Disclaimer: I don't own them.
Wheeljack entered the Protectobot quarters and nodded to Ironhide.
"Purring like turbokittens, for next joor anyway." Ironhide gave him a weary grin. "I think I'm gettin' to old for this, Wheeljack. How can lookin' after five youngsters be more exhausting than fightin' the 'Cons for five hundred vorns?"
"I can put in a request to send you back, if they're too much for you," Wheeljack teased. As if Ironhide would trust anyone else to guard the new gestalt team. Ironhide's engine sputtered indignantly.
"Kidding, Ironhide. Just kidding." Wheeljack clapped Ironhide reassuringly on the back. "You know, you wouldn't have half the trouble getting them to recharge if you'd stop sneaking them energon goodies."
Ironhide raised an optic ridge, as if for all the world he had no idea what the engineer was referring to, but Wheeljack noticed he didn't try to deny it. It still felt a little odd to Wheeljack to be playing the role of "the responsible one," in charge of raising these new creations. Blowing himself up every now and then was one thing; harm coming to one of the Aerialbots when they were under his care, and now the Protectobots, was quite another. A few extra snacks would do them no damage though; he'd just have to remember to not sneak them energon goodies on the same days Ironhide did.
"Anything exciting happen while I was recharging?"
"Streetwise dismantled the communications array." Ironhide grinned at Wheeljack's alarmed expression. "Kid after your own spark, I'd say; I only turned my back on him for two kliks. Don't worry, Aid put it back together again. Sound quality's better than before even, only now First Aid wants to get him a friend."
"The communications array. First Aid's worried it's lonely. Kid's not quite right in the processor, Wheeljack."
"Perfectly normal for a sparkling his age, nothing to be concerned over," Wheeljack reassured him. Wheeljack decided not to tell Ironhide that First Aid had also made friends with most of the workstations in the classroom as well as the energon dispenser.
"Oh yeah, and Hot Spot's figured out his alt mode," Ironhide added. Wheeljack looked flummoxed. "First thing he did was drive himself into a hole. We got him out, no damage done, but now all the others want to try out their alt modes, too."
Wheeljack groaned and rubbed his optics, wishing he had the excuse of being too old for this as well. "They weren't supposed to start transforming until next vorn, 'Hide," he said a little plaintively. Ironhide's chuckle in reply had an unrepentantly evil edge to it.
"Aw, you'll be fine, 'Jack. Nothin' you can't handle, I'm sure."
"At least only one of them can fly this time." Wheeljack sighed, wondering inwardly if the Allspark had somehow sensed that these new mechs would need to grow up quickly and sparked them accordingly, or if it just had a devious sense of humor. The Protectobots were barely three orns old; were they planning to keep up this pace indefinitely? Even after a solid cycle of recharge, he still felt exhausted, and Ironhide looked ready to fall over where he stood.
"Go get some rest," Wheeljack said. "I'll keep an optic on the kiddos."
"Good luck," Ironhide said, with another chuckle as he headed off to his own recharge.
Despite the prospect of teaching four eager newsparks how to drive, let alone a helo to fly—Primus! He'd better send a message to Springer, as soon as possible—Wheeljack couldn't help but smile at the sight of the five recharging Protectobots, cuddled in their customary pile on the floor of their quarters. No matter how processor-straining it got trying to keep up with them, it was well worth it, he reminded himself.
Wheeljack pulled up a chair and a datapad, taking advantage of their recharge nap to go over the next set of way-ahead-of-schedule lessons. He'd hardly gotten started, however, when he was distracted by the sound of intake vents hitching amid the more usual hum and purr of recharge. Frowning, he got up to examine the Protectobots more closely, tracking the sound to First Aid, curled partly under Hot Spot. His optics were tightly shuttered, but his faceplates were streaked with optic fluid.
"Aid? Hey, kiddo, what's wrong?" Wheeljack gently pulled First Aid out from under Hot Spot, growing more concerned as the sparkling made a protesting sound of pain and curled up even tighter. He seemed to be cradling one hand, and Wheeljack cursed inwardly. Of course this would happen right after Ratchet had left to go back to Cybertron. They'd debated waiting until Aid was ready to begin medical training to install the sensors and upgrades, but Ratchet had decided against it.
"Better to let him learn to cope with them right from the get go," he'd said, patting the half-finished frame. "Poor little fragger."
"Is it your hand? Aid?" Wheeljack tried to pry out the suspect appendage, but First Aid resisted him, his entire frame shaking with quiet sobs. As far as they could tell, First Aid hadn't had any major difficulties adjusting to sensory and data overload from the medical instrumentation thus far, but that didn't mean new issues couldn't develop along the way.
After another unsuccessful attempt to see where the problem was, Wheeljack gave up and opened up a panel in First Aid's shoulder. "I'm going to turn off the pain receptors in your whole arm, ok, kiddo?"
The effect was almost immediate. First Aid's whole body relaxed, and he emerged from his protective coil to tearfully cuddle up against Wheeljack.
First Aid gave a shuddering sigh and nodded, his right arm hanging limply between them. Wheeljack held him close a few more moments and then propped him up so he could take a look. First Aid blinked several times to clear the optic fluid and then watched intently as Wheeljack gently examined his hand. Wheeljack couldn't find much in the way of external damage, but the whole hand was burning hot to the touch – no wonder the poor kid had been crying!
"Think you can walk to the repair bay? It'll be easier for me to check you out down there."
First Aid turned his head to look over at his recharging brothers. Newly sparked gestalts seemed to need almost constant proximity to one another, at least for their first several orns online. They'd just started getting the Protectobots comfortable separating into different rooms for short periods of time and they were doing quite well with it. After the near-disastrous results caused by prematurely separating the Aerialbots, however, Wheeljack certainly wasn't going to push First Aid if he wasn't ready.
After another long look at his brothers, as if making sure they were going to stay put, First Aid stood and twined his good hand with one of Wheeljack's. Wheeljack kept his grip as they started down the hallway, as First Aid seemed to be having trouble walking in a straight line.
"It feels so strange," Aid murmured softly, meeting Wheeljack's gaze with a hint of amusement as he tried to veer into the wall again. "I feel—" there was a pause as First Aid searched his vocabulary database for an appropriate term "—lopsided?"
Wheeljack nodded in approval to show Aid he'd picked a word that made sense. The Protectobots' language skills were progressing excellently, but they still came up with an odd turn of phrase here and there.
"How did you do that? Turn off my arm?"
"Concentrated data burst to the neural lines in your shoulder. The sensation will come back in a joor or so, but that'll give us enough time to figure out what's wrong. As a medic you'll be able to do the same thing one day, only with a lot more precision. Don't go trying it out on your brothers though, not until you know what you're doing," Wheeljack teased. "Can't have them all flopping around with their arms and legs numbed up."
First Aid giggled softly at the thought. "I won't, Wheeljack, don't worry."
Once they reached the repair bay, First Aid clambered one-armed onto a berth with only a little more difficulty than usual. Wheeljack took his limp right hand and began carefully teasing open the various panels and mechanisms.
"All right. Let's see what's going on here."
First Aid leaned in a little closer to watch, fascinated as always with anything to do with repairs. He wrinkled his faceplates a little and rubbed at the drying optic fluid with his good hand.
"Yeah?" Wheeljack answered, smiling to himself. New sparks. All questions. He didn't mind though.
"I was…crying?" First Aid's expression was puzzled, and Wheeljack blinked as he realized this was a new experience for Aid; none of the Protectobots had had occasion to cry since onlining. The Aerialbots, higher strung jet models and mishandled by their first caretakers, had cried through most of their first several orns, poor sparklings.
Hot Spot had had a few rough spots in the very beginning—Wheeljack had a feeling they had vastly underestimated the strain being a gestalt commander put on a developing processor—but he seemed to be coping well now. Wheeljack attributed it to steady rescue-bot encoding and the fact that they at least somewhat slagging knew what they were doing this time.
"Yep, you sure were, kiddo. Not surprised – I bet this hurt like Pit, with all your sensors."
"But…why? What good is it? It's kind of itchy." First Aid rubbed at his faceplates again.
"Ah…now that is a very good question. I don't think anyone really knows for sure, but the programs to enable crying are part of some of our most ancient coding, like laughing, faceplate expressions, frame posturing, lots of other social signals. You can disable the coding and mechanisms for crying, or just not include them in new constructions, but 'bots that do so often become emotionally unstable."
First Aid had his optic ridges furrowed, as if he were memorizing instructions for a life-or-death mission. "Social signals?"
Wheeljack nodded. "Physical or emotional distress can disrupt the function the verbal and language centers of your processor, so one theory is that crying is a way to signal distress to other 'bots. Especially for youngsters who don't have fully developed communication algorithms." Wheeljack nudged First Aid's knee affectionately, and then frowned as he located the source of the problem with Aid's hand. The pinched wiring would certainly explain the overheating but…this wasn't new damage.
"Aid…how long has your hand been hurting you?"
First Aid blinked innocently at Wheeljack. "Where it doesn't go away again? Um…six days," he answered, measuring time by planetary rotation.
"Six days…Aid…why didn't you say anything?" Wheeljack searched his memory banks for some hint that First Aid had been in significant pain for nearly half of an orn, but came up blank. He'd been a little quiet maybe, but not unusually so…Wheeljack scanned First Aid's energy levels and berated himself when they registered very low charge. Poor kid probably hadn't been able to recharge properly for days. What kind of creator was he, to not have noticed? For that matter, why hadn't any of Aid's gestaltmates mentioned something?
First Aid shrugged, his optic ridges drawn together again in a worried little frown as he watched Wheeljack's face. "I…couldn't say anything. It would hurt them, if I did, especially Hot Spot," he said softly, slowly, as if feeling the answer out himself. "They didn't mean it."
"Didn't mean it…" Wheeljack tried to puzzle that out. "Did they hurt your hand, by accident?"
First Aid nodded, still with that worried expression. "But it's ok. It would make them sad if they knew."
"Aid…you need to say something if they hurt you, so they can know when to be careful." He was surprised the others hadn't sensed the injury as soon as it happened; the first time one of the Aerials had been injured it had initiated a chain reaction of panic in the whole gestalt. Learning to control what was broadcast over the gestalt bond at greater and greater distances was something the Aerials, at nearly 200 vorns, were still working on.
The Protectobots were their own mechanisms, Wheeljack reminded himself. They were gestalt, yes, but they didn't necessarily function the same, although the lessons they had learned from the Aerialbots were proving invaluable. And apparently Aid was able to block at least certain things from the rest of his gestalt. They'd included an option for separating confidential patient information in First Aid's baseline programming; Wheeljack wondered if it might be manifesting somewhat differently than they had planned. He wasn't sure if it was a good thing or not.
"They are careful, Wheeljack. I don't want them to be more careful."
"I can tell them, if you don't want to…"
First Aid looked alarmed at this suggestion, putting his good hand over Wheeljack's and looking at him earnestly. "Please don't, Wheeljack. I ask of you."
"You ask of me, huh?" Wheeljack regarded First Aid's pleading optics for a moment. There was still so much they didn't know about gestalt interrelationships and how they worked. With the Aerials, they had finally learned to take their cue from the Aerialbots themselves, letting them set their own pace and work things out with minimal interference. It was an approach Wheeljack continued with the Protectobots, right from the beginning, but this…what if First Aid had been hiding something more spark-threatening than damage to one of his hands?
"All right, Aid, I won't tell them." Wheeljack sighed as he picked up First Aid's injured hand again so he could begin repairs, hoping his decision to go with Aid's wishes wasn't a mistake. Thankfully the hand was an easy fix; once Wheeljack got the major wiring repaired, First Aid's self-repair system would be able to handle the damages to the more delicate mechanisms.
"Still…you really need to squawk when something hurts, kiddo. How else would medics know if a patient needs treatment, hmm?"
"Yeah, you know. Make a loud noise. Like 'ouch!'"
First Aid looked at him quizzically. Wheeljack shook his head. Hopeless.
"In fact, why don't you practice. Give me a good squawk."
"Ouch?" First Aid said tentatively.
Wheeljack shook his head again. "Gonna have to do better than that, kid."
First Aid obediently took a deep intake. "Ouch." The second time was less tentative, but only marginally louder, and Wheeljack chuckled.
"It'll do, I guess. Just…next time something hurts, you tell someone – me, Ironhide, Perceptor, anyone – got it?"
"Got it, Wheeljack." First Aid smiled at him happily, though Wheeljack wasn't entirely reassured.
By the time Wheeljack finished his repairs, First Aid's optics were dim with exhaustion and he was cycling air deeply through his intakes to stay awake, still determined to watch everything Wheeljack did. "All right, kiddo. All done."
"Thanks, 'Jack…" First Aid leaned against him wearily for a moment. Wheeljack gave him a sympathetic pat, which First Aid returned with his good hand, gentle little strokes on Wheeljack's arm.
"Let's get you back to your brothers. You should have some motion back, but your hand might be a little sore for a few days - want me to re-numb it for you?"
First Aid wiggled his fingers experimentally and then shook his head as he slid carefully off the berth. "Nope. It's ok, thank you."
When they got back to Protectobot quarters First Aid cuddled in gratefully with his brothers, in recharge almost before his helm came to rest against Hot Spot's shoulder. Wheeljack noted he had both hands curled up tightly under his chin.
"Recharge well," he murmured. Hot Spot smiled and stirred without waking up, tucking First Aid more closely against him, Streetwise scooting in closer to them both, Blades stretching and sighing, shifting until his helm was pressed against Groove's and their arms were interlinked. Wheeljack stayed there, just watching them for awhile. Worrying a little, about this new development with First Aid, wishing he could have told the Aerialbots about their younger brothers, and that he had them here for advice, especially Silverbolt. The thought made him smile a little, his first creations, now come into their own as mechs and soldiers both. He missed them, those five crazy jets. They'd turned out ok, despite everything, despite all of his mistakes. Better than ok. He was proud of them…so proud…
(Perceptor, peeking in several breems later, smiled to see Wheeljack soundly recharging in the middle of a pile of four wide-awake Protectobots and a still snoozing First Aid.)