Summary: G1 AU futurefic. Another cold day on the Ark does not treat Ironhide's old frame well. Maybe it's time he took a break.

Disclaimer(s): Transformers is the sole property of Hasbro, and this work of fiction was created purely for pleasure with no profit or intended infringement of trademark or copyright.

I must say this ficlet was inspired by the fic "Damage Control" by Left Eye Better, who kindly granted permission for use of certain ideas.

Grey Sky, Foggy Mountain

"Oh, Ironhide, you're not up yet?" Came First Aid's gentle voice by door. Ironhide flexed his servos and booted up his optics with a groan.

"I'm up, I'm up," he muttered. The lighting flicked on, and he rebooted his optics with a lower sensitivity. His right arm itched, and he tried to bring the left one over to scratch at it, but as happened too often, was only rewarded with a painful shriek of ungreased gears. He let his hand drop to his abdomen.

"This is why you should let me add grease at least every other day," First Aid said, though somehow when the kid nagged he didn't mind so much.

"Well, let's get 'er over with." Ironhide grumped. First Aid calmly and precisely inserted the grease nozzle into his joints, delicately rotating them as needed to work the fluid into areas too dry and worn. Ironhide held back a sigh as the medic flexed his ankles. He really should just go with their advice, a part of him knew. But another part kept putting it off and putting if off until the cold, dry air of their mountain home and his age wore his resistance down.

"Ready to head down to the rec room?" First Aid asked cheerfully. But he was already working an arm around Ironhide's back, a firm but gentle grip on his arm, and before he knew it they were out the door of his quarters and working their way down the hallway.

The hallways were quiet at this time of the morning, bots already out on their business for the day, or cooped up together in a few rooms to keep the heat of their systems together. Grapple gave them a brief good morning, looking up from the engineering department's current project. Something about an overhaul of the electrical systems; Ironhide couldn't remember, and pushed the thought out of his processor.

The rec room was crowded, though conversation was subdued. Most bots were diligently working away at datapads or other little projects, though some, like Trailbreaker and Hound, engaged in quiet conversation. Blaster swayed in place, nodding intermittently, to some private communication.

Ironhide shrugged First Aid's touch off and plodded over to 'his' chair. Good old iron rebar – couldn't see why the young bots went for those darn soft things the humans liked. Good for human systems, maybe, he thought, but all that padding…Hmph. He let his aft clang down on the shocking cold metal with a sigh. The temperature differential made his back plating contract a tad uncomfortably, but was a relief for systems with poor coolant circulation.

An energon cube was placed in his hand, and he accepted its presence without complaint. He let the murmurs of the room and the TV wash over him as he slowly sipped the cube. The news reporter on the television was covering the upcoming weather, and Ironhide found himself watching with half-lidded optics as the woman indicated a cold front moving down from the northeast. Urgh, the new grease was already drying out just thinking about it.

"Look who it is!" A voice came from behind him, and two very cheeky faces appeared around the back of his chair. One cheeky from character, the other from a mouth full of fingers.

"It's Ironhide! Hey, you wouldn't mind keeping the kiddo company for a little while, huh?" Sideswipe asked, presenting his offspring for inspection. The little one was all tank and optics, and though Ironhide wouldn't admit it under torture, perhaps the most dangerously lovable creature on the planet. The bitlet grinned around his fingers, and as usual every time Sideswipe pestered him, he couldn't find it in himself to say no.

"I'll add it to your tab, kid. But next time give a bot some warning, so he don't have to clear his schedule," He said, resting his cube on the arm of his chair and reaching towards the sparkling. Sidewsipe laughed, all noise and energy, and helped settle little Nibbler onto the old security officer's lap.

"He should conk out in an hour or so. Whelp, you know my comm. frequency!" That said, Sideswipe gave his son an affectionate rub on the head, and headed off himself to do only Primus knew what. Ironhide sat back and turned his optics down to the little one on his lap. Nibbler had discovered Ironhide's hand around his belly, and hummed with concentration as he wrapped his own hand around one of the elder bot's fingers.

Looked like the microchip's colors were starting to come in finally. Red, of course, coming in on his torso and some on his limbs. The little ridges they suspected would turn into a full-fledged chevron were lightening, though, to some bluish color, or if they kept at it white altogether. Ironhide was startled, a moment, when he saw the little cherry red arm against his own fading colors. He sighed and mentally shook his head. That's what you get for being old, mech.

"Well, look at you," Ironhide muttered. "Whatta you want t'do today, little mech?" Ironhide bounced his leg, and Nibbler beeped in delight, his cherubic face breaking into an open mouth grin. "This weather's just depressin' me. How about we change things up a bit." He remotely browsed the broadcast schedule, and selected a channel of historic films. "You'll like this one. Doctor Zhivago. Makes me think o' Ratchet." Ironhide watched the movie, while Nibbler continued to play with his fingers, and then, once Ironhide had finished, his empty energon cube. Fortunately, Cybertronian sparklings really were quite predictable, and about an hour into the film the little mech was curled up against Hide's chest, deep into defrag. Ironhide continued to pat his little body soothingly, the newspark rapidly pulsing away underneath his thin plating.

Some while later, Ironhide awoke to find Sideswipe's quirky smile staring him down. Ironhide jumped a little in his seat, just enough to bring another giggle-beep out of the now perfectly awake little one still filling in his lap.

"Hey, didn't want to try and grab him without you knowin'." Ironhide grunted, working his servos to try and bring feeling back into them. Sideswipe waited, patiently, and when had he learned how to do that? Ironhide hooked his stiff servos under the little one's armpits, lifting him off his lap just enough for his legs to hang limp, before Sideswipe's servos swooped in to take over. Ironhide let his own limbs drop back to the armrests with relief.

"You want me to grab you a new cube of energon?" Sideswipe asked, jiggling Nibbler on his hip.

"Nah, I ain't hungry. I'll get myself one later if I need it." Sideswipe nodded, gave another little smirk, and said,

"Remember to thank Grandpa Hide," He used one hand to help Nibbler give a little wave, then headed off. Ironhide rolled his optics, but he also chuckled.

Hmm, he thought, checking the time. Prowl had sent him a message over Teletraan, requesting they delay their weekly game of chess to the evening. Ironhide considered the req room, less full than before; he considered the old sitcoms of the mid-afternoon scheduling block; he considered if trying to work a datapad with his clumsy fingers was worth the effort. Think I'll go for a little walk, he thought impulsively. Yeah, that's exactly what I need.

Pressing down on the armrests, he pushed himself to standing, waiting a moment for his gyros to figure out which way was up. Then he took a few steps to loosen up his leg joints, and he was off. He waved to Smokescreen as he exited the room, who raised brows at him but wished him a good evening.

The familiar corridors of the Ark passed in a blur – the twists and turns so well known, Ironhide hardly paid any attention to where he was going. Until he found himself stepping into a storage closet, where a confused Red Alert was clearly sorting supply deliveries.

"What's this thing doing here?" He said, stopping up short.

"This is the receiving room. For security checks?" Red Alert said, a tad suspiciously. The two security officers engaged in a small battle of wills, before Ironhide finally caved and said,

"Where's the Primus damned exit?"

"You've just walked through it."

"No, I mean, from the Ark. Y'know, under the ol' engines? Big ol' mountain outside?" Ironhide wanted to get outside already. His knees were killin' him. It didn't help that the colder air as he approached the exit had shrunk the ball and sockets of his hips, either. For a moment Red Alert regarded him critically, but when he with a huff transmitted his ident code, the paranoid mech finally seemed satisfied. It wasn't as if the war had officially been over for a while, or anything.

"This way. The entranceway was changed for better security, among other reasons. Don't you remember?" Red Alert delicately placed the item he was inspecting back in its crate, and brusquely led Ironhide back out the door he'd automatically headed towards from memory. Soon enough, down the corridor, another turn, and now what were clearly the main gates appeared.

"What did you need to find the exit for? If you're expecting someone, no one has announced plans to arrive back anytime soon," the security director said, as they slowly neared the large doors.

"Why, to go outside, o' course." Red Alert gave him an alarmed look, pausing. Ironhide kept walking; he was a little behind.

"You can't do that."

"Well why not?" The other mech seemed, for the first time in his life, to struggle not to produce every possible paranoid outcome.

"I would feel much more comfortable if someone accompanied you, especially in the weather we've been having lately – "

"Bracing!" interjected Ironhide.

"Perhaps I could – oh!" Now his optics weren't looking at Ironhide anymore, but someone behind him. Ironhide turned a half step to look. "Prime, sir! I didn't, the schedule…Are you going somewhere?" Optimus' eyes twinkled as he approached them.

"Not far. I heard Ironhide was taking a break from the rowdiness of the rec room, and I thought I might take a break from my red tape to relax with a friend for a few minutes." Well, as usual, Ironhide found it difficult to work up any ire, when Prime spoke like that. Still.

"I'm going outside. You sure you wanna join me?" Ironhide challenged. Optimus chuckled.

"And get some fresh oxygen into my engine block? I would be delighted to." Optimus waved Red Alert back to his duties, who exited with a crisp salute, before cueing the door open for both of them. He kindly let Ironhide go through first, before striding out behind him and letting the door slide shut once more. Pit, it was cold out here, and windier than the rust sea. Ironhide let his fans bring in a drought of the air, and his engine sputtered up several gears, trying to compensate for the low temperature.

"Wonderful breath of fresh air. Shall we return?" Optimus asked, though without any pressure behind it.

"Prime, all I wanna do is sit down. We got any good chairs out here?" Optimus laughed, wholeheartedly, and led him to a semicircle of boulders, worn down over decades of use as Cybertronian stools. Taking his elbows in hand, Optimus helped him slowly work his stiff joints into a sitting position, but rather than sit down on a boulder himself, he merely kneeled beside the old bodyguard, wrapping one arm over the smaller bot's shoulders.

They sat in the brisk air in silence for some time, gazing out at the grey winter sky, down at the low clouds at the foothills of the mountain. There was a road, now, demarked by great hunks of glossy obsidian, that Ironhide had never driven on.

"I'm tired, Prime," he said quietly.

"Do you want to return to your quarters for a few minutes?" Optimus asked, the servo not slung around Ironhide's form picking up one of Ironhide's, clasping the fingers gently. Ironhide watched him as if it wasn't his own hand being cradled; if he'd not been watching, he probably would not have felt those powerful fingers enclosing his own rusting, flaking digits. Ironhide just shook his head, letting his optics fall offline.

"I don't wanna go back inside yet. I reckon', I reckon' this spot's pretty good for a nap." That's right, thought Ironhide. This here's pretty comfortable, and quiet.

"You don't think you'll be cold?" Optimus said quietly, rubbing his upper arm with vigor.

"I ain't cold." Ironhide mumbled. He realized, dumbly, that he'd drifted sideways until he was leaned against the glass of Optimus' chest. Ah, well, he was allowed to get comfortable.

"My mistake," said Optimus, his voice crackled with static.

"You cryin'?" Ironhide felt, distantly, his vents hitch in a cough, before starting back up again.

"No, of course not."

"Well, I guess you'd better get Ratch' to check your voc, then." Working his vocalizer was getting more difficult, but Ironhide'd be damned before he let something like that slow him down. "Don't tell him…I came out here. He's…such a nag."

"I promise." Optimus said quietly, choked, and his grip tightened around Ironhide's shoulder, strong enough for even his dulled sensors to feel it. "It'll be our secret."

"Good…" Ironhide focused all his will, and tightened the fingers of his right servo around Optimus'. "See you…in a little while…"

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