A gift fic for Felina Fullstop – sorry it's taken so long!
Pairing-free for a change, just to prove that I can.
Angle and Plane
It was a strange thing to look upon the site of one's own death, Optimus admitted with a sigh as he looked over the scorched and torn woodland. There didn't seem to have been many changes in the six weeks since he'd last been here. He'd anticipated that it would be a humbling experience to come back, but not so very eerie. Standing beside him, Ironhide was unreadable.
After a full minute spent in silence, the dark mech stirred out of their mutual reverie and led them forward. They followed a natural path through shattered trees and wrenched earth towards the energon-burnt spot where Optimus had ultimately fallen. NEST had long cleared away all the debris, Autobot and Decepticon alike, but the area told the fight with perfect clarity.
They walked slowly, as if to have time to contemplate every step. "I don't see the point in this," Optimus asserted again, though still followed the older mech. "Not whilst the Decepticonss have disappeared again. Megatron -"
"- will be licking his wounds and laying into Starscream for a while yet," Ironhide broke in flatly, optics downcast as he followed the twisted tracks. They stepped over a rotting tree that Optimus had used as a club, the tears where he had dug his fingers in to pull it from the ground turned soft and rotted.
He didn't need to take in their surroundings to know them – the weapon's specialist had been obsessing over this site since finding his Prime's body at it. With the Decepticons chased off, the Autobots had been left standing with a cold form that had already had dead spark and nothing they could do about it. They'd waited, guarding in terse and brooding silence for a helicopter to take him away. Ironhide had spent the time mapping every stone and stick, trying to fathom how, after hundreds of thousands of years, Optimus had ended up alone and dead on this young soil, only returned to them days later through a fluke of fate.
Ironhide was far from naïve – he knew that they would not be blessed with such a miracle if anything happened to Optimus again. Mistakes had been made, and they were going to be learnt from. He raised his shoulders at the flush of energy from his conviction, momentarily turning hard and bright optics on the taller mech before continuing on. "And the point is that something went wrong here, and we ain't going anywhere until I find out what it was."
Optimus stopped at that, frowning outright at the mech's back. This was the first time they'd spoken of this since his resurrection, and he'd been reticent from the start to go along with this suggestion. Now he was sincerely regretting his decision to indulge Ironhide's want to come back and examine, having privately decided to put what had happened here behind him and move on. Dwelling on death couldn't lead anywhere good, let alone useful in his mind. "There were four of them, Ironhide, including Megatron and Starscream, and I was on my own."
The flat tone caused Ironhide to glare back over his shoulder, only pausing to speak. "First mistake." He turned to keep walking before a reaction could register on Optimus's face.
The taller mech was left with no choice but to follow to continue the conversation, now convinced that Ironhide was being unreasonable and that this was a complete waste of time. In the back of his processor, however, his mind was quietly matching up his scanners with the memory of that frenzied fight. This peripheral detail was not evidenced in his voice, however. "I've fought alone before, and against more."
A grunt. "And it was a mistake then, too," Ironhide rumbled back, though didn't stop walking this time. Three more steps and he shook his head, jaw clenched unseen and cannons twitching in a fidget that couldn't be missed by those who knew him. "We were on our way. You should have kept moving until we could all engage as a team. Not taken them all on alone and gotten yourself slagged."
Optimus gritted his dentals against a swell of frustration, dumbfound by the mounting unreasonableness. It wasn't that he was unused to it, but at least before there had been a validity in the obsession. Now they were here where nothing could be changed and there was no damage to undo. The only thing curbing his glossa now was Ironhide's dominion in this area.
He was their weapons specialist, but that went beyond just munitions, as many of the humans mistakenly believed. As warriors they were walking weapons, and Ironhide was responsible for training their bodies to fight as much as to use weaponry. When someone was seriously damaged, Ironhide investigated it to see what could have been done better. Death counted. More often than not it was blind fate, but even after millennia of fighting they could always be better.
Still, Optimus decided as they came upon the point of his last stand, there was no call for the specialist to be treating him like a youngling who didn't know a cannon from his aft (Ironhide's phrasing). "In this instance," he pressed, tone level as he returned to the earlier statement, "it was unavoidable. I saved Sam's life, kept Megatron from taking him until you all arrived and got him to safety. Temporary or not, I died doing my duty. I do not regret it."
They stood side by side just outside of the long black mark that showed where hot energon had killed the grass and saturated the soil. It was inevitable that the only sound would be air moving through them and birdsong for a long moment. Finally, Ironhide gave him a sidelong look, optics dark and unreadable in the face of Optimus's peace. "Second mistake."
Before Optimus could snap a retort at the blunt remark, Ironhide moved to stand behind his back, one hand on his shoulder holding him still. Though there was no resistance, he held a firm grip. "He came at you from behind."
There was something new in the mech's tone that made Optimus hesitate and finally nod, resigning himself to allowing Ironhide to comb over his last moments in detail. He heard an infrequently used blade extend, felt its tip come to rest against the spot where he'd been impaled. The armour had knitted together around the massive weld and patch job, but the wide scar would remain over his backstrut. It was comparatively numb, but he was aware of the pressure in that previously destroyed area, and it gave him pause. "The sword first, then the cannon," he finally confirmed, chin dipping towards his chassis.
"He's stabbed you in the back before," Ironhide reminded, touching the blade over older scars firmly enough to be felt.
Optimus turned his head but was not quite able to see the mech with his shoulder still being held. "Never straight through my spark."
"No, you've always turned enough to deflect it through other parts, even when it was hard enough to lift you of you feet," Ironhide went on quickly, pressing the sword back to that recent, gruesome spot. His hand moved from the mech's shoulder to touch along the armour plates that he knew housed sensor banks. "Where were your dorsal sensors?"
Optimus rolled his optics a little at that, knowing full well that that -had- been an oversight on his part, but a 'mistake' he would not hesitate to make again. He'd already reassured Sam of as much. "Looking for the boy. My primary sensors were offline at that point and I had lost sight of him."
A low sound, signalling that the mech had had his suspicions confirmed. The blade twisted against the metal with a soft, high note. "He got you by surprise, so he struck on target."
The tall mech shifted his footing fractionally, mindful of the blade against his backstrut and what it was that he was standing over. He felt a ghost pain run through the depth of his chassis, could see in an echo the trees tipping in slow motion as he collapsed. There had been no shocked cold, no numbness. It had hurt until the end.
A beat and the blade retracted quietly, though only to be replaced with Ironhide's hand clamping around his backstrut. Then, without warning, Optimus jerked with a shout as he was lifted off his feet from that single point.
Feet splayed and lines taut with effort, Ironhide held the slim mech aloft with his other hand braced on his thigh, mouth a hard line. He spoke through clenched dentals, his voice empowered by the same emotional source as that which kept his extended arm steady. "Once he had you impaled, Prime, you were fragged whether he used the cannon or not. That just offlined you quicker. Megatron could have stood here all day with you impaled on that sword. You couldn't do a fragging thing with your spark run through." A tremble to shake the lax body. "Anywhere else held up like this, you could have twisted off. Used him as leverage. Would have taken a lot for Ratchet to sort you out, but you'd have only been crippled, not offlined."
Optimus was silent. It was a valid observation, but at the end of it all it had come down to the angle of his body when Megatron struck. Blind misfortune. A few seconds of mindlessness out of the trillions spent in battle.
Neither spoke or moved for a long moment. Ironhide's voice when it came had dipped to a gruff, Yard-training growl. "Come on then, youngling."
The taller mech's body came to life immediately, raising his feet to kick at Ironhide's load-bearing leg to let him down. He remembered grappling at the blade through his chassis before, trying to lift his body off the terrible instrument as his own weight dragged it deeper through neural lines that he felt being individually torn. With no pain to send his systems into spasm, Optimus quickly found purchase on the other mech's knee and twisted bodily. He grunted when he felt Ironhide's fingers drag across his backstrut, gripping hard until the last, before dropping to a short roll on the dead grass and coming up in a crouch.
"Good to see you remembering that you're good at the close action." That there was more to that sentence was clear from Ironhide's pose, low and expectant as his cannons spun out in whines and jerks. Their light was dimmed, powered low for a friendly fight. He rolled one shoulder back to take aim. "Even if you still fragged it up in the end. Thought you'd learnt better than that."
Sparring fuelled by passion was generally discouraged, particularly amongst the higher ranks. It damaged morale if it was seen, tended to leave what had triggered it unresolved, and generally did little more than tire the mechs out and give Ratchet work. On occasion, however, there was nothing for them to do but to scrap. Muted firepower and cold swords were the most efficient language in some situations, particularly when no one was watching.
This concession was more of a visceral acknowledgement than a reasoned thought to Optimus, and he'd slammed shoulder-first into Ironhide's torso before the warmed cannon could cycle again.
They fought without words for several minutes, the movements old and refined as they fell into habitual lunges and brutal blows. Ironhide kept in close to the taller mech's body, reducing the efficiency of the swords and relying on the thickness of his armour to land hard, fast blows to Optimus's sides and legs.
The barrelling attack grew more fevered, and it took a moment for Optimus to realise that he was being fought with rage rooted in something he couldn't identify. It brought a savagery to Ironhide's motions that he'd only seen used against Decepticons, and it felt to be getting out of hand now. Slamming the blade of one glowing sword into the mech's side vents, he used Ironhide's pained pause to put some distance between them.
"This is ridiculous, Ironhide," he snapped with narrowed optics, vents humming noisily as his cooling system fought to keep up. "I was outnumbered, distracted and ultimately killed by a sword and cannon blast through my very spark. There was nothing I could do."
Refusing to brace a hand to his leaking side, Ironhide's response was caught between a spit and a growl. "Slag, you were already dying before he got to you at this spot."
Optimus stiffened at that, swords lowering a little in their defensive stance. "What?"
Ironhide took a step forward, faceplates tight with tension as he swept a demonstrative hand. "I can smell it, Prime. Ratchet could too. We can tell when the critical stuff's been hit, and you were leaking out and shutting down before Megatron ran you through."
That made a kind of sense, Optimus realised as he lowered the swords entirely before deactivating and retracting them into their sheaths. He remembered areas within his system screaming like bad code, numb and responsive only to his sheer will to keep fighting. He'd been losing power, dangerously overheating from the moment his cooling system had been shut down, and had found it difficult to track just Megatron's deadly movements, let alone that of all the Decepticons with him in this clearing.
"Then perhaps that's how he did," he concluded aloud, for Ironhide's sake though the vocalisation eased a knot within his spark that he hadn't known was there.
Ironhide shook his head, vehement. "It shouldn't have happened."
Optimus straightened and regarded the mech anew, sensing that there was something more going on here. Something that Ironhide was taking more personally than this fight lost. "You'd have done nothing differently. It was a fight I was fated to lose, yet not fated to permanently die from."
"You couldn't die on this rock, Optimus," Ironhide barked, one hand sweeping out in a vicious arc to encompass the human populous of the planet. "Not over them."
The taller mech risked a step forward, relaxing a little when Ironhide finally dropped his offensive stance. "The Autobots would have gone on without me."
Ironhide made a sound close to a scoff at that, cycling back his cannons and speaking to some undefined point between them on the charred ground. "It should never have been an issue. You are Prime. I'm your protectorate." Frustration twisted his features again, and he met the other's stare with a raised finger. "I've trained you harder than anyone else to keep you safe. And you pull something stupid and heroic and undermine all of that - got run through protecting something that the universe wouldn't have missed and wouldn't have brought us any closer to ending this fragging war."
Part of the issue, Optimus sensed, was that he'd compromised himself in the fight simply by being wary to step on or crush the very thing he was trying to protect. That distracting anxiety had cost him several blows that had ultimately compromised him enough for Megatron to get behind him with sword and cannon. No singular thing had gone wrong, and there was no simple lesson to take from this.
"It was you who taught me how to fight over the heads of the vulnerable and protect them without bringing them harm from my own body," Optimus began, closing the last of the distance between them to rest a hand on the old warrior's shoulder. "You who told me that my will to shelter and defend the innocent was more of an asset than a vulnerability."
Blue optics narrowed, turned to the ground, and Ironhide shook his head with a grimace that twisted his mouth. "I was wrong."
Optimus tightened his hand to draw the mech's gaze up. His tone was flat and final. "No, you weren't. Your mistake is thinking that there is such a level of skill, of being able to anticipate and undermine every attack, that I will evade death." A pause and he lowered his helm, optics bright on the pair that watched him. "But I will die, just like any other mech."
Gritting his dentals, Ironhide reached up to grip the slim wrist against his shoulder in a hard squeeze. "You're not just a mech, Prime. You know that. You're a symbol, and your death is a symbol too. One that we can't afford to have hanging over us." He let go and stepped away, looking over the site again and trying to shake off Optimus's finality that there was nothing that could be taken from here. "We'll learn from this. Train harder. I can do better for you."
Behind the battle mask, Optimus's mouth twisted into a line of near-pity. Those words delivered in a tone of such fealty made him realise just how personally Ironhide had taken his death on this ground. "It's not your fault."
Ironhide's cannons spun by reflex as he shook his head, steeling his expression before turning certain optics back to Optimus. "You died in combat. That makes it my fault."
Deciding to try a different tactic, Optimus folded his arms and arched a brow with feigned indifference. "So you feel personally responsible for every mech you've ever trained who has been killed?"
That lightness struck Ironhide as offensive, undermining the severity of what had happened. His failings. "You're different, and you know it. I wasn't their protectorate."
Allowing his hands to drop back to his sides, Optimus took a half step forward and willed the mech to look at him and believe him. "I'm not disappointed in you, Ironhide." A soft smile that carried into his words. "I'm humbled by your devotion to keeping me alive."
It was as close to a hug as they would ever get and Ironhide bristled at it, though it warmed his spark and settled like a balm across the corrosive guilt that had been plaguing him. "You should care more," he uttered finally, though whether about the risk of dying over something so small as one alien child or the thoroughness of his training, he wasn't sure.
Optimus nodded a little, accepting the point though not as deeply as Ironhide had been trying to make him. "I am mortal… Recent evidence to the contrary," he added with a wry smile, one that he quickly suppressed. "Death comes to us all. Primus gives and takes not of our choosing."
Ironhide could say nothing to that and merely waited, watching Optimus sceptically as he took another step forward.
The taller mech paused before setting both hands against Ironhide's arms, directing his attention wholly onto him. "You can't protect me from death, and thinking that you can is -your- mistake."
Ironhide grunted an unbidden laugh at that, shrugging out of one hand to bring his palm to Optimus's arm. "Still gonna try anyway."
Optimus nodded with a smile, sighing as he felt the natural order restored. "I wouldn't expect anything else."
It's not exactly what Felina requested in terms of a sparring match, but I've been wanting to get these two back into the woods for a while now.
Thanks for reading! A review letting me know what you think would be lovely.