal."
Will nodded and looked at his sleeping wife again before returning his attention to Ironhide. "Thank you."
He didn't need to say that it had probably saved his life, because Ironhide already knew, and it was silent for long seconds before the mech continued.
"The 'Con's in the brig. Ratchet looked him over. The fragger might have lasted a few more days, but not much longer. No Energon, hostile surroundings..." A snort. "He knew it, too."
Will nodded again and didn't ask. Maybe they had already started interrogations. Maybe they hadn't. Ironhide didn't seem to be in a rush to get anywhere, which probably meant that Barricade was still waiting in a cell somewhere to be brought in for interrogation, since Will really doubted Ironhide would have missed a chance like that.
"Sam okay?" he said instead. The kid had been the target, after all. Will had been collateral damage, nothing more.
This time, it was Ironhide who nodded. "He is unharmed. As are your men." A pause. "He was restless while you were missing, but physically well. Perhaps Bumblebee may stop fretting over him now that you have returned."
The kid felt guilty, then, and Will understood. He knew Sam, and he would probably have felt the same in the kid's situation. "I'll talk with him when I get out," he said quietly. "He tends to forget that taking risks sometimes is our job."
Ironhide huffed. "You could take less risks. My processors aren't young anymore. They don't appreciate the stress."
"Tell that to the 'Cons," Will grinned – pale, so very tired, but a grin, and he was feeling better already, because he was home and his people were good, and Sam would be okay, and sure, the situation had gotten a bit hairy, but they were all alive and that was what mattered.
"I intend to," Ironhide said, and his low voice carried the threat as effectively as his normal voice would have. "Thoroughly." A pause. "It's good to have you back. You have been missed."
Another slow nod from Will, and he could feel the effects of exhaustion and painkillers on his brain again as he fought back a yawn and his eyes felt heavy. "It's good to be back."
He should go back to sleep, he knew it, and Ironhide echoed the thought as Will looked up. "Rest. I will stand guard."
Nothing to guard from on Diego Garcia, but it wasn't what Ironhide meant, and Will knew it, too. It was safety, sleep with the knowledge that there was no enemy at your back, and with a tired, grateful look he closed his eyes and laid back down.
He was asleep before he hit the pillow.