A/N Oh, another installment of the continuing saga. For those joining the party late, hi! This follows "Fallout", which follows "Break" blah blah blah (like those 'begats' in Deuteronomy!) They're decent reads ("Break" is one of my all time favorites of things I've written) but to get you up to speed fast: everyone feels guilty. Barricade tried to warn Flareup that they were all in danger and got taken captive, by a very hostile Ironhide, with whom he has a history. I think you can figure the rest out from there.
I: Default Settings
Borrowed time. It's all been borrowed time. Every klik, every cycle. Ever since Saejon Three, ever since Starscream, he'd had a chance to make something of his life, to do something. And how many megacycles later and…he'd done nothing except claw his way up to a nominally forgettable administrative position.
He'd always been a loner—just never felt it as much as now. Even when Frenzy died it hadn't felt this bad. He hadn't felt this alone then. They'd still had a mission, and Frenzy could be a hero fallen in combat. Now, what did he have? He was alone. Fallen…not in combat. Not even properly fallen. Frag. He'd fragged everything up. Taken prisoner. Trying to warn Flareup. What had he been thinking? He had his self-concept challenged, dawning realization that he was, objectively, an awful, evil creature. Do anything to fix that, for his own ego. Awakening, slowly, sluggardly, to the fact that he hadn't been 'good' or honorable all along. Never. Amoral at best. So this sudden burst of conscience? Oh, of course. If I save the femme, it's all better and I'm not a vicious thug any more. Really? REALLY? Wrong. Kind of fragging moron believes that shit anyway? Acted on principle, you fraggin' idiot. See where it got you? Now everyone knows everything. No more secrets. Can't hide any more. Everyone sees you for what you are, and even you have to see yourself for what you are. No hiding. That mirror in your recharge station? Yeah. Know your fragging enemy. You, all this time. Look at yourself, no I mean really fragging LOOK at yourself you filthy shit. Everything Ironhide said was true. True. All of it. Saejon Three: my fault. Killed my own mechs. Back then, too, got too caught up in playing the game, and winning. Didn't notice the price being paid. Paid in the lifesparks of other mechs. Price being paid in my own…spark. Got…caught up.
Caught up. Frag. Where the frag am I? Where am I? I remember the plane. I remember Flareup oh primuskeepherawayfromme. I remember Ironhide. All those ugly truths. How I wish I could just hate him for those truths, as though my life were his fault. As though he were to blame. All he did was speak the truth. Begin externalizing the punishment I deserved. Had those mechs I'd killed—had anything I'd done balanced out their lives? Had I done ANYTHING in my entire onlining worth the death of thirty mechs?
Starscream had reported that during his captivity they'd held him isolated. Probably for his protection. Except for the human linguist the jet did NOT want to talk about. And a disarmament team. Well, they'd have the easiest job in the world with Barricade about that part at least: No weapons, once they spiked his wrists. Why keep him alive? Why drag this out? Who did this suit?
When in doubt, he thought, who profits? Ironhide gains nothing. Gains more from Barricade dead: personal satisfaction. Optimus? If he didn't figure Optimus to have such a sterling silver spine of honor and decency, he'd suspect Prime of holding him to use as a bargaining chip. Only a few things wrong with that: nobody gonna give nothin' to get Cade back—Soundwave will take his job in a capacitor tic. Starscream will be more than glad to be rid of the millstone of Barricade's fragged up life that had probably been weighing him down since Saejon Fragging Three. Blackout? Blackout might miss him—Primus knows the copter tried harder than anyone to be friendly with Barricade. If only…if only I didn't always presume they were trying to get something from me. If only I thought that maybe Blackout's overtures of friendship were sincere. If only I'd let myself get fooled that way…even once.
Too fragging late.
This was driving him crazy. He could feel it. His sanity, shredding like bad code. Locked in here with his memories. Nothing but. Not even a zip point to distract him. No hope of even the damn copter showing up to stir him out of his lethargy. Lethargy. His body seemed paralyzed, but his processor was racing, throwing up recriminations so fast they seemed to blur together.
Was he paralyzed? He shifted one foot, feeling the ankle servos fire, hearing the sound of metal on metal. Sign it was real, not just sensorblock. Or worse—joint death.
Someone else heard as well. The darkness became slightly darker over his right shoulder. Barricade blinked, cycling his optics to lowlight. "Awake?" The Autobot medic. The one who had given him the blessed/hated sensor block on the plane.
"Yeah," he croaked, his vocalizer sore. Somewhere, at some point, he'd done a hell of a lot of screaming.
Ratchet waited, as if expecting Barricade to do something. Barricade just closed his eyes. Seeing, not seeing? Difference? "You still with me, Barricade?"
"Yeah." The medic seemed to want more effort. Probably as gratitude for his efforts. Which, considering Barricade couldn't feel a fragging thing, must have been pretty damned impressive. "Still here. Sure you're thrilled."
"I suppose it's a good sign the attitude has come back," the medic said, dryly. "Mind if I perform a systems check?"
"Don't care." He heard Ratchet bustle in his tools. "Don't have to pretend I have any choice in the matter, though."
"Huh?" Ratchet looked over.
"Just…don't play games. Condescending to feed the idea I could stop you from doing anything you wanted."
"Barricade," Ratchet began, paused. Began again. "We're not like that. I am not like that." He turned Barricade's head slightly, for the systems check port in his throat. Barricade's vision slued hard. "Guh!" he gagged.
"Sorry," Ratchet murmured, "Side effect of the sensor block. You may end up purging. But it's better than the alternative."
Barricade would have to take his word for it, as he was struggling to keep his optics online, and his systems from purging. Cleanser foamed in his mouth. He swallowed, hard, but bubbles of it flecked his lips. He was mortified as Ratchet calmly took a rag and wiped it away. Cleanser stung in his cracked labial plate.
"All set. Ready?"
"If I say no?" he managed, more foam escaping. Another swipe with the rag.
"Then I do not do it." Ratchet laid the diagnostic datareader on the berth beside Barricade's head, folding his arms over his chassis. "You need repairs: I cannot access your internal diagnostics without a systems check and your permission. I will not violate your will." Your choice, in other words: damage or violation. Give in to one of them. Frag. He deserved the pain, but he knew no matter what that was the one thing they wouldn't let him have. Let him hover here forever in sensor block before they let that happen.
"Yeah. Fine. Do it." He gritted his eyes closed. One of his eyes tracked the progress of the systems check, scrolling the details as they downloaded to Ratchet's device. He watched it, idly. Something to look at. Something to do—looking—than just lying here with his thoughts. And himself.
"Doing okay?" Ratchet asked, distractedly. 'Good bedside manner' stuff—he didn't care, most likely.
"The sarcasm is unnecessary."
"The sarcasm is the only thing keeping me together right now." He cut himself short, appalled by the honesty of the sentence. Unintentional. He swallowed around more cleanser foam.
"Your optics are offset," Ratchet mumbled. "Not to default."
"They need to be at default for me to check optical systems."
A string of curse words marched across Barricade's processor, on their way to his vocalizer. "Fine," he pushed out, before they could make it. He cycled through a ventilation, and released his optics, feeling the larger pair arc outwards, giving him a nearly 270 degree vision field.
Ratchet started. "That is unusual."
"You can say ugly, too."
"It is merely…an unusual design. I have never seen it before."
"Base model used to be kept off the battlefield." He laughed, bitterly. "You can see how fragging great we are in combat."
"Held your own, I hear." If Barricade was supposed to get blushy-giddy at the compliment, Ratchet was going to be sorely disappointed. "Was that true, what Ironhide said?"
"That I was the bastard behind Saejon Three? Yeah." Why mince words?
Ratchet flinched, as if Barricade's vulgarity hurt him. "I meant that you did primary systems hijacks?"
"Yeah." He shifted uncomfortably, around the truth he was twisting out of all recognition. "Had a big processor and a megaton of shell programs to do it, though." Implied: can't do it now. Lie. Oh, Barricade, you are filth. Can't stop lying, even a little bit. Even now. Trying to run some approach. He wondered if this, too, were a sign of improvement. Hey, doc, I'm running headgames on you: am I getting better? "Can I put my eyes back now?" He coughed against the taste of cleanser in his throat.
"Oh, in a klik." Ratchet turned to grab a clean rag. With his optics spread, Barricade saw it. Them. Maybe it was the sensor block. His chassis heaved. He had just enough time to turn his head to the side before he purged, splattering against the berth, the floor, Ratchet's datareader, Ratchet himself. He cringed, humiliated, but all of his eyes spun to fix on the spindly mass on the worktable behind Ratchet.
His arms. Meta's arms. The little spindly wire frame arms they had installed in him to cope with the higher performance demands. The little arms he'd had reworked as his close-in weapon, former fingers sharpened into spinning spikes. There. On the table. How…how could he not have felt their absence? His systems purged again. He began blurting mindless, meaningless apologies, as Ratchet wordlessly moved to clean up the mess.
"Shhhh," Ratchet said, sweeping the mass of fluids into a basin with detached practice. "It happens." Barricade continued his string of apologies, not even sure who or what he was apologizing to, as if words could make anything better. As if they ever had. He shut them off, staring, purge and strings of cleanser foam hanging from his face. "Barricade, it's not a big deal. You think you're the first mech to purge on me?"
"That's the stuff that draws mechs to your specialty in droves, isn't it?" Barricade muttered.
Ratchet gave a wry grin, moving to wipe Barricade's mouth. Only then did he notice the fixity, and then the focus, of Barricade's gaze. He shrugged, as if a little embarrassed. "We had to disarm you, you realize. You did the same to Ironhide and Flareup."
"Yeah." The word choice was just a little too apt. Disarm. He felt an almost hysterical laughter well up in him. He let Ratchet push him back onto the flat hardness of the repair frame. "Never very useful to me, anyway," he said, bitterly.
"Well, against us, maybe not. But," Ratchet sighed. "Rumor has it the Americans might take you."
Ratchet shrugged. "No idea. Optimus is doing his best to talk them out of it. For your sake. You know, after Megatron."
Yeah, right. Optimus cared so fragging much what happened to Megatron at the humans' hands that he would do ANYTHING to prevent another filthy Decepticon from falling into their reverse-engineering vivisectionist clutches. Even the All Hallowed Optimus wasn't that altruistic. He smiled weakly, saying only, "That's very good of him." Primus, these bots really all believed that tripe. Probably believed Optimus voided pure energon and could power a transwarp drive with the love in his spark. "You know he's not going to win that one, though."
Ratchet frowned. Questioning the Mighty Leader? "He'll do his best, Barricade."
Oh of COURSE. "You know the possibility exists, otherwise you wouldn't have already," he choked on the word, "disarmed me."
Ratchet picked up the systems check analyzer, wiping one last bit of purge off it with a rag. "That is true," he admitted. "They have already been to look at you." He looked unhappy.
Well, that wasn't creepy at all. "Frag it," Barricade said, closing his eyes. "At least someone wants me."