Italics: Flashback

The End of All Things

Other mech's whispers followed him everywhere anymore. They ghosted over his audios after he'd rounded corners in the hallways, over conversations in the rec. room, the wash racks… they even followed him to his private quarters sometimes. Ironhide grumbled. Primus, he hated the way the stared at him and whispered to each other after they thought he couldn't hear them, as though he were some washed up old warrior who had lost his only friend in the world. He stopped to think on this momentarily, letting everything sink in before shaking his head dismissively. He was in danger of brooding too deeply into those thoughts.

He trudged down the hallway, dragging his feet slightly and somehow ended up standing in front of the medbay without knowing precisely how he'd gotten there. He eyed the double doors warily and tilted his head slightly toward them, almost expecting to hear the clang of a wrench against the door and Ratchet's gruff voice yelling at him to stop loitering around the entrance and get his aft in if he was coming in. Ironhide sighed deeply when no such sound came. His thoughts wandered back to a conversation he'd had with the medic no less than three months ago.

The black mech watched the CMO stomp around the medbay, throwing open cabinets and rifling through oversized boxes until he found the tool he was looking for and stomped moodily back to the berth he was perched upon.

"What's got your armor in a twist?" Ironhide grumbled, biting back a wince as the medic deftly plucked out pieces of shrapnel from a stray 'Con rocket that had caught him by surprise in the day's earlier battle.

"I want this to end," he growled out, yanking a piece of shrapnel from the black mech's armor with a little more roughness than necessary. Ironhide rolled his eyes in a here-we-go-again fashion. The last thing he wanted to hear at the moment was one of Ratchet's slag-this-war tirades, but he realized Primus had no mercy available today as the medic continued.

"I'm tired of it. Tired of all this fragging fighting, tired of the fragging Decepticons, tired of the battle plans, tired of a medbay full of injured mechs, and absolutely and irrevocably tired of fighting."

"It's not like we're asking you to fight the 'cons single-handed on your own, Ratchet," he said gruffly, his ire rising. "Just do what you're trained to do. Fight, heal. Don't be going around shoving all this anti-war slag up the tailpipe of every mech you see. You know as well as I do that it's a necessary thing."

"This slagging war is costing us everything, Ironhide! How can you and Prime expect me to sit by quietly and watch while we get ourselves blown to slag and back again, and then pick up the pieces every fragging time as if it was the most ordinary thing in the Primus damned universe?"

The medic gave an annoyed sigh, shuttering his optics and folding his arms tightly over his chassis.

"This isn't easy for any of us, medic," Ironhide growled dangerously. "You're not the only one in this war. You think it's just you suffering here?"

Ratchet's optics snapped wide open and he lowered his arms to form fists at his sides.

He pushed open the double doors to the medbay and stepped inside. He looked around thoughtfully, regarding the pristine floors, the medical berths, the organized tools hanging against Ratchet's work bench on the far wall and eventually his optics fell on the door to the CMO's office and he sighed lightly. It was closed and the sliver of darkness he could see from the crack below the door told Ironhide that it was vacant. He wondered why he'd expected otherwise, as he knew exactly where the medic was. He stared silently over all the vacant berths. So rare that the medbay was completely empty, he thought to himself. Allowing his optics to sweet over the room once more, his thoughts returned back to the conversation that had taken place in almost the exact spot he was standing now. He flinched as he recalled the drastic turn it had taken, wishing he could have taken the whole thing back and erased it from his memory banks. He knew he couldn't, even if he truly wanted to.

"Of course it isn't just me suffering! All of us have to play our parts in this, to be certain. But I don't expect you to understand where I'm coming from, Ironhide. You are not a medic and therefore cannot possibly see it the way I do. Or have you forgotten that I am the one who is left to clean up after it all, to repair your afts every time you are damaged, to fight every damn battle that rolls through here while trying to save your fragging sparks, to watch them gutter out in my own hands…" Ratchet trailed off, limbs shaking with suppressed emotion. He sunk down on the edge of the nearest medical berth suddenly, burying his face in his hands. "I've seen so many lost to this war, Ironhide. I can't even count."

Ironhide balked slightly. "What is it that you want, Ratchet?"

"Peace," the medic ground out quietly. His vocalizer hitched with an odd sound and then, to Ironhide's horror, the medic let loose a keening wail. His shoulders shook violently as all of his pent up emotions overtook his renowned self control and he sobbed overtly into his hands, not noticing nor caring that Ironhide stood gaping before him in shock.

The black mech's temper vanished and he was at the Ratchet's side immediately, hesitating only momentarily before wrapping thick arms around the shuddering medic's shoulders and pulling him against his chassis. "I'm sorry, Ratch. I know it's hard for you… sometimes I forget what you have to deal with all the time. Forgive a foolish old mech?" He winced as Ratchet's sobs intensified to near-howling. He sighed in resignation and held his friend tighter against him as he wept.

He turned heavily, sighing once more before exiting the medic's domain, allowing the doors to slide closed quietly behind him. As he left the medbay, Ironhide walked with a purpose; He needed to see Ratchet. His trek led him through several corridors, through the main hangar, out the massive doors into the cool night air and onto the other side of base where a darkened temporary shelter had been constructed in the wake of the battle. He hesitated at the entrance, feeling as though this was a place he did not belong, as though he was intruding on something intensely personal. He shook the thought from his processor quickly. Ratchet was his best friend, his partner; they'd been through more together than most mechs cared to even think about. Steeling himself, he pushed past the flap of the entrance and stepped inside, peering through the darkness for a moment before his optics settled on the familiar figure on the other side against the far wall. He stepped carefully in that direction, as though afraid of disturbing the quiet air and when he reached the other side of the tent, he stood quietly, looking down and shuffling his feet a bit, nervous despite himself.

"Hey Ratch," he murmured.

Eventually, the medic's wails had calmed down to hiccupping gasps, and he had drawn backward, away from Ironhide, staring ashamedly at the medbay floor.

"Sorry 'Hide," he mumbled, his voice laced with static. "I know you're probably theorizing that I'm completely unstable."

Ironhide frowned. "You're Ratchet. Of course you're unstable."

Ratchet snorted inelegantly.

"Come on, Ratch. You can't do this to yourself- worry and worry and bottle it up like this until it finally boils over. It's not healthy."Ironhide chided, which earned a mordant stare from the medic.

"The war… Bah, it'll be over before ya know it," Ironhide encouraged, gripping the medic's armored shoulder in a light squeeze. A hopeful look passed over Ratchet's optics, making them flare slightly. But it was gone as quickly as it came.

"All things have to end at some point, I suppose," Ratchet conceded quietly.

It wasn't until months later that Ironhide came to realize the gravity and the irony in the CMO's statement.

"You old fool." Ironhide said softly. Affection mingled with heaviness was evident in his tone as he sat on the edge of the berth that the prone figure of the medic occupied, hands folded over his abdomen.

He gripped the medic's hands briefly, optics tilted upward to avoid looking at the dark, lifeless ones of his one-time partner and best friend. He couldn't stand to see them as they were now… empty. He couldn't stand to see the massive hole burned into the medic's brightly colored chassis or the deep gouges slashed in his armor. It was a cruel fate that Ratchet, who wanted peace more than anyone, perhaps more than even Prime himself, would never bear witness to the end of their cruel and drawn out civil war. Grief threatened to overtake Ironhide at the thought and his vocalizer wavered unsteadily when he spoke.

"May peace go with you, old friend. I will see you again," he shuttered his optics, "at the end of all things."